AKC Gazette: Merle Dilemma

This month’s AKC Gazette has a feature on Merle to Merle breeding in Collies written by Marianne Sullivan.

Considering the source and the venue, I see this as a positive step toward the breed club forbidding merle to merle breeding strategies.  Greater attention being paid to the merle issue is encouraging given that much of the recent furor in the breed has been about another color issue (one which has little moral implication but significant competition implication): the push to get sable merle their own color class at conformation shows and have the color combination officially enshrined in the breed standard.

Those defending merle-to-merle breeding argue that it creates genetic diversity, that it is the only way to preserves certain qualities, and that breeders must be able to remain autonomous in their decisions.

These are all poor arguments in favor of merle to merle breeding. This strategy in no way creates genetic diversity, in fact it is designed specifically to limit diversity of the colors of the puppies. It is about conformity and uniformity, not diversity.  In practice, the merle to merle breedings I have documented don’t promote breed-wide genetic diversity either: no one can claim that making  the highly inbred Wyndlair Avalanche or Shadow Hill’s Double Trouble into matador stud dogs that dominate their generation leaves their breeds more diverse genetically.

Merle to merle breeding is also not “the only way” to preserve any qualities, nor is it a particularly good way to preserve any qualities.  In fact, it’s a great way to destroy diversity and other wanted qualities given the the smaller litter sizes due to the lethality of double merle.  You’ll note that when you breed a single merle to another single merle, half the fetuses will be single merle.  This is the same as breeding a single merle to a non-merle. You gain no advantage, you just create double merle monsters out of half the normal dogs.

Whether we like it or not, however, those of us who champion the purebred dog take on additional burdens of responsibility that the invisible breeders of shelter dogs never have to face.

I’m amused with this language.  People breed shelter dogs? But the point about responsibility is apt: if you claim to be a superior breeder, you have to be superior, and how can someone who breeds merle to merle claim to be superior in any way?

Groups that share a common interest and the same objectives also share the same ideology and form a culture around those ideologies. Sometimes ideologies go too far, though.

This is essentially evoking a code of ethics, and any such code that speaks to advancing the health and welfare of the breed would be diametrically opposed to breeding merle to merle.  Many have argued that there’s no “rule” that prohibits merle to merle in the US, and that somehow the Collie Club of America and the AKC’s code of ethics simply don’t apply if there isn’t specific ban on the action.  This is confusing ethics with bureaucracy and legislation.

When we use our intuitive, instinctive sense of right and wrong, we must come to the conclusion for ourselves what is good or bad, what will be tolerated, regardless of where the criticism comes from, regardless of what ideology is promoted.

This is a vast improvement over the initial reaction from the establishment when my posts first went viral.  I was labeled an Animal Rights activist when I’m actually at the other extreme, a social and fiscal libertarian.  My motives were questioned as if I were a Rough Collie breeder who was miffed that my dogs weren’t winning enough ribbons–this is the tactic they use to suppress calls for reform from within the breed–but the Collie establishment has no such leverage over me.  So now I’m a meddling outsider who has no right to comment. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the truth and strength of my argument, and that exists on its own merits.

It's about time that we return the favor to Lassie and save him for once.

These people fail to process that I am motivated by actually doing what is ethical and right for the dogs they claim to be the stewards of. I don’t want them burning down the same house I live in as an owner and breeder of purebred dogs, I don’t want stupid and overreaching legislation impinging on my freedoms and rights to ethically and expediently breed my own dogs, and I don’t want the actual AR lobby backlash to sink my little ship along with these fools who are torturing dogs through their breeding practices.

Moral and ethical questions evolve with the times, but shouldn’t common sense tell us that breeding dogs who can’t breathe well, breed or whelp naturally, walk normally, or see or hear is wrong?

Aside from the breeder’s perspective, what about the person willing to take on a blind or deaf dog, or even the dog’s point of view? The argument that these dogs live good, happy lives ignores the fact that they are still unnecessarily handicapped and have a compromised life.

The dog’s quality of life is restricted as a consequence of human actions. Because a dog can adapt or because we say we accept responsibility for our act is not an absolution for their existence in the first place.

This is excellent.  Compassion, common sense, and the guts to call out the fancy from a person who has a lot to lose should the powers-that-be decide that righteous criticism is not welcome.

Public perception will not go away, and it is time for us to start taking control of the message. If we don’t behave consistently and clearly as though the health of our dogs is of primary importance, there are those who will take control of the message for us. As someone with the experience of owning a blind and deaf Collie said recently, “Each dog should have the expectation of a quality of life.” Let’s not be afraid to discuss and debate these issues and keep an open mind.

This is all true, and I highly recommend that you read a much more in-depth analysis of what is at stake here and what the consequences will be of losing control of the message and of our ethics.  The Cynoanarchist covered this very issue in an excellent post.  And if you’re interested in understanding why the fancy is traditionally so backwards on the issues of breeding ethics, this excellent post at Chatham Hill Dogs will explain what’s driven another pedigree ex-pat to leave the idiocy behind and forge a new path.

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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.