Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Wonderful Border Collie: Not Just Another Pretty Face

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Wonderful Border Collie: Not Just Another Pretty Face

Article excerpt

"Alas, not many British dukes are bred as closely as their poorest shepherd's dogs. Even fewer dukes are bred for accomplishment." - Donald McCaig, "Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men"

The dumbing of America has gone far enough. Yes, we have gotten used to falling SAT scores, coming dead last in international math comparisons, high schoolers who cannot locate the Civil War to the nearest half-century. But we have got to draw the line somewhere. I say we draw it at dogs.

Last month, the American Kennel Club, the politburo of American dog breeding, decided to turn the world's smartest dog, the border collie, into a moron. Actually, it voted 11-1 to begin proceedings to turn it into a show dog, which will amount to the same thing. A dog bred for 200 years exclusively for smarts will now be bred for looks. Its tail, its coat, its ears, its bite, its size will have to be just so. That its brains will likely turn to mush is of no consequence.

What is the border collie? A breed developed in the border country between England and Scotland for one thing only: its ability to herd sheep, though, if necessary, it can work cattle or hogs or even turkeys. (Our border collie, deprived of such gainful employment, likes to swim out to the middle of a pond and herd ducks.)

It is a creature of uncanny intelligence and a jaw-dropping capacity to communicate with humans, able to herd 300 sheep at a time at a distance of a mile and half from its shepherd. It is, testifies Baxter Black (NPR's "cowboy poet, philosopher and former large-animal veterinarian"), "one of the greatest genetic creations on the face of the earth."

Now it faces genetic ruin. When bred for looks, great swathes of the border collie population, which comes in all shapes and sizes, will be condemned to genetic oblivion.

It would be nice to breed for beauty and brains, but history and genetics teach that the confluence of the two is as rare in dogs as it is in humans. Inbreeding in the pursuit of man-made standards of beauty has reduced other breeds to ruin: In the 1950s, writes Mark Derr in The Atlantic Monthly, show people turned the German shepherd into a weak-hipped animal with a foul temper and bizarre downward-sloping hindquarters. …

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