Monday, February 25, 2019

The Disappearing Scottish Terrier

What's new in the world of Scotties?

Well, they are failing. Inews reports that:

The iconic Scottish terrier or Scottie dog has been officially marked as at risk of disappearing. Numbers of the breed are so low that the distinctive black wire-haired dog is in danger of dying out, according to the Kennel Club. Last year an all-time low of only 438 Scottish terrier pups were registered with the dog breeds organisation. That is a decline of 38 per cent over the last five years with numbers now so low it is on the ‘at watch’ list.


Where to start?
Well, as they say in The Wizard of Oz, it's always best to start at the beginning. As I noted back in 2005:

The Scottish Terrier was registered by the American Kennel Club in 1885 and the first "Scottish Terrier Club" was created in England in 1887, and in Scotland in 1888.

Yes, those dates are correct -- the Scottish terrier breed name was recognized in the U.S. before England, and in England before Scotland. Clearly this was a breed made in the ring and not in the ground!

In fact, it was not until 1917 that the Kennel Club of Great Britain prohibited interbreeding between Scotties, Westies and Cairns -- the first step toward true breed recognition.

By 1917 few Scotties were being worked, and for a very simple reason: the dogs were too big.

Today's breed description for the Scottie is of a dog with a chest that is "very deep & broad" -- the exact opposite of what one wants in a working terrier!

Due to large heads, enormous chests, and excessive body weight, many of today's Scotties are born Cesarean. It is hard to imagine a clearer indication of how much show-ring breeders have distorted this dog to the point of ruination.

What else can we say about Scotties? Well, for one, they are a breed in bad health. As Joseph Harvill at Great Scots Magazine's "MacBlog" noted back in 2008:

What is killing us and our dogs are ‘typy’ good looks that hide recessive genes and late-onset diseases. However, the contamination of our Scottish Terrier gene pool can only worsen until we grasp this elemental truth of population genetics: kinship-increasing breeding practices, sustained over time, in a small breed population, lead inexorably to what population geneticists call “inbreeding depression.” Classic signs of inbreeding depression abound in Scottish Terriers today: (1) shorter lifespans (2) weakened immunology (3) smaller litters (4) increased whelping problems (5) spread of genetic diseases. Take one example: Scottie longevity.

In 1995 the STCA did a small health survey limited to their registered breeders and pegged the average Scottie lifespan at 11.2 years. In 2005, a decade later, Great Scots Magazine sponsored a comprehensive Scottie health survey, encompassing over 1,600 case studies comprising both show bred and pet Scottish Terriers, and found the average lifespan is 10.15 years. Assuming the STCA numbers from 1995 were accurate (those are the only longevity numbers the national club ever produced in their 95-year history to that date)—assuming their numbers are accurate, it shows our breed’s lifespan dropped by 10% in a single decade! That’s equivalent to humans losing perhaps eight years or more off our life-expectancy.

The tragedy here is simply this: a purebreed system lacking the perspective of biological conservation and driven rigidly by the aesthetics of ‘type’ is a system obsessed with a small portion of the genetic picture and functionally blind to larger gene pool dynamics. Despite manifest signs of a troubled gene pool, we persist in our bargain with the devil for ‘typy’ good looks blind to the fact that handsome, ‘typy’ Scotties that have high coefficients of inbreeding can only deepen our inbreeding depression.

Worse still, our kinship-raising/diversity-reducing breeding practices now are normalized and ensconsed as responsible practice setting in motion the irony of breed guardians who believe they are saving the gene pool by holding for rigid showring ‘type’ when in fact they are adding to the ravages of depleted genetic diversity in our best dogs.

The Scottie gene pool, it turns out, is poisoned most by our own contaminated values, traditions, and rituals and our proud breed has most to lose at the hands of its staunchest friends. The mind-set and the ‘typy’-motivated line-breeding traditions which have brought our dogs to this predicament will continue to justify patch work band-aid fixes until the stark reality of our dogs’ jeopardy is driven home to the public. Until it informs us and frightens us and angers us it won’t motivate us to change the way we breed and buy Scottish Terriers.

So, to put a point on it, the world of informed consumers is no longer as interested as it once was in a non-working dog with bad and declining health. The fact that a Scottie won Westminster in 2010 was not enough to turn things around.

So is the Scottie destined to swirl down the bowl to oblivion? Probably not. The 438 Scottish terrier pups born last year is just those dogs registered in The Kennel Club and does not include dogs not registered, dogs in the US, Canada, mainland Europe, and Australia, to say nothing of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The Scottie is not going to wink off the planet quite yet.

But is it in trouble? Oh yes. It's been in trouble since the moment it was drawn into the Kennel Club.

1 comment:

Seej said...

You may or may not like SciFi, but there's a book that should speak to you. It's called The Day of the Klesh, and it's about the breeding of humans over generations based on mostly physical attributes, leading to different well defined breeds. Authored by MA Foster, it is the last book in a trilogy - the Ler trilogy. You might like it. I've read the whole thing three or four times.