2003 Articles

Monsters In The Closet

Monsters in the Closet
 SCWS President’s Message by Cheri Hollenback

The title of this month’s president’s message may have been better suited for Halloween rather than the Holiday season, but events since the National have provoked considerable reflection and discussion on this topic.

The Samoyed breed carries the potential of 60 genetically transmitted diseases or disorders 1.. Some of these we can estimate the percentage of penetration in the breed (i.e.: Hip dysplasia – 11.4% dysplastic based on 12,250 evaluations between 1974 and 2000 2.; 9.8% affected with autoimmune thyroid disease 3.), while other problems have not been documented with adequate frequency to determine the risks.

Relative to some other breeds, we are very fortunate. The Beagle, Cocker, Dachshund, Dobie, GSD, Golden, Lab, & Poodle carry 100 or more 4.. Over 2.7% of OFA evaluated Bullmastiffs are affected with heart disease 5.. The Bulldog has demonstrated the rate of hip dysplasia 75.4% 6.. The dog most frequently documented as suffering with autoimmune thyroid disease is the English Setter, with 32% affected 7..

Through being involved with the Samoyed breed since 1981, I’ve come to know quite a few breeders. I cannot name a single one who has not experienced at least one of these problems in their line. Some have shared this information with me openly, some privately, some I’ve become aware of in more circuitous ways. I have also experienced some of these problems with my own breeding program. I know I did everything possible to control for these problems, with hip, eye, thyroid, heart and now PRA genetic clearances on the animals I used for breeding, as I believe most other conscientious breeders do. Obviously, if these problems were within our control, they would have been eliminated long ago! Until the canine genome is completely mapped and we understand the mode of inheritance for all of these disorders, to some extent, each breeding will continue to be a roll of the dice.

Why then, do many in the breed treat genetic disorders as “skeletons in the closet”? A dirty little secret to be whispered between confidants, something to be embarrassed about, glossed over, minimized, or otherwise hidden? Or as a “gotcha”, a “I know something you don’t know” like 4 year olds on the playground? The vast majority of breeders do the best job of breeding healthy, long-lived animals they can with the information and resources they have available to them. Why do some critics persist in acting like other breeders are unethical or lacking in moral character because they have acknowledged a problem?

We have limited tools at our disposal to try to eliminate these problems and the strongest and most powerful is KNOWLEDGE!!!! If individuals choose to suppress the information about their bloodlines rather than see it treated as a piece of salacious gossip, we will never be able to come together as a breeding community to eradicate these genes from our bloodlines.

As an example of what can be done, I refer you back to the 11.4% hip dysplasia rate. If those statistics are analyzed by the years from 1974-1985, the rate is 12.7%, while from 1996 to 2000, it dropped to 7.6%. During these same two time periods, the rate of “excellent” hips increased from 7.4% to 13.1% 8.. I personally don’t think this was a statistical accident, nor do I think that fewer people knowingly submitted dysplastic X-Rays. Rather, I believe that it reflects the conscious commitment of the Samoyed breeding community to address this problem.

We have so many marvelous attributes in the Pacific Northwest Samoyed Community. I encourage you all to join me in adding one more – let us bring light to those closets and quit treating genetic disorders in our own and other’s bloodlines as “monsters in the closet”. As when we were children, they will go away if we eliminate the darkness.

Best to you and yours during this season. May you all have a wonderful warm and white-fuzzy holiday!

1) Padgett, G.A. (1998) Control of Canine Genetic Disease. Howell; New York.
2) OFA. (2003a)
Hip Database. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals; Columbia, MO.
3)Keller, G. (2003)
The Use of Health Databases and Selective Breeding. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals; Columbia, MO.
4) Padgett, G.A. (1998), op cit.
5) OFA. (2003b)
Congenital Cardiac Database. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals; Columbia, MO.
6) OFA. (2003a), op cit.
7) Keller, G. (2003), op cit.
8) OFA. (2003a), op cit.