If you've ever owned a dog, chances are you've gone to a dog park where you’ve encountered other dog owners. If you're unlucky, you might have to deal with one of those pretentious types. When it comes to peoples’ pets there's always that one guy who's a little too proud; he flaunts his pure bred Bernese mountain dog, claiming that because of its six generations of pure bred lineage it can pull an SUV uphill in a snow storm. Or due to its rare phenotype, which causes green eyes in only two per cent of the breed, his dog will always be one of a kind. His animal took years of selective breeding to create, which in turn reflects his sense of accomplishment and style.
When he's finished his speech, there's a brief period where you contemplate telling him your dog is far superior. That your canine companion is genetically engineered to exclusively save orphans from burning buildings and his ancestry is linked back to King Arthur. But you don't do that. Instead, you point to the black and white mutt rolling around in the mud and tell him that's your dog. You don't know his lineage because you got him on a farm however; you know he's got white spots on black fur and you're 90 per cent sure his eyes are brown.
What can be taken away from all this, besides the fact that there's always some pompous jerk wherever you go, is that there are individuals that not only want to have the best-looking gadgets and clothes to express themselves, but in some cases want that from the best looking pets as well.
The whole situation may sound absurd, but it does have a ring of truth to it. People want their pets to reflect who they are and be unique in appearance. Some may do this through grooming, others through genetic breeding, while some are content with putting a funny sweater on their dog and calling it a day.
As a result, we are left asking ourselves many questions. For example, where does one draw the line when changing how their pets look? Are we aware of the effort put into making animals look and act the way we want them to? What will the future hold for the appearances of our furry pals, and are all those who genetically create an animal bad? Having worked in the pet industry for many years, professional dog breeder Linda Butterworth can offer some insight on why people want an animal to look a certain way and how tough it is to do so.
Appearance through breeding and genetics
Butterworth has always had a strong connection with animals, so when it came time to find a path in life she chose the life of a dog breeder. It may not sound glamorous at first, until you realize the work that goes into breeding a healthy animal. She explains how “most people think breeding is just about putting two dogs together, but it really isn't.” In addition to coupling dogs, there are various complications and risks that must be taken into account with breeding; some of which include the loss of puppies, unexpectedly large litters, and emergency C-sections.
Not only is her work important, but in many cases it is life-saving. Butterworth goes on to mention that whether people want to admit it or not popular trends do impact the wants of her customers; from celebrity pets to internet memes, various circumstances may impact why individuals want a certain breed or style.
When it comes to customizing a pet’s look to fit a specific person, Linda has experience. She describes her work on designer breeds in detail stating: “there are two different cross breeds that are bread. When the time comes the new puppies are cared for, receive proper medical attention, are given a fancy name, and sold for a high price.”Butterworth explains that the process isn't cruel or against nature, but when people do this to get a unique look they aren’t considering all the aspects at play. Their new custom breed isn't the next big thing, in fact what they’re doing is paying a lot of money and getting a mutt. “This isn't bad, it just means that in the future the owners have no control over the breeding because the animal isn't pure bred.”
As a dog breeder, Linda discloses that there are always risks involved with designer jobs. If a person were to commission a custom built pet they might have to wait for the right conditions to create the certain look they want. Unless they would like to be responsible for a litter of puppies, and even then only a few could actually have that special desired look.
Lastly, Butterworth mentions that the job of a breeder is to create healthy, happy, animals. She claims that “breeders often get upset when someone wants a specific colour, sex, and size. We breed puppies not robots.” However, she does believe that in the future anything is possible. “The idea of a specially created dog doesn't sound so far-fetched. If there's money to be made someone will do it.”
Appearances through grooming and why we want certain looks
Therefore, if there isn't necessarily anything wrong on the genetic end of a custom look to a pet is there any harm in changing the color of an animal's fur? Molly Denton, long time animal lover, registered vet technologist, and animal breeder sheds light on the appearances of pets. Denton has always had dogs growing up and chose her career to help as many animals as possible. When she declares that there's no harm in changing an animal’s fur, or hair color when done correctly, there's a good chance she's right. She goes so far as to say that in most cases any professional grooming establishment will handle any design, pattern, or color with ease and most animals don't even care after the process is done.
What Denton brings to the table is the understanding of why pet owners want custom hybrid breeds, and why a person would dye an animal’s fur to look a certain way. Molly reveals how there are two types of people when it comes to how a pet looks. Those that want a traditional, recognizable, old world feel to their pet and those who want something original and new. “Some people want their pet to look like the animal we have all come to understand and easily recognize.” She further goes on to state that many owners want the traditional look of classic breeds regardless of if the animal is ever going to fulfill its real world functions. One example of this is the classic French poodle. “The dog was only shaved in a way to aid in its retrieving of water fowl, but people have seen that look for so long it becomes ingrained into our minds.”
Then there is the other side, those who want a different looking pet altogether. “I've been approached before by customers or clients wanting certain eye colors, others wanting a Chihuahua to be far stronger then it could ever be.” Delton knows that there are those who want their pet to be unique, to not just be another Bull-mastiff, to have its own identity, just like its owner. She points out that a customer’s wants often boils down to a checklist of traits to apply to any breed. She stresses that “people need to understand that not all physical traits can apply to any breed and by trying to force that to get a special or interesting appearance can cause problems down the road.” Yet, she does know that the future can bring any possibility.
Custom appearance experience
Therefore, if making your pet's appearance isn't necessarily going to do any lasting damage, so long as people understand the physical limits of a breed, and dye jobs aren’t going to do any damage that leaves the question of what it's actually like owning a custom hybrid animal. Mark Leitch can provide insight into the world of owning an out of the ordinary pet.
When Leitch first purchased his one of a kind African parrot he was fully prepared for any problem that may come his way, but even he was a little surprised by what happened. “Over time I came to realize that its patterns weren’t matching up with the traditional looks of either of the two breeds it came from.” He goes on to explain that he knew his parrot was a cross between a Yellow-naped African parrot and a Yellow headed African parrot. He understood there would be different physical aspects, what he didn't count on was a difference in behavior. “The parrot was overly affectionate, even for a young bird.” He goes on to say that this was all due to its cross bread heritage. “When my wife and I looked into it, we found out that it had a blending of both breeds’ physical characteristics and temperament.”
Despite being overjoyed with the benefits of a custom designed look and attitude of this new parrot, Leitch wouldn’t personally recommend everyone go out of their way for their own specialty pet. He understands the appeal of a unique pet, but doesn’t think people need their animals to look or act in a different way to be special.
He mentions that “birds don't typically mate outside their species, and even in sub species it’s a rare occurrence. If someone did really want a bird similar to mine it would take a lot of time and effort, and even then it could have very different results.” However, he does stress that no matter what, a person should always know what they're getting into when raising any kind of animal, custom built or otherwise.
Knowledge really is the answer for creating custom pet appearances. If we know the limits of the breed chosen, understand the best way to take care of the animal, and the risks involved having a custom built pet there shouldn't be any ethical dilemmas. It's when fads, trends, and popular opinion dictate the literal creation of an animal that causes problems. Most are just happy to give their pet a nice warm bath and maybe a fancy collar to distinguish themselves. For those who use genetic manipulation to get the results they want may not be all that bad, as long as they have all the facts.