Tues 23rd March: A matter of breed

One of the questions I’m asked more than any other when at the Sunday afternoon puppy adoption days is “What mix is it?”.  Sometimes I can take a guess at some sort of heritage, but most times it’s impossible to know.  Within one litter the puppies can vary so much in looks and size that it’s clear that they come from a long line of what I call “pure mongrel”.

Yesterday one of our adopters posted the results on her Facebook page of a DNA test that’s available .  The dog she adopted looks like a labrador, but the results came back as a extraordinary mix of everything but labrador.  Even a bulldog was mentioned.  I don’t normally bother to do so, but I felt compelled to comment not only on the unreliability of these tests, but also to question the need to know.  To my eyes, the labrador gene was obviously predominant in this particular dog, but the important thing is that this dog is loved whatever (and she definitely is).

Knowing that these tests are carried out in the US, I did a quick Google search and found that my suspicions that they were pointless for Hong Kong dogs was correct, as the database of information is taken from dogs in that country only and it’s quite clearly stated that it can’t be used to identify breeds elsewhere.

“Does the Breed Test work on dogs from outside the U.S.?
The Breed Test was developed using a population of breeds common to North America. Although we have plans on validating the test internationally, the current product has not been tested on populations of dogs in regions outside of North America, which may cause results to vary.”

In any case, DNA tests assume that there is a mix of known breeds in the dog being tested, but many dogs are just a big mishmash of mongrel going back to the beginning of dog time.  In Hong Kong we’re starting to see many more mixed breeds appearing, the result of abandoned dogs breeding with the indigenous village dog, or ‘tong gau’, but for the most part the closest these dogs have got to a named breed is the photo on a can of dog food.

Of course it’s a matter of individual choice as to whether someone chooses to have their dog’s DNA tested, but please just be aware that the tests are unreliable and really of no use whatsoever in Hong Kong.   If anyone wants to donate the cost of the DNA test to HKDR instead, I will make a guess as to what mix their mongrel is, and it will be just as accurate.

There are nine "puppies" plus the mother

In a previous posting I mentioned the puppy that had been adopted and not desexed, resulting in a litter of nine more unwanted puppies being born.  It seems the adopter, an American guy, simply dumped the puppy on his unsuspecting flatmate and left Hong Kong.   I was willing to help with the puppies until I got the photos, and realised that they are not babies any more.  The woman who now takes care of them, a Filipina, is at her wit’s end as the landlord, not surprisingly, has given her until the end of the month to move the dogs out.  I feel the same way as taking in nine very large doglets in one go is an impossibility.  Where could they go when we already have no space?  Once again I’m gnashing my teeth at the stupidity, thoughtlessness and irresponsibility of the moron that let this happen (which has to be me as I was the one who let the man adopt in the first place).  At this point I have no idea what to do for these dogs, and the emails become increasingly frantic day by day.  Any ideas?

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21 Responses to “Tues 23rd March: A matter of breed”

  1. Angie Says:

    Hi Sally,

    I’ve just finished reading your blog, on one hand we have these waste of time DNA dog tests not even accurate or even based on HK’s doggie gene pool, as they are sent off to the States or Australia or the moon …who knows… who cares ….. as it really doesn’t matter !!!

    So these DNA tests per dog are $700 HK dollars WASTE OF MONEY tests Vs the nine puppies in great need of being de-sexed plus the mother, at the cost of $500 for each dog to be de-sexed.

    HHMMMMM De-sex or DNA test ???

    Oh boy difficult … okay so if I spend my money on a DNA test which will tell me my dog is a mix of next doors cat and maybe a mix of even a rabbit.

    Or that same amount of money could be used to de-sex 1 1/2 dogs !!

    I’ll leave it to you … To DNA or De-sex that is the question ?

    • Sally Says:

      It’s true. It costs us $500 to desex a dog, less than the cost of a DNA test (I’m not sure exactly how much they cost), and the comparison in terms of importance is immeasurable.

  2. AS Says:

    Some people might not care what breeds make up their mutt, but some people do. It’s their choice, and it’s their money. Some of us do have savings/excess cash lying around, but we choose to use it in various ways: a book, a holiday, a good meal, hey, even a DNA test for our mutt dog. There is nothing wrong with that. It is done for fun, to satisfy some curiosity.

    The American in question with the unsterilized dog that got nine puppies probably did not spend money on the DNA test for his dog. So it’s a separate issue altogether.

    Sure, if a person did not desex his/her dog and instead got a DNA test instead, and subsequently got the dog pregnant, yes, shame on him/her.

    While personally I would not bother with DNA tests (I also question the validity and accuracy of the DNA testing), I find that an owner has a right to his/her own money to do as he/she pleases, for the dog. Yes money can always be ‘placed’ ‘better’ – donations to homeless shelters, orphanages, dog shelters.. but it is one’s own money after all. Should I want to spend HK$5000 for a luxurious doggie bed, I am entirely entitled to it, and any criticisms are superfluous.

    • Sally Says:

      I absolutely agree, as I wrote in my blog. The point I was making is that these tests should not be relied on to have any accuracy and are for fun only. I know a lot of people who have had the DNA tests done and have totally believed the results. Before anyone has their dogs tested they should be aware of the facts. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the cost, as that’s the individual’s own choice.

  3. Foster Wong Says:

    Hi Sally,

    I’m totally agree with you that breed doesn’t matter, but it’s a sad reality in the kennel that those so-called pure breed dogs will always get new homes first. Sigh~

  4. Norma M Says:

    Yes and they will be breeding with each other soon, so more unawanted puppies!

  5. SY Says:

    Is it possible to publish names of people who dump dogs adopted from HKDR so at least they won’t be able to adopt from some other unsuspecting organisation and their dastardly deeds can be googled for posterity.

  6. Janice HK Animal Speak Says:

    I spend quite a bit of time working on the animal welfare side, but not in a shelter. All of my dogs are rescues with some looking like something from a breeders guide and others a beautiful mix. Out of curiosity I did a DNA test to see the results on each of my 5 dogs. Although I was told the background on some of them I couldn’t know for sure. On my Great Dane and my Golden from HK they came back just as they appeared with nothing mixed in. On all the others who I knew were mixed breeds (yes I have the ability to guess breeds with stunning accuracy as well) I wanted to see what the outcome was for my own curiosity and validation. I found a few of the breed outcomes to be a little surprising while others to be dead-on accurate. While I agree that there are many places to donate money to support animal welfare issues, I see a valid reason to look into DNA testing as well. It’s NOT about love of the animals breed but understanding behaviors that certain breed characteristically have. On the one hand, some are extremely food motivated while others are herding dogs. The one breed I missed in my dog (as she looks nothing like the this breed) carries one of her very strong characteristics. It was very helpful to understand where the behavior was coming from. Please let’s not also forget how many “purebred” dogs are abandoned and breed which is how they end up in the shelters. The idea that DNA test coming out of the US or the UK won’t match up in HK is not correct. Although it doesn’t carry all breeds, they won’t make things up and fill in the blanks, they just rate what DNA is found and the rest is a black whole. In the end, if the DNA doesn’t match their file of breeds they won’t make something up and you are no worse of than you were before you asked the hereditary question.

    • Sally Says:

      Hi Janice,
      Can you be there on Sundays to answer the inevitable question??
      I wasn’t suggesting that any breed would be made up just to complete a profile, rather that the Hong Kong DNA information isn’t available in the US (or UK or Australia, where the dingo must be in almost every mongrel’s DNA but would be missing from a profile done in the US), or probably even in Hong Kong come to that. I doubt there have been any studies done, although it would be interesting to know. Because of this the results from the US would be patchy at best, and people should be aware of that before having the test done. If you know it’s just for fun or curiosity, fine, of course it’s everyone’s choice. You don’t need a DNA test to know that your dog is greedy, or has herding instincts, or that your Great Dane is a Great Dane, or your golden retriever a golden retriever. You might be interested to know why your dog is greedy, but it won’t change the facts. Personally I can’t understand why it’s helpful to know why a dog has certain characteristics, as it’s just as easy to recognise every dog’s individual quirks and personality for yourself.
      I can’t understand the relevance of the purebreeds being abandoned and ending up in shelters, sorry.

  7. PE Says:

    The only time I would really really like to do a DNA test is… on the poo(s) which I have stepped on (on many occasions)… find out which innocent dog it belongs to and then have the irresponsible owner/caregiver or whoever was handling the dog, to step on same pile of shit… walk around and have people giving you the funny look.

    Ah but then, I was just wishful thinking.

  8. Spence Says:

    Finally, somebody said it! If you’ve got $700 of disposable income, PLEASE donate it to a worthy charity rather than spending it on some worthless information that does neither you nor your dog any good! Surely, guessing what your dog is is more fun than “knowing” what some inaccurate science says …

  9. india Says:

    The canine DNA debate is an interesting, and timely, one. Thank you for raising this an topic of discussion.

    There are certainly valid discussions about accuracy (though we should note that while companies offering the service cite accuracy, others have noted that the same dog sample sent for testing with different companies will return very different results). There are valid discussions about relevancy (some stress the need to determine health-related issues, or, much more dubiously, behaviour-related characteristics). But the most intriguing discussion must surely be about the “entertainment value” of DNA testing.

    I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard the comment “it’s just for fun”. Granted, I’m not going to tell anyone how to spend their disposable income. But I can say, that I’m surprised that someone would value a DNA test for a dog above desexing a stray dog, or feeding homeless dogs, or providing much-needed health care to abandoned puppies.

    But of course, I’m guessing that these things are not as “fun” as getting an inaccurate DNA test for a dog. Yes, go on — swab away. Have your fun. The rest of us will actually deal with the things that matter.

    • AS Says:

      I believe Sally was writing about two different people in her blog post. One spent money on a DNA test for her dog, and another person, an American, who did not desex his dog.

      It’s not about ‘valuing’ a DNA test more than desexing a dog. If my dog is sterilised, and I’ve got spare cash and wish to know what ‘breeds’ make up my mutt dog, I can definitely do it, for fun, for health or behaviour reasons. It’s my money.

      Are you then trying to say that it’s ethically and morally wrong for me to spend this money on a DNA test for my dog, instead of donating it to a shelter to help pay for the sterilization of a dog??

      If you indeed do mean that, then I suggest you don’t spend any money on that new scarf or shoes, or that lovely dinner at Soho, or hey, a weekend getaway from Hong Kong. I’d say, going by your logic, to donate that money to a dog shelter, because surely health care and desexing of abandoned dogs are more important than those shoes/scarf/dinner/holiday.

      I mean, are you seriously going to say that I should not buy chew toys for my dogs and instead donate that money to a dog shelter? That is downright ridiculous.

  10. Sue Says:

    Of course people can use their disposable income to do whatever they want to because we live in a free society. Nevertheless personally I will not waste $700 to find out my dogs’ DNA in order to know how pure/ mixed breed they are. ( I will need to spend $2100 as i have three dogs, this can feed a whole family in some poor villages for a year)

    What about nature vs nurture? I have three dogs of the same breed at home. They all have different characters.

    I actually feel sorry for the dogs who sustained unnecessary trauma when blood was taken. I am also angry at the vets who agreed to perform the tests for this purpose.

  11. Caroline B Says:

    I am the distributor of the only dog DNA breed test available in Hong Kong and on behalf of the parent company BioPet Vet Lab I would like to state the following:

    1. The site to which you refer in your blog is not BioPet’s.
    2. You did not include the URL of the page in question
    http://www.canineheritage.com/general_faq.html
    Your readers to be interested to note the following statement on the page “It is very difficult to draw conclusions about the genetic origin of mixed breed dogs based on outward appearances only.”
    3. BioPet has done research to validate that the DNA from the breeds listed in its database has been compared to samples from the same breeds in Hong Kong to be sure that the results are the same.
    4. The BioPet test is being used in a number of countries around the world and not just North America.

    Thank you on behalf of BioPet Vet Lab for bringing this to the attention of your readers and setting the record straight.

    • Sally Says:

      Thank you for your comment. I deliberately removed the name of the company (although the wording was exactly as on the site), as there were many companies offering DNA tests for dogs and I picked just one as an example. It wasn’t supposed to be either an ad for, or a criticism of any one particular company. In the same way I didn’t mention any names or companies offering this service in Hong Kong.

    • Sally Says:

      I also just checked your own website and am a bit confused as you also have a disclaimer at the bottom of the 63 named breeds in the USA which says (and I quote) “comparable data for HK not available”.

  12. dogsmom Says:

    As for the 9 doglets – instead of getting an adoption fee, could the previous owner PAY screened and qualified families to adopt them?
    It could be a fee lower than a euth fee and give the dogs as second chance. She would still be required to hold them until placement. The adopting families could use that money towards the altering.
    I doubt there is any way to get any fine money from him, and I really hate to penalize her, but she should have asked for help sooner.
    As is, if she is going to be homeless if she can’t rehome the dogs, realistically, is not euth going to be the end result?

    • Sally Says:

      The problem is twofold (or more). Even if you give dogs away for free they are taken by people who are just as likely to abandon them as all the others who are given dogs by their friends or neighbours. If you pay people, then you are really asking for trouble. Unfortunately the fact is that people lie, so even screening them would be useless. I wouldn’t want to give a dog to someone who would take it just because they were getting money to do so. The first step is to make sure all of these puppies are desexed and that is currently being taken care of. The landlord has given until the end of the month to get rid of the dogs. We’re looking at all and any options, it’s very hard to home mongrels.

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