Friday, 5 August 2016

Try a little tenderness

It's time for the Olympics, and unfortunately there's a popular sport with no qualification required to participate or limit on who can. It's open season year round, and anybody can jump in anytime.

Sound like fun?

Well, it's Breeder Bashing.

I have no idea if cat breeders - or gerbils, or exotic reptiles, or potbellied pigs - are subject to the same near incessant barrage of hate speech, slander, public ridicule, advertising campaigns, and manipulation of public opinion as dog breeders. Part of me hopes not - way too much hate in the air - and part of me hopes so; you know, more the merrier and all that. 

We're people. We have feelings. We're human. 

We aren't perfect. We're not evil. We're not greedy. We're not thoughtless, hateful, scumsucking liars and shitbags. We don't sit around spending our time trying to figure out how to produce dogs with faults, or health problems, coming up with new and creative ways to fuck up. We really don't.

And anyone that suggests otherwise is lying.

I have a puppy buyer (doesn't own a computer, so she'll never see this) who calls roughly once a month. Usually it's all about how happy she is with her dogs, how beautiful they are, what great temperaments they have, how much their groomers love them, how good they are at the vet's office... and at some point, without fail, she'll say "You know, Fluffy is missing a tooth."

Yes, I know. You've told me once a month for the past year.

No, I don't say that out loud; I just bite my tongue. Yes, I know. So is her sister, my pick bitch. It's unfortunate, but it's not a DQ, and one premolar isn't going to affect her show career, hunting ability, or quality of life.

Here's the thing: There is no way on god's green earth I could deliberately produce a dog missing one tooth; I wouldn't know how to do it. Particularly not when I'm bending over backwards to do the exact opposite. 

Both parents had full dentition. The sire's dam is missing one tooth so we spent a LOT of time looking for a bitch strong for full mouths. The dam is from a litter of full mouths with both parents having full dentition. On the long, long, long list of things Mother Nature has a knack for being unpredictable with, dentition is a doozy. And don't get me started on bites (scissors, level, anterior and posterior crossbites, popped bites, undershot, parrot mouth...), recent data found roughly 30 separate genes control jaws/bites and dentition in dogs. It's something of a miracle perfect mouths are ever produced!

People want guarantees, even though we are dealing with living organisms. They want the impossible.

We do the best we can, we really do. We accept, grudgingly, that no matter how hard we try, we're still going to get screwed. Because that's how Mother Nature works.

Let's look at my breed, at borzoi, and what health testing is considered routine. 

There's degenerative myelopathy, and we have a great DNA test for that. What we don't have is a good understanding of penetrance - why some At Risk dogs never develop the disease and others do. (A recent break-through in corgis holds proffers answers --- but --- what is true in one breed doesn't always apply to other breeds.)

There's a great lab test for autoimmune thyroiditis, but all it can do is identify affected animals. And a dog that is Normal at 2 years may be affected at 5, or 7. So repeating the test, again and again, over an animal's lifetime is more accurate than a single test. And it's an expensive test - not the test itself, but shipping blood overnight. We assume all offspring of an affected dog are carriers, so we can identify carriers (and not breed a carrier to another carrier, thus not knowingly producing dogs that will be affected) - but we can only do this if the test results are in the public database.

Those two tests are pretty bullet-proof. They are lab tests with controlled references run on finely tuned and very expensive machines, with built-in redundancies to verify abnormal results before owners are contacted. DM is a "one and done" test because it's DNA based. Thyroid should be repeated every couple of years to detect later-onset. 

The remaining tests available to us are important, but generally not as black and white when it comes to execution.  

There's a great testing procedure for eyes, and such testing is pretty easy to get and widely available and generally very affordable -- other than it's an annual exam. Commonly known as a CERF exam (though technically it's an CAER exam), this is performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist (AVCO), it can identify congenital problems in puppies under 12 weeks of age (e.g., coloboma), separate acquired problems from genetic ones (e.g., FMAR), and track the progression of problems (macular degeneration, developmental corneal opacity, PPM - the list is long). It's another one of those tests that should be performed multiple times over the course of a dog's lifetime, because some heritable problems are detectable in young dogs (e.g., lens luxation) and others don't present until a dog is an adult or even a senior animal (e.g., catarats). As you can see (no pun actually intended), eyes are complex. Getting perfect eyes is hard, but vision is essential to both quality of life and function, so we try.

Then there's hearts. There are three different cardiac exams, and breeds have varying expectations about testing based on the type and frequency of problems known to exist. Auscultation (listening) can be done by a regular clinician, specialist, or a cardiologist. Depending on the quality of the stethoscope and the expertise of the vet, this is generally viewed as being of limited value; there are just too many variables. Holter exams are useful for finding chronic arrhythmias, but unreliable for intermittent ones and useless for an acute arrhythmia (which can kill a dog with no warning - ruefully referred to as Dead Dog Syndrome because the first symptom is, well, the dog is dead). Holter exams are standard in some breeds (Boxers and Dobermans, among others) and require shaving off the coat so the leads can be attached to the skin. Results can be interpreted by a specialist or a cardiologist, and the accuracy of that interpretation depends on the skill, experience, and training of the person reading the data. Echocardiograms are generally considered the gold standard for a heart exam, and can be performed by either a specialist or a cardiologist. Sometimes the hair has to be shaved off a large area of the chest to get really accurate views, and (like auscultations) the quality of the equipment and skill of the user are factors in the accuracy of the information gathered. A standard echo may only get three chambers of the heart; all four chambers and all four valves are desired, but sometimes the weight of the dog or the temperament or the equipment or the skill of the technician limit the views. Sometimes color dopper is used, and it may reveal additional information which has no known clinical significance. One of the most frustrating things about hearts is the range of findings can go from "perfect" to "OMG awful" -- but most of the time it's somewhere in the middle - normal but not perfect; not normal but acquired not congenital or heritable; not normal and genetic in some way; and on and on.

I have first hand knowledge of a bitch that was diagnosed (dx) with a heart murmur at age 6. Because it was found by auscultation, an echo was recommended. The echo found the heart murmur was acquired (age related) and not heritable. Had the owner not done the echo, they would have had incomplete information. I have first hand knowledge of a dog with a similar finding at age 4; echo found evidence of infection had damaged a valve in the heart. A finding on auscultation is incomplete at best, and misleading at worst.

Then there's osteosarcoma and GDV; neither of which has any test but time and plagues every line in some way. We do the best we can to identify problems, and breed away from them (either by not breeding affected animals, or breeding to lines that don't also have the same problem). 

Dogs aren't perfect. People aren't perfect. We don't have perfect tests for everything. We're doing the best we can, we really are.

Yes, your bitch is missing a tooth. I'm really sorry about that, I'm doing the best I can.

And the breeder bashers are on constant standby, ready to blame. The peanut gallery is always primed to say oh you shoulda, you coulda. And somebody who's never bred a litter, much less several, who's never agonized over what to do, or not do, or how to make something right, has never cried a million tears when it all goes to hell despite every effort to do everything right... Well the peanut gallery is just wrong. And mean. And hurtful. Anybody can stand on the sidelines and run their mouth in judgment or pretend they have 20/20 hindsight. They all need to fuck off because they do not know what they are talking about. 

So, why spend all this money and effort and heartache on testing? Why indeed.

Because we believe it's the right thing to do. Because not testing, or not sharing results, is a type of lie. Because doing everything we know how to do to prevent problems makes it easier to sleep at night. And when we, inevitably, get screwed by Mother Nature anyway, we have our friends with the same values and ethics to share the tears.

Yes, your bitch is missing a tooth. I'm really sorry about that, I'm doing the best I can.

People want guarantees, I get that. Uncertainty is hard. But we are dealing with living organisms. We all want the impossible, we all want perfection. The ethical among us won't talk in absolutes, but will tell the ugly, messy, and unhappy truth. And when honest breeders won't lie or give guarantees of the impossible, some people will go and buy a lie from someone else. 

So, let's be kind to one another, and supportive of best efforts, and be a shoulder to cry on for each other, and not be party to the whispering or finger pointing. Let's ask tough questions, and give honest answers, and be understanding of the inherently imperfect nature of Mother Nature. Let's try a little tenderness.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Time to Stop the Madness

I try very hard not to let my buttons get pushed. But sometimes, it happens. I see it coming, and say, yeah, go ahead: push it.

Things started out innocently enough. Victoria Stilwell (of BBC's It's me or the Dog fame) posted on her blog a link to an article written by Sophia Yin DVM, MS - a giant in the world of veterinary behavior.

Dr. Yin has published several books and articles, and was a brilliant public speaker. Her untimely passing last year was an incalculable loss for dog owners and dogs alike.

Sophia had serious cred, and made important information accessible to everyone. Victoria started out as an actress, and has done tremendous good for the field of dog training via tv (way more that that other guy).

I posted, perhaps foolishly, perhaps provocatively, in response to Victoria's posting of Sophia's article:

The point of the article, is, on the face of it, one that most people agree with. In fact, I find it pretty easy to agree with most of it. A lot of things can go wrong in breeding domestic animals; it's not all sunshine and roses and puppy breath. Mother nature is a wicked bitch, and things go wrong. Entire volumes have been written about the myriad things that can go wrong and how to try to prevent them, and what to try when it all goes to hell anyway. The financial and emotional costs should give pause to all but the most dedicated breeder. (sidebar: #5 of this post should should be a tattoo.) Statistically, most people "get out" of dogs in about five years (I've seen this several places over the years, but can't find a link at the moment. Readers - help me out?).

It's hard work. It can force gut-wrenching, soul-searching choices. And the good days, few and far between as they sometimes are, are a reward full of intangibles that are impossible to quantify.

Which is why we refer to ourselves as a bit dog-crazy... You have to be a bit touched in the head to do it.

Predictably, the haters started:

and - cue the GSD card:

Ah yes, the predictable, one-size-fits-all, "always" and "never" and holier-than-thou misinformation.

tip: the vocabulary of absolutes is the language of extremists. real life is full of nuance, of sometimes and maybe.

Wait - what? Misinformation?

Well, yes. The problem with propaganda is, it's not accurate. The haters are furiously clinging to ignorance because they don't want to deal with the facts.
   Oh, if only we had to "force" our dogs to breed. Anybody that has ever had crates, doors, and walls destroyed by two dogs determined to get to each other - or, conversely, had a bitch say over his dead body to a male's advances - knows what a ludicrous fallacy that is.

What facts?

These facts: Why dogs are in shelters. Where shelter dogs come from. What's changing with shelter populations. The trends in dog flipping. The reality that this is a demand problem. The reality that it's actually smart money to get a dog from a responsible breeder. The fact that it's pretty easy to tell a good breeder from a bad one - all you have to do is make an effort. The fact that there are NO DATA that support the urban legend of random-bred dogs being healthier than purpose bred dogs; the data in fact show that mixed breeds are LESS healthy. Read Hutchinson. Peruse OFA. The facts are there.

One pet peeve - it ain't adoption. Money changes hands. It's a purchase. The difference is, where did you buy the dog?

Read the last sentence in the bottom comment. Read it again. I do wonder what the rest of the story is on that...

My favorite comment - sorry, I can't find it now - was someone suggesting (tongue in cheek) that people stop having babies as long as there are children in foster care. Now there's an ironic analogy that would give one pause.

Many people posted their agreement (50+ "likes" is a lot), and their own comments. It's nice not to be the only voice of reason in the dark.


And this:

Name another hobby where people feel comfortable verbally assaulting total strangers and telling them how to spend their money. I bet knitters don't get this sort of vitriol. Model horse enthusiasts. Remote controlled gliders. College football fans. Shriners. Collectors of stamps, coins, rocks, fine art, guns, books, jazz... No? Can't think of one? Me either.

And, really, that's what this is - hate. Plain and simple. Hate usually stems from fear, which often comes from ignorance.

I have always said - ignorance is curable. Stupidity... not so much.

Jon Katz said it well:
As always, it is the dogs who suffer from this human arrogance, not the people. Dog bites on children are epidemic, millions of dogs are returned to shelters and rescue facilities each year because people get them without knowing anything about them or how to live with them.
 Sometimes it seems that the whole point of getting a dog for many people – this is quite clear from my messages –  is to rescue something, to feel good. The messengers have no ideas about getting a dog other than that it must be rescued. As if that is enough to know.
You can read the entire essay here.

Time to stop willful ignorance, the hate. Time to look at the DATA, not the propaganda. Time to deal with reality.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Familiar Stranger

This past weekend, while sharing a hotel room with dear friends, I said aloud something that has been bugging me for at least a year.

Now I understand why people dye their hair and have plastic surgery. The face in the mirror every morning doesn't match the picture of myself in my head.

Or, put more bluntly:

Who the hell is that old hag? And why is she looking at me with knowing eyes?

I can honestly say I earned every wrinkle and grey hair. I wouldn't go back to my 20's for anything, and I mean, not for nothing. I learned a lot in my 30's, hit my stride in my 40's. Now, in my 50's, I acknowledge that I've probably got more years behind me than ahead. Hopefully I'm just now at the half-way point, as it would be a pity I think to waste all the learning - is this wisdom? - by not having as much time to use it as I spent acquiring it.

I have never been particularly vain, so it is uncomfortable to feel a jolt every morning in the bathroom mirror - that's me? Well yes, of course it is. Lift the chin and smile a little, and the reflection is more comfortable. Less... well, less old.

It does not help that my husband, a decade older than I, still has the skin of a baby and gets carded at least once a year. Yes, it's typically at a sporting event and while wearing a baseball cap, but still... He is ageless, inside and out. I married Peter Pan.

So I wonder if I should consider getting my hair dyed... no, I would never spend that much money getting my hair done once a month. What a colossal waste of time - I can barely be bothered to get it cut more than three times a year. It is farce to think I would spend my weekends with coloring bottles and wearing a plastic cape. My mother has dyed her hair since she was 16, when it came in winter-white, I know what is involved. I would not pay for botox or a facelift.

I just wonder why I don't look like I feel.

Maybe it's the high desert - too much sun, not enough humidity. Maybe it's the mileage I've put on this body. Maybe it's the mis-spent youth, the abused metabolism, the years of diet Pepsi and Cheetos (breakfast of champions!) Maybe it's taking for granted the gifts of DNA - good bones, good skin, good weight - for a lot of years.

Choices have consequences. And they are staring me in the face, every day.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

New Year and Resolve

It's 2015. How did that happen? *Pouf* another year gone. It's true - the older I get, the faster the pages turn.

2014 was, on the whole, a pretty good year. There were some tough losses (RIP Jake & Boomer), some very bad days. More of those to come, no doubt. Good days come come at a price, and we paid in spades last year.

It was the first year I made a new year's resolution and really made a regular, conscious effort, to keep to it. I'm pretty pleased with how that turned out. 

So this year, I'm going to try it again. A resolution more public and easy to quantify. Write a blog post at least twice a month.

And yes, this counts as one ;-)

Monday, 22 September 2014

Perception is Reality

Flying back from Texas this weekend, I had an enlightening and disturbing conversation with a seatmate.

Enlightening in that how breeders are (sometimes? frequently? always?) percieved by rescue groups; and disturbing in that, well, her view was utterly toxic.

After a little "hi, whatcha reading" chit-chat, she mentioned that she volunteers with a local breed rescue group - and that she hates breeders. Hm, I said. I'm a breeder.

Awkward silence.

She's involved with a very popular breed, and no doubt sees more dogs in a year locally than I do borzoi at Nationals. But, still...

As we chatted over the next hour, we traded stories, the way strangers do when looking for common ground. She told me a sad story about a friend who paid a fortune for a puppy from a breeder and wound up with a health problem - must be a terrible breeder, she said. Well, I said, maybe. But sometimes we do all the health testing available, generation after generation, and mother nature will take you out for a spin. I told her about Bruno, and showed her the OFA database listing his ancestors' clearances - she didn't know such a thing even existed! 

She told me about her daughter's new SUV, and how they go on home visits together. Ah! I said. Yes, I require that too. And told her about a buyer that didn't get a dog from me due to inadequate fencing and an unwillingness to improve his fence.

Wow, she said. I didn't think breeders cared where their puppies went. They just want to make money.

::speechless::  I mean - really, how does one respond to that? I know it wasn't intended as an insult... It's just her perception - her reality - based on what she sees in rescue.

Well, I said, you may not believe this, but I know, right now, at this very instant, where EVERY puppy ever born in my house is. Right now. 

She looked shocked. 

And, yes, I charge for my puppies. Does your rescue group charge for the dogs you place?

She squirmed. Yes, she said, there's an adoption fee - but, she hastened to add, we lose money on every dog.

Me too, I said. Calling it an adoption fee is just marketing, I smiled. You sell dogs, I sell dogs. And we're all losing money. I haven't figured out how to make a profit. I've easily got five figures invested, once you factor the health testing on the parents, and on the puppies, and the costs of a few years campaigning before doing a breeding. Forget initial purchase price, food, and regular vet care. I lose a fortune on every litter. But - money changes hands - it's a sale.

I also told her how every good breeder I know is also involved in breed rescue, and that the purpose of rescue is to reunite the dog with its owner, or breeder; and only if neither can take back the dog, is it then made available to a new owner. At first she didn't believe me, so I told her a couple of stories of owners that had become very ill, or a breeder that died, and how we all pulled together to get those dogs back home. 

We did not talk about Piper. It is the nightmare scenario that every breeder has been losing sleep over for more than two months now: a wayward dog picked up by ACO and turned over to breed rescue, and breed rescue refusing to return the dog to the rightful owner, co-owner, and breeder. But the conversation made me think - we need to find ways to educate people in rescue, people like my well-intentioned traveling companion who has a negative view of all breeders.

I told her, nobody hates bad breeders as much as good breeders. NOBODY. Because we understand that JQP paints us all with the same muck-covered brush. It's easier, I told her, to blame breeders and not owners; to lump all breeders into the same barrel of bad apples. But that it's not right, it's not fair. Come to a dog show I told her (giving her the date and location of one next month). Talk to people, ask breeders how they screen their homes and what's in their contracts. Ask them if they've ever had a dog returned. Listen to their stories.

I'm not special. I'm not better. I am lucky to have mentors with decades of experience, and incorporated their values into my own. In my circle of friends, there are more good breeders than bad ones. 

I don't think that's unique to me. I do think we aren't getting the word out. We need to find ways to educate those focused on rescue what the truth is about breeders, and partner with the good ones. 

As we deplaned, she said, well, good luck with your dogs. Thank you, I said. Hope to see you next month. Your breed always has a huge entry, there will be lots of people for you to meet.

Wonder if she'll make the effort. For the sake of the dogs, I sure hope so.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Standing Ovation

Finally, a good reason to move to Canada. And I've been to Calgary, there's lots of Chinese take-out and it's close to Jasper...

Monday, 24 February 2014

An Open Letter to AKC's VP of Performance

Note - AKC's BOD rescinded the age lowering - restoring it to 12 mos - at the March 2014 meeting. Kudos to AKC for responding so quickly to correct this.

24 February 2014

to: Doug Ljungren, VP of Performance and Companion Events

re: AKC Board Minutes 2/7/14 - CAT rule change - minimum age reduction

Dear Mr. Ljungren -

I am writing to ensure you are aware of my acute dismay at the recently published AKC Board Minutes, dated 7 February 2014 in which the following change is announced on page 10: "The Board VOTED to amend the Regulations for Coursing Ability Tests, Chapter XV, Sections 3 and 9, to open the Coursing Ability Test (CAT) up to a wider range of dogs by (1) lowering the minimum age for a dog to participate to 6 months..."

I must express to you my most strenuous objection to this change, and to the manner in which it was carried out. As the immediate past-Secretary, previous President, and current Director on the Board for Albuquerque Whippet Fanciers Association/Lobo Lure Coursing Club, we were not allowed the opportunity to provide feedback on this proposal. Neither were current active Lure Coursing Judges asked to weigh in.

As you are aware, lure coursing is a Performance event, not a Companion event. As an agility competitor since 2001 and a lure coursing participant and judge, I am keenly aware of the distinction between the two categories. Your own involvement in field trials no doubt gives you a similar appreciation.

As you can see from this chart the average age for growth plate closure of the critical tibial crest (stifles being the last joint in which growth plates close, and in all canines the joint most prone to injury) is 11 months, with the range being up to 14 months (the study used beagles and greyhounds). In my own borzoi, I have seen (via digital radiograph) some males' growth plates still open at 18 months of age.

It is therefore my considered opinion - as owner, breeder, and judge - that the 12 month age MINIMUM for entry into any lure coursing activity is an essential safety rule. I find it unconscionable that AKC would enable entry in a performance event by immature animals.

It has been brought to my attention that several clubs will be dropping CAT events from their hosting activities; countless judges have stated that they will decline CAT assignments; and the NM club has lost its FTS for future CAT events. Please work with the AKC BOD to rescind this rule change before dogs are needlessly put at risk of suffering career-ending injurys.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

- Leonore
AKC LC Judge
AKC Breeder of Merit


AKC LC Field Rep

and the following AKC clubs, of which I am a member in good standing:

Albuquerque Whippet Fanciers Association / Lobo Lure Coursing Club - President
Rocky Mountain Borzoi Club - Performance Chairman
Borzoi Club of America - AKC Delegate