Thursday, February 26, 2015

Whistling Past the Canine Graveyard

The Beagle "Miss P" won Westminster. Her "co-owner" is Eddie Dziuk, who is a fairly wealthy beagle aficionado who made his fortune in the IT business.  He buys into likely show dogs to fund the "syndicate" that pays the handlers, transportation, hotel, and dining bills associated with "campaigning" a dog to a Westminster win. That can be a lot of money.  

Yes, it's all pretty far from the trucks and shotguns of rabbit hunting!  

No matter. 

In the American Kennel Club work is given ZERO pointsas is temperament. 

Health too is given ZERO points.  

A beagle does not have to be a healthy worker with good temperament -- it just has to look good. And "Miss P" looks great, but apparently that was not enough, so a lot of money was paid to a "handler." Not that anyone is ever judging up the leash at an AKC dog show. No. Never that.

But no matter. What people spend their money on is entirely their business, and more power to them. Let us talk of healthy happy dogs, not of human ego. 

On the dog front, Eddie Dziuk is also Chief Operating Officer of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) which certifies hips.

On the hips front, OFA's entire plan of attack seems to have been a complete bust.  

After 50 years of OFA "scoring" of canine hips, dogs are now worse off than they ever were.  

Any why is that?  

Well, it turns out that the OFA scoring system is not very good or very accurate. 

OFA ranks hips on a seven point system after a single x-ray is taken of a live dog. Three vets then assign scores to the hips, and those scores are then averaged. 

When I went to grad school we called this the "Delphic Method" -- a reference to the Oracle at Delphi. I was always said with a wink and a tired smile. Everyone knew what it really meant: a bunch of "experts" took a guess, based on murky evidence, and then the guesses were averaged. You would be surprised how often the Delphic Method is used, especially here in Washington, D.C.!  

A newer competing system, the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP), requires the dog to be anesthetized before three x-rays are taken of the hips, and then a score is assigned based on an actual measurement of the hip’s distraction index (DI). 

With PennHIP, a DI of 0.15 means the femoral head is 15 percent out of joint (a tight hip), and a DI of 0.77 means the head is 77 percent out of joint (a very loose hip). 

The "division street" at PennHIIP is 0.30. A DI equal to or greater than or 0.30 means the dog is "osteoarthritis-susceptible," and a DI of under 0.30 as "osteoarthritis-non-susceptible."

To cut to the chase,
OFA is giving "excellent," "good," and "fair" hip scores to a LOT dogs with real hip problems. 

In fact, it appears they are doing it nearly all the time.

  • 14% of dogs had hip joints scored as excellent by OFA standards, but 52% (31/60) of those had a DI ≥0.30 (range, 0.14 to 0.61) 
  • 82% of dogs with OFA-rated good hip joints had a DI ≥0.30 (range, 0.10 to 0.77) 
  • 94% of dogs with OFA-rated fair hip joints had a DI ≥0.30 (range, 0.14 to 0.77) 
  • Of all dogs with fair to excellent hip joints by OFA standards, 80% had a DI ≥0.30. 
  • All dogs with OFA-rated borderline hip joints or mild, moderate, or severe hip dysplasia had a DI ≥0.30 (range, 0.30 to 0.83) 

Now, to be clear, Eddie Dziuk has nothing to do with the fact that the OFA hip test is (apparently) junk. The OFA test is older than he is, and Mr. Dziuk is not a osteopath, a geneticist, or a veterinarian. He's simply a guy who likes beagles, has a lot of money, and has management skills. Good enough!

That said, it's not like the world needs more measurements of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

We know why canine health is wrecked.  We know why dogs are getting sicker and not better.
  • Dogs are being bred too young, before problems self-illuminate;
  • No health or performance tests are required to win at dog shows, not even at Westminster.
  • There are no bans on inbreeding or line breeding, which means ribbon-winning dogs with bad hips (pretty much all of the dogs being screened by OFA) are seeing their genes passed on, and even doubled down on.
Which brings me to my point:  Will Eddie Dziuk use his time in the spotlight, after this second Westminster win (he was part of Team Uno as well), to talk about how the failing health of Kennel Club dogs is directly related to closed registries, contrived standards, and a prohibition on requiring health checks?  

Will he admit that the OFA hip test has been part of the problem, and not part of the solution? 

Will he talk about the collapse of AKC registrations (a 75% decline in the last 25 years), and the fact that the Kennel Club has embraced puppy mills which crank out an alarming number of dogs from his very own breed?

Don't count on it.

Eddie Dziuk has been showing dogs for over 30 years, and by now he knows the drill: whistle pass the graveyard and never park the blame on the shoulders of the AKC.

From what I can tell, Mr. 
Dziuk has positioned OFA to walk hand-in-hand with the AKC going forward, which is a bit like an organ donor registry joining hands with those who oppose motorcycle helmet laws.

Because the AKC prohibits breed clubs from requiring health tests, prohibits any restrictions on inbreeding, and allows very young dogs to be rushed to championships, dog health is in decline.

But declines in canine health drive the testing industry. More wrecked hips means more business for OFA.

And so long as OFA and the other testing entities never talk about the real problem -- and never park a large measure of the problem on the shoulders of the AKC -- the circle goes round and round, even as the dogs circle down the drain.

No comments: