I adore Siamese cats. With their otherworldly blue gaze, ancient Egyptian air and strident voices, they’re like the eccentric royals of the feline
world. I’d miss them if they weren’t around.
But however special I think they are, I also don’t think we
should be deliberately breeding more of them, when there are so many strays
(just as special in their own way) – as well as all the wild animals struggling
to survive on the dwindling natural resources allotted to them.
While many precious species are teetering on the brink of extinction, populations
of domesticated animals – those we’ve found most useful for food, medical experimentation,
entertainment or companionship – are shooting up.
Overpopulation of pet and other domesticated species is a
function of human overpopulation: the more of us there are, the greater the demand
for companion animals and the greater the need for resources to feed and care
for them. Our frighteningly swollen population of 7.2 billion is accompanied by
around one billion dogs and cats. Many of these are loved and cared for by
their doting owners, but many lead hard lives as strays. Millions are unnecessarily euthanased each year.
The world cannot sustain more high-maintenance pampered pets
(not to mention their high-maintenance pampered owners); equally, we don’t need
more desperate uncared-for animals eking out an existence on the streets of our spreading
cities. The responsibility for both lies entirely with us.
Like other domesticated species, pets as we know them now came into being because
humans chose and bred them for specific characteristics. And this brings
us to the other argument against the pedigreed, dogs especially. The
characteristics of many breeds have become increasingly exaggerated over years
of inbreeding and deliberately selecting for distinctive features: a basset
hound today is a much more doleful-looking and elongated version of
its forefathers, even from as recently as a hundred years ago.
The result is an increased risk of genetic faults being
expressed in an animal, which can have seriously negative impacts on their health
and quality of life. Such problems are rife and well-recognised in dog-breeding
circles. Nearly all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, for example, develop heart
problems, and many suffer from an agonising condition where their brains grow
too big for their small skulls. Bulldogs and other breeds with shortened snouts
frequently suffer respiratory problems, while joint and limb problems are
common in large dogs*.
Not all pedigree pets are genetically blighted,
and there are reputable breeders for whom the health of their
animals is paramount. Breeders and pedigree pet owners would also argue that it
is precisely because these specially bred animals have been selected for specific
characteristics that you have a better idea what to expect when you acquire
them, which improves the odds of a successful pet-owner bond. Each potential owner
is looking for a pet that suits their lifestyle and family situation; a known
breed gives greater assurance that a dog will be good with children, for instance,
or an excellent guard dog – whereas a mongrel is anyone’s guess. It’s also
clearer how big a puppy will get.
There are millions of cases of happy humans and their beloved
non-human best friends, pedigree and pavement specials alike, the world over. We’ve
been living together for centuries, and long may we continue to do so; the
benefits on both sides (although especially on the human side in terms of
mental health) are undeniable. But let us continue to do so in a way befitting not
centuries past but rather this century: with the focus less on superficial appearances
and more on the welfare of ourselves and those with whom we share this finite planet.
*For a thorough and
particularly damning indictment of pedigree dog breeding, watch Pedigree Dogs
Exposed – this controversial BBC documentary lead to an investigation by the
RSPCA, among other animal welfare bodies. Not for sensitive viewers.
Image of Siamese cat: Shutterstock