Changing the Thinking on Modern Purebred Breeding Strategies

Before I joined Sergeant’s Pet Health Central, I was the Associate Editor for the late, great Pet Connection blog. (Dr. Tony Johnson, also here on Pet Health Central, was one of our most popular bloggers!) Our Executive Editor and “boss” was Gina Spadafori. Gina has three dogs. Two of them are Flat Coated Retrievers: McKenzie, and her daughter Faith.

As extraordinary, fun and energetic as Flat Coats are, they are notorious for one awful genetic flaw: the incidences of malignant cancers of various types are off the charts. A lifespan of 8-10 years is optimistic for the breed, and more often, sadly impossible. Just recently, McKenzie was diagnosed with a cancer that will almost certainly prevent her from enjoying her senior years.

If either of my two long haired Dachshunds had been handed the diagnosis McKenzie received, I guarantee I’d be a worthless puddle right now. The most elemental concepts, such as getting up in the morning, might be more than I could bear. Fortunately, Gina’s made of tougher stuff than I. She set herself a mission: take on the byzantine, dangerous and self-defeating customs and way of doing business that have dominated the Flat Coat Retriever breeding community and led them to where they are today. As Gina said in her own recent blog post:

I will be talking to some top academicians (veterinarians, geneticists, epidemiologists, etc.) in hopes of getting a multidisciplinary team of them interested in the kind of peer-reviewed study that can land the cover of a top journal. Because I know a lot of people aren’t going to care if this breed survives. But the cover of Nature? Now that’s an incentive….No closed registry, no closed gene pool, ever again.

Launching a campaign to fundamentally change the breeding paradigm of an entire canine breed is daunting enough in and of itself. Now imagine doing it while at the same time fighting for the life of your beloved dog, whose puppies were born in your bedroom. The truth is for me, either one might be enough to break my spirit. Gina’s tackling both, simultaneously. What’s more, this movement needs to extend beyond Flat Coats. Brachycephalic dogs, those with congenitally flattened skulls, can’t breathe properly, and before they die early, suffer needlessly. Typical examples are Pugs and Bulldogs. They shouldn’t look the way they do. Same goes for German Shepherds and Retrievers with horrendous hips. Finally, Bernese Mountain Dogs and the aforementioned Flat Coats illustrate an astonishing cancer trend that if you saw it in people, would constitute a massive genocide.

It’s time to question why if what we’re doing isn’t working, why we’re still doing it.


Photo Attribution: by JSF 306 from flickr

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