Sunday, October 02, 2011

Dog show

Was at the Melbourne Show the other day and among various forms of entertainment, saw a dog show. As a collie dog owner, I couldn't help but feel thrilled by the beauty of the rough collie dogs on display. Their long coats flowed in the breeze and they bounded about their exhibitors heals with apparent enthusiasm.

Though these dogs looked happy and many of their owners appeared to love them, I was still reminded of some of the problems with dog showing. Though many breeders are now no doubt aware of and trying to avoid inbreeding, it remains a major problem world wide. Over the past few years there have been reports on the ABC and BBC, like this one and this one respectively.

Alarmingly, the response by some was to suggest that journalists should somehow remain neutral with regard to the practice. According to this US article, for example, Caroline Kisko, who represents the Kennel Club, complained that the BBC's coverage was "Highly biased against us." This seems to be a standard argument used by anyone who has been criticised by journalists but has nothing valid to say in their defense. Of course, 'USA Today' simply go ahead and repeat that kind of drivel without very much context. 

Last year, the controversy led to this inquiry which was funded by UK based dog breeding organisations but was, perhaps ironically, highly critical of current practices. This month, a vet spoke publicly on the issue, raising similar concerns in the Australian context.

Despite the problems that continue to arise and the pain and suffering brought upon dogs born with genetic defects, some dog breeding organisations still apparently consider intentional inbreeding to be a valid practice. This advice website for breeders, for example, appears to advocate a certain amount of inbreeding, or at least fails to denounce it. Though it does point out some of the risks, the conclusion still appears to sit on the fence: "On the other hand, excessive inbreeding can limit the gene pool so that the breed loses vigor..." it reads at one point. 

My own collie, a beloved pet who does not appear to have any interest in winning ribbons for his beauty, inherited collie eye anomaly. His eyes appear very small. He can still see, though not very well. The eye specialist we consulted says he has a significant chance of retinal detachment occurring at some stage during his life, which could lead to blindness. Because we will look after him and, being a dog, his other senses are highly developed, his quality of life will still be good. However, there is no reason why a breed like collies should continue to have problems like that when vets and scientists are aware and can predict and prevent them. I love collies as a breed. They are intelligent, loyal and very gentle with other pets. For that to remain the case, their genetic diversity needs always to be given priority over the 'fixing' of any of their traits. 

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