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Inbreeding=HD!?

In itself, inbreeding is neither bad nor good. Wisely practiced, it becomes a tool for improving a strain. Unwisely practiced, it can ruin thriving stock.

Practiced widely and unwittingly -- the case in Staffords today -- inbreeding has created a disaster that is looking eagerly for a place to happen. And when coupled with rapid and unregulated population growth, it spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E trouble.

The vast majority of living Staffords are descended from Brindle Mick (born about 1932), founder of the M-Line, and it has been decades since a top-notch representative of the J-Line, B-Line, or L-Line has seen the light of day. Thus most living Stafford are M-Line dogs, which is another way of saying that only one outcross still exists: the R-line.

Further, most M-line Staffords are descended from a relatively few big show winners appearing during the last two decades in England, further narrowing the Breed's range of genetic diversity.

When fewer and fewer individuals produce greater and greater numbers of offspring, inbreeding inevitably results. At the very time when an outcross is becoming necessary, the R-Line and only the R-Line serves as a source.

While I am an Anglophile of the first order, particularly when it comes to Staffords, I am obliged to say that the blame falls directly on the shoulders of English Stafford fancy that allowed other lines to die out in a mad dash for ribbons and trophies.

Today, all Staffords in the show ring resemble each other -- as, indeed, family members should, but while that phenomenon may be aesthetically pleasing to some it carries with it a deadly hidden price, namely, undesirable genetic traits such as Hip Dysplasia.

The disclosure that Staffords rank 19th on the AKC list of breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia constitutes the first acknowledgment that the problem has become endemic.

Hip Dysplasia in particular upsets me profoundly. because when I imported the first Staffords into Finland (1964-66) HD did not even exist in the Breed.

The second Stafford I imported there in 1964 went to Dr. Hakon Westermarck, Director of the Finnish State Veterinary College, a man of vast practical experience, a veterinarian having a world-wide reputation, a person of flinty integrity.

At that time Rotties, Sheps, and a number of other breeds were undergoing a great HD witch hunt, so Hakon decided to X-ray every Stafford specifically at the Finnish State Veterinary College. By the time I left Finland (August 1966), Finns owned 32 Staffords of various ages, about 20 of them imported from John Gordon who carefully chose them to represent a broad spectrum of breeding stock from a wide variety of English bloodlines -- but chosen at random in regard to HD as that affliction was then unknown in English Stafford circles.

By the time I returned to the States, Dr. Westermarck had personally X-rayed at least ten imported Staffords but found no HD. When I returned for a visit in May 1970, he had X-rayed every Finnish Stafford that was old enough to undergo the procedure, something like 180 in all, but again he had found no HD.

So it is a scientific fact that during my early days in the Breed, HD did not exist in Staffords.

It certainly exists today.

While I lack clinical training to address issues such as structural modifications and genetic drift, we can safely disregard "causes" such as witchcraft, alien influence, and demonic possession.

The emergence of HD in Staffords was no accident but the logical result of bad breeding practices.

In simplest terms, over the last fifty years a booming world-wide market for Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppies insured that a higher-than-usual percentage of Stafford bitches were bred to a restricted number of stud dogs and the puppies were sold to fanciers in England and other parts of a Stafford-hungry world.

Since 1966 the price of a Stafford pup in England has soared from about 15 Pounds Sterling in 1965 to 400 Pounds Sterling, ensuring that even marginal bitches kept producing offspring of which only those few with drastic or visible defects were culled while newcomers to the Breed were given a false sense of easy money from littering.

This breeding took place between animals that not only represented the same original Line, Brindle Mick's M-Line, but whose inbreeding coefficient within the two or three most recent generations was inordinately high. And it invariably took place without rigorous culling.

Inevitably puppies with hereditary health defects began appearing, some of them eventually to be used for breeding and inbreeding by well-intentioned but foolish fanciers who thus unwittingly multiplied the number of at-risk animals.

I shudder at the mere thought that HD is becoming commonplace whereas not long ago it did not even exist. This is also the case with other hereditary diseases such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy and Juvenile Cataracts.

The place to stop is here, and the time to stop is now. We need to assess the damage and take action.

I can hardly hold myself blameless, for I've been a fully functioning cog in the contraption that has created this situation, having pioneered Staffords not only in America but Finland, two countries, expanding Stafford frontiers in an already overheated world market. I promulgated the importation of significant numbers and encouraged widespread breeding to bolster Stafford numbers and thus carve a niche for the "new breed on the block" with no inkling of where "progress" might lead in the following 30 years.

This also needs to be said: the recent Pitbull scare has had at least one beneficial effect on the Stafford fancy, namely, a pronounced deceleration in breeding activity. Because it has grown at a somewhat slower rate, the Stafford world is dealing only with a problem rather than a full-blown crisis.

Unfortunately, there's no magic bullet. If Stafford folk don't take up the cudgels now, soon the Breed will pay a truly terrible price for our laxness.

Steve Stone


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