Recently I found myself taking Buddy for a walk. Poor old, sweet Buddy — my sister’s 10-year-old cavoodle. Although he still attracts human admirers with his styled, silky blonde curls and his eternally youthful, pretty boy looks, his gait is quite ponderous these days and I mainly feel sorry for him.
I mean, he is lucky in that he gets to live with my sister — his doggy world is lovely and my sister gives him the best of loving care; however, as a designer dog, he has a range of genetic issues which impact on his quality of life. Mainly he has skin problems and allergies. He frequently has scabby sores all over him, his ears weep and he emits an unpleasant body odour. This means that pats are tentatively given and hugs are out of the question. Cute though Buddy looks, and winningly good-natured though he is, Buddy is hard work and hard to welcome indoors; more importantly, Buddy is never comfortable.
I often wonder about the ethics of designing dogs for customers seeking a novel, attractive, high-status accessory. To be sure, it is a lucrative industry and there is a growing market for aesthetically appealing pets, of a convenient, space efficient size, which don’t shed hair and have a predictable temperament, but is it fair to the Buddies of the designed world?
We hear of problems such as congenital heart defects and luxating patellas (slipping kneecaps) in various dog breeds and yet, still, for many customers, these are minor concerns compared to aesthetic appeal and, often, only a cavoodle, spoodle, schnoodle, cockalier, dachsihuahua, labradoodle or puggle will do. To be fair, responsibly crossbred dogs should benefit from the tendency towards ‘hybrid vigour’, whereby a more diverse genetic makeup typically reduces susceptibility to health issues; and no doubt there are many problem-free specimens, who get to live privileged, indulged lives without any complaint. Buddy, however, is a reminder that some breeders are unscrupulous profiteers and some dogs are genetically unlucky.
I wonder, too, at the financial masochism of owning a designed ‘lemon’. The multi-digit purchase price can be negligible compared to the ongoing maintenance costs — and let’s not even think about pooch parlours, salons and doggy spas. “Oh, my poor boy, with your pussy eyes, boily skin and nasty limp. Let’s get you to the vet again. Hop in your shoebox while I fetch the trolley to carry my purse. Or, perhaps I won’t need the trolley after all — my purse is quite light after yesterday’s visit.”
We have nicknamed Buddy ‘Imelda’, after Imelda Marcos, most famous for her excessive shoe collection. Imelda was also the wife of former Philippino president Ferdinand Marcos, with whom she (somehow less famously) fled the Philipppines in 1986 during the chaos of the army — backed ‘people-power’ revolt. More memorable may have been the fact that she had to abandon her shoes, 1,200 pairs of which were stored in boxes and only discovered, water and termite damaged, after floods that occurred 26 years later. Anyway, Imelda had shoes and Buddy has i-shoes (issues), in excessive quantities. We laugh at Buddy and his ‘shoe’ collection; but walking in his shoes can’t be easy.
Of course, I am glad that I don’t have to decide Buddy’s fate. His original owners gave up on him because of his healthy shoes: his skinny shoes and smelly shoes, in particular. (His greedy shoes and weighty shoes are of lesser import and relate to his prescription druggy shoes…) My sister rescued him and is doing her best by him with his best interests at heart. Each owner has to search their soul in making those decisions and choices. Yet when little children strain at parents’ hands to greet Buddy, and plead for a puppy just like him, I don’t take their side; in fact, I have to resist handing over the lead and suggesting that they take my sister’s dog for just one day and seriously consider a different kind of pet — one bred with less human intervention. When it all comes down to it, Buddy is easily pleased and brings much joy. I surely would not want to be abandoned or eliminated because of my personal shoe collection: my moody shoes or hairy shoes or stuffy shoes or windy shoes…