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The Man Who Began the Designer Dog Craze Is Sorry

"I've done a lot of damage," the popular dog breeder said.
Image: Wikipedia

The Westminster Dog Show is set to take place this weekend in its regular New York City location, but the annual canine-centric event already made headlines this week when it was revealed that mixed-breed dogs will be able to participate in parts of the competition for the first time in its 138-year history. Not everybody is happy with the news, however—but not for the reasons you might think. Wally Conron, the man who is widely credited with inventing the Labradoodle and kicking off the "designer dog craze," spoke to the Associated Press this week to come clean about how much he regrets doing so.

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Conron made the first Labradoodle back in the late 1980s by cross-breeding a standard Labrador and poodle. At the time, he was searching for a dog that would fit his and his wife's special needs. And, well, it seemed like he had found one: for once, he didn't have an allergic reaction to the animal. And the thing was cute—so cute that it quickly became a hot commodity for celebrities and dog lovers the world over.

And that's where the problems set in, Conron explained to the AP. With so much demand for the new "wonder dog," exploitative puppy mills sprung up that paid little or no attention to the science of breeding dogs safely.

"Instead of breeding out the problems, they're breeding them in," Conron said. "For every perfect one, you're going to find a lot of crazy ones."

Of course, this is a problem of market forces impinging on people's ability to breed animals in an ethical manner, not just the depraved actions of a single person. But Conron's statements suggest that he believes he provided the first nudge that put the wheels in motion for the entire puppy mill industrial complex that exists today. In the AP's report, he blamed himself for opening a "Pandora's box" and creating a "Frankenstein"-like abomination.

"I've done a lot of damage," Conron told The Associated Press. "I've created a lot of problems."

The real issue here isn't necessarily with creating mix-breed versus purebred dogs, but the act of over-breeding itself. Vets and animal rights activists have previously voiced opposition against the breeding of brachycephalic dogs, or certain flat-faced breeds like pugs and bulldogs that have suffer from many respiratory issues because of the shape of their snouts.

Many of these kinds of dogs can't readily exist in nature on their own because the exaggerated shapes for which they've been bred (broad shoulders, tiny hips) makes the very act of reproduction impossible as well. As one leading expert in treating such flat-faced dogs said in a 2012 BBC documentary on the subject (written up here by The Daily Mail): "It is unbelievable that we need invasive surgery just to repair the basic needs of the dog. Breathing is the most basic need and this is no way acceptable from any ethical point we have today."

Getting a French Bulldog might not be as horrific as, say, Soviet researchers figuring out how to make a two-headed dog. But it's telling that even one of the key people behind the designer dog movement has begun to liken himself to this kind of mad scientist.