Voices of the Clarion: Labra-do or Labra-don't?

'Designer dogs' trend more about owners' egos than quality pets

Posted: Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ever heard of a Labradoodle? How about a Yorkiepoo? Maybe a puggle, at the very least?

I'm referring to a new trend sweeping across suburbia that promises to capture your heart with these silly-sounding names for crosses of Labradors and poodles, Yorkshire terriers and poodles, and pugs and beagles, respectively.

These "designer dogs" are combinations of two breeds which reputedly result in a dog with the best traits of the two. For example, it is claimed that the Labradoodle will have the good natured/family companion temperament of a Labrador and the low-allergy/non-shedding trait of a poodle.

On the surface, this doesn't seem like such a bad idea, since the product of these hybridizations are essentially just mutts, which are often superior (in health if nothing else) to their purebred counterparts.

To explain in an oversimplification, late in the 19th century a piece of paper called a pedigree was developed with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, over the years this piece of paper has not only come to mean more than the dog itself in some circles, but it has also all but destroyed a lot of wonderful dog breeds by creating a tiny gene pool saturated with bad traits.

By some accounts, one out of four dogs (25 percent) of American Kennel Club-recognized breeds suffer at least one of the more than 300 genetic disorders identified to date, with rates running as high as 90 percent for some ailments among specific breeds, such as hip dysplasia which is an epidemic in Labradors, German shepherds, Rottwielers and many other breeds.

To play devil's advocate, there are many reputable breeders that screen, certify and guarantee the health of their purebred animals for those willing (and everyone should be) to do the leg work to identify these folks from the puppy mill breeders.

Also, it should be noted that there are reasons why people pursue purebred dogs. One is that you know exactly what you're getting every time in terms of size, color and temperament.

This brings me back to some important points in regard to designer dogs. While they can have the best of the breeds represented, they can also possess the worst of the original breeds.

You can't predict what size a designer puppy will be as an adult or precisely what it will look like, no matter what the breeders of these concoctions claim. Despite the cutesy names, these dogs are not breeds in and of themselves.

There is also the outrageous sums that designer dogs cost. I have rarely seen these high-priced pooches advertised for less than $1,500, and have even seen some fetch a price as high as $2,500.

This is perhaps the real travesty of the whole concept. Why would a person pay such an exorbitant amount for, as an example, a Lab mix?

By putting in minimal effort a person can get the very same type of Lab mix from Alaska's Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski or the animal shelters in Kenai and Soldotna for a fraction of the price.

Also, more importantly, by getting a mixed-breed dog from the latter two facilities, you get the added bonus of knowing you saved an animal's life.

To quote a popular catch phrase among animal rescue workers who are forced to euthanize scores of dogs weekly, many of which are pups that will never see their first birthdays: "Don't breed and buy while good animals die."

To make one final point, dogs have been selected and bred for favorable traits since they were first domesticated thousands of years ago. But, these were breedings done for things such as the ability to hunt game or guard livestock. This new practice is something entirely different.

Breeding designer dogs to meticulously customize them is an appalling practice done for human ego satisfaction, rather than for focusing on traits that will make a canine companion that is healthier, heartier and happier. And that's a dog-gone shame.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Clarion.

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