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sophia belle

Sophia Belle.

This story has been making the rounds on the internet for several weeks now. If you’ve not heard it, here is the story from CBS 2:

Her owners called her spunky, funny, and tough. A Long Island couple is mourning their 6-month-old dog, Sophia Belle, a pet that the couple treated like a child.

“She was perfect. She was my baby. I’m going to cry,” Michelle Moccia recently told CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner.

Michelle and her fiance, Michael DiMaggio, brought Sophia Belle to a Levittown Petco in February for obedience training. But during their second visit, the couple claims, something went very wrong.

“The trainer pulled back hard on her leash, lifting her little paws off the floor and choking her,” DiMaggio said.

The couple was shocked.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Moccia said.

DiMaggio said he tried to revive the bulldog on the spot.

“She wasn’t breathing and she was looking at me and I was telling her it’s okay, you’re a good girl,” he said.

The couple rushed Sophia Belle to the vet, but it was too late. She died of pulmonary edema. It’s unclear if her death was triggered by a pre-existing condition or by choking.

“In a dog with a small trachea, the trachea can collapse. A collapsing trachea can cause respiratory distress which can lead to something called pulmonary edema,” explained Long Island veterinarian Deborah Nearenberg.

Petco released a statement expressing its sadness over the dog’s death, but has not taken responsibility for the dog’s passing.

Most commentaries I’ve seen about this particular story focus on training methods. Supposedly, there is a video. I have not seen the video.

I am not commenting on that issue.

Too many people are already, and while that certainly does need to be discussed, there is an issue that no one seems to understand.

Bulldogs are a horribly deformed breed.

It’s a breed that revels in deformity in ways that are almost pathological.

I’ve never known fanciers of any other breed who seem so oblivious to the real health and welfare issues associated with breeding for this particular conformation.

I know this because every time I’ve written about this breed, I get attacked by the “bulldog mafia.” (See part 1 here, and Part 2 here).

Their comments are as often hysterical as they are histrionic.

They really are deluded about how dog anatomy actually works.  They are okay with breeding dogs that have real problems fully oxygenating themselves, not just through their often small tracheas but through their elongated soft palates. The entire upper respiratory system of this breed is utterly scrunched in, and if you understand that dogs also use their respiratory system to cool themselves, you realize that breeding for such deformity is animal cruelty. It’s as much an animal welfare issue as breeding dogs for fighting pits.

But because the cruelty results from the conformation of the dog and not the actions and training of a fighting animal, we don’t think of it the same way.

The owner of this poor bulldog is obviously a layperson. She likely was not told anything about these problems.

Anyone who would think a bulldog is a tough breed doesn’t understand exactly how fragile they actually are.

I don’t get the appeal for this sort of bulldog.

You can get a very similar and much more healthily conformed dog if you get a boxer. Boxers have also been bred for trainability. which these show bulldogs haven’t been  at all.

And that’s just one alternative. How many different bulldog breeds are there in the United States right now?

Dozens.  Not all of them are AKC, but many are very nice, very biddable dogs that would make good family pets.

And they aren’t horribly deformed in the name of vanity.

Everyone wants to blame Petco’s training methods for the death. I don’t know enough about what actually happened to provide an informed commentary about what went on.

However, we do know we’re dealing with a bulldog, and bulldogs and poorly formed respiratory systems go hand-in-hand.

Breeding this sort of bulldog is a tragedy.

But not as much of a tragedy as the tragedy that has resulted from this breed’s sudden popularity in the United States.

Are people this divorced from reality that they would buy a dog simply because they see it on a “reality” TV show?

I am really saddened for the loss of this dog, but I’m more saddened that all we want to talk about is training methods, while not even mentioning that breeding bulldogs for this particular conformation is an even bigger welfare issue.

It’s easier to blame a person or a company than it is to blame an institution.

And the bulldog fancy at large is an institution that deserves very strong criticism here.

But they won’t listen.

They already know it all.

And that’s the worst part of this story.

And yet there’s been no mention of it.

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