Thoughts On Politics & Health
When breeders encounter a health problem, why must it be kept so hush-hush?
With any activity, it is good to reflect from time to time in an attempt to organize thoughts, evaluate outcomes, and examine possible future directions. When I look back at my experiences, both positive and negative, associated with purebred dogs, three main topics come to the forefront; politics, technology, and health. All three are related for the purpose of this ‘Health’ article in that we can use technology in a positive way to outline health concerns in the breed; however, politics will undoubtedly interfere with the process in the long run. It seems that when some breeders are informed of a potential health problem in their lines, they either ignore it or down-play it. More importantly, they may try to hide it. And why wouldn’t they? The politics are cruel and cut-throat. Even on some of the email lists, which are supposed to be ‘educational’ in nature, when some potentially worthwhile discussion begins on topics such as epilepsy or eye defects, it eventually turns into to finger-pointing.
One example of a situation I have experienced:
I purchased a puppy from a breeder/judge. Some months later, I received an email from a complete stranger, a pet-owner, telling me her story about purchasing a puppy from this breeder that was diagnosed with ectopic ureter. The pet-owner had been going online, and using search engines to find anyone with dogs from this breeder, and then informing them of her situation. My luck! It just so happened that her affected dog was a littermate to mine. The pet-owner claimed that when she picked the puppy up, the breeder’s facility was filthy and smelled horribly of urine, as well. This point also goes back to the information provided to me by a veteran in the previous article (on technology – see left column) regarding the importance of actually visiting the breeder first. I hadn’t done that, so I had no way of knowing if the pet-owner’s statements were true, or if this was just an exaggeration due to her anger surrounding the whole situation.
Needless to say, I contacted the breeder, and she was in the process of threatening the pet-owner with legal action, as the pet- owner had also created a web page (again, gotta love technology) outlining her complaints. The breeder said that she had offered to take the puppy back when it was first diagnosed, but the pet-owner refused, and now wanted the breeder to pay for an expensive surgical procedure required. Why the breeder/judge had not informed me and the owners of the other four littermates that I knew had gone to show homes, I am not sure, but I would bet it had something to do with ‘politics’. And in her defense, I believe that many other people would’ve handled it the same way.
A few years ago with one of my more anticipated breedings, I brought in a 6 year old male stud dog, and bred him to my finished female (yes, yes, hips and eyes were done). I got two puppies; one absolutely stunning male… everything I had hoped for, and one tiny, goofy-looking female, who was about half the size of the male. The sire had been bred quite a few times, and this was the dam’s second litter. The mother was continuously licking the bottom of the female puppy, and I surmised she may have had a urinary tract infection. However, when I took her to the vet, despite my insistence that something was not right, the vet reported that the puppy was completely healthy. So, I sold her to a nice pet home. The new owners did just as our contract suggested and took their new puppy to the vet within 3 days. Their vet immediately diagnosed the puppy with ectopic ureter. This puppy was unrelated to the puppy I’d purchased in the first example above.
Hoping to learn the source of this problem, I contacted the breeder of the stud dog, and the breeder of the dam. You guessed it – neither had that in their lines. However, each could site specific dogs that had been owned by the other breeder in question that had produced that same problem in the past. The first thing the owner of the dam said was, “Another __(sire’s name)____ kid”, but did not elaborate further. She was more concerned about why I didn’t just put the puppy down when I suspected a problem. I tried to explain that first, I didn’t even realize she had a serious health problem, and second, that I couldn’t have done that to the puppy even if I had known. As time went on, I was informed by the co-owner of the stud dog of approximately 4 cases of epilepsy showing up in his past litters, so we had him neutered and pet-homed him. I pet-homed that beautiful male puppy, as well.
I did not spay the dam, though. Now, maybe that makes me no better than any other breeder in the world who has down-played a potential issue. But, there is a spectrum of what people consider appropriate ranging from conservative to liberal, and ultimately, we are all also forced to make decisions based on the information available at any given time. Some breeders suggested to me that I shouldn’t ‘throw her out with the bath water’ when it was the sire of the litter known to be producing lots of other issues. Some breeders noted that it could have been just a ‘fluky’ kind of thing. The decision I made was be cognizant of that possibility, and to collect information.
So, I bred her two more times and she produced 14 puppies. In all of her future offspring, plus the one puppy she’d had in her first litter, there were no other cases of ectopic ureter. Now, unfortunately, the stud dog I had chosen for her final two litters eventually turned out to have a littermate with epilepsy. I did not opt to carry on with any of those offspring myself. But, one of them had been bred once already, and produced no ectopic. None of those went to breeding homes. I had also kept the offspring from dam’s very first litter, (unrelated to the male with the epileptic littermate). That daughter did not produce any cases of ectopic ureter either in 4 litters. Will it show up further down the line? Hopefully not, but if it does, I also hope to find out.
I have countless other examples, from low-thyroid to zinc to eye defects (and I’ll bet most readers do, as well). Oh, and I must thank those breeders that were honest, and informed those of us with offspring about the defects, despite much political-drama in the fancy as a result of their efforts to do the right thing in that respect. Nonetheless, their positive actions do not detract from the fact that there appears to be no line of purebred dogs completely free of health defects. It’s only a matter of when the problems will present themselves and to what degree of severity. Was my first decade so plagued with health issues because I was just that unlucky, or because I paid attention? I worked with dogs from some 25 different breeders – so it wasn’t that I had picked the wrong group to hang-out with. I don’t think they were all responsible for ruining the breed, as was once suggested to me. So, is it just the breed? Is the breed not as ‘clean’ with respect to health problems as I was originally lead to believe?
I’m certainly no expert, but there appear to be a number of contributing factors; all five of which appear intertwined:
Genetics, Statistics, Ethics, Politics, and Education (or mentoring)
Subcategories would include – research, seminars, technology, data collection and analysis, honesty, responsibility, inbreeding/outcrossing/linebreeding/, etc.
Each of the contributing factors above could be outlined at length; however, the bottom line is that we don’t have sufficient knowledge and research about the modes of inheritance of many of the health problems in the breed. Plus, due to a fear of the politics, many breeders do not do a sufficient job of alerting others about the health issues that surface. On the other hand, I have heard some breeders say that their lines are completely free of defects… and they’re maybe basing this claim on the fact that they’ve bred two litters for 10 puppies that didn’t exhibit any health problems, or that they inbred and did not find any health problems, or that their pet-owners never told them any bad news. But, based on what I’ve read and seen, that doesn’t always tell us much about what the dogs may carry, or what they may exhibit if bred to just the ‘right’ (or more appropriately termed, ‘wrong’) dog.
I know of one breeder who found out about epilepsy behind her dog’s pedigree, and waited 7 years without breeding him in hopes that a genetic marker would be found before getting him neutered.
I know of one breeder who inbred her lines, kept very good data, and felt that they were safe; however, upon out-crossing to three different (but not completely unrelated) males, produced epilepsy with varying rates of incidence for each male. Does that mean that her lines truly weren’t safe even though nothing showed up with the inbreeding? Or does that mean that the stud dogs were to blame in all 3 cases?
- I know of one breeder who claims to have gotten rid of half of her kennel in the 80’s due to problems with epilepsy.
- I know of one breeder who was told of two offspring produced in the same litter with epilepsy and claims that one was hit by a car and that the other one was forced by her owner to drink anti-freeze.
- I know of a breeder who informed folks about the health backgrounds on her dogs as health problems were brought to her attention, and as a result, it was publicly suggested that she was not reputable.
- I know of a stud dog that was used, literally, hundreds of times, and is in the pedigrees of many show lines you’ll find today, and I know of at least 2 cases of epilepsy that he produced having talked to the owners of the offspring personally. Were there more? I don’t know. When he was bred hundreds of times and possibly only produced it twice, is that a good statistic when you compare that to the total number of puppies produced? What if we had more data on the grandchildren?
Would people be willing to step out from behind their curtains, or out from under their rugs, and report any issues they encounter? Realizing that there would be about a million and one barriers to this including honesty and proper diagnosis, I still think it would be great if we could have a resource where honest breeders could go to post health backgrounds on dogs, both good and bad. Or maybe each breeder would be willing to maintain proper data and present it to prospective buyers, just the same as they would the dog’s pedigree?
Can a health information clearinghouse be created? I’ve toyed with creating a webpage to display my health records, and always been advised by others not to do it. I was told that I’d be creating political suicide… that nobody would follow suit… that novice people would not understand it… etc. But, I can’t help but wonder if just maybe one person does it, others WILL follow suit? Maybe novice folks could use it as an education tool or model for collecting their own data? In my case, I’ve already jumped off the highest story of the Political Agenda Building repeatedly, so the suicide part is less of a concern… but as a general rule, breeders do fear the ‘MOB’ that is the fancy, and simply won’t disclose information.
From what I understand, there are “Internet Police” that have get to sit in front of the computer and tally up the number of litters folks are breeding – seeking out potential puppy mills (see Technology Article, left column). This suggested practice of disclosing all litters and health reports would save them all that trouble! If people would be expected to present their information, preferably in a public format, then those self-proclaimed police could go get a real hobby ;). Oh, but wait! We still don’t have a clear, concise definition of what constitutes a puppy mill yet, so I guess those concerned citizens would not become completely obsolete!
So, we have before us ‘politics’, ‘technology’ and ‘health’ – the three issues with which I have struggled, (among others including the whereabouts of Elvis and life on Mars). ‘Politics’ can negatively affect any positive outcomes that could be generated from both of the other topics – technology and health. Rather than elaborate further, and have the reader be further subjected to my lame sense of humor, let’s cut to the chase and consider whether or not it is possible to fix this?
We’re talking about major over-haul here. “Politics” are threaded through every aspect of purebred dogs. I don’t think it’s a mere matter of disassociating with anyone who ‘talks about’ another breeder… or their crummy dogs… or their crummy breeding practices… or even their crummy new hair-dos.
Is it possible for the fancy to simply accept the concept that there are health problems in the breed, and be open about it? Can there be the expectation that all breeders list their breedings and subsequent health findings publicly and honestly? Or maybe even to just submit them to the parent-club for data collection at the very least? I had read that the SHHF is compiling health data from breed club members – and stresses the fact that individual submissions would not be shared with any other ‘siberian people’, which only further reinforces the notion of the ‘MOB’ and its power. But, submitting information to their research is optional. What if it was expected, just like getting an OFA done? I realize that some folks will not keep in contact with owners of their dogs’ offspring. I realize that there may be alternative veterinary opinions on some health concerns. I realize that not every breeder is going to ‘accurately’ represent what they may or may not be producing. But, shouldn’t that all be automatically occurring on a broader scale?
Well, at least what they’re attempting is a start!
Okay – I’d love to hear your thoughts? My flame-retardant suit is zipped and the extinguisher is handy ;).