Montana breeders report a bull market in canine pets. Or, more precisely, the bulldog market has blossomed under the Big Sky with English bulldogs selling for $1,000 to $2,300.
English bulldog puppies have been listed for sale in Montana newspapers for $2,000-plus for more than two months.
Baby English bulls have much to recommend them - as cute as naked babies, not apt to run away, family loving, cat and child tolerant.
They do, however, have a few flaws. Grave flaws. Bulldogs are high maintenance, tend to grunt, wheeze, slobber and pass wind. Most of these defects (including susceptibility to a number of diseases and physical ailments) can be blamed on the folks who bred the first English bulls.
The bulldog, according to some accounts, was originally bred as a butcher’s dog. Husky, fierce, short-faced dogs were trained to grab a picketed bull by the nose and hold it while his master killed the beef.
This trick led to the popular sport of “bull baiting.” Bull baiting aficionados bet sums large and small on dogs corralled with bulls in the 18th and 19th centuries. England banned bull baiting in the early 1800s and the demand for bulldogs withered.
The homely pug-faced beasts became popular among lace weavers and other craftsmen around the time of the American Civil War. When the lace industry collapsed, so did the demand for English bulldogs in London. The breed was saved by workers who took their craft and their dogs to France where they created the “French bulldog,” mixing poodles, pugs and terriers.
One might believe that the price of bulldog pups would fire the greed of puppy mill operators. After all, $2,300 for a 12-pound ball of wrinkled fur is a prince’s ransom. The cost explains the scarcity of bulldog breeders. Bulldogs are expensive to keep.
The first problem was the artificial selection that created the bulldog’s skeleton. Bulldogs are massive in front and fragile behind – a good design for a dog built to fight bears and bulls, but a poor plan for an animal intended for breeding.
Males have the initial problem. Their undersized hind legs make it practically impossible for them to mount a female. Bitches have a more dramatic flaw – their birth canal is too narrow to admit the passage of a bulldog pup’s broad head. Most litters require caesarian delivery.
The cost of these procedures consumes a large chunk of the puppy’s retail price.
Paying the price bulldogs fetch makes life span a serious consideration. A United Kingdom survey set the average bulldog life at 6.5 years – a short span for a very expensive pet.
British bulldog clubs fix the average age at 10 to 12 years. The clubs have greater reason to stretch the truth. Cancer, heart disease and old age were found to be the most common causes of death.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals tracked bulldogs over a period of 30 years to find 79 percent suffered hip dysphasia, a crippling condition. Luxating patella - a serious canine trick knee - affects 6.2 percent of the breed.
Tracking the bulldog trade across Montana, I met a breeder who noted a hefty price increase for all dogs – purebreds, curs, rescue dogs – every bow wow one of them. I had noticed the same thing. Dogs at private, no-kill animal shelters in Yellowstone County that were once available for the cost of neutering the animal now command hundreds of dollars.
The best friend of my childhood was a Jack Russell terrier (the dog my family called “a wire-haired terrier” and which I called “Jack”). Jack bit everyone in town at least once. He never bit me but made up for that omission by biting the power company’s meter reader and the newspaper boy at least a half-dozen times each.
The classifieds informed me that I could own a JRT for $500 - a sum that would have bought a saddle horse, a 10-year-old Ford or a nearly new motorcycle at that time. Four or five years later my father bought a Jack Russell terrier. He paid a Billings breeder $40.
The new dog had more energy than a firecracker. He bounced about like a soccer ball, not pausing even to be petted. Finally, my father returned the dog to the breeder. The pup was definitely a faulty product but dad never asked for a refund.