Pepe’s Art

My old pigeon partner Jose Morales y Serranno, who met his wife , an Albuquerqe native of Italian descent, returned to Sevilla after getting his PhD in English- speaking writers of the Spanish Civil War. Despite occasional political disagreements- like Pepe’s fellow traveler on the left Stephen Spender, I will never think of Roy Campbell as other than a great lyric and talented satirical poet, despite his being on the “wrong” side–I miss him. He taught me everything I know about Spanish pouters– and who else would depict a beautiful woman with my favorite breed, the English Carrier, both handsome and grotesque?

(Something minor interesting here too.The bird is depicted with a RED eye cere, like a Barb or Catalonian tumbler or the Badgdads the fanatics are killing in Syria, or even the Scanderoons (“Iskadruns”- birds of Alexander the Great), of Nuremberg do. But the English ones no longer have red ceres. I wonder if those of southern Spain, closer to Africa and their roots, do? I rather prefer the red…

Catalonian of the “Strawberry Eye” variant- a very attractive variety never imported to the US and supposedly very rare.(From Levi)

A Spanish Barb hen-I used to have these

“Iskandrun”, Alexander’s (German!) bird, in profile…

The modern endangered Syrian breeds, which resemble both their English and German relatives.I like these, too, and I bet they can FLY.

Cryptic Cats

I always like finding new species, and am fascinated by “cryptic” ones that look just like others but have different DNA. (Are there really SEVEN Red Crossbills?) Not every species is really one, and if you obsess on the subject it will drive you mad. I like to argue and define, but my not quite tongue- in- cheek assertion that Northern Goshawks are not one circumpolar but two species, while the Gyr and Saker are one, is an example of a debatable case I know something about.

I know nothing about cats, but as a curious naturalist I was interested in this account of a new species of Leopardus found in Brazil, not least because last time I looked at cats the only one close to it was the Margay, Leopardus (then Felis) weidi.

The pictures made  L. tigrinus and L. guttulus look like color phases, but the evidence of long separation seemed clear. More than that was nagging at me. In the 60’s and early 70’s, before I knew her, Betsy Huntington had achieved the rare feat of breeding margays in her house in Cambridge, where they mostly roamed free. (She demonstrated her methods to a horrified Roger Caras on live TV–“I just waited until the female was in heat and stuck them together like this. It wasn’t hard– they liked each other!”)

But her two cats looked less alike than the new species and the “tigrina” Remember, these are old photos, but…

And here are a couple of the stripier one leaping and perched up where they did, and of an indubitable margay. The one with the more striking markings also has a rather different head (and I do not think he is an ocelot, as there are also photos of an ocelot– bigger, bulkier, and different– in her album to compare– last pic).

I don’t know if  we can ever do other than speculate– I think everyone involved in the project is long dead, and the only two who remember its existence are me and Annie Davidson. Annie?

More on Closed Registries

Population geneticist Federico Calboli is a frequent and outspoken commenter at Q. I sent him the material below even before I blogged it. Here, with his permission, are his thoughts. As he is not affiliated with any breeding organization his freedom from bias is clear. If you believe that simply picking from two healthy parents will guard against the defects revealed by the ever- shrinking gene pool, you should read this.

Sadly, most people who follow this blog already know these things, and those committed to the 19th century fallacies of “pure breeding” are standing around with fingers in their ears hollering “LALALALALALAI CAN’T HEARYOU!!!” Still, you never know who you might reach. Take it away, Federico! (Emphasis mine)

“Assuming one is trying to produce pedigree dogs that are healthy (i.e. health is the phenotype we select for), the advice [in post below] is sound. 

“The elephant in the room (which is touched in the intro when landraces are mentioned) is that, no matter what, closed registry breeding will kill a breed, sooner or later.  Later if the advice in the document is followed, but that’s no silver bullet.  Keeping dogs cost money (no matter how little, it’s always more than 0).  Even in the ‘let’s just breed for health’ dreamscape, keeping the largest possible effective population would be quite costly.  Who pays?  This problem just by itself means that sooner or later genetic variability will be lost.  In the best case scenario this is a slow whittling away, but there is never any putting back in a closed registry model.

“Hence why either you breed for function (dog X does job Y well enough, dog X is a breeder, end of), and ‘breed’  becomes a synonym with ‘function’, or you need something else.  Hence why I recommend to reduce the number of breeds, merging similar one (say, all retrievers together, all sighthounds together) AND to have open registries. Merging breeds would increase genetic variability while keeping some guideline in terms of looks and function.  Open registries (keeping note of all ‘half bred’ animals, and fully registering those with 3 out of 4 grandparent registered, or something like that) would guarantee gene flow after the first ‘enrichment’ through breed merging has happened. 

“To cut it short, no matter how well managed, sooner or later closed registries will spell doom for a breed.  Having said that, there is more to say about canine health, but that’s for another email.”

Clear Thinking on Genetic Diversity

Every breeder of domestic animals with a closed studbook should read this, all of it. Most important is the section the writer, Jeffrey Bragg, calls  Principles for the Breeder.

 (MANY thanks to Daniela Imre).

“The great majority of dog breeds have been bred within a completely closed studbook
for sixty to a hundred years or longer, with little or no fresh genetic input
throughout the entire period from breed foundation to the present. In most
cases the stud book was opened for a year or two, a small number of founders,
often closely related to one another, were registered, and the stud book was
then closed. Thereafter, only dogs descended from the founders could be
registered. And for those sixty to a hundred or more years, artificial
selection, random drift, bottlenecking and other forms of attrition took their
toll of whatever genetic diversity was present in the founder group. It is
exactly as though a bank account had been established with a single initial
deposit (the genetic diversity of the founders), with no further deposits
permitted; meanwhile bank fees and direct debits (diversity losses from drift,
selection, etc.) chiselled away at the balance. It is a sure and certain recipe
for bankruptcy.

“Similarly, many individual bloodlines have been treated in exactly the same way,
bred in relative genetic isolation from other bloodlines — except that in
this case additional deposits are at least allowed, in the form of bloodline
outcrosses. Therefore each breeder probably ought to consider the desirability
of locating and using a true outcross within his or her own breed (unrelated
to one’s own stock for at least ten to fifteen generations) at least once
and to integrate the resulting progeny into one’s kennel bloodline.


“If there is any possibility whatsoever to import unrelated stock from a breed’s
country of origin, one ought seriously to consider doing just that.
is mainly possible in the case of landrace breeds, in which an autochthonous
regional population remains in the country of origin, independent of exported
stock that may have become a registered breed in other countries. Examples of
such situations would be the population of desert-bred coursing sighthounds in
the Near East, relative to the Saluki breed in Europe and North America, or the
relict populations of autochthonous arctic spitz-type sled dogs relative to the
modern Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, et al.

“It would be difficult to overestimate the genetic value of a single import animal,
unrelated to the registered breed population for scores of generations but
stemming from exactly the same fountainhead. This I would term the Holy Grail
of the diversity breeder — the ideal controlled-outcross situation in which an
immediate significant increase in healthy genetic diversity may be obtained at
little to no cost in terms of breed type and purpose. (That the Canadian Kennel
Club rejected this option for the Siberian Husky in 1994 demonstrates, I believe,
the true extent to which the umbrella all-breed registries represent an obstacle
to genetic health and true breed welfare and improvement.)”

Are you listening, AKC? Saluki Club?

Oh right, all those “Holy Grail” dogs are… mongrels.

Beating the Drum Again…

Arguments in the saluki- tazi world again (and implicitly in the whole dog world) on closed studbooks, “invalid colors”, the usual. And as always, sane and scientific counsel from John Burchard:

“I think we have to remember that the breed subdivisions within the “oriental
sighthound” group are to some considerable extent a Western artifact which does
not accurately reflect the reality on the ground. On the ground there are
several regional populations, each with a considerable range of phenotypic
variation, grading more or less insensibly into one another. The extent of gene
exchange among them is probably considerable but thanks to “breed politics”
(also a Western invention) I fear we are unlikely ever to get honest and
accurate sampling that would permit DNA analysis of the situation. Almost
everyone involved has some kind of agenda and most of those agendas are either
Western-inspired or based on a desire to have a “national” breed. Most of these
dogs are called “saluqi” in regions of Arabic speech and some variant of “tazi”
elsewhere. To me it appears that the phenotypic “fault lines” – to the extent
that such actually exist, which is far from obvious – do not particularly
coincide with the linguistic ones – nor, alas, with the “breed political” ones.
Introducing the Western “purebred” model, derived from 19th century notions of
human racial “purity”, into this situation has IMHO not been beneficial.

“In other words, when we speak of “different breeds” here, it is probably a good
idea to use quotation marks.”

The Dangers of Inbreeding

Patrick and I tend to go on about how the closed- studbook model of breeding and breeds, a relict of the 19th century’s imperfect understanding of genetics, is deleterious and dysfunctional, but I haven’t said much on it here. Reader Mike spies and I recently had an interesting discussion on this matter,and he gave me permission to post. Mike first:

“Dogs bred from FDSB registered animals have provided excellent, successful
hunting and trial dogs for about 100 years.
On the subject of inbreeding – this is often confused with line breeding.
Combined with rigorous culling and intelligent planning, line breeding
produces fine, sound animals that are largely free of genetic problems.
Further, the overall quality of a line breed litter is more likely to be more
predictable and consistent (pup to pup) than a litter produced by a pure out
cross – the genes combine in more predictable ways. Line breeders do out cross
– to other line bred, but less related dogs to inject proven new blood into
their breeding programs.”


“I know these things and agree to a point. But you CANNOT breed forever in a limited pool without deleterious genes being expressed– a real outcross is needed once in a while (not necessarily constantly). If you outcross type to type is better of course.

“(I know this a bit from 50 years of breeding pigeons, where the generations go faster and mistakes are less heartbreaking. But also, what — ancient– academic training I have is in evolutionary, genetic, and population biology.)

“And: the situation is also different with the saluki- tazi (taigan aboriginal Afghan) meta- population, which until recently stretched from north Africa to Mongolia and consisted entirely of working dogs. Now, show breeders have ruined (most) western salukis and (almost all) western “Afghans”, with their silly hair. Worse, the rise of nationalism in Central Asia has made several nations there decide their local race is a “breed” and close studbooks. My extremely functional Almaty pair are too closely bred for my liking , which is why I am welcoming to the Ukrainian southeast tazis and the similar Russian ones, even though they are not quite as perfect. I am taking a long view.

“But so much– I know this is a digression– is being lost. Ten years ago you could still get tall black intergrades of the tazi and taigan populations in Kyrgizstan. I’d kill to have such a dog, but the state is discouraging their breeding, never mind export, because they are not ‘pure”. AAARGH!

“But the principles of outbreeding expressed in the essay will work for — call them tazis–because there is still a considerable and remarkably physically and mentally consistent working population– for a little while anyway– and they are from such a large area one can find good ones thousands of miles apart. I may outcross eventually to both Arabian and Kurdish dogs ( I know a female from Iran who is the same Turkmeni type as my Ataika!) I should add these are all hunting dogs owned by friends in California, Virginia, and here in NM.

“I should add that– with the exception of a pretty- well failed one- time attempt in basenjis– the saluki, to the horror of show people, is the only breed that the AKC lets bring in “Country Of Origin” dogs. I know several HUNTING saluki people salivating for my dogs’ genes!

Mike again:

“The breeding programs that produce many of the finest examples of sporting
breeds are carried out by informed small scale breeders who test their dogs in
competition, constantly winnowing parents for the traits they desire. They
breed the best examples that they can find. Many could be labeled ‘back yard
breeders’ – a term that implies an unscientific, uninformed, and haphazard
approach to breeding. – a not-quite-a-lie for the media and the uninformed.
The finest dogs that I have owned have come from such breedings. The bigger
the breeding operation, the more difficult it is to produce a quality puppy.”

And me:

“Agree completely. My bird hunting pal Omar here in town has had three excellent pointers from two local breeders as good as any I have ever seen. And I am a backyard breeder myself, as are my friends mentioned above. I think we are the true conservators.”

Soon: another “meta- population”: flock guardians from Wyoming, Mongolia, and more…

Bully Whippets

Mary, Patrick, Matt, and Reid all tipped me to this fascinating NYT science piece on so- called “bully whippets”. Thses stout over- muscled dogs are what happens when you inbreed too much seeking a single character, in this case speed. When the whippets are heterozygous for a certain gene they are fast, but when they have two copies they are rather monstrous.

This stirred up me (and Matt, and Dr. Hypercube) into some off- web discussion. It hit two of my pet peeves: that such pursuits as racing and lure coursing are as good for dogs as hunting, and that pure “blood” and closed studbooks are somehow desirable (Patrick always has plenty to say about this too).

Matt stated the first problem clearly: “… what it takes to catch a rabbit with a dog is not ONLY speed, but brains and stamina and much else besides. So never before in the sighthounds has there been an attempt to breed for speed alone as an abstract trait, and as measured by a mechanical device. That’s new, and maybe that’s what lead us to this problem.”

As for the second, look at the article:

“When mutant, muscle-bound puppies started showing up in litters of champion racing whippets, the breeders of the normally sleek dogs invited scientists to take DNA samples at race meets here and across the country. They hoped to find a genetic cause for the condition and a way to purge it from the breed.

“It worked. “Bully whippets,” as the heavyset dogs are known, turn out to have a genetic mutation that enhances muscle development. And breeders may not want to eliminate the “bully” gene after all. The scientists found that the same mutation that pumps up some whippets makes others among the fastest dogs on the track.

“With a DNA screening test on the way, “We’re going to keep the speed and lose the bullies,” Helena James, a a whippet breeder in Vancouver, British Columbia, said.”


“It was not exactly news to breeders that speed is an inherited trait: whippets were developed in the late 1800s specifically for racing. But knowing that one of her dogs was sired by a carrier of the gene, said Jen Jensen, a whippet owner in Fair Oaks, Calif., makes its championships seem “less earned.” Ms. Jensen’s suggestion that a DNA test be required for all dogs and that the fastest ones without the mutation be judged and raced separately, however, has not gone over well.

“At a recent race here in southern New Jersey, some whippet owners wanted the mutation eliminated altogether, even if that meant fewer fast dogs. But as the dogs pounded after a lure at 35 miles per hour, several owners allowed that they would prefer a whippet with the gene for speed.

““It’s more fun having fast dogs than slow dogs,” said Libby Kirchner, of Glassboro, N.J.”

But such “purity” comes at a steep cost: reduced genetic diversity. Also, genes do not exist and act in a vacuum; their effects are intimately linked. I think that is what this fellow is getting at, though the reporter didn’t elucidate his exact reasons:

“Many breeders hope this new effort to corral nature will weed out the numerous recessive diseases that plague purebred dogs after generations of human-imposed inbreeding. But some question the wisdom of escalating intervention. Mark Derr, an author who has written about the history of dog breeding, urges everyone to reconsider the goal of genetic purity.

“I always use dogs as the example of why we don’t want to be mucking around with our own genome,” Mr. Derr said. “These people are trying to use DNA tests to solve problems of their own making.” “

My take on both questions, as related to Dr. H. (slightly edited as I do go on in early AM emails!):

“Racing and lure coursing are ersatz tests– hunting is the real thing. Even competitive open field coursing introduces an element of artificiality. Hunting selects for intelligence and intangibles.

“All working breeds AT LEAST should have ways of bringing in new genes. Ideally I’d like to see it like pigeons where the result in appearance or performance is all that matters and breeding is irrelevant.

“This will never happen. Purebred dogs and shows started in Victorian times and picked up a lot of baggage there. Breed people buy in to all sorts of mysticism about it (show saluki people with their pure Arab breed myths are among the worst– see below) and make up absurd creation myths. Also the AKC pedigree machine is Big Business and we all know what that means.

“The saluki type is what John Burchard calls a “landrace” and behaves rather like a species, maintaining itself with plenty of genetic buffering and little need for pedigrees. The west split off one small Arab population, mostly from Iraq, and called it saluki, and took an even smaller group from Afghanistan and made of it the absurd modern show Afghan. The Russians, extending our idiocy, now count those two plus taigan, aboriginal Afghan, tazi, and even a longer- coated tazi variant called Khalag tazi. In “nature”, all blend into one another and keep plenty of diversity. You can see all types plus smooths in Afghanistan, and John tells me you could see all but the heaviest – coated in the Arabian peninsula 20 years ago.

“Pedigree dogs have diminishing genetic pools and they are getting worse all the time, aided and abetted by the AKC. The saluki is the ONLY AKC breed with a mechanism for bringing in new “blood” and even that is cumbersome, partially because of Arabist romanticism and the myth of the “pure” (hurr) Bedu, saluki, Arab horse, and saker. The Arabs certainly hold a higher place for salukis than “dogs” (or at least did until the recent rise in rabid Salafism, which also affects the Afghans) but the dogs still came down from Asia. Don’t know yet when my dogs will be officially accepted. Not that they care.”