Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sterilization, Euthanasia, and Westminster

Over at the Australian version of Gizmondo, they have excerpted a bit from Michael Brandow's book, A Matter of Breeding:

Does a dog need to have a certain look to behave in a certain way? Seeking some explanation for our present-day obsession with predictability, many are surprised to find the trail leads back to eugenics, that dirty word recalled with fear and loathing but a set of assumptions that have as much to do with pets as they once did with people. Few know that many of our core beliefs about bloodlines, appearance, and skill retain more than a tinge of those ugly theories that have made some people and pets seem superior for their complexion or ancestral profiles, and others inferior for having substandard markings or a checkered past.

Most upright citizens have officially sworn off applying eugenics to humans these days, but for some strange reason, they continue to breed and buy their dogs along old eugenic lines. Anderson Cooper was shocked and appalled on his show in May 2012 to report that forced sterilizations of “undesirables” were conducted by the tens of thousands in the United States until as recently as the 1970s. But at home, he had a Welsh springer spaniel, a breed born to what AKC writer Freeman Lloyd once called “a doggie family that has existed in its approximately pure state for many hundreds of generations.” Despite its illustrious past, Cooper’s brand of choice is now prone to a number of serious health issues and has an average inbreeding coefficient higher than that of first cousins. Blood “purity” has worked against the springer, which has been subjected, like many breeds, to the same outdated theories of “better breeding” that get pups culled for having the wrong coat colour, make “good” families feel superior to not-so-good ones — and get millions of innocent people killed for their ethnic or racial background. Sterilization, euthanasia, segregation, holocausts, and judgments at Westminster all have a common heritage in eugenics, and despite the fact that English isn’t among the many languages that still use “race” and “breed” interchangeably, we have no excuse for not knowing or caring about this history....

Despite major strides made in universal suffrage, desegregation, affirmative action, and human rights, little has changed in the realm of dogdom, where random features like skin, coat, or eye colour, skull shape, nose length, and social background are routinely linked to deeper character traits....

The confusing array of standardized, branded, recognised terriers currently available for purchase and the source of so much family pride provide an excellent example of how inventive the dog fancy has been. Contrary to popular lore and breeders’ advertising claims, “improved” breeds of the terrier type were invented for the stage and sidewalk. Any that aren’t purely fictional works are, often and sadly, working dogs made physically and mentally incapable of performing their traditional tasks. Ancient types were reshaped into cartoon replicas of their useful ancestors, and soon everyone but farmers and hunters without the luxury of gullibility forgot the whole operation was a theatrical hoax....

“Give any show ring enough time,” writes Patrick Burns, traditional Jack Russell man, hunter, scholar, and vocal critic of kennel club practices, “and it will ruin any breed of working dog — it always has and it always will.” This would explain why farm dogs, police dogs, war dogs, racing dogs, sled dogs, and many other useful types are not typically even AKC-registered. This is why some breeders who, because of a kennel club’s vast influence or for whatever reasons want its support, are said to outcross on the sly to keep their stock healthy and functional....

Meanwhile, in average homes on both sides of the pond, pet owners swayed by romantic tales of a pastoral figure now deprived of pastures either end up abandoning their silken two-tone replicas for being too difficult to manage, or pride themselves on cramming what remains of their uniqueness into completely inappropriate environments. It’s not uncommon to find these hardwired misfits staring blankly at walls, or trembling and drooling with pupils dilated. “Noise phobia” is said to affect at least 50 per cent of pet border collies. Many are prescribed Xanax. Ten per cent suffer severely, and the breed has become a subject of study — again, on the genetic basis of mental illness. 

What's the difference between selective breeding and eugenics?  Good people can disagree. Some will tell you eugenics is what we do to people and selective breeding is what we do to animals, and therefore that is the wrong term for what we are doing with dogs, but I think they miss the point if they run in this direction.

The history of human eugenics has not been, for the most part, an effort to screen for diseases in order to reduce their number, or to breed the smart to the smart in order to get more smart, but a selection bias (and an affirmative sterilization and death cap protocol) based on skin color, religion, or national origins.

This is, in fact, exactly what the world of show dogs is all about, where coat color and registry, and the faked stories cocked up by dog dealers 50 years earlier, are more important than health, temperament, or working ability.

With beef cattle, milk cows, chickens, ducks, turkey, sheep, and goats, selective breeding is entirely different. Here, we have an axis of production that is more than the gloss and looks.  Here there are penny costs to measure and pounds of meat, milk, wool, and eggs to be weighed, valued, and sold.

As a consequence, most farm stock today is a hybrid, created and maintained with occasional new infusions of genetic material to prevent infecundity, weak hocks, or weak immune systems.

In short, selective breeding of farm animals is exactly what show dog breeding is NOT, and what human eugenics actually is.


Michael said...

Thanks, Patrick. Who did the lovely watercolor? And can I have permission to copy/post it?

PBurns said...

Picture is all your Michael - made it on the iPhone from a picture using an "app" called Waterlogue. Very cool app. 😄

Gaia said...

Just a quick comment re coat color as it relates to herding breeds. Sheep and cows were herded long before "Eyes-R-US" opened an outlet at the local mall, and I suspect that shepherds (the people) found it quite useful to be able to visually distinguish whether that object at the back of the herd was their dog, lamb, or calf. Thus, sheepdogs/ collies in the UK are often a mixture of color with white, whereas in places where the cows are spotted black and white, the local herding dogs are not spotted with white.
I'm sure this is a gross generalization, but I can imagine there having been some basis for color selection in herding breeds by shepherds themselves, even if working traits and biddability were primary criteria.

Gaddy Bergmann said...

I’ve been debating purebreeding with people a lot lately. Mostly, I state that purebreeding shrinks gene pools and leads to inbreeding and makes genetic disorders more likely. I state that "line-breeding" is a euphemism for incest, and despite being common in purebreeding, is actually very damaging, and now illegal in some countries. I state that many of the features of purebred dogs (and other animals) that some people consider desirable and in accord with an arbitrary breed standard are just canonized birth defects, e.g. flat faces, dwarfed legs, droopy ears, baggy skin, hairlessness, and so on. Thus, breeding for extremes is intentional inbreeding, but even otherwise normal-looking dogs can still be inbred. I have stated that, although "breeding away" from disease is helpful, it is no substitute for restoring gene pools to a more natural, diverse state. I have gone so far as to post three rules that would prevent further abuses in animal breeding (the first implies the other two):

1) Domestic animals are still closely related to their wild relatives, and have similar needs.
2) Remember to outcross, and to avoid inbreeding.
3) Remember to avoid breeding for extreme phenotypes.

Most of the arguments against what I've stated above are merely reactionary, knee-jerk responses to a position that threatens the status-quo. People argue from the margins, stating that their purebred dog of one flavor or another is doing fine (that's cool, but many aren't). As with most things biological, we're speaking of tendencies here. Not all members of a breed are going to come down with a problem for which that breed is predisposed, but that doesn't mean that the predisposition is not real.

In general, I am opposed to dog breeds, but in favor of dog types. Most people do not understand what this means. They think I want all dogs to look the same, which is not the case. Breeds, as they are currently defined, are necessarily in closed gene pools. They may look or act a certain way, but the fact that they are genetically isolated from all other dogs spells certain doom sooner or later. They should be allowed to outcross. I am in favor of having a diversity of dog types - not just primitives and pariahs, but also sight hounds, scent hounds, terriers, stock dogs, guardians, and sporting dogs, as well as mixes thereof. In all cases, the dogs would benefit from a widening of the gene pool (i.e. mixing), but could still retain their health and function. Selection is not enough; dogs need to mix again.

A landrace or mixed sight hound is still excellent at coursing prey. A landrace or mixed scent hound is still awesome at tracking, and a landrace or mixed terrier is still great at going to ground. Ditto for sled dogs, guardians, and sporting dogs. The only reasonable argument I've encountered in favor of predictability in purpose-bred dogs comes from stockmen, who want dogs from tried-and-true breeds that are good at herding sheep and cattle. To a point, I can see the merit of their argument. Different stock dogs have different working styles; some heel, some head, some circle. There are different environments and different livestock out there (goats, sheep, cattle, even reindeer), and different dogs are going to have different strengths and weaknesses. I get all that, and I get that real livelihoods are at stake, and that the health of real people, dogs, and livestock are at stake when herding is involved. Nevertheless, I still think that some mixing when needed is not going to ruin these working dogs, and will only strengthen their gene pools. I realize it takes time to develop a stock dog with a distinct style, but let's remember that all of these dogs - all of them - come from landrace and mixed ancestors that were still great at their jobs. If it ain't broke, don't fix it ... but it's inbred, mix it.

Michael said...

You can do this with an app? I will cherish this. Thank you.