One evening this week, I sat next to the most adorable little dog on the train home. He was such a cute, tiny scruff, almost smiling as he panted, sat on a cosmopolitan lady's expensive skirt-clad lap. Being a polite sort, I introduced myself to both pooch and proud owner and asked what kind of mix he was, before I stroked him (and got a dozen doggy licks as a reward).
Said owner looked me up and down and exclaimed, rather affronted: "Actually, he's a Dorkie."
I clearly looked confused. Haughtily, she explained: "He's a Daschund-Yorkshire Terrier cross."
Now it was my turn to look at her in a less than favourable manner. This has happened to me, a dog lover living in London, so many times over the past few years and it makes me so, so sad.
Saying hello to a dog and being told, it's not just a dog, it's the latest 'must-have' canine mash-up and the owner is the height of fashion for owning the latest breeding trend. People are paying hundreds if not thousands of pounds for 'Labradoodles' (labrador/poodle cross), 'Cockapoo' (cocker spaniel/poodle cross) 'Puggles' (pug/beagle cross) and 'Chorkies' (Chihuahua/Yorkie cross) and so it goes on, particularly in the tiny 'air dog' sorts.
Yet the vast majority of these dogs are bred by puppy farms with their cruelty and money-grubbing raison d'etre. Or else many of these babies are from unscrupulous breeders who show equally scant regard for animal welfare and no thought to the fact it is a terrible idea to cross for example, a Pomeranian and a Husky to get a Pomsky, both healthwise or behaviourally, which can only lead to problems down the line for the owner. They might sell themselves as 'family' breeders, but unless you see your prospective puppy happy and with its mum having a whale of a time in a home with its siblings, chances are the dog has not been bred ethically.
Yet a lot of new owners of the latest Labradoodles et al, whilst claiming to love animals, don't give the hard facts a second thought. Even if they have bought their designer dogs from a 'reliable' breeder, it begs the question, why even bother with a 'sort of dog'?! Why not just adopt a homeless four-legged-fella who just needs love more than most?
These owners sometimes come up with spurious justifications, like 'Labradoodles are better than normal dogs because they're hypoallergenic, that's why we simply *had* to have one.' They're no more hypoallergenic than any other mutt. But having an on-trend, must-have dog is their only concern, whilst thousands of similar crossbreeds and pedigrees - who are not deemed fashionable - languish in animal rescue shelters in the UK, unloved and unwanted with some on death row.
Has Britain, famed as a nation of dog lovers, gone mad? Fashion dogs, gorgeous they may be (all permutations of pooch are, imho), but they are mongrels at the end of the day. According to vets I've spoken to for this blog post, they are not necessarily healthier than pedigree dogs either, especially those bred by reputable Kennel Club assured breeders who screen for diseases and possible hereditary conditions.
Don't even start with 'this breed/that breed is better/nicer than this/that/other'. Dogs are wonderful but can be unpredictable regardless of breed. My golden retriever Kim was fantastic, but the least stereotypical golden retriever known to man. Ultimately you should only be considering what kind of dog on the whole will suit your lifestyle and whether you can look after it properly - mongrel or pedigree, big, small, needs lots of exercise, doesn't actually, etc and whether it has been responsibly bred.
In addition, the latest Kennel Club research shows that 83% of 'designer dog' crossbreed owners receive no contract of sale and 81% receive no post sales advice on caring for the dog. Another 84% do not have any health test certificates for the parents of their pups.
Another 85% were not grilled by the breeder about their suitability for dog ownership - so how many of these puppies will end up in rescue centres because the owner hasn't done their research and the breeder hasn't made them aware of whether the dog is right for them?
But still, people are thoughtlessly splashing the cash on what, in years gone by, would be common-or-garden crossbreeds, as fashion accessories - and feeding the hideous puppy farm industry. Yet unwanted, abandoned dogs - and some may well be Dorkies - are being put down. It beggars belief. You can't even use the argument that, well, a rescue dog could be a bit dodgy psychologically, as puppy farms and bad breeders don't concern themselves one jot in making your pup a well-socialised, happy baby.
There is a pet shop near where I live, and they always have moggy kittens and mixed breed puppies on sale for hundreds of pounds - the poor sad things, behind the glass, alone all day and often way too young for the recommended weaning age - and idiots buy them. It breaks my heart.
It also makes me furious because so many animals are so desperate right now to be adopted in shelters and these will be happier, healthier, better socialised animals. Buying from a petshop simply justifies the animal farms and dodgy breeders to continue their cruel trade.
Every animal is beautiful, no matter what fashion dictates. I worked at a vets for years as a teen as I wanted to be a vet when I was younger, and saw dozens of unwanted dogs and cats put down as there was no room at rescue centres. The economic downturn has made matters even worse over recent years and the likes of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, RSPCA, Cats Protection, Celia Hammond etc are overrun and desperately in need for people to give forever homes, donate funds, foster or volunteer to help the hundreds of thousands of unwanted and alone animals.
The phrase 'a dog is for life, not just for Christmas' still hasn't got through to some people either it seems.
People who buy a puppy (or kitten) for the sake of fashion probably shouldn't own an animal because they fundamentally don't understand what the responsibility is for looking after another living creature or what it means to adopt.
Let's stop this nonsense in 2014 and please, if you want a pet, why not forgo fashion and give a well-deserving rescue dog (or cat, or rabbit, or hamster) a chance? There are even pedigrees and perhaps some 'trendy' crossbreeds there! Believe me, anyone with any knowledge of animal welfare will think you are far cooler.