February 1, 2006

Is dog breeding racist?

A reader writes:

Your article on Malcolm Gladwell got me pondering a thought I've had for years, ever since I heard my neighbor claim that Pit Bulls (or whatever they decide to call the breed nowadays) were an oppressed dog group: We Americans, as a whole, are so fearful of the subject of races of man, that we can't even admit the tendencies of different breeds of dog. As expected, this denial of race in both species can have dire consequences for society in general.

Another reader writes:

Did you catch the CSI episode where the murderous culprit turned out to be an otherwise adorable golden retriever? Seems the golden had fear issues and could go psycho under certain stressful conditions. Plus, the dog was a product of a broken family, that is, the husband and wife owners were going through a nasty divorce. Oh, and the husband had trained the retriever to have one of its stress attacks on a certain signal. Anyway, lovable Alf or Alfie lunged for the wife's neck, bit out a chunk of the jugular vein and then slurped up the blood from the leaking (and dying) victim. Hard to believe but, as Grissom says, you have to follow the evidence.

Ah, Hollywood, always warning us not to rely too much on our crude animal stereotypes. If a serial murderer is loose in your town, be on the lookout for an elegant Englishman walking his golden retriever.

In case you were wondering, of the 238 Americans killed by dogs between 1979 and 1998 where the breed is known, none were killed by golden retrievers. The golden retriever is apparently the second most popular breed in America (with the Labrador retriever well ahead in first place).

Back in 2002, I blogged:

Jonah Goldberg continues his streak of raising interesting topics but not being able to figure out much that's interesting to say about them. Now, he's denouncing the Westminster Dog Show for ... eugenics! "Repugnant thinking that’s died out for humans is thriving at the Westminster Kennel Club... I think Westminster is racist." Take a deep breath, Jonah, and try to remember that dogs wouldn't exist at all if prehistoric humans didn't eugenically manipulate wolves in order to create a new race of canids that wouldn't eat the baby. Further, the wonderful working dog breeds that Jonah salutes exist because of eugenics. For example, Newfoundlands were bred to possess a genetic-based urge to save drowning people. Ah, the unmitigated horrors of eugenics!

The big problem with dog breeding today is that it's insufficiently eugenic. The kennel clubs have calcified. They are more interested in preserving the aesthetics of existing breeds than in creating new breeds with new functions as the politically incorrect 19th Century breeders did. It's easy to dream up new, improved races of dogs that would meet real needs. For example, my family can't own a dog because my youngest son is allergic to them. It's time for a massive program to create a new breed of dog that won't give asthma attacks to dog-loving kids. Or, there are some individual dogs that can fairly reliably sniff out cancer in people. They're better at it than my former doctor, who blithely let me reach the final stage of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma undiagnosed. Let's create from them a breed of cancer-sniffing dogs.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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