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Tag: breeding

Is the quality of dog semen declining? And are contaminants in dog food to blame?


Researchers at the University of Nottingham say they’ve documented a serious decline in the fertility of male dogs — and suggest that dog food or environmental causes may be to blame.

In a study spanning 26 years, researchers tracked the sperm motility levels of five different breeds — Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, curly coat retrievers, border collies and German shepherds.

They took samples from between 42 and 97 dogs each year, according to the study, published in Scientific Reports.

Between 1988 and 1998, the team recorded a 2.5 percent decline in the amount of motile sperm per year. Between 2002 and 2014, this trend continued at a rate of 1.2 percent each year.

The researchers also found that male pups produced by dogs with declining sperm quality had an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, a condition where one or both of the testicles don’t descend properly.

The study suggests that the sperm quality may have been impacted by contaminants in dog food.

“We looked at other factors which may also play a part, for example, some genetic conditions do have an impact on fertility,” said Dr Richard Lea, leader of the study. “However, we discounted that because 26 years is simply too rapid a decline to be associated with a genetic problem.”

Dogs used for the study were all bred, raised and trained as service animals for disabled people at an unidentified center in England, according to the New York Times.

The scientists said that in addition to collecting samples throughout the study, they examined the testicles collected from dogs that had undergone castration.

Both showed environmental contaminants in high enough concentrations to affect sperm motility. These same chemicals were also discovered in various commercially available dog foods.

The researchers say the findings raise the question of whether a reported decline in human semen quality over the last 70 years could also be a result of environmental factors.

(Photos: Roscoe, a yellow Lab who was not involved in the study, and has no interest in the results, by John Woestendiek)

Without some diversity, English bulldogs could become a breed of the past

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Due to centuries of selective breeding, and the efforts of breeders to keep the breed “pure,” the English bulldog has become so inbred it cannot be returned to health without an infusion of new bloodlines, a genetic study says.

The study, appearing in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, reached the stark conclusion that health issues created by human manipulation of the breed could lead to its doom.

“We tried not to be judgmental in our paper. We just said there’s a problem here, and if you are going to decide to do something about it, this is what you’ve got to work with, said co-author Niels Pedersen of the University of California, Davis.

“If you want to re-build the breed, these are the building blocks you have, but they’re very few. So if you’re using the same old bricks, you’re not going to be able to build a new house.” told the BBC.

Pedersen and colleagues from the Center for Companion Animal Health at UC Davis examined the DNA of 102 registered English Bulldogs and found an alarmingly low level of diversity.

That, they say, is the result of a small initial pool of founding dogs, and “bottlenecks” caused by breeding for “desirable” traits like a big head and a short snout.

Those traits have led to many of the breed’s health problems — difficulty breathing, poor mobility and reproductive issues among them.

The researchers say efforts to return the breed to health by using existing bloodlines alone are “questionable.”

Introducing new bloodlines, from outside the breed, are likely the only solution, but many breeders are resistant to that idea.

“The fastest way to get genetic diversity is to outcross to a breed that looks similar but is genetically distinct… Trying to manipulate diversity from within a breed if it doesn’t have much anyway is really very difficult,” Pedersen said. “If all your dogs are highly related to one another, which ones are you going to pick?”

One possibility suggested by the researchers is the Olde English Bulldogge, a 1970s attempt by an American breeder to recreate the healthier working bulldog that existed in England during the early 1800s.

“The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures,” Pedersen said in a statement.

The features of today’s English bulldog are the result of hundreds of years of breeding, but changes to the breed’s traits — flatter face, shorter nose, stubbier legs, more skin folds — have become particularly rapid in recent decades, Pedersen said.

Program works with Amish in southern Indiana to improve breeding conditions

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While Amish breeders are notorious for running puppy mills, some of those in southern Indiana are working with Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science to improve their breeding practices and, in the process, their reputations.

“It was time that we as breeders recognize that there are professionals out there that can help us and we need to involve them in our businesses,” said Levi Graber, a member of Odon’s Amish community who helps several breeders in the area.

Though the Amish aren’t known for reaching out, or letting people in, Graber contacted the university a few years ago about improving Amish-run breeding operations in the region. That led to a pilot program in which the operations are reviewed, and suggestions are made on how to improve them.

Already, those behind the program say, they’ve found that improving conditions and practices at the kennels leads to happier, healthier, better behaved dogs.

Under the program, which is open to non-Amish breeders as well, a set of voluntary standards will be created for breeders to follow, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

“Many folks hear about breeding and animal welfare and they don’t know what (breeders) actually do. They just want to put them out of business,” said Purdue’s Candace Croney, director of the animal welfare center.

Most dogs she and her team of researchers have observed have been in good physical health, Croney said, but some had room for improvement in their behavior. Some facilities’ dogs were loud and dogs became over-excited when they saw people, which Croney said indicated they weren’t used to seeing people often.

The research team advised those breeders to make sure something positive happens for the dogs, such as receiving a treat, every time someone comes into the kennel area. They also suggested letting the dogs out in the yard daily to exercise and socialize.

The changes made a big impact, Croney said. Over four months, the dogs in the kennel with the most behavioral issues became calmer when they saw people, and they physically looked better.

“We’ve seen a very positive impact on some of the things she recommends,” Graber said. “I’ve seen more contented, happy dogs.”

Once the trial program is complete, a third party will audit the breeders’ practices, Croney said.

Breeders who qualify will receive a certification that she said goes beyond the standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which cover areas such as housing, sanitation, food, water and protection against extreme weather and temperatures.

Graber said the community feels fortunate to work with Purdue and emphasized that the breeders don’t want to sell puppies that disappoint anyone.

Not all Amish-run breeding operations are like those that end up on the news, noted Dale Blier, who works for Blue Ribbon Vet & Supply in Odon and sells supplies to many breeders in town.

“The majority of dog breeders in Indiana treat their dogs the same way they treat making furniture: They want to be the best at it they can,” he said.

(Photo: A child sits with puppies at a breeding operation in Odon that’s working with Purdue’s Center for Animal Welfare Science program; by Levi Graber)

Bulldogs: That’s how they roll

If you were built like a bowling ball, you too might have a propensity for rolling.

Bulldogs sure seem to.

Sophie was just a two-month old pup when her owners noted how much she liked rolling, caught it on camera and posted it on YouTube. It would turn out to be the first in a series of rolling Sophie videos.

“Usually she just throws herself onto her back and rolls around but the first few times she did it she happened to be on a sloping hill … I just set her down to go potty and as you see in the video, she threw herself down on the ground and rolled down the hill,” her owner wrote in a YouTube post.

“I picked her up, terrified that she had ‘fallen’ down this hill but I put her back down and she just did it again and again, 4 more times with such gusto we realized she was just having a ball! We were a bit afraid that she had ‘issues’ but she’s perfectly fine. We contacted the breeder and it turns out Sophie’s mother did the same thing.”

More recently, another rolling bulldog debuted on the Internet and quickly went viral:

So what’s behind it?

One plausible theory could be, in addition to seeming to enjoy the activity, they may be scratching some itches.

Given how humans have shaped the breed, an English Bulldog — with its short legs, short neck, and non-existent snout — isn’t able to reach too many parts of its body with its paws or mouth.

Human manipulation of the breed has led to far more severe, and less laughable, problems than that, including having heads so large most have to be born through C-sections. But they’ve adapted to the shape we’ve given them — at least in this regard.

They let the ground be their back scratcher. They roll over and squirm around on their backs — even though getting in and out of that position is sometimes a struggle.

To cope with that, they find a good hill, allow momentum do its job, and let the good times roll.

Harley dishonored? You won’t be seeing this

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Allegations of wide-scale voter fraud may not effect the presidential race, but they have kept a one-eyed Chihuahua from appearing on the tail of Frontier Airlines jets.

The Denver-based airline announced Monday that it has suspended its “Mascot on the Tail” contest because it had been “compromised” by fraudulent voting.

“We have determined that the contest has been compromised by fraudulent activity and ineligible voting that has created an unfair environment for all participants,” the airline said in a statement. “We appreciate your patience and apologize for any inconvenience.”

The contest, launched in March, invited universities, high schools and other organizations to campaign and vote for their mascot to appear on the tail of some Frontier planes.

Given that getting themselves free publicity (and gathering as many email addresses as possible) were the real reasons for Frontier to hold the contest, and given online contests aren’t exactly the epitome of the one-person-one-vote ideal, the airline’s explanation came across as a little hollow, and a little suspect.

Especially to those supporting Harley, a one-eyed Chihuahua who was the mascot of National Mill Dog Rescue.

Harley3Harley, a puppy mill survivor and the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog for 2015, was among the top vote-getters in the contest (voting was scheduled to end April 30) when it was abruptly called off.

“Once entered, Harley quickly gained tremendous support thanks to you – his fans – and he also gained the support of several news stations, animal welfare organizations and even celebrities,” a statement on on Harley’s Facebook page says.

“Over the course of a week Harley reached over 37,000 votes and was in first place. He was well ahead of all other contestants…It soon became clear that Harley had an excellent chance of winning the contest. Then, suddenly, Frontier Airlines suspended the contest. Their explanation was that there was voter fraud and they blamed international voters.”

Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner said the airline did not suspend the voting due to the possibility of Harley winning, the Denver Post reported.

Instead, the contest was halted due to “several” instances of fraud, including cases of ineligible, non-U.S. residents voting, he said.

Faulkner did not pinpoint any particular contestant that was benefiting from “fraudulent” voting.

The airline plans to send $20 travel vouchers to everyone who voted in the online contest as “a token of good will,” he added.

Harley’s supporters freely admit to campaigning heavily for their candidate. They saw it as a way to educate the public about the horrors of puppy mills and honor the memory of Harley, who passed away last month at the age of 15.

Creating a social media buzz, and spreading the word about the contest served them well, and served Frontier Airlines well.

harley2So is there some other reason — other than wanting to be certain their online voting process was pristine and ethical — behind Frontier’s decision to terminate the contest?

We’d hate to think politics were involved, or that some airline big wig thought the image of a one-eyed dog might besmirch their shiny jets.

Other mascots competing in the contest included Colorado State University’s Cam the Ram; University of Colorado’s Ralphie the bison; University of Florida’s Albert and Alberta Gator; and the University of California Santa Cruz mascot, Sammy the Slug.

Harley, a little dog who came to represent perseverance and resiliency, was the only contestant with a message — and maybe that frightened the airline. Maybe they were afraid of losing any unethical breeders they had as passengers.

Michele Burchfield, marketing director for the National Mill Dog Rescue, said Harley’s high number of votes were the result of his message and an active social media and e-mail campaign that caught on with puppy mill opponents across the country.

“If Frontier opens up the contest again, we would be thrilled to enter him again and honored to have him on the tail of a plane knowing that our voting is legitimate and honest,” Burchfield said. “We did everything we could to bring this honor to him.”

“This little guy could get a million votes in a month if he needed it,” she said.

Crufts 2016: Another choice of scandals

Just like last year, Crufts offered up a choice for discerning scandal mongers as the world’s most prestigious dog show came to a close in the UK over the weekend.

Before the dog hair had been cleared away from the NEC in Birmingham, charges of nepotism were swirling after it was revealed judge Di Arrowsmith awarded best gundog to a Gordon setter partly owned and bred by her sister, Josie Baddely.

And animal advocates and others were raising a stink about the Kennel Club judges awarding best in breed to a German shepherd who would have been a walking exemplar of the direction breeders had long been trying to take the breed in — that slinky appearance, with a sloped back and hind legs that seem to trail far behind the rest of the animal.

He would have been an exemplar of that, at least, had the dog had been able to walk.

First, because it’s a little more clear-cut, we’ll deal with the nepotism.

Arrowsmith insisted she awarded the prize on the dog’s merits.

“When I adjudicate, I do so without fear or favor,” she told the Daily Mail. “The Gordon setter was the best dog in the ring on that night. It would have been dishonest not to give the award to him.”

The Telegraph reported that criticism was running rampant on dog breeder forums on the Internet.

“Most exhibitors who adhere to decent standards of behavior don’t enter under judges who are related to them,” one said. “The decent thing to do is withdraw from the group judging,” said another. A third said: “This is yet another Crufts controversy that will only harm the competition.”

The Kennel Club, which runs the show, insisted no rules were broken.

Caroline Kisko, the secretary of the Kennel Club, insisted the winning gundog won the prize on his merits. In a statement, she said: “It is important to clarify that no rules were broken here. Any dog that is chosen as a winner is done so because of the judge’s honest opinion on the day and is judged with integrity.”

The statement goes on, at length, with trademark bluster, to defend the decision — even though that’s really not the point.

Whether it’s Miss America pageants, Nobel Prizes or dog shows, you just don’t allow people to serve as judges in competitions in which their family members are entered. Fathers shouldn’t be judging sons. Sisters shouldn’t be judging sisters — even sisters who don’t get along (as is reportedly the case here.)

But does the Kennel Club say, “Yeah, you’re right, that was pretty stupid of us?” No, they spin and defend, manipulating the truth much like breeders and breed standards have manipulated dog breeds.

Which brings us back to the deformed, mutant German shepherd.

Sure, it could have been a case of nerves, or health problems unrelated to genetics that led her to stumble her way through the spotlight at Crufts.

But I suspect it has something to do with a limited gene pool. Design a human whose feet aren’t under his butt and he’d have trouble going through the paces, too.

Just as close relatives shouldn’t be judging each other in contests, they shouldn’t be breeding with each other — especially when the sole goal of those overseeing the breeding is to produce an offspring that accentuates some silly, and often unhealthy, physical characteristic that the latest breed standards deem “desirable.”

As seen in the video at the top of this post, the dog named best in breed, Cruaghaire Catoria, is barely able to trot across the arena floor. It’s as if her front legs and rear legs are operating independently of each other.

Why then award her best in breed? For one thing, her shape conforms to what, until recent years, was considered the ideal (when in reality it was unhealthy, prone to causing hip problems, and gave the breed the appearance of a skulking, runaway felon).

Correcting that, just like achieving it, takes some time — and that’s if there’s consensus among the breeders and all those smug kennel club types who have trouble ever admitting they were wrong.

If Cruaghaire Catoria is any indication, that consensus doesn’t exist.

(Photo: James, the Gordon setter chosen best gun dog; ASC/ZDS/Anthony Stanley / WENN.com)

Sparring for sperm: Legal fight stems from neutering of a champion bichon frisé

beauWhen a  bichon frisé named Beau Lemon retired from the dog show circuit as the second best of his breed, plans were for him to spend his leisure years raking in the stud fees.

At age 3, his owners in Minnesota figured Beau — full name Victoire Gerie’s No Lemon Gemstone — could breed at least until he was 10.

In the process, they figured, they would be ensuring his genes and his legacy lived on .

And they’d get the puppy that they desperately wanted.

But those hopes, and those bucks, seemingly became a thing of the past when Beau’s breeder had the little white dog neutered without their knowledge, owners Mary and John Wangsness allege in a lawsuit.

The legal dispute has been going on for about a year now in Minnesota’s Ramsey County, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Wangsnesses allege breeder Vickie Halstead, who sold them the dog, acted in “vengeance” by neutering Beau because they had tried to breed him twice to a female dog, Cha Cha, without obtaining Halstead’s approval, which  was required in the sales contract.

They are seeking more than $50,000 in damages, and about eight vials of what they believe to be Beau’s frozen semen, now stored in a veterinary clinic and estimated to be worth $3,000 each.

The semen is being held under Halstead’s name, and the lawsuit alleges she has already profited from selling two vials.

As John Wangsness sees it, since it came from the loins of his dog, what’s in those vials are his.

“Damn right, they’re mine,” he said.

Beau was neutered without their approval in July 2013, when he was 4.

“After hearing about the neutering, and I’m not overstating things at all, Mary literally cried and stayed in bed for three weeks,”  said Wangsness, adding that she never fully recovered before she died this past March.

The case isn’t as black and white as it might seen.  In the competitive world of dog showing, ownership of a dog — as well as decisions about its care and profits — are often contractually shared between the breeder and the owner.

And that much debated sperm might not even be Beau Lemon’s.

Halstead’s attorney, Joseph Crosby, said at a recent hearing that the frozen semen belongs to Beau’s brother, Beau Jangles.

Crosby said Halstead “rescued” the dog from the Wangsnesses because they were neglecting him. He said Beau was suffering from dental disease, a low sperm count, impacted anal glands, and a matted and unhealthy coat.

Crosby said Beau’s neutering was necessary due to his “deteriorated health condition.”

In June of 2013, Halstead borrowed Beau from the Wangsnesses for what she told them was breeding purposes, the lawsuit says.

They did not learn of his neutering until he was returned.

Larry Leventhal, attorney for the Wangsnesses, said the couple treated Beau as a pet, but they also expected to have the option of breeding him several times a year at a rate of $2,000 to $3,000 per breeding until he turned 10.

Wangsness said that, more than money, he wants justice for his wife.

“I would like some vindication for the emotional distress that happened to Mary as a result of [Beau’s neutering],” Wangsness said.

Attorneys were scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss a settlement agreement.

(Photo: Beau, as pictured on the website for Victoir’s Bichons)