Every week I get at least one call from a client that goes something along these lines:

Doctor, my family and I are ready for a new pup and we’re having a hard time deciding on the breed. My son wants an American Bulldog and my husband wants an English Bulldog. I’d really prefer a Pug but I know I’m outnumbered. What do you think?

What I want to say?:

Since you’re the one making this phone call I suspect you’re destined to be the responsible party in this endeavor. Moreover, I`ve met your useless husband and that delinquent of a sixteen-year-old son. Consider your own role in this project as far more important than that of the two ineffectual men in your life.

What do I really say?:

Knowing your wonderful family as I do, I think you might want to consider a compromise. American Bulldogs are … and English Bulldogs are … so perhaps a French Bulldog, which is … would satisfy the entire family. May I supply you with a website to learn about the breed along with the names of some responsible local breeders?

Thus I steer her towards a breed I know she can handle on her own and one that won’t offend the masculine sensibilities that need sorely to be disabused of the misconception that they run the household.

What do you think you’re doing?, you may well ask. Why do vets always think they have the authority to recommend specific breeds when (1) there are so many unwanted, wonderful mixed breed dogs out there?; and (2) breed selection is not truly the purview of a medical person?

Both points accepted respectfully, let me now say that (1) these callers are always individuals I've dealt with frequently. I know when they won’t accept anything but a purebred, so I steer them towards shelters and strays whenever remotely possible; and (2) these people are calling because they have no other dog resources in their lives. If they were integrated into any kind of dog society they’d already have a solid idea of what breed they’d best bond with.

Furthermore, should I neglect to provide a specific breed along with resources for them to locate pups I’d soon have an unhappy, overwhelmed client living with both a pet shop-bred, non-potty-trained Pug (whom the father and son pitilessly abuse) and an American Bulldog (lower-priced and more readily available in Miami than an English Bulldog) who spends his whole life out of doors. This is the reality of veterinary practice. Sometimes you have to step a little outside your role for the benefit of dogdom.

More rarely, but often enough, I receive calls from sophisticated dog people who want my take on all the health risks of specific breeds they’ve already thoroughly researched. Now that’s where I’m most likely to stay put in my rightful veterinary place and give the straight medical opinions I’m well qualified to provide.

While in vet school we had this elderly jokester of a prof who loved to say that the best way to start a vet practice was to become a Shar-Pei, Boxer, and English Bulldog breeder simultaneously. In this way you’d immediately secure a clientele for all things dermatologic, respiratory, ophthalmic, behavioral, cardiac, gastrointestinal, oncologic and orthopedic.

As a previous boxer owner I’d have to agree — between my two boxers I had three cancers, two eye disasters, two cruciate ligament tears, a soft palate resection, severe allergic skin disease, refractory nasal bordetella, chronic colitis and cardiomyopathy. But I’ll still recommend boxers from excellent breeders (I happen to know one who’s bred cancer-free for over three generations).

While it’s true that some breeds have more issues than most, the real issue is always the breeding and never the breed itself. If you can breed to propagate specific health disasters like hip dysplasia and dermatologic allergies you can also breed these problems into submission. Experienced breeders know how to do this. Responsible breeders practice this art daily. They follow their pups' health through adulthood, keep meticulous records, select breeders for their health over their appearance, and outsource new bloodlines from like-minded breeders with whom they’ve formed close connections. It’s not easy.

Still I agree, most people are much better off with a simple stray pup. In terms of genetic well being, the odds are generally in their favor. But if it must be a purebred, as in most cases I confront, then better it be a breed and breeder of my choosing than a puppy mill Cockapoo with suppurating ears and congenital cardiac disease. Do you blame me?

Image: Peaches by Vivian Chen