First of all, I am a United States citizen who has watched Pedigree Dogs Exposed: Three Years On.
I know what you’re thinking.
It was only recently show on the actual BBC, so how on earth could I have seen it already?
We have our ways. Over at BorderWars, Chris will show you how, and he now has links to the first Youtube uploads of program. These will likely be taken down soon, so I’d get over there posthaste.
Now, there is a lot of good in this documentary.
Well, initially, Jemima Harrison promised to put up a positive and optimistic portrayal of what breeders are doing to solve problems.
And in the case of Fiona, the LUA Dalmatian, she did. Fiona’s breeder is portrayed as the forward thinking breeder that she is, and she makes a nice point. Not a single one of these dog breeds was created by nature. Their bloodlines are not written in stone, and if modern science says we need to sully the purity of these bloodlines for increased health, we should do it.
The other breeds discussed in the documentary don’t have very good stories.
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel may be utterly ruined. The incidence of syringomyelia in the breed has increased. A large majority of those bred in the UK will be affected by the disorder in some way by the six years old– and virtually all of them have mitral valve disease by the time they are ten. Carol Fowler, the campaigner for Cavalier health in the first PDE, now says it may no longer be responsible to be breeding any dogs of this breed. The risks of a breeding producing dogs with these disorders is so high that it may no longer be ethical to produce them. That’s very sad.
And the UK boxer population is going down virtually the same route. Dr. Bruce Cattanach has discovered that juvenile kidney disease in boxers has an hereditary basis, and he was able to trace this disease to a single popular stud boxer. And then he traced it to a single top show kennel in the UK. Because these dogs win a lot of shows, their studs are in high demand, which means that a huge proportion of boxers produced in the UK are going to derive from these dogs. And they are likely doomed to die at very young ages.
And then there’s the pug. I actually learned quite a bit about exactly how awful it is for a dog be bred with such a brachycephalic face. I have often mentioned that these dog have a hard time breathing and cooling themselves, but I didn’t know that the big sinus in a dog’s muzzle is quite crucial to its cooling system. In normal dogs, this sinus is pretty large, but in pugs, it is almost vestigial, and the dogs cannot cool themselves at all.
Pugs have such a hard time breathing that many cannot sleep well lying down. They always want to have their heads propped up a bit. The documentary shows the classic Youtube video of a pug falling asleep sitting up, which is something we all think is cute.
But it’s not. The truth is these dogs would like to sleep like normal dogs, but they just can’t breathe properly.
The documentary then shows a German veterinary surgeon who specializes in correcting the various problems associated with the brachycephalic dogs and their airways– which is now called brachycephalic airways syndrome. The surgeon is shown working on a pug. He makes its nostrils larger, and he pares back some of the soft palate in the back of the throat. He opens up the airways more. The same airways that bizarre selective breeding has clogged up.
Even though this film used a lot of recycled footage, I think it was a better documentary than the first.
I think its real strength is that Harrison clearly divided the problems with purebred dogs into the two distinct categories that should not be confused.
One of these is gene loss through inbreeding. I think she made a good attack on breeders who do really, really tight breedings. However, I don’t think that’s the biggest issue. The problem isn’t that these breeders are doing these kind of breedings. The problem is that these dogs exist within closed off populations, and an elite number dogs produces a huge chunk of the puppies born every year. Even if people are not doing very tight breedings with their own dogs, the dogs within in a breed will become more and more related over time. And all of the dogs within a breed will descend from the same founders– unless you’re talking about Africa basenjis, Tibetan lhasa apsos, and COO salukis, which may not be as closely related to the dogs in the closed registry populations.
I know that Jemima Harrison knows these facts, and she has written about them extensively. I just think that people need to know that inbreeding in dogs isn’t just that people are doing tight breedings. It’s that the systems in which dogs are registered are forcing the populations of these breeds into more genetically depauperate gene pools.
This is what is causing the problems with Cavaliers and boxers in the UK. Elite stud dogs are transmitting their defective genes into a larger and larger proportion of the breed, which is itself founded from a finite number of dogs. No new blood is being brought in, and the bloodlines are becoming saturated with genetic diseases.
This would happen in any closed or relatively closed registry population. It would not matter if the dogs were bred for show or for work. Disease would wind up saturating the population over time.
There was also no discussion of MHC haplotypes in the film, but from my own experience, this discussion tends to be ignored by those who just don’t want to hear it. It is Kryptonite for the closed registry system and for virtually all defenders of very tight breedings. That’s because the only way to keep MHC haplotypes diverse and heterozygous is to test for them before breeding.
And very few people are doing that. The tests are only now becoming available, and as far as I know, only one breed club is actually encouraging its members to do these tests– the Dandie Dinmont Club of America.
You can’t seen immune genes, so they are very easily lost.
And if seeing is believing, then we get to the second category of purebred dog problems: health and welfare problems that result from exaggerated and unhealthy conformation.
The documentary focused mostly on the problems of brachycephalic breeds, including the pug and bulldog. The initial documentary covered these problems in greater detail, but the scene involving the German vet opening up the pug’s airways really showed how extensive the problems are with their extreme brachycephaly.
The only issue I had with the film was her call for a big regulatory agency that would oversee the welfare of all dogs in the UK.
I worry that such an agency would be very prone to regulatory capture.
What would happen if an agency were given teeth to go after bad breeders and this agency wound up being run by people who want to engage in a witch hunt against anyone who intentionally crosses two breeds?
I don’t know what procedures exist to prevent regulatory capture in agencies in the United Kingdom, but the US has very little control over it. Lobbyists regularly wind up heading agencies that they once lobbied for.
So we have to be a little bit careful here.
I think the best way to take these people down is to keep on educating people about what is actually happening within the institutions that claim to be looking out for the best interest of dogs. The public needs to know that dogs are in a lot of trouble because of the strictures and paradigms that rule them.
And the only way to save them is to ditch the strictures and paradigms.
Jose Cruz of the Chatham Hill Kennels has uploaded the entire documentary onto the RDW Blog Readers group on Facebook, so you can watch it there!
You have to join the group to see the posts and watch the film, but I’ll let you in :).