Thursday, July 28, 2011

Read It and Weep: Anti-Dog Legislation Is Alive & Well~~~by Jennifer Walker

I spent four years as the Legislation Chairperson for the American Boxer Club. During that time, I’ve seen the purebred dog fancy progress from completely ignoring most legislative issues to developing a small but determined and often effective minority of activists who spend countless hours defending our rights to own and breed dogs, and to consult with our veterinarians to determine their care. I’ve also seen an onslaught of anti-breeder, anti-owner, anti-animal legislation, which reached a fevered pitch this year and will no doubt be even more frenzied in the next session. We have both won and lost battles to choose medical care for our dogs, in terms of mandatory sterilization laws and anti-cropping laws; to choose the most effective means of humanely restraining our dogs via anti-tethering laws; to determine our ideal number of dogs based on our own capabilities through pet limit laws; and to breed our dogs in our homes as the result of restrictive breeding laws that use numbers, rather than care, as the “puppy mill” determiner.

In May 2011 I regretfully resigned my Legislation post. It is an extremely important position, and unfortunately the last I heard it had not yet been filled. I was not doing it justice – I have become alternately, and sometimes concurrently, disheartened, disillusioned, and disgusted with the entire subject, and thus became ineffective at fulfilling the purpose of the position. Disheartened, because it seems at times there’s no way to win a war when the other side has hundreds of millions of dollars to push legislation and lobby lawmakers and we have only grassroots efforts and minimal funding. Disillusioned, because I honestly used to believe that legislators wouldn’t knowingly pass laws that are ineffective, expensive, and unconstitutional, and I have since found that they will and do if they can somehow benefit from it. Disgusted, because despite the best efforts of people far smarter than me, some of our own Boxer Clubs have thrown other breeders under the bus and supported legislation that makes breeding dogs a crime. I also got tired of being reported as a spammer for sending legislative updates to Member Club Secretaries, as I was requested to do. It appears that it’s not only health testing about which the majority of our breeders prefer to keep their heads in the sand.

Following is a slightly modified and streamlined version of my final Legislation Report. The original can be found in the June 2011 ABC Bulletin.

The animal rights assault on dog breeders continued with force in 2010-2011. Fifteen states introduced breeder-restriction bills in 2010, and 12 states in 2011. A number of similar bills were proposed or adopted at the municipal and local levels. At least five state bills passed and many are still pending. With few exceptions these bills subject breeders to regulation based on the number of dogs they “own, maintain, or have control over” and often include co-owned dogs that reside elsewhere. In many cases, 4- and 6-month old puppies are counted as “breeding dogs.” The number of dogs allowed before a breeder is considered “commercial” range from 25 in many states to 15 in Maryland, 10 in Illinois, 6 in New York. In unincorporated Salt Lake County, Utah, if you “own or are responsible for” more than one intact female and whelp a litter, you are subject to regulation and must obtain a breeding license. (An amendment provides for a free five-year “responsible breeder” license if the person belongs to an AKC/UKC breed club with a qualifying Code of Ethics. The ABC Code of Ethics does not meet the ordinance’s criteria.) Alternatively, some laws base regulation on the number of dogs sold in one year – from 25 to as few as five.

Meanwhile, the Federal PUPS bill (the third incarnation of the Federal PAWS bill, which failed, twice, and lost Rick Santorum his seat) continues to gain sponsors. This bill defines a “breeding female” as an intact female 4 months of age or older, defines a “high volume retail breeder” as someone who owns or co-owns one or more breeding females that produce 50 or more puppies in 12 months, and requires such a breeder to abide by USDA engineering standards and regulations, which make in-home breeding impossible. (Fifty puppies in a year might be difficult for one breeder; fifty puppies in a year when you co-own bitches with other breeders is far less difficult.)

Unfortunately, some breeders, many rescuers, and even a handful of Boxer Clubs support breeder-restriction bills, with the mistaken belief that they will stop “puppy mills.” They won’t. Every state has adequate animal welfare laws, which if enforced will address the truely substandard kennels. People who are ignoring the existing laws are unlikely to follow new laws – they will move their breeding operations to the back woods and sell their puppies on the side of the road, thus eliminating even a customer-based inspection process. What breeder-restriction bills do is make moderate- to large-scale breeding illegal, and turn many conscientious breeders into criminals.

In the midst of the constant deluge of anti-animal legislation, however, some rays of light have appeared:

The Governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, flat-out stated that the richest animal rights group was not welcome in his state, stating the group “is anti-agriculture and they’re out to destroy animal agriculture.”

Alaska’s Congressman, Don Young, refused the group’s “Humane Legislator” award in March 2011, given by the organization due to his 2010 legislative activities. Young’s basis for the refusal was that they are “hypocrites, plain and simple, and I will not join them by accepting this award.”

In April 2011, Young and five Congressmen from Missouri sent a letter demanding Federal involvement in the IRS investigation into the group’s non-profit status, stating, “By its own admission, [the group] spends more than twice as much on ‘advocacy and public policy’ than any other category of expenses.”

A breeder-restriction bill that capped the number of dogs a breeder could own, lowered existing standards of care, and increased licensing and enforcement without providing funding for the same was repealed by state lawmakers. A compromise bill was then passed which improved conditions for dogs in breeding facilities, provided funding for licensing and inspection, and removed the 50-dog limit. The animals rights group, which spent $2 million lobbying for the original bill, has vowed to bring the issue back again, because they want to limit the numbers regardless of the care.

We still have many battles to wage in our war with the animal rights groups who would take away our hobby, our passion, our hearts. Over the years we have become more proactive, rather than reactive, but we still need to work on that front. If you want to preserve your rights to breed, own, and enjoy your Boxers, talk with your legislators before any legislation is introduced – most state representatives have local in-office days when they will meet with their constituents. Tell them exactly what legislation may be heading their way, and tell them who is behind it – a group that has been investigated by the Attorneys General of two states for fraudulent fundraising, that is the subject of a current IRS investigation for excessive lobbying activity, that is a defendant in two federal lawsuits (one for racketeering, the other for illegal search and seizure), and that spends less than one percent of their one hundred million dollars of donations each year on hands-on care for dogs and cats. Remember, we are the experts on dog breeding, not the animal rights activists who have never bred – and many of whom have never even owned – a dog. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SAS: Are American Boxers Headed in the Wrong Direction?

Recently, an SB-L member asked the list to comment on a situation in which her dog had been cleared of SAS for an OFA listing by a board certified cardiologist at 16 mos with a flow rate of 1.9 m/s; but had been subsequently diagnosed with SAS at 22 mos by another board certified cardiologist with a Grade 3 murmur and a flow rate of 2.6. 

Prior to that SB-L discussion, a friend and I had been talking about what exactly was an "acceptable" flow rate for boxers, who sets the standards for what's clear of SAS and what's not, and whether acceptance of higher flow rates in boxers by some veterinary cardiologists is leading to an increase in the incidence of SAS...or not. My friend has kept a record of all the echoes she's had done on her dogs over the years, and has noticed that the dogs that might have been cleared of SAS a few years ago with a higher than 2.0 m/s flow rate, are now being graded "Equivocal" (uncertain) by the SAME cardiologist! 

Before we go any further, some background: At the 2003 ABC, Dr Kate Meurs announced that she had just completed a study of SAS in boxers, and had found that boxer aortas were narrower than those in other dog breeds, and that increased flow rate could be caused by 1) stenosis, 2) excitability (especially in young dogs) and 3) pregnancy/heat. I did a summary of Dr Meurs' presentation in the Boxer Underground and wrote:  "[Dr] Meurs' recommendations (based on this study) were that 'a blood velocity of 1.7 to 2.5 can be acceptable IN A BOXER, if there is no turbulence or fibrous ridge/ring detected on a color-flow Doppler echo.'" (The fibrous ridge may or may not be noticeable on Doppler, but it is definitely what is looked for on autopsy to confirm or disprove the presence of SAS.) A velocity of 1.7 m/s was historically chosen as "normal" because "that's what you can hear" – i.e. a blood velocity over 1.7 can be heard with a stethoscope as a murmur.  Again, Dr. Meurs said her study indicated that a blood velocity of 1.7 to 2.5 m/s "can be normal" in a boxer, in the absence of turbulence or a fibrous ridge in the aorta.  Here is a link to the BU article on Dr Meurs' report:

After he learned of Dr Meurs study, our local (Florida) cardiologist became far more lenient than he had been in grading the flow rates of the boxers we brought to him for pre-breeding screening. Now, 8 years after Dr Meurs did her study, my cardiologist has gone back to the "old" standards, because the Ad Hoc Committee of the ACVIM (American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine) has established (re-established??) the following diagnostic guidelines:
·  Manual restraint during echo is preferred (in cases where sedation is required, please record drug and dosage).
·  Maximal LVOT velocity is calculated using Doppler studies from both the subcostal and left apical views using the average value of 3-5 beats.
·  Normal: Dogs with LVOT velocity < 1.9 m/s in the absence of either structural abnormalities of the LVOT or abrupt acceleration within the LVOT.
·  Uncertain: Dogs with LVOT velocity >1.9 and < 2.4 m/s in the absence of structural abnormalities of the LVOT or abrupt acceleration within the LVOT.
·  Affected: Dogs with structural abnormalities of the LVOT or abrupt acceleration within the LVOT or a velocity > 2.4 m/s.
·  Presence or absence of AI can be recorded but is not intended to be a diagnostic criterion for the presence of absence of SAS.
At the ABC this year, a friend had his promising young dog (14 mos) echo'd at the heart clinic there. The ABC cardiologist -- Dr Ryan Baumwart -- cleared the dog of SAS ("Normal") for an OFA listing with a Grade 2 murmur, a flow rate of 2.21 m/s, and "mild aortic regurgitation." He said there was no need for my friend to have his dog echo'd again when it was older. (My own cardiologist won't  clear a dog for OFA certification till it's 18 mos old.) Later at the ABC general membership meeting, the chair of the ABC Health & Research Committee, Dr Joyce Campbell, said that the ABC cardiologist was alarmed by the number of "Equivocal" ("Uncertain") diagnoses he had given out (8-10), and warned the meeting attendees to take greater care in screening their dogs for SAS.

Keeping in mind that the OFA lists a dog as normal, but does NOT list any info on flow rate, grade of murmur, etc, my question regarding all of the foregoing is this: Has acceptance by board certified cardiologists of a higher aortic flow rate in boxers over the last 8 years led to the production of an increasing number of boxers that are being diagnosed by some cardiologists as "Equivocal"?  Are dogs with flow rates that would not have been graded as clear/normal 8 years ago being bred to one another and producing a percentage of puppies with even higher flow rates? Or with SAS?  In the absence of a fibrous ridge or turbulent blood flow, is SAS merely what an individual cardiologist decides it is...or is there some objective standard that ALL cardiologists adhere to?

When I talked to Dr Baumwart after he had examined my own dog, he told me that his "personal" cutoff for Normal was 2.25 m/s. So presumably, the dogs he rated as Equivocal at the ABC had flow rates of 2.25 m/s or higher. And possibly many of the dogs he cleared for an OFA listing as Normal had flow rates of between 1.9 and 2.25 m/s?

So again, are we asking for trouble by accepting higher flow rates as normal? Or are boxers really "different" from other breeds regarding SAS because they have narrower aortas, and should they therefore be diagnosed and graded differently?  What do you think?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The 2011 ABC Boxer Health Seminar: A Breeder's Viewpoint*

The ABC health seminar was presented this year by Dr Jerold S Bell, clinical associate professor and director of the clinical veterinary genetics course for the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr Bell spoke for two hours, which included a Q & A session, to a large audience of ABC attendees. The title of his seminar was "Practical Genetics for Boxer Breeders and Owners." 

Overall, the main thrust of Dr Bell’s talk seemed to be to urge breeders to participate in CHIC (the AKC/OFA sponsored Canine Health Information Center), which requires that participants publicly reveal test results.  While I think that's an admirable goal, I also think Dr Bell, a breeder of Gordon Setters as well as a geneticist, exhibited more than a little naïveté with his claim that, "The days of stigmatizing breeders who have produced genetic disease are over." 

But aside from that rosy view of his fellow breeders, Dr Bell's boxer-specific recommendations are what I really take issue with.  Other than cancer, about which there's not a lot we can do at present, the two hereditary conditions North American boxer breeders seem most concerned with today are ARVC (Arrhythmic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy, aka Boxer Cardiomyopathy) and DM (Degenerative Myelopathy).

There are currently DNA tests available for both conditions. The ARVC gene test, developed by Dr Kate Meurs at WSU (now at NCSU), has proved to be controversial, with evidence from noted researchers indicating that more research needs to be done before this test can be considered comprehensive and accurate…or not.  (Unfortunately, it appears that Dr Meurs is no longer doing ARVC research.) The only “halfway” reliable method of testing for ARVC at this time is regular Holter monitoring (24-hour EKG), and it is far from foolproof. Nonetheless, the American Boxer Club Health & Research Committee has recommended annual Holter tests for all boxers in active breeding programs.

The DM test, developed by Drs Joan Coates and Gary Johnson of the University of Missouri and Dr Kerstin Lindblad-Toh of the Broad Institute at MIT, et al, is not completely definitive, either, because it hasn't been proven that all boxers with two copies of the gene will ultimately develop DM. However, it has been proven that clear dogs and dogs with only 1 copy of the gene are highly unlikely to develop DM, so with the use of caution, which 
Dr Coates advises, breeders now have a method of gradually breeding away from this horrible disease. Dr Coates' research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and she is currently collaborating with human ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) researchers. Her research, currently supported by the AKC’s Canine Health Foundation and the American Boxer Charitable Foundation (, indicates that over 80% of boxers carry one or two copies of the gene she discovered (SOD1). The ABC Health Committee has also recommended the DM test for all boxers in active breeding programs.

After presenting several outdated PPT slides on Dr Meurs' ARVC research on 24 British boxers, Dr Bell recommended that breeders shouldn't bother to Holter-test boxers that had tested ARVC Negative with the gene test, because "if they have VPCs (ventricular premature contractions), there's *probably* another cause for the arrhythmia"!  

His recommendation re the DM test was even more puzzling: Dr Bell said that, in general, DM is seen only in "show lines," and that we shouldn't bother to test for it "unless close relatives of our dog have been affected"! This, despite that DM is a late-onset disease, so one often wouldn’t know a close relative had been affected till the relative was 10 or 11 years old (if he or she didn't die of something else in the meantime); and despite evidence from breeders all over North America that DM *is* currently a big problem in the breed, probably due to the Popular Sire Syndrome, which we see in action every year in the ABC Catalog.

As a boxer breeder with a keen interest in reducing the incidence of hereditary disease in a breed I've been actively involved with since 1973, I was very disappointed in this year’s ABC health seminar.

*Disclaimer: The comments above represent my own opinion, and not that of any other person or organization.