Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Move to the Middle or Rove: The Last Word

Are We There Yet?

This is the last installment in our series on whether a move to the center of the country or a roving ABC National would be the fairest and most “doable” way to make the ABC accessible to the greatest number of ABC members and exhibitors.

When we started the series, I had already pretty much made up my mind that a roving show was an idea whose time had come, especially in view of restrictive and outrageously expensive new airline policies on flying dogs. (I hope everyone saw the recent SB-L post from the military vet who had just been transferred from Hawaii to Ohio and was unable to find an airline that would accept his two “snub-nosed” Boxer pets as excess baggage.)

Now, however, although I still think a roving national would be the fairest solution, making the ABC easily accessible to everybody in the lower 48 states every few years, I’ve come to believe that we need to take care of unfinished business first – the move to the center of the country that a two-to-one majority of ABC members voted for back in 1998 – before we start trying to implement the exponentially more difficult task of establishing a system of roving specialties. At this point, it should be obvious to everyone that if the ABC hasn’t been able to implement a simple change of venue in 13 years time, gaining acceptance for a more complex system of roving shows isn’t going to happen in this century.

Of course, saying, Ok, let’s forget about a roving national and just move to the middle of the country instead isn’t magically going to put the ABC in Topeka or St Louis next year; or even in three years, considering that our national is contractually scheduled to be back in Ft Mitchell in 2012, and then in Indianapolis in 2013/14. Fact is, it’s going to take a lot of intelligent planning and strong leadership to get the ABC to the middle of the US even by 2015, 17 years after we voted to make the move. And the planning is going to have to start now, not next year.

In the last three parts of this series, Karla Spitzer outlined the huge problems our westernmost ABC members/exhibitors face when they set out to drive thousands of miles through mountains or bad weather conditions to get themselves and their dogs to *their* national specialty. The weather issue could be alleviated by moving the ABC back a month or so to late March or early April, considering that the prime time for tornadoes in the plains states is the month of May. In fact, a change to an earlier date should probably happen regardless of what happens with the location. But that will just make the drive from the west safer…not less time-consuming.

Next, Jennifer Walker suggested a very detailed plan for how members could make a motion to propose a membership-wide vote on a system of roving shows at the annual ABC membership meeting. But in the end, Jennifer acknowledged that because of the way the ABC By-Laws are written, the final say on any change of venue ultimately belongs to the ABC Board, no matter how the general membership votes. (Keep that fact in mind as you read on.)

Finally, Carole Stein reported on the roving Frenchie National, held this year in Atlanta in September. Carole described how impressed she was by the dog show specialty planning business used by the FBDCA and other parent clubs (Goldens, Labs, etc) to plan their roving specialties (http://www.specialtydogshows.com/).  I’ve often wondered myself why the ABC didn’t contact a professional event planner about locating a suitable centrally located site for our annual specialty; but I suspect that even a business that derives its income solely from planning specialty shows for breed clubs would find it nearly impossible to find a place that would fulfill all the very specific criteria that the ABC demands of a show site and still be located equidistant from either coast.   

It’s obvious that those criteria were designed to fit a large, self-contained hotel near a major airport, rather than just a suitable show site with other facilities nearby. That was a viable option back when non-stop direct flights were usually available and dogs were routinely shipped by air – for breeding, to buyers and to shows like the ABC and Regional – but now that the airlines have made flying our dogs difficult if not impossible and prohibitively expensive for most people, we may need to rethink that criterion. As Jennifer Walker pointed out, if ABC members were willing to compromise on just one requirement – having a hotel directly adjacent to the show site – Purina Farms in St Louis, MO, would be an ideal venue in every other way. But as it stands right now, those are the onerous requirements the Show Site Committee has had to work around in trying to find us a centrally located site.


Times have changed, but I sincerely believe that if the vote were cast again today, a majority of ABC members would acknowledge the fairness of a central location for our national specialty and would again vote for a move to the middle of the country. But you know the old saying: Heaven helps those who help themselves. In other words, the West Coast members and exhibitors who would like to be closer to the ABC than a three or four days’ drive, one way, need to take the initiative and not depend on a board of directors that changes every year to keep pushing for a central location just because it’s the “fair” thing to do. 

The success of the ABC Herding Petition was due to constant pressure from the ABC members and member club members who wanted our breed to have the opportunity to compete in AKC Herding Trials. It was also due to countless hours of work on the part of the board members who comprised the ABC Herding Committee, and who were committed to making the petition succeed. This didn’t happen overnight: the proponents of Boxer herding kept the pressure on from the time the issue was first raised in 2009 to when the final vote to send the petition to AKC took place at the May 2011 board meeting.    

The same thing applies to moving the ABC. Get to know your current board members and start emailing them (with a cc to the ABC Secretary) to let them know you want the entire membership to vote on the prospective locations next time the ABC makes a move or considers renewing the current contract with the Wyndham Hotel in Indianapolis (in effect through 2014). A decision on a renewal or new location will probably be made in May 2014 at the latest, so it’s not too soon to start making your feelings known now.

Most importantly, vote!  There are 15 members on the ABC BOD. Ten directors are elected by the ABC membership, each to a 3-year term, and five are appointed by their local member club to a 1-year term. So every year, 5 brand new regional directors come on the board; and every year 3 or 4 new elected directors come on the board. That means that every year there are at least 8 new directors on the board, although many of the “new” elected directors will be "old" directors who are serving second terms. The next board election will take place early in 2012. That gives every ABC member plenty of time to nominate a candidate; and plenty of time to call and email the nominees to ask them what their positions are on the issues. (Full disclosure: I am not running for a second term on the board this year.) 

In my opinion, the biggest push we need to make as a club – on this issue and any other issue – is to hold the ABC Board accountable. Yes, the by-laws are set up, at the AKC's suggestion, so that the board has almost complete control of the club; but the club members have control over who is on the board. It's long past time for us to demand that the board members' decisions represent the wishes of the majority of the membership, rather than of the board. If we can't do that with motions at the annual meeting, we need to do it with votes in the annual board election.    

Sunday, November 13, 2011

DM Again

Recently on the Facebook group, Boxers – Form & Function, a group member asked whether it would be possible to eradicate the DM gene from the breed in just a few generations, or whether trying to do that might result in unfortunate unintended consequences. Naturally, everyone who joined the discussion had his or her own opinion on whether or not we should always? sometimes? it depends? avoid making breeding combinations that might produce at risk puppies. It was a very interesting discussion and is still ongoing. If you’re interested, go to FB and sign on to the group. Because Dr Joan Coates is still researching unanswered questions about DM, she has wisely avoided making hard and fast breeding recommendations and instead has urged caution and that we take into consideration ALL our dogs’ virtues and faults when making breeding decisions. Below, UK geneticist Dr Bruce Cattanach offers his own opinion, previously published in a post to the SB-L. Dr Cattanach is currently engaged in research on ARVC and JRD.


I too have concerns about DM and these are mainly centered on the lack of information available to help breeders.  The 45% homozygote [at risk], 38% heterozygote [carrier], and 17% clear figures offered may be skewed, but testing has been conducted for a number of years now so I suggest the incidence of the gene in the breed must indeed be very high.

Now, clearly, this does not mean that the incidence of affected dogs [at risk dogs that actually develop DM] is anywhere near 45%.  There is the penetrance problem; only a proportion of homozygotes develop the disease.  I think it is time some figure is offered to breeders to get the problem into perspective.  If the penetrance is about 50%, then based on the above information, about 20% of Boxers might become affected, and I think this is still far too high to be believable.  So, how about a 10% penetrance, such that maybe only 4% of homozygotes would develop the disease?  This is slightly more credible but would still represent a mammoth problem.  I therefore think breeders need to have some idea of the magnitude of the risk so that they can deal with the problem more appropriately – not so severely as to wipe out essential breeding stock, but still in a way that exerts some selection pressure to reduce the incidence of the gene.  Caution perhaps should be the watchword for the moment.

And then there is no information whatever on the distribution of the gene across the breed.  Some information on this could help understanding.  Some sectors might be free of the gene but I suspect these may be few and far between.  There is no official DM testing in the UK but from the very few tests that I have heard about I know the gene is around in UK dogs too – but on enquiring at the major vet schools, I have not found any evidence of the disease being present.  Here we have the penetrance issue again. Should UK breeders be testing and selecting against the gene when we have not seen any cases?  This is not an easy question to answer, but I am sure most UK breeders would offer an answer in a flash.

Complicating matters further, Joan Coates told us in a recent talk at our genetics lab [Harwell MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, UK] that the gene is to be found in quite a wide number of breeds but this is far less evident when one considers the disease. Pembroke Corgis, GSDs and Ridgebacks, with Boxers tagging along, seem to be the affected breeds, but I am sure Joan said that the disease incidence across breeds did not relate well to the gene incidence.  Thus I think there is one breed with a near 100% incidence of the gene (homozygotes?) and yet without any trace of the disease.  What can be expected of breeders in this situation?

The bottom line is that we should be cautious until we know more.  Selection is still possible, and justifiable, without going to extreme.  A simple approach would be to test the better pups in litters to help choose which pup(s) one should keep.  The DM status of stud dogs is what everyone wants to know, but even if the incidence of the gene was even half right the exclusion of all homozygotes for breeding might decimate the breed.

A cautious approach until one knows more seems essential, but please don't just ignore.

Bruce Cattanach