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Breeding Paradox
Can dog-breeding practices be changed?


As a cynical outsider might snobbishly see it, Americans have the attention span of an Irish Setter, the intellectual curiosity of an Afghan Hound, the turf-guarding ferocity of a German Shepherd and the hungry greed of a Labrador Retriever. Count up all the beings besmirched by those insults — the dogs, the Americans and perhaps most of all, the Americans who breed those dogs — and you’d have the makings of an army, and an angry one at that. But consider the possibility that, while grossly stereotyping, it contains some underlying kernels of truth, at least when it comes to human foibles. That might give you a better understanding of why the issue of genetic health problems in purebreds caused by inbreeding has never led to more than ripples on the pond of public consciousness in the U.S.

In 2008, the documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” aired on BBC, showcasing the devastating health problems that have resulted from breeding closely related purebred dogs in the United Kingdom. Along with an accompanying push by animal welfare organizations, it prompted a wave of changes and led to re-examination of the appearance-above-all value system many dog fanciers, breeders and kennel clubs have long held dear.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., hundreds of genetic disorders afflict an estimated five million purebred dogs, resulting in close to $1 billion a year in veterinary expenses and incalculable amounts of pain to dogs and their owners. Here, outside of kennel club and breed club circles, the issue has rated little more than a blip on the dog lover’s radar screen, sometimes rising to the forefront, but rarely staying there.

In an attempt to import the debate to U.S. shores — or, in the view of some suspicious breeders, to fire “the first salvo” in an attack on the purebred dog-breeding industry — the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) convened “The Purebred Paradox” earlier this year. The April conference featured many of the same players who brought the issue out of the shadows and onto center stage in Great Britain. It wasn’t hugely attended, or hugely reported on. Nonetheless, the two-day conference at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., led to some serious and, despite the sensitivities involved, even civil discussions of purebred health issues. From the hazards of limiting and closing gene pools to the folly of turning breeds into caricatures of themselves, with exaggerated features that often make their lives miserable and their births difficult: many of the hard topics were on the table.

“It’s extraordinary that we should have bred animals that the only way they can be born is through C-section,” Sir Patrick Bateson said in the conference’s keynote address. Bateson served as chairman of the independent review of dog-breeding practices in the UK that came about in the wake of “Pedigree Dogs Exposed.”

Bateson, emeritus professor of ethology at Cambridge University and president of the Zoological Society of London, was referring to the “brachycephalic” breeds — English Bulldogs and others with wide heads and shortened snouts, many of whom can’t be born naturally and go through life with breathing problems. In the UK, he said, nine of 10 Boston Terrier births require Cesareans.

In his talk, Bateson suggested the inauguration of a public education campaign and better policing of unscrupulous breeders in America. He took pains to point out — as did several other speakers — that he wasn’t proposing people should no longer breed dogs, only that the industry, and dogs, could benefit from increased regulation.

“We have to realize that human breeders are as different from each other as dogs are from each other,” he noted. “Many breeders care enormously about the science and care about their animals. Some don’t know about the science but do care about the animals. And some neither know nor care. There are all types.”



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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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