Thursday, 1 September 2016

Fuck closed stud books. Fuck them to hell.

Faith aka Faybee

Just over seven years ago, in April 2009, journalist Gina Spadafori was at the VCA Veterinary Referral Centre in Sacramento with her beloved Flatcoat McKenzie who had just delivered seven puppies. The labour had stopped - but the rads showed two puppies still in there. Vet Dr Bill Porte said one was definitely dead, but he thought the other, trapped behind, could still be alive. Gina, however, was convinced both were dead. Dr Porte sent Gina home, promising to do his best. As she left, Dr Porte turned to her and said: "Gina? Have faith."

The last puppy was delivered alive later that night. Gina called her Faith and kept her. For the past seven years, everyone who knows and loves Gina has got to know Faith aka Faybee (short for "Faith Baby") better than some people get to know their own dogs. Gina is a born communicator - smart, witty and capable of transforming the most mundane of Facebook updates into something exhilarating. It shines through, too, that Gina is a good soul. It has earned her hundreds of friends.

I 'met' Gina online in 2012, shortly after Faybee's mother McKenzie was diagnosed with malignant histiocytosis. Gina and I are divided physically by the Atlantic, but connected through our career choice (both journalists) and a shared fear for the future for the Flatcoated Retriever, a breed currently fighting a losing battle with cancer - mostly soft-tissue sarcomas, but a growing number of other cancers, too.

Gina fought tooth and nail to keep McKenzie by her side - until she could do no more. It was profoundly upsetting to witness both the death of such a beautiful dog and to feel Gina's grief so acutely through her writing.

Faybee's sire too died of cancer - osteosarcoma. Neither of Faybee's parents made their 8th birthday.

For the past four years, I think everyone who loves Gina has been holding their collective breath, praying that Faybee wouldn't succumb to the blight; hoping that she had landed on the right side of the Flatcoat's 50/50 odds of dying of cancer by the age of eight.

Last Friday, Gina revealed that Faybee had been under the weather for the past couple of weeks. She took her for a full work-up and a scan revealed an enlarged spleen. They operated and found masses which seemed to be contained to the spleen, which was removed. The vets told her they could be benign. Faybee bounced back from the surgery and came home to Gina on Sunday. She was in good spirits.

But on Tuesday, Gina revealed that Faybee wasn't quite as good as she had been the day before. It was at this point, I am certain, that every Flatcoat-owning friend of Gina's felt sick to the stomach.

Tonight, I logged on to Facebook to discover that Faybee is dead - rushed back to the vets in the middle of the night because she suddenly couldn't stand. The pathology report, which came though a few hours later, revealed what by then was already known: the tumours had not been benign. Hemangiosarcoma. Quick and ruthless.

"Fuck cancer," wrote Gina tonight. "Fuck it to hell."

A couple of weeks ago, UC Davis released an initial report regarding Flatcoat genetic diversity. It concluded that despite having very little, the breed was pretty healthy.

I was actually so disturbed by this that I wrote to Neils Pedersen at UC Davis. I know Gina was shocked too. Can you really claim that a breed with such a high cancer rate is healthy?

Healthy until dead, perhaps - and that is true enough; the flatcoat suffers from relatively few other genetic diseases and it is a fundamentally functional, dog-shaped dog.

Ad hey... we can argue, perhaps, that Fabes only suffered a very short illness and prior to that lived a life full of love and fun and happiness.

But fuck that. Fuck that to hell.

I can't read the outpouring of sympathy on Gina's timeline - the emoji broken hearts; the inevitable mentions of the rainbow bridge; the well-meaning words about Faybee being at peace or in a better place. The only better place for Faybee is with Gina. Alive. Breathing.

I can no longer look into the eyes of a Flatcoat and not see the cancer. A river of poison runs in their veins.  It is why there is no longer a Flatcoat by my side.  I have built a wall round my heart in an effort to protect myself - so much so that reading about the death of yet another young dog on the Flatcoat health pages barely grazes any more. But some... some... get through the defences.

So can we please make something good come out of this? For Gina. For Faybee. For this beautiful breed.

It is not OK to predictably lose dogs at seven or eight years old (and many, many far younger).

It is not OK to accept it as just the price we pay for loving the breed, as if it's some kind of badge of honour.

It is not OK to point out that there are other breeds that die even younger or some Flatcoats that beat the odds.

It is not OK to try to deflect the blame on kibble or vaccinations or toxins in the environment.

It is not OK to throw a few quid at research and keep on breeding them the way we do - not when we know why they are dying so young and we could stop it happening.


The Flatcoat is dying because it is so genetically depleted through inbreeding that it can no longer mount a defence.

Open the stud books.

Open them now.

Further reading:

Flatcoats and Cancer

Goodbye Maisie


  1. Then it wouldn't be a flatcoat.....moan, groan, fart and dump.

  2. I do not know Gina, did not know of Faybee, yet I feel so desperately sad for them both, for the breed and wholeheartedly feel the same about closed stud books. Nothing good can come from a closed stud list. Fuck them indeed.

  3. Absolutely heartbreaking to read this, I have always loved the Flatcoats, there was a breeder in our village when I had my first Cavalier whom had 4. I've never had the chance of living with one sadly, but after all the heartbreak with our Cavaliers, I don't think it would be a good idea.

    So upsetting in a breed that should live a long healthy life, as you say, they are a functional shape, and have few other issues, but this is so dramatic, it really is beyond time that it was addressed.

  4. The breed I am most interested in, the Mudi, currently has open studbooks due to its low population, and the fact many dogs are owned by farmers who have no interest in registering their dogs.

    It is one of the healthiest breeds despite having been a working breed until very recently (so no responsible breeders), and ironically epilepsy has begun to be a worry to breeders, and if it becomes a health issue in the breed, despite the more responsible breeders working hard, it would be the first proper health issue in the breed, and would have occurred since registration.

    Mudi have huge genetic diversity despite being a rare breed, and I hope the studbooks never get closed. If they do, the breed will quickly decline.

    The system they have is a B register, so if the dog is judged to look like a mudi, it will be given a B registration.

    One of the things i hate about the breed is the standard banning Black and Tan, and other colours such as wolf grey. They obviously occur naturally in the breed, and are not a sign of an outcross to another breed.

    Really, I totally agree. There needs to be an open, monitored studbook for all breeds, AND I think the breed clubs should be made to have structured outcrosses from time to time with other breeds to improve health.
    If the breed club makes the decision of outside dogs that could help improve the breed, they would me more likely to accept the decision, but the Kennel Club would have to enforce it.

    On the other hand you can have an organization that can help with the diversity to make the decisions for the breed, or a bit of both.

    No animal species should be locked without breeding to others. Purity is a stupid concept for dogs. If someone uses another breed to improve their dogs, that should be completely acceptable and not frowned upon.

    I currently own a working Tervuren from the Czech republic. He is from working Malinois lines, and would probably not share a single ancestor with any belgian shepherd in the UK.
    Though I reckon there would be no interest in a single breeder here wanting to have him as a stud because he would not do well in a show, so I will probably neuter him at 1 year old.

    So I guess even if a way to improve diversity shows itself, it doesn't mean breeders care about diversity.

    They dont see diversity affecting their litters, they rely on health tests and lines to make their dogs healthy, and blames the "irresponsible" breeders for damaging the breed.

    Inbreeding is what causes dogs to double up on harmful diseases in the first place, so inbreeding is the cause.

    1. Working breeders are typically far more "responsible" then show breeders - if you want an example look at a working GSD vs a show GSD. The working type are certainly more healthy. Also look at breeds that have never joined the show world and the KC (there are several Spanish herding breeds in this category) - the farmers outcross as they see fit, in order to add positive attributes and behaviours that would make a better herding dog. They don't care about purity - just working ability.

    2. No, no, no. You have it backwards. The Mudi isn't one of the healthiest breeds IN SPITE of having been a working breed until very recently, the Mudi is one of the healthiest breeds BECAUSE it has been a working breed until very recently. You say that working dog breeders aren't responsible. Why? Because they don't usually health test? And it isn't ironic that epilepsy has started to work its way into the breed. Epilepsy has started to work its way in BECAUSE show has gotten a hold of the breed.

      Let me put it in simple terms. Breeders of working dogs select for one thing. Working ability. In selecting for working ability, the form follows that function. The health is good and the lifespan long because no farmer is going to buy or breed a dog from stock that has a short lifespan. A good working dog is worth its weight in gold. Farmers want herding dogs that are efficient (which requires them to be able bodied and fit with clear airways and no conditions that would interfere with their work), and capable of working for at least 10 years. This leads to a long lived, fit, healthy breed with great genetic diversity because the smaller the gene pool is, the shorter the life span becomes and the more prone to disease a breed is.

      Working dog breeders very rarely, if ever, breed related dogs. But what is the first thing a show breeder does? Breed 2 closely related individuals together in order to 'lock in' desired traits. That is why epilepsy has cropped up in the Mudi. Because a bunch of so-called "responsible" show breeders who completely disregard genetic science and think they know best got their filthy mitts on the breed and will subsequently ruin it, just as show breeders have done for every other working breed they've touched, and will continue to do so for every future working breed they take an interest in. It's like King Midas, only instead of turning everything they touch into gold, they turn them into disease riddled shadows of what they were. The fact that the standard bans 2 colours that are known to be in the breed says it all. It won't take them long to discard 90% of the existing genetic material in the breed in the persuit of making all dogs a carbon copy of each other. Why do you think show bred dogs have such narrow gene pools in the first place?

  5. I don't give a rats behind about registration or closed stud books any longer. Heartbreaking stories like this are all caused by the silly ideal of "pure blood" enforced through breed clubs while registry bodies sit idly by benefiting through distribution pretty pieces of paper at a fee.

    My breed has been doomed from the start. Dobermans should not be dropping stone dead at 6 from massive heart attacks.
    Just like Flatcoats shouldn't suddenly become sick and die by 8.

    Waiting for breed clubs or registries to finally open stud books, or do 'something' about it is akin to waiting for pigs to fly.
    Instead of waiting for change, I will be the change.

    I want a doberman who doesn't have DCM hanging over it's head, so, I'll create one myself.

    Goodbye kennel clubs, you are of no use to me.

    1. Easy, outcross your doberman to a different breed :)

      And choose the pup which is most like a Doberman.
      Backcrossing to the doberman will greatly increase the risk of DCM again, so it would have to be an F1 mix.

      There is no health test for DCM, so good luck trying to find dogs which don't carry it. Breeders are already trying to do that, but the lack of diversity is not going to make it pleasant or easy.

    2. Already done. I've kissed kennel clubs and "papers" goodbye without looking back.

    3. 13:33

      Already done here too, with Dobermans.No DCM so far, or bloat,or joint problems or wobblers.
      Having huge problems finding a suitable mate for my 3rd generation bitch, but well worth it if I can. If not, others have seen fit to continue their line . It has changed and raised the expectations of the people who have bought pups with many now refusing to buy any thing else.

      The hard part is to find a mate that will live up to the expectations created when so few have any experience of the same. They have not been taught to recognize the same values, or the purpose they contribute to.

      But demonstrate value and people will seek it out, and promote it to others.

      It is the nature of environment to seek out and favor the values that can increase it.

  6. The title does not encourage re-posting. -- Rod Russell, Orlando, Florida USA

    1. Indeed. Only way I could find of expressing my anger.

    2. Get a dictionary. -- Rod Russell, Orlando, Florida USA

    3. That comment makes you appear to be indisputably tiresome, predictably arrogant, glaringly inconsiderate, and an absolute bore. Stop insulting people for expressing rage and grief in a way that doesn't best please your delicate sensibilities. Or colloquially, fuck off.

  7. I hasten to point out that closed stud books are not the cause of excessive inbreeding, and closed stud books don't inexorably lead to low genetic diversity. Racing and coursing Greyhound registries have closed stud books, and yet the racing and coursing segments of the breed, which make up the vast majority of Greyhounds, have very good genetic diversity. On the other hand, the show-bred Greyhounds, registered in the stud books of various kennel clubs, have much lower, often dangerously low, genetic diversity. A real life example of the difference in results between breeding for performance excellence and breeding for something else.
    It is all down to the breeder community. So perhaps your statement should be revised to "Eff the breeders."

    1. Well, the show ring wont disappear, and that favours dogs which have matched appearances (making inbreeding and linebreeding favorable), and promotes popular sires.

      With working dogs, the only way to improve the dogs is to have high Heritability. By inbreeding excessively, you will quickly be unable to improve the dogs, so adding unique blood helps.

      Working dogs are usually the most healthy dogs, despite the fact the average working dog owner, such as a farmer, is certainly not a responsible breeder. Which is the irony that breeds which have "responsible breeders" often have worse health than dogs that have not been responsibly bred.

      Or responsible breeders exist because of the problems inbreeding has caused.
      Theres also a lot of denial to the problems caused by inbreeding for the breed.

      Inbreeding can make a breed worse, but without outcrossing to other breeds, it wont get better.

    2. John 16:14

      Closed stud books ON THEIR OWN are not the cause of inbreeding. Combined with the sole purpose of predictability to a standard tho', can't lead to any thing else.

      There is no value in a dog with out a purpose. If your purpose is limited to predictability to a single environment and the standards it imposes, there is no other direction available.

    3. Putting it politely, yes, they're full of irony.

      "Farmers" need working dogs so breed like to like, if it's unhealthy they scrap it without much emotional baggage, the progeny will be useless to them end of story. This makes them "responsible" breeders of course. Even if no pedigrees are involved. They actively keep working blood and search it out to outcross to, this is their idea of improvement. They're also more likely to look at other breeds that have traditionally played a part in their working dogs and use them. Happily returning to cross breeds that have traditionally played a part, so the types generally remain genetically vigourous.

      Sadly this is up until they no longer have a function, then the showing fraternity take over, the last nail in the coffin "rescuing" them into oblivion with so called "responsible" breeding. Claiming to breed the genuine article.

      At the end of the day (when the sun goes down) farmers, working breeders want a functional healthy working dog not a ribbon winning freak exaggeration with monstrous health problems.

      Pet owners absolutely want the same in pedigree dogs, any dogs.

      So called "responsible" show breeders are mostly working within a rigid genetic time bomb. Trying this trying that, health testing, DNA testing, censuses, research blah blah. Of course none of it works, all of it only shows up what they really cannot admit, really don't want to hear, and to borrow a phrase that their breed is completely "fucked" because of how they've been breeding it.

      The pedigree paradigm, versus the working one. Most definitely it's almost exclusively the later that are the responsible breeders.

      So many pedigree dogs fall into the flatcoat "untouchable group" that to my mind, beyond a tiny fraction it's simply pure ignorance that anyone in 2016 is still actively seeking out a show bred pedigreed dog at all.

    4. Don't they (racing greyhounds) have issues with bone cancer?

    5. Yes and as far as I know it's directly linked to the injuries they sustain by the type of hyper exertion demanded from them from an early age? FASA, Fracture-Associated bone Sarcomas. With all the injuries associated with racing it makes sense they are more vulnerable to diseases like this.

      Grey hound racing is infamously concerned with winning the race not the dogs welfare. If a dog doesn't live much past its short hard racing career is just one less mouth to feed. These sarcomas weren't much in evidence as greyhounds typically didn't live much past the end of their racing careers. Mostly being destroyed and disposed of before these conditions ever even became apparent and an expensive issue.

      However as more and more light has been focused on the heinous practise and waste of animal life in the greyhound (and indeed horse) racing industry so many more greyhounds are finding themselves living in pet homes by way of retirement. It's here where these bone sarcomas are being seen as a breed issue. This is not entirely correct, though. However If this extends and to what extent to dogs bred from racing stock who have also never seen a race track or not Im not entirely sure. Im not talking about show greyhounds here, these I wouldn't be at all surprised if they do suffer from at least some breeding related problems or other.

  8. Looking at the previous comments and in particular Sunny Dogs I couldn't agree more in particular with her statement 'if the breed club makes the decision of outside dogs that could help improve the breed, they would me more likely to accept the decision, but the Kennel Club would have to enforce it. There's just one BIG PROBLEM with this and that is if the breed clubs did condescend to, and agreed to using outside dogs it would mean that the breed clubs would be admitting to the fact that they and their members have breeding incorrectly for years. Then there is the problem of the KC enforcing it. Again it would mean that the KC would be admitting that they have been allowing poor breeding for years. The problem? It's EGO. Basically all the Championship Show judges have come through an indoctrination and they would now not have the 'face' to admit to have been wrong for years. Why do you think there has been such a stink amongst all the so called 'responsible breeders' - OMG - someone like Jemima has actually shown them up for what they are - totally clueless about the science behind the breeding. In most cases with the 'responsible breeders' it's not so much the money they are making (and I know some of the puppies are extortionate), it's more about the EGO and when that happens everything else around these egotistical people goes to hell.

    1. The ego of their identity as elite breeders.

      So changing the identity of a K.C member to include people who breed dogs with out a pedigree, through constitutional changes, would mean the pedigree pure blood and adherence to pedigree standards, are not the mark of that identity.

  9. Much love to Gina and Jemima.xx

  10. Wishful thinking . . . but I think it would be helpful to re-unite the black and gold (flatties and goldies) into one breed. I hate to think what Labradors would be like if the bred had been split by color.

    1. That's an excellent idea since their purpose and temperament is still so similar. The major difference is of course colour. If the two breeds could be combined once again, then puppies born gold can be goldens and puppies born black can be flat coats - similar to the way the belgian shepherd breed is handled in Belgium; there are 4 types within the breed, distinguished by coat type / colour, these have been split into 4 separate breeds in most other countries but afaik are still considered one breed in their country of origin.

  11. "Healthy until they die" sadly such an accurate description of so many flat-coats. Over a period of almost two decades we had two different flat-coats. The first died just before ten and the second before eight. Both wonderful dogs with the classic outgoing ever friendly personality and great versatility. Like many have mentioned I don't know that I could do it again, raising a puppy only to wonder when the dreaded "c" word will appear. There are breeders trying to do better within the framework of the various kennel clubs, but to often their emphasis is still on the show ring and its outcomes. We now have a golden retriever /Newf cross, who's still healthy and active at age ten and a little working cocker who keeps her from sleeping to much :) Having spent a considerable amount of time with working German Shepherds and hunting breeds, I've lost all faith in the show rings ability to do anything more than promote extremes. Most need to look back 100 years to see the original type and function these breeds once had.

    Keep up the excellent work with your blog. Hopefully over time a percentage of the breeders will prioritize, health, longevity, ability and a functional conformation over show ring results

  12. It's absolutely sickening that people can't see the big picture with this. It's absolutely wrong that people will uphold completely arbitrary tradition at the expense of health and longevity. It is beyond time to trade in the badge of "purebred" for the badge of "health."

  13. Can I just say that I'm tired of hand wringing and am doing something about this? There are ways to address the loss of genetic diversity and we should all just get on with it. Flat-coats should not die so young. I'm glad they are healthy until they do, because there are breeds that aren't and die that young too. If breed communities understood that different breeds are still related, then an outcross to a different but similar breed would not seem like much more than an outcross to a different line. This information has to be gotten across, because no one wants their dogs dying or suffering!! A dog is a dog is a dog.

  14. Why not just buy a Flatcoat mixed with something else rather than buying a Flatcoat? I'm sure there are people breeding Flatcoat/Irish Setter crosses or Flatcoat/Goldens or Flatcoat/Hovawart, etc... etc...

    Fixing the breed requires wide scale cooperation - assuring that you don't suffer from a dog that dies before 8 is a lot easier and SHOULD be done.

    I had a friend who had a Flatcoat - born in 1983 which lived until - get this - 1999. Has their longevity been bad for very long or has it plummeted in the last 15 years or so?

    1. I suspect it's got worse recently but has been a problem that has slowly been growing for many decades. Maybe now it's reached a crisis point but it isn't something that has been caused recently.

      I think my future dogs will all be crossbreeds or mongrels in the hopes they'll live longer and be healthier. It was extremely hard to lose my first (purebred BC) dog to cancer (though he was at least 11 years old, probably more), I certainly don't want to go through it again anytime soon.

  15. I met an adorable flatcoat in India week ago at a hotel I visited, a very lucky flatcoat, he was eight and alive. It was high monsoon season so there were no guests around and his owner a friend of mine from the UK had gone home so the dog took to me for the few days I was there.

    First thing I realised having a pack of intense unruly JRT jocks at home who don't know the meaning of personal space was just how unbelievably lovely and gentle and soft he was.

    Absolutely charming dog. He would be lying smartly by my door every morning when I woke, tail wagging ready for his walk. He took me all over the tea estate getting me back just in time for breakfast and the morning paper which he would fetch from the kitchen and proudly present to me. If he heard a strange noise in the evening he would grumble looking up at me in the eyes, a soft pat and he would close his eyes again. Usually just the high pitched eerie bark of a deer.

    It felt like we had been together for years, him laying at my feet contentedly as I sprawled in one of the old antique Morris chairs on the wide veranda of the bungalow reading a book.

    We were both rather sad when I had to leave, he sat at the end of the staff all sweetly lined up to wave us off staring at the car half expecting that I might change my mind.

    When I looked back he was chasing a ball the cook had thrown down the drive. So that was Ok then.

    The exception that proves the rule sadly. Yes there are exceptions. But think how much nicer it would be if they weren't the exceptions but the rule.

  16. My Faybee Baby was not a flatcoat, but she also lost her life to cancer. Breeders control the genetics of any particular breed and the general public are the ones who suffer the most. Is is not about time that breeders bred for the health of the dogs they are putting in the world. I'm not saying it is easy, juggling genetics, but let's face it breeders earn enough money form each pup to put a little research into the breeding.