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The 2011 National Animal Interest Alliance Conference
Posted on 01/08/2012 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, Esq.
This was my fourth year attending the annual National Animal Interest Alliance conference, and I have yet to be disappointed. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the organization, the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) is an organization whose purpose is to dispel myths perpetuated by animal rights groups, and to promote the rights of animal owners throughout all animal industries.

To quote their website: “The National Animal Interest Alliance is an association of business, agricultural, scientific, and recreational interests dedicated to promoting animal welfare, supporting responsible animal use and strengthening the bond between humans and animals. Our members are pet owners, dog and cat clubs, obedience clubs and rescue groups as well as breeders, trainers, veterinarians, research scientists, farmers, fishermen, hunters and wildlife biologists. The membership roster of NAIA includes some of America’s most respected animal professionals, advocates and enthusiasts.”

This year’s conference was titled “Purebred Dogs: The Next Endangered Species?” and took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The impressive panel of speakers covered some of the most critical issues currently impacting purebred dogs and ideas and strategies to deal with these issues. While all of the speakers were interesting and had something to offer, I will highlight my favorites.

Patti Strand, the founder and chair of NAIA, opened the conference with an overview of some of the challenges facing purebred dogs. She gave the following current statistics on dog sales: purebred breeding is decreasing, while “designer” dog breeding is level to possibly increasing, and international pet sellers are increasing, both legal and illegal.

Some of the challenges facing dog breeding are: changing demographics, the growth of media and mass marketing (meaning animal rights marketing and mainstreaming of those ideals), the weak economy and the large social movement against breeding and rescue being the chic thing to do. What’s at stake with these challenges? The continued availability of dogs, increased government control of dog ownership and breeding, and widespread pet ownership - with more government control and less availability of dogs, pet ownership will decrease.

The various infringements on dogs that have been introduced and some passed into law over the past few years - mandatory spay/neuter, owner limit laws, so-called ‘puppy mill’ bills - are just the beginning. In a very recent article in the New York Times, the president of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, stated that HSUS will push for legal standards addressing inbreeding and the physical soundness and genetic health of dogs. Can you imagine if you had to get permission from the government for approval on potential sires and dams before you could breed? It’s up to us to band together and protect our rights as dog owners and breeders to make sure that doesn’t happen. We are the experts and guardians of purebred dogs; we need to breed healthier dogs and fix the problems we have to ensure we remain the guardians of the breeds we love.

Matthew Ellinwood DVM PhD, breeder of Munsterlanders and prior NAVHDA judge, spoke about how to use inbreeding and linebreeding safely. He started off his talk by stating that inbreeding itself does not cause mutations; however, it does increase the incidence of mutations within a population. The primary negative effects of inbreeding are the depression effect on fertility and development, and concentrated harmful alleles in the population. Studies have shown that contributions of inbreeding deep in a dog’s pedigree have less impact than close up. Inbreeding with a higher coefficient, such as parent to offspring, or sibling to sibling, should be considered inappropriate. He said, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” Breeders should alternate linebreeding or inbreeding with outcrosses. If line- or inbreeding is to be done, the maximum coefficient should be .125, an example of which would be aunt/uncle to niece/nephew.

Dr. Arnold Goldman DVM MS spoke about his investigation into dog trafficking in Connecticut. New England is notorious for bringing rescues in from other parts of the country and even from outside of the U.S. Dr. Goldman found some organizations were trucking dogs in from the Southern U.S. In one instance, dogs would be driven by trailer into a parking lot where people lined up and bought dogs. Most of these “adoption” events appeared to be all about the money, with adoption rates running between $450 and $575.

The Connecticut SPCA was going to a shelter in Georgia, emptying out the shelter, and selling dogs in empty storefronts at “adoption” events. It would then take the Georgia shelter three to four months to fill back up. Pictures of puppies pulled from the shelter were displayed on the website, and interested parties would have to complete forms before they could even get into the storefront. Many bought puppies sight unseen. The organization was profiting from emptying these shelters, instead of looking to the source to find out why these puppies were even being born and remedying that situation. The higher the euthanasia rates in the South (real or a lie), the higher the “adoptions” in the North become and more profit for the groups.

Many of the groups had no real follow-through after adoptions, and their many contracts provided only $100 refund for return of dogs. Foster care is used frequently in dog trafficking, as it provides hidden warehousing of dogs. Even sub-fostering is used, which is limited, short time fostering, and dogs are shifted around from home to home. This contributes to the issue of tracking real numbers of dogs being moved. Dr. Goldman found all of this added up to the “enablement of irresponsibility” in the South, while at the same time some of it helped to fund animal rights lobbying, and he decided something needed to be done. Through hard work and perseverance, he managed to get a law passed in Connecticut that now regulates all out of state transport.

Dr. David Waters DVM PhD was probably my very favorite speaker of the weekend. His talk, “In Search of a Strategic Disturbance: Some Thoughts on the Timing of Spaying,” was very thought-provoking and gave me a lot of new perspectives on spaying. Dr. Waters informed us that the biology of aging is not part of the DVM curriculum, thus prompting his study on Rottweilers and longevity. Prior to his study on Rottweilers, only yeast, worms, flies and mice, all in controlled lab conditions, were used to study aging. None of those species are really helpful or relatable to humans. He thought dogs (Rottweilers in this case) in pet homes would be more significant to human aging. Only 25 to 30% of longevity is inherited; longevity is not completely hardwired, lifestyle really matters. Also, women’s longevity is four times longer than men’s.

Dr. Waters collected data from exceptionally old female Rottweilers (13 years old) and compared the data to “normal” lifespan dogs. He found Rottweiler female longevity to be two times that over males. Of most significance in his study: he found that dogs spayed in the first four years had less longevity, and those spayed over four years had three times greater longevity. This coincides some with a study in women that found those who kept their ovaries had protections against lung cancer and heart disease, and lived longer overall. Ovaries are a part of a system that promotes longevity.

A letter to the editor was published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine Association shortly after Dr. Waters’ study was released. The letter (submitted by a veterinarian who has ties to HSUS) questioned the study and stated that the benefits of spaying should not be dismissed due to the outcome of this study. Dr. Waters answered that his study has been one of the most complete, as he did not use “dichotomous binning” when compiling his data. Looking at whether a dog was spayed or intact at the time of death only would be dichotomous binning - that is an incomplete and misleading way of analyzing data. To illustrate, a dog that lived to be 13 and was spayed at age 11 would be put into the same category as a dog spayed at six months old using that method. Dr. Waters looked at length of ovary exposure, instead of whether or not the dog was intact at the time of death.

Dr. Waters believes that removing the ovaries changes the whole ecology of the body. It’s akin to removing one species, however small, from the environment. It impacts the entire ecosystem and changes the balance of everything. Older studies show that early spaying is necessary to avoid pyometra and mammary cancer. However, Dr. Waters thinks serious consideration must be given to how lethal those diseases truly are, and weigh them in comparison with potential longevity of keeping the ovaries. In sum, Dr. Waters stated that “spaying is a physiological disturbance,” and that we need to make it a “strategic disturbance.”

There were a great many more wonderful speakers and important topics covered at the conference - too many to cover in this column. I would encourage everyone to check out NAIA and even attend a conference in the future if you are able. The website has a great deal of important and helpful information - from model legislation to informative articles. The website is www.naiaonline.org. I’ve used NAIA as a resource myself many times. NAIA also has a blog with many useful entries and articles, found at naia.typepad.com. Both provide many tools and resources in both proactively promoting our rights and in fighting bad legislation.