Monday, December 1, 2008

Salvation in sight?

First off, thanks so much to Terrierman for linking MoT in his blog! MoT is still just a baby blog, and any publicity it can get is appreciated. But hang tight, I'm not done singing your praises yet.

Today I want to talk about open registries, which are - apparently - little-known in the dog world. Stand still so I can condemn you (despite not fully understanding the concept myself until recently). If you already knew about open registries, you move to the front of the class. If you're a breeder and you work with open registries, you get a gold star! Two more and I'll let you pick something out from a box of garage-sale trinkets at the end of the week.

The concept of open vs. closed registries can be difficult to grasp if, like me, a lot of the medical genetical jargon goes over your head and genetic pedigrees reeling off numerous abbreviations and symbols lose you somewhere around the third generation. Just to double-check I had my facts straight, I did some extra research a couple days ago and - hallelujah! - at last, found an article I could understand, that cleared up a couple things for me. And then I reached the bottom of the article and guess who it was by! T-man, have I mentioned lately that you're my hero?

Anyway, I wanted to talk about registries because they tie in nicely with what I've been yammering on about lately; the health problems in purebreds. It goes like this:

Closed registries will tell you what health checks an individual dog passed. Think OFA and CERF: these are closed registries. If the dog was screened for health problems and is sound, it'll show up in the registries. So, obviously, you want to breed a dog that shows up sound.

Open registries don't just tell you what the dog passed. They tell you what the dog failed. They also tell you that, although this dog is free from eye problems, one of his parents has glaucoma, and so does his sister. (GDC is an open registry.)

So you see why open registries are becoming more favoured.

Inbreeding is indeed a raging problem in purebreds. And by using closed registries to select the dogs we breed, we are increasingly tightening the noose already wrapped around the doggy gene pool, slowly making that pool smaller and smaller - and more unhealthy. Switching to open registry flings open the door to a whole new pool, a big, diverse one. Open registry doesn't mean cross-breed and it doesn't mean lower your standards either. It means toss out this useless traditional method and breed healthy - I mean really breed healthy.

I searched long and hard for a pro-closed argument that would explain to me why we're still using this system if open is that much better. Terrierman can explain it much better than I can, but essentially: it comes from an old, outdated idea about genetics that we're still seeing now - that the best genes will out. The idea behind the closed registry goes along with the idea of "survival of the fittest". Problem is, of course, dogs aren't wild animals, and we choose their mates. The lesson here, basically, is that just because something's been done one way for a long time doesn't mean it's all good (hello, America! Letting gays marry won't cause Russia to invade).

So why hasn't it changed?

That's thanks to the AKC - that tall guy in the cape, twirling his moustache, over there. The AKC's closed registry policies are strangling our gene pools to puddles. They make the rules and we follow them so our dogs can go on proving their quality by trotting around the show ring and stacking nicely. Our dogs are WAY TOO UNHEALTHY and the AKC isn't facing up to that. We need an open registry system now.

On a similar note, could cross-breeding be the solution? NO. I'm tired of people pretending that they mix dogs up for the good of dogkind. Yes, F1 hybrids can be healthier than their parents, but they can also inherit the genes for defects from both sides. Mutts can be a disaster in the hands of people who don't know what they're doing.

Crossing and back-crossing, on the other hand... I'm inclined to say this could help the situation, when I think of especially unhealthy dogs that need change NOW. My thoughts always go to the pug and the Shar-pei first, but that may be just because I hate their Ori-pei offspring almost as much as I hate those stupid square blocks in Tetris that only show up exactly when you don't need them. Are we really on to something with mixes like the puggle? Could breeding in proper airways and breeding back to pugs be the breed's salvation? Or can they hang on till the Kennel Club gets its collective ass in gear and starts thinking about the dogs?

(Find out next week, on ...!)

I guess this forum is now open for discussion - I'd love to hear some opinions on this one, especially if you're more involved in registries than I am.


an American in Copenhagen said...

Woo hoo! I can't wait to read what you write next. I hope more breeders/dog enthusiasts learn about open registry systems and buck the current system soon. I also hope more people like you start writing aobut it because most "choosing the right puppy" type books and "how to avoid puppy mills" still say that responsible breeders register their dogs with the AKC. If information about a new way of doing things isn't made available to novice dog owners then demand will still be for AKC closed registry systems and things will be slower to change.

As an addition to the list of outcross/backcross projects I posted in my comment to your Puggle post:

Field/Working Irish Setters: Conformation bred Irish Setters were crossed with working English Setters to get back hunting instincts as well as more robust conformation and less profuse coat. Working Irish Setters are registered in the Gun Dog Stud Book.

muttpuppiesontrial said...

Thanks! :) Word about AKC scams and regulations really need to get out. I've only recently started examining open/closed registry systems since I've got no personal experience with registries myself - my dog's parents were both working sheepdogs and neither had papers. Hm, no wonder Tip is so healthy...

The note about Working Irish Setters is really interesting. I'll have to do some research into these outcross/backcross projects. :)