Do other Boxer club secretaries
get phone calls like this: "My Boxer just died at the age of 3 years. We want another
one but want to get one that won't have heart problems. Can you give us the names of some
Do you also find it impossible to
resist asking who they got their last Boxer from?
Do you shrink in horror when you
find it is someone highly regarded in the dog show world? And does that shrinking become
more pronounced when you find that over time you get other identical phone calls and learn
that some well known breeders produce more short-lived dogs than should be acceptable?
As secretary of a Boxer Club, I'm
expected to recommend that puppy buyers go to reputable breeders. But reputable can be an
empty word. Breeding experience, fame, and show success can have little relationship to
ethical breeding practices.
We have breeders of "good
repute" merrily breeding Boxers with severe heart problems, and abdicating
responsibility by telling the owners of the doomed animal that "every line has heart
problems." Is this true? Perhaps. Certainly it can be said that every line
potentially has heart problems, but if I didn't believe it were possible to breed Boxers
with a good life expectancy, I wouldn't want to persevere. How can these
"reputable" breeders justify continuing to breed if they truly accept that a
Boxer dropping dead at 3 years of age is just a fact of life?
The sad truth is that these
breeders, though reputable, are not responsible. They may know the current
Boxer Standard backwards and forwards, but their ignorance about the breed could literally
kill it off.
We here on the underbelly of the
world have breeders who have never heard of cardiomyopathy, yet it's here. We have vets
who think they can check a Boxers heart with a stethoscope and pronounce it safe
for breeding. We don't have a grading scheme despite vets stating that murmurs are common
enough to be the norm for Boxers! Most breeders don't even screen for hip dysplasia. We
have no "Standard" for the health of our dogs. How can we claim to be any better
than the backyard breeders we're so quick to condemn? How does it help that we know our
dog's pedigree and know how those relatives looked and behaved in their lifetimes if we
don't also take notice of the fact that some of those lifetimes weren't nearly long
I imagine it's very easy for
those of you on the other side of the world to sit smugly and say you're being responsible
breeders. And yes, it is true that in the USA and Canada more and more breeders are
monitoring hearts for cardiomyopathy. And in the UK, having heart murmurs graded is the
"done thing." Does this mean that cardiomyopathy doesn't exist in the UK, and
that heart murmurs are of no concern in the USA? I am certain that the answer to that is a
So what do we do? How about a new
Boxer Standard - one that states clearly the degree of physical fitness required by the
breed and the means of assessing it. Let the Standard state how many VPCs are acceptable
during a 24 hour heart monitor, have it mention the desirable murmur gradings, and include
the optimal hip scores. Then perhaps a breeder who breeds to the Standard would be
producing a Boxer we can all be proud of.
Yes, I know I'm dreaming. Of
course a health element in the Standard would have no effect. If Boxers are shown and
advertised proudly as being over the Standard height, who is going to care if the dogs
don't live up to the Standard in other ways.
So, what about the Kennel Clubs?
Could they start poking their noses into health issues and refuse to register breeders who
don't put health ahead of all else? Fat chance that the Kennel Club would want to get into
a scheme like that!
So who cares enough about the
breed to do something to help ensure that a registered breeder, breeding to the Standard,
is producing Boxers that have every chance to have a long and healthy life. It should be
us Boxer enthusiasts. All of us, everywhere.
We all need to pull our heads out
of the sand. All the serious hereditary health problems in Boxers exist all around the
world! In one country or another, a particular problems may be occurring more frequently
because of the way the "deck" of genes has been dealt there, but without
vigilance, those problems will become more common elsewhere too - shuffle and deal a deck
of cards over and over and eventually you might deal something surprising.
The purpose of all our Boxer
clubs is surely to preserve and promote the breed. Health has to be the most important
consideration in all our breeding programs. Our clubs should be focussing energy on
education, and then regulation to ensure that the people who become reputable
breeders are not destroying our breed.
Maybe one day I'll be able to get
those phone calls asking about a breeder and breathe easy, knowing that I can safely pass
on details of all club members' litters as a source of a Boxer with a good life
Then all I need worry about is
what the temperament of those puppies will be....
Arrrgghhhh - why did I ever agree
to be secretary??!