A big confident German Shepherd pulled its owner in the door of Kildare Vet Surgery yesterday. Tugging on his long lead this bushy muscular apparition ( the dog- not the owner) filled the reception area forcing two children and a terrapin onto a corner bench. While diplomatically making friends with this prospective patient I made more than the usual complementary remarks, namely that we dont see enough of the strong workmanlike, old-fashioned type of GSD any more. This character was big and broad, long-coated, a bold alpha dog, and the type you used to see on farms. Healthy enough to probably never need a Vet and strong enough to take a good kick from a bullock as all part of a days work. I grew up with a lovable GSD whose annual dip in the sheep tank was the closest to a preventative pet health plan we ever worried about in those days.
We are all too accustomed to seeing a smaller, thinner specimen of German Shepherd at Kildare Vet Surgery. A list of our frequent flyers at Kildare Vet would feature GSDs right at the top of the table. We dont give out air miles- but we do give good sympathetic discounts (!) and advise every new pedigree pup owner to take out insurance. The newer strain of GSD we see , certainly around this part of Ireland, suffer high incidence of a degenerative arthritis from a young age known as DOD which affects elbows, shoulders and hip joints. They develop irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, at the slightest divergence from recommended feeding habits. Then in older age if they have escaped these problems , will frequently present with Hip Dysplasia. I have a bit of that myself now- but my excuse is a youth spent falling off slow racehorses and a midlife crisis marathon running career. The sort of incidence of these problems I am recording greatly exceeds any expected average for any other dog sample group.
I am absolutely convinced that in-breeding of closely related dogs and bitches due to a relatively small breed population on a small island is the cause of this increasing incidence of congenital defects. The specimen of obvious rude health I began this piece with turned out to be out of an English GSD bitch and by a German dog. This owner had bought the pup, in fact, in Wales. The channel tunnel improved the movements of dog breeds. The Pet Passport scheme will also improve gene pools over time through mixing.
It is of course not just GSDs whose gene pool is now shown to be too small. I recently examined a shih tzu pup with a face only a mother could love. Its severely brachycephalic flattened nose rendered ths pup almost unable to breathe, while a markedly overshot jaw would over time affect eating habits and oral hygiene. This client was casually told that her new expensive pup was very " finely" bred, was related to show winners, and that mother and father were half-siblings. The mind boggles. I hope she took my advise, returned the pup and demanded her money back as that is obviously the only way to halt these breeding practices.
The principle of producing healthy hardy stock by out-crossing to new bloodlines is known as hybrid vigour. Nature invariably combines new gene pools to complement each other for survival by natural selection. This is why in every species opposites attract and stand out individuals score the chicks, fillies, birds as the case may be. Racehorse breeders who apply a science of sorts breed the best to the best- but know that better progeny result when the best stock out-cross.
If we go on safari a la Desmond Morris and reflect on the out-crossing of the Irish gene pool during the Celtic Garfield years of the last decade we will see that perhaps Ireland will soon benefit from a bit of hybrid vigour. In years to come I am sure many Polish, Latvian or Ukranian bred Offaly and Kildare Youngsters will take up the Caman. The Kerry defence may be shored up not by Paidi or Ciarans but by Radovan and Pietr. Ta an-athas orm an corann seo a glacadh as Prague agus Riga. We know many sons of the Laois and Leitrim soil who have brought home the lovely svelte and charming Katerina or the tanned and sultry Svetlana to meet mammy- grinning like the proverbial celtic cat that got the cream before sunday morning mass.
I have read notes from an eminent lecturer in the IMI again on the issues of Corporate Governance pertinent to the Irish Problem over the last decade. Internationally Ireland's corporate boards have been known as cronyistic, untrustworthy, typical of a very small village style financial sector. Investors and the markets have always been wary of Irish boards and relied on a heavy level of local knowledge in decision -making around investment. Difficulties historically are cited as an over-reliance on senior management judgements, lack of independent non-vested board members, lack of challenge at board level and a cavalier approach to regulations. These are symptomatic of parochial thinking, group-think consensual decision making, old-boy network appointees, all in a small country where events have precluded the need for tough ethical stances or lateral thinking until recent economic tsunamis have exposed the limitations of Irish public and corporate board governance.
Somewhere within the morass of FAS, our Banks , our public sector indecision, lies a salutary moral about the dangers of in-breeding and the urgent need for Hybrid Vigour!.