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Lisa Nicolello

Dog Breeders Await Cue From Us Buyers

by Larry Shook

(Reprinted by permission, this is the last of a five part series of articles which originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA/Coeur d'Alene, ID beginning February 19, 1995)

A quiet referendum is under way on the ethics of America's dog breeders -- and, gulp, dog buyers. Let=s pick on breeders first.

Next fall, the chieftains of the nation's dog tribes -- representatives of the 138 parent purebred dog organizations that make up the American Kennel Club -- will meet to discuss the epidemic of canine genetic disease that has become the bane of their existence and scourge to the country=s dog lovers. AKC's leaders will face a moment of truth at that meeting.

According to John Mandeville, AKC's vice president for operations, this questions will come up: Should those who register dogs with AKC use an open registry?

An open registry allows dogs to be screened for genetic disease. It solves the mystery of which dogs carry defective genes. For dog buyers, it ends the guesswork about which breeders are trying to breed healthy dogs -- and which ones are shucking and jiving.

Leading geneticists, like Drs. George Padgett of Michigan State University and Joe Templeton of Texas A&M, contend that by cooperating through an open registry, America's dog breeders could conquer the nation's canine hereditary disease epidemic in less than a decade.

The Swedish Kennel Club embraced open registration long ago, and a revolution in Scandinavian dog breeding resulted. The Canadian Kennel Club just voted to create an open registry, calling it an Advanced Registry. In this country the West Highland White Terrier Club established its own open registry in 1989. And a quarter century ago, the Inland Empire Collie Club in effect formed a temporary open registry for collie eye anomaly, a potentially blinding disease, and managed to cut incidence of the disorder by nearly 40 percent -- in three years!

An eminent group of veterinary researchers and dog breeders created this country's first multi-breed open registry in 1990. It's called the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in animals (GDC). For comparatively modest funding from AKC and the nation's breed clubs it soon could serve every dog breeder and dog buyer in America. It need only be given the nod. Will AKC's delegates do that next fall?

I would not predict that it would pass, says Barbara Packard, a GDC director and Bernese mountain dog breeder. She doubts that AKC's culture is, well, candid enough to take this step.

That observation goes to the heart of a ticklish matter. The sociology of breeding is what genetics experts like Dr. Donald F. Patterson of the University of Pennsylvania call it.

In their book, Modern Developments in Animal Breeding, M. I. Lerner and H. P. Donald point out that personal status and competition among breeders, not the welfare of animals, tend to be the big concerns of breeding organizations.

In all this, they wrote, the objects or the methods of breeding have been irrelevant. The basic urge is to survive (as a business), and, if possible, to grow. Beyond this, there is no group philosophy.

People will be people, in other words. Surprise! Still, it's this peopleness of dog breeding that leads some who know the dog business well to offer stern advice.

Don't buy a purebred dog today, is how Capt. Mike Frazer, a California humane officer, puts it. The system that creates them in this country isn't set up to produce healthy animals. Until it is, I recommend mixed breeds.

Which brings us to the dog buyers' role. Nobody asked me, but I think we buyers hold all the power. We also bear some of the blame -- maybe the lion's share -- for the current state of affairs in dogdom. When it comes to bringing home a healthy dog, all the responsibility is ours.

The same world that doesn't owe us a living also doesn=t owe us a good dog to live with. If we want either, we must make our own arrangements. Good dog breeders do exist. They're just uncommon, and they serve as an example of poetic justice -- their dogs tend to go to people who deserve them.

Larry Shook is author of The Puppy Report, winner of the Ethical Issues Award of the Dog Writers Association of America

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