Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bad genes

Last week I attended a seminar called "The Purebred Paradox." Deciding to go was difficult, not because of the subject matter (genetic defects in purebred dogs) but because it was being hosted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a hardcore animal rights organization whose legislation I spend every winter fighting in Richmond.

Baby Jenny (Miranda) in 2008
But I'm legislative liaison for the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders (VFDCB) as well as being an AKC delegate for the Shenandoah Valley Kennel Club and I felt we needed to know what was said and done at this meeting. AKC did not participate, by choice, which was the right decision. But some of us needed to be there. The VFDCB paid registration fees for Alice Harrington (my co-legislative liaison) and me to go. I'm glad we went.

There are other places on the web where you can read more about the conference (Google Purebred Paradox and Pedigree Dogs Exposed) but I will say I came away from it awfully glad that whippets are my breed of choice (they are mostly healthy) and that Walt and I made the leap to outcrossing as opposed to linebreeding years ago.Linebreeding is the practice of breeding fairly close relatives to "set" the good genes. Trouble is, it often also "sets" the bad genes. 

Abita (Rosalind) in 2008
Many breeders are going to have a hard time with that recommendation, but it was made by every non-breeder scientist and veterinarian on the panel. We all learned at our mentors' knees that good breeders linebreed consistently and outcross only occasionally. Walt and I spent many hours studying and discussing this practice and about five years ago made the commitment to breed, as far as possible, to unrelated dogs. Of course, all whippets are related if you go far enough back, but we try not to have names repeated in five generations. We're not always successful, but we work at it and we do believe it's the right thing to do.

Another suggestion from the conference was not to use "popular sires," which are the top-winning dogs that "everyone" is breeding to. That's because if it is later determined that that dog is carrying a genetic disease, there will be nowhere to go to breed away from it if he is in all the pedigrees. That has already happened in whippets, with the mitral valve disease problem. Though I would be hesitant to blame one dog, it's true that nearly every dog with MVD traces his lineage back to the same bloodline.

Bacchus (Falstaff) in 2008
We were also warned against breeding for extremes when they affect health and soundness (the flat faces of the bulldog and Pekes, the sloping topline of the German shepherd dog, the heavily wrinkled faces of the Shar-pei and bloodhound). And there are many breeds that routinely die of cancer at a young age.

The AKC Canine Health Foundation and the parent clubs are working on these problems, or at least the health-related ones. I don't know whether there is a discussion to stop the German shepherd from moving like a Tennessee Walking Horse, but I hope there is.

The Whippet Health Foundation is conducting a years-long study of mitral valve disease in whippets. Whenever you feel inclined to give, consider donating to them.

Lots to think about!


No comments: