Like a Bobtail Without an Anus

Doctors Wade and Cattanach don't want you to buy this puppy. They'd rather have you buy one without an anus or a functioning immune system.

In a previous post I spoke about new research making Dr. Bruce Cattanach’s old understanding of the Bobtail Gene obsolete and reopening the debate about the ethics of this gene which he had previously (more than 15 years ago) declared problem free. But Dr. Cattanach decided to weigh in on the current debate over the Toller x Aussie outcross and his position is disappointing and uninformed.

Bruce Cattanach said

I am somewhat amazed at the positive responses to this cross. I have had 20 years of vitriol against my Corgi x Boxer cross for every reason imaginable, but I kept it going as I felt that to give up – and so failing – I would damage the leverage it gave to the concept of breed crossing for health reasons. So the seemingly easy acceptance of the Toller cross is perplexing even if done for a different reason.

I really don’t know what to make of this statement, as it sort of reads like sour grapes. It’s unfortunate that Dr. Cattanach has gotten “vitriol” against his work, but he’s clearly learned enough to handle just criticisms. My analysis against his outcross comes after decades of new evidence and his unwillingness to acknowledge new findings. I don’t consider it vitriol.

It’s strange that Dr. Cattanach is seemingly jealous about the positive vibes the dog world has for the Toller cross litter. If I had to estimate why one has been received with more praise I can think of two immediate causes. One, Dr. Cattanach’s work paved the way and quelled many fears, so this new cross is benefiting from Cattanach’s work. It’s a pity he’s not more supportive. Two, this cross was done for much more noble reasons. As I’ve already documented, Dr. Cattanach inserted a problematic gene into a breed to avoid a docking ban. While it’s an interesting effort for the political reasons and documenting how easily breed type could be restored, the motives are decidedly shallow and superficial.

Does Dr. Cattanach really expect the world to beat a path to his door when he built a WORSE mouse trap?

However I had great difficulty achieving what I did with just the one gene to be transferred. It really needed more than one individual to succeed fully. I am therefore quite sceptical about this Toller effort to increase the diversity across the whole genome.

Dr. Cattanach has really moved the goal posts to an unjust distance in coming out against this one cross. He is holding this one cross to the standard of “increase the diversity across the whole genome.”

That’s unfair. No one claimed that doing one outcross could accomplish this goal! How about we evaluate a single outcross in a rational manner and judge its power to effect change commensurate with what we should expect from a single breeding. A single outcross can not save an entire breed, but it can certainly bring in much needed diversity and vitality to a single breeding program, a whole kennel and all the dogs that are bred to that line for several generations.

Any breeder who is disappointed with the options within their breed can accomplish this style of outcrossing themselves. And many more breeders will need to do this before we can claim that Tollers as a breed are refreshed.  The LUA Dalmatian project was only one out-cross and the entire breed is not yet free from uric acid problems, nor will it be for many generations to come. But you have to start somewhere and if we want fundamental change in our breeds, we’re going to have to accept that breeders will out-cross for a slew of reasons and that this isn’t that scary of a prospect.  It might just mean that we have to go back to objectively evaluating the dogs we see right before us instead of being overly obsessed with their hidden and mostly irrelevant pedigrees.  If we limit “allowable” out-crosses to combat single recessive diseases that are 100% saturated in our breed pool then we will never see the day when our breeds are getting healthier rather than the current reality where they are getting worse.

I think this needs to be done at a scale only possible at KC level with several crosses perhaps involving several breeds, and then there would be the yet trickier part of keeping the diversity while somehow getting back to breed type. That numbers of people might independently attempt this is frightening; it could result in no more than a mongrel mix-up.

I agree with Cattanach, this does “need to be done at a KC level” and of course I’m in support of using “several breeds” with “several crosses.” This is all true, but it’s not a just criticism of what this one breeder has begun to do. It really should be reserved as a criticism for the Toller breed club and for double-speak geneticists like Claire Wade who put their name on papers which advocate genetic diversity and proactive health measures but then declare zero reason to out-cross in their own breeds and attack those who do.

What good does Dr. Cattanach do by bashing this beginning step? He didn’t bring his out-cross program to the world after just one breeding, the dogs weren’t even retroactively registered with the KC until he had back-crossed several generations. So if there is some amount of “sausage making” with out-crossing, where the intermediate results aren’t indicative of the final product, isn’t it a bit rash to just criticize this nascent effort?

Is this out-cross so detrimental that it needs to be cut off at the knees by someone with Cattanach’s clout? I think he does great harm to anyone who would choose to out-cross for any reason by being so negative.

Jemima said…
Bruce’s position and enthusiasm managed to get the project sanctioned by the Kennel Club and the acceptance of it has paved an important way. Of course, the KC’s endorsement of the project was because of the impending threat of the docking ban; which the anti-dockers would argue is not the most worthy of motives.

His stance here even brings into question my previous view that his out-cross program was a good example of how one can work within the registry/breed club to accomplish something like this. In retrospect, Jemima makes a good point, that it’s perhaps much easier to get a conformation club to go along with an out-cross for conformation reasons when they are being threatened with a BIG BAD BAN on docking tails from those EVIL AR folks. Perhaps Dr. Cattanach’s efforts aren’t that informative to the rest of us who would support an outcross that you can’t see in the breed ring, one that is done for health reasons, for vitality, for genetic diversity, for longevity, for temperament, instead of one that allows you to keep some little irrelevant but highly valued feature like an earset or a particular length of tail.

If Dr. Cattanach paved a trail for future breeders, no one has yet to walk down that path in the 20 years since his out-cross and we’ll soon celebrate the 40th anniversary of the commencement of the LUA Dalmatian out-cross.  The first and last men to walk on the moon completed their missions in the years and days before the LUA Dalmatian cross and man has not set foot on the moon since; nor has man endeavored to out-cross a breed for health reasons.  One requires billions of dollars and the greatest minds the world has to offer in an attempt to overcome nearly insurmountable odds.  The other requires two dogs and a little patch of grass.  Why must we create political obstacles which make an out-cross more rare than a man walking on the moon?

If superficial out-crosses are the first step, how are we ever going to get to the next phase if the heroes of Step One decide to handicap future efforts like Cattanach is doing here? There hasn’t been another example of an out-cross in the KC since Cattanach did it, so the theory that he greased the wheels for those that followed hasn’t produced any results.  If we want results, we should try a new strategy, 20 years between out-crosses is long enough.

I am sceptical for another reason too. It almost seems that the Toller cross was done to resolve the high level of inbreeding but if there is no consequent problem of the inbreeding, to my view, the need for the cross does not exist. Is the breed impaired by the inbreeding? Frequencies of certain defects have been presented but I have seen nothing on the distribution across the breed (is the whole breed at risk?) and any indication of the inheritances. Everything seems based on a ‘belief’ that there will be problems even if there are none as yet. If there are indeed problems now or clearly looming, yes, go ahead or at least experiment and see what difficulties there are. But let this be done in an organised controlled way and on a scale commensurate with that needed.

Did Bruce just criticize someone about the NEED to out-cross? Really? Perhaps he can review my Toller articles and comment. Recall that Cattanach argued from ignorance before, claiming that there were no side effects from the bobtail gene, that litter sizes were not reduced, homozygous puppies and their problems never lived long enough to be born, etc. None of his assumptions were true and the bobtail gene is decidedly less wonderful the more we find out about it.

We already know that Tollers don’t live long, they have high rates of auto immune disease due to an MHC allele that is pervasive in the breed and few other alleles to turn to, as well as growing evidence of numerous other problems. We also know that the gene pool is severely limited due to a very very small founding population in the KC dogs.  Is that not reason enough?  How small of a founding population can we justify?  Only two dogs perhaps?  Is that where we’re going to draw the line.

Cattanach was wrong about the dangers of Bobtail and if he thinks there’s no justification to outcross Tollers, he’s wrong again.  Here’s a small list of conditions known to run in Tollers: Hemolytic Anemia, Addison’s Disease, Hypothyroidism, Pemphigus, Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Congenital Deafness, Epilepsy, Pulmonary Stenosis, Steroid responsive Meningitis-arteritis, Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate, Mega-esophagus, Collie Eye Anomaly, Skeletal Dysplasia & Chondrodysplasia, and Herniated discs. More Tollers will suffer one or more of these conditions than will toll ducks even once in their lives, more will die young than will win Conformation Championships, and many more Tollers will be bred to dogs that are as close as siblings than will ever hoped to be out-crossed.

What more does Cattanach need to see?

Finally, there was a question on unneeded puppies in my breed cross. This was no problem when one presented the objective. Potential owners were told what the cross was all about. There was annual get-together where everybody met together with their dogs of different generations to observe progress It was a tea-and-cakes gathering in the garden and all were made to feel part of a research study that all could, and did, boast of participation. I still have contacts with many of the owners although the early dogs are long since dead.

Bruce Cattanach
25 August 2011 22:56

Is Cattanach suggesting here that because the breeder of this Toller x Aussie litter isn’t a research scientist who can cloak his project in a veil of academia that these puppies aren’t going to find good homes? The sales value of “pedigree” and “purity” are as low now as it has ever been and the public’s awareness of hybrid vigor and appetite for designer dogs and other mixes is as high as ever. Given the choice between a show bred Aussie or a pedigreed Toller, I think any rational human would look at these hybrid puppies and agree that it’s a better product.

I see a resistance in Cattanach to come to terms with the health concerns in the bobtail gene in the same way Claire Wade doesn’t want to consider an outcross for MHC or any other reason. They both downplay the health concerns and I’d say both have a biased reason to do so: they are both highly invested in their dogs as they are. Wade doesn’t want to give up “purity” and Cattanach doesn’t want to reconsider the bobtail gene. Both are highly educated biologists who should know better.

Neither one thinks that you should buy what the Toller x Aussie breeder is selling, but do you buy what Wade and Cattanach are selling? I don’t.  Like a bobtail without an anus, I think they’re both full of it.

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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.