The world of disease-linked genes is, however, only one component of the story of dog genetics, especially in the era of biodiversity discourse. Enhancing and preserving genetic diversity are not the same thing as avoiding and reducing genetically linked illness. The discourses touch in many places, but their divergences are reshaping the intellectual and moral worlds of many dog people. Sharp's story is again instructive.
In the mid-1990s Sharp was a subscriber to an Internet discussion group called K9GENES. On that Listserv, Dr. Robert Jay Russell, a population geneticist, rare dog breed activist, and president of the Coton de
Tulear Club of America, criticized breeding practices that reduce genetic diversity in dog breeds and the AKC structure that keeps such practices in place, even though the kennel club funds genetic disease research and mandates DNA-based parentage testing. Russell's controversial postings were blocked from the list several times, prompting him to log on under a different e-mail account and reveal the censorship.
These events led to the founding in 1997 of the Canine Genetics Discussion Group, CANGEN-L, moderated by Dr. John Armstrong, at the University of Ottawa, to allow free genetics discussion among breeders and scientists. Until his death in 2001, Armstrong also maintained the Canine Diversity Project Web site,37 where one could obtain an elementary education in population genetics, read about conservation projects for endangered wild canids, consider activist positions on dog breeding operating outside the kennel clubs, and follow links to related matters. Concepts such as effective population size, genetic drift, and loss of genetic diversity structured the moral, emotional, and intellectual terrain.
CANGEN-L was an impressive site, where it was possible both to observe and to interact with other dog people learning how to alter their thinking, and possibly their actions, in response to one another. The list started with thirty members, and Armstrong expected it to reach one hundred. Taxing its computer resources at the University of Ottawa, CANGEN had three hundred subscribers in the spring of 2000. Acrimonious and fascinating controversies surfaced on CANGEN. Some participants complained that threads were ignored, and breeders periodically expressed a sense that they were treated with disrespect by some scientists (and vice versa), though breeders and scientists were not mutually exclusive categories on CANGEN. Subscribers, scientists or not, occasionally left the list in a huff or in frustration. A few dogmatists dedicated to the Truth as revealed to themselves cut a wide swath from time to time.
All that said, in my opinion, CANGEN was an extraordinary site of informed, democratic discussion among diverse actors. CANGEN's uncovering of my own yawning ignorance about such things as coefficients of inbreeding prompted me to run back to my graduate school notes on theoretical population genetics and sign up for the Cornell University vet school online canine genetics course, an experience that abruptly ended my elitist disdain for offerings of online distance learning.381 was not alone on CANGEN in suddenly understanding that I had to know more than I did if I claimed to love kinds of dogs.
Sharp welcomed the higher level of scientific discourse and the emphasis on evolutionary population genetics on CANGEN. She felt challenged by the statistical arguments and wanted to explore the practical consequences for the kind of breeding advice she gives in the DHNN. Beginning with the summer 1998 issue, the newsletter shifted direction. She began with an article explaining the doleful effects of the "popular sire syndrome" on genetic diversity and made clear that line breeding is a form of inbreeding. In the fall 1998 issue, she explored how severe selection against disease-linked genes can worsen the problem of the loss of genetic diversity in a closed population. She cited with approval the success of the basenji club in getting AKC approval for importing African-born dogs outside the stud book, a daunting endeavor given AKC resistance.
Sharp's feature article in the winter 1999 issue of DHNN was introduced by a quotation from a fellow CANGEN member who had been especially outspoken, Dr. Hellmuth Wachtel, free collaborator of the Austrian Kennel Club and member of the Scientific Council of the Vienna Schonbrunn Zoo. Sharp explained genetic load, lethal equivalents, population bottlenecks, genetic drift, coefficients of inbreeding, and fragmented gene pools. In the spring 1999 DHNN, Sharp published "Speaking Heresy: A Dispassionate Consideration of Cross-Breeding," an article she expected, in her words, to make "the excretory material hit the circulatory apparatus." Love of the breed is messy.
The new genetics is not an abstraction in dog worlds, whether one considers the politics of owning microsatellite markers, the details of a commercial gene test, the problem of funding research, competing narratives of origin and behavior, the pain of watching a dog suffer genetic illness, the personally felt controversies in dog clubs over breeding practices, or the cross-cutting social worlds that tie different kinds of expertise together. When I asked Sharp what she thought breeders, geneticists, dog magazine writers, and others might have learned from one another on CANGEN or other places, she zeroed in on the rapid and deep transformations in genetics over the last decades. Her growth in genetic knowledge, she suggested, including her ability to handle the whole apparatus of molecular genetics, was natural and continuous—until she logged on to CANGEN. "The only epiphany sort of thing I've been through was when I got on CANGEN and started reading all the posts from the professionals. . . . I knew there were problems with inbreeding, but I didn't have a grasp about what the whole problem was until I started learning about population genetics." At that point, the analogies with politically fraught wildlife conservation and biodiversity loss hit home—and she made the connection between her dog work and her volunteering as a docent at her local zoo, a connection that surfaced again in her struggles with animal-rights opponents of a ballot initiative to reorganize and reform the Fresno zoo in 2005. Citizenship across species ties many knots, none of them innocent. Born again, indeed, but into ongoing complexity, curiosity, and care, not grace.
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