Friday, December 12, 2014

Dog Fancy Is DEAD For All the Right Reasons

Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy Magazines are going the way of slide rules and cigars -- into the dust bin of history -- and they are going there for all the right reasons.

The two monthlies are on the edge of their 45th and 50th anniversaries respectively, but will be gone by January.

This is not a story about how the high cost of postage, printing and paper is killing off another publication unable to compete in the era of cell phones and Amazon Prime. Yes, there's that too. But the core story is really about a seismic change in pet culture in the United States -- the same seismic shift that is killing off the American Kennel Club.

As New York magazine notes in a piece focused solely on the Cat Fancy side of the story:
To understand the seismic shift in cat culture, you can start by picking apart Cat Fancy's name. It used to be much more than a whimsical reference to the enjoyment of felines. When the magazine launched in 1965, animal lovers were very familiar with something called "the cat fancy." The term referred to a connoisseur-like approach to cats: following professional cat shows, maintaining directories of cat breeders, and recognizing the importance of purebred bloodlines.

"Back then, the people who had all the knowledge tended to be the people who were showing cats, breeding cats, everything like that," said Melissa Kauffman, senior editorial director for I-5. Cat Fancy's innovation was to take that knowledge — and its attendant attitude toward cats — to a nationwide audience. "They did cover some of the topics that Cat Fancy covers today, but it was more about things like show information." There were long indexes of breeders, in-depth analyses of different breeds, and impassioned letters from opinionated cat owners (including, in one memorable instance, Ayn Rand).

.... Nevertheless, readers of Cat Fancy in its early decades would likely be aghast at the shape of today's cat passions. Modern feline icons like Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub are mutts with genetic deformities. They wouldn't have made it past the front door at a Golden Age cat show. And their many public appearances are filled with fans who would disdain anyone who gets a cat from a breeder rather than a shelter.

Dog Fancy
and Cat Fancy will be replaced
by glossy high-end publications called Dogster and Catster, which are to be print analogs to two already-existing web sites. The two new print magazines will alternate their monthly publication runs, with 6-issues of each coming out over the course of a year.

Presumably these two new publications will be institutions that reflect a new ethos. But will they survive in this digital era? It will be tough. Paper is so dead there are almost no street-level distribution points any more, and at a time of fiscal austerity who is subscribing for print information that they can get online for free?.

That said, what sank Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy was not Google, list-servs and chat rooms, but the fact that America no longer gravitates to deformed, diseased, and dysfunctional dogs and cats that have been inbred to failure.

The death of the dog show is part of the same tectonic shift that has crumbled Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy.  

And can the demise of the AKC be far behind? Not according to my sources, which say AKC registrations are now just a hair over 400,000 a year, down from over 1.5 million in 1992.

To be clear, Americans own more dogs than ever before.

It is not dogs that Americans are rejecting, it is pure bred dogs and pure bred dog breeders selling contrived histories, sniffing pretensions, and diseased and deformed dogs unfit for the most basic of function.

The canine population in the U.S. is about 75 million dogs.

Every year about 7 million new dogs are acquired to replace those that die from disease, old age or accident.

Of these 7 million new dogs, approximately 53 percent are crossbreeds or mongrels, and approximately 47 percent are "pure breeds".

To put a number on it, that works out to be approximately 3,710,000 dogs of mixed ancestry, and approximately 3,290,000 dogs that are pure breed.

AKC registrations are down to under 450,000, which means they account for less than 14 percent of all pure bred dogs acquired every year, and less than 6.5 percent of ALL dogs acquired.

So where does this leave the AKC?

Not well. The organization has tried to make money in the world of veterinary referral kickbacks and insurance sales kickbacks and in selling defective AKC-branded goods made in China.

They have doubled-down on puppy mill registrations, going so far as to discount pet store registrations and to create an entire computer program for puppy mill sales to pet stores, even as they invite the owners of puppy mills into their booth at Westminster.

Now they are selling their email lists to lick-and-stick dog food companies who contract out the manufacture of their dog food to third parties in foreign countries (Canada). That's a fast way to jump from the pan into the fire!

And is the United Kennel Club doing any better?

Not a bit. The same social trend away from pure bred dogs has prevented this registry from growing beyond its second-cousin status, and since the UKC is almost exactly like the AKC (no required health tests, no required genetic tests, green-light to puppy mill sales, green-light to incest, etc.) it holds no moral high ground when it comes to canine welfare.

But is any of this bad for dogs?

Not a bit! In fact, it is all GOOD for dogs.

Let us all celebrate dogs AND the demise of Kennel Club registries founded on the broken and misguided eugenics theories of the late 19th and early-20th centuries.

Progress is being made!


jeffrey thurston said...

So I'm a bit confused- if the AKC is registering 450,000 "purebred" dogs what's the story with the other 2,840,000 purebred dogs brought into the pool every year- are they in breed clubs separate from the AKC like the JRTCA? Are they subject to the same abuses (inbreeding, breeding for looks etc.)? or are they better off? I know that police departments and others won't buy AKC German Shepherd dogs usually- they prefer unruined actual working dogs- do they go to Europe or are these non-AKC Ameri8can breeders?

PBurns said...

Some are in breed clubs like the JRTCA, some are registered in other Kennel Clubs (there is a dizzying number, almost all of them paper-hangers for puppy mills), and then there is the UKC (about 250,000 dogs there), and then there is the Field and other working dog registries, but most dogs are simply unregistered. All of my three jack Russells are unregistered, for example, but I know their back story going back some distance. Most labs, Pits, beagles, fox hounds, coonhounds, etc. are similarly unregistered but are purebred within any regular meaning of that word. Don't get confused; AKC paper is not what makes a pure breed. Pure breeds are simply animals that breed reasonably true. That said, the they certainly do not have to carbon copy cookie cutters! If you see a dog that looks like a border collie and it does the work, it's a border collie no matter if there is paper or not. Ditto for a Jack Russell, a Patterdale, a Coonhound, etc. Most of the "pure breeds" of the AKC are splits off of dogs that used to be "the breed" -- Norfolks/Norwich, the various bull terriers, the various labs and setters, many of the lap dogs, etc.

jeffrey thurston said...

So are many of the non-AKC pure bred dogs less prone to the genetic problems of the AKC bred-for-conformation-only dogs? That would be actually a good thing- I know with German Shepherds there is a large gene pool because of the Cold War- thus there are Czech and East German and even Russian dogs which were bred as total workers. If there are many non AKC pure bred dogs doesn't that mean that there is hope for working breeds like coon hounds and others to stay as working breeds? Around the world there are still many of the basic types of dogs which became breeds right? Afghan hounds, Salukis, sled dogs, various shepherd dogs- even fighting dogs like in Afghanistan. Even before reading your blog I knew the AKC ruined breeds- I followed with interest the JRTCA-AKC name fight of the early 2000s and understood the danger of AKC acceptance. Hopefully they really will go away like the slide rule...

PBurns said...

There are about four or five questions buried in there. The short story, is that any time there is not a closed registry, you are likely to get the kind of outcross and genetic wobble you need in order to reduce genetic problems due to inbreeding. Kennel club inbreeding is very severe, because of sire selection for winning dogs. What that means is that if a dog is not a winner it is effectively not bred. If it is a winner, however, it may end up siring 100 or more dogs. Whatever genetic load is carried by that one dog will impact the breed for many generations. Since so many breeds have their registry closed with just 20 or 30 dogs in them, inbreeding can be extreme. And yet, it does not take outcrossing every generation to save a breed, as Darwin himself proved with Galton's bloodhounds. A little wobble can go a long way!

Working dogs never disappear, even if they become rarer. But the people who work dogs rarely get their dogs from a kennel club registry of any kind. That is as true for sled dogs and running dogs at the track, as it is for bird dogs, gun dogs, and working terriers.

The problems with dogs are legion. Kennel clubs promote breeds that are selected for morphological defect, and breed all dogs within a closed registry. They also greenlight the registration of dogs from puppy mills. Puppy mill dogs often have a great deal of genetic wobble within them, but are often bred until dead, and sold at too early an age before full vaccination. In order to get a dog into a pet store at eight weeks, it has to be removed from its mother at six weeks and jumbled up with hundreds of other dogs at a buncher or distributor. At six weeks, the dog is losing its disease resistance from its mother, but vaccines are still not catching on and a reliable way. The result is predictable: massive outbreaks of distemper, parvo, and other diseases.

jeffrey thurston said...

So in the world of JRTs the problem isn't severe because there is a non-AKC breed club and a broad standard as far as looks. Ditto husky type sled dogs- even in the 70s one could get sled dogs bred for running and pulling which were outcrosses and dual breeds (Alaskan Husky eg.) How would one find say a non-AKC gun dog? Or a non-AKC retriever for actual retrieving?

jeffrey thurston said...

BTW- thanks for your patience!

PBurns said...

There is a wide variety of ways to hunt with bird dogs and gun dogs, depending on whether you are going for birds for the pot, or field trials. The main difference is speed on the ground. The faster dog is not better in the field, but it might be at trial.

Most folks looking for a decent bird-dog for retriever turn to people they hunt with or know locally. Quite a lot to recommend it!

Another place to start with the registry in the United States: American Field. This is a working dog registry. Though there are some AKC dog sitter cross registered, by and large it's a different gene pool.

For more, see >>

Michele said...

I have an "AKC" Doberman and "AKC" Siberian Husky, but never registered them with AKC. I didn't see the point because I had no plans to turn my females into a backyard-breeder situation (they are now both spayed -- I learned to do that early and not when they're 3 years old). While I'm not happy with 95% of the pure-bred dog breeders out there, I have to admit that I like knowing what I'm getting when I purchase a pure-bred dog (personality, adult weight, temperament, etc). I've also owned Boston Terriers, a Beagle, and Yorkies.

My sister had an AKC English Bulldog flown to her from out-of-state -- paid $1,200 for that defect. He has NEVER been able to walk more than 10 feet without sitting down, he seems unhappy, struggles for every breath, had to have 2 eye surgeries, teeth rot started at age 3....he is a huge genetic train wreck like I've never seen before (and it's not from lack of care or from poor nutrition). My vet friend tells me that they see dollar signs when they get a new English Bulldog as a client -- the most expensive breed to own because they are so riddled with problems.

I love your blog and your style writing.