By Heather Houlahan, 2004
The following letter was written in the fall of 2004 regarding the ESC Registry (ESCR) and how important it would be to all English Shepherd owners. The points Heather makes are just as true and relevant today, as they were in 2004. For many of us, there has never been a time when the ESCR database was not online. This letter helps explains the state of affairs prior to the ESCR. She also talks about the pedigree collection project. This is an ongoing project, so new and old pedigrees are always welcome. Dogs do not have to be registered with the ESCR in order to be a part of the online database. Please submit copies of pedigrees (handwritten/typed) and/or registrations certificates here.
I’m going to chime in here, as a member of the registry committee.
One of the things that I did not know when I got my first ES — even though I had been studying the breed for years — was the curious state of its registration status. My pup’s breeder told me that she registered with a particular entity, and her reasons, which seemed sound, and I accepted that. I was looking for a dog to do a job for me, and would have taken one registered with the Franklin Mint if it was the right dog.
The materials I later received from the registry offered me “membership” and implied that they were a “club.” I didn’t sign up because I was unimpressed with the sample publication they sent.
It was only over the course of becoming involved on the ES lists and later the actual CLUB that I discovered, one by one, that the three registries available to the owners of ES are not in any way ACCOUNTABLE to them. They are all in private hands, and exist to make money for their owners
We ES owners can discuss, strategize, and plan until the continents meet up again, and the UKC, IESR, and ARF not only won’t abide by a consensus we reach — they won’t even participate in the discussion. They could not care less what the owners of the breed think or want on matters crucial to the future of the breed. They don’t even participate in discussions that are free to everyone. Their owners are not members of the club.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no beef with anyone making a living by providing a service to animal owners. I make my own living that way. In theory a private for-profit registry could do a dandy job of keeping an accurate studbook and promulgating information in a way that promotes breed conservation and supports the efforts of breeders and owners. Certainly they should be able to provide excellent, timely customer service and avoid overt policies that alienate their core customers — these latter things are just halfway-competent business practices.
The problem is, if a privately-owned registry, for whatever reason, decides to provide poor customer service and keep the studbook secret, if it uses whimsical and/or secret criteria for step-in registration, if it decides that all ES are to be minty green and deregisters all the rest — we are out of luck, and so is the breed. And that is more or less what has happened and is happening, to varying degrees, with the three private and unaccountable registries that are currently entrusted with our stud book.
This is not a “normal” state of affairs. Even the AKC (technically a non-profit organization) publishes the studbook for each breed and is in theory governed by its delegates. Many rare breeds of dogs, and some very common ones, are served by member-owned nonprofit registries. Livestock registries are all transparent, and all the ones I am aware of are run by associations and clubs.
That’s all by way of introduction. I want to highlight what others have already variously pointed out about the Club registry, step-in procedures, and the pedigree database.
- The Club registry will be accountable. Its owners are you. Every Club member gets a vote and a voice in Club policy.
- The registry will operate according to policy, not whim. Clear criteria will be set for every rule, procedure, and practice, and everyone will know what the policies are and why they are that way. This does not mean that the registry will be inflexible — but it will be predictable.
- Data will be backed up and safeguarded. In the past, pedigree records that were supposed to be safeguarded by private registries have been lost forever due to fire or flood. There is no “safe place” for information except everywhere. Keep it locked up and secret, and you can lose it all in an instant. Keep the studbook secret, and there is no way for mistakes (typos, transpositions, conflated generations) to be caught and corrected at the time they are made. Once a few years go by, the mistakes become the “truth” and can’t be sorted out. So the mystery of the true ancestry of Mann’s Texas Ranger**, for example, may be insoluble.
- Customers won’t be charged once when they provide information and again when they request it. Again, I have no objection to a registry charging a reasonable amount for a printed pedigree. All registries do this, whether they are nonprofit or a business, including those that publish a studbook. But to charge customers for recording the information that they provide, lock that information into a vault of secrecy, and then attempt to extort other customers absolutely absurd fees for the information a few years later is not a service — it is a RACKET.
- Step-in will be transparent. I want to highlight this because I see some ES breeders declare that they breed only “purebred” ES, implying that some other ES are not “purebred.” Now I’m not sure what criteria these folks are using to designate “purebred.” If it’s IESR or UKC registration, then they are being fooled by what IESR calls (without a hint of irony) the “fancy certificate.” There are many instances of unregistered dogs with unknown or partly unknown pedigrees that have been registered with both organizations. (I know less about recent ARF practices, but it is documented that its founder deliberately crossed other breeds into the ES genepool.) Nobody knows how these organizations decided that the dog was “purebred.” That process is secret. The animal is registered and its pedigree is tossed into the general pool without explanation. It is now “purebred” — but why?
Transparent step-in will reveal what is known and believed to be true about a particular animal — not just its ancestry and the provenance of information about its ancestry, but details about its morphology, working characteristics, health and temperament. No other animal registry does that. Breeders will be able to look at all the information and decide whether the animal meets their own criteria — and they’ll be able to do this for generations to come. The multi-generational grading-in process for descendants of first-generation step-in dogs will have controls integrated on both mate selection and the phenotype of offspring. Livestock registries do that, but I don’t know of dog registries that do.
- ES owners will have more information about individual dogs (past and present) available to them via the Club registry than anyone with any breed of animal currently does. We will be able to look up pedigree information, birth and death dates, health information, photographs, narrative descriptions, working traits, siblings and other collateral relatives — and we will be able to do this from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. We can set the bar for animal registries higher than most other registries have dreamed. Instead of being a bureaucratic hindrance to the collective effort of breed conservation, this registry will actually promote better communication between breeders and owners, and provide a resource for research that can benefit the breed.
But this can only be fully realized with the cooperation of ES owners — even past ES owners. In 2005 we will make it possible for ES owners to register their dogs. But we want to start out with a database of the genetic structure of the breed, based on the information sources that are closest to the original. That means first, printed pedigrees from the three extant registries, handwritten pedigrees from long-time breeders, and then the pedigrees that many of us have cobbled together from various sources. The unified database will make it possible to find conflicts between the sources, and alert us to discrepancies that need to be resolved or flagged as insoluble without further information.
There are several obstacles to pedigree collection.
First, owners and former owners need to be informed about the project — so please, contact everyone you know who has or had ES and tell them what is happening and why it’s important.
Second, we all need to dig out old pedigrees from file cabinets, desk drawers, boxes in the attic, and where-did-I-put-that, make the copies, and send them to the ESCR. This can be an annoying chore, and it’s easy to put it off. It’s also important to keep nagging our friends about it. Remember, pedigrees issued for dogs long dead contain valuable information — in fact, the older they are, the more valuable. Pedigrees issued for dogs never bred are as valuable as those for breeding stock.
Third, we need to step away from the weird “pedigree as a valuable secret” attitude that has been deliberately fostered by IESR and UKC — especially the former. The only way to break their stranglehold on information is to give it away en masse to those who will make it available for free. Breeders who jealously guard the information that they have picked your pocket for is exactly what allows them to charge hundreds of dollars for a few names on a sheet of paper. It’s a liberating act to make that information free. (Remember that urban legend about the Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe? There’s a reason that people take such glee in freely passing around a recipe that they believe someone was “robbed” — or at least overcharged — to acquire. Now the Neiman-Marcus story is made up — but there’s a greater truth behind the legend, which is that the empowering response to being ripped off is not to rip someone else off in turn, but to deny the holdup artist the ability to do it to someone else.) But more than individually liberating — sharing pedigree information is a cost-free way to conserve the future of the breed.
Please, please — send your pedigrees to the ESCR, and help us get the best possible start in this endeavor.