Feb. 7, 2014 at 10:00 AM ET
He’s deemed the man who unleashed the designer dog craze, this wave of Maltipoos, puggles and shorkies.
A Doberhuahua? Not quite.
But from that new Super Bowl ad to Hollywood boulevards and nearly to the White House, these pooches with cute names are pretty popular.
Hardly what Wally Conron expected — or ever wanted — back in the late 1980s when he first bred a pair of prize canines and called the result a Labradoodle.
“I’ve done a lot of damage,” Conron told The Associated Press this week by phone from his home in Australia. “I’ve created a lot of problems.”
“Marvelous thing? My foot,” he said. “There are a lot of unhealthy and abandoned dogs out there.”
No Labradoodles are entered in Saturday’s agility competition at the Westminster Kennel Club show, but for the first time in the event’s 138-year history, mixed breeds are welcome. Called “all-American” dogs by some and mutts by many, they’ll weave, jump and run through an obstacle course.
Only purebreds are allowed in the main event, though, and more than 2,800 of them are entered in the nation’s most prominent dog event. The rings open Monday and the best in show ribbon will be awarded Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Conron isn’t from the show world. He was working as the puppy-breeding manager at the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia when he tried to fulfill a request from a couple in Hawaii. She had vision problems, her husband was allergic, and they wanted a dog that would satisfy their needs.
After a lot of trial-and-error, Conron came up with a solution when he bred a standard poodle with a Labrador retriever. The mix was a personal triumph, yet not a success outside his lab.
“I was very, very careful of what I used, but nobody wanted Labrador crosses. I had a three-to-six-month waiting list, but everyone wanted purebreds,” the 85-year-old Conron recalled. “So I had to come up with a gimmick.”
“We came up with the name ‘Labradoodle,’” he said. “We told people we had a new dog and all of sudden, people wanted this wonder dog.”
Over the years, demand grew for Conron and other breeders. Labradoodles became a hot dog — Jennifer Aniston, Tiger Woods and Christie Brinkley are among their owners — and President Barack Obama’s family considered a Labradoodle before picking a Portuguese water dog as the First Pet.
“When I heard he was thinking about a Labradoodle, I wrote to him and said to make sure he checked its pedigree,” Conron said.
There’s the problem that troubles him.
Conron said there are far too many unscrupulous people eager to make a buck at a dog’s expense. Rather than check the history and science, he said “horrific” puppy mills are springing up and producing unstable dogs that go unwanted and eventually are euthanized.
“Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in,” he said. “For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones.”
That’s a concern Conron has echoed in the past, blaming himself for opening a “Pandora’s box” and creating a “Frankenstein.”
PETA appreciated that Conron is “speaking out to stop the loss of lives that his ‘invention’ has created.”
“Breeding ‘purebred’ or ‘designer’ dogs for exaggerated physical characteristics such as flat faces or sloping hips can cause them severe health problems. The kindest thing that anyone can do for dogs is to adopt them from a shelter — and make sure that they are spayed or neutered,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Conron said he’s never owned a Labradoodle as a pet, and stopped breeding them when he retired 20 years ago.
Since then, he’s often witnessed the effects of his work.
“You can’t walk down the street without seeing a poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a poodle with a rottweiler. How could anyone do that?” he said.
“Not in my wildest dream did I imagine all of this would happen,” he said. “That’s a trend I started.”
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