"Not In My Kennel!"

by Patrick Ormos

How discouraging it is to hear „Not in my kennel!“ from your breeder when you run into what could be a genetic problem. Unfortunately, this kind of a response is not all that uncommon. It sometimes seems as if there is a conspiracy of silence about genetic problems.

- "Oh, we don't have that in our breed."

- "We got rid of that years ago!"

- "He's never produced that problem before, it must be your bitch!"

- "That's only inherited on the dam's side."

In efforts to protect themselves, breeders have come up with entirely unique theories of genetics.

Such conspiracies of silence eventually hurt the entire breed. Perhaps a breeder can actually protect his/her reputation. Though many years of experience says that everything comes out eventually, and the breeder just ends up getting a reputation for dishonesty. Such attempts at self-protection only harm the breed that they purportedly "love". What kind of love is it which puts personal gain ahead of the other? Certainly only a very selfish love indeed! Indeed a few puppy sales may be lost as some uninformed persons try to avoid any risk at all. But informed buyers will only appreciate the honesty and forewarning

As Dr. George Padgett in an article [Animal Health Newsletter, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, vol. 4, no. 4, June '68, pp. 3-6] clearly states, "At least 150 genetic diseases have been identified in dogs, and they are found in every breed and virtually every bloodline."  He goes even further, perhaps overstating it just a bit for effect, "No breeder has produced more than two litters of dogs without at least one defect".

Genetic defects, or "genetic junk" as the article suggests, cover a wide assortment of problems, from mismarks and fluffies at one end of the spectrum to PRA affected animals at the other. Clearly we must differentiate between annoying little problems, and much more seriously debilitating or life-threatening diseases. All of these problems constitute the category of genetic junk, but clearly we need a more refined classification system which differentiates the kinds of genetic junk.

"Truth in breeding" should become our ethical watchword, right up there beside "truth in advertising". A litter of seven, three of whom are euthanized because of a problem, does not suddenly become an "all champion" litter of four! Killing the problems is just like sweeping them under the rug. Eventually you get a big dirty lump under your rug!

We need to keep careful records on our dogs, and follow up on puppies who are sold. How many mismarks has our stud dog or brood bitch produced? What kind of mismarks were they? Certainly one well-known and honest open kennel is not the only to produce dilute colors in our breed...where are the others? Perhaps that is the only one to admit it  - congratulations for honesty! How often have inguinal hernias turned up in our kennels? Why is it that we are so quick to talk about someone else's problem, and so slow to admit that we have it? Which dogs produce inguinal hernias? Did the pups require surgical intervention or not? Has anyone turned up with PRA? It has not disappeared from the breed, no recessive gene can ever be completely eradicated - though the frequency with which the gene appears can be drastically reduced. Remember, just one affected puppy (even amongst hundreds of normals) means that both parents are carriers (when speaking of simple dominant/recessive inheritance). And one affected puppy means that the hundreds of normals suddenly become hundreds of suspected carriers! It is impossible to carry "just a little bit" of a gene (as I heard one breeder try to explain). Thank God that we now have a genetic test for PRA. It now becomes possible to identify the recessive carriers, and eliminate them from the gene pool. How about hip dysplasia - are people still x-raying, or have we quietly swept that under the rug? One the other hand, has there ever been a documented case of VWD in Cardigans? Or are we testing on the basis of generic "corgi" data? What about thyroid diseases, back problems, whelping problems, etc.?

Dr. Padgett’s article suggests that "Refusing to talk about defects won’t make them go away. Instead, breeders need to arm themselves with knowledge so they can find the most cost-effective ways of producing dogs free of "genetic Junk"..." As a breed, we should investigate and classify the genetic junk in our breed. What kinds of genetic junk do we have? What is the frequency of the problem (and the associated gene)? Not all genes occur with the same frequency in a given population. For instance we might document the presence of Disease XYZ in the breed, and clearly identify that it is the result of a simple dominant/recessive mode of inheritance. But, we might also ascertain that the recessive gene only has a 5% distribution throughout our breed. While Disease XYZ could be very serious, the incidence of the disease would be very small. Careful screening and selection could reduce the disease even further, though it would never eradicate it, unless technology devises a fool-proof way of testing for carriers. With what frequency do specific genetic problems occur in our breed.

A classification system would help all of us make decisions about breeding selection. How important is it that a bitch carries a long-coat recessive? How important is it that a dog produces 5% cleft-palates in his progeny, versus another dog who produces 13% inguinal hernias, and another who gives 25% long-coats? How do I make my selection when all three are of equal quality? How inheritable is temperament?

Let us take a good, long honest look at our practice of "truth in breeding" and "truth in advertising." We all have genetic junk in our dogs, in every bloodline, and in every kennel. What is the true object of our love? Is it ourselves and our own egos, or is it really our breed?

Published in the CWCCA 1990 Handbook and reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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