May 31, 2012

Part I: Frequently Used Sires Program

By Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia
          Imagine that you are on the board of your club and a special 7:30 AM briefing is scheduled. En route you meet with Juan Valdez, settle in, and begin listening to a discussion on DNA.
          The speaker, lets call her Linda begins with some background information about how DNA technology has become the driving force of the future and how patents are being awarded to corporations who find the genetic answers first. She says that history has an interesting way of teaching us our lessons but that it is not always a perfect lesson. She mentions the philosopher Socrates and how he helped fashion our way of thinking, by teaching us how to ask good questions. In his day, Socrates was considered both a scholar and a rabble-rouser because of his method of questioning others while searching for the truth. Eventually his enemies gave him hemlock to keep him quite. But his idea about being curious and asking thought-provoking questions lives on. This is where you come in. You are a member of this hypothetical board and you need to decide how to use this new technology.
          The speaker says to the board, "If you could be Socrates for just a little while, what questions would you want answered before you vote on the uses of DNA technology"? For openers, you might ask why the AKC required 90,000 owners of purebred dogs to DNA certify their males". You would think it's because there is a big problem that needs fixing. You learn that this new Frequently Used Sires (FUS) program changed AKC's 100-year-old policy regarding the registration of purebred dogs. The old policy stated (paraphrased)." When a registered dog was bred to a registered dog, it always produced a registered dog, even if it had faults or a disqualification". Registration meant that breeders certified that they witnessed the breeding and registered their litters. This 100-year-old policy stood the test of time because it was based on the voluntary involvement of breeders whose interest was to breed better dogs. Over the years many have tried to change this policy but none have succeeded. Some argued that if breeding produced a pup with a disqualifying color or a conformation fault, the pup should not be registered. Where would the AKC be today if those arguments had prevailed and what would happened if they were used to determine registrations? Imagine a studbook where pressures and politics from disgruntled breeders would be the driving force to determine policy and registrations.
          Now, after 100 years of voluntary participation, the new program called Frequently Used Sires will begin a new era where technology will govern the registration of purebred dogs. Most learned thinkers believe that science is only a tool of man's not his master. The new DNA process is simple. Owners mouth swab their own dogs at home, mail the DNA kit to AKC and pay the $40 fee to process the sample, which takes 4-6 weeks. The consequences are also simple; any FUS who does not have his "AKCDNA" certified and on file will not have his litters registered.
          Because 90,000 breeders are involved, your board asked the speaker to focus on some of the important questions. She begins by talking about the data that was used to make the decision to require all FUS to be AKCDNA certified. In 1998 the AKC began two DNA programs. One for parent clubs,which provided free DNA testing at their national specialty shows. It was ended in 2000 after most clubs had the opportunity to get their dogs DNA tested. The other was to mouth swab dogs as part of the inspection program of the large commercial kennels. These are the only two areas where the AKC has conducted DNA testing. In January, 2000, the AKC reported that after one full year of inspections there was an 8% error rate. While that statistic (8%) may seem small, if you apply it to the total number of purebred dogs born (about three million each year) there would be about 240,000 dogs with incorrect pedigrees. That would be reason enough to require DNA on every FUS. But if the 8% only included the dogs DNA tested from inspections of the large commercial kennels, the number of incorrect pedigrees would be far less because the commercial kennels produce less than 10% of all pure bred dogs and they represent only one small part of the studbook.
          A famous trial lawyer named Barry is asked to speak about quality control and the efforts that other organizations have used to protect their customers and control their error rates. He points to the automobile industry, which uses the crash test to ensure safety. Most of us have seen on TV how they crash cars into a wall. If the crash tests show a problem with the brakes on one model they only change the brakes on that model not on every model on the assembly line. That's where he begins to focus on the reported 8% error rate. He asks if the AKC problem was found to be rampant throughout the studbook, or among the parent club breeders or just in the commercial kennels? Socrates would be concerned that perhaps the fundamental questions surrounding this subject may not have been thoroughly discussed before the decisions were made. He would ask if the registry were really in bad shape with many breeders cheating? Or is the error rate limited to only one small group of breeders? The answer perhaps can be found in the AKC February announcement, which said that all of the profits made from the FUS program would be used to begin a new program of random testing for all categories of breeders.
          Linda asks several questions about the fairness of the FUS program: - Is every sire that produces seven or more litters in his lifetime or three litters in one calendar year really an FUS? Owners of small breeds like the toys (Pomeranians, Maltese, Shih Tzu etc) say no. They argue that there breeds only have one-puppy litters, while German Shepherd Dogs, Setters and other large breeds have litters with upwards of 10 puppies in one litter. Owners of the small breeds complain that one-puppy litters are not comparable to breeds that produce large litters. Is it fair to define both as a Frequently Used Sire? - Many imported dogs are already DNA certified when they enter the United States. Their owners have complained that it is not fair for them to pay another DNA certification fee when no questions have been raised about the parentage of these dogs. - Others complain that their dogs were already DNA certified at the AKC laboratory before the FUS program began. They question why they are being required to DNA their dogs for a second time using the same AKC markers and paying another $40 fee for the same DNA test that was used the first time.
          Barry questions the validity of requiring DNA on only one class of sires. He argues that since DNA is not being collected from the bitches or their pups, there is no way to fix the stated problem (8%). He asks about the disposition of the 90,000 DNA samples since there was no way to check parentage with only the sire's DNA. He concludes by asking how samples from only sires would fix the 8% error rate? No answers were provided and the room becomes very quite as Barry concludes his remarks. He is concerned about the thousands of dogs being required to be DNA tested and the large amount of money generated from the fees. Barry briefly mentions the innocent third-party victims who will have their litter registrations denied or delayed because the sire they used was not AKCDNA certified. He reminds the audience that breeders move and have disputes with co-owners who do not cooperate. Few keep the AKC informed about these things and most of their problems take months to resolve. Many end up in the courts. What will the owners of these litters do with 11-month-old puppies and no AKC registration papers? Many believe they will sell them without AKC papers, which will cause registrations to decline even further. The unsuspecting public may decide that rather than listen to the excuses of breeders who can't provide registration papers that it might be easier to find a puppy at a pet shop or shelter. The key question for Socrates would be to know more about the problem. He would ask if the parent club breeders, the large commercial kennels, or some other group produced the 8% error rate. Wouldn't it be nice to know?
          The speaker concludes by mentioning that breeders need to be more involved. They need to know about future plans for DNA and the new markers being discovered that will be used to control diseases in purebred dogs. She leaves you wondering about the issue of carriers, affected dogs and the future status for their registration. The meeting ends as quickly as it started. It is suddenly time to vote. The question is to "Require DNA of all frequently used sires " as a condition of registration for their litters? Would you vote: Yes, No, or ask for a delay until you have more facts, more answers and time to think? You ask yourself, could there be an alternative to mandatory DNA?

(The next two articles are called Part II and III. They will explore some of the other uses of DNA technology. Part II will address the ownership of DNA; dual sired litters, future health test requirements, and whether normals and carriers will be registered. The final paper will focus on the biotech future, what the scientists are planning, embryo transplants and clones.)

Carmen L Battaglia holds a Ph.D. and Masters Degree from Florida State University. As an AKC judge, researcher and writer, he has been a leader in promotion of breeding better dogs and has written many articles and several books.Dr. Battaglia is also a popular TV and radio talk show speaker. His seminars on breeding dogs, selecting sires and choosing puppies have been well received by the breed clubs all over the country

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