Culo Interview

      The first Labrador breeder to produce modern Silver Labradors was Dean Crist of Crist Culo Kennels. Though evidence now suggests that Silver Labs occurred on occasion prior to the emergence of Culo's Silver Labs in the 1980s, they were apparently not bred for and evidently culled (euthanasia) by those that produced them in fear of potential accusations of mismating and subsequent ruin of ones reputation as a breeder. For supporters of Silver Labs, it can only be considered fortuitous that Silvers showed up in a litter of Dean Crist's. Not only did Dean posses an educational background in biology and genetics, but Dean is strong-willed and individualistic; not afraid of standing up for one's self and beliefs, even in the face of severe public ridicule, scrutiny, and personal attacks. Though he may have been beaten-up at times, he has never been beaten down. For decades he has stood strong in his convictions and has taken on battle after battle, and he has prevailed; he is still standing strong, and so too are the Silver Labs he so loves.
      Just as the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury is revered as the founder and one of the fathers of the Labrador Retriever breed, without whose foresight as devotion we would not have the Lab as we know and celebrate it today, likewise Dean Crist is indisputably the Father of the modern magnificent silver Labrador Retriever; his foresight and absolute devotion has brought the Silver Lab out from obscurity and into the spotlight.
Q & A with Dean Crist 

When did you first get into breeding and what breed(s)?
      When I moved up to the Northwoods of WI in 1972, my first dog was an AKC Black Lab female named Pato, and the winter of ‘73 she whelped my first litter of 11 Black Lab pups. Since then, I’ve been breeding and raising labs, and I’ve produced all four colors of pups from these AKC lines.

What type of kennel setup do you have?
      I currently have indoor/outdoor heated kennels,(heated is important in Northern WI) and I live on 160 acres with a small lake of about 80 acres. My land is heavily wooded with about 5 miles of logging roads and trails for running and exercising my dogs, and I have a 5-acre open field for retrieval training.

Your first Silver, was it purchased or produced through your efforts?
      My first 3 dogs were Black Lab females, and in 1981, my Black Lab bitch (Topo Culo) presented me with my first Chocolate Lab, a bitch named Queja Culo. Although Chocolate Labs were both controversial and rare in the U.S. in the early ‘80s, after considerable searching, I managed to find a chocolate male in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Toma’s Beaver Creek Herschel) about 100 miles from me in Minocqua, WI. It was the mating of these two Chocolate Labs (Queja/Hershel) which produced the first Crist Culo Kennels Silver Lab pup, and every subsequent breeding of Queja/Hershel produced litters with a color ratio of ¼ silver pups, ½ chocolate pups, and ¼ yellow pups. Although these were CCK’s first Silver Labs, I learned they were not the first Silver Labs whelped in the US. After I began advertising the Silver Labs nationally, I subsequently heard from Lab owners who had produced silver pups in their litters. Unfortunately, all incorrectly believed their silver pups were the product of a cross breeding error, and they did not pursue the silver color for registration with AKC. I was just the first breeder with a background in Biology and Genetics -- not to mention I was 100% certain no cross breeding had taken place in my breeding program. Apparently, I just happen to be the first breeder of Silver Labs to stand up for the color, and the first breeder willing to fight against all the ignorant nay-sayers who wrongly claimed the color was the result of crossbreeding with Weimaraners. 

Before you had your first Silver Lab, had you heard of such a thing and if so, what was known at that time?
      I’d never heard of a Silver (gray) Labrador!!! Moreover, my Vet (along with every other Lab breeder I contacted) wrongly tried to tell me the gray pup was the product of a cross breeding -- but I was dead certain no cross breeding had occurred. So, I did some research on the gray color in Labs at the library (this was prior to the internet). After doing as much research on Lab color as I could find at the library, I went back to my genetics books from ISU and did more research on color genetics in animals. That research, and the subsequent breeding of other pairs of Silver and Chocolate Labs, proved the gray color in Labs was not a random single occurrence mutation, nor the product of a cross breeding. After finishing my research, I’ve staunchly stuck to that opinion -- and I’ve ended up fighting with ignorant Anti-Silver Lab breeders for decades. After genetic mapping was done on CCK’s lines of Silver Labs by UC Berkeley, my position was corroborated, and now genetic testing and gene mapping has proven my initial research and conclusions to be 100% correct.

What thoughts went through your head when you first saw your first Silver?
      My initial reaction was the same as everyone else who unexpected ended up with a Silver Lab in their litter of Lab pups, i.e., “Opps... where did that gray pup come from!!!” By coincidence, I just happened to have a background in biology and genetics – as well as the determination – to defend my research and my belief in the validity of Silver Labs.

Your first Silver Labs were AKC registered as “Silver”, is that correct?
      Yes, and I still have those AKC registrations: they were Spook Culo and Dudley Culo. 

After producing your first Silver, what did your research into the breed turn up on knowledge of the dilute gene being in the breed at that time?
      When I did my first research into Silver Labs, books on the subject of gray Labs were sparse (understatement), but a few were available; mostly from the pre- WW II era. Luckily, after I began advertising the Silver Labs nationally (and the controversy became a S--- Storm in the Lab world) an Animal Science Genetics Professor from Washington State University called me. This professor not only bolstered my beliefs on the genetic reasons for gray Labs, he offered to mentor me with a line-breeding program for Silver Labs; with the specific intent of proving to AKC that the color was not a fluke, nor the product of crossbreeding.

In your research on Silver, did you learn of any other Lab breeders ever producing one?
      Once I began advertising Silver Labs nationally, I regularly heard from Lab breeders and owners who had produced the random gray pup in one of their litters. Unfortunately, most of these litter owners had felt the pup(s) were the product of a cross-breeding error, and since none of them had the background (or confidence and tenacity) to defend their gray pups, none of them had attempted to register their pups with AKC. In the mid-80s, I received an overseas call from a Dutch author who was writing a text about the color of Labs, and this man said he had personally seen a gray Lab in London in the mid-60s. Because there are now many more breeders and advertisers of Silver Labs, and Silver Labs are now much better known and accepted in the dog world, I do not receive as many inquiries from Lab owners who randomly produce a gray pup in their litter(s). Most of the time when I’m contacted, these random pups are not from my lines; and many are often in other countries.

I’ve heard that Beavercreek kennel’s reaction to their first dilute was “get rid of it”. We certainly are glad you didn’t have the same thought.
      That was indeed their reaction, and they did get rid of them. Initially, they sold their silver pups to me, and I brokered the Silver Labs for them. Because I’d been advertising the silver pups nationally (with the specific hope of finding other silver lines) Beavercreek eventually heard of me, and contacted me about the silver pups which had been whelped from one of their breedings. Initially, they would sell me their silver pups because I already had a market for Silver Labs, and they didn’t have to take the incredible amount of heat generated from other Lab breeders for selling gray Labs. After a few years, they had enough confidence in the color (and were witnessing my success at standing up to the Anti-Silver breeders) to continue producing and selling Silver Labs without my support.

Tell us about the visit the AKC made to your kennel and the position the AKC/LRC made that they were “Chocolate”; there must have been some problems with registering them as "Silver", maybe other breeders complaining?
      On two different occasions, about 3-4 yrs apart, the AKC sent field investigators to examine and photograph all the Silver Labs whelped and sold by Crist Culo Kennels. That included all Silver Labs at CCK; all the littermates from CCK litters which had contained silver pups, and all the living ancestry of the parents of the pair of Chocolate Labs which had produced CCK’s line of Silver Labrador Retrievers. These investigators were very polite, very thorough, and traveled all over 4 states (as well as going to several distant states) for several weeks. To facilitate their investigation(s), I gave them access to all my breeding and litter records, as well as handling the introductions to my pup owners. At the completion of their investigation(s), it was these investigators who said they believed AKC would “recognize the gray color” if the color could be replicated for three to five generations. Unfortunately, these investigators did not have the power to overcome the lobbying and control over AKC which the LRC possesses. Therefore, AKC could only release a statement saying,that based on their investigations, the AKC felt CCK’s Silver Labs were without question purebred Labrador Retrievers. Unfortunately, because of the lobbying by the LRC, and Labrador breeders with a blatant vested interest in NOT recognizing Silver Labs, AKC felt they could not put “Silver” as a color for AKC registration papers.

What, in your opinion, is the reason for their changing the AKC registration application to only BYC and excluding the option of other colors?
      I have not a shred of doubt that having BYC as the only option on the AKC papers is because of the breeders in the LRC who saw their market share diminish with the popularity of Chocolate Labs. They could see the writing on the wall for the public demand for Silver Labs, and they were then -- and are now -- only protecting their own pocketbooks. The level of genetic mapping now available should have dispelled any and all doubt about the purity of Silver Labs; and that technology has been in place for over a decade.

You have been personally attacked on the internet and I would surely think through several different avenues as well. Could you tell us when all this began?
      Immediately after I began advertising nationally for Silver Labrador Retrievers; for decades, I regularly took incredible amounts of grief from all directions on the gray pups. Before the advent of emails and the internet, I was always astounded by how many self-proclaimed “experts” would call me long distance (sometimes from Europe) and give me all kinds of crap, accuse me of all kinds of disreputable conduct and breeding practices, and call me every derogatory name ever associated with the dog business (or any other form of business). Although my hate mail is now much less common, I still get regular rantings from ignorant anti-silver people in the Lab world.

Would you give an example of the type of personal attacks that have been made toward your efforts as a dilute breeder? 
      You name it; I’ve gotten it. It never ceases to amaze me the time and effort some people spend professing their ignorance. Several times per year I get emails from first-year biology students who think they’re now experts in genetics because they have just finished their first chapter on introductory genetics, and invariably these idiots think they know the answers to all things living. What’s really amazing about most of these contacts is they write some diatribe accusing me of everything vile in the dog world, and these jerks are then offended when I fire back in-kind. They seriously think I should treat them with respect when they accuse me of all kinds of disreputable conduct; and believe me, I have no difficulty responding in-kind with these jerks. If you surf some of the hate sites, you’ll see some of my responses to these idiots
You mention “resentment” on your website, would you mind sharing an actual story/experience or two about breeders or possibly the LRC to illustrate this. 
      I think the best answer to that was (is) the Silver Lab Challenge. I got so tired of hearing from, and reading the BS of, these “experts”, that I offered $100,000 to any of them who could simply prove their accusations—and to date (at least 20 yrs now) none of them has put their money where their mouth is-- and that says volumes about who is right in this game.

You mention that DNA was done on your Labs "at the close of the twentieth century" it would be nice to if we can help other breeders learn more about that; the background, any comments the AKC investigators might have made to you, etc.. 
      Part of what you have there is wrong. To the best of my knowledge, AKC has never done DNA background on Silver Labs (although they now keep a file on them). In the late 80’s-early 90s, I was contacted by a research group for the Human Genome Project. They wanted to study all the lines of CCK Silver labs to do studies on gene mapping and gene markers. To that end, Dr. Neff flew to WI and took samples from all the CCK Silver Labs and their non-silver siblings. It was this genetic testing which was the initial genetic testing done on Silver Labs. After that, I was contacted by several other private genetic testing companies which wanted samples of CCK Silver Labs for genetic mapping. I would not be surprised if Silver Labs are now one of the most thoroughly researched and DNA tested dogs in the world.

Could you tell me about Dudley Culo running Derby at a field trial in California in the 80's (Entry #29 in the Derby, San Diego RC, 1987 Owner, Dean Crist; handler, Dick Sampson.)? Could you give some background on how that went, what opposition he ran into, if any, with the handler and the field trial crowd, how did Dudly do? 
      The above info is true and Duds did run trial and win some points, but Dick Sampson died before Duds could win enough points for a title and I didn't want to spend more money starting new with a new trainer. Unless you do the training and trialing yourself, I currently believe field trials are too expensive and time-consuming for the average owner. I do know Dick did get a ton of grief from other breeders around the country whenever Duds was entered in trials, but Dick DID enter Duds in several trials across the country, Duds did compete nationally and Dick told me Duds did win some points.

This is the question that I am sure that everyone that owns a silver, breeds silvers, and all the anti-silver folks want to know the answer to. Have you ever bred Weimaraners? 
      That happens to be one of the things flooding the internet that really gets under my skin. I’ve never owned a Weimer, I’ve never bred CCK Labs to a Weimer, nor to the best of my knowledge, has there ever been a Weimer within a hundred miles of CCK. I got so tired of reading that crap on Wikipedia that I ended up in a knock-down and drag-out battle with the judge of their Labrador Retriever site; and Wikipedia finally took all that crap off the site and replaced the female who was supposed to be their “fair and impartial judge” (turns out she was the owner of a Black Lab and a fervent Anti-silver Lab owner). I have contacted dozens of those jerks on the internet who “know for a fact that the original kennel which sold the first Silver Labs had Weimers on location”, and I’ve offered each one of them the chance to put up $100,000 to prove their “known fact” -- and not one of the SOBs had the guts to put their $ where their mouth is--- so much for their “known facts”.

In a few words, could you tell us in your opinion where you feel the Silver Lab is headed and your future as a breeder?       The popularity, and worldwide recognition, of Silver Labs grows every year. I seriously do not see how AKC can continue to ignore silver as a choice for color registration for Labrador Retrievers. But in all honesty, I really don’t care anymore. The demand for Silver Labs is so strong, and the recognition Silver Labs now have, is so widespread, that I believe AKC is currently only hurting their own credibility by keeping their heads in the sand. Every year the Silver Lab lines expand, and every year the demand for Silver Labs grows. I think in a few years the current controversy over Silver Labs will be as mute as the controversy over Chocolate Labs is today. As for my future in the Silver Labrador business, I’ve been at the Lab game for about 4 decades, and I’m getting ready to step into the backseat. But I’ll always support Silver Labs, and I’ll never regret my decision to defend them with all my heart. I can honestly say: “Good luck to all future Silver Lab breeders.”