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Archive for August, 2013

russ the uga

This bulldog is a mascot for the University of Georgia’s football team.

Anyone who knows anything about bulldogs knows why this dog, which “Russ,” also known as “Uga IX,” is sitting on a bag of ice. Bulldogs cannot cool themselves properly, and Georgia is in America’s humid subtropical belt. That means it gets quite hot and humid right through much of football season.

It’s not the best place for a dog with such deformed respiratory and cooling, which, as I noted in my pug post, are actually the same system.

Russ was given a “battlefield promotion” when Uga VII died of lymphona when he was about year old. Uga VIII’s tenure followed the very short life of Uga VII, who died of heart failure before reaching a year of age.

This breed does not have a very good track record at all. It’s one of the least hardy dog breeds you can find, which is why it is so expensive to insure. The dogs have a legendary toughness that has largely been bred out of them through breeding them to what is clearly one of the most absurd breed standards in the entire dog fancy. These dogs were messed up over a hundred years ago– after only about twenty years of being bred solely for the show ring– and one particularly “typey” specimen couldn’t even win a walking race.

Is this the symbol the University of Georgia wants for its football team? A dog that can’t even walk two miles?

And it’s not like Georgia doesn’t have its own native bulldogs. There is the Alapaha, which is often merle,  and there is the so-called “white English bulldog,” which might be better called the “Old Southern white bulldog.”  Of course, they don’t look like the Ugas, but these dogs were bred to do something in places like Georgia. They were all-around farm dogs, hog-catchers, and guardians. These dogs likely barked and snarled their warnings as Sherman’s troops marched through their owners’ lands on their way to the sea.

But the tradition at the University of Georgia is to use this particular type of bulldog.  They are always owned by the man who started the tradition, a prominent Georgia lawyer named Sonny Seiler. Seiler donated the first Uga to the team in 1956, and as of 2011, he had no interest in changing the bulldog at all. He told a writer for the New York Times Magazine: “Change this dog too much, and it won’t look like a bulldog anymore…. Besides, Uga gets the best veterinary care, and we do everything to keep him safe. These dogs have a good life.”

And this is precisely the problem. The dogs may be cared for amazingly well. They may have the best vets in all of Georgia at their beck and call.

But it is questionable how good a life these dogs actually leave. Remember, that extreme brachycephaly is associated with problems breathing and cooling.  Bulldogs often never know what it’s like to be fully oxygenated. If you’ve ever struggle to breathe, it’s not a fun experience, but bulldogs go through it their entire lives.

So you may have an animal that is well cared-for, but it’s life is pretty miserable.

It can’t tell you that it’s miserable, and because dogs are stoic, it will put up with all the misery that has been inflicted upon by human stupidity.

The nineteenth century dog fancier Rawdon Lee called the bulldog a “burlesque” of a national symbol. The bulldog of the University of Georgia is also surely a burlesque.

But in the South, football is a religion– much more so than even the dog fancy, and it is very unlikely that this mascot will change.

They’ll just have to change them ever couple of years as they die from conditions that normally don’t befall normal dogs until they are least ten.

It’s kind of pathetic and sad in a way.

I readily admit that I don’t really understand football, but I don’t get is how people can get so wrapped up into symbolism that they cannot think for a minute about what their symbol actually is.

This bulldog is an import– developed solely by the British dog fancy and sold to people with more money than good sense.

America– especially the South and Georgia in particular– have a very strong tradition of bulldogs. Bulldog and bulldog-terrier types were once common in every little town and every little farm and plantation. These were hardy, sagacious animals that made life in the subtropics endurable. You can’t control half-wild range hogs with with a collie, unless you want a dead collie.

Football is supposed to be a celebration of toughness and a distinct American-ness that surely could be better exemplified with a true Georgia bulldog.

But that’s trying to make logic out of the illogical.

Modern football traditions are all that matter.

Animal welfare and common sense be damned.

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The problems with pugs

Extreme brachycephalic pug.

Extreme brachycephalic pug.  

There are two big problems facing purebred dogs today:   health conditions that are exacerbated and exposed through inbreeding and health problems that are the result of conformation.

When we complain about the health of purebred dogs, as we often do on these sorts of blogs, there is a tendency to mix the two types of problems, but there is certain amount of error that comes from doing so. The dachshund’s back issues are not caused by inbreeding, and the Italian greyhound’s autoimmune problems are not the result of selecting for a particular body type. The former’s problems come from breeding for such a long back on a dog with such short legs, and the iggie’s immune system problems come from very tight breeding at their foundation,.

It is very important that we keep these two types of purebred dog health problem distinct.  The solutions for each type are very different. In the dachshund’s case, all we’d have to do is start breeding for more leg, which already exists in the working population of the breed. In the Italian greyhound’s case, we’d have to do an outcross to increase heterozygosity in its DLA/MHC genes. That means that we’d have to cross one with a whippet or maybe a miniature pinscher to correct the problem.

But there are some breeds that actually have both problems. Yes, some breeds are unlucky to have both compromised genetic diversity and extreme conformation issues that prevent them from having optimal health.

Perhaps the most common breed to suffer from both these sorts of problems is the pug. Pugs are a very popular toy breed these days, and the dogs do have a lot going for them. They tend to have fairly stable temperaments, though they are known for being stubborn and sly. They are not border collies that require tons of exercise and mental stimulation. They can live nicely in an apartment without wrecking it, and they normally are not snappy little dogs, which means they could be a choice for an urban family.

And did I mention they do have rather distinguished looks. Some people think they are quite ugly, but they do have a sort of monkeyesque cuteness that also has tendency to humanize them. Its their tendency to look like little monkeys or, dare I say it, human babies that draws people to this breed. More so than perhaps any other breed, the pug is the one that gets dressed up in little costumes and photographed for memes on the internet.

The most obvious problem pugs face is actually the result of that monkey mug.

Pugs were always brachycephalic dogs. It is one of their distinguishing features, and almost all dogs are brachycephalic when compared to wolves and other wild canids. We need to be a little bit careful in condemning shorter muzzles, because it is possible for a dog to have a shorter than normal muzzle and have no health problems.

The problem is in extreme brachycephaly.

And this is precisely the problem that pugs exhibit.

We’ve bred them so brachycephalic that the dogs now have upper respiratory systems that are entirely stenotic– “scrunched up.” Many individuals have an elongated soft-palate, which is the fleshy bit that runs from the back of the roof of the mouth into the throat. Pugs have undergone such a rapid transformation into extremely flat-faced dogs that they often still retain a normal dog’s soft palate, which winds up become a real hindrance to the upper respiratory system. The tissue winds up blocking the airway at times, making breathing that much more difficult. The nasal passages are often similarly scrunched up, making it very difficult for the dog to oxygenate itself fully. Many pugs will not sleep with their heads down, because if they put their heads in a prone position, the respiratory system becomes blocked. Dogs breathe through their noses, and if the nostrils are squashed in, they are going to have a very hard time breathing.

Now, if that weren’t bad enough, dog use their respiratory systems as their primary method of thermoregulation. Dogs pant to cool themselves. They pass air overt their moist mucus membranes, which causes evaporation on those membranes, which then cools the dog. When pugs cannot pass air over their mucus membranes efficiently, they cannot cool themselves. Furthermore, the muzzle in domestic dogs contains a cavity that is vital in passing air through the respiratory system during panting. In pugs, that cavity is extremely reduced.

The problems with the respiratory/thermoregulation system in pugs are just the most severe. Pugs still have the same number of teeth that all other dogs have. However, when the teeth come in, there is often not enough room for them in the mouth, and the teeth have to be pulled.

And that cute little skin fold above the muzzle is actually just excess skin. The pug evolved its extreme brachcephaly very rapidly, so it often still has a bit of excess skin that normally would be stretched out over a longer muzzle. That fold is just above the dog’s nose. Dogs have wet noses,and they do produce a bit of snot. That snot winds up getting gummed up into that skin fold, and if it’s not cleaned regularly, it can be a haven for bacteria, making infections rather commonplace.

The short muzzle also exposes the eyes to injury, which are bred so they will appear somewhat bugged out. It makes them look cut, but the result is pugs are always having problems with their eyes. At the most extreme, it’s not uncommon for the eyes to fall out due to some rather banal blunt trauma. The eyes can also prolapse if the dog pulls to hard on a lead, which is rather abnormal. Such bugged out eyes can have problems in simple maintenance. Often, they don’t produce enough tears to keep their eyes fully hydrated and clean, or they have eyelids or eyelashes that rub up against the eye so much that it causes ulcers.

It really isn’t that odd to see pugs missing eyes. It certainly adds to the character and to the mystique of owning a monkey-faced dog, but it isn’t something of which someone should be proud.

It’s rather horrifying.

So the pug’s “headpiece”– as the dog show people like to call it– is really quite defective.

But that’s not the only conformation problem they have. Breeding for the double curl in the tail is actually a selection for abnormally-shaped vertebrae. Breeders want the tail vertebrae to be strangely shaped so it will curly, but they can have the same thing happen to any of their vertebrae.

So it’s not unusual for them to have severely deviated spines.

Then they are the joint problems.

According to the OFA, 80.2 pecent of all pugs that it evaluated that were born between 2006 and 2010 were dysplastic.

It’s not really a working breed, so people haven’t really paid that much attention to the problem.

Hip dysplasia is also a difficult condition to classify. There are clearly both genetic and environmental causes, and it is also difficult to trace it down to breeding for a particular conformation type.

But there are also a series of problems that pugs have solely because of their reduced genetic diversity. In the UK, an analysis by Imperial College, London, found that the effective population of pugs in that country is only 50 individuals. At the time, there were an estimated 10,000 pugs in the UK, which means they have a significant amount of inbreeding.

This inbreeding, which is actually the result of the closed registry system that runs riot in the world of purebred dogs, has exposed a tendency to develop necrotizing meningoencephalitis, which is now called “pug dog encephalitis.” Only a little over 1 percent of all pugs will develop the condition, and now there is a genetic test for it. It is associated with homozygosity within the DLA/MHC genes, which is what happens when inbreeding is done without trying to maintain DLA/MHC diversity. This condition is fatal, and there is no cure.

The weakened immune system that comes from such an inbred population also makes pugs more susceptible to demodectic mange. Most dogs have no problem with demodex. Demodex mites live on dogs and normally cause no problems. However, when a dog’s immune system is weakened, the mites can get out of control and cause mange.

So here we have a dog breed that is fairly common and growing in popularity that has severe issues with its unusual conformation and its compromised genetic diversity.

And no one really seems to care.

The pug, as it exists, is no longer under the selection pressures of natural selection.

Nor are most domestic dogs.

However, in this case, not only have the selection pressures from nature been relaxed, artificial selection has run amok.

We have succeeded in producing an animal so fragile that we cannot leave it out on a balmy spring afternoon. It is an animal so fragile that it is quite prone to having its eyes fall out of socket.

It is a perverse creation, but the perversion is simply not seen.

It is almost impossible to have a conversation about changing the pug without having a discussion about outcrosses, which of course leads to the attack on puggles. Puggles are designer dogs that are the result of breeding a beagle to a pug. They were heavily milled and mass-produced in the US a few years ago, and they developed a bad reputation.

But no one is talking about puggles. What is normally suggested is that one do a simple outcross to a less extreme breed, but of course, the pug fanciers won’t have anything to do with it.

Many are under the delusion that this breed has existed in its current form for thousands of years, which even a simple Google search for old pug photos and paintings will show you that it simply isn’t true.

Further, the breed in its current form was developed in the past 400 years in Europe, not in China. For a very long time, it wasn’t even known that it was a Chinese breed, and if black pugs had not been imported to England from northern China int he 1880’s, we would have never known about their origin. Though they became established in the seventeenth century in the Dutch Republic through trade with China, no one seemed to remember where they came from.

This breed could be fixed if we thought it through a bit, but that’s unlikely to happen.

There are no “working-type” pugs, and any dogs of this type still living in China are likely to be quite rare and quite different from the Western pug.

The entire existence of this breed is as a pet. Not that there is anything wrong with breeding a pet breed, but because it is a pet, it is possible to create fantasies about them.

It is possible to delude oneself about how healthy these dogs actually are.

It possible to delude oneself into believing that there is nothing wrong with breeding for such extremes.

Without any sort of working test or ancient landrace for which one can compare the Western pug, the breed can exist as the monkey dog. One etymology of the word pug is that pug was used to describe a type of New World monkey– probably a marmoset or tamarin–and there were “pug monkeys” and “pug dogs.”

And that goes to precisely the problem these dogs face. People have forgotten that this animal is still dog, and dogs have a particular anatomy and physiology. We can bend it and distort it through selective breeding, but at some point the bending becomes a perversion. It becomes burlesque.

It becomes unworthy of the relationship between man and dog.

It is something that shouldn’t be honored.

And it certainly shouldn’t be promoted as cute.

It is a problem that no one wants to talk to about.

We have let the pug down, but no one wants to say anything about it, lest one be deemed an animal rights activist.

We could fix these problems, but then we’d have to break the delusions and fantasies.

And unfortunately, too many would rather cleave onto those than admit the reality of the situation.

Maybe the pug is doomed.

Right now it surely is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Diseases are cute

At least with pugs, they are:

Source.

And with pugs, it’s sad to say that this isn’t first disorder they’ve had that people have thought might be cute.

 

 

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A funeral among the aspen

I backed over a duck last night.  Miley had brought it near my car, and I guess it hid there are all day. When I moved the car, I crushed it.

I was very upset about it, and I still am.

I decided the only thing I could do is give a proper funeral. I had seen fox tracks the night before about 30 yards from a grove of aspen.  As I’ve noted before, I want my own ashes spread in an aspen grove. Quaking aspen are among the first real trees to colonize a pasture or clear-cut in the forest succession. I want my elements to break down and become part of the aspen, which will feed grouse while they live, and then as they decay, they will feed the oaks and hickories and maples that come with the maturing forest.

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I placed it there in the grove.

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This is the duck that used to eat from my hand. The tamest of the lot. It had a good life, swimming and foraging as ducks do.

But it is gone now.

My only hope is that maybe a young fox that is just dispersing from his parents’ territory will come by and enjoy a free meal.

That’s all I can hope for.

This is my penance for my killing.

Pay it forward.

I am an odd fellow mourning the death of an animal like a duck.

If it were a wild animal or a real farm bird, that would be a different matter.

But it’s too much like family to eat.

So it must be passed along into the carbon cycle.

 

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See related post:

 

 

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I just happened to come across the neighbors’ puppies when I came in this afternoon. The father was a golden retriever.

Long-haired male pup:

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Smooth-coated female:

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Here’s the mother, a 40-pound Rottweiler mix:

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(He has that golden retriever pout).

 

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Muddy face

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