AR-News: (CA - US) 'Designer' puggles have dog breeders snarling
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Tue Mar 30 14:31:32 EST 2004
Sunday, March 28, 2004 - 6:45:34 AM PST
'Designer' puggles have dog breeders snarling
By Joelle Farrell - COLUMBIA NEWS SERVICE
ITS origin is hazy, but most believe the first puggle puppy was created during a jailbreak at a kennel. A frisky male pug must have nosed his way to a female beagle and nestled down for the night. What resulted was a litter of crossbred puppies resembling baby bloodhounds and aptly dubbed puggles.
But what may have previously resulted in a litter of throw-away pups will now sell at a pet store for up to $1,000 a head -- almost $200 more than the price of a purebred beagle pup.
Puggles are part of a controversial new wave of dog breeding. Sometimes called "designer mutts," puppies like the schnoodle, the cockabiche and the shih apso are rapidly gaining in popularity and selling at exorbitant prices. Some breeders claim that crossing two purebreds creates a healthier dog with a better disposition. Puggles supposedly do not howl like beagles and do not have breathing problems often associated with the pug, said Michael Rubin, 30, manager of Puppy Paradise in Brooklyn.
While few dispute the cuteness of a puggle puppy, many question the motivation behind its breeding, as well as the qualifications of the breeders putting them up for sale.
"It's a mutt and people are spending $800 to $1,000 for the thing," said Patty Staub of Virginia, who has bred beagles for 40 years. She says crossbreeding such different dogs to eliminate unwanted traits is a disgusting idea. "That's like saying I'm going to cut off a basketball player at the knees so he can fit through the door," she said. "These people have no idea what it takes to make a good breed."
Good breeding requires careful planning and research, as well as meticulous attention to bloodlines, said Anita Frech, 75, of the Pug Dog Club of America. Breeders often perform genetic tests to determine which animals are fit for breeding. Because pugs and beagles have their own particular health problems and tendencies, Frech said she could not imagine throwing a beagle into the pug family tree. "That is outrageous. Why would you want to louse up a good dog?"
Terri Gianetti, who has bred beagles for 20 years and has handled pugs in the show ring, was particularly concerned with the puggle's shortened muzzle. Beagles were originally bred for hunting, and they love to run. They were bred with long muzzles so they could effectively pant and cool themselves quickly, she said. But pugs, which were bred only for companionship, have flat faces that make panting difficult. So pugs are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and dehydration. Crossing the breeds could create a puppy that is more likely to suffer from heat-related illness, Gianetti said.
"You shorten the muzzle on that dog but it still has the desire to run and hunt," she said. "That's like a nightmare."
But puggle breeders claim that crossbreeds are healthier than purebreds because they are more genetically diverse. This notion, known as hybrid vigor, continues to be hotly contested among breeders, owners and scientists.
The idea of hybrid vigor is generally accepted among scientists, said John Pollack, a professor of animal sciences at Cornell University. "Crossbred animals are typically healthier," he said. A cross between a pug and a beagle should eliminate genetic problems that may exist in either breed because about 90 percent of genetic problems are recessive.
However, it is also possible to bring health problems into crossbred puppies that existed in only one parent, Pollack said. Greyhounds, for example, rarely develop hip dysplasia, which causes weakness and arthritis in a dog's hind legs. However, the condition is found in Labrador retrievers. A crossbreed would be healthier than the retrievers with respect to hip dysplasia. But because greyhounds hardly ever get the disease, Pollack said, "The crossbreed would have trouble being superior to the greyhound."
Pollack also stressed that studying hybrid vigor is difficult because of the effect of environment on health. A puggle raised in poor conditions would likely be unhealthy, no matter how strong its genetic makeup. And many purebred dog breeders fear that most puggles are born in puppy mills, where dogs are kept in small, unclean cages, and females are bred to exhaustion.
"They're not reputable breeders that do that," said Frech, who has spent decades perfecting her pugs. She said only uneducated breeders running puppy mills would attempt the strange cross of pug to beagle. "It really upsets me that someone would do this."
Wallace Havens, who has been crossbreeding dogs for 35 years in Sun Prairie, Wis., refutes the idea that he runs a puppy mill. He offers buyers about 30 different purebreds along with almost 30 crossbreeds, including puggles.
"Lots of people think, 'Well, if it's a big kennel, it's a puppy mill,'" he said. "We feel we have the best facility for breeding dogs." Havens would not reveal the number of workers that attend to the puppies, but he said puppies are well-socialized because they are frequently handled. His dogs have plenty of room, can go outside or inside whenever they please, and their pens are filled with pea-sized gravel, which is easier on their feet than concrete. His dogs, he said, "never drink out of a dirty bowl."
"They help me make a living and I appreciate it, and I want to do the best for them," Havens said of his dogs.
Although he does not perform genetic tests, Havens said he carefully chooses breeding stock and watches closely for defects. "If we have some dogs that have defects, we never breed those dogs again. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out."
Havens, who also raises beef cattle, would not disclose how many puggles he has produced and sold during the six years he has bred them. But he said they are very popular because they tend to be healthier and better tempered than either pugs or beagles. "If you want to see problems in dogs, the first place you look is purebred dogs," he said. People will pay a high price for a puggle because it's a better pet, he said.
But if the puggle is not bred for the show ring or for hunting, why spend $1,000 on a pet when so many puppies are being euthanized daily at the pound, some dog lovers say.
"If it's a matter of making a good companion for people, what's wrong with the shelter?" said Mindy Seley, 30, who volunteers for the Boston Terrier Rescue in Houston. Pugs, beagles and other purebred dogs are abandoned every day, she said, along with mutts of all kinds. "I bet there's a dog in the shelter that would fit your needs," she said. "There are so many of these dogs waiting for good homes."
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