Sunday, November 25, 2007

Old Editorial, but still timely...

Several years ago I wrote an editorial to Field Trial Magazine, commenting on the (at the time) relatively recent new requirements for DNA profiling being instituted by AKC and FDSB... while the editorial is now over 5 years old, it still rings true. In fact, if anything, even more so...

from the editorial... "I also wanted to comment on the recent notice ... regarding DNA testing. While I suppose it is inevitable that DNA profiling comes to be a part of ... registries, I have some concerns and apprehension regarding DNA profiling. I hope and trust the FDSB and American Field shares these concerns as they move forward with this technology.

As an owner, breeder and handler of Irish red setters, I have seen the results of over-emphasis on “purity.” The Irish red setter breed was nearly destroyed as a working gun dog by an overzealous commitment to an erroneous view of genetic purity. Historically, hunting dogs have had the opportunity to make occasional exchanges of genetic material through outcrossing; such outcrosses have helped maintain genetic vigor, and in the case of our particular breed, restored the Irish red setter to a place of respectability in the bird dog world. There is no working Irish red setter today in the United States of any adequate field trialing ability that doesn’t have its roots in the outcrosses of Ned LeGrande and the other founders of the National Red Setter Field Trial Club. The bottom line is, that from a genetic and biological standpoint, dog breeds must be fluid. Total and forever isolation of a breed is a pathway to extinction.

DNA profiling has the potential to be a useful tool for verifying the parentage of a litter, especially in those cases involving the transfer of frozen semen, overseas breeding programs, or other situations in which the parentage of a dog might come into question. On the other hand, DNA profiling has the potential to drive breeds into an isolationist mode. If we look at the history of genetic diseases in dog breeds, for example, many of these diseases have become prominent since the advent of breed registries. Is there a connection? I would think so.

Support of DNA profiling must be based upon the stipulation that conditions and procedures be established for legitimate and open outcrossing by breeders who have a desire to do so. DNA profiling was established in part by the desire for breed clubs to eliminate “backyard” outcrossing and subsequent altering of paperwork. We all know full well that such breeding has gone on for years, and for the most part has been tolerated, largely because these hidden outcrosses often produce better quality field trial dogs down the road. A DNA profiling procedure will stop the fraudulent nature of such breeding practices, but is this necessarily good for the breed? Any DNA profiling program must have in place an opportunity for outcrosses to continue. Otherwise, we run the risk of doing what the bench fraternity nearly did to the Irish red setter… a breed with high alleged purity, but in reality a breed laced with myriads of genetic diseases, and no bird sense whatsoever. And, the decision to outcross must be left in the hands of the individual breeder, not breed clubs. Most breed clubs have already established their notorious desire to produce high purity bench champions, not field trial prospects. And who better than the individual breeder, who knows his or her lineage in every detail, and knows what it would take to improve it?

One hundred years ago, setters were crossed with spaniels, pointers with setters, setters with pointers, and so on. The foundation of our great hunting and trialing dogs of today was forged in the outcrossings of untold dogs and breeders from our past. Before we blindly follow the path of new technology simply for the sake of new technology, we need to look to our foundations and ask ourselves how and why the great dogs we have today were created in the first place. The FDSB registry even recognized the value of outcrossing by providing provisions in the registry for crossing the three setter breeds. With the advent of DNA technology, perhaps it is time to look again at how we register our breeds, and more importantly, why.

Best regards,
Allen Fazenbaker"

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