Articles Index/Breeding
Posted 04/22/99

Commentary ~~

It had to happen sooner or later. A woman in Texas has intentionally bred cats with a physical deformity!

She announced her "Twisty Kats" to the world on the internet and said that a veterinarian friend had pronounced her cats "an animal control officer's dream," as they didn't destroy property and couldn't hunt or easily reproduce.

Looking much like Thalidomide babies, the cats have a genetic mutation called radial hypoplasia, in which all or part of the long bone from elbow to wrist is missing, leaving no, or only vestigial, front paws. They move by hopping like a kangaroo or on all fours, down on their elbows.

So, why do I mention them? Aside from their interest as a curiosity and as an alarm bell, they are a reminder of how important conformation is.

Whether our interest in our dogs is primarily for companionship, performance or show, our dogs are Norfolks because fanciers over the years have bred to a standard and compared their dogs at matches and shows. Without conformation, the breed we love would not exist!

Breeds evolve and new breeds are created; however, that is not the issue I wish to discuss. Rather, many breed clubs, including the Norwich and Norfolk Terrier Club (NNTC) which is responsible for the Norfolk Standard in the US, have codes of ethics that generally require that the primary purpose of breeding be improving the breed.

This would seem to be a simple goal but in this age of individual rights and parsing even the simplest statement, the goal of improving the breed can get lost.

Certainly, breeding for a deformity is an extreme example. But focusing on but one feature or ability may lead to something other than improvement of the breed.

Recently, there have been referral requests for breeders of wheaten Norfolks and earthdogs. While there is nothing wrong with either of these requests, each causes me to ponder: In a time when exhibitors feel they have to color dogs red to be competitive, why would someone strive for wheaten and would any undesirable traits be accentuated in breeding specifically for that color? In focusing just on performance abilities, would a climate be fostered where someday we have two or more types of Norfolks, as has happened with some sporting breeds?

Recent articles in ANTIC and our 1998 Seminar Current Issues in Canine Reproduction have discussed the medical and technological issues in breeding but not always the ethical issues. For example, in breeding guide and service dogs, it is appropriate to maximize production, efficiency, and consistency but are these aims appropriate for the dog fancier? Can relying on artificial breeding techniques eventually result in the breed being unable to breed naturally? (I am not suggesting that use of AI techniques causes anything, rather that dogs that can't breed naturally can't pass on any traits, good or bad.)

It is important always to keep the whole dog in mind.

Ed Plummer
ANTIC, March, 1999


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