Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pigmentary Uveitis and the Importance of CERF

Several years ago I bred a dog, Birnam Wood’s No Trout About It, “Cody,” that was later diagnosed with pigmentary uveitis (PU) at four years of age.
Dr. Wendy Townsend was just beginning her research into PU and blood samples were sent from the affected dog, his dam and several clear littermates along with pedigrees and eye reports. I also notified the sire’s owner and requested they submit blood and a DNA sample. The sire and dam were both re examined and were clear of PU. I thought those actions were what any responsible breeder would do.

Over the last two years I have read the advisories from the Health & Genetics Committee regarding pigmentary uveitis and thought other than this dog confirmed with PU, I was breeding healthy dogs for the last 40 years. Like other responsible breeders, I did the best I could with the information available regarding researching pedigrees for all known genetic issues. So, I was stunned to receive an e-mail from Laura Salvatore that at 8.5 years CH. Birnam Wood’s, “Zoom,” had just been diagnosed with PU. Thankfully it was found “early” and considered mild.

Since Zoom and Cody share the same dam, that had my immediate attention. I contacted all of Zoom’s littermates and advised them to have their dogs checked immediately. On Saturday, at an eye clinic in Santa Rosa, three of her littermates were checked. Webb and Jeeves were clear, Monty was diagnosed with a mild case. Another owner in North Carolina wrote back that her dog Tucker has it in one eye. Unfortunately, her local vet had misdiagnosed it as allergies for several years and by the time she was referred to an ophthalmologist a month ago, it had progressed to blindness in one eye and glaucoma. Webb’s son, SugarRay, has a mild case in one eye. No breeder ever wants to hear this. And quite frankly no Golden Retriever should have to suffer this fate.

Zoom has produced several successful litters and is an Outstanding Dam. Several of her children have also been bred. I am advising the owners of her offspring to delay any breeding plans until we have had an opportunity to obtain more information on this disease. Hopefully a DNA test and other genetic information will be available soon to help us make informed breeding decisions.

PU can severely affect the quality of life for our dogs. It robs their owners of the enjoyment of their older dog because they are constantly medicating it and worried about its eyes. It is expensive to treat, painful to the dog and if surgery is required to remove the eye, the cost could easily escalate over a thousand dollars.

Early screening is no guarantee, because PU strikes later in life when dogs are at the end of their breeding careers. Unlucky males may have been used upwards of 100 times by the time of diagnosis. Unlucky females may have five litters on the ground when diagnosed. Many could be great grandparents by the time they are diagnosed. Do the math: hundreds, maybe thousands of dogs could be involved in just one extended family.

What can we do to help the breed we all love? For starters, annual eye examinations for the dog’s lifetime and faithful submittal of the results to CERF – regardless of findings. Post the results to whatever databases are out there that also collect information (, Stress to our puppy buyers the importance of annual CERF examinations. While an unbred pet diagnosed with PU will not have a genetic impact on the breed, it needs to be diagnosed early enough to begin treatment and the breeder needs the information for their program. Contact Dr. Wendy Townsend if a dog is diagnosed with PU and provide her with blood/DNA/pedigree/eye exam information.   I admit I was lax in the past about sending in annual examination forms to CERF on our older dogs. I didn’t see the point if I wasn’t breeding that dog anymore. But I will never do that again because I would only be contributing to the lack of information.

Before breeding our bitches we need to do more homework on all sides of the pedigree. People complain that it is frustrating when researching pedigrees to read “eyes normal” on k9data where a valid CERF number should reside. Or the owner removes the year and age from the number and when you check on the CERF site, the dog has vanished from the database. Simply put, stud dog owners should provide current CERF examination certificates. Years ago it was not unusual to pass around the actual eye examination when exchanging genetic information for a proposed breeding. Back then I rarely CERF’d my brood bitches; just included their exam form with all paperwork. Boy, was that shortsighted – I should have done both! The examination form contained more detailed info than the CERF certificate at that time. This isn’t true anymore; the CERF certificate lists everything you may need to make an informed decision, including breeder options. If the dog or bitch’s owner feels something further is listed on the exam form that the other party needs to know, they can provide both. More information is better. But there simply is no reason not to submit an examination form to CERF, especially in the case of frequently used sires.

Many years ago when SAS came to our attention, responsible breeders took the disease very seriously and tested their breeding stock to avoid breeding affected dogs. They banded together to promote the health of the dogs. Recently when prcd-PRA became known, responsible breeders began testing their dogs with the new DNA marker test and it appears they have gotten a quick handle on it. They shared information on their dogs both affected and carriers because they realized it’s “us” as a breed that is going to suffer and not just one unlucky kennel here and there. This is progress and for the betterment of the breed. It is what we need to do to come to grips with PU – share information openly, take away the stigma of having produced a defect. We all produce defects no matter how hard we try not to. And for heaven's sake if a Golden has produced puppies (whether a stud dog or brood bitch) and then later diagnosed with PU, we have a moral and ethical obligation to notify everyone concerned so they can take appropriate action.

My personal philosophy regarding pigmentary uveitis and how widespread it may be in the breed is fairly simple. From looking at pedigrees in k9data it is pandemic. I know it is common belief but never confirmed that the early Gold-Rush dogs that many of us have in commonality were affected, but I have viewed other pedigrees without those bloodlines and they have produced it as well. Thank you to the owners/breeders who have listed a diagnosis of PU on your dog’s page on k9data. I know how painful that was as I just listed my affected dogs.

Where to go from here? I’m not sure at the moment, and I know I’m preaching to the choir – but:
• if you are breeding your Goldens and not examining them annually for their lifetime, stop breeding; you are contributing to the problem.
• if you are breeding your dogs and not submitting the annual examination forms to CERF, stop breeding; you are contributing to the problem.
• if you are not encouraging all your buyers to have their dog’s eyes examined annually and submitted to CERF, stop breeding; you are contributing to the problem.

• if your dog is diagnosed with PU and you continue to breed it, stop breeding; you are the problem.

Permission is granted to share this message with every Golden owner and breeder that you know. We are all in this together and should fully disclose and share information so that others may make candid and informed breeding decisions. It is all about the dogs. They deserve our very best effort.

Friends and Acquaintances


Friends and Acquaintances

It's interesting how old friends feel so comfortable being together, like a pair of well-loved shoes. You slip them on and go, ahhhh.

My friend, Barb Madrigrano, from Kenosha, WI, was out for my all-breed kennel club shows recently. I enlisted her help (OK, I begged) with Judge's Hospitality for Sir Francis Drake Kennel Club for the two days of shows. Barb also lent a hand on Friday night stewarding at our all-breed match. We probably haven't been together since the St. Louis Specialties in '08. We talk on the phone frequently and e-mail once in a while, but nothing beats face-to-face hanging out. Barb runs hospitality for the big Waukesha weekend in July and they have 40 or so judges who she keeps very happy. I was grateful to have her here for the expertise, ideas and company. Thursday night was spent putting judge's bags together with all kinds of goodies. We must have made 100 golf cart runs from the rings in the building to the outside rings, bumping along laughing and just happy to be together. I think the judges thought we were having way too much fun!

One thing I’ve learned over 40 years from my journey in dogs – and sometimes it has been a bitter lesson: no dog, no litter, no co-ownership, no stud service, no club and certainly no win is worth destroying a friendship. If that happens, I feel the friendship wasn’t based on core values, only the perception of what one person could do for the other. I value my friends. I pick them carefully and feel they have done the same with me. I treasure their friendships and deeply respect their opinions – even when we disagree. I would share just about any of my worldly possessions with them with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Some friends I’ve had for almost all the years I’ve been in dogs. I consider them family "once removed." I also enjoy warm and fuzzy relationships with many acquaintances in dogs, but they are not the same as my core group of friends.

Many of the problems between dog fanciers begin when one party is too trusting and too quick to accept someone into their inner circle of friends whom they actually know very little about. It’s a recipe for disaster. They share confidences, loan money, swap equipment, co-own dogs, co-breed litters and then something small happens and the house of cards comes tumbling down. They quickly realize they really had nothing in common except this dog(s) they are now fighting over. The petty bickering continues throughout the life of the dog; breeder's names are left off of advertising, co-owner's names are omitted from entries and the list of hurt goes on. Or maybe the altercation is over something big, something life altering and one party can’t imagine the other not viewing it exactly the same way they do and the fight is on. Lawyers are hired, precious dogs are involved in custody battles that rage on for years and people spend thousands of dollars exacting revenge. What an unproductive way to spend your time and resources.

Co-ownerships are rewarding endeavors when they work, but how many times have you heard about them ending on a sour note? And what's at the root for most co-owner breakups? Usually money, jealousy or egos, or some combination of the three.

I’ve seen people who I thought had the potential to become dedicated Golden fanciers, walk away forever after being duped by unscrupulous breeders, outrageous co-owner demands, unethical handlers or club members with an agenda. What a sad loss to the fancy; we need these people!

I suppose this happens within any group where people of divergent backgrounds (whether it’s two or 20) are brought together by a common interest. I hear horse people, cat people and even 4H members complain bitterly about each other – and let’s not even go there about Little League parents. Regardless, our time on this earth is relatively short and our dog’s lives even less so. It seems so pointless to spend that time in acrimonious disputes.

One piece of advice I offer freely to anyone contemplating entering into a co-ownership is this: if you aren’t prepared to give up the dog and walk away should something go wrong with the agreement, then don’t co-own. Pass on the dog or pay more money to own it outright. I don’t care how well crafted a legal agreement is, the simple fact is that anyone can sue someone else and tie up their life, their assets and their dogs for years. Long past when it ceases to be fun or rewarding.


It's December and you know what that means...

Puppies under the tree! Cute, little cuddly Golden Retriever puppies with black, shoe-button eyes. Where do you go to find a puppy these days? A smart person might call a local kennel club or breed club in their area. Maybe they log on to AKC's website and look for breeder information in their area. The local vet who deals with breeders is also a reasonable option, as they know which breeders take care of their dogs and obtain clearances. But most likely the unwary buyer gets shuffled down a food chain of phone numbers and e-mail addresses only to find out none of the recommended breeders have litters available or they need to get on a waiting list. That doesn't help much – the kids expect a puppy for Christmas.

A quick check on Google for "Golden Retriever puppies" and it's instant success. Golden Retriever puppies abound by the thousands – any color or lack thereof, and just about any price (more on prices later). The other day I did just that – searched Golden Retriever puppy on Google and was that ever an eye opener! I feel sorry for anyone trying to buy a healthy, well-bred puppy from the internet armed with nothing more than their trusty mouse and a checkbook. You are an unwary fly headed straight into the spider’s web. I clicked on a couple of the websites that were at the top of the Google list and one of the things that struck me first was how savvy the "income breeders" have become in breeder lingo.

They are all proud members of the AKC. One was even a "registry member of AKC." ???? First red flag for puppy buyers – there is no such thing as membership in the AKC. Any breeder knows that. The American Kennel Club is a registry. As long as you follow their rules, you may register dogs with them and participate at their events. You pay no annual membership dues to the AKC. Beware of any website claiming AKC membership. Are we clear on that? I just saw one website where they said they were members of the Humane Society of the U.S. – oh great! They support the animal rights whackos. Do they not know what Wayne Pacelle has stated his vision is for all dog breeders/pet owners? But that’s another blog.

Some websites tout membership in the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA). At first glance this might lead a puppy buyer to believe they are dealing with a dedicated breeder. Maybe yes, maybe not. Almost anyone can join GRCA. Submit a membership application and your name is published by the secretary to an online list. If no one reading the list objects within 30 days, you're a member. No background check; GRCA doesn't even require an endorsement by a current member. While belonging to a parent club may indicate some level of involvement in the breed other than puppy production, puppy buyers should not put a lot of stock in it.

Beware of websites that only list their dogs by call name, and don't provide AKC registered names or pedigree information. Any reputable Golden breeder is proud to have you examine their dog's information and provides it right up front, no searching. They also have their dogs entered on K9Data. You can go there and do all kinds of research on the parents, grandparents and perhaps genetic information on the litter for sale. Sometimes if the registered name is not available you can find the dog by searching for the call name. One website I was cruising yesterday proudly claimed all their dogs were hip, eye, heart and elbow cleared. Oh really? I found one of their bitches by its call name on K9Data and they had also listed her AKC number. Lucky me! I popped that into the OFA databaseand guess what? She had an eye and heart clearance at 24 mos., but no hip or elbow clearance. Guess who didn't clear hips and elbows? They bred her regardless. The information is usually out there, folks, you just have to know where to look and dig a little.

The next red flag is a website with a couple of untitled males and six to eight untitled breeding females. Usually the bitches are loosely related and sired by one of the males. Offspring of those breedings are bred back to whichever male didn't sire the original litter and then offspring of that is bred back to grandpa. Three generations of instant drek. This is usually why these breeders don't want you looking at their pedigrees very closely. Even the uneducated buyer can spot "Goldy's Old Gumshoe" appearing six times in four generations. But wait, it gets better. Most, if not all of these dogs in the pedigree have no titles before or after their names to demonstrate that their owners have done one thing with them other than breed the daylights out of them. Not even an AKC CGC certificate to indicate they can walk on a lead and sit/stay. But the claim is that they are from “Mega-Championship lines” – one Champion in the fifth generation doesn’t count in my book. Run!

Now the rhetoric on these pages is pretty good, purloined mostly from reputable breeder's websites. They talk about their careful breeding practices and how much they love their dogs. How all the puppies are bred to the AKC Standard, are hand raised and socialized in a loving environment and what a reputable “hobby kennel” they run. They don't want you thinking they are a puppymill or income breeder for heaven's sake. But when you start really reading, more things pop out that should have you hitting delete as fast as you can. They talk about "champion lines," but never the actual Champions that they have owned or bred. They talk about their contracts and guarantees. But when you read them carefully, they aren't guaranteeing much and they require that you have to return your pet to them if you want a replacement. They know you won’t do that. Some guarantee hips up to one year or 18 months, but OFA won’t certify hips until 24 months – they know that – what’s a buyer to do? Run faster!

I guess I don’t have to tell you if you see these breeders are also offering Goldendoodles or any other crossbred mongrels on their website that you should move on. I have never understood why a buyer would be willing to spend thousands of dollars on a crossbred mutt and fall for the “hypo allergenic/hybrid vigor” mumbo jumbo. 

And while we’re talking about unscrupulous breeders duping a na├»ve public, let’s discuss the “rare white Golden Retriever” scam (RWGR). First, a rare white Golden does not exist. There’s no such animal. And if you are still determined to own one of these, expect to part with 3-7K of your hard-earned money. Huge bucks for a puppy out of untitled parents usually with no genetic clearances. There are light colored Golden Retrievers. The English and Canadian breed standards allow for a cream-colored Golden, but the American Standard does not. If you find a “rare white or rare English cream” website and read how the owners have imported these dogs from Europe or the U.K., look really closely at what they imported. Usually it’s a breeding pair that was produced by someone just like their American counterpart. No titles, no clearances for generations, just dogs bred together with no forethought to produce more dogs. Why? Because right now in America there’s a market for “rare white Golden Retrievers.” Next year it will be mini Golden Retrievers suitable for apartment living or whatever Obama ends up buying for his daughter. It’s all a scam. If your heart is set on having a light colored English-looking Golden Retriever, guess what? There are reputable breeders right here inNorth America who produce them. They compete with them, they obtain clearances and produce lovely healthy dogs. But they would never advertise their Goldens as “rare white” anything! 

Now let’s talk about where the rubber meets the road – price. The breeders of these RWGR’s are asking anywhere from $3500 to $9000 for a puppy! I know you think I’m making this up, but it’s true. And Goldendoodle breeders are getting up to $5000 for a puppy! This is insanity! What is a reasonable price for a well-bred puppy with Champion parents and a pedigree displaying Champions in every generation and OFA/CERF clearances on ancestors going back 10-15 generations in some cases. Some reputable breeders in different parts of the U.S. may charge a little more or a little less for a similar puppy, but $2500 is about average. This is not a case of where spending more means you are getting a better quality or healthier animal – just the opposite. 

It’s up to you to do the homework. Here are some tips: Network with breeders who have a demonstrated record of accomplishments in the breed. Expect them to belong to their parent club (GRCA, GRCCanada, etc.), their local breed club if one is available, a local kennel club, a rescue organization – something that lets you know they are active and serious students of the breed. When you look at their websites, their dogs should be pictured actually doing something other than standing in a patch of dirt looking at the camera or laying in a whelping box surrounded by the next cash crop. 

Ask for references and check them out. You want to talk to the vet they use. When you express interest in a litter, you should be provided with a pedigree, the parent’s registered names, health information and a contract before you send a deposit. Use the links I provided above and verify everything you possibly can. Call the local breed club and ask for a reference on the breeder. Even if they are not a member of the club, there might be some useful information you can learn. Usually if you inquire and are told the breeder is known in the area, but they would rather not give a reference, consider that a negative response. A lot of people are cautious about saying anything negative about another breeder. Move on. OTOH, if positive information is offered, and everything else checks out, chances are you have a good lead. If the breeder is close by, schedule an appointment to meet with them and see the dam before she whelps. Return to see the puppies when they are about 4-5 weeks old. Make sure everything feels right at every step in this process.

There are wonderful breeders out there who will make purchasing a puppy a rewarding experience for your entire family. They don’t always have litters when you want to buy, so getting on a waiting list is a good idea. Wrap up a stuffed plush Golden toy to place under the tree for the kids and tell them when the puppy is scheduled to be whelped. It will be worth the wait.

Here's a great resource website to begin your search. Do your homework and apply the information above to any litter/breeder that you find. Drop me an e-mail if you have questions.