Friday, May 8, 2015

A Matter of Breeding by Michael Brandow

When I was nine, my parents wanted to get a family dog. We had a family friend who was involved in showing German Shepherds. She had connections with breeders and through her, we brought Jody into our family.

Jody (his pedigreed name was Jodler von Chicagoland, with the "J" pronounced the German way, like a "Y") was AKC certified and had been a show dog. We got him when he was four years old, and had been disqualified from the show ring because of his hip dysplasia.

We weren't interested in having a show dog. We wanted a family dog. And we got one. Jody was the best. Loyal and loving, guard dog and friend, he was part of our family until the hip dysplasia got so painful he couldn't walk and we had to put him down (this was before hip replacement surgery for animal or human was common).

Brandow could have used Jody as an example to make his point in his book, A Matter of Breeding: A Biting History of Pedigree Dogs and How the Quest for Status Has Harmed Man's Best Friend.


In the book, Brandow goes into great detail about how dog breeding is harming dogs. He describes dogs he knows personally as well as delving into historical and cultural influences that have created the breed focused culture in which we live. He ties the now reviled practice of eugenics with the focus on breed superiority, which he calls breedism. The creation of dog fancy organizations as well as dog breeders in search of the perfect specimen have created a culture more focused on breed superiority than on canine companionship.

This history of breedism and breediness (isn't that a great word?) has resulted in dogs that have been, and still are, often chosen not to be companions, but to be specimens of perfection and status symbols. Brandow drives home the point that all of this - the inbreeding, the focus on show dogs, and the search for breed standards that don't allow dogs to be dogs - is harming animals we claim to love.

Dogs shouldn't have to suffer horrific pain from hip dysplasia, like Jody did. Or die from cancer at a young age like so many Golden Retrievers. Or have haeart and breathing problems like so many bulldogs.

He makes a strong case for the damaging effects of dog breeding and pedigree. He does so with footnotes and references and quotations galore. Brandow does not hide his disgust for breeding and pedigreed pretentiousness, and I felt his contempt come through the pages. I found his hard hitting approach off-putting, even though I agree with him that dog breeding has resulted in suffering for dogs.

I've had pedigreed dogs. I've had mixed-breeds as well. When my kids were young, we had Bas (short for Sebastian). Bas was a mixed-breed stray who we brought into our family. He was a cuddle-sweet dog, energetic, adorable and loving, who slept on my daughter's bed.

I admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for German Shepherds. Brandow might be disgusted with this, perhaps seeing this as me buying into and perpetuating the pedigree culture.

But what I realized after reading this book is that I love German Shepherds, not because they are purebred, but because they remind me of Jody. I also have a soft spot for small, black dgos with velvet ears. They remind me of Bas.

Jody wasn't a great dog because he was a German Shepherd, and Bas wasn't a great dog because he wasn't purebred. They were great dogs. Period.

My big takeaway from this book is if you're going to get a dog, get a dog to love. There has been, and still is, a huge culture revolving around breed superiority, which doesn't seem to get to the heart of the many great reasons to bring a dog into your life.

Thanks for stopping by! You can find out more about Michael Brandow on his Facebook page. You can check out the Facebook page for this blog: NOT The New York Times Book Review.

Librarything has an Early Reviewer program, where members can receive (free!) copies of books. Members can request a book, and if they are chosen to receive a book, the only requirement is that that person writes a review for librarything. I was one of the lucky ones this month! Thank you, librarything!

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