Bow Beneath the Waves

When the bow is beneath the waves, follow the rats.

How much genetic damage must we do to our dog breeds before we call it quits and start over from wolves? Should we consider a breed an abject failure if half of all the animals in that breed are doomed to die young of exploding hearts with no advanced warning other than the knowledge that all the dogs in that breed have substandard hearts?

Is it ethical to continue to breed those dogs given that you know the attrition rate is so high? Would you buy a dog if you knew that the mere act of throwing the ball could be fatal? Would you expect a health guarantee from your breeder knowing that there are no dogs in the breed that are safe and no cure? Would you offer said guarantee if you were a breeder?

This is what happens when fashions change and you limit the gene pool. We bred Dobermans to be fiercely loyal and vicious protection dogs. Then fashions changed and we wanted more docile dogs. But we didn’t breed that in, we bred the primary characteristic out. That whiplash limited the gene pool so greatly (the only docile Dobes in the first place were the defective ones) that a healthy heart gene didn’t survive the ride.

And why would we want docile Dobes when there are plenty of (considerably more) healthy docile breeds? Nostalgia, history, and the seductive nature of a small change here and a small change there. Dogs are our first, best, and longest experiment in engineering, and it’s a rare engineer who will drop a pet project.

Dogs aren’t the only area where we’ve stubbornly held on to the past. The US still uses the Imperial System despite the Empire moving on to Metric. We still honor heavenly bodies and old Norse gods with our days of the week. Our measurement of time is as old as the Babylonians. The above systems are based on 8/10/12/60/24/7/365/5280 … when they could all be based on 10. Or if we wanted some mind blowing symmetry, 12.

We kept Imperial, but at least we ditched the Empire. Just look at those complacent get-along go-along Canadians. They’re still a Constitutional Monarchy for no apparent reason except they like to keep an inbred old English bag on their money. In the above cartoon, those stunted little Corgis figured out that it’s wise to follow the rats when the water reaches the top level of the sinking Monarchy, why haven’t the Canadians?

There’s romance and comfort in history, it’s where we came from, and in an uncertain world we often grasp at the past for stability. This is the reason we fetishize pedigrees in dogs and genealogy in people. The Monarchy is a mix of both and despite leaving it behind over 225 years ago, Princess Diana was a global icon and the Queen’s recent visit to the US showed that the fuddy duddy old icon of anti-meritocracy could draw huge crowds and great reverance.

I think you can make a strong case that to breed even a single Doberman is unethical. The disadvantages certainly outweigh the benefits. This is a breed that no longer servers a purpose and it’s so riddled with disease that life and death is literally a flip of a coin.

Is it time that the Doberman go extinct? Should we limp the breed along and accept the casualties until genetic engineering can remove the disease? Should we outcross and bring new genes the old fashioned way, reforging the breed to limit disease expression?

It’s clear we need change, the only question is change to what? How? When? and Who? Any volunteers?

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.