Will the ever-increasing popularity of the once-rare Havanese lead to the breed’s downfall? Will irresponsible and uneducated breeding by newly-minted Havanese ‘breeders’ result in the extreme health issues that plague the most popular breeds?
The Havanese is gaining recognition as an affectionate, hypoallergenic dog, easy to keep in apartments or houses, wonderful with children and hardier than most toy breeds, intelligent – and not yappy.
You see Havanese everywhere now; parks, sidewalks, yards – on the end of a leash, in a backpack or a stroller.
Jodi Murphy, one of the nation’s foremost groomers says that just a few years ago most groomers only knew of the Havanese from watching the Westminster Dog Show on television, but today the breed is commonplace on grooming tables everywhere. The Havanese Meetup group in my suburban community has 91 members. And we’ll talk about AKC registration in a moment.
What leads to the popularity of a dog breed? For the Havanese it’s currently the thousands of happy four-legged breed ambassadors delighting the public in everyday settings, and word-of-mouth about the charming little fur kids from Cuba.
In many cases one individual dog becoming famous will lead to an explosion in popularity of its breed. Examples include the ever vigilant Lassie, a beautiful collie that came to the rescue in every episode of the popular television series; the talking Chihuahua that shilled for Taco Bell, and later GEICO; Spuds MacKenzie, Bud Light’s party animal Bull Terrier, and perhaps the most seminal of all, the German Shepherd named Rin Tin Tin, the valiant black and tan that would star in an unprecedented 27 films.
DESCENT OF THE GERMAN SHEPHERD
Rin Tin Tin was like no other canine celebrity before or since. His first film, “Where the North Begins” is credited with saving Warner Brothers studios from bankruptcy. The handsome German Shepherd had endorsement deals with Ken-L Ration, and Ken-L Biscuit, not unlike the deals enjoyed today by star athletes like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods.
Warner Bros. had an entire department responding to the thousands of requests for photographs that were signed with a paw print and a note from his trainer Lee Duncan.
With Rin Tin Tin an international movie star, people across the globe clamored for their own four-legged German Shepherd hero.
It launched a gold rush and unscrupulous breeders, kennel owners, and pet stores jumped into the fray attempting to meet the unprecedented demand at any cost.
The cost was seen almost immediately; crippling hip dysplasia and serious eye problems overtook the breed like a tidal wave through the gene pool. These terrible health implications persist decades later.
WILL THE HAVANESE BE NEXT?
We’re likely at a turning point in the developing story of the Havanese breed. One telling trend can be spotted in the AKC registration numbers. In 2003 the Havanese ranked 55th by popularity. By 2013 the Havanese ranked 25th in popularity.
These numbers by themselves may not be startling until you understand two things; 1) that among the 180 AKC recognized breeds that jump in popularity is ranks second only to the French bulldog , and 2) an extremely large percentage of Havanese being bred today are done so outside the purview of the AKC.
As we’ve brought the beloved French Bulldog into the discussion, let’s look at what is happening to the Frenchie for a moment. This hugely popular breed is now beset in crisis proportion with genetic issues including brachycephalic airway syndrome which impedes normal breathing, causes overheating, and rules out exercise in many cases, spinal malformations and intervertebral disc disease, skin and ear diseases often requiring allergy vaccines and chronic medication, and behavioral problems that make some stubborn and almost impossible to house break.