It is a bright Tuesday afternoon in Washington Square Park. Titi Signu kneels down to pet Tuppee, her 13-year-old, French bulldog. Singu has just completed a strenuous game of fetch with Tuppee who, at 25 pounds, is the average weight of a male French bulldog. He has all the typical characteristics of the breed: a stocky build, a shortened snout, perked-up ears, and an affectionate personality. Tuppee also has over 15,000 followers on his Instagram, @Tuppee_NYC_Frenchie.
“He’s a clingy boy. He’s a mama’s boy,” Signu said above Tuppee’s labored panting. She originally planned to adopt a Bull Terrier but fell in love with her “BabyHoneyTuppee” when he sat in her lap, unlike any of the terriers she was eyeing.
French bulldogs, commonly known as Frenchies, are famous for their exuberant personalities and their goofy appearance. Frequently referred to as “piggies” due to their incessant snorts, the French bulldog can be perceived as more of a lovable cartoon character than a canine.
Along with their rabbit-like stubbed tails and excessive flatulence, French bulldogs also carry a vast amount of health problems. They have a heightened risk of developing brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome, a breathing impediment for animals with elongated soft palates and constricted airways. This syndrome is a fatal side effect to the French bulldog’s iconic, smushed-in face, which is desirable to breeders because it makes the dog appear more “baby-like.” As humans interfere with the Frenchie’s natural breeding process for aesthetic purposes, the simple act of breathing becomes an exhausting endeavor for these designer dogs.
The Institute of Canine Biology, (ICB), concluded that the average lifespan of a French bulldog is typically 10 years, which is on the shorter spectrum for small dog breeds. Out of the 154 Frenchies surveyed by the ICB, the majority of them died from cancer, neurological complications, old age, and respiratory problems, such as tracheal collapse.
According to the French Bulldog Club of America and the American Kennel Club, the French bulldog’s popularity in the U.S. surged during the 20th century. England, France, and the U.S. collectively created today’s Frenchie through cross-breeding the “old bulldog” with terriers and pugs. Unlike its cousin, the English bulldog, which was bred to hunt, the French bulldog was bred to serve as the perfect lap dog.
Today, the French Bulldog is the fourth most popular dog breed in the U.S., after the Labrador Retriever, the German Shepherd, and the Golden Retriever. The Frenchie has lived up to its classification as a city dog. According to AMNewYork, it is the most popular dog breed in New York. The breed has gained traction in pop culture, with famous Frenchie parents including Lady Gaga, Reese Witherspoon, and Dwayne Johnson.
Renee Harrison, is an owner of the Ethical Frenchie, a French bulldog breeding establishment in New York. Harrison emphasized that when it comes to breeding, she puts the health of her Frenchies first. Along with following a strict fresh and raw food diet, Harrison’s French bulldogs are also genetically tested to ensure that medical issues are not passed onto future generations.“I don’t necessarily think their quality of life is as low as people think,” Harrison stated. “If they are well-bred and kept in shape, they can live a long and healthy life.”
Yet many veterinarians would argue otherwise. Jeannine Bubko, a veterinarian at the Oradell Animal Hospital in New Jersey, said that French bulldogs are one of her most frequent patients. Bubko affirmed that she performs roughly eleven surgeries on Frenchies per week, “We usually do revisions where we make their nostrils bigger so it helps them breathe.” She is adamantly opposed to backyard breeding, the inbreeding of dogs within families without regard for long-term health effects. Backyard-bred Frenchies are more susceptible to develop skin and respiratory problems, said Bubko, “A lot of times, they don’t survive.”
Jennifer Popovich is an employee at S.N.O.R.T., the Short Noses Only Rescue Team, and a proud mother of Estelle and Fenway, two disabled French bulldogs. “They’re medical disasters but I love them dearly,” Popovich said. Her Frenchies both have Intervertebral Disc Disease, a common illness amongst French bulldogs which degenerates the spine, resulting in severe neurological complications. After trying hydro-therapy, acupuncture, and a steroid decompression trial, Popovich discovered that the only option for her paralyzed Estelle was a wheelchair. Estelle is a lot healthier than Fenway, who is not only paralyzed but also suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. “Unlike my Stellie, he doesn’t have any mobility in his back legs,” Popovich said. “He’s kind of like a walrus.”
Many veterinarians argue that the solution to this “Frenchie fiasco” is to cease all breeding. But Bubko doesn’t see the French Bulldog being banned anytime soon. Instead, she encourages Frenchie parents to stay alert and keep up with their fur baby’s annual checkups and vaccinations. A French Bulldog owner should bring their dog to the vet, “As soon as something seems off with them,” Bubko said. “They’re a stoic breed. They don’t, like, know that they’re sick until they’re really sick.”
“Despite their health problems, I always want to help,” said Popovich, who is currently fostering another wheelchair-dependent Frenchie named Lumiere.
Like several other veterinarians, Bubko said that she refuses to purchase a Frenchie. She’s seen too many of them suffering. “We love them like they are our children,” she said. Bubko stated that cuteness is not a justifiable cause for the torture of these playful pups.