Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama, Ordinary Consumer

Sometimes you are President of the United States, and sometimes you are just one more confused guy on the bus.

That's what Barack Obama is learning as he struggles to select the only Presidential appointment which has a better-than-zero chance of crapping on his carpet in the oval office.

Like most good consumers, Barack and family have gone out and gotten an all-breed book to help them with the selection effort. Because Malia has allergies, and because Barack does not want a small yappy dog, the choice has predictably come down to two breeds: a Portuguese Water Dog and a Labradoodle.

Both dogs are, at their core, curly-coated hunting retrievers of nearly identical lineage.

In 1981 the Portuguese Water Dog was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the rarest breed of dog on earth. It was just about that time that an American vacationing in Portugal discovered the dog, brought a few back to the U.S., bred them, got them registered with the America Kennel Club, and their number skyrocketed.

What happened next is predictable: the dogs became deeply inbred, and a doubling down of recessive genes resulted in congenital defect and disease bubbling to the surface.

The first disease to rear its head was Gangliosidosis, or storage disease, which attacks the nerve cells of young puppies and causes a loss of coordination and body functions which kills the dog.

No sooner was this recessive gene discovered, than Addison's Disease reared its ugly head -- an endocrine disease in which the dog loses weight, energy and muscle mass.

As bad as these two problems are, more health care problems lie in wait for the Portuguese Water Dog as inbreeding within the American Kennel Club's closed registry system is required for a dog with so few numbers.

And yet, the Labradoodle and the Portuguese Water Dog look so much alike than one is hard pressed to differentiate one from another.

Why is this?

The answer lies in the fact a Portuguese Water Dog is little more than an unimproved Standard Poodle, while a Labradoodle is nothing more than a Standard Poodle that has been crossed with a Labrador Retriever to degrade the dog back to its less refined prototype -- a Portuguese Water Dog.

So how are the dogs different?

Simple: their registry (or lack thereof).

While the Portuguese Water Dog is a American Kennel Club registered dog that started with less than two dozen members bred within a closed registry system, the Labradoodle is a planned hybrid, with many scores of thousands of potential dams and sires on each side of its family tree, and no inbreeding at all as a consequence. The result is, by and large, a healthier dog that is unlikely to be burdened by a doubling down of negative recessive genes leading to epidemic levels of congenital defects. The same cannot be said for the Portuguese Water Dog.

The genetic benefits of hybrids -- both in terms of health and production -- are widely known, and in fact most of our agricultural plants and animals on our farms are hybrid animals for that reason.

Why hybrids? Simple: A long time ago, it was found that purebred animals kept in closed gene pools suffered drops in production over time. In some cases, the animals became unfecund, in others they ended up with weak hocks, thin structure, or a propensity to die from minor illnesses. A simple outcross generally put things right again.

But outcrosses are banned in the American Kennel Club which still embraces a "not a drop of foreign blood" theory of breed purity. The fact that this phrase sounds so much like that used by white supremacists, is not an accident.

The U.K. and American Kennel Clubs are built on the eugenics theories of Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin.

The American Kennel Club simply copied the structure and standards of the British Kennel Club and added their own eugenics man to help sell the deal -- Leon F. Whitney, a veterinarian and prominent dog writer who went on to become head of the American Eugenics Society.

Whitney is so important to the history of the AKC that when the American Kennel Club published Our Dogs: A Century of Images and Words from the AKC Gazette in 2003, they specifically included an essay by Whitney despite the fact that the 151-page book was already crowded with more than 100 color photos. Rarely said: Whitney was so focused on eugenics theories that he called for the sterilization of one in twelve Americans -- an idea that was praised by no less a sociopath than Adolph Hitler.

Science, of course, moves forward, and the eugenics theories of Francis Galton and Leon F. Whitney did not survive World War II.

But the American Kennel Club has held on to its closed registry system.


The answer is largely economic.

Let's look at the Dalmatian, by way of example. Here is a dog with very serious health problems, chief among them a jaw-dropping level of congenital deafness, and also a tendency to build up uric acid crystals leading to blockage which often requires veterinary attention. In chronic cases in male dogs, a uresthrostemy is necessary. This is a procedure in which the scrotum of the dog is removed and the urinary tract of the dog is permanently relocated to the base of the penis so that the male dog urinates like a female.


The good news is that about 30 years ago, a backcross program with Pointers was put in place in order to create a dog that is visually and temperamentally indistinguishable from Kennel Club registered Dalmatians, but which do not have the same deafness and uric acid problems.

Though these dogs are healthier -- and are Dalmatians in every way -- the Kennel Club will not allow these dogs to be registered. Why? Simple: allowing "healthy Dalmatians" into the marketplace would make the less-healthy dogs that are owned by the top breeders of the Dalmatian Club less valuable. What customer wants to buy a dog from an "unhealthy" gene pool? No one!

And yet, today so many Kennel Club dogs are unhealthy that most Americans are now turning elsewhere for pets.

The graph below shows Kennel Club registrations.

Over 15 years, there has been a 53 percent decline. This is due to many factors, but a large part of the problem has been of the Kennel Club's own making.

For decades, the Kennel Club has ignored or stiff-armed critics who point out that dogs that were once working breeds are no longer found in the field.

AKC Greyhounds cannot be found at the track, AKC Huskies are not valued in Alaska, show ring terriers are laughed at by true diggers, no sheep man would think of buying an AKC collie to tend his flock, and entire registries have been developed to preserve working gundogs against the vagaries of show ring pretenders.

At the same that the working ability of AKC dogs has plummeted, rates of disease and congenital defect seem to have leaped through the roof.

Today breed after breed of AKC dog is riddled with serious health problems ranging from congenital heart and liver disease to juvenile cataracts, shot hips, and epilepsy.

Added to this stack of problems are serious health problems caused by intentionally breeding dogs for defect: brachycephalic dogs with faces so flat they cannot breathe (Pugs, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for example) and dogs suffering from achondroplasia, a kind of dwarfism linked to heart defects and joint ailments (Dachshunds, Bassetts, Glen of Imaal Terriers for example). And then we have the giant breeds, which are cancer bombs on four legs and which routinely die from gastric torsion, as well as the tiny "tea cup" breeds as their associated neurological, bone, and dental problems.

The AKC has fended off all critics, on both fronts, with a single line: "We are just a registry."

If there are problems, AKC officials sniff, then complaints should be directed to the breed clubs.

But the breed clubs are largely powerless within the Kennel Club's structure, and they are dominated by show dog breeders more interested in blue ribbons and green cash than they are in long-term canine health and welfare.

To hear these breeders talk, the health problems of pedigree dogs are never in their own kennels; they are in their competitions.

Oh sure, a dog or two of their own may come down lame, have juvenile cataracts, or die of cancer or liver disease at age three, but those problems are generally waved away. These things happen, they will say, ignoring the fact that they happen a LOT with Kennel Club dogs.

Ironically, the Kennel Club's "just a registry" defense sounded a lot like a business plan to many small-time entrepreneurs in middle America.

Armed with personal computers, and offering nothing more than a scrap of paper and no health guarantees, these new registreis said they would provide exactly that the AKC did -- a piece of paper -- for less.

And they did. And so, as quick as you can say "Bob's your uncle," dozens of new canine and pet registries sprang up.

Today, along with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club, we have:

  • The National Kennel Club

  • The Continental Kennel Club

  • The American Canine Association

  • The American Hybrid Canine Club

  • American Rare Breed Association

  • The American Dog Breeders Association

  • The American Canine Registry

  • The American Purebred Association

  • America's Pet Registry Inc.

  • The World Kennel Club

  • The Animal Research Foundation

  • The Universal Kennel Club International

  • The North American Purebred Dog Registry

  • The Dog Registry of America

  • The American Purebred Registry

  • The United All Breed Registry

  • The American Canine Association

  • The World Wide Kennel Club

  • The Federation of International Canines

  • Animal Registry Unlimited

With the American Kennel Club offering no health guarantees for their dogs, there did not not appear to be any reason for the public not to turn to these registries.

Adding fuel to the fire was the advent of the Internet. Dog owners and concerned dog breeders could now find each other through an endless litany of list-servs, breed bulletin boards, web sites, and blogs.

There was no longer any hiding the defects in Kennel Club dogs, even if the general public did not yet know the full extent of the problems.

A game changer occurred in August of 2008, however.

The good news for the American Kennel Club is that it happened in Britain.

The revolution was sparked by a BBC documentary called Pedigree Dogs Exposed. This television documentary did little more than put on film what canine experts had been talking about for decades, but putting it on film made all the difference.

Now the general public -- dog owner and non-dog owner alike -- could see what the Kennel Club had done done to the German Shepherd, a once-proud dog that in its show ring manifestation cannot walk around a ring without a wobble.

A Crufts-winning Pekingese was exposed as being so seriously compromised by its flattened face and excessive coat that at the ringside trophy photo-shoot, it was sitting on an icepack so it did not overheat.

Disturbing pictures of breeds suffering from serious and widespread congenital neurological defects were also shown. And though the producers of the BBC have been castigated by the Kennel Club for being "sensationalistic," the producers, in fact, held back.

They chose not to show the "rape racks" that female English Bulldogs are put into because they and their stud dogs are so grossly out of shape they cannot have sex unassisted or whelp without a veterinarian being present.

They did not show the fox terrier which is now so large in the chest it cannot reach its fox in the hole, nor did they make mention of cancer, which now strikes down over 40 percent of some breeds such as Scotties and Bernese Mountain Dogs.

But apparently they showed enough.

Due to the tremendous public response to the BBC special, the British Kennel Club has found itself reeling and on the ropes.

First denying there were any problems at all, they then said they had long known there were a few problems within a few breeds -- an obvious lie underscored by the finding of their own breed health surveys.

Now the U.K. Kennel Club has come out with mild modification to dozens of breed standards, and has also banned incestuous father-daughter/mother-son/brother-sister matings.

But here in the United States, the American Kennel Club has not taken even these baby steps forward.

Instead, AKC Chairman Ron Menaker has said that the American Kennel Club intends to aggressively reach out to back yard breeders and the puppy mill community.

Menaker says there is nothing wrong with puppy mills or dogs sold in pet stores or department stores -- he himself got started in dogs with a puppy purchased at Macys.

And as for puppy mills, he notes that the AKC has been registering puppy mill dogs "for the past 122 years" and "we have collected millions of dollars" as a result. Nothing new here! Full speed ahead, and never mind if it is into the rocks.

Which brings us back to Barack Obama and his lovely family.

If they choose a Portugese Water Dog, not only will they be choosing a seriously inbred dog at significant risk for health problems, but their choice is likely to speed up the incidence of those problems due to overbreeding which will occur to fill the market of "copycat purchasers".

On the other hand, if the Obamas chose a Labradoodle, they will be stepping outside of the closed-registry eugenics-based Kennel Club system to embrace a dog which cannot be damaged by that system, as it is not a registered breed.

It will also be another signal that the American Kennel Club has to change its business model -- something that the very top of the AKC seems to realize, but which it is nonetheless confused by.

In his missive to the American Kennel Club in September, AKC Chairman Ron Menaker noted that:

Today, we are losing market share at an alarming rate, especially in the retail sector. We are being challenged competitively and financially. The declining registrations and associated core revenues, if allowed to continue, will fundamentally change our organization going forward. Make no mistake, the very future of the AKC and our sport is at risk.

We can all remember some of the premier “name brands” and companies of the past, leaders in their field. The ones that we thought would be around forever. These giants, these household names, held the same standing as the AKC. Companies such as: Westinghouse, Pan American Airlines, Standard Oil Company, EF Hutton,
Woolworth’s, Montgomery Ward, just to name a few.

Sadly, Chairman Menaker seems to have no good idea of how to fix the problem,

Put out a better product? You must be kidding!

Only register adult dogs that have passed basic health tests? Good Lord NOoo!

Require lower Coefficients of Inbreeding? What's wrong with inbreeding?

Scrap standards that require deformity? But exagerations and deformities define so many breeds!

Open up closed registries so that healthy genes can be allowed to come in? But then we wouldn't have a purebreed --we'd just be selling .... mutts!

And so it goes, around and around, proving once again that the problems at the Kennel Club are deeper than inbred dogs.


Daniel said...

First, I would like to compliment you on your blog. I've learned quite alot over the last 8 months I've been visiting the site.

Also, I would like to mention that CNN did do a story on the British Kennel Club and English Bulldogs this weekend, although I thought that if someone who saw\watched it didn't know the backstory they wouldn't realize the Kennel Club's role in creating the problem. (I did see "Pedigree Dogs Exposed", by downloading it thru BitTorrent, and it was excellent.)

stellaluna said...

awesome, awesome post! i don't know where you get your energy. i'll certainly be sharing this one.

keep up the good work!

jdege said...

If they opened up the breed registries, the club breeders would no longer have a monopoly on the breed.

And they'd no longer be able to command monopoly prices.

Gina Spadafori said...

Great post, Patrick.

"jdege": "Monopoly prices"? What a joke. You can get an "AKC-registered" golden or Labrador retriever pup for less than the cost of a cross-bred Labra- or golden-doodle.

Regardless of the problems caused by the misguided white-knuckled hanging onto of closed registration systems, reputable, ethical breeders of AKC-registered dog are not breeding to make money -- and for the most part, they don't.

The AKC may be desperately working to hold onto "market share" and registration dollars by any sleazy means possible, but that's not the motivation of reputable, ethical breeders. Too many confuse ribbon-chasing with "improving and protecting the breed," but it's not about the money for those in the AKC's member clubs.

Ms. X said...

Always good to see some "straight talk" on hybrid vigor.

Somehow I am still amazed by the number of hybrid-vigor deniers out there, though it is no coincidence I'm sure that they are mostly found in the purebred dog camps.

√Čadaoin said...

Feel obliged to point out that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is not a flat-faced breed, you are thinking of the King Charles Spaniel (English Toy Spaniel).

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with 'Oodles ...except that such a large proportion of them are bred from crap stock by greedy and/or clueless types only interested in a buck.

Hybrid vigor is only an asset when decent examples of both breeds are used. Breed a crap poodle to a crap lab - and you'll get Crapadoodles. I see oodles of Oodles in my training classes and have only seen two or three that I thought were of good quality. The rest were much like the puppy mill / pet store unfortunates they were spawned from.

And why does an Oodle cost two to four times as much as either of its parents? Market! Given the amount of greedy bad breeding already going on in the Oodle world, I really hate to see them even further popularized.

Sadly, mills and pet stores will reap most of the benefits -- not shelters or quality breeders.

Kate said...

hi Terrierman, Just a note to let you know how much I value your opinion (because it agrees with mine-ha!). I found an article today from last month regarding Joe Biden's purchase of a german shepherd puppy and there were tons of irate comments after it saying primarily "don't breed or buy when shelter animals die." Maybe you could write a column addressing this slogan? It offends me on so many levels, especially when I think of all the dogs bred to be of service to man: livestock guardians, herding dogs, search and rescue, working terriers, etc. The logical conclusion of following the slogan would be that every dog owner would be relying on the irresponsible people who allow their animals to reproduce randomly and/or get tired of their animals and drop them at shelters. I'm not as articulate as you are, so I really wish you'd write about this issue. I'm right in the middle between animal rights activists and AKC dog show folks, which is a lonely place to be. Thanks, Kate in WA state

PBurns said...

Cavs are brachcephalic to the point of having difficulty breathing. See >> King Charles Spaniels are simple more


Heather said...

The AKC did not refuse to register the Dalmatian crosses, they were ready to. The Dalmatian club of America is who did that, after having agreed that it would be okay to register them as Dalmatians in the third generation after the cross.

The AKC generally goes along with what the parent club wants for most things involving that breed. I frequently hear folks blaming the AKC for things they had nothing to do with. That leads me to believe that too many folks don't really understand how the AKC and parent breed clubs and stuff like that works, but find it easy to blame them, anyway.

PBurns said...

Heather, read the AKC bylaws on this; they can overturn the club any time they want. Since the AKC has the final decision, the decision is always theirs.


Shoshannah said...

am I the only one wondering why the Obama's aren't simply going with a standard poodle, instead of a doodle?
As other commenters mentioned, doodles tend to be from crap stock, no health tests, and overpriced.
And, no one can predict anyway if they preserve the allergy qualities of the poodle parent (muttpuppies on trial blog deals with that issue a lot).

PBurns said...

Let me ask you: Why should they get a Poodle?

I can certainly understand not wanting a poodle, as apparently can most people. Standard Poodles are not a hugely popular breed due to their effeminate overtones (real or imagined). They live about 12 years on average (pretty good for a large breed), but about 30 percent get cancer as well, which is not a cheap or fun thing.

You say "doodles tend to be from crap stock, no health tests, and overpriced."

That statement is demonstrably true for all PUREBRED dogs but it is not demonstrably true for cross breeds such as Labradoodles. What is it based on? Have you (or anyone else) done any actual research with real data? Post the link, because I am always interested in reading such things which are always more interesting than the more frequent list-serv commentary we tend to get from dog breeders whose own dogs are shot through with problems. For the data on how defective purebred dogs are, see the health links in the sidebar to this blog. For pricing, see any breeder. For the lack of testing done by breeders of purebred dogs, see OFA or CERF data sets.

The Obamas are looking for a shelter dog, and whatever they get is likely to do well for them as a pet.


stellaluna said...

I think one of the reasons they are looking at a "Labradoodle" is that they are inexperienced potential owners and the girls are probably smitten with that cutesy name. It's a current fad, so they have probably been exposed to it more than the rest of us, on a basic level.

I also agree that they probably don't want a "girly" dog, based on Pres. Obama's prior comments. I know he was probably being facetious when he said that, but a lot of guys just don't like foo-foo dogs like Poodles, and don't really realize they can be clipped in utility or pet clips that take away the foo-foo look.

Shoshannah said...

The problems with purebreed dogs are well known (that is one of the reasons that my own dog is a shelter mutt- ).
A cross-bred dog doesn't automaticly get the good from both sides. Many of the genetic issues in purebred dogs are common to more than one breed, so crossing two breed which carry that gene will not get rid of it.
See for example the goldendoogle:
(and as I mentiond before, that blog is well worth reading).

Nearly all the doodles I have seen have come from breeders who are churning out litter after litter, not even trying to fix the dogs' genetic issues.

If one is going to buy a dog (note- buy, not adopt from a shelter or a rescue group), the doodle doesn't really give you an advantage over a standard poodle, if your reason for a poodle cross is allergies- no one can predict anyway if the pup you are buying is getting the hypoallergenic qualities from the poodle parent or a "regular" dog from the lab parent.
Thus, one just might as well pay less and get a standard poodle. And no, they don't have to give it a silly clip.

Alex V. said...

I think Soshannah has a good point. People like to buy anything with a cutsy cross name. For example, cross a Min Pin with a Poodle and you have a "Pinpoo" or a "Poopin," etc. etc. Puppy mills and pet stores certainly rely on this. Your average person doesn't know how to look for a good breeder. I've only worked at Petsmart for a couple of months, but I've seen countless people who have gotten puppies under 8 weeks of age from god knows where. They have no idea how to train them, no breeder to get advice from, certainly. They'll probably never hear from that breeder again. Ask them what OFA or CERF is, and they haven't a clue. So, should I expect them to put the time and effort into finding an ethical, reputable hybrid breeder? Not at all.

I think "hybrid" dogs could be great, but only if they put careful thought into it and test the dogs. Oh, also keep track of who they sell their puppies to and keep in contact with them. Make sure the dog doesn't end up in a shelter. The crappy breeders have certainly given a bad name to hybrid vigor. If you really think about it, you could be giving future generations problems from both sides of the parents if they weren't from good stock.

Breeders can be vicious. God forbid if you don't show your dogs; you must be a puppy miller then. Breeders who might actually want to create a crossbreed to add healthy genetic material to their purebreed would be chased after and beaten down by an angry mob of purists scared to change. The Kennel Clubs were founded when people had no idea about genetics. But that certainly isn't an excuse for them to carry on like they do with the knowledge they have. Same goes for the breed clubs.

But I guess I'm just preaching to the choir.

TheRealAPBT said...

Just pointing out that the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) is just a registry for the American Pit Bull Terrier. Not really comparable to the AKC.