By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/9/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

On January 1, the New York Times published a millennium section that included a short piece disguised as a look at genetic engineering that was actually an excuse to castigate purebred dogs as physically malformed and over-refined designer dogs. Dr. Cork wrote this response in a letter to the editor that is reprinted here with her permission.

Dear Sir:


It took several re-readings of Robin Finn's diatribe against purebred dogs to find an entirely accurate statement. But, it is true that "it is not just desirable qualities that are repeated" when closely related individuals produce offspring. The same laws of probability that bring together "good genes" can bring together "bad" ones. In recognizing the potential pitfalls of inbreeding in any species, Finn swallowed hook, line, and sinker the animal activists' stance that any human-animal interaction, including breeding pets, is inherently exploitive of animals. This ignores the many mutual benefits shared by pets and their owners. Not content with attacking the human-animal relationship, Finn incorrectly maligns many excellent dog breeds.

For more than 20 years my research has focused on canine inherited diseases and has included diseases in breeds that Finn described as "less manipulated." My experience shows that there are many conscientious breeders of purebred dogs whose primary goal is to produce healthy, beautiful, intelligent, pets and that they succeed more often than they fail. The majority cares deeply about the pets they breed. Their motivation is not financial but is for others to have the same joy of pet ownership that they experience. They are not engaged in some bizarre "beauty contest." Puppy mills are a different matter. These are profit-driven businesses, and the purebred dog fancier deplores them. Unfortunately, many people seeking pets do not know the difference between a puppy mill and a responsible breeder.


The study of canine genetics has not kept pace with the Human Genome Project, but it is catching up fast even though the financial and scientific resources available for canine genetics are minuscule by comparison. Despite Finn's assertions, very few disease-causing mutations (which Finn's hyperbole calls "rogue genes") are identified in dogs. Even fewer can be identified by a test - even one that costs $1200. Canine genetic testing poses unique scientific (and ethical) issues that are not present in humans. Pet owners and veterinarians, like patients and physicians, have much to learn about the benefits and pitfalls of genetic testing.

Finn and the New York Times have done their readers a disservice by buying into the biased, animal activists' rhetoric of pet ownership and canine genetics. The animal activists' view deliberately misrepresents science and the social reality of the bond between most people and their dogs.

S/Linda C. Cork, DVM, PhD
Professor and Chair Department of Comparative Medicine Stanford University School of Medicine

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