Responsible Breeding

A bit more on Dylan and his sibs

I write a lot about health issues and responsible breeding, and since a lot of what I write is basically “Stop bludgeoning other breeders” I know it might be tempting to think that I only say that because I’ve never had issues. That somehow it’s “cheaper” for me to say it than someone who has gone through stuff.

Dylan is a great example, though sadly not the most extreme, of the fact that the vast world of Sucky Dog Stuff is no distant land.

When I bred Lucy and Mitch, Dylan’s parents, I honestly thought they were the safest and healthiest choice. I knew the pedigrees inside and out. We had gone from West Virginia to Quebec to buy Mitch specifically because I wanted the health and longevity that was in his pedigree; I had rejected anything that was even a day’s drive from us. Before we did the breeding we got echocardiograms on both dogs. We drove out to UPenn to do their hearts and to get Mitch’s hips done; I personally discussed his results at length with the cardiologist and orthopedist.

The breeding was an extremely loose linebreeding, doubling only on dogs who had lived a long time.

I REALLY thought I had my ducks in a row.

Dylan and his five siblings went to wonderful homes, and two years later (when all were grown and seemed healthy and well) I bred Mitch to two of Lucy’s daughters from an earlier litter, again going through the entire health testing process including repeating Mitch’s echo at Tufts and re-doing his blood draws. Those breedings were even more of an outcross and had even FEWER health issues between them.

It was about a year after those litters were born that things began to fall apart.

We lost Cassius, Dylan’s litter brother, first, to immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. Then one of the young puppies from the second set of Mitch kids was diagnosed with Addisons Disease. Dylan’s bloat, which we had hoped was a one-off from eating a blanket, began to settle into a sad pattern. One of the other young puppies was diagnosed with SLO (a type of lupus). A young bitch bled out (narrowly surviving) during her spay.

At that point I called the owners who I had sold show puppies to and told them that I strongly recommended that the pedigree be shut down. I am thankful that they all responded with understanding and no more puppies were ever produced.

Since then we’ve lost more of them, all to autoimmune illnesses or infections. Some owners I am no longer in touch with, and I am not kidding when I say that I still shake a bit whenever the phone rings and it’s an unknown number. Every time, I think it might be about a Dane. When we built the kennel room downstairs we installed a couple of oversized ones just in case I need to take a Dane back. I am not sure it’ll ever be easy for me to answer the phone.

You can do all the work and still have a complete disaster. There’s not a lot you can do – offering to be a shoulder to cry on is pretty dang inadequate when their beloved dog is dying. Because the issues with those litters were so obviously related, I’ve offered replacement puppies to every owner who lost a dog to an autoimmune problem*; I’d seriously get in a cage match with someone just for the privilege of sending a free puppy to Sue and Kirt, who were and are the best owners on earth. It’s not enough, not even close to enough, but it’s a tiny way to say how sorry I am that they had to go through it. My only catch is that the replacement puppy has to have short legs and be funny colored, because as much as I still adore them, I won’t breed Danes ever again.

What I need to be careful about, and what is the point of telling you this, is that I can’t start telling other people that THEY shouldn’t breed Danes, or that no responsible breeder would produce them. That was pretty tempting, honestly, for a couple of years there, as I was doing months and months of research on autoimmune disorders and I had the permanent shakes. But my personal tolerance level is not the Truth, and it’s not my job to tell other people that they need to have the same feelings I do. Lots of breeders have shut down a line and started up with another one in the same breed; lots have done it multiple times. They are better breeders than I will ever be, and stronger and more loving people than I am. I don’t get to steal their joy and I have no right to twist their motives.

There is nothing – NOTHING – like a good Dane. There is something about them that speaks to your heart in a way that is completely unique. I know that was Sue’s experience with Dylan, and the experiences of the families who lost Cash and Cheeky and Lucas and all the others. I am just dreadfully sorry that it was so short.


* If you are the owner of one of the dogs who died or was severely affected by an autoimmune disease, and I haven’t made the offer personally, please e-mail me if you are interested – I know that some of you read this blog even if we don’t talk often.

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  • Reply Errol Sundelowitz October 8, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    The “bludgeoning” of other breeders is unfortunately a common thing world wide (I would say). Nature can not be reduced to scientific absolutes. There is never a 100% guarantee. Nor is there 100% predictability. We just need to do the best that we can while operating from an informed position.

  • Reply Jen October 8, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    I can’t imagine what it is like to go through this as a breeder, but I’m so sorry. Sometimes you CAN do all the work and the universe punches you in the face regardless. It makes me glad to read, though, that you care this much…I lost my almost 5 year-old purebred cat to HCM three years ago. It broke my heart (it was extremely traumatic, a nightmare), and when I began reading up, I learned that his breed can be predisposed to it, and he wasn’t the only one from this line to die that way. While his breeder felt badly, the breeder of one of his grandparents, could not care less, and the latter is not only continuing to breed my precious lost friend’s bloodline but chastised me for even bringing it up to them, when I just wanted them to KNOW so they could check things out. It only added to my heartbreak, because having gone through that one shocking, unexpected, hellish morning, I know others will as well because of one bad breeder. Sickening, and I want to cry just pondering it.

    It’s good to know there are conscientious breeders around. It really is.

  • Reply kelly October 9, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Jen, my prior experience with breeders was similar to yours. Long ago I had a Westie that developed a serious jaw problem. Rather than getting help and support from the breeder, she accused us and our vet of lying and trying to destroy her reputation. She continued to breed her dog as well. It’s been great working with Joanna and seeing how a breeder can work with integrity.

  • Reply Jen October 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Kelly, I think that is the worst part…Calling them, letting them know to try and prevent someone else going through heartbreak. I couldn’t believe the letter I got from the one breeder. He’s actually nearby, and my husband was *this close* to going and punching him; I’d let them know a couple of weeks after we lost Rem and was still a wreck. The nasty note from the breeder did not help.

    Knowing that there is one good breeder like Joanna in the world means there have to be more, and that perhaps others (breeders and potential owners) are being educated by her writing.

  • Reply KD Peters June 8, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Wait — you lived in West Virginia?

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 8, 2011 at 8:36 pm

      Yep – Hedgesville. Eastern Panhandle, near Maryland and PA.

      • Reply KD Peters June 8, 2011 at 8:47 pm

        Cool! Hello from the Morgantown area.

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