A devoted dog owner spent $200,000 on surgery to fix shocking health issues her pet suffers due to dodgy breeding practices.
Maureen Elvy’s French bulldog called Phoebe has needed spinal, airway and genital surgery and regular immunotherapy costing $2,000 a treatment since she got the dog in 2017.
The dog’s health is so precarious that it’s allergic to 700 types of tree, and can only survive with a diet of crocodile meat and a hypoallergenic biscuit.
Ms Elvy was given Phoebe as a gift to help her recover from the death of her beloved cat Junior, a ginger tom.
Both pets’ companionship helped Ms Elvy in her long recovery at her home in Sydney after a car crash on Australia Day in 2013 left her paralyzed.
Animal welfare groups recently slammed the cruel selective breeding for ‘cuteness’ of some of Australia’s most popular ‘baby-faced’ dogs and called for partial bans.
Affected breeds include French bulldogs like Phoebe along with cavalier King Charles spaniels, pugs, Boston terriers and British bulldogs.
Sydney woman Maureen Elvy’s French bulldog Phoebe has needed spinal, airway and genital surgery and regular immunotherapy costing a total estimated bill of $200,000 since she got the dog in 2017 (pictured, Ms Elvy with Phoebe)
Both pets’ companionship helped Ms Elvy in her long recovery after a car crash on Australia Day in 2013 left her a quadriplegic (pictured, Ms Elvy and Junior)
The Australian Veterinary Association wants to see any dog with a muzzle length less than a third of its skull length banned from being bred or shown in competitions because of the suffering the animals endure.
‘They are my little angels, really cool little souls,’ Ms Elvy said of Phoebe and of her cat Junior.
However, after her spinal surgery, Ms Elvy can only walk a few meters and cannot work to pay the massive bills for her beloved dog.
Ms Elvy estimates Phoebe’s many treatments – including pain medication – have added up to about $200,000 so far.
It has mostly been paid for by credit cards, help from family, GoFundMe donations, and a $100 pet insurance premium every two weeks.
As well as all the surgeries, Phoebe needs medication for allergies as she is highly allergic to 700 types of gum trees and a huge range of food.
Her diet is limited to crocodile meat and a special hypoallergenic biscuit. Any vegetables make her vomit and give her stomach ulcers.
Her most expensive surgery was $16,000 for a spinal cord injury caused when Phoebe fell down three stairs after catching her foot in a garden hose.
A smiling Phoebe the French bulldog beams after a successful surgery for one of her many health issues
Ms Elvy at home with Phoebe her beloved French bulldog. She says the dog’s health issues keep her poor but she is too attached to give her up
The congenital spinal issues mean her little body cannot cope with jumping on or off the couch at home.
Had she known the costs would be so high, she concedes she probably wouldn’t have gotten Phoebe – although she has no regrets about owning her.
The test that the AVA says should see a dog banned from breeding or being shown is whether its muzzle length less than a third of its skull
‘What a moral dilemma, I love her so much and I can’t imagine my life without her,’ Ms Elvy said.
‘But I wouldn’t knowingly get a sick dog.
‘I think my future might be harder financially because of her.
‘But I do truly believe I was lucky to have her – she has made my life a delight.
‘Maybe no other owner would have done what she needed, maybe that would have put her down already.
I will die poor, but at least I know she was looked after.’
Phoebe came from a Rockhampton breeder and Ms Elvy armed herself with research before her first visit.
‘It’s really heart-breaking because I asked all the right questions,’ she said.
‘I asked if her nose is OK, is her spine OK, does she have any congenital issues – and I was just lied to.
‘I was told she had no health issues or congenital defects… but all of that was a lie.’
After Ms Elvy had spent $10,000 on Phoebe within three months, she went back to the breeder.
‘I called her up and I said you told me Phoebe was healthy… the lady I presume has such bad breeding practices she said “I’ll give you your money”. She did and then she blocked my phone,’ she said.
Ms Elvy (pictured) estimates Phoebe’s many treatments – including pain medication – have added up to about $200,000 so far
An estimated 97 per cent of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels suffer disorders which can produce severe headaches, vision problems, balance problems, dizziness and even hearing loss
The Australian Vets Association wants all breeders forced to disclose health issues to buyers before selling affected breeds
The twisted breeders making money from breeding sick dogs
The horrific health effects suffered by many dogs bred for ‘cuteness’ and the cost to owners have proved no barrier to disreputable breeders.
Maureen Levy, whose sick French bulldog Phoebe needed constant surgery and medical attention, was even approached in the street to breed the dog.
Ms Elvy was asked if she would accept payment to have Phoebe carry a litter, because the black color that can come from breeding specifically for ‘baby faces’ is so rare.
‘I said no way,’ she said
Although the selectively-bred dogs are often born with chronic health issues, their scarcity creates extremely high prices.
‘What a weird thing,’ Ms Elvy said. ‘They look at sick dogs as money bags not little souls that deserve a good life.’
It is understood some female French bulldogs bred for facial features can sell for hundreds of thousands in underground breeder sales in the US.
Because of the many health issues Phoebe has, she believes the dog was inbred, which is not illegal, but can impact an animal’s health.
‘I remember the breeder saying her dogs “got to each other”,’ she said.
Ms Elvy wants to see dodgy breeders prosecuted and banned – and where appropriate, be made to pay for treatment for sick animals.
‘It makes me feel so sad that breeders are allowed to breed their dogs so poorly and have no repercussions. It should be criminal to breed their dogs badly and not tell the owners,’ she said.
‘I’ve heard of other French bulldogs having spinal issues and surgery, and sometimes they end up paralyzed from waist down if spinal cord issues are low enough… some need little wheelchairs.’
Ms Elvy supports breeding that mixes healthier dogs – for instance with longer muzzles – with female dogs of problematic breeds to produce pups with fewer health issues.
Dogs with squished noses and thin nostrils are most at risk of developing the conditions and suffering health problems
Sydney vet Dr Sam Kovac (pictured) supports the health issues in ‘baby faced’ dogs being bred out but also emphasizes many need surgery to help them breathe
The trouble with brachycephalic or flat-faced dog breeds
The dogs have been selectively bred for cuteness – but suffer breathing difficulties and many other health effects as a result of exaggeratedly flattened faces.
Health impacts include:
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) and vertebral body abnormalities.
BOAS affects the animal’s ability to breathe, exercise, thermoregulate, sleep, play and undertake other normal behaviors.
The vertebral body abnormalities occur through selection for a ‘cork screw’ tail, and can result in neurological issues.
The breeds of most concern for BOAS include:
- french bulldog
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- boston terrier
- British bulldog
There is also concern over breeding for ‘corkscrew’ tails, which can produce spinal and neurological issues
Sydney vet Sam Kovac also backed changes to breeding to convince professionals to put animal health and welfare before the animal’s looks.
‘These dogs, with their child-like personalities, have so much to give to the world and happiness to their owners. I do support modifying breed standards to make a healthier Frenchie that needs less vet visits,’ he said.
‘The immense popularity of these breeds show that they are here to stay, but some gentle artificial selection methods could see a healthier breed in a few generations time.
‘They do this overseas – there are some inspiring breeders who are at the forefront of lengthening the nose of the breed through selective breeding.’
Another of the Phoebe’s many treatments was surgery to correct her breathing and overheating issues.
Phoebe is one of many ‘baby-faced’ breeds that often need surgery because of chronic health issues caused by selective breeding, including Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome.
Boston terriers are one of the breeds affected by breathing difficulties due to selective breeding
That condition meant Phoebe had trouble breathing and would begin to dangerously overheat even in 23 degree weather.
After the surgery Phoebe is happier and can cope with about 27 degrees – but no more.
Dr Kovac said a partial ban would not stop unscrupulous breeders and the dogs produced from their litters needed to be helped by surgery.
‘You can see if your dog has brachy obstructive airway syndrome if it takes a long time to cool down after a run, snores loudly and vibrates under the chin,’ he said.
Dr Kovac has introduced new non-invasive surgery techniques that mean dogs are treated more quickly and don’t bleed during the surgery.
The new method costs about $4,200 and uses a device called a Caiman, which is usually only in human operating rooms.
How to tell if your dog needs surgery for its breathing
A lot of people who own ‘baby-faced’, ‘squished face’ or ‘flat face’ dogs such as Boston terriers, French bulldogs and pugs mistakenly ‘sweep their dog’s breathing under the carpet,’ says Sydney vet Dr Sam Kovac.
‘They think “oh it’s oinking like a pig, that’s cute” but it’s not. The dogs can’t breathe properly.
‘It’s not normal and it’s fixable.’
Signs your dog may have Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS):
1. Your dog takes a long time to cool down after a run and is exhausted.
2. When sleeping, your dog snores very loudly,
3. When breathing, you can see a vibration under your dog’s chin and/or neck.
4. The dog’s nostrils look like slits rather than circles.
5. They throw up nearly every day/week (dogs normally regurgitate once every three months).
6. They have excessive flatulence.
Source: Dr Sam Kovac, Southern Cross Vet, Sydney.