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The fall and rise of the English bulldog

American Scientist; Research Triangle Park Vol. 84, Iss. 3,  (May 1996): 220.

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The English (British) bulldog is a breed with a checkered history. It probably started out as a hunting and guard dog, a smaller variant of the mastiff. It was reviled as an untrustworthy tool for a revolting sport and then became a symbol of national courage and fortitude. Today it is merely a dysfunctional lapdog. This history should cause us to reflect not only on the real and symbolic uses to which we put our domestic animals, but also the ethics of their breeding.

These days I do not often see the journal Country Life, that staple of the English doctor's waiting room. Indeed, I have never been quite sure whether I approve of it. It gives heavy play to subjects about which I have grave doubts, like fox hunting and debutantes, and others that I cannot afford, like fine antiques and magnificent country estates (or debutantes, for that matter). Recently a friend passed on a number of copies, and it was interesting to see how little the magazine has changed over the years--the same heavy stock, superb photographs and above all those fascinating advertisements for breathtaking country properties offered for sale at alarming prices--time warp, as they say.

Country Life's aim is the preservation of a particular way of life in the British countryside, some where to the idealistic right of the damp cottages and backbreaking work that made it possible. It celebrates something that one could argue has been a more consistent source of strength to the nation than the Industrial Revolution ever was. Not surprisingly, therefore, the August 24, 1995, issue features the English bulldog. If ever there were a symbol of former glory that had fallen on hard times, it is the English (or British) bulldog, which urgently needs a breeding program that would restore some...