Friday, January 21, 2011

Ruff Diamonds

This is my column from the February issue of Dogs Today
As always, terrific art from Kevin Broadbank.
* * * * * * * ** * * * *

The British Kennel Club is no American Kennel Club, and that’s a good thing.

While The Kennel Club has suggested it might dampen down some extreme selections for defect, the American Kennel Club continues to whistle past the graveyard.

While The Kennel Club has banned father-daughter and mother-son matings, the American Kennel Club continues to green light the most obvious kinds of incest.

And while The Kennel Cub has now embraced a lifetime limit of four litters per bitch, the American Kennel Club says commercial breeders can do what they want so long as the registration checks continue to clear the bank.

The British Kennel Club’s rational for embracing a new four-litter lifetime limit for bitches is to drive out the puppy farmers who toss dogs into cages and breed them at every heat until they are dead or dried up.

But, in fact, there may be more going on here than humanitarian concerns.

The Kennel Club realizes the market for dogs is changing, and they are trying to get ahead of the curve in order to preserve their market share.

That’s not a bad thing if they do it right.

But will they do it right?

And will they succeed?

Only time will tell.

Ego as Economic Engine

Dog shows, of course, grew out of farm stock shows.

The major difference was that while sheep and cattle sales had to make long-term economic sense, dog sales did not.

The axis of production on the farm was pounds of meat and gallons of milk. The axis of production for dogs was something far more ephemeral: the human ego.

Where else but at a dog show could a person with no talent, not much knowledge, and limited funds, buy a national champion in order to gain a little reflected prestige from owning such an animal?


And so pedigree dog sales grew like summer corn.

Of course, dogs are not the first commodity marketed to a rising middle class eager to demonstrate its ability to engage in conspicuous consumption.

Diamonds (a girl’s best friend) beat out dogs (man’s best friend) by at least a millennia in this regard.

The Start of a Canine Cartel?

Like dogs, diamonds are not particularly rare. They are found all over the world and in such quantities that the only way the diamond cartel can keep up prices is by buying up mines and taking them out of production, even as they shove 70 percent of their product into vaults.

Dogs, of course, have never been shoved into vaults.

Instead, they have been shoved into gas chambers.

“There are too many unwanted dogs” we have been told, even as everyone has agreed that nothing can be done to slow production.

“Liberty and private property” sniffed the budding legal scholars at the Kennel Club.

Of course as things have changed, so too has the legal thinking.

Now, a new ethos has taken hold and more pound dogs are being adopted out.

And so the Kennel Club -- the De Beers of the dog world -- has now come around to slowing down the wheels of canine production.

The fact that good ethics now lines up with good business is simply a bonus.

Designer Dogs

Diamonds and dogs share another economic facet.

Just as the rise of laboratory-made diamonds and the perfection of cubic zirconium has undermined the romance and social cache of diamonds, so too has the rise of “designer dogs” undermined the value and romance of Kennel Club dogs.

Today, non-Kennel Club breeders promise prospective owners "hybrid vigor" from Puggles, Labradoodles, and Chiweenies.

Of course, the Kennel Club is rallying against the embrace of cross-breeds, but it’s having a hard time finding the proper phrasing.

Kennel Club spokesperson Caroline Kisko told The Daily Mail “it is very worrying to see that so many people are not doing any research at all and basing their decisions entirely on a dog’s looks or media profile.”

It’s a curious line coming from someone representing an organization that has been raising disease-riddled dogs with shortened life spans, and judging them based solely on looks for more than 100 years!

In fact, it is precisely because so many people know that Kennel Club breeds suffer from jaw-dropping rates of cancer, cataracts, liver disease, dysplasia and other disorders, that so many are turning to cross-breeds.

Clearly, the Kennel Club needs a little more work on its message here!

Blood-free Dogs

Which brings us to the final parallel in the world of dogs and diamonds: the rising social stigma associated with wearing misery on a ring … or a string.

Just as news stories about "conflict diamonds" left many brides and grooms rethinking the morality of diamond-encrusted engagement rings, so too have stories about defect, disease, and deformity led many to rethink their acquisition of a Kennel Club dog.

Who wants to be associated with misery and depraved indifference to outcome?

No one!

What to do?

Once again, The Kennel Club has taken its cue from De Beers which has tried to create a “blood free” diamond certification system, with every “blood-free” diamond micro-engraved with a logo and registration number signifying they were sourced from a “conflict-free” zone.

But, of course, a brand is only as good as its weakest link.

In recent years, it has come out that some De Beers-branded diamonds may have been washed through third party countries.

The Kennel Club’s attempt at canine branding through an “Accredited Breeders Scheme” has faced a similarly rocky road.

So far, the Accredited Breeders Scheme appears to be poorly monitored and weakly credentialed. Like a Hollywood western town, it’s one-board thick, with little more than the desert behind it.

Horror stories keep popping up on the margin.

But is the Accredited Breeders Scheme a step in the right direction?

In fact it is.

What is needed now is a substantial strengthening of the Scheme by mandating upper limits on Coefficients of Inbreeding, followed by a vigorous enforcement regime to give it real credibility.

That last part will cost money. Building a new economic model for the Kennel Club will not be a free ride.

That said, if The Kennel Club does build a new economy based on quality rather than quantity, I think it can unequivocally say it is leading the way forward – something the American Kennel Club most assuredly cannot.


phlegmfatale said...

In summer of 2008, I was planning to get another small dog to be companion to my Jack Russell pup so she'd have a packmate. She came from the same breeder whence I acquired my previous JRT 17 years earlier. My vet, it so happened, had rescued a litter of pups from a local animal shelter and thought one of them would do quite nicely for my girl. Thus I got a chiweenie (one of each of the two breeds I swore I'd never own: never say never) who was obviously not planned or wanted, but he is the most superb little beast and is a perfect complement to my terrier. Conversely, I have a friend who made a down-payment on a labradoodle of $800-- heaven only knows what she paid in total. I think when I bring more dogs into our home in the future, we'll tend toward rescues, and most probably mutts. I agree there is a huge moral dilemma with regard to breeding standards and I think breeders should err on the side of restraint when questions of inbreeding may at issue. I think the quality or lack thereof in breeding will out, and ultimately, the price may be an unhappy pet and an unhappy household. Better to do one's homework when choosing a pet and moreso in choosing a breeder.

Jonathan Setter said...

Thanks for the "fix" Patrick. What a nice surprise in my inbox this morning.

Sue said...

You're back, Patrick! I was so happy to see this in my Inbox today. Great article. BTW I think--at least I hope--that another reason for the 4 litter limit is to put the brakes on the Popular Sire Effect, which is a prime cause of the true shrinking genome and super high levels of actual incest in many breeds--even if a 3 generation pedigree doesn't make that apparent. If those Crufts winners can only sire 4 litters, then I suppose those will be very expensive puppies but at least there will be fewer of them!

seeker said...

This was a wonderful surprise, and as usual a pithy commentary. The AKC needs to stop and look long and hard at what they are doing and why. Their dogs are problems waiting to happen or happening now. Their breed standards change at the drop of a hat and the dogs are not healthy. I wonder what the Parson Russell will look like in 10 years. My good collie of 40 years ago couldn't even pass the entrance gate.
So keep it up and hope to see your blog active again.

Debi and the TX JRTs

Rick said...

Years ago, I was given two Dobies, both from breeder dogs. They had minor health issues, possibly the result of inbreeding, but nothing to complain about. After one of them died, I ended up with a rescue: a JRT/Dachsund mix I named Shorty. I realized then that the street would be my "pet store" from now on.

Ten dogs later, Shorty reigns over several Pit mixes, a Greyhound mix, a couple of Chow mixes, and another Dachsund mix, this time with a Shih-Tzu. An AmStaff/"Elephant" mix named Taco is sprawled out on the floor right now, between me and the woodstove. She looks like a beached whale! I'll never go to a breeder again. Excuse me for a moment while I let Chulita, a Pit/Catahoula mix, go outside........

I never intended to show my dogs, so the clubs never had any allure to me. With the pet overpopulation problem, it's easy to see the necessity of spay/neuter programs. But more important is the "widening" of the gene pool.

Thanks, Patrick, for this surprise in my inbox this morning. But especially, thanks for hammering away at this topic. And my old girl Shorty, my JackWeeny, would love to go digging with your dogs, even if all she comes up with are moldy pecans. That's her idea of a truffle!

grapfhics said...

Well good morning Patrick.
It's all marketing, promoting what will best serve their interests. Things will change as they study the market "in depth" and adjust to the pressures from inside and outside the dog world.
But I am worried a bit that some of the phrases in the article and from the KC can be used by those who want to end pets as fodder for their agenda.

cvinzant said...

So glad to have you back to read again, Patrick!
I just adopted 2 beagles that were sprung from a research lab. I've been amazed at their jolly temperament after all they've been through. I've been told the labs breed specifically for docile dogs that are easy to handle and won't bite. Oddly, this perverse corner of the dog community is probably producing better pets than the AKC, which breeds for all kinds of irrelevant physical demands.

Water Over The Dam said...

Got to subscribe to that magazine.

Lila Arnold said...

Due to so many backyard breeders using unethical practices, there are a large number of deaf dogs in shelters in the US. I have adopted a deaf dog. While AKC continues to allow such breeding practices, they refuse to let deaf dogs in competition. All the myths about deaf dogs have been proven false. Proper training and socialization produce a well rounded dog-deaf or hearing. I whole heartedly believe all deaf dogs should be spayed or neutered but AKC continues to ban deaf dogs from companion events such as Rally and Agility. Yet AKC promotes breeding practices which produce dogs with underlying disease and disabilities. When will the AKC wake up to what the rest of the world it doing for the betterment of dogs?

Yardy said...

Nice to get a little fix from you Patrick. I still click on your link out of habit. It's like a twitch. Thanks.


grapfhics said...

Note to Lila: I agree, but don't limit it to "backyard breeders", big name breeders engage in unethical practices as well. Of course, they don't admit they are part of the problem, but they certainly not part of the solution.

grapfhics said...

Note to Lila: I agree, but don't limit it to "backyard breeders", big name breeders engage in unethical practices as well. Of course, they don't admit they are part of the problem, but they certainly not part of the solution.

Living the life in The Little City said...

Hi, Glad you posted. I kind of missed you.

By the way, my game camera caught its first fox. I put it on my blog:

andrew said...

This mother-son incest ban makes me laugh.

Too many breeds either started from a a handful of dogs (often snatched from a much larger population), survived some sort of war with only a handful of dogs, or through showring emphasis bottlenecked themselves.

With such a limited genepool, mating father to daughter or great-grand-uncle to grand-niece you are going to have the same problem.

The flip side of it is Joe-Bob the Hog Hunter out in the middle of Arkansas, whose hog hunting pack is made up of a Boxer-Wolfhound, a plothound mix, the-biggest-dog-at-the-pound-last-week, and some similar dogs from his neighbor Bubba 'three kricks over yonder' if HE does a father-daughter cross, it isn't going to be an issue.

The issue isn't the 'incestuous' nature of child-parent or sibling crosses (indeed many plants self-fertilize and avoid 'degrading' due to incest) the issue is constantly crossing close relatives to close relatives. Do almost nothing but grand-uncle to great-niece crosses and you'll get yourself in a hole just as quick.

This is a 'symbolic' change that is worse than 'too little too late' is a 'head-fake' a 'scape-goat'

Anton said...

To Andrew:

But of course its all manner of things but the most important thing is it is something.

Even to be seen to be doing something is a positive.

In fact some changes that have been made are good ones as pointed out in this article. These would have been seen as heresy a mere couple of years ago. Its enourmouse believe me, not even scratching the surface but big nonetheless.

It's not very flattering to have to be overly cynical about everything. I think the four litter a year rule for example is extremely timely and will definately benift dogs. I believe this is the prime goal.

We of course wait for "security registries" of all breeds, i.e. the opening of closed pedigrees. It will come. It just makes sense. For the cynical it can only mean even more registrations, but no it will improve the lives of millions of dogs.

Complacency, lack of transparancy and straight authoritarianism is the evil but I have a feeling public pressure will not allow this to return, not in the UK, the horse has bolted.

Breeders and the KC are under intense pressure to try and get it right, it's the very begining of the Arab Spring for many dog breeds.

I think the AKC is still in denial and most of American breeders too outside of working dogs. They feel being American that they are perhaps "le exception", not from what Im reading they aren't not with their collapsing registration stats and labradoodle et al frenzies.

I don't over estimate vanity and national sentiment in America or the world of dog showing when I say they will feel pressure too no doubt not only from home.

Dog showing no matter how gruesome is not an island. It's pretty international.

Already it's just for example considerd extremely foolish to buy an American French bulldog over one from the European continent or the UK. Because it simply wont win any shows outside of America at that small size with that size head and lack of lengh of back, colour and muzzle flatness. There are obvious health benefits of course to this for the dog.

The arguably "greatest dog show" on our planet Crufts might just have it's uses after all, certainly where the welfare of the pedigree mutt is concerned everywhere.

Lets hope so at least because I can't see any other positive reason for it to exist at all.