In part 1, I went over the origins of purebred dogs – briefly. To sum up, the branding of the purebred dog was originally ‘carefully bred, for a purpose’. With the advent of a rising middle class with more leisure and more spending power, the companion dog became popular. The family dog became iconic.
The Luxury Dog
With the rise of the family dog, the industry surrounding dogs also changed. While people have given thought to what a dog should be fed since before the Common Era, dogs were fed food from scratch or the leavings from the dinner table. The first commercially made dog food was created in the 1860’s by an enterprising electrition named James Spratt. Still, most people fed their dog table scraps or a recipe of their own devising until commercially available dog food started becoming the norm in the mid-20th century. 1922 saw the first canned food and the 60s saw the first puppy formula come on the market. Now, finding dog food is not the problem; it’s deciding which one!
With the idea of the dog as a luxury item firmly entrenched in mid-century Canada and the U.S., the image of the dog as a status symbol really took off. The first dog shows were largely exhibitions of hunting dogs, but eventually became popular with the public and were opened to more and more breeds. The Kennel Club in England developed criteria for judging different types of dogs and established the Stud Book to authenticate pedigrees. With the popularity of the dog show came the popularity of the dogs that attended it. Purebreds weren’t just valued for what they could; they were valued for their ancestry and their status as ‘papered’ dogs. While the appeal of the mutt had a certain down-home cachet, ‘purebred’ was in ascendancy and the demand for purebred dogs grew throughout the post-war years.
Supply and Demand
As any dedicated breeder knows, producing puppies that are genetically healthy, good-tempered, well-socialized, and finding the right homes for them take a lot of time and not a little money. If you don’t care about that whole health thing and will hand over a puppy to anyone with cash, though… sky’s the limit. After WWII, people had lots of disposable income and they wanted dogs. Since they would pay more for purebreds and even more for papered ones, unscrupulous breeders cashed in. Then someone had the bright idea of stores devoted solely to pets and stocking them with litters bought from breeders who weren’t so very fussy about who got their pups or what they did with them. Wow, we can just keep these dogs in cages with mesh bottoms and not actually interact with them except to breed them and haul out the puppies after 6 weeks with the dam? Bonus!
Too Many Dogs
During the 20th century, the explosion in the dog population in North America became a particularly contentious issue. The dog population mirrored a growing proliferation of human lives and the subsequent discussions about populations that outgrew their resources. People were distressed by the amount of unwanted animals euthanized in shelters and the methods used to kill them. Awareness campaigns about the plight of abandoned and unwanted cats and dogs resulted in people who backed widespread spay and neuter campaigns.
In the 60’s and 70’s, the animal-rights movement started to grow. The Animal Liberation Front was formed in 1971 and PeTA was founded in 1980. These are organizations against the breeding, ownership, and use of domestic animals. ‘Adopt, don’t shop‘ originally meant ‘don’t buy from a pet shop’, but as today’s breeders know, it is flung at anyone who deliberately causes an animal to be born – no matter how carefully selected, no matter how painstakingly planned for.
On to Part 3: The Star That Tarnished