Barbara J. Andrews, Journalist, AKC Master Breeder
2015 Update (first published in ShowSight Magazine Jan 2001) also see Part 2
The importance of
screenings for health defects is immeasurable. Still, we all know breeders who proudly proclaim a pile of health certifications but who consistently
produce health-impaired, dysfunctional, or extremely atypical dogs.
How can that happen? The most obvious answer is
the ongoing problem of positive identification such as tattoo or microchip every time, for every clearance.
Since this site has relentlessly lobbied for positive I.D. since 2001, the veterinary testing
organizations have moved towards better identification. However they still
do NOT require tattoo or microchip
on the dog and must rely on the testing veterinarian's certification that the
dog actually has the microchip or tattoo.
The other problem is the inherent anomalies (pun intended) in genetic studies. The
best breeders focus on the total dog; temperament, health, and type - in exactly
that order. Owners can live with and love an unhealthy or ugly dog but one with
defective temperament is a joy to no one. I've said that in magazine
columns for many years that it has become a popular quote.
breeders adhere to the breed standard and they do health checks but they
don’t breed paper! A champion title on a nutcase, a hip clearance on a dog
with disk disease, or CERF certification on a dog that hides from things only it
can see is crime against the canine. Those dedicated breeders use health certifications as an important tool, not as a
sales gimmick. Ironically, these are the people who, because
of their dedication to canine health, are most easily fooled by a
system that grew in up in the unstructured 60s when the Orthopedic
Foundation for Animals was launched.
One of the original OFA board members was Dr. Gerry Schnelle, who in
1937 published the first paper on what we now call canine hip
dysplasia. A pioneer in the field, his Bilateral
Congenital Subluxation of the Coxofemoral Joints of a Dog was
the first definitive study of CHD. Dr. Schnelle publically
resigned from the board of OFA due to unresolved ethical concerns,
stating he could not certify an x-ray on a dog whose muscular
condition, overall health, and other factors could not be evaluated.
Identity fraud was at that time, not an issue.
1980s, health certification had become a breeding prerequisite fueled by
good marketing and breeders eager to avoid an expanding list of
identified canine health problems. Fraud was common because
the veterinarians and the newly emerging certification organization
did not want to rock the the boat.
Over the next decade, fraud and diagnostic mistakes were hidden
behind a smoke screen of genetic pollution spread by demand for
offspring from a “healthy” dog.
would admit that thier OFA certified dog became crippled or the CERF
certified dog went blind? Not the vets, not the breeders, and
least of all, the burgeoning health registries that were raking in
$millions. OFA doesn’t care that less than 5% of owners ever
re-certify a dog's hips or elbows due to expense, radiation
exposure, or anesthesia risk. That alone makes a mockery of hip
certification. But it gets worse. The priceless
clear-hips certificate may not belong to that dog.
Substitution has become so common that breeders joke about dogs that
"glow in the dark."
Requiring permanent, positive identification for certification is
fundamental to meaningful results. How could this be ignored?
The answers are disturbing but first, a little history. In
my Dog World columns of the early 70's, I repeatedly demanded tattoo
prior to testing and continued to lobby for permanent I.D long after
microchips were invented. Why has veterinary mega-business
rejected such an obvious solution? There are two answers.
#1 - The
Veterinary associations and universities have no stake in requiring
permanent I.D. because no veterinary license is required for tattoo,
microchip, or collection of a DNA sample. Owners collect
DNA swabs, inject microchips, and tattoo their own dogs. No profit, no motivation. It's just the way things
#2 - If verifiable I.D. were required for health certification it would
dramatically reduce income for the health registries and the
veterinarians who perform the tests. The percentage of
“ringers” is unknown but is believed to be astoundingly high in
certain breeds. If positive I.D. were required, well,
substitute dogs couldn’t be used. It would no longer be easy
for unscrupulous breeders to collect certifications; therefore
testing income would be proportionately reduced. Simple
finance. If anyone still believes not-for-profit organizations
can't be financial goldmines, they are too naive to gain anything
from this article.
was written April 2011 and while there have been exciting advances in canine health and the plethora of new "certifications" in 2015 do require
permanent identification for dogs to be tested, there are
other serious flaws in our canine health certification system.
If you believe there is hope for constructive change, learn more in Part Two Certifying Health Testing.
Excerpts from "On The Line" ShowSight Magazine Oct 2001
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Getting a CT or MRI? Doing hip x-rays on your dog?
Know the risks.
What's your dog’s cancer and infertility risk from hip x-rays?
A wonderful tool as long as we know the inherent