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My Views on the “ee’ Cardigan

By Jon Kimes

The world of genetics and the vast accomplishments made over the last decade are astonishing.  While color genetics have been “theorized” for several decades, not until there was a technique to actually identify specific genes have the theories been proven or disproven. 

For the Cardigan fancy, the “ee” Cardigan is troublesome and, at this juncture, somewhat unresolved.  It was only a matter of years ago that we saw non-brindle dogs producing brindle puppies.  These pale red puppies were labeled as “pinks” because of their muted coloring at birth.  It is likely this gene was imported in some English imports which introduced it to this country after the 1980's.

The “ee” is basically the definition of a dog who carries the double recessive “e” gene on the “Extension” gene locus.  This recessive gene operates to prevent black hair from showing visibly.  In the case of a “red” Cardigan, they are still red although they often have a pale, kind of dusty look.  If they are any of the other colors – tricolor, blue merle, brindle, brindle pointed black & white – they still appear red.  In beagles, red or lemon beagles are always “ee” because in that breed all specimens are a^t a^t – or double recessive for the black/tan (or tricolor) gene and not a^y which is the normal "red" seen in most dog breeds.

In breeds which have truly “black” coats – which the Cardigan does not – the “ee” gene will make the dog appear white.  This is how we have white Pulis, white Westies, white Samoyeds, white German Shepherd Dogs, etc.  In Cardigans, the “black” dogs are actually red or brindle with the Agouti gene a^t which puts a black blanket over the coat, so they are not genetically pure black.

Nose pigment is unaffected by the “ee” recessive in the sense that dogs with black noses still have black noses and dogs with brown noses (such as brown or chocolate colored dogs) will have brown noses.  The difference is that the DEPTH of pigment on the “ee” red dogs will vary from pale pigment to normal black pigment.  This pigment is still black-based.  This phenomenon has been recorded in many of the breeds who have the “ee” recessive in their gene pool, including Border Collies, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, etc.  It is a result of the the “ee” recessive and does not indicate “bad pigment.”  In fact, most of these breeds recognize the fact and do not fault dogs with this pigment coloration.

Let us take a look at some standards for nose color in which “ee” red dogs exist:

-    Beagle – no mention is made of nose color
-    Golden Retriever - nose black or brownish black, though fading to a lighter shade in cold weather not serious. Pink nose or one seriously lacking in pigmentation to be faulted.
-    Labrador Retriever – the nose should be wide and the nostrils well-developed. The nose should be black on black or yellow dogs, and brown on chocolates. Nose color fading to a lighter shade is not a fault. A thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment is a disqualification.
-    Border Collie - nose color matches the primary body color. Nostrils are well developed. Lack of nose pigmentation is a fault according to degree.

And now, consider the Cardigan standard:

-    Cardigan Welsh Corgi - Nose black, except in blue merles where black noses are preferred but butterfly noses are tolerated. A nose other than solid black in any other color is a disqualification.

Clearly it can be seen whereas other breeds have a measure of tolerance for pigment variation and therefore can accept the “ee” red, the Cardigan breed standard does not.  We do have dogs – non-reds – who don’t have the blackest pigment in the breed.  So, how is one to know if this breed specimen in the ring has lighter pigment due to the “ee” recessive or is simply a non-ee red with poor pigment?  This is where our little bit of genetic understanding blurs the line.

One must also look at history to understand where the “solid black” statement came from in our Cardigans.  In the 1970’s there was a movement by some breeders to popularize the “off merles” such as brindle or sable merles.  The majority of the club membership felt this was a dangerous path and moved to disqualify these colors from the showring.  The “solid black” statement in the standard refers to black without pink spots which are often associated with the merle gene.  However, in today's world, this same statement effectively works to disqualify “ee” reds who have the more sparse black pigment associated with that gene.

We have basically 3 options for the “ee’ reds in the breed:

1)    Deselect this combination from happening by genetically testing all suspects and not breeding a dog who carries the “e” recessive to another carrier; much the way we manage PRA today.
2)    Modify the breed standard to be less strict on pigment (perhaps restating the “solid black” requirement.)
3)    Continue to pretend the issue does not exist and look the other way as exhibitors artificially darken the nose of the affected “ee” exhibits.

Anyone who knows me realizes I believe only one of these answers is the correct one.  I do not support deselecting natural coat colors which are not harmful to the breed.  There is no evidence “ee” colors are in any way harmful. 

I also do not support fakery.  Having a breed standard which does not recognize the naturally occurring variation in pigment in “ee’ reds leads to the artificial colorization of nose pigment.

I have found over the years logic is often left on the doorstep of many breeders who do not seem to possess the mental acuity to deal with variations which require one to learn and move forward and not remain mired in wive’s tales and untruths.  Time will tell how long it will take the Cardigan Club to satisfactorily deal with this new information.

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