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Breeding Paradox

Yet, some still say the response pales in comparison to the problem, and that, on top of research, some reinvention may be called for — of dog shows, of our ideas surrounding the “purity” of purebreds, and even of the venerable American Kennel Club.

The AKC sent no official representative to the April conference, though two people who had served on AKC boards or advisory panels attended. Traditionally, the organization has sidestepped most media inquiries on the topic. (AKC officials declined requests for interviews for this story, providing instead a copy of its “Canine Health Fact Sheet.”)

“Both in Europe and here, kennel clubs are doing a very fine job of putting their heads in the sand over this and hoping, if they keep a low profile, people will ignore it,” James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society based at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview before the conference.

Serpell, who helped coordinate the event, said the AKC declined invitations. “Considering the goal of the conference, it’s really rather shortsighted,” he said in an interview. “The conference is not about banning pedigreed dogs, as some extreme blogs are suggesting, but ways of improving the situation, which is causing a lot of animal suffering and a lot of owner suffering as well. When you in good faith buy a puppy that becomes ill down the road, that’s a terrible experience. It is shattering, emotionally gut-wrenching and enormously expensive.”

The nonprofit American Kennel Club, founded in 1884, has among its core values to “protect the health and well-being of all dogs” and “advance canine health.” It notes that since its founding in 1995, the AKC Canine Health Foundation has provided $25 million to more than 560 research projects at 75 vet schools and research institutes worldwide to improve the health of all dogs. It has also, in conjunction with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, established the Canine Health Information Center to encourage health testing by breeders and improve breeding programs.

But it’s the steps not taken and the traditions unchanged that concern those who see the organization as contributing to the problem even as it contributes to research.

What more could it be doing? Critics say the AKC could mandate health testing, rather than encourage it; work with breed clubs to establish standards that emphasize health and vitality; impose restrictions on inbreeding, prohibiting the mating of immediate relatives; and, anathema as the idea may be to some, consider permitting “crossbreeding,” or mating purebreds with dogs outside the breed, to broaden the gene pool and improve health.

On top of that, some suggest fundamental changes in dog shows, transforming them from “beauty contests” to more performance-based events that honor the various breeds’ disappearing working heritage. At such shows, dogs who exhibit extreme physical characteristics would be penalized rather than rewarded. And dogs who are paying for their “look” by living lives of discomfort — as was apparently the case in the UK with the 2003 Crufts champion, a Pekingese who had to be photographed sitting on ice blocks because he was so prone to overheating — should have no place in them.

The view that AKC policies are adding to the problem of genetic health issues in purebreds has kept some breed clubs from pursuing AKC recognition. The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America is one of them. Jack Russell Terriers are not one of AKC’s 173 recognized breeds, and the club doesn’t want them to be.

The club is “emphatically opposed to recognition of the Jack Russell Terrier by any kennel club or all-breed registry,” according to its website. “Recognition, it is believed, will be detrimental to the preservation of the Jack Russell as the sound, intelligent strain of working terrier it has been for more than 100 years … Inbreeding and breeding for the show ring will change the physical and mental structure of the dog. It will lose its purpose and its original character, as well as its mental and physical soundness, and will become something entirely different … whatever suits the whim of those controlling that variant of the terrier.”

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Submitted by desertrat | October 3 2011 |

I'm surprised, given the mention of Labradors in the intro, that the author didn't bring up the wildly divergent processes taken by breeders of show labs and breeders of working labs...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labrador_Retriever#Show_and_field_lines...to the point that they're almost separate breeds.

Also, it's often shocking to see the difference between AKC registered dogs of 60-70 years ago versus modern ones.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 11 2011 |

The comment that breeders are purposely breeding in genetic defects due to line breeding is misleading. If one has genetically pure dogs that have no health issues then line breeding is the way to insure that no genetic problems will appear. The problem with most health issues is that they are not always related to heredity. Health problems can be caused during the cell dividing process or later due to some nutrient deficiency. The problem with blaming breeders regarding the shape of their dogs is the same argument that so called human beings dish out for those people who are different from them in height, size or lack the so called normal body type. Should we now tell the these people that they may not have children because only so called normal people can be born? This is a similar issue when the nazi dog police only want a certain type of dog to be born. There is nothing wrong with short legs, or short body or a short head as long as the owner can make accommodations for their pets as we would for any human being. Yes, the bulldog has changed over time due to the standards written, but so do plants and so do people. Should we destroy an entire breed just because some one says that look is not healthy. I have known many bulldogs that could birth their own puppies and had no health problems. There is no real reason to pay any attention to the nazi dog police who write articles like this one because every living creature is born with 30 or more defective genes. That is natures way of ensuring the species survives should something go wrong in nature. You can never get rid of all of the m or even reduce the number of defective genes.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 8 2011 |

What would Pacelle know about dogs.. he owns no dogs, has never bred a dog ( that would be against everything he stands for) and surely has very little knowledge about what is best for dogs or cattle. Heritage breeds are critical in most species. but if you don;t like that quote from Pacelle perhaps this one will ring more true:

“I don’t have a hands-on fondness for animals…To this day I don’t feel bonded to any non-human animal. I like them and I pet them and I’m kind to them, but there’s no special bond between me and other animals.” Wayne Pacelle quoted in Bloodties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt by Ted Kerasote,

or maybe this one:

When asked if he envisioned a future without pets, “If I had my personal view, perhaps that might take hold. In fact, I don’t want to see another dog or cat born.” Wayne Pacelle quoted in Bloodties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt by Ted Kerasote,

or maybe this one will do:

“Animals for the most part just need to be left alone." Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2008

how many times can you be misquoted, Mr. Pacelle?

Meanwhile the HSUS has not donated ONE THIN DIME to help the health of the pure bred dog.

Americans are not "Brits".. funny thing that.. their "national dog" is the bulldog while ours during WW2 was the "pit bull". Brits are willing to "rollover" and be nannied ( after all many of them are raised by nannies) while Americans have more spirit ( at least until lately). We care about our dogs and know that genetic disorders do not occur just in pure bred dogs but we also know that breeders of pure bred dogs fund much of the research to help all dogs.. not just pure breds. Most of us also know that to get into bed with an animal rights group like the HSUS is akin to sleeping with the devil.

Submitted by MK | October 10 2011 |

Quotes taken out of context from a pro-hunting book published 15 years ago are hardly a good representation of Pacelle's current point of view. The breeders' paranoia about the "animal rights" movement ignores the validity of anything said by animal advocates. Inbreeding might cause health problems? Rubbish! Closed blood lines might cause genetic defects? Nonsense! Breeding for appearance might ignore physical problems? Ridiculous! Veterinarians urge caution? They must be animal rightsers in disguise. Animal shelters suggest adopting a pet? They're trying to cause the extinction of all domestic animals. It seems to be an all-or-nothing point of view. They defend large scale breeders and condemn the use of the word "puppy mill," claiming the under cover photos and videos are staged. They see nothing wrong with tying dogs outside 24/7 and castigate attempts to limit tethering. They lobby against all legislation that protects animals, and when confronted with evidence of animal suffering, they claim there are plenty of laws already on the books to protect animals. Their biggest concern seems to be their right to own, breed, sell and use animals any way they choose, with no restrictions or limits. They insist that animals are property and should not have any legal protection. These are the people who feel threatened by the animal protection movement. These are the people who scream "animal rights" when someone cites examples of dogs who freeze outside in cold weather with no shelter. They cry "hypocrisy" when animal protectors wear leather or eat meat, and cry "fanatic" if they are vegetarian and wear only man-made fabric. I don't eat or wear animal body parts, and I live with a dog and cats. I don't think anyone should "own" any animal, but in the real world, I believe that animal ownership must, at the very least, include humane and thoughtful animal stewardship. Return to Eden? Not likely. But in the US of A, how about at least acknowledging that animals have emotions and feelings, and that we should do our best not to cause them intentional pain and suffering? Am I a fanatic? If so, I wear that label proudly.

Submitted by JMW | October 10 2011 |

Pacelle could elaborate or tell us what his current attitudes are, if in fact he's being misrepresented like he says he is.

Otherwise I continue to believe that he still holds the quoted beliefs; he's just gotten smarter about not letting anyone else hear/know about them.

We're not stupid.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 10 2011 |

How much money did the HSUS donate from the conference to Canine Health Research?? I can tell you.. ZERO

Submitted by Freedonia | October 10 2011 |

it deeply saddens me that we Americans have so many dog lovers, so many devoted fans of mixed breed and purebred dogs yet we can not improve the situation of canine health through better breeding practices. I myself think the AKC is not being the champion of the dog. Maybe we need Michael Moore treatment as it seems here in the USA we need a blatant personality/ PR machine to catch the American eye and ask for change for the betterment of man's best friend. otherwise it's AKC business as usual... show business.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 11 2011 |

MK.. 2008 is hardly 15 years ago.. and if you notice we still frequently quote people from hundreds of years ago. I see that you are a vegan .. fine.have at it.. but most of us own our pets and if we are kind to them we feed them a species correct diet that includes meat.. and lots of it.. but Mr. Pacelles quotes have been around forever... and we still see his shouting NO No.. that is not what I meant.. but saying what he does mean other than he is "more nuanced" today.. nuance means A subtle or slight degree of difference, not that he has changed his mind about anything. of course in order to gain the power and control he needs and craves he must defend himself.. however this "conference' did not fool any serious dog breeders into thinking the HSUS is now wanting to HELP.. as the other poster said.. we are not stupid

Submitted by MK | October 11 2011 |

Once again, you're attacking Pacelle instead of the message of the conference. No matter who says it, whether it's Wayne Pacelle, the British, veterinarians, shelter workers, or animal advocates, the facts are obvious. Purebred dogs are often susceptible to breed specific genetic problems, and breeders owe it to their chosen breed to try to help eliminate those problems. There are far too many German Shepherds with extremely sloped backs, Pekingese with flat faces, deaf Dalmations with kidney stones, Bulldogs who require cesarean sections, Shar Pei with skin problems, Spaniels with enlarged brains, and so many more. Basenji breeders got serious about Fanconi's and used their knowledge and imported African dogs to help solve the problem. The breed association and the breeders knew there was a problem and worked to solve it. They tested their dogs and cleaned up their breeding stock. Every breed club needs to do the same with their own breeds. They need to look at the health and temperament problems that exist and work together to improve the health of their chosen breed and of all dogs. It's not about who eats meat or what HSUS' agenda might be. It's about the facts and about scientific knowledge. You can breed for color, size, coat length and ear set, so why not breed for health? And why not use the knowledge that's available instead of being divisive and dismissive. If you want the public to think you care about the dogs you breed, you need to act responsibly and not fall back on your hatred of animal rights. And you also need to acknowledge that mass producers of dogs, whether you call them puppy mills or high volume breeders, are not at all concerned about improving the breeds. They are merchandisers and their motivation is profit. As long as you continue claiming that animals are property and don't deserve legislation to protect their health and welfare, your arguments and motives are suspect. You breeders, more than anyone else, should be lobbying against the large scale breeding of dogs with genetic problems. Instead, you harp on attacking Wayne Pacelle, HSUS, and any attempt to protect animals. How sad is that.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 12 2011 |

I barely read this article or the comments, but one thing stuck out in my scanning. You are calling genetic problems the very characteristics that make breeds unique. Yes characteristics are genetic but in most cases hardly a problem. What do you want, dogs that all look alike meeting what you deem to be okay?

Submitted by Frances | October 12 2011 |

Interesting responses - and, just for information, very few Brits are raised by nannies (and except amongst the upper classes, very few ever were!). Changes made to breed standards and to breeding recommendations by the UK Kennel Club were in response to huge pressure from the scientific community and the general public - who reacted against the nanny-ish, "we know best" attitude of the Kennel Club and the breed societies.

I own pedigree dogs. I plan a litter from one of my bitches. I am not anti-breeder, and I think that somewhere between the extreme positions of "pet animals are anathema, and no more should be bred" and "I have a God given right to do just as I please when breeding my dogs" there is a sensible middle ground, backed up by evidence. Line breeding can lead to more hereditary faults by doubling up recessive and combinations of genes that cause problems - and unless a specific dna test is available the only way of knowing whether a dog is a carrier is when the problem shows up in the offspring. Line breeding also reduce haplotype diversity, which has been linked to autoimmune and other disorders. Breeding for extreme type has led to well-documented issues with a number of breeds, especially the brachycephalic group. "Pure bred" is a human construct - humans can therefore agree to vary the definition. Surely we are all agreed that we want to breed, and to share our lives with, sound, healthy, long lived dogs that are capable of running, playing, and enjoying life; that do not suffer from painful and disabling conditions that could be avoided by applying existing knowledge to the selection of breeding pairs; and that are capable of mating and giving birth without veterinary intervention.

Some breed clubs and breeders have recognised that their breed has issues, and come together to find ways of overcoming them. Others seem to prefer to attack the messenger, or raise straw men to knock down. I know which group I would prefer to be a member of - and which kind of breeder I would prefer to buy a puppy from.

Submitted by osceolapug | January 16 2012 |

Well said! I believe that one of the biggest problems is that most breed clubs, and therefore breed standards, are controlled by show breeders who have no interest in upsetting the status quo. They have champion dogs because they set the standards, and because they have "champion pedigrees" they can maximize thier profits on pups and stud services. If sensible healthy standards replace the ones that focus only on a certain look, these people would lose revenue, and they have no intention of allowing that to happen. Do they not care about dogs? Maybe they do, but I think they care about money and acclaim more.

Submitted by John Kitley | October 12 2011 |

I have been a life time dog lover. I've worked in a vet clinic, been a groomer, volunteered with rescue groups etc... I can tell you that the old saying that "mutts are healthier," isn't true anymore- which is of course a sad thing. Unfortunately, the canine population has much larger issues than c-sections, short muzzles, and urinary stones to deal with. Allergies, siezures, cancer are just a few off the top of my head are affecting more and more dogs regardless of their breeding.

I am surprised that an Pulitzer winning author would write such a biased account that focuses on a few issues and just touches on others. He admits to "grossly stereotyping" in the first paragraph. To me this theme continues throughout the rest off the article.

Submitted by osceolapug | January 16 2012 |

I see here some very valid, if divergent points about purebred dog breeding practices, and I have to say for the record that I despise Wayne P as a hypocrite of the first order. ( Cattle breeders have every right to hate him too, since he was "taken out of context" with his famous quote.) As long as HSUS continues to have ties with PETA, I will not support or endorse them!
But back on point;
I think that people need to realize that not all purebred dog breeders are "show breeders", and that not all of us are willing to compromise the health of thier animals and the offspring they produce by breeding towards arbitrary "standards" that have everything to do with fashion and nothing to do with health and soundness. Yet, it is those very breeders that are often denegrated and accused of being BYB's! Because I refuse to show my Pugs or be affiliated with the PDCA (Pug Dog Club of America, Pugs parent club) in any fashion, and I purposefully breed for a type of Pug that harkens back to earlier times when this breed had a nose, and eyeballs that didn't pop out of thier heads, I am not a "responsible breeder" in the eyes of the PDCA. I proud to be an AKC approved breeder, but that dosen't mean that I have to produce dogs that will win in the ring...I prefer to produce Pugs that live long, active and healthy lives. Things aren't going to change if we leave the changes up to breed clubs...they are run by show breeders who no interest in messing with the status quo. They have a lot of money invested in thier beauty contest winners, and can charge maximim amounts for both thier pups and thier stud services. Breed Clubs, not AKC, set breed standards, and as long as there is a profit to be made by those that set the standards, this problem will not go away, and if fact is only getting worse.

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