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Breeding Paradox

The association prohibits the breeding of father to daughter, mother to son, and brother to sister because of the genetic health problems that can arise. And unlike the AKC-approved standard for the similar Parson Russell Terrier, its standards for the Jack Russell afford a great amount of leeway in appearance.

There is no “ideal,” the website says. “The ‘ideal’ is what suits their owner for what they want/need to do with their terrier. That is the uniqueness of this diverse terrier. The diversity … is what makes the Jack Russell Terrier suitable for a variety of working and performance abilities — in contrast with the narrow, cosmetic breed standards of many show breeds.”

One of the most black-and-white examples of what a closed registry can lead to can be found in the Dalmatian.

Registries, or stud books, are traditionally closed by the AKC once a dog breed is officially recognized, or shortly thereafter. That means no new stock enters the line and the gene pool is closed. By definition, every new AKCregistered member of that breed who is born is related to an existing member.

Because mutated genes can be recessive, or skip a generation — physical signs don’t always show up and tests have only recently been developed to detect them — dogs carrying a gene mutation can unknowingly be bred, and commonly have been, spreading the disorder further. Over time, that can lead to mutated genes being passed through the population to the point that a majority of a breed’s registered members are affected.

All AKC Dalmatians now carry a version of a mutated gene that predisposes them to bladder stones, known as “urate stones,” which are sometimes treatable, sometimes fatal.

In 1973, Robert Schaible, PhD, a geneticist and breeder of Dalmatians, saw a solution to the problem. He crossed a Dalmatian with a Pointer, a similar and closely related breed, and produced offspring that, though their spots were initially less defined, looked like Dalmatians and carried the normal gene for uric acid production.

The offspring and their descendants were backcrossed to purebred Dalmatians for many generations, resulting in dogs who, some insist, are now indistinguishable from purebred Dalmatians. But are they purebred Dalmatians?

For more than three decades, that point has been argued. In 1981, four generations after the backcross, the Dalmatian Club of America’s board of directors sought and was granted AKC registration for two descendants of Schaible’s project, known as Low Uric Acid Dalmatians. When the club’s membership found out, there was an uproar, and the AKC refused to register any offspring that contained Pointer blood.

In 2006, and again in 2008, the club’s membership voted against registering the dogs.

Meanwhile, Dr. Schaible has continued breeding Low Uric Acid, or LUA, Dalmatians (luadalmatians.com), who are accepted for registration by the United Kennel Club and, as of last year, were recognized as purebreds by the Kennel Club in Britain. The AKC has yet to officially accept them, but the AKC’s Health & Welfare Advisory Committee, in a report, concluded it should.

“Because the introduction of the low uric acid dogs into the AKC registry gives Dalmatian breeders a scientifically sound method of voluntarily reducing the incidence of the condition, this committee strongly recommends some controlled program of acceptance of these dogs. Where the strict health and welfare of the breed is the over-riding concern, no other argument can be made.”

Within the Dalmatian Club of America, an intense debate continues. “Allow us to produce Dalmatians that can ingest levels of protein considered optimal for the species. Allow us to breed Dalmatians that can live normal healthy lives in the average pet household employing normal husbandry practices for pet dogs,” concluded a report representing those in favor of bringing LUA Dalmatians into the ranks. “The club suffered from bad PR [public relations] in the past over deafness and temperament issues. We believe that if the public learns we actually voted to deny acceptance of Dals with a gene which corrects such a well-known, serious defect in the breed, the club will be irreparably tarnished — and rightly so.”


John Woestendiek is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, editor of the website Ohmidog! and author of Dog, Inc.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commercial Dog Cloning Industry.


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