7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018

A dog's life

The angst of Wally Conron is not quite on the scale of J Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the Manhattan Project and who then feared the consequences that his brilliance had let loose on the world. Compared to the atom bomb, the hypoallergenic labradoodle might seem comical but, as Mr Conron, the dog breeder who created it, says: "I've done a lot of damage".

When Mr Conron, the puppy-breeding manager at the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia, first produced a cross-breed between a labrador retriever and a standard poodle, he had no idea that he was unleashing the prospect of a lot of unhealthy dogs. First came the celebrity endorsement that make the dogs fashionable; Jennifer Aniston was seen walking round Hollywood with one. Christie Brinkley and Tiger Woods became owners. President Obama publically considered a labradoodle for the White House.

The celebrity stage was quickly followed by unscrupulous copying as breeders sought the desirable exaggerated physical traits such as flat faces. Farms have emerged with no respect for the scientific care needed in breeding, which are producing very unhealthy puppies, some with mental problems. As Mr Conron laments: "Instead of breeding out the problems, they're breeding them in." The consequence is that numerous crazy dogs are unwanted and either put down or abandoned to wander the streets.

The desire to satisfy the demand for artificial cuteness has led to a mess straight out of science fiction. In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood describes a dystopia of genetic engineering in which hybrid beasts called wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks roam the land. Technology is abused at the cost of responsibility. Labradoodles might not be as serious as that but there is no reason to inflict pointless suffering on dogs for the sake of human vanity. H G

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