Inevitably some will feel that the suggestions contained in this brief are unrealistic and impracticable, that ideas such as breed autonomy and balanced-heterozygote breeding "will never fly" in Canada. It may be that this brief is slightly ahead of its time; nevertheless, we are about to embark upon a new millennium. Already this country has seen the acceptance and adoption of many concepts that would never have been practicable fifty years ago. The Charter of Rights, settlement of aboriginal land claims, the Internet, the Quebec referendum -- none of these current realities would have been acceptable or seriously foreseeable in the first half of the twentieth century.
Many breeders will reject outright the mere idea of deliberately trying to increase heterozygosity, after so many years in the pursuit of homozygosity through "linebreeding" and frank incest breeding. Others will be horrified by the thought of dismantling the apparatus of the CKC Championship Show. Almost everyone, myself included, will be nervous and dubious about increasing the power and autonomy of breed clubs, based on the past performance of many such clubs. Yet needs must when the devil drives! The genetic situation is dire and the present outlook for many breeds is grave. Something will have to be done. Just now most of the hope and effort rests upon research towards detection of DNA markers for major genetic diseases. Yet those who promote this approach to the problem of genetic defects invariably seem to have a very narrow outlook, treating each defect in isolation. The approach is no different from that of traditional hip x-rays and eye examinations, except that it may be more efficient. The proponents of disease marker detection do not, however, explain how we are going to deal with the problem of diseases which are already widespread throughout a breed's population, or how our gene pools will stand up to successive waves of severe culling as we strive to "eliminate" one widespread genetic disease after another in our small populations bred from tiny founder groups. The population genetics aspect of marker detection, screening and subsequent selection is simply being ignored. As we have already found to our sorrow, those aspects of breeding and genetics which we ignore as being inconvenient at the time emerge later to work us woe.
Now is the time when we must begin a full and open dialogue among ourselves on the topics that have been mentioned in this brief. Now -- before we embark upon a devastating new wave of genetic attrition which could be the "killer wave" that sinks the ship of purebred dogs.
If the more advanced reforms suggested in this brief prove too unpopular for implementation, then so be it. What cannot be done now we may perhaps achieve in time. But at the very least, an irreducible minimum of reform must take place soon if we are to have any hope for the future of our dogs. The most critical item is relaxation of the closed studbook to allow for admission of new foundation stock. We cannot go on selecting rigidly forever and a day from a closed foundation, particularly not if we are to embark upon an era of new selection criteria based on marker research. A breed's gene pool may be likened to a bank account: one cannot go on making withdrawals forever without an occasional deposit (no matter what deficit-spending politicians may think). That some breeders are dead set against outcrossing does not imply that the rest of us should be prevented from introducing new genetic material if we feel it is needed in our own bloodlines. Likewise I think that the restoration of balanced breed identity is also a high priority item, which many people in the fancy are already well-prepared to welcome. Fanciers' interest, for example, in useful working dogs instead of mere beauty contestants has never been higher than it now appears to be.
It must also be pointed out that it would be extremely unwise for the CKC to ignore the need for genetic renewal. The Club's adoption of a hard-line position would carry a high risk of major schism within the ranks of purebred dog breeders. Already independent breed associations and alternative registries exist, promoting genetic excellence and asserting the need to "protect their breed from the kennel clubs"! CKC terms these organisations "dissident registries" although the associations themselves seem to feel it is questionable who is more dissident in view of the hostile position CKC adopts towards their pedigrees and stud books! In any case, the absence of a proactive, co-operative and open-minded response from the Club to the genetic crisis will almost guarantee the creation of alternative associations and stud books, dedicated to the pursuit of genetic excellence on a more practical basis than that offered by CKC. This author, for instance, fears that in order to incorporate new Siberia import stock into his bloodline of working sleddogs he may ultimately be obliged to adopt an "evolving breed" scenario under an independent association. Schism of this kind is perhaps in no one's best interests, but may be unavoidable should the CKC prove intransigent in refusing to re-open stud books to new foundation, as it has done to date. If more "dissident registries" should in fact arise and succeed in producing canine stock to a higher standard of genetic excellence than can be done within CKC, it would greatly damage the Club's credibility in the public eye.
What is of paramount importance is that we all recognise the true dimensions and gravity of the problems we now face. It is far too easy to ignore genetic diseases, to make excuses, to pay the vet bills and say nothing for fear that others will accuse one of breeding defective stock -- I think practically all of us live in fear of the smear tactics that are so common in the dog world. Yet the truth is that we are all breeding defective stock; the system itself virtually guarantees that. If we believe that to breed defective stock is a bad thing, then we simply must discuss ways and means of altering that system to allow us to restore genetic health. Too many breeders are now reluctantly deciding that "health must be the paramount concern" and abandoning their usual selection criteria in favour of breeding for hips, eyes, blood, etc. A few decades of that sort of breeding will surely do greater harm to breed characteristics than could ever be done by outcrossing. We must now seek to evolve a system which will naturally, almost automatically, produce healthy animals -- so that we may continue on with, or return to, our selection for temperament, working ability, conformation and breed type. Most of all, it is imperative that we start now to discuss and work on the new structures that are needed to facilitate genetic health for our dogs. The next millennium, close as it is, may be too late.