John Rossi

Pedigree-breeding (used interchangeably here with “pure-breeding”) is the practice of selectively breeding animals so as to produce, and then maintain, distinct species sub-types, commonly known as breeds. These breeds are usually defined by a combination of distinct physical appearance, ancestry, and (sometimes) behavior. Pedigree-breeds of multiple species have been developed, including companion animals and livestock. Well-known examples of dog breeds include the English Bulldog, Golden Retriever, Beagle, and German Shepherd; well-known cat breeds include the Persian, Siamese, and Maine Coon. Pedigree-breeds were (and are) created and maintained through inbreeding within a closed subpopulation of animals. When an animal shows desirable physical or behavioral characteristics, it is bred with another animal that shows the same characteristics and/or that is expected to produce offspring showing these characteristics. This process of breeding related individuals continues as breed characteristics are “fixed” and as the breed population expands, and continued propagation of the breed over time then occurs within a “closed” subpopulation of the species, that is, a population that (generally) does not introduce new genetic variation from individuals outside of it (Rooney and Sargan 2009; Gough and Thomas 2004).

Pedigree-breeding can be contrasted with outbreeding (used synonymously in this chapter with “mixed-breeding”), in which the animals that are mated to each other are unrelated or very distantly related. Though pedigree-breeding is a form of selective breeding, it is not synonymous with selective breeding: animals may be bred with any number of selection goals, such as improved health, and such selection need not entail the creation or continuation of pedigree-breeds.

Thus my target in this chapter is pedigree-breeding specifically and not selective breeding more generally.

Historically, humans developed pedigree-breeds of dogs for two main purposes: work and entertainment. Work-related purposes include hunting, guarding, and herding; entertainment-related purposes include aesthetics and fighting (Farrell et al. 2015). Pedigree-breed cats seem to have been uniformly developed for aesthetic purposes. Today, most purebred companion animals are not used for work purposes, and the decision to specifically seek out a particular breed (as opposed to a mixed-breed), while sometimes based on temperament, often appears to be based partly or wholly on aesthetic enjoyment, a term that I understand to include both sentimental attachment to a particular breed and the hobby of breed showing. There are presently hundreds of dog and cat breeds in existence (Farrell et al. 2015; Gough and Thomas 2004). It is not known how many of the eighty-three million dogs and ninety-five million cats kept as companions in the US are pedigree-breeds, but the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that 25 percent of dogs in shelters are pedigree-breeds (HSUS 2014). If this statistic is taken to reflect overall companion-animal composition, then there are approximately twenty million pedigree dogs in the US.

It has long been known in veterinary medicine that pedigree-breeds of dogs and cats suffer from “breed-associated diseases," which are diseases seen exclusively in one or more breeds, or for which pure-breeds are at an elevated relative risk as compared to mixed-breeds. Veterinary textbooks often devote substantial space to such breed-associated diseases, with some textbooks being entirely devoted to them (e.g., Gough and Thomas 2004), and the diagnosis and treatment of such diseases are a routine part of veterinary medical practice. Concern about the adverse welfare effects of breed-associated diseases has been building for some time, with a sharp uptick in recent years due to increased media attention to this problem. Despite this, the ethical defensibility of pure-breeding seems to be assumed by most parties to the debate. Here I offer an argument against the pedigree-breeding of companion animals: not only has pedigreebreeding caused harm to companion animals, but in addition it seems unavoidable that it should do so as compared to “mixed-breeding" or “outbreeding" (when properly undertaken). Further, the harm caused by pedigree-breeding cannot be defended on any reasonable view of animals’ moral standing, since the human interest in pedigree-breeding is morally insignificant. While most of my discussion focuses on dogs, the arguments elaborated below apply to pedigree- breed cats and to other species of companion animals as well. There appear to be no philosophical defenses of pedigree-breeding in the literature, so in considering this issue I have tried to anticipate and respond to what I think the major arguments might be.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >