Is There Any Point In Testing ?


asks Alan Harrow.

Taken from the Cattle Dog Society of Great Britain newsletter

Per kind permission of the Author.

Since the publication of the minutes of the AGM in March,1997, I have had a couple of telephone calls asking why I thought it necessary to put forward the proposal I asked to be discussed under 'Any Other Business`.

This proposal, for those who did not see it, essentially said that I wanted the Members to consider agreeing that only dogs that were hearing and PRA clear, should be bred from. I feel it was a pity that a part of my letter, which I thought I had made clear, was not part of the proposal (it was in a separate paragraph from the proposal) giving my personal opinion of how I would like to see the situation be handled, was read as part of the proposal and thus changed the thrust of the whole issue.

It was also unfortunate that the AGM was held so close to Crufts as we had to make a decision on whether to attend one or the other - both venues being a considerable travelling distance from our home - and Crufts won out. Therefore, I could not be thee to speak on behalf of my proposal.

From reading the minutes I see that Alison Skipper spoke at length about the pedigrees of the dogs currently in this country and the problems that affects each line. I believe that the ACD Society of Great Britain is very fortunate in having Alison as a Society member who can look at problems within the breed from a scientific viewpoint, given that she is a Veterinary Surgeon. However, on the subject of eradicating deafness I have chosen to base my opinions on the writings of Dr George Strain, Professor of Neuroscience at Louisiana State University.

In an article in the 'The Spotter` entitled Update On deafness Research in Dalmatians, dated June, 1994, Dr Strain writes:-

"Finally, there are significant relationships between a dog's hearing status and that of its parents, which should not be surprising for an inherited disorder. There is a significant correlation between deafness in a dog and unilateral deafness in either parent. In fact, unilateral deafness in just one parent doubles the likelihood that a dog will be unilaterally or bilaterally deaf. Therefore, knowingly breeding unilaterally deaf dogs means increasing the incidence of deafness."

In another article on the Internet, Dr Strain states that it is not necessary to abandon a line because of deafness as, over time, the incidence of deafness can be reduced, if not eradicated, by breeding only from animals from that bloodline or lines with normal hearing. I realise that when an animal is the single representative of a particular kennel, as is the case in an import, then this is not always a viable option, which is, I feel, unfortunate but tough luck. However, it seems clear to me from Dr.Strain's articles that while the pattern of inheritance may not, at present, be known that it is possible to make a choice as to whether the breeder wants to breed away from the likelihood of producing deaf puppies or to breed towards that problem and pray that the entire litter won't be affected.

It is true that hearing status is not the be all and end all as far as choosing a stud dog is concerned, or deciding whether a bitch should be bred from. However, the examples of conformational problems given as what could appear in litters if dogs of unknown genotype were used - undesirable, oversize, loss of colour etc - are evident in stock already, and presumably the litters from which they came had parents that were chosen for their phenotypical and assumed genotypical compatibility. From a personal point of view I would rather produce an oversized ACD with, say, a body spot, or some other aesthetic fault according to the Breed Standard, than a deaf one !

I am fully aware of the problems of trying to find dogs from lines that are tested AND compatible with the lines currently in the country - my telephone bill attests to that! We have made inquiries about importing from Europe, where tested stock has been imported from the USA, but then mated to untested stock from Australia. In most of the European countries where we have made enquiries, there are few test facilities (something we can sympathise with) or the testing, we are told, is only available for cats.

We have found Australians more than prepared to send puppies but the dialogue has broken down when we have insisted that the puppy, at least, be hearing tested. Our experiences have that, as with Europe, there is a problem with accessing facilities but also that most kennels have been unprepared to acknowledge there could be a problem in their lines.

Stock in the USA is by and large, tested, and it is likely that this is at least partly driven by the legal consequences of selling a puppy that is found to be less than perfect. I have long been of the opinion that what is in America today will be here tomorrow. Breeders may feel that they would be able to negotiate with a purchaser in the event that a puppy should prove not to be completely suitable for the purpose for which it was purchased, but irrespective of what compensation was offered, there are purchases out there who would still opt for their day in court. Admitting to knowing that the breed has an incidence of a problem and that (a) The breeder didn't test the parents, or (b) The breeder chose to use a dog known to have a problem, will not place the breeder in a particularly favourable light with the courts, I am sure.

I was interested to read in John Holmes' breed notes in the Dog World of 18/4/97, that some breeders in Holland are trying to get a ruling - from whom it doesn't say - that deaf or unilaterally deaf dogs are not used for breeding. I wish them luck with this and if they are successful, then perhaps those of us who do not want to use hearing defective stock can tap in to their gene pool.

I have not touched upon the subject of PRA, which I realise is a more thorny problem from the point of view that it can be many years down the line after a dog sires or a bitch produces litters, that she/he is found to have this eye anomaly. Hearing defects are almost immediately identifiable, and this is why I have dealt primarily with my views on this subject. Our dogs will be tested, but like everyone else, we have to accept that this is no guarantee that eye status for our dogs will not change in the future.

As noted in the minutes, I am pleased that these issues can be openly discussed and long may it continue.

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