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The Brachycephalic Issue: Evidence, Emotion and Challenged Beliefs

Brenda Bonnett

Viewed: 1,780 times


I look forward with interest to see how the discussions and collaborations develop on this important issue.  Brachycephalic – flat-faced dogs – are a hot topic.


As has been said elsewhere, there are intense emotions and strongly-held opinions on all sides.  There continue to be opposing views expressed on the internet and social media - not always in a respectful manner; some rather confrontational. In my experience, people at opposing poles (of this and other issues) often share some similarities - they are passionate in their beliefs; have confidence in their own evidence; may dismiss the evidence put forward by others (or interpret it very differently); both may accuse the other side of ignoring the evidence.  All feel they are fighting a good cause; most, I would say, have ‘good’ intentions. 


As an epidemiologist I generally try to see the 'Big Picture'.  As a representative of IPFD and the one who is ultimately responsible for, I am committed to providing a balance, highlighting the issues in the broadest sense, providing evidence, and trying to promote information sharing and collaboration.  I am optimistic that all sides will find this helpful. However, there is certainly some risk that the efforts of a ‘moderate' (or a moderator) may actually serve to frustrate those at the poles of an issue.


And, interestingly, I came across a perfect example of this, just this week, relative to the controversy surrounding the outlawing of horse slaughter for meat in the USA.  Without going into the details, the consequences of eliminating humane slaughter, while reducing the production of horse meat for human consumption, have almost certainly included increased suffering and welfare issues for many horses.  I do not want to start a debate here!  I do want to tell you about a conversation I had with Prof. Hal Herzog.  He invited another researcher to post to his blog (on Psychology Today) her - balanced - assessment of the impacts and issues on both sides of the question.  To their angst and surprise, rather than an inflow of comments thanking them for a reasoned and unbiased presentation of the issues, the authors were attacked.  And attacked almost equally by those at either end of the issue. One can only hope that many who read the information – but who declined to comment – were thoughtfully inspired by the material; that they would consider the ramifications of 'best intentions', both in this specific case and, in general; and that they might be moved to ponder the potential for unforeseen or unintended consequences in all acts and actions.  


We will always get more comments from those with strong opinions than those in the middle, even if the latter represent the majority.  This assumption must sustain those of us trying to provide exposure to the complex and challenging issues of people and pets. 




Let us have respect and compassion for each other; let us believe that each of us – even if we don’t agree on the exact definitions - wants health, well-being and welfare for dogs and to support all that is good in human-animal interactions.  Let us find common ground and work collaboratively towards those goals


A friend/ colleague, commenting on a draft of this blog said, “Compassion and empathy saves us all from becoming completely blinded by our own entrenched views.” 


Posting a plea to avoid conflict on Remembrance Day, here in Canada, seems somehow appropriate.


You might be interested in Prof. Herzog's book: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.


And I will mention another very recently published book: Companion Animal Ethics, by Sandoe, Corr and Palmer.


Thanks to Jen St. Louis Photography for the chameleon image.










Recommended Comments

This makes me remember that in the XIXth century, the main association for animal welfare in France (SPA Societe Protectrice des Animaux) supported horse meat consumption (Pierre, 2003, L’hippophagie au secours des classes laborieuses, Communications, 74:177-200.), for the same very reasons that make some people currently support horse slaughter in USA...


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Sandøe, Peter & Kondrup, Sara Vincentzen & C. Bennett, P & Forkman, B & Meyer, Iben & F. Proschowsky, H & Serpell, James & Lund, Thomas. (2017). Why do people buy dogs with potential welfare problems related to extreme conformation and inherited disease? A representative study of Danish owners of four small dog breeds. PLoS ONE. 12. 10.1371/journal.pone.0172091.

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