Friday, January 21, 2011

Ruff Diamonds

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

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Changing Directions

About twelve years ago, I created a little web site called Rat Dog.  This was before Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead created a band of the same name.  The URL for my site was simply an extension of my Internet service provider account, and I do not think Google had been invented yet.

About nine years ago, in order to avoid problems with Bob Weir, I folded up Rat Dog (losing some pages in the process) and made it a subsidiary of another web site that I started, called

From the beginning this new web site was designed to provide something that simply did not exist in the world of terriers -- a place where people could learn a few basics about how to dig on the dogs without making the kind of mistakes that invariably rain misfortune down on the heads of the four legged.  The site went up like all things -- one brick at a time over a lot of days, weeks, months and years.

About eight years ago, I created an online bulletin board as an outgrowth of the Terrierman web site, but I was unhappy with the format which offered no mechanism for pictures or video, and was almost impossible to search.

About seven years ago, I discovered Google Blogger which provides unlimited free Internet space and the tools to communicate with pictures, video and text to whoever might be interested. Perfect!

A little over five years ago, in anger and in frustration that once again a dog had needlessly died in the field due to human incompetency, I wrote a quick book called American Working Terriers to serve as a rough-and-ready instruction manual on the basics of terrier work in general, and American terrier work in particular. The need for such a book was apparent to me.  To this day, there are only three practical books on terrier work, the first written in 1560, and the second written in 1931. American Working Terriers is the third.

Now, after seven years and over 4,000 posts on this blog, I am calling it quits, at least for now.

The simple story is that I have other things to do and I need time to do them. No, I do not know what they are yet, only that the arc of this blog is over, at least for the moment.   I would rather throw balls with the dogs than feed the Blog Beast, and I have other things to write in any case.

So, for now, it is adios, and yes there is a chance I may be back a year from now after I get a few things off the deck.  

We shall see.