Who let the dogs out? Case for dog breeding

Ms Nada Andersen with some of her dogs at the her home in Garuga.  Photos/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Nada Andersen is shaping a national dog industry outlook with the dog lobby which she and five others registered in January 2020 with a stated purpose to put all pedigree dogs in the country under one umbrella. 

Enter the gates of Bent and Nada Andersen’s lakeside farm at Garuga, 43 kilometres south of Kampala City, and you will be met by an incredible pack of dogs, so weighty and furred, they are the ultimate definition of pure-bred canines. 

You don’t even have to be a very keen observer to glean the majesty with which they carry themselves, let alone, the intelligence with which they organise around their patrons.
The White Swiss Shepherds, namely: Shela, Boss, Blanka, Tito, Jovanka. Mila, and Amii can tell when Ms Andersen needs to be excused so as to engage a guest. So they keep a cool distance, respectfully. It is only the two West Highland Terriers that remain playful, occasionally attracting the attention of the rest. But that too is lost as fast as it is gained.

“Amii is a dog that can go to Europe anytime, to any dog show and win his breed like hands down. He can easily be the best of breed in the show and go for further competition,” Ms Andersen says as she summons the shepherd to demonstrate his unique qualities that have left international judges amazed at Uganda’s dog-breeding potential. “I believe that dogs have to be kept for a purpose and they have to be allowed to fulfil that purpose.”

Better late than never
The dog industry in Uganda remains on the periphery to the extent that even when the government was formulating laws establishing the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre (NAGRC) in 2001, man’s best friend was not considered. It is only now that an amendment to the law is being mooted to include dogs, according to Mr Kitali Benda, a NAGRC researcher. 

“Dogs and the other companion animals are not part of our mandate although there is a call for amendment to include them. Actually in the next amendment which should be very soon they have been included,” says Benda.
That the government is starting to notice is a sign engagement efforts undertaken by Ms Andersen in her service as chairman of Canine Association Uganda are starting to yield results.

A Ugandan of Serbian origin, Ms Andersen is easily the most prolific dog owner in the country. Her dogs are already well-glorified with Amii a three-time best of breed Champion for Uganda and Mila is a two-time Junior Best in Show. Between them, Shela and Boss are legends that boast of having littered thrice to originate all of Uganda’s existing White Swiss Shepherds.
Now, Ms Andersen is shaping a national dog industry outlook with the dog lobby which she and five others registered in January of 2020 with a stated purpose to put all pedigree dogs in the country under one umbrella. It’s also to improve not just the quality of dogs but to also attain international standards in local breeding.

Some of their activities include offering dog-care training and information sharing. They identify qualified veterinary doctors in a country where many attain diplomas in animal husbandry and pose as vets. They process import and export permits, and they plan to start connecting breeders to their European counterparts so they can import good quality dogs. 

Catering to stray dogs
They are also involved in plans to control stray dogs, with an effort already mooted to build a dog shelter. This is especially crucial for the lobby because stray dogs on the streets attacking people end up perpetuating what Ms Andersen calls “the Ugandan fear of dogs.”

Such activities are in the interest of dog owners like Mr Godfrey Magona, a Kamplaa medical doctor whose love of German Shepherds is a topic of discussion everywhere he sits. Ironically, Mr Magona exhibits little enthusiasm in engaging with the industry lobby, let alone, the professionals the body has to offer. 
“There is a trainer along Entebbe road, but I asked him to train a dog of five to six months and he became arrogant. He wanted to charge me Shs1 million,” Mr Magona explains his eagerness to tap professionals.  “I contacted one friend who told me not to do it; you would rather train your dog yourself. So I have been training my dogs myself.”

The writer with Ms Andersen and her dogs.

Ugandan hesitancy
As she goes about her work with the lobby, Ms Andersen understands that such an attitude is inherent in Uganda. Having lived here for three decades, she observes that when something is new, Ugandans are often hesitant to embrace it until they see it work. And so she expresses determination to make the industry body a success with recognition even at international levels. Ascent to the global canine body, Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), is an ultimate goal.

“We have stumbled upon the proper recipe—how to run the stud book, how to run the registry, how to issue pedigrees, and all that because I have had experience with pedigrees before,” Ms Andersen told this publication, adding, “But now we have gotten together with the Canine Association of Macedonia who are our mentors in this process. We have signed a mentorship agreement with them and they are helping us to get things the right way. Just to make sure, they are kind of supervising our journey.”

Market for dogs
The market for dogs is already hot even in this limboed Uganda. Bulbuls go for anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000. Good quality German Shepherds range between $2,000 and $3,000, according to Ms Andersen. In comparison, a decent head of hybrid Friesian cattle earns just about $1,000 on the local market, way less than a German shepherd.

 “So why can’t Ugandans do that (breed dogs) en masse? Why should that be reserved just for a few? So the aim is to help the breeders understand that if they breed properly, their income could improve,” Ms Andersen opines as she goes on to list veterinarians, groomers, dog walkers, dog trainers, behaviourists, dog handlers, dog transporters, dog show judges, breeders and caretakers as the other opportunities waiting to be tapped in the dog industry.

Having studied Art in Belgrade, Serbia Ms Andersen sees Uganda establishing its own dog heritage and eventually get original local breeds to be recognised internationally.  “We can set a standard for a dog that is black predominantly but has some brown and white markings because those are also in big numbers around here. And I can see these two, the brown and the black, they follow cattle keepers so they have a use,” Ms Andersen posits, adding, “So we can through breeding enhance that use to make them into cattle- keeping dogs or shepherd dogs.”

According to Ms Andersen, this can be done by choosing the right genetics and that is the reason breed development is very much on the lobby’s agenda. And as Ms Anderson pushes this agenda, she almost reveals a soft, vulnerable side that contrasts her usual sternness as executive of her advertising business.

“People dedicate all their life to dogs,” she notes, adding, ”They have jobs that sustain them for food and home, but the rest of the time is just dogs. They don’t plan annual leaves around family holidays with kids and the husband or wife. No. They plan their lives around dog shows – and they will jump in the car with a dog and off they go, you know, thousands of kilometres to the next dog show.”
She further states, conclusively: ”It’s a kind of passion that is hard to explain and maybe hard to relate to in Uganda where people are still living at a very low standard of living and then also in fear of dogs. So showing it is the only way for people to understand what it is. They have to see it to believe it.”

Best practices

Gaining membership to the FCI comes with benefits that include access to all the international breeders as well as international judges. This is pertinent because Uganda has to organise numerous dog shows on its way to international glory.

To this end, the Canine Association Uganda held three national dog shows in two years even though the target is three per year, per FCI standards. This year, one will be held in August and another will follow in November. The group has 500 dogs on its registry, which they hope to double this year. The FCI requires a country’s registry to have as many as 1,500 purebred dogs annually.

“Dog breeding should become a proper industry and it can be self-regulated,” Ms Andersen says. “We don’t necessarily need government to regulate it, but we need government to understand how this is done and help us regulate it in a soft way, which is what they are doing, by the way.”