Would anyone with a certain degree of humanity hurt a creature as beautiful as the one depicted above? Would you hurt this charming guy, with its coiled tail and flat nose? In no way this creature would do any harm to anybody, right?
Their wrinkled and chubby bodies, and their happy waddle as they come to you when you call them can make even the grouchiest person let out an involuntary "aww." Anyone who owns such a creature would make sure to give them the best care. Not a single nature lover could deny these creatures a small pat, much less would they allow something or someone to hurt them, wouldn't they?
We tend to believe that animal cruelty is only manifested through abandonment, mutilation, physical violence, and exploitation. Sadly, there are other more insidious forms of cruelty that are not so apparent and hide behind traits most of us find adorable. This form of cruelty has touched countless generations, and only now do we look back with regret.
Dogs and Humans: A Special Relationship
When the nomadic spirit of man couldn't be quenched, the relationship our ancestors forged with wolves was of mutual survival. While nomadic human beings traveled the world and settled in communes near food sources, they met these mammals who would lurk near their campfires and steal the leftovers. This was the beginning of a relationship that benefited both parts and created the concept of domestic animal.
Dogs left their wild nature and offered protection and loyalty in exchange for food. Also, human beings found a valuable partner with an amazing sense of hearing and smell –a thousand times more developed–, and an incredible capacity to adapt to different weathers.
This symbiotic relationship was the beginning of artificial selection, a process in which human beings manipulated other living creatures and intervened in their breeding by selecting the crossbreeds. Humans experimented and adapted their animal partners by choosing the features they thought would help them for their own purposes.
Canine Breeding and Social Darwinism
Along with artificial selection, dogs were selected and bred for specific purposes, like being hunters, collectors, and drovers. They also became shepherds and were used for transportation. This relationship had been the same until the early nineteenth century when a polemic and powerful theory took over the minds of the Victorians.
Darwinism spread like wildfire in a society undergoing radical changes. On the Origin of Species (1859) proved evolution was a historical event, and this theory revolutionized how biology was being studied. It was later on that Darwin's ideas were introduced into a social context, as an excuse to legitimize the "superiority" of some races over others.
The influence of social Darwinism wasn't only used to sustain racist ideologies; it was applied by the elite classes to fashion their pets. With the arrival of dog breeding clubs, people became very interested in the artificial selection of a variety of species, with the aim to create purer breeds. Eugenics was already in place, and dogs were the first living creatures to undergo a process that far from seeking health benefits, was based on an esthetic criteria that gave social status to their owners.
Pugs: A Reflection on Human Cruelty and Selfishness
Natural selection is in charge of weeding out the best-adapted individuals to ensure their traits are passed down; this will enable their descendants to adapt to specific environmental pressures. Artificial selection follows a different path altogether. It is a systematic reproduction that overlooks the species' health. So, animals are unable to survive on their own and suffer from serious genotype problems. Simply put, they would never survive in the wild.
The best example of this irresponsible process and its consequences are pugs. Behind their physical attributes, which make them a favorite breed for millions around the world, lies a string of diseases that not only show human's ignorance, but also, animal cruelty disguised as love and care.
These dogs originally came from ancient China and were a favorite among royalty; however, these pugs were completely different to the ones we see today. Many works of art from the early nineteenth century show the real morphology of the breed, whose characteristics weren't that different from regular dogs. They had a prominent nose, a coiled tail, and legs proportional to their bodies.
After almost two hundred years of selfish human modifications, the impact is obvious: pugs suffer from infections and ocular diseases; their eyelids aren't big enough to fully protect their eyes, allowing external agents to get inside.
Instead of their original long snout, this new species has a flat nose and an extremely small jaw; as a consequence, their nose cavities are narrow, turning them into a brachiocephalic breed with respiratory problems, a deficient temperature regulation, difficulty in swallowing, and diverse disorders like sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux. Their small size, along with their weight, makes them unsuitable for exercising, leading to obesity. Their natural athletic condition also disappeared due to their short legs.
In September 2016, the British Veterinary Association launched a campaign addressed to animal lovers and pet owners to avoid adopting or getting this particular breed. This happened after the number of cases of pugs with terrible diseases due to their physiognomy increased in the UK; most of the times, the best scenario for these creatures was euthanasia.
This campaign wasn't successful enough to prevent the adoption and reproduction of this breed. Only a few media and canine associations promoted the campaign. This happened because there are still a lot of breeding clubs that get a lot of money from this "pure breed," which as The Guardian mentioned, are an anatomical disaster.Doctor Rowena Packer, a Royal Veterinary College researcher, stated that artificial selection in pugs is a product of esthetic criteria, instead of functional, natural, and health conditions.
“Basically, [...] we’ve been selecting [pugs] for their face shape, but nature isn’t really compatible with that [...]”
The moral compass of these breeding clubs is clearly skewered; they will continue to breed these poor creatures only to satiate their greed. There are only a few veterinarians and specialists who dare to stand against this cruelty.
“The surge in popularity of these dogs has increased animal suffering and resulted in unwell pets for owners, so we strongly encourage people to think about choosing a healthier breed or crossbreed instead.”
Are pet owners also partly to blame for this? It may be that they're giving these animals a loving home, but by purchasing them, they're only feeding these corporations. It's important to raise awareness about this situation and leave our superficial selfishness aside.
As hard as it is to digest something like this, this breed carries a permanent mark of violence and human selfishness, which is ingrained into their very DNA. These mutations are the product of an absurd obsession with finding a creature with rounded, goofy faces, making of an originally healthy species an anatomical disaster.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards