Here is a cautionary tale about animals and Asia. Because of what happened to our family, I’m setting down our experiences in the hope that someone else may benefit from them.
Almost four years ago, settled in our new home, we decided to get a dog (something my mother-in-law considers essential to any family). My number one choice, the standard English Bull Terrier, was off the list because Malaysia has breed-specific legislation regarding importation of breeds. In Malaysia, it is illegal to import Akitas, American Bulldogs, Fila Brasileiros, Japanese Tosas, Neapolitan Mastiffs and any Pit Bull or Pit Bull mix (including both the English and American Staffordshire Bull Terrier). Furthermore, Rottweillers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Bull Mastiffs, Bull Terriers and Perro de Presa Canarios are restricted and are not allowed to be sold in pet shops…although they are.
So if we couldn’t legally get our hands on a Bull Terrier, what was left? We decided on a Miniature Bull Terrier that we got from a “reputable” breeder. This means that the dog (Sausage) came with full papers and MKA (Malaysian Kennel Association) registration.
PROBLEM #1: Sausage’s papers only came a few months after we bought her, which was a surprise. In fact, in Malaysia, it is unusual for a breeder to show you a dog’s lineage upon request; we’ve been point-blank refused, being told we’d get a look at it after we bought the dog. Since Sausage & Cookie, we have always walked away from such deals, but when the vast majority of local breeders take this tack, it makes for a lot of heavy-hearted decisions.
When Sausage’s papers finally arrived and I got a look at it, I was appalled. Only three generations back, Sausage had the same dog on both sides of her family. Not only that, her mother was the result of a brother-sister mating that was, in itself, the result of another probable sibling mating. The story was no different on her sire’s side.
From my reading I know that, in the Western world, reputable breeders often make very little money from their dogs. Litters are produced only when there is need and genetic diversity is prized. This is not the case in Malaysia (and, I warrant, the rest of Asia). At the vet’s office (and I’ve visited a few), I see notices for breeders with massive kennels, breeding a bewildering array of dogs, from Shih Tzu to German Shepherd. The same person who will sell you a Beagle will also be able to sell you a Chihuahua or a Doberman.
PROBLEM #2: The breeders in Malaysia/Singapore are only in it for the money and protecting the bottom line means incestuous mating after incestuous mating, especially if both a sire and dam are already available within the same kennel. I have read that breeders say that there are few negative genetic ramifications from this for dogs. I call bullshit on this and so does Jemima Harrison, the courageous woman behind the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed.
But, what can I say, until I got that stab of unease from reading Sausage’s lineage, I didn’t know any better.
Do you know what, though? It didn’t stop us from getting a second mini bully. Her name was Cookie. The promised papers never arrived but, by then, it was too late because we’d already bought her and breeders have a no-refund policy in these parts.
It’s very difficult for me to talk about Cookie. She was a lovely black, white and tan mini with the speed of a whippet. She was able to catch birds on the wing (I’ve seen her take out two birds in our front garden) and survived a snap-and-tumble battle with an adult cobra without a scratch. She was also extremely loving and, like every other bull terrier I have known, an absolute clown.
Unfortunately, at the age of 18 months, something in her snapped and she started picking fights with Sausage. We were forced to separate the house into zones while attempting remedial work. No dice. When The Wast got caught in the middle of one such fight, we knew we had to make the hard decision.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, our opposite neighbour snapped up Cookie, who she’d been eyeing appreciatively and asking questions about whenever we met. This meant that Cookie would now have a stable home but I would be forced to see her every day.
I’m part of the Raw 4 Bullies Yahoo group, a great and very supportive band of raw feeders and bully lovers, and they told me that it wasn’t so bad because I would be able to visit Cookie whenever I wanted. I didn’t say anything to the group at the time, but not in this case. While friendly, our neighbours keep to themselves and, when I paid two visits (the first time, with some of Cookie’s things; the second, with a gift of heartworm medication for all her dogs), it was made very clear that I was never to have any contact with the dog again. So I see Cookie every day, but I’m not allowed to ever visit or pet her.
It’s difficult to know now exactly what went wrong with the Sausage-Cookie dynamic, one that had started with such promise. Could it be as simple as Cookie not liking Sausage? It’s not the female-female thing because Cookie now spends most of her time with four other female dogs (a Jack Russell, a Poodle, a Mini Schnauzer and a Shih Tzu) and seems to get on well with all of them.
PROBLEM #3: A lot of MKA breeders (as opposed to backyard breeders) also own pet shops, which they use to sell their own litters and litters of other breeders. Despite the problem with Sausage (and yes, you may call me stupid), I went to such a breeder for our second bully, thinking that it would be a cut above the regular pet shops that are not owned by pedigree breeders. The fact that the promised papers didn’t arrive after Cookie makes me wonder whether such breeder/pet-shop owners also buy puppies from mills. He said not but, as you’ll realise as you read through my tale of woe, we’re used to being lied to. A lot.
In any case, the experience with Cookie taught us that even so-called reputable breeders could not be trusted.
At this point in the story, we’re back down to one dog, Sausage, and a son with five stitches in his arm (from Cookie, incidentally, but we don’t blame her for it. It was in the heat of the moment. And no, The Wast wasn’t silly enough to step into a fight. He was lifting Cookie into his arms when the fight broke out around him). We wanted to be responsible owners, so we contacted a trainer with 20+ years experience handling and training dogs. Let’s call him Bill. If she was going to remain with us, we wanted to make sure Sausage, who was aggressive with people, was toned down a bit.
Okay, a digression. Sausage has not had very good experiences with people. When we got her spayed, the vet’s office botched it up and infection set in. We had to re-admit her and she underwent an even worse operation to clean out the infected tissue. She’s hated vets ever since. When we kennelled her and Cookie for our trip to Poland, the kennel owners kept both dogs in filthy conditions and they both came back to us — even gregarious, human-loving Cookie — half-starved and fearful. When we kept Sausage in the yard while we were out grocery shopping, the security guards would ride to and fro in front of our front gate and taunt her with their walkie-talkies, then laugh at her when she barked at them.
To all this, we (a) found a new vet (actually, two new vets, one for minor and one for major work), (b) have never gone on holiday since, and (c) keep Sausage inside the house at all times unless she’s outside under our supervision.
But I hope you can see how experience with humans has taken its toll on our beloved Sausage. We wanted that reversed, so we paid for Bill the Trainer to take Sausage for an intensive six-week in-house “reconditioning”. She came back to us much better but I have to say that I believe we’ve built on that since. By enforcing absolutely consistent rules and behaviour from all of us, including the kids, Sausage has relaxed and proven herself to be unswervingly loyal and affectionate to all members of the family, although she does show preference for being with me. She’s still not used to strangers in the house and will bark at them, but it’s not with the same I-will-kill-you ferocity that she had before. She’s coming along just fine and, we all believe, will get better as time goes on.
A year passes.
Next week, I admit that we break down again and try for a second dog.