I totally understand the heartbreak, Sandy -- breeding is hard, but especially hard for smaller breeders too as many hopes ride on each dog. I know many great breeders who have had the tragedy of a dog needing to be removed from an already small programme for a poor heart exam, poor MRI and so on -- or where there were no puppies or the puppies died -- it is much more difficult to recover from such a situation when you might only have a couple of breeding bitches to start with.
I keep hearing this but as far as I can verify, this statement came from nowhere. What number is 'too many' (this implies lots and lots of cases) and who has the clear dogs, were they MRI'd, who graded the MRIs? Or is this people saying their asymptomatic and hence 'clear' un-MRId dogs have produced SM puppies? To date -- and I recently have discussed this with all the researchers I know directly -- I am only aware of a solitary situation where this happened, out of many, many clear to clear matings so far. One of the examples of this being widely touted on some of the other lists, no researcher seems aware of. More ridiculous, it was being claimed to be a test breeding Clare Rusbridge did. This is a perfect example of the rubbish circulating around as 'fact'. NONE of the researchers breeds test litters. NONE of the researchers oversees or suggests test matings -- this can be directly verified by speaking to any researcher in the US, Canada, South Africa, Netherlands, Germany, France, UK. Breeders making their OWN choices and some involved with scanning programmes have reported back data for research to a range of researchers. However, the fact that occasional clear to clear matings will produce affected puppies has always been a known and accepted possibility, not some secret hidden away by researchers (at the CKCS SM conferences, it is stated clearly in the Rugby talks, for example, and at London). This is simple high school genetics -- if there are recessive genes involved, dogs with a clear phenotype (outward appearance) do not necessarily have a clear genotype (clear genes). But this is EXACTLY the situation with MVD, and research clearly shows that breeding least affected dogs does delay onset and severity. There is every indication that SM is the same.Too many clear dogs have produced SM dogs for a MRI to be the thing we rely on entirely.
Some of the other ridiculous claims made about Dr Rusbridge are that she initially claimed 90% of cavaliers had SM -- she has NEVER said this (as anyone can see by simply looking at the archived Rusbridge newsletters. The statement has always been that 90% of their samples have the malformation -- a figure which has been generally consistent across every single research group and from huge samples such as the 1000+ cavaliers Geoff Skerritt has MRId (his figure is at least 85%, and he MRIs lots and lots of breeder dogs that breeders believe to be clear). Initially Rusbridge and Knowler only had their group of MRIs of dogs of all ages (including lots of older dogs). In that early sample, 90% had CM, about 70% SM. Later studies, most with much younger dogs, show a minimum 30% affected rate with SM, and that same 90% with CM. It is wise to take the lowest percentages as a starting estimate -- Dr Rusbridge therefore now states at least 30% affected going from research samples (that was from the North Carolina study). It is quite routine to make population estimates based on research studies, especially when there have now been several, on several continents, all giving similar numbers; in all groups, dogs showing no signs at all of SM make up the majority of the test groups. They still all MRId with a minimum 30% with SM, about 90% with CM.
Also, the silly statement that 'she keeps changing the level of incidence'. Well, doh! That is what scientific research does -- you change your estimations based on new studies and a broader range of data. Are people really so unaware that they believe scientists are supposed to come up with a single figure and never revise it? Science is all about modifying theories based on study results.
If data starts to come in about clear lines, lower levels of incidence, and an easy way forward to breed around this problem, I know that no on would welcome this more than the researchers, ALL of whom are people who work at the front line of dealing with this condition in the REAL world -- they are all the people who see the sick dogs, the one in screaming pain, who do the surgeries, who give owners support after surgery, taking calls and answering emails in their free time as well. They are the ones actually dealing with the reality of this problem, as it presents in all its ugly, painful reality. By attacking the researchers publicly, some breeders have made themselves look utterly shameful on the public lists, where many, many decent breeders and pet owners are quieter members. many of those people have had their dogs cared for by the researchers as well. I know that hundreds of people who had their dogs MRId have had them interpreted, free of charge, by Clare Rusbridge, for example who has also taken many dozens of calls from vets and neurologists on behalf of their patients, owners of dogs around the world, to discuss potential treatments.
Finally there have been ridiculous statements that 'Clare Rusbridge never thanks breeders and the clubs' -- sheesh, I have seen this posted on lists on which some of the people who were publicly thanked at events (even given a thank you gift for their own contribution on behalf of breeders!) were there feeding the accusations while not once stating that this was totally untrue.
Again, simply reading the newsletters will show this is patently untrue -- clubs and breeders are regularly thanked. They were also publicly thanked and recognised at both CKCS SM events in the UK. And in Dr Rusbridge's doctoral thesis, there are specific thanks to the UK CKCS Club, the US clubs and Canadian clubs and their breeders, as well as specific members. How many more public thank yous are needed?
The lowest level of discourse -- and often the sign of the desperate defending the indefensible -- is to keep returning discussions of serious issues to ad hominem attacks on people and personalities. Questioning qulifications -- yes, do it, and defend it with FACT. But attacking personalities (even hairstyles and appearance! Goodness, that is critical to research, isn't it!) and making up wild 'facts' is laughable (and it the only criticisms of a researcher were hair length, whether they say thank you and whether solid, internationally peer-reviewed research goes into a PhD or not are the main criticisms -- you truly wonder what is actually valued? Research that only proves your own point of view and lets you continue doing as you've always done, with disregard to breed health or suffering?). As some of the key people in the US and Canadian clubs have asked of their breeder members -- if you have problems with believing what researchers are telling you, or with a particular researcher, then FUND OTHER STUDIES. To some extent, this is what the ACKCSC did with the North Carolina study. And guess what: the results basically aligned with Dr Rusbridge. Maybe now is the point where time and money should go towards a massive random scanning programme in the US to get that truly random sample -- this would be welcomed by all researchers too. It is time to focus support on Sarah Blott's EBVs and the Canadian genome research needed to make it truly accurate and helpful to breeders. And much work remains to be done on searching for cause and treatment.
But breeding of necessity is a lot, lot harder. Unfortunately, that is the reality and it isn't the fault of researchers that this is the case. Breeding when SM wasn't understood or recognised produced this problem and only careful breeding in conjunction with research knowledge is going to help the breed.