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Help on the Way for Breeders, Buyers

by Larry Shook

(Part 3 reprinted by permission. This 5 part series originally appeared March, 1995 in The Spokesman-Review)

When someone calls Dr. Robert Slack looking for a dog these days, the veterinarian follows a new procedure. Instead of providing his caller a list of breeder names, as he once might have done, he now consults a 687-page tome called Medical and Genetic Aspects of Purebred Dogs.

"I ask clients which breed theyíre interested in. Then I look it up and tell them what to watch out for. Letís say you wanted a Labrador retriever. Says here to check for ..."

The list includes 50 entries. Experts say to be especially on the lookout for hip dysplasia, epilepsy and eye disease in Labs. This ritual, occurring with increasing frequency in Slackís office, is part of his effort to help clients escape what has become a hidden financial and emotional tax on the nationís purebred dog owners: canine genetic disease.

After Slack gives callers his doctorís equivalent of a Dutch uncle talk, he urges them to question breeders closely about their understanding of canine genetic disease and their commitment to bring it under control. When dog buyers encounter ignorance, lip service or indifference on the part of breeders, Slack urges them to keep looking.

"I see so much suffering among dogs and their owners, I want to do what I can to help," he says.

The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights has taken similar steps by launching a national initiative to help concerned dog buyers and dog breeders find each other. AVARís Canine Consumer Report lists 334 genetic and congenital diseases found in 147 dog breeds. It is available for $1 by writing AVAR, P. O. Box 6269, Vacaville, CA 95696-6269.

"Buying a pedigreed puppy or dog is, for the majority of people, like navigating blindfolded through a minefield on a pogo stick," begins AVARís publication. "This brochure can help make people aware of the problems they might be acquiring when they buy a pedigreed dog. We urge anyone considering a pedigreed dog to ask the seller if any of that dogís ancestors ever have been bothered by the afflictions listed for their breed. We also urge prospective buyers to ask who will be responsible for veterinary costs if a puppy is afflicted with a hereditary disease later in life."

Warnings of "genetic minefields" and "genetic time bombs" ticking away in the beloved family dog are common these days from the nationís canine authorities. This is the legacy of decades of public and breeder indifference to canine health. Show breeders have obsessively bred for looks, commercial breeders have ruthlessly bred for bucks, backyard breeders have bred in the dark when it comes to diseases lurking in their pets. Meanwhile, a gullible public has purchased dogs on impulse. Result: Anyone who winds up with a healthy dog today after casual shopping is just plain lucky.

Because of this, dog experts now make these recommendations for dog buyers:

  1. BE PATIENT! DONíT BUY ON IMPULSE!
  2. Learn which genetic diseases are the biggest problems for the breed(s) youíre interested in.
  3. Ask breeders for test results that prove they are screening for those diseases.
  4. Look for ethical contracts that require you to spay or neuter your dog, or screen for genetic disease before breeding the dog. Beware of contracts that require you to breed your dog and kick back profits to its breeder.
  5. Look for a breeder who screens buyers carefully. If youíre talking to someone who will sell to just anyone, you could be deep in "buyer beware" territory.
If you are a breeder who subscribes to these guidelines and would like to be listed in The Spokesman-Reviewís Canine Underground Directory, write us at The Spokesman-Review, attn. Mary Beth Bonner/Underground Directory, P. O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Include your address, phone number and signature, and note the breed you specialize in, plus the steps you take to conform with the Undergroundís recommendations.

If you are a dog buyer who would like to obtain the Canine Underground Directory, write Mary Beth Bonner/Dog Buyer at the same address. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope and tell us which breed(s) youíre interested in.

Larry Shook is author of "The Puppy Report," winner of the Ethical Issues Award of the Dog Writers Association of America.


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