The Sad Story of the Bulldog

Tomorrow, the University of Georgia Bulldogs face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the annual “Clean Old Fashioned Hate” football game. But it’s the animal that will be present at the sideline which has caught my attention: the mascot of UGA, a bulldog named Uga.

In a very strong piece in The New York Times, “Can The Bulldog Be Saved?,” we learn about the bulldog’s history, how its bred, and the host of diseases that the bulldog succumbs to. What humans desire in the bulldog, such as its squashed face, is a trait that can be passed down from generation to generation through selective breeding. But if you read the piece, you’ll tend to agree that “it is the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world that results in congenital and hereditary problems.” A few quotes from the piece below.

Bulldogs are more prone to diseases than other dog breeds:

Bulldogs are significantly more likely than other dogs to suffer from a wide range of health issues, including ear and eye problems, skin infections, respiratory issues, immunological and neurological problems and locomotor challenges. 

It is worthwhile to note how the British Kennel Club and its American counterpart, the Bulldog Club of America, differ on the bulldog standard:

The British Kennel Club announced that it was revising the bulldog standard (a written template for the look and temperament of a breed) in an effort to make bulldogs sleeker and healthier. The new bulldog standard in England calls for a “relatively” short face, a slightly smaller head and less-pronounced facial wrinkling.

But the Bulldog Club of America (B.C.A.), which owns the copyright to the American standard, says it has no plans to follow suit. The American standard still calls for the breed to have a “massive, short-faced head,” a “heavy, thick-set, low-swung body,” a “very short” face and muzzle and a “massive” and “undershot” jaw.

An interesting note on how Uga VII served his mascot duties:

Uga VII didn’t appear to relish his mascot duties. Unlike his father, Uga VI, who was loud and boisterous and enjoyed chasing after the school’s costumed bulldog mascot, Hairy Dawg, Uga VII seemed most comfortable in the back corner of his doghouse — or, better yet, outside the stadium entirely. A few minutes before halftime, Seiler’s adult son, Charles, led the dog off the field by a leash to a waiting golf cart. Uga VII hopped on, and a young woman drove us out the stadium’s back service entrance, up a hill, around some bends to an unspectacular patch of grass that doubles as the dog’s game-day bathroom. When the cart came to a stop, Uga VII bounded off it and spent the next few minutes happily sniffing the grass, urinating on a tree and defecating behind a bush.

An analogy of how humans would breathe if they were bulldogs:

Dr. John Lewis, an assistant professor of dentistry and oral surgery at Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, says the human equivalent to breathing the way some bulldogs do “would be if we walked around with our mouth or nose closed and breathed through a straw.”

A trivia about the bulldog’s showing at the Westminster dog show:

The last time a bulldog won best in show at Westminster was 1955, and it has been nearly 30 years since a bulldog made it out of the group competition, which pits it against other nonsporting yet decidedly higher-brow breeds — including what may be the bulldog’s aesthetic opposite, the poodle.

A brief history of the bulldog and the author’s observations about how hard it is to judge a healthy bulldog:

It was my first time at a bulldog show, and I had a hard time differentiating the champion dogs from the inexperienced newcomers — or the hopelessly outmatched. Some of the more than 60 bulldogs in attendance appeared to move around the show ring better than others, which several show breeders confirmed to me was something that most judges value. (The bulldog standard in America calls for a bulldog’s gait to be “unrestrained, free and vigorous” but concedes that the breed’s “style and carriage are peculiar.”) While I discounted several dogs for appearing overweight, the judge chose one of the larger bulldogs (Brix) as her winner and told me after the competition that she likes bulldogs to be “big and sturdy.”

What was clear to me while watching these bulldogs compete was that none could have succeeded at the breed’s original purpose. Bulldogs get their name from their role in bull-baiting, arguably the most popular sport of the Elizabethan era. Though the genetic origin of the bulldog is debated, most believe that bull-baiting dogs of that era were descended from a mastiff-type dog. Fighting bulldogs were leaner and higher off the ground than bulldogs today, and their muzzles were longer. They had smaller heads, fewer facial rolls and a long tail. As a respected bulldog breeder conceded to me at the B.C.A. show, “Bulldogs today are not even a figment of what they used to be.”

It’s a fascinating piece, and well worth reading. The author, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, has spent at least a year compiling facts for this article, as his personal stories of visit to Sanford Stadium (on the campus of University of Georgia) attest.

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