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Who Safeguards Their Health?

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Who is responsible for safeguarding the health and well being of purebred dogs in America?

One obvious answer is of course breeders, who are charged with health testing their breeding stock, staying abreast of developments in canine health, and using every tool available to make the soundest breeding decisions possible. Today those tools are revolutionary compared to what we had even a decade ago. DNA testing has altered the health landscape in ways we could only have imagined when many of us began breeding dogs. Parent clubs have developed health surveys and databases and, along with the AKC Canine Health Foundation, help fund research for canine diseases. A significant modern resource is the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), established in 2001 and sponsored by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the AKC Canine Health Foundation. CHIC serves as a centralized data warehouse, if you will, where the results of health testing for purebred dogs can be stored and is available to breeders, puppy buyers and researchers studying canine health. According to Eddie Dziuk, OFA’s Chief Operating Officer, more than 55,000 dogs have qualified for CHIC numbers by being tested in accordance with their parent club’s recommended health screening protocols. Approximately 125 breeds are already participating in the CHIC program with more joining regularly.

But that’s not all. Beginning in 2006 CHIC became a warehouse, or in more professional terms a repository, for DNA samples for all CHIC breeds. These samples serve as a ready supply to be used by researchers studying myriad diseases, both canine and human, and also allow scientists to look at family groups as well as individuals. Over 8,500 DNA samples are banked with the DNA Repository. Research institutions that have received samples from CHIC include Cornell University, the Broad Institute at MIT/Harvard, University of Missouri, University of California-Davis, University of Kentucky, Clemson University, University of Minnesota, and the Animal Health Trust in the U.K.

We can be very proud that here in the U.S. we are doing everything necessary to protect and advance the health and well being of our show dogs and breeding stock. Or are we?

In spite of all this good news, our governing body, the AKC, doesn’t appear to take official action regarding health in the dogs that they register and that are shown at AKC-sanctioned events, in stark contrast to the kennel clubs in other countries. Simon Parsons again discusses in his column this month actions that the Kennel Club in Britain is taking regarding health concerns, and in our International Feature on Sweden, Dr. Göran Bodegård outlines the program developed by the Swedish KC (SKK) that assigns SKK judges a measure of responsibility for monitoring health concerns in the dogs they judge. Kennel clubs around the world are recognizing their responsibility to ensure that their member clubs and the breeders that they in some measure endorse by registering their dogs are using available tools to protect the health of those dogs.

On Nov. 5, 2008, AKC signed a “Letter of Understanding” with the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, covering reciprocal arrangements regarding pedigrees, judging approvals, sharing information on breed standard changes and judges’ suspensions, and other items. On May 30 this year the FCI signed a document with the KC in England that is similar, indeed in some of its language identical, to the one with AKC. Included in the KC/FCI letter but missing from the AKC/FCI agreement, however, is this statement: “The FCI and KC will discuss health issues connected with breed standards on a regular basis.”

We’ve previously discussed in DR the fact that although AKC’s “Core Values” include a responsibility to “protect the health and well being” of dogs, thus far it appears to put the parent clubs in charge in this regard. On the other hand, the AKC does lend strong financial support to its own Canine Health Foundation. Is that enough? 

Next month we’ll look more closely at several health-related situations as well as at the newly formed AKC Canine Health and Welfare Advisory Panel.


Christi McDonald, Editor


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