“Designer dogs” are increasingly in vogue. It’s not uncommon to see a labradoodle or a goldendoodle–big dogs who look like animated Muppets–galloping down the street. Cockapoos, maltipoos, anything with a “-poo” suffix are a dime a dozen these days. Puggles have entered into mainstream consciousness. The dogs are always cute. They seem happy. But I admit that I always get a little uncomfortable when I meet someone who owns and intentionally sought out a “designer dog” breed.
What bothers me is NOT that people are making “new breeds.” People have been doing that for centuries. The majority of breeds recognized by the AKC today were the “designer dogs” from Victorian England. I get that and I’m not distressed by it. What really bugs me about designer dogs is that they are bred solely for cuteness and convenience. This also means that the majority of “designer dogs” are bred by puppy mills. The goal of these breeding facilities is to churn out these fluffy puppies as fast as possible to get them into the hands of the insatiable and regrettably unscrupulous public.
Just a few months ago, I ran into a young woman about my age who was walking what appeared to be an animated stuffed animal. The cream-colored fluff ball on a pink line weighed all of two pounds. I asked her if I could pet him, and she said yes. She told me that he was a five-month-old maltipoo, which she chose because “it’d fit well in my little apartment.” Yes, the little creature made my heart nearly burst with how adorable and tiny he was, but as I walked away, I couldn’t help but feeling sad that this animal had been micro-sized just for human convenience.
In 2007, the New York Times ran an article on the explosion of designer dog breeds and examined the prime profit-maker for these franken-puppies: The giant puppy mill, paradoxically named Puppy Haven Kennel, in Wisconsin. (Mercifully, about a year after this article was published, the Wisconsin Humane Society bought the puppy mill and sought to re-home the 1,100 dogs it rescued.)
The article makes the link between the existence of these terrible mills and the public demand for cute, convenient dogs. The writer cites Katherine C. Grier, a cultural historian and author of Pets in America, who says:
“The dogness of dogs has become problematic. We want an animal that is, in some respects, not really an animal. You’d never have to take it out. It doesn’t shed. It doesn’t bark. It doesn’t do stuff.”
In the busy 21st century, people want dogs who act more like cats: They should be small, fastidious, independent, and require little attention or training. It’s a nice idea, but that’s not really a dog. But people promote and market “designer dogs” as if they were all of these things, as if they were nothing more than a new lamp to go with your living room, like this appalling article suggests. They’re “hypoallergenic”! (A myth that has been debunked.) They don’t make any noise! They don’t shed! They’ll never need any training! These are not dogs. These are glorified stuffed animals.
Any time we mass produce an animal to fit our own flights of fancy, we’re doing a grave injustice and we should be ashamed of ourselves. In a country that demands instant gratification and convenience, it’s no wonder that we have designer dogs and puppy mills around every corner. I only wonder if this is something that will ever change.