In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the genetic health issue Chondrodysplasia was identified and studied in Alaskan Malamutes, and a program to limit its impact on the breed was put in place. This program was founded on the best scientific principles and practices available at that time. It was based on a system of test breeding, blood testing now recognized as inaccurate, pedigree analysis, and statistical probability. This program never intended to eliminate the gene, but instead was designed to reduce its incidence within the population. Though the program did meet this goal, it also eliminated a large number of dogs from the breeding pool who may or may not have been associated with the issue.
In July 2012 information was made public that a chondrodysplastic puppy had been produced out of a pedigree certifiable by the AMCA chd program. Within days of this announcement, the AMCA stated that the process had already been put in motion to revoke certifications on a large number of related dogs. Due to the popularity of the dogs and lines involved, this decision will have far reaching effects. In an effort to re-certify certain dogs in the pedigree, a test breeding plan was also announced.
If the chd program is followed as its founders stipulated, not only will the dogs and their littermates in the pedigree in question have certifications pulled, but all their get will be suspect requiring re-evaluation likely resulting in further certifications being pulled. Due to the viewing of certification as synonymous with responsible breeding by many of those involved in the Malamute community, this action could literally wipe out hundreds of breeders who are unable or unwilling to test breed their dogs to regain certification (many European countries forbid test breeding). This would also seriously impact genetic diversity in the breed. Even if key dogs directly behind the current pedigree are test bred, based on the current program rules, it will only allow re-certification for those individual dogs. The dogs behind the test bred dogs would not be eligible for re-certification. In this case, those dogs include some of the breed’s most popular sires to date.
While test breeding was acceptable 30-40 years ago, it is important to look at the culture we now live in. In order to maintain a viable program it is vital we take into consideration modern day ethics, both within the dog community and in general society. If a large portion or a majority of the Malamute community is unwilling to accept test breeding as a reasonable option, then the integrity of the chd program could easily be destroyed by people simply choosing not to participate in the program. Public perception of AMCA’s active participation and publically visible test breeding program could also have serious implications for our breed and the purebred dog fancy in general, potentially resulting in backlash from the public or those with an animal rights agenda.
Since its inception, the chd program has not been subject to ongoing official scientific review. Given the far reaching consequences of the current situation, AMCA owes it to its members as well as the breed to seek advice on how best to handle this situation given current science as well as our current culture. We should seek a recommendation on whether it is sound science to continue a certification process that retains or eliminates dogs from the breeding pool based on probabilities rather than actual knowledge that the dog does or does not carry the gene, and whether or not test breeding is still a viable and ethical way to pursue disease containment.
We, the undersigned members in good standing with the Alaskan Malamute Club of America, call on the Board of Directors of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America to place on the ballot for the 2012 general membership vote the following:
1. The Board of Directors will temporarily suspend the chd program pending an evaluation of the existing program by Dr. Jerold Bell.*
2. The Board of Directors will have Dr. Bell’s report published in the first Newsletter following receipt of the report.
3. The Board of Directors will establish a work group and direct them to prepare a formal proposal for any changes to the chd program based upon Dr. Bell's recommendations. The proposal will then be submitted to Dr. Bell for review and comment. (It is recommended that the work group be comprised of no more than 1 member from the CCC, 1 member from the Health Committee and 1 member from the Board of Directors and a minimum of 2 members in good standing from the general membership.)
4. The Board of Directors will direct the work group to submit their formal proposal, along with any commentary on the final proposal by Dr. Bell, to the Newsletter for publication.
5. The Board of Directors will place the work group’s formal proposal on the ballot for the next general membership vote.
*Jerold Bell, DVM, is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences, at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Bell is the director of the clinical Veterinary Genetics Course and national project administrator for numerous genetic disease control programs of purebred dogs. He performs genetic counseling through Veterinary Genetic Counseling and practices small animal medicine in Connecticut. He and his wife breed Gordon Setters.
Dr. Bell has been hired by AMCA to speak on the health issues of the Alaskan Malamute at the 2012 National Specialty as well as provide an in-depth evaluation and input/recommendations on the Chd Program as it is currently being administered.
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