Saturday 30 April 2016

Arnie the Frenchie: the saddest story I have ever told

Arnie on his way home from his transatlantic trip to Germany

I get a lot of sad emails but none sadder that this email I got from French Bulldog owner Heather Hanna two days ago.

I want to reach out and say thank you. Your courage to speak out and your insight into pedigree dogs and dog breeding have completely changed my outlook on brachycephalic breeds. I have three frenchies of my own and do French bulldog rescue here in America. For many years, I had accepted the serious health issues that brachycephalic dogs suffer as being okay, because they are “normal” for the breed. I thought snoring was normal. In fact, I used to be fond of explaining to people that it had become my white noise. I thought reverse sneezing fits were normal. I don’t think I fully considered why these little guys overheat, but rather acknowledged it as a fact of life. I used to moisturize their little noses and wipe their butts without question. So many more issues that I believed to be incidental in owning a bully. I was wrong. I now find it appalling.  
About a year ago, all of that began to change when I received a little guy who suffers from severe brachycephalic airway syndrome. All my frenchies suffer in various degrees, none of which are acceptable, but he was an especially severe case because he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t play … His name is Arnie and he should have never been born.  

Arnie used to be an AKC show dog and he was winning lots of shows – that is until he could no longer keep weight for the show ring. So his breeders gave him up. They told me the problem is that he was a picky eater. I had no idea what I was in for, but picky eating wasn’t the problem.  
Arnie had a successful show career
For the first year and a half of his life, Arnie’s breeders kept him on prednisone to try and cover up his health problems, so they could continue to show and breed him. Apparently this is somewhat common. I noticed something was off with him almost immediately. If he laid down to try and sleep, he would begin to asphyxiate, so he tried to sleep standing or sitting up or with his head propped on something.  
His breathing was like a roll of thunder every time he inhaled or exhaled. It was nauseating. He would often pester me in the middle of the night to wake up. I think he got scared when he couldn’t catch his breath. I used to sit and hold him and cry because I couldn’t do anything to help him. Sometimes he would simply collapse from what I assume was exhaustion and urinate himself, just to stand back up and try to sleep. He could barely keep food or water down, which explains the “picky eater” excuse his breeders gave.  
I took him to some of the best veterinarians and vet schools here in America to try and figure out a solution. He already had his palate shortened, his nares opened, and his saccules removed, but he still couldn’t breathe. They kept suggesting he have another palate surgery, except logic told me that wasn’t the answer and started teaching myself about brachycephalia.  
Long story short is, I ran across a paper written by Dr. Oechtering from Germany. From there, I found your BBC piece. I contacted Dr. Oechtering and begged him to see my Frenchie. He eventually agreed and I took the dog to Germany in January. My only other option at that point was euthanasia.
Unfortunately Arnie went into cardiac arrest about half way through the surgery. It took them 20 minutes to resuscitate him. He remained in critical condition for the following 24 hours and doctors volunteered to stay at the clinic to ensure he pulled through. Dr. O told me that Arnie had one of the most obstructed airways he has ever seen.   
I don't know what I expected when I took Arnie to Germany, but I never expected the results to be this life changing - for the better. He went from having to fight for each and every breath, to being able to breathe easy. It is like my little guy woke up from a nightmare. His eyes changed - there is a light in them now that was once missing. He could barely make a brief walk out to potty before and now he can run and play. The first time I ever saw him play was about a month after the surgery. I broke down and cried grateful tears. He still has a losing battle ahead and the worst part is that he is far from being the only one. A terrible injustice has been done to these brachy breeds for purely aesthetic reasons by breeders past and present and kennel clubs worldwide.  
Arnie with Professor Oechtering in Leipzig
While in Germany, they did an MRI. Turns out, he also has syringomyelia. The only reason I knew anything about this disease is from your documentary, from the segment on Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I was sick. I am still sick. This diagnosis explains several symptoms that I had either written off as allergies, i.e., the air scratching, or other funny behaviours like when the weather changes or bunny-hop on lead, as well as his head tilt, which I thought was a side effect of scoliosis. I now know that the head tilt is one possible symptom of syringomyelia and I've seen other Frenchies with it.

Being in rescue, I see a lot of puppy mills mamas, but also a lot of Frenchies from families who can no longer afford their health care. I have been active in several Frenchie groups – online, local groups, and from the sidelines in the show ring, but anymore all I can see when I look at these dogs are stenotic nares and stubby bodies – basically ticking time bombs.
From my experience, many veterinarians seem to be almost as clueless as owners about the extent of the problems that come with breeding these “cute” dogs. Right now there is another American Frenchie in Germany for the same surgeries. I can’t believe I ever thought this was acceptable. Never again.
Thank you for all your hard work and dedication in educating people like me about the realities. Know it doesn’t always fall on deaf ears.

Arnie is two years old.

Why did Heather take Arnie to Germany for treatment?

Professor Gerhard Oechtering at the University of Leipzig believes that the 'traditional' soft-palate surgery for brachycephalics is no longer sufficient because the dogs have become more extreme. He has pioneered a new procedure in which he uses a laser to remove some of the nasal turbinates. These are scrolls of spongey bones that aid respiration but they are scrunched in brachycephalics, affecting the dogs' ability to breathe and - critically - to thermo-regulate. This is why short-muzzled dogs overheat so easily.

You can see the turbinates (also called conchae) clearly in these three skulls. The first is a wolf's.

This (below) is what a pit-bull type's turbinates look like.

And this (below)  is what a brachycephalic dog's look like (in this instance a Pug's).  Note , too, the severe deviation of the nasal septum in the middle.

Skull pictures courtesy of Gina Gray

More info on Professor Oechtering's work  here and here.


  1. If only other Frenchie owners, as well as other Brachy breed owners can see the light as this one did.
    I'm glad Arnie is doing better, but it's unlikely his offspring are so lucky.

  2. When I watched the programme I wrongly assumed that this was just a cavalier issue. Some time later I got a cavapoo and at that time the issues in the programme had almost been forgotten. When my dog was just 3 she was diagnosed with syringomyelia and had to undergo decompression surgery on her skull to release the pressure from her brain. She was in excruciating pain.
    It's an awful disease that come apart because of bad breeding practices

    1. Sue, I hope you don't mind me asking, what was your Cavapoo a result of? Was it a Miniature Poodle crossed with a Cavalier or a Toy Poodle crossed with the Cavalier?

    2. Does it really matter what it was crossed with ? I bet neither parent was MRI scanned, outcrossing isn't a quick fix. testing is the only way forward.

    3. It does matter, because just testing is not the way forward.It will just reduce pure breeding pools causing more problems. The only way the Cavalier can go forward is by crossbreeding, because the breed has so many problems. I crossed several years ago for the first time with the Miniature Poodle, as I considered the Toy Poodle far to small to give any improvement in cranium size and I am now on a second generation crossed back to the pure Cavalier. All breeding stock is heart checked and MRI scanned, along DNA testing and eye testing. We also have another crossed breed line that will be brought into this line. The MRI scanning is showing improvement in the crossed animals so far. Improvement in skull shape and lengthening of the muzzle, can just be seen with the naked eye. The second generation back to the Cavalier look like less exaggerated Cavaliers.
      Testing is not the way forward, unless it embraces the whole idea, that what you are breeding for in the first place is in most cases the causation of the problems, especially in brachy breeds.
      The only reason I can imagine why any one would breed a Toy with a Cavalier is to produce a cute very small teddy bear type dog with no concern for health, very much how loads of pure Toy breeds are bred all the time and makes them easy to off load on the less educated on dog health.

    4. Anonymous 19:39 Crossbreeding if done carefully is the only way to improve and hopefully fix SM, as the breeds that have high levels of it have several other health issues along with to small a gene pools to save themselves.

      'Inheritance of Chiari-Like Malformation: Can a Mixed Breeding Reduce the Risk of Syringomyelia?'

    5. Health testing is a single tool to treat a symptom.
      It doesn't address the cause.

      Its the only way forward if a set standard and closed lines are more important than a species.
      Its the only way forward if K.C standards are the only environment where legitimate value is to be had.

      But then, if we accept health testing is the ONLY way forward, we also have to accept that testing required will increase.
      As will the expertise and financial backing needed to breed dogs.
      Not much room for those who DO breed for the love of a dog.

      I accept it is needed.
      I don't accept it should be.
      I don't accept that is our future.

      To take dogs away from the common man who developed the species domestic dog and place them in an ever more select and specialist environment like a hot house flower in the arctic.

      Meet the needs of the environment that still finds value in them, before there is none left to be had.

    6. I love my frenchie to death, but I promised him that when the time comes I will never let him suffer, it may kill me but I will die for him.

    7. In my experience of breeding 'Cavoodles" for 15 years I have never encountered a Cavoodle with Syringomyelia. I can see that Toy poodles, which have domed heads as a rule, may not correct the physical abnormalities in the Cavalier but Mini Poodles with their long narrow skull and deep eye sockets the Cavoodles are moderate dogs with large but not extreme eye sockets, an obvious check but good nose length. They are "pretty" but not extreme, they rarely shed hair (if they do the breeder should look at the genetics of their poodle) and they have no higher incidence of valvular heart disease than the normal population. Median life expectancy is 14 years. Good natured, family friendly dogs.
      It is not surprising that they are the most popular (and most expensive) crossbred in Australia as they are an excellent example of complementary crossbreeding for family pets.
      Many Breeders do not understand (or perhaps do not care) about the benefit of F1 crossbreeding and so many Cavoodles are 3/4 poodle or Cavoodle X Cavoodle which gives rise to the belief that Cavoodles are variable in type and may resemble one or other parent. Not so - an F1 Cavoodle is instantly recognisable.

  3. The Arnie in this story is a little champion and his mummy Heather is the most compassionate, caring, dedicated and ferocious devotee these beautiful gentle little dogs could have. Heather I salute you xx

  4. Wow! This sounds horrible. I am so so glad that my Frenchi does not have these issues. How horrible! I don't think I will be buying another one after this after reading about the possible issues that can arise. I'd like to know more about syringomyelia though as Harley has allergies. I feed him a gluten free diet and that seems to really help him. He doesn't turn his head or do any of that stuff. I also noticed that new breeds of frenchies have longer snouts now, so I guess humanity is kicking in. Hopefully we can put an end to poor breeding practices by choosing not to buy these frenchies. Oh it's just so cruel. I cried while reading this.

  5. This is heartbreaking.

  6. Heather cares for the breed more than anyone that dares to criticise her for speaking out. I have no doubt she will be vilified from those within French Bulldogs. When there is no actual excuses for continuing to breed these dogs with the plethora of problems that comes with their type, accusing those who speak the truth of hating the breed is the only line of defence left. I suspect it will happen behind closed doors.

    It takes a brave soul to speak out especially when they are within the breed circles. Been there. Still there. Doing it for the dogs.

    I too belong to many breed groups (pugs and frenchies) on social media. The level of what I call quiet suffering is huge. Eye problems, breathing problems, seizure like issues, and behavioural issues. I say they are silent because it is not usually the owner coming forward for advice, but just something I can see on a video or photo posted for another reason (look at my funny cute dog). Making comment is impossible as owners see it as criticism of them and their choices. How dare you point out that their dog needs help. It's normal for them. Just one of those things.

    My own pug has syringomyelia and chiari malformation. Like Arnie, a stoic dog, and when diagnosed it explained a lot of things I just put down to his personality. Not playing, not climbing stairs, scratching, licking, not wanted to be lifted up.....but never crying out in pain like the cavaliers. Just goes to show how dogs can exhibit pain symptoms very subtly in a stoic quiet manner. Heartbreaking. In the last month or so I have heard of more pugs with syringomyelia.

    Trust me Heather, sharing Arnie's story is important because it will hopefully make those that breed and buy these dogs think. Even if they won't admit it, it has to reach their inner conscience.

  7. For the first year and a half of his life, Arnie’s breeders kept him on prednisone to try and cover up his health problems, so they could continue to show and breed him. Apparently this is somewhat common.

    As some breeders are so obviously selectively blind to the suffering they're causing and retreat to their breed clubs for a cure from the public shaming, maybe now is the time for financial ruin.

    If this dog was given/prescribed prednisone to live - then very pup of his sold during that time was premeditated fraud.

    Drag the cruel bastards through the courts, maybe once they're bankrupt they might stop. Let them tell you then they're not in it for the money.

    That poor defenceless creature, created by a Frankenstein mentality to polish an over inflated ego, and greed.

    Bless you little Arnie and bless your new human who has so obviously struggled with all this and given so much time and energy to make your life better and sharing the story - it's a heartbreaking tale and one that probably has no happy ending, but hopefully some good times ahead.

  8. Was it easy getting Arnie Onto the plane? Every time I have had my Cavaliers on a plane, the ground workers are commenting that I usually won't get to fly with a brachycefalic dog, as one of my cavaliers have some air obstruction, but not anything compared to a frenchie. She has had the traditional soft palate surgery but still snores from time to time.

    1. Arnie was in-cabin with me the entire flight over to Germany. A lot of airlines have banned brachy dogs in cargo - I don't think he could have survived a trip in the belly of an airplane.

  9. This is an awesome post, actually. It is great to see your message getting through and sobering to see the reality of brachycephaly. I hope you don't mind that I'll be sharing this!

    Speaking of thermo regulation, even mild muzzle shortening causes a difference -- I used to volunteer at a shelter and in the summer we had to water all the staffies as they suffered more than most. Water as in, pour over coat liberally.

    1. Their short fine coats also don't help, I have found, especially the ones who are dark in color.

  10. I sincerely hope this article does not fall on deaf ears. And it is critical that it falls on the "right" ears. AKC and CKC need to start stepping up and taking some responsibility for what they are "branding" as Champions. They are propagating these genetic defects.

  11. Suffocating just to read this...

  12. Absolutely NOT the saddest story ever told! It's a soaring story of an owner who wouldn't give up, of a dog that found his place, of an owner who can take on new information and change for the better, and a little activist group spearheaded by one person (who deserves an OBE)that is changing the world one breeder at a time! Tears, yes, but happy tears. :)

    1. I second the OBE! Absolutely, even at the risk that it might be turned down by the nominee. Some are justifiably a little shy of the "God and Empire" bit and a few of the other little trifling details. However an OBE might just actually further the cause and that is a risk well worth it taking.

      Any member of the public can nominate anyone else, all they need is to fill in the forms and include two or more letters of support. More the merrier, wonder if Caroline Kisko would be obliging!

      In any case Im positively sure that there are any number of far more influential people who would gladly offer support.

      If dogs could fill in the nomination form they definitely would.

  13. To think that Arnie can't even wag his tail to show his bravery!!! He has no tail. What have we done to our best fried. What have we done.

  14. Over the last several months, I’ve spent a significant amount of time interacting with and observing the breeders of Bulldogs and French Bulldogs on social media. It’s been interesting and disheartening. There appears to be a mass denial that the Bulldog is an unhealthy breed. They (breeders) present themselves as being more concerned about how “back-yard breeders” are breeding “exotic” bulldogs that have non-standard colors and exaggerated features (sounds familiar). When I’ve mention changing the standard, they become extremely defensive and even combative. There is strong adherence to the standard. A typical reaction is changing the standard is “Well, that would make it not a Bulldog.” They do not appear to understand that by the current standard, the Bulldog is unhealthy. Here are some of their faulty ways of thinking:
    1. I’m breeding healthy bulldogs because blood tests and genetic tests are part of my breeding program.
    2. I’ve known a lot of Bulldogs that have lived for 10 plus years.
    3. The standard says ………
    4. Other breeds have the same problems.
    5. “Backyard breeders” are creating problems for the Bulldog breed.
    6. A snoring Bulldog is a cute bulldog.
    7. Artificial Insemination is better than natural breeding.
    8. C-sections are safer that natural birth.
    9. The current standard has worked for many years.
    This was my short list.

    This was my short list.

  15. I realy do believe that these problems come back to a pedigree breeders belief that a pedigree is the single most important requirement to responsible, ethical breeding practices. Instead of a tool to assist a purpose.

    Reinforced by many K.Cs and more breed clubs. It needs to be illegal to demand that breeder members ONLY breed dogs that will be eligible for registration.

    We as a society have standards of expectation for responsible breeding.
    A K.C that forbids breeding dogs ineligible for rego. promotes the idea that those standards are NOT RELEVANT.

    The have BREED standards, and those must always come 1st. Setting a K.C registered dog always apart and distinct from a 'Common' dog.
    They have a peer group with that SINGLE standard to uphold and perfect, encouraging extremes and discouraging any deviation. World wide, so theres a huge group over all to satisfy and appease before any sort of 'common' standard can be considered.

    And NO avenues to promote or even recognize other values than those specific to their breed.

    When breed specific values must come before common values, OF COURSE common values will be lost.
    The dogs must have uncommon value.

    The dogs aren't being bred any more for the Common man. Only for a breed membership. United under an uncommon standard that accepts no deviation.

    Any Org. demanding that intentional deviation from a standard or pedigree is unethical has lost the purpose for breeding dogs.
    The purpose should be for Man. Not for a pedigree or breed specific standard.

    Uncommon values can only lead to uncommon dogs.

  16. Could I see Arnie's pedigree? Very curious about certain lines?

  17. I've also had a frenchie very similar to Arnie she hada at 8 months old, she had 4 major operations done and that was her nares done soft pallet shortened, 2 tumours at either side of her throat done and also a tube put down her throat to keep her breathing

  18. I agree we breed unhealthy dogs in many cases. Conformation class championships have a lot to do with this. Now I'm the one who will be lambasted here as I think there could be or was something to be said for KC's. The original intention was to tie form to function when perhaps it should have gone the other way around. Many purebred dogs weren't fads, they served a purpose, worked, had a job. The champion's should be the bloodhound with the best tracking ability, retriever champs the best retrievers, guard dogs for alertness etc. I don't know the answer or if any of these "job qualifications" would lead to a certain "type". Bloodhounds long ears to help isolate scent perhaps as an example. I guess what i want to say is that we've bred in the past to enhance animals usefulness to us. Is this wholly wrong, or are we now getting to where living things are status symbols and items to toy with rather than respect for the contribution they have and can and do make in our lives. We constantly want the rarest, the newest, the next this or that. Should the careful, considerate development of an animals usefulness and talents over generations not be pursued because we don't need to hunt to eat anymore? I sure don't know the answers but I can't help but think that a portion of the genetic diversity of dogs as a whole has a use, even if humans had the hand in developing it. A lot of it is bad,cruel, from ignorant to criminal. There are still working dogs, of certain breeds, like border collies,that help man shepherd sheep. There is use in a pure breed type. It is just up to us to change almost ALL the parameters to determine and identify them.

  19. i have a dog in the same situation.can you tell me how much cost the operation ?i m from romania

  20. He looks so sad in that photo (in the airport). Imagine not being able to breathe 24/7. How painful and scary that would be for the dog.

  21. This breeder created a problem then dumped him and his expensive needs on a rescue to fix. It's sick.