I've met many people who've proudly told me when I've been introduced to their wonderful dog that they didn't expect him or her to turn out so well because "she was definitely the runt of the litter but we felt sorry for her".
There are some people who have a genuine belief that all litters of puppies contain a runt. A dog that has scrapped their way through the first weeks of life, a true underdog.
Here's the thing though. Not all litters contain 'runts' and the smallest puppy in any litter is not, by default, a runt. It's just smaller. At that time. The so-called 'runts' often grow up to be bigger and stronger than their siblings, this is nature. Sometimes small kids have a growth spurt at 15-years old and they're suddenly six feet tall. They were not previously 'runts'.
Some puppies suffer sickness and disability as a result of illness. Some puppies are naturally small and stay small. Some puppies really do struggle to survive their first weeks and, sometimes, months in this world.
People have a natural tendency to root for the underdog. Many good people seek out 'problem' dogs to give a new home to. Commendable.
But there is, in my view, a worrying trend to celebrate and glorify physical traits in dogs which are nothing more than man-made disabilities as a result of breeding practices which pay absolutely zero care towards the life that these dogs will lead.
Shall we all agree on some basic principles?
Dogs, all dogs, should be able to breathe properly.
Dogs, all dogs, should be able to walk properly.
Dogs, all dogs, should be able to cope with the warm weather.
Dogs, all dogs, should not suffer from skin complaints as a matter of course.
Do we agree?
Because what we've got, right here, right now, is a problem of acceptance of the deliberate disabling of many, many dogs.
Dog breeds that have been the focus of too much attention to form over function. Dog breeds who can not function according to those very basic, fundamental principles described above.
We should not celebrate man-made, disabling conditions that render many dogs unable to enjoy life in a way that dogs should.
Some dogs are unfortunate. They were bred by good breeders and they may suffer from disability or illness through sheer bad luck. That one in a hundred slice of misfortune that affects most species. These dogs can lead happy and fulfilling lives with owners who care passionately for them as they would any dog. However, these are not the dogs I'm worried about.
Ugly dog competitions have been growing in popularity and profile over the past years. The aim, it would appear, is to give a 'prize' to the most badly disfigured or malformed dog. There are people, you may be surprised or unsurprised to learn depending on your natural levels of cynicism, who seek out 'ugly' dogs with the full intention of entering them in these competitions.
The show world seeks to reward dogs for close adherence to a man-made breed standard. A set of numbers and description that dictates what constitutes the very definition of a particular breed.
These so called 'ugly dogs' have no such breed standards.
Additionally, we humans have our own views of what is or isn't an attractive dog. We're still talking about the same thing though, giving prizes to people for the aesthetic qualities of their dogs. In the end, though, this is a road well travelled and the destination is usually the same: dogs with problems.
What's wrong with us taking a different view?
Celebrating and rewarding dogs for being happy, healthy and fundamentally sound physically rather than bestowing on man's best friend our own, specifically human neurosis, about image. Particularly if it's image at the expense of good health.