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Saturday, June 21, 2014

OT: Response To The Dog Snobs "That's Not How That Actually Works..."

Recently, The Dog Snobs ran a story entitled "That's not how that actually works you know a.k.a. The AKC is not the enemy and why you sound stupid when you say so.". I normally love the Snobs, but it is exactly when they start talking about the AKC that they end up making really dumb comments. Having been a sometime observer of the AKC and its defenders, I now understand why they write this sort of apologetic -- but refuse in the strongest possible terms to excuse it. And if you presume to lead with the provocative headline that "you sound stupid" when decrying the AKC as an enemy of dogs, you either clearly haven't done your homework, you cling to prejudice about an organization whose real flaws you do not wish to address, or both. Neither prospect reflects well on the Snobs.

The myriad institutionalized flaws of the AKC should come as no surprise to anyone who has befriended me on Facebook for any substantial period of time. I have had the great good fortune to acquire a number of knowledgeable friends with longer history with dogs and vastly more detailed understanding of genetics. My friend Heather Houlahan back in 2010 penned a fantastic analysis of the AKC's dysfunction and decline, "The Emperor's Striptease". While there is a great deal there worthy of discussion, I want to focus first on her synopsis of Donald McCaig's excellent book, The Dog Wars. The short version is that the AKC mounted a hostile takeover of the Australian Shepherd Club of America, except

... the Aussie owners' club had no interest in being so honored. It was doing just fine by itself, with a registry, pageant shows (there was their mistake -- a topic for another day), and open-to-all obedience and working trials.

But AKC was in an acquisitive mood. It cobbled together a little group of Aussie owners who wanted to enter the big pageants, declared them the official club, and to Hell with the studbook -- they'd just take your word for it on the pedigree.

Most of the Aussie people I knew at the time took a fatalistic view -- they didn't like it, but basically rolled over and peed themselves. "I guess I have to double-register, or else lose puppy sales. They're going to close the studbook." (Edit: I do not mean to imply that all Aussie owners went this way; I was just shocked and disappointed about the ones I knew at the time, who all did.)
The AKC next tried to absorb the Border Collie, which effort was marginally successful, in that there are now BC's registered with the AKC, but as Heather notes,
The ABCA continues to register over 20,000 border collies a year -- more than ten times as many as the AKC. Most of those latter are "captured" agility and obedience dogs, and many of those are dual-registered.
So when the Snobs tell us that "The AKC is first and foremost a registry business", what they omit is that it has done so against the wishes of Aussie owners and breeders, and as well of the Coton de Tulear, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Leonberger, in varying degrees.

But this transgression amounts to petty larceny compared to the felony assault that the AKC commits on the canine genome. And it is here, at the Snobs' item (3) -- "The Breed Clubs are not the AKC" -- that the bulk of their argument collapses in a heap. It takes either willful blindness or a refusal to comprehend how the AKC being a mere "registry" (their item 1) drives the operation of their constituent breed clubs.

The AKC is a closed registry. This, really, is in two dimensions:

  1. It is closed to outside review, that is, outside of the AKC. Breeders and buyers alike have but limited visibility at the contents.
  2. It is closed to new dogs, i.e. there is no such thing, as in the Border Collie registries, as a "Registered on Merit".
So when the Snobs say that "the breed clubs are not the AKC", what they're really trying to imply is that the AKC has no responsibility for the actions of the breed clubs. This is disingenuous in the extreme. And the reason why is that breed clubs must use the closed registry, without exception.

The AKC promotes breeds with terrible health. The most visible example I can think of here is the blog entry Patrick Burns wrote in 2010, in the case of Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, the Scottish Terrier that won Westminster that year. Not only was it the Westminster winner, it was a triple crown winner, also winning the 2009 National Dog Show and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship that same year. And yet, as Burns points out,

  • This is a breed in which 45 percent of all dogs die of cancer.
  • This is a small breed dog where the average lifespan of the dog is just 10.15 years -- not the 15 years it should be.
  • This is a breed where a person buying a professionally-bred Scottish Terrier is twice as likely to have that well-bred dog die at two years of age as they are to have that Scottie live to age 16.
  • This is a breed where AKC show breeders have demonstrably less healthy dogs. As Joesph Harvill, editor of Great Scots Magazine notes, professionally bred Scotties are more expensive than casually-bred dogs, but they are not healthier. He concludes that "The empirical evidence indicates that the best shot -- even if a long shot -- at a long-lived Scottie is from a non-professional breeder."
  • This is a breed in which the health of the dog is in rapid decline. When Joseph Harvill, the editor of Great Scots Magazine compared health survey results between 1995 and 2005, he found "an alarming trend" that "may signal the rapid declension in a gene pool which can happen when inbreeding depression reaches critical mass in a small, closed population."
  • This is a breed where owners spent an average of $492 per dog per year on medical bills -- and 12.9% spent between $1,000-$5,000 per dog per year.
This is the result of the AKC's idea of "improving" dogs. It is a direct consequence of the closed studbook. While it is true that closed studbooks are a consequence of the actions of the breed clubs themselves, how many exceptions can you name? I personally am aware of only one, the low-uric acid Dalmatian project, which backcrossed Pointers to reintroduce the normal uric acid gene into the Dalmatian gene pool. (AKC Dalmatians often cannot convert uric acid to purines, which frequently results in kidney stones.) And even still, the Dalmatian Club of America (the AKC's subsidiary breed club) voted against inclusion. In the face of a known and serious health problem, the DCA clung to its closed stud book rather than attempt a fix.

This brings me to my next issue: their proposed solution, one pillar of which includes

Some tighter reins on the breed clubs who are being deliberately ridiculous (I know, dog people being insane? Say it ain't so!) would be nice. We're not saying they have to shove modifications of the standard to reduce extremity and mandatory health testing down the breed clubs' throats, but holding them down and making them chew on it a little isn't the worst idea.
If mere "education" and "modifications of the standard" were all it took to repair the damage wrought by supposed renegade or ignorant breed clubs, why did it take so long to garner any measure of acceptance for the LUA Dalmatian? And why is the LUA Dalmatian an apparent anomaly?

To answer that question, you'd have to have an understanding of the social aspects of the AKC and its breed clubs. As the estimable Ms. Houlahan put it,

The AKC cannot make up its mind whether it is a Most Anciente and Exclusive Order that has charged itself with governing a small, fanatical, and timorously obedient cadre of social-climbing dog-pageant addicts, or the divinely-ordained Government of Dogs in all of America.

One identity is primarily insular and snobbish. The other is primarily totalitarian and expansionist. They commingle gracelessly into something resembling a Stalinist Switzerland.

The AKC is fundamentally at war with itself, as can be seen by its imperious treatment of its own internal delegates. And here, the point that the breed clubs are not the same thing as the AKC proper is largely a copout, and ultimately meaningless. The problem isn't simply the many breeds ruined by extreme standards -- think, for example, of Pugs and Bulldogs, brachycephalic breeds that have overheating problems, as well as the many breeds that can no longer deliver puppies vaginally, such as the Scottish Terrier. Such degradation is widespread across multiple breeds, and exists in the European fancy as well; see, for instance, this pictorial history of European German Shepherd Dog champions, which feature the increasingly misshapen hindquarters common in the US. It also ignores the consequences of closed gene pools, which stem from the itch to "breed the best to the best". The "popular sire syndrome" is both nearly irresistible and all too common, as is the urge to deliver "typy" looks.

The problem, really, is this pre-Mendel ideal that ignores genetic diversity, that pretends nothing aside from immediate, known traits will be transmitted to the descendants of the proposed parents. As John W. Campbell observed, you can't do just one thing. Genetics are nothing if not tricky, and the AKC and its constituent clubs routinely ignore the real-world complications that inevitably follow from those flawed assumptions. If you are going to lecture others about "sound[ing] stupid", if you are going to claim you "don't just know better; we are better", you had damned well better have a rudimentary understanding of the subject of which you discuss. And it is crystal clear the Snobs, for reasons political and emotional, do not, and are not even slightly interested.

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