Monthly Archives

March 2011

genetics, Responsible Breeding

Cardigan Welsh Corgi Coat Color Genetics part 1

Understanding coat color (and inheritance) in the Cardigan Welsh Corgi

Because the Cardigan has a history shared with a broad range of dog types – the teckel (primitive dachshund, accessing the hound genes), the herding dogs (accessing those genes, especially the recessive black), and even the spitz dogs (accessing certain dilution genes), we have the possibility of creating in our breed a whole bunch of colors. It’s like a playground for those who love color genetics, like I do, but unfortunately that possibility, and the associated “surprises” that sometimes pop up in litters, has made many breeders very afraid of what might happen when colors are bred together. There’s a feeling, which I think is quite incorrect, that the better breeders are the ones that do the very tightest range of breedings, and so to be a good breeder you need to stick within a very few possible breedings and possible colors lest you end up with what people call “bad” color.

My goal is not to tell you which breedings to do. It’s to show you that color breeding is one of the few things in dog breeding that we really can understand, get a grasp on, and control. It can feel very mysterious to a new breeder, and even to some experienced ones, but it’s actually very predictable and should never be scary.

Here are the things you need to know:

1)   Colors are proteins, not paint.

Since the beginning of organized breeding, breeders have been tempted to think of coat color as though it can be mixed and swirled. Need a lighter color? Breed to a lighter dog. Need a darker one? Find yourself a black dog. This has led to all kinds of bizarre recommendations, old wives’ tales, and perfectly good dogs being discarded because they showed “evidence” of an unwanted color.

It’s completely wrong and we’ve got to stop. The color genes code for particular proteins that, when they work in concert with all the zillions of other proteins in the body, create a color on the outside of the dog.

The color genes are much more like a deck of cards than they are like paint. There are some major divisions (think of them like the face cards and number cards) and within each division there are a number of choices (think of the suits).

When all the cards are put together, they combine to form powerful units that tell the dog’s developing body where to put color cells and what proteins those color cells are allowed to produce.

But, in the same way that a full house usually beats a pair of twos, but make that pair into four of the same card and it beats the full house, the cards themselves don’t have the power. The combination does. And, in the same way that handing a two of clubs to one player may give him a straight flush, but handing the same card to another player gives her two of a kind, the contributions of each parent dog may result in a whole ton of different colors in the babies – sometimes dramatically different cosmetically than either parent.

2)   Proteins are never just about color.

The genes that affect color are not just inkjet printers. That’s been the number-one discovery about color this century, and has turned a lot of color genetics on its head (and made things very exciting). As it turns out, the colors appear the way they do because the gene introduces defects into certain proteins. Most of the defective proteins don’t do anything bad to the dog, but a few of them are actually harmful – for example, it now seems relatively certain that the gene that turns Dalmatians from ticked dogs (with lots of little round specks) to Dalmatians (with a few big round dots) is the same gene that makes them unable to break down uric acid properly.

We’re also discovering that certain things we thought were simple are not so simple at all. I am sure you’ve heard that if you’ve got a big white blaze you run the risk of getting a blue eye. We want to intuitively understand this like it’s paint – paint white over the eye and it turns blue. But in fact it’s much more likely that the same proteins that prevent pigment from being expressed on the skin affect the way in which the eye develops. What we’re seeing is not causation – the white blaze doesn’t cause the blue eye – but correlation – same protein affects both skin and eye.

We’ve got to get our brains around this because the next few decades are going to see an explosion of new knowledge and we’re going to have to make ethical decisions based on that knowledge. What if we find that (and I’m just making this up, but it’s not far-fetched) chocolate-pigmented dogs are forty percent more likely to have thyroid problems than black-pigmented dogs? Or that (and this one I’m not making up) it may be that all merle dogs are at risk of hearing loss? We’re going to have to address that new information, and to do so we need to understand it.

Continued in Part 2.


Don’t be mad; Ginny made me do it

You may remember that I warned you all that the blog theme was going to change once WordPress released the new version. That’s been done and it seems stable and so I will be screwing with the theme throughout the day. Don’t be surprised if it looks broken; once it’s really done I will ask you all to run it through its paces again but it’ll be a few hours.

When it is done it will have the same content but it’s going to look like a photoblog of some kind. Apologies to those who like the content-blog look (I do too).

The reason I am going to change it, and once it is changed it will hopefully be stable for a year or two, is that all our conversations about Ginny – and being brave and being confident and trusting that somebody’s arms are always ready for you to fall – have made me realize how much I’ve been stuck in the same mode I’m always telling my kids to get out of. For a lot of years I’ve been in that thing where you do stuff because you’re afraid – afraid of not having enough money, afraid of not having safety. It’s all felt like such a huge Emergency all the time; pay the mortgage, pay the electric, hope we have enough for ice cream this week.

So, in an attempt to avoid some sort of Charlie Sheen moment where I finally crack and go around wearing animals as hats, I’m going back to school. Student loans, here I come, back into your low-interest embrace.

Since I have a B.S. in biology, did literature and theatre in college, have 9/10 of two master’s degrees in theology and church history, and have been working as a copy editor for ten years, I’m going to do the predictable thing and go to art school. (I figure after that all I have left is to become a general contractor and the grand performance-art piece that is my life will finally be completed – zany!)

Seriously, though, we’ve been talking and looking at our lives and we know that the littler kids still need me. I don’t want to (yet) work full-time away from home. So I need a job where I can continue to freelance, but with more creative freedom and control over my hours. (You may have realized, looking at the timestamps of these posts, that I don’t sleep too much – it’s getting a little old after this many years.)

Graphic design and photography seem to be where I can find that intersection. I’m applying at the School at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; they’ve asked me to bring down my portfolio so they can tell me if I should do the post-bacc studio certificate or should go back and do undergrad work first. I am looking through my stuff and looking at their sample student work, and clearly I don’t have enough by way of out-of-focus shots of my own foot (wow, I DO NOT understand a lot of art photography) so I may be doing undergrad. An alternative is to do studio work at Montserrat College of Art, which is closer to me and does a little bit more mainstream stuff.

Either way, as soon as June but definitely by the fall I will be in class, and you all will be subjected to me posting foot pictures for a few months. Hopefully I will have some time to write dog rants in between.


Needs and pieces

Honour walked past me, carrying something fluffy and red in her arms.

I got up, trying to look casual, and followed her into her room.

The chicken she was carrying looked up at me with a startled expression on its face. She tucked it back under her arm and sat down to read. I closed my mouth very deliberately and went back to my chair.

After a few moments I heard Honour get into bed, followed by some muffled squawking. I tiptoed back in. The chicken, now mostly under the covers, stared at me.

I blinked at the bird. She blinked back at me, panting lightly. I offered my silent sympathy to her and walked back to my chair.

Five minutes later, Honour walked past me again, hen’s head bobbing under one elbow.

“I’m going downstairs to make biscuits,” she said. “I think I need a new dog.”


So now we begin the search. It won’t be fast. I will be meeting with some breeders in April and of course I’ll be watching the shelters, but I am aware of the miraculous nature of finding Ginny and the fact that we really might need the support and help of a breeder because of the personality and temperament needs we have for a service dog. I think another Papillon is probably the best fit, but Honour says she just can’t do it. She says she feels like she’d be replacing Ginny too much. We’re sitting together and looking through the AKC breed book and thinking and talking about it.

The chicken is very relieved.


Or maybe put it in a shadowbox

Last night I came out of the computer room and tripped over a giant pile of packing peanuts and landed on a fork. And both of those were in the upstairs bedroom hallway.

I limped downstairs and said “THAT’S IT. THE GINNY MEMORIAL CLEANING COMMENCES NOW.” After four days of weeping and comfort-eating, the house pretty much looked like we were culturing cholera in the sink.

We attacked each room, sweeping dirty clothes and paper towels before us like a giant wave, scooping litterboxes and spraying windows as we went.

We hit the kids’ room in force, with broom held high, and Meri grabbed a big piece of posterboard and prepared to heave it in the bin.

And we all stopped stock still. There, on the ground, under the poster that had fallen over, was Ginny’s last Present to us.

We all stared in silence at it. There it was, the reason I had yelled at the kids to put her out, the reason she had been shoved out the door, the cause of it all. Two little brown torpedoes, placed as neatly as she always did in the center of Meri’s floor.

Finally, Doug cleared his throat and said, very seriously, “Should we bronze it?”

I heard Honour gasp – and then she laughed. And we fell on the beds and we laughed and laughed and wiped tears and laughed.

Which is to say: Thank you. We’re OK. We’re getting better. We love you all.


A heartfelt thanks

I am still not ready to come back to the world – we’re all wandering around staring at things and randomly bursting into tears. Ginny was the most joy-filled creature on the face of the planet, so I’m not going to talk about her here until I can write happily again.

We have read every single comment, every note and e-mail, and they mean so very much. We know you all loved her.

Please continue to have Honour in your thoughts. I don’t share too much about her on this blog because I feel so strongly that she has her own story to tell and it’s not my place to define her here, especially when she is struggling. (If you want words to put to it, she has OCD and social anxiety disorder, but now I want you to forget those words and know that she’s just a fantastic, sweet, brilliant girl who feels the same fears and worries that we all do, but where you feel them at about a level 2 she feels them at a level 10.) But many of you know that it is difficult for her to lead a full life without Ginny there, and Honour is not just mourning the loss of a beloved companion but what feels to her like the loss of hope and normalcy. Please pray that she feels peace and comfort and that she continues to learn the lessons that Ginny taught her about confidence and happiness.

Again, thank you all.


There are no words

Through a freak and tragic accident, we lost Ginny tonight. Please pray for Honour. Please pray for us all. I will be offline for a few days.

hours later: I am editing to add, because I don’t want to be deliberately confusing, that we don’t know exactly what happened to Ginny. We put her out for her normal last pee break, heard the dogs yelling twenty minutes later, went out and she was lying in the snow cold and still. We brought her in and tried to warm her, and she lived for a couple of hours, but she just couldn’t come back and she died while Honour and I held her and told her how much we loved her.

We did not take her to the ER vet (an hour away) – we would never hesitate to do so but for the first hour or so we thought she was just cold, and after that we knew it was too late. We didn’t want her last time with us to be in the back of a car or on a vet’s table.

She had marks that look like she was tugged by the other dogs, but no skin was broken and there were no obvious injuries of any kind. I assumed at first, when we brought her inside and thought she was just very chilled, that she must have been fighting with Clue. However, once we got her cleaned up we found that she’d been nosed around and tugged but not hurt. The other dogs have also NEVER hurt her, each other, or any living creature besides a suicidal guinea hen who flew into Bramble’s mouth last fall. Ginny and Clue have always battled it out for the supremacy of the universe but a few screeches were as bad as it EVER got. We guess that she may have had a heart attack or embolism or a seizure outside and the other dogs reacted to that. Maybe if we had gotten to her sooner… I just don’t know.

We are shattered, and feel incredibly guilty and horrified and lost. She was not a dog; she was always more. The kids and I have been reading A Wrinkle in Time, and have said over and over again that Ginny is our Fortinbras, our Louise the Larger.

She’ll sleep in the quilted bag Honour hand-made for her, the one that she rode in over my shoulder, and in the spring we’ll plant dogwood over her.

I don’t like to make this blog a place for me to fall apart. So I won’t be updating for a while. We are not all right. We are very definitely not. But we know the love of a God who loves dogs, and we love each other very much, and we believe in the made-new-ing of all things.

We love you all and thank you for your love and concern.


The fever

Remember how I once said that every couple of years I call Betty Ann up and tell her that I am looking for a puppy?

Well, it’s been two years.

Clue didn’t get pregnant, as you know (and, by the way, never went back into season), Friday is not old enough yet, and Juno is pretty much in that stage where I am putting a paper bag over her head and refusing to look at her. We have not had a puppy in the house in a year.

Doug watched me flop dramatically over the back of the couch and moan theatrically one too many times, and said, “My darling, my sweetness, the love of my life and the vacuumer of my pellet stove and no that’s not a euphemism, what is troubling your tender soul?” Or something like that. It may have sounded like “HOLY HECK WOMAN KNOCK OFF THE GRETTA GARBO ACT; FINE, YOU CAN HAVE A PUPPY, JUST DON’T YELL AT ME WHEN YOU STEP IN PEE EVERY FIVE MINUTES,” but I saw his eyes mist up as he said it.

And so – SQUEE! – the Call Has Been Made.

Do not look for updates soon; there’s nothing in the pipeline for a few months. What’s coming up are a couple of litters. One is hysterically exciting; the other is stutteringly awesome. Or maybe it’s the other way around. No puppies are born yet, so things may be put off even longer, especially since I asked for (I KNOW!) a BOY this time.

BUT… it is going to happen. LAWKSAMERCY!