Yesterday morning, I had an anonymous phone call from someone in Chihuahuas tipping me off to a Long Coat Chihuahua called Ch Ballybroke Harry. The dog, said the informer, has been diagnosed with syringomyelia (SM) - the neurological condition best known for being rampant in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels but which is also evident in other toy breeds. Harry, I was told, is being shown in the Open Dog class at Crufts tomorrow (Friday) and, apparently, the the dog had been given "permission to show" by the Kennel Club.
"Is the dog symptomatic?" I asked, aware that despite the condition being evident on an MRI scan that some dogs may show no obvious symptoms. Well no, came the reply.
My informant went on to say that although the breeder who owned the dog was fully open about the dog's SM, some people in the breed felt the dog shouldn't be shown.
The story was tempting. In 2008, Pedigree Dogs Exposed revealed that a top winning Cavalier had been diagnosed with SM - but the issue then was that, despite the best advice, his owner had continued to breed from the dog. Had Harry been bred from? The KC's Mate Select reveals no health tests listed for Harry - but it shows that a sibling has tested positive for SM, and it also reveals that Harry had sired a litter of one - a pup that had tested negative for SM It also, interestingly, shows MRI scan results for quite a few Ballybroke dogs and also some extremely low coefficient of inbreedings. Hmmm... was this such a bad breeder after all?
I pinged an email to the Kennel Club asking them to confirm that the dog had been given permission to show. I admit I was a bit confused... Usually, this is sought only when a dog has had a veterinary procedure and if Harry wasn't showing any symptoms, it is unlikely that he has had surgery for his SM. But maybe this was just someone who didn't totally understand the regulations?
I also asked if I was right in thinking that as long as the condition didn't affect the outward appearance of a dog, there were no rules that prohibited the dog from being shown.
The KC was unable to answer my first question, saying that most of the KC had already de-camped to the NEC and didn't have access to all the records back in the office. But it did confirm that a procedure that didn't effect the outward appearance of a dog would not result in a ban.
Now this has always infuriated me. As we revealed in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Danny, the Peke that had won Crufts in 2003, had had fairly extensive surgery to relieve the respiratory distress caused by brachycephalic airway syndrome. As we discovered, this broke no rules. But if the procedure had been to fix, say, a dodgy tooth or a wry mouth, Danny would have been disqualified.
So it's perfectly all right to show a dog with a genetic problem that is so serious that no breeder in their right mind should breed from the dog - as long as you can't see it. If ever there was evidence that dog shows are all about surface, then this is it.
I emailed Harry's breeder/owners, Graham and Margaret Foote, and here's the email in full:
Dear Mr and Mrs Foote
Apologies for what I am sure will be an uncomfortable email.
I have been contacted by people in Chihuahuas who are unhappy that you are showing Harry at Crufts, despite the fact that he has been diagnosed with syringomyelia.
I am writing to ask if you would like to respond to that criticism - and also to ask the following:
• when was Harry diagnosed with SM?
• has Harry been bred from?
• is he symptomatic?
• is there anything else you would like to say?
As far as I'm aware, there are no rules that prevent Harry being shown so I am not for one moment suggesting you are doing anything that is against any rules. Indeed, I am impressed that you asked the KC for permission to show him (not something I am aware that any owners of Griffons or Cavaliers have ever done). I also understand that you have been fully open about the diagnosis which is to be applauded.
I would very much appreciate your thoughts.
JemimaI wasn't really expecting a response. But tonight back came this. Please take the time to read the whole thing.
Thank you for your email of yesterday's date regarding my Chihuahua Long Coat dog Ch Ballybroke Harry, and the first thing I must put you right on is that I do not find it uncomfortable to answer you enquiry, I have been very open about the problem with SM in our breed and more importantly in some of my dogs.
I will start of with the point you make in your penultimate paragraph about me having asked the KC for permission to show Harry. I do not know where whoever contacted you got this from. I have never made such a claim, because like you I believe that I am not breaking any rules in showing an asymptomatic dog who I only know has signs of SM, because I have gone to the trouble and expense of having all my breeding stock MRI scanned and have removed from my breeding programme, any that showed positive.
My full story is that following one of my dogs, Ch Deeruss Flashmoon at Ballybroke, having been diagnosed with SM when he was being shown in the United States in 2006, I brought him back to the UK and as the symptoms that he had displayed prior to his MRI scan in the States were very different from the symptoms of SM that I had read about. I decided to have him and all my dogs from the same bloodline MRI scanned. The result of his scan was positive for SM but his sire half brother and 3 half sisters all scanned clear. I attempted to follow up and have his dame scanned, but as she had been spayed following her litter and had been placed in a pet home, following the death of her owner, I was not able to trace her, but assumed the SM had come from her side.
Flash had been on treatment with Prednisone for approx one week after his return from the States, but had no treatment after that and the only possible sign SM that he ever displayed was a very slight weakness in a front shoulder. He was never bred from in this Country, but had sired a litter during his time in the States.
I contacted the owner of the two pups in the States and advised that he did not breed from them until he had them scanned to check for SM and that the scan should not be done until they were over three years of age. Just after the dogs were three years old I found out that one of them had been exported to Denmark. I followed up on this with the breeder in the States and was advised that rather than scan the dogs the Breeder had one of Flash’s offspring castrated and the other which had displayed absolutely no signs of SM had been exported to Denmark. I immediately contacted the owner in Denmark and organised that the dog be scanned, this was done and he scanned positive for SM. Fortunately he had not been bred from in Denmark, but had sired a litter in the States the owner of the litter still has the three offspring and will have then scanned at a later age.
Due to the fact that I publicised the facts about Flash in the British Chihuahua Club Newsletter several times a few owners contacted me about dogs they were worried about and asked if I thought that the symptoms they displayed could be SM. I convinced just 4 of them to have the animal MRI scanned. All four were positive for SM and these included dogs from both the Long Coat and Smooth Coat variety.
I decided in 2011 that I was going to have more of my breeding stock scanned and was shocked at the outcome of scans carried out in Sept 2011 and during 2012, Out of 17 scanned under the BVA/KC scheme 4 were clear 4 had SM grade 1 and 9 were grade 2 all are asymptomatic, three American bred imports were positives as was an Italian bred dog.
I have not bred from any of my dogs that have tested positive for SM, some have been spayed or castrated but most have not. As you are no doubt aware there are breeding recommendations published under the BVA/KC Scheme that would cover some of my dogs, but I am trying to work my way through the problem without reverting to using these recommendations. I keep hoping that there will be a breakthrough with a DNA marker for SM, but it does not seem to be close.
Coming back to your questions about Harry, he was scanned in Sept. 2011 along with his litter sister and both were positive. They, by the way, were from a litter out of a daughter of a bitch imported from Australia and were sired by a top winning Italian dog.
Before he was scanned he had sired just one litter, at that time I was following through on dogs related to Flash, as mentioned above Harry was mainly from foreign stock, I had no reason at that time to suspect that SM was also a problem in imported dogs. I decided to have a litter and to keep the pups. As often happens in these situations there was a single puppy, I had the puppy scanned very early at the age of only18 months and he was clear. My intention had been to have one litter by him and keep the puppies, then have him scanned again at four years and also to have his litter scanned at that time unfortunately I lost him due to a Megaeosophagus.
Due to the situation with SM, I am breeding very few pups and in my update on SM in the BCC Newsletter that is presently with the editor I have said that I have taken two of my dogs out of retirement and will be showing them until I have suitable youngsters to replace them.
One thing that I can assure you is that I will never show an animal that is suffering with symptoms of SM or indeed any other disease.
I obviously do not know who contacted you about Harry, but the question that I would ask them is, have they had their breeding stock scanned for SM. The only one of mine, that has shown any symptoms, is Flash, all the others have been scanned and those that were positive are all asymptomatic.
The fact is that of the 29 Chihuahuas so far scanned under the BVA/SM scheme, 18 scanned positive i.e. 62%, so there is a very great chance that some of their unscanned dogs are affected.
My reason for being so open with the situation with my own dogs is because I am very concerned that many other breeders are not recognising the extent of this problem, as I have done, and seem to be taking the view that it is all right to carry on breeding. It is obvious from the evidence that I have discovered that this is not simply a problem in my Chihuahuas, but is wide spread in both this country and abroad
But, boy, I bloody love Mr Foote.