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Americans love flat-faced dogs: French bulldogs beat perennial favorite Labrador retrievers to be the most commonly registered purebred dog last year, according to the American Kennel Club, while pugs and pekes aren’t far behind.

But popularity has its drawbacks. In-breeding to meet customer desire for more extreme appearance has led to widespread concern about the effect these pushed-in faces have on dogs’ health. Most notably, misshapen heads can cause soft tissue to partially block the airway, causing difficulty breathing and a lifetime of snorting and snuffling that seems cute on social media but is painful in reality.

“It’s like you’re being strangled all the time,” said Ellen Read, a state legislator who proposed a bill that would make it a form of legal “animal cruelty” to breed dogs whose head shape makes it hard for them to breathe. Such breeding would be a misdemeanor.

The bill, HB 1102, is likely to be rejected by the full House next week since the Environment and Agriculture Committee labeled it “inexpedient to legislate” by a 14-6 vote.

The committee vote followed a hearing earlier this month where scores of breeders came out to oppose the bill, arguing that it was unnecessary, since health certificates are needed for breeders although they don’t specifically cover this issue, as well as too vague and subjective.

In a lengthy statement, Stacey Ober, Government Relations Regional Manager in New England for the American Kennel Club, said the group strongly opposed the “unconstitutional and unjustified attempt at criminalizing the breeding and selling of dogs and other animals.” The statement argued that there is “no proven prevalence” of the issue in New Hampshire and that the AKC and dog-breeding groups were already involved in programs “for the purpose of preserving breed characteristics and producing healthy, well-socialized purebred puppies.”

Read said she was surprised by the virulence of the opposition.

“I’ve been getting hate mail … telling me to stay out of the breeding world,” said Read. “Of all the bills I’ve proposed in eight years, I think a couple hundred, I have never gotten this level of hate and animosity.”

Although Read’s bill was unusual in the U.S. and might have been unique according to PETA, concern is becoming widespread about what veterinarians call brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome or BOAS – “brachycelphalic” being the medial term for a shortened skull. The issue arises mostly in dogs but also in pet species such as cats and rabbits where flat faces are becoming popular. Read’s bill would cover those species as well.

Norway, for example, has banned the breeding of bulldogs and cavaliers, a type of flat-faced spaniel, while the British Veterinary Association has pushed for bans on the use of flat-faced dogs in advertising and seeks a national licensing program to keep track of the problem. This concern has contributed to a sharp drop in the number of flat-faced dogs being bought in Britain, according to the recent data.

More importantly, perhaps, the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom and the University of Cambridge have developed a test that veterinarians can run to give a more objective determination of a dog’s condition. The Respiratory Function Grading Scheme includes “a brisk 3-minute walk” followed by post-exercise auscultation, listening to the dog’s breathing through a stethoscope or other instrument.

The test has a scale of 0 to 3; dogs with a grade of 2 or 3 are considered abnormal and symptomatic of the condition. 

Read argued that this test could provide an objective way to enforce any ban, although it is not mentioned in her bill. Owners of certain breeds would need a veterinarian’s certificate of a good respiratory function score to sell puppies, just as they need other types of health certificates from veterinarians. 

“If somebody claimed there was a problem a law officer could say, ‘OK, show me your certificate,’ and that would do it,” she said.

Read also argued that an approach like her bill could even be profitable as concern spreads about brachycephalic dogs.

“If New Hampshire passed something like this,  everyone in the country would be coming to New Hampshire to get their pugs and French bulldogs because we would be guaranteeing the healthiest in the country,” she said.

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