Human “freak shows” were popular pastimes in England from the mid-16th century until the 19th century, by which time they had spread to the United States. Popularised by figures such as PT Barnum, they were extremely successful commercially and often the best way of people with disabilities making a good living and preserving some dignity. I doubt, however that many modern audiences would find them acceptable, so why is it that we deem it permissible to exhibit such dogs?A congenitally deformed dog called Quasi Modo (says it all) has just been “awarded” the title of the “World’s Ugliest Dog” in a competition in a state fair in California, USA. She is owned by a vet who has twice entered the “competition”, coming second last year and now winning it. The vet stated that “The Chinese crested and Mexican hairless ones [in the competition] were all rotten teeth, missing fur and tongues hanging out.” The vet’s dog, by contrast, is suffering from short-spine syndrome that not only results in extreme shortening of the spine, but corresponding shortening of the ligaments, a sloped profile, elongated front legs and cow hocks in the rear legs. The tail is usually absent or bobbed in such dogs. It is a genetic deformity caused by in-breeding.
Deliberate in-breeding by humans.
The vet makes many protestations, perhaps anticipating that her support for this “competition” might draw criticism. “This isn’t about making fun of her, it’s about celebrating our differences. We don’t think she’s ugly, but we love her enough that we can have a little joke”.
Her “little joke” is at the expense of a dog with fused vertebrae that result in her being unable to move her head. “She still has to turn her whole body to look at anything.” Are we meant to celebrate this level of in-breeding? Does this vet seriously think that because she “loves her enough” it makes it all right?
This is a list of the descriptions of some of the previous winners:
- Bug eyes
- Long, wagging tongue
- Peculiar walk
- Malformed nose
- Short tufts of hair
- Protruding tongue
- Long, seemingly hairless legs
- Short snout
- Beady eyes
- Deformed lips
- Deformed eyelids.
A vet supporting this “competition” is also supporting an abysmal standard of animal welfare. I’m sure that this little dog, and perhaps others that are similarly afflicted and in caring homes, have a good quality of life but in the end, such competitions are no different to Victorian freak shows. They don’t demonstrate “love” for dogs but the fact that we have chosen to perpetuate genetic mutations such as hairlessness or colourings such as merle, piebald and white, which in some breeds goes hand in hand with congenital deformities, for no other reason than a love of novelty or the vanity of having something that draws attention to ourselves. I’m glad that there are people who are prepared to take these dogs in and give them good homes. Perhaps they think that by highlighting their own dogs that they will automatically prevent more from being bred, but that is certainly not the way that most of the media (and probably the general public view it).
When “ugly” means deformed dentition, skeletal abnormalities, ocular and aural problems and similar issues there is nothing to celebrate, even if the individual dog has a comparatively good life. Making the existence of such dogs acceptable goes hand in hand with the widespread acceptance of conditions such as severe brachycephaly and achondroplasia that cause misery for millions of affected dogs and lead to much reduced lifespans.
The prevalence of brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs such as pugs, French bulldogs and dachshunds in recent advertising campaigns and in online posts, where their respiratory distress, limited physical ability and chronic associated illnesses are seen by many as being “cute”, is the other side of the coin. When judges and vets accept ataxic, wheezing, gasping dogs as champions, there is something surely very, very wrong.
Before anyone attempts to make a comparison with the lives of people with physical disabilities, we should remember that we have deliberately bred dogs to look like this and that for every dog that may be just plain “ugly” there are many more that suffer the consequences of our (preventable) actions. Many of those dogs, we are told, are the epitome of “beauty”. We should recognise deformities for what they are and we should regard deformed dogs as ugly – not in themselves so much as the fact that they represent some of the worst things that humans have done to dogs.
I hope that the vet is donating her $1,000 winnings and any other money that she may make as a result of her appearances to a campaign to improve dog welfare so that this competition can simply die out through a lack of entries.