|Jilly walks off with the big one...|
Last year's Crufts' winner was a Lhasa Apso called Elizabeth described by her owner as "far too precious to take for a walk" in case the dog damaged her extreme coat (as detailed here).
It was bad PR for the Kennel Club, trying desperately to convince everyone that purebred dogs were fit for function.
There must have been a sigh of relief when this year's Best in Show was won by a jaunty Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen called Jilly (Ch Soletrader Peek A Boo). Little reported, however (other than on Karen Friesecke's Doggiestylish blog from where I've nicked with her permission the pedigree below) is that the dog represents the other main problem with purebred dogs: inbreeding.
Jilly is very inbred. According to the Kennel Club's Mate Select, she has a co-efficient of inbreeding (COI) of 20 per cent, not far off the equivalent of a mother-son mating. She is more inbred than her mother (14%) and her father (6%) and her COI is almost double the breed average of 11%.
She was born 14 months after Pedigree Dogs Exposed raised the alarm about the level of inbreeding in pedigree dogs, so this mating must have been a conscious decision to ignore the warnings.
"Jilly is the spitting image of her mum Dizzy in looks, attitude and temperament," it says on her breeder's website.
Well yes, she would be.Her dam's parents are her sire's grandparents.
|Click to enlarge (with thanks to Karen Friesecke)|
The US Club is better in detailing the breed's history and it even includes mention of hunt tests - although there isn't much evidence that they are wildly popular.
So let's not kid ourselves. Today, these dogs are simulacrums that look like the dogs of yesteryear. They are no longer worked. And the problem with that is where the dog will end up.
Now, the Robertsons clearly breed for moderate dogs. Jilly is a low-rider, but not excessively so, and she really does move well. That tousled coat doesn't take much to maintain. And there's none of the haw or wrinkling or bonkers-long ears that have ruined her distant cousin, the show-bred Basset Hound. In an article on their website, her breeders do erroneously place way too much emphasis on a level topline - a trait that show breeders obsess about but which is unnatural and bears little relation to function (a blog to come about that...) but no one could accuse them of breeding freaks.
But without the work to keep them honest, all it will take is for one successful breeder to start pushing the limits and the road to exaggeration will begin. Do this within a perilously small gene pool that doesn't allow any ingress of new genes, not even from its bigger cousin any more, and you're headed for trouble. The average co-efficient of inbreeding for the PBGV in the UK is, at 11%, already almost the equivalent of a grandfather/grand-daughter mating (12.5%).
|Click to enlarge|
It would also surely be a good idea, given that there is concern about several eye problems in the breed, for the Club to request mandatory eye tests for Assured Breeders (the scheme currently lists no tests at all for the breed) and, preferably, for the Kennel Club registration of any PBGV.
Here's hoping, too, that Mr and Mrs Robertson will set a better example when they breed Jilly, as is their intention this year, and choose a mate for her that will result in pups with a lower level of inbreeding.
But there's one thing I am happy to praise Jilly's breeders for - in June, the dog will be embarking on a 130 mile walk to raise money for three very worthy causes - Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, DogLost (the brilliant national database for lost and found dogs) and the Kennel Club Charitable Trust.
The walk is also designed to raise awareness of rare and "vulnerable" breeds such as Jilly. Which is great, as it also allows me to point out that they're only "vulnerable" because a) they're not very popular so not many are bred and (b) they're stuck in tiny gene pools - an entirely human construct that has been foisted on them by breeders and outdated/unscientific kennel club breeding practices.
And although outcrossing is not an easy answer, more breeds are going to have to consider it if they want to survive long-term. But of course they won't consider it until the breed is a genetic wreck - at which point it will probably be too late.
But I applaud Jilly's owners for deciding to do the walk. It's a good idea - and constructive PR for purebred dogs.
Jilly will be walking from National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham - the venue of her Crufts win in March - to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London between June 10th - 14th. More info on the Jilly's Jolly Jaunt Facebook page.