As I have noted in previous posts, Charles Darwin's work in The Origin of Species drove Francis Galton, his half-cousin, to create the field he called "Eugenics" -- the notion that natural selection done by the unguided hand of God could be put into hyper drive by unnatural selection at the hand of man.
It was Galton who framed out the core intellectual construct that became the Kennel Club, though it was John Henry Walsh who created the points system which was based on the eugenics theories of Plato several thousand years earlier.
It was not until almost the turn of the 20th Century that the Kennel Club fully embraced a closed registry system, and by then the field of eugenics was taking off like gangbusters.
By the 1920s American veterinarian and consummate dog man Leon F. Whitney was not only writing about dog breeding, but he was also head of the American Eugenics Society where his work involved holding dog-show-like "Fitter Family" contests across the Midwest and writing and publishing a book advocating the sterilization of some 10 million Americans -- a book praised by none other than Adolph Hitler.
Into this arena, the Rockefeller Foundation stepped in 1926 with a grant to Dr. Charles Stockard for the establishment of the Cornell Dog Farm at Shrub Oak, near Peekskill, New York.
The purpose of this dog farm was simple: to study the endocrine systems of dogs and determine the role of breeding and the impact of genetics on this system.
|Kennels at Peekskill, NY|
In Dogs and Eugenics he writes:
The breeds of dogs studied included the following:
- St. Bernard
- German shepherd (Alsatian)
- Saluki (a large North African greyhound-like animal)
- Great Dane
- English bulldog
- French bulldog
- Boston terrier
- Brussels griffon
Of these widely differing breeds the Alsatian [German Shepherd] is rightly regarded as the most normal type, lacking obviously pathological stigmata and being closest to the wolf-like ancestors of our dog breeds. Comparatively harmonic in general shape are also the Great Dane, the Saluki, and the foxhound. The giant St. Bernards have signs of acromegaly; Bassethound and dachshund show marked achondroplasia of the legs, but not of skull or tail; the two bulldogs, the Boston terrier and the Brussels griffon have extremely shortened muzzles, but normally shaped legs, while the Pekinese is highly achondroplasic both as regards skull and appendicular skeleton.
|Pekingese X Salutki cross|
Is it surprising that the startled author of this nightmare dog show should utter warning after warning against "mongrelization" of human races? And yet, most of these monstrosities would have been predictable from the ingredients contributed by the parent breeds. These divergences are vastly greater than anything that could possibly occur in human race crosses. And if you cross breeds of dogs which are not predictably incompatible, like a bulldog and a dachshund, or a Saluki and a Pekingese, quite alluring animals may be produced. For instance, the hybrid between Great Dane and Alsatian is a strong and distinctly handsome dog, and a similar type could no doubt be made homozygous in a later generation. But a good deal of the highly pathological, and unpredictable, monstrosities probably owe their origin not to the race cross per se....
Grüneberg then goes on to discuss inbreeding, and how a doubling down on the genetic load to be found in Stockard's small pool of dogs likely led to to some of the disease, deformity and defect that was found:
... there is every reason to believe that all breeds of dogs are soaked with harmful recessives; in an outbred population these remain largely under the surface, but inbreeding makes them homozygous. Now Dr. Stockard's experiments involved not only race crosses, but also much closer inbreeding than is customary within breeds; for technical reasons most experiments started with a few specimens of the " pure " breed, and the production of an F2 or backcross generation involved close inbreeding. Hence the pathological types recovered owe their appearance to a double reason; one is the reshuffling of genes, the other is the segregation of pathological recessives which were hidden in heterozygous form in the " pure " breeds; The latter source of monstrosities has not been recognized by Dr. Stockard, and for this reason his argument about the undesirability of human race crosses is considerably weakened.
And so there you have it: even as men, women and children were locked in World War, and millions of bodies were being tossed into ovens and graves, the Faustian eugenics dance between Germany, America and Britain played out in the world of dogs as scientists, geneticists, and social theorists looked to canines and Kennel Club breeds as a predictive models for human differences and human breeding.