Wait a minute---isn't the whole point of AKC "papers" that the dog is purebred? Historically, yep. But a few other things can occasionally trump pure breeding, even in a purebred dog registry. One of those is health, and that brings us back to exciting times. The AKC is opening its eyes and on occasion, its studbook, to situations in which allowing a leak in purity might plug a flood of health problems.
Dalmatians have become the poster breed for the battle of purity versus health---and health won. Dalmatians have the higher incidence of a type of urinary stones called urate stones of any breed. Some estimates place it as high as 34% of all Dals, although that estimate is probably too high because of methods in sampling. Nonetheless, it's a problem. The high percentage is related to the fact that all purebred AKC Dalmatians have a metabolic abnormality that causes high levels of uric acid in their urine. The high levels often lead to crystallization of uric acid salts or to urinary stone formation, which in turn can cause urinary blockage, especially in males. In some cases, surgery is needed to relieve the condition; in others, euthanasia is the only solution. Dalmatian owners may need to feed their dogs a special diet, along with providing lots of water and plenty of opportunities to urinate, to combat the condition. The one thing they can't do is find a puppy not at risk for it. That's because every purebred AKC Dalmatian is homozygous for (that is, has two copies of) the autosomal recessive SLC2A9 gene responsible for high uric acid.
Dalmatians aren't the only breed with the mutated SLC2A9 gene. It (along with urinary stones) is found in Black Russian Terriers and Bulldogs, among others, at high frequencies. But these breeds also have the normal version of the gene causing low uric acid. Their breeders can DNA test their dogs and avoid producing homozygous recessive dogs. Dalmatian breeders can DNA test their dogs all they want, but the outcome will always be the same: homozygous for the mutant high uric acid gene. Selecting against the gene is thus not an option for them.
How did this aberrant gene become so widespread? A 1940 survey of Dalmatian urine showed every Dalmatian tested had high uric acid. The high levels were initially thought to be a trait associated with the Dal's spots. Dalmatian spots are actually not like big spots you see on many breeds, but a type of ticking you more often see in other breeds as little spots with intermingled white hairs. Initial studies using Dalmatian crosses suggested that ticking (spots) without white hairs in them were always indicative of high uric acid.
But in 1973, Robert Schaible, Ph.D., a medical geneticist and Dalmatian breeder, crossed a Dalmatian with a champion Pointer and produced (among others) five puppies that had both clear spotting and low uric acid, leading him to conclude that the gene for Dalmatian ticking was very close to the gene for high uric acid on the same chromosome; that is, they were closely linked. Early breeders had inadvertently selected for the mutated gene when they selected for the clear ticking. More importantly, Schaible surmised that descendents from these clear-spotted low uric acid (LUA) puppies could introduce the normal gene back into the Dalmatian population without losing breed type. His plan was to breed the LUA dogs that best fit the Dalmatian standard in each generation back to AKC Dalmatians. He apprised the Dalmatian Club of America (DCA) of his
project in 1976.
In 1981, with approval from the DCA, the AKC approved the recognition of two dogs from his fifth generation LUA Dalmatians. But soon afterward feelings within the DCA changed, leading to a contentious few years within the club, and ultimately, to the AKC rescinding the right for the LUA dogs' offspring to be registered. The LUA project continued without DCA support, with a few litters a years. LUA Dalmatians competed successfully in United Kennel Club shows, and in obedience and other performance events, but they were still banned from AKC registration.
Then, in 2006, the DCA opened the matter again and voted to support the breeding and testing of the LUA Dalmatians, with a vote on registration to follow in 2008. The AKC generally defers to parent breed clubs, such as the DCA, on matters of opening registration to non-AKC registered dogs, but it has on occasion registered dogs descended from crosses to other breeds, or dogs from a breed's native land, if the parent club can show a good reason, such as one related to health. The club must then vote, with 2/3 of those voting in favor of registration, for the AKC to consider opening the registry. The 2008 DCA vote had less than half voting to allow the LUA Dalmatians' registration.
The AKC Health and Welfare Advisory Committee looked into the matter, issuing a report in Fall, 2010. They concluded that the LUA Dalmatians are essentially purebred and that their inclusion in the Dalmatian gene pool would be good for the breed's health as long as not everyone rushed to breed to them (which would potentially create a genetic bottleneck and cause their genes to be overrepresented in the next generations).
By now, the backcross project has dogs that are 11 to 15 generations down from the Pointer cross. In an 11 generation pedigree, there are 4095 dogs, of which only one is a Pointer, and of which only 10 to 15 are LUA Dalmatians. The dogs are considered to be more than 99.5% Dalmatian on average.
The AKC Health and Welfare Committee stated: "Because the introduction of the low uric acid dogs into the AKC registry gives Dalmatian breeders a scientifically sound method of voluntarily reducing the incidence of the condition, this committee strongly recommends some controlled program of acceptance of these dogs. Where the strict health and welfare of the breed is the over-riding concern, no other argument can be made. Individual breeders can be free to make their own
decisions about incorporating the normal gene. However, it would be a disservice to the health and welfare of the Dalmatian breed to not allow the normal gene to be reintroduced."
In June 2011, the Dalmatian Club of America members voted by a 55 to 45 percent margin to register the LUA dogs. In July, 2011, the AKC agreed to open its studbook to them. The registration numbers of these dogs and their descendents will contain a letter that designates their Pointer ancestry so that breeders can make informed decisions about integrating them into their bloodlines.
Now, at its October Board meeting, the AKC has published the exact guidelines for registration, below. It's a lot of reading, but the gist is that only descendents of this original Dal X Pointer cross are included in the open registration, and only those descendents that have at least one copy of the normal gene. Whether this is enough to effectively combat the health situation in Dals in debatable; probably not, since it would create a bottleneck of breeding to this one line. But perhaps with success a peption can be made to create a second unrelated LUA line. It is clear the AKC (and the Dalmatian Club of America) don't wish to create a situation where everyone can run out and cross their dal witha Pointer and register the offspring. So it's a compromise...but it's a step.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.
Dalmatian Registration Procedures
Following a motion by Dr. Davies, seconded by Dr. Battaglia, it was VOTED (unanimously) to adopt the following procedures to be used for registration of
Dalmatians descended from “Stocklore Stipples” known as LUA (low uric acid) Dalmatians, effective November 1, 2011.
1) An Open Registration application is required:
a) Include pedigree for the dog. While application only calls for a three generation pedigree, the pedigree in this case must go back to and to document that the dog in questions is a descendent of Stocklore Stipples,
NS 601000. All dogs in the pedigree must be AKC registered or AKC registrable.
b) Include photographs of the dog, as required as part of the Open Registration process.
2) Application is reviewed and pedigree researched by AKC staff.
3) The dog must be tested for the normal SLC2A9
4) Only dogs tested as homozygous or heterozygous for the normal SLC2A9 gene will be registered under this program (see 6 below). The test results will be recorded by OFA, with OFA covering the cost of this recording
for one year, and the DCA covering the next two years. The results must accompany the Open Registration application.
5) Applicants that qualify will be registered with an “NY”
prefix. The same “NY” would also appear as a registration prefix for all of their descendants.
6) Any descendants of Stocklore Stipples that do not test as homozygous or heterozygous for the normal SLC2A9 gene would not be eligible under this program to receive the “NY” prefix directly as the whole purpose
of the Open Registration was to introduce the normal gene into breeding programs at the option of the breeders. Such dogs, which only carry the same mutated gene as in presently registered Dalmatians, would be eligible to apply for AKC registration, which would include the NY designation, provided both parents are AKC registered dogs, at least one of which carries the NY designation. Such registration of these dogs during the Open Registration period can only be accomplished as a member of a registrable litter.
7) If it comes to AKC’s attention that any imported dog is a descendent of Stocklore Stipples, that dog would receive the “NY” prefix. Each application is researched and handled on a case-by-case basis.
8) The Open Registration period will be for three years (November 1, 2011 through November 1, 2014). However, the policy on imported dog will remain in effect indefinitely.
9) Frozen Semen may be registered only if the dog that produced it is deceased, and if it meets the requirements above. Any living dog must meet the Open Registration procedure, after which its frozen semen may be used to produce an AKC registrable litter.
10) Once a dog is registered under this procedure, any
descendants may be registered under regular AKC registration procedures. This would include any litter whelped prior to the dog’s registration. As prior
registrations of such litters was previously prohibited by AKC, any late penalty would be waived.