I don't know if I'm posting to the right place at all - or if there is 'an audience' to this kind of ramblings here at all.
I am a breeder of cavaliers (the affix is 'co-owned' with my mother) and have lived with them most of my life. I wrote lived *with* them to be precise, because we have never had a separate kennel, dog-room or such at any point, so the exposure has certainly been a full one . By saying this, I do not want to point out anything to do with being a good or a bad breeder, simply as a way to explain, our breeding is very small scale and that we think of ourselves more as breeding pet owners. My mother has 3 cavaliers and a charlie - I have the same but opposite 1 cav + 3 charlies. We almost always place the most promising bitch or dog from the litter we produce to live in a family close to us on breeding terms (this contract usually covers one litter, we cover the expenses for the health screening and showing etc.). This is the way how it is possible for us to continue breeding in the way that all of our dogs still get to live as pets.
Health has always been the cornerstone in our breeding programme. We have learned over and over again, that there is no shortcut to better health and have become more and more critical towards our breeding programme during the years and at the same time trying to learn more and more about the health issues and what can be done. Now this has a reason that I want to explain.
We were honestly blessed with our foundation and we hope we could always be able to produce cavaliers like her. Our Honey came from mixed UK bloodlines and a very long-lived family. Her mother lived up to 14yrs, her full sister from an earlier litter (the only puppy) almost 15yrs, her litter brother 12yrs, herself 4 months short of 16 yrs. I do not know if she would still be with us if her daughter that we kept at home would still be with us - Sandy died peacefully at home at the age of 13. Sandy still had a clear heart (official auscultation only 6mths before she passed away) but her liver failure finally took the best of her after 2 1/2 yrs of the diagnose and she died in my mother's arms one January morning, at 6 am.
A week later we had to take Honey on her final journey, because since Sandy's death she had refused to eat, drink, go out and generally be herself - there was nothing to be done and we decided this was the only solution, no matter how hard it was. We were in pieces by the sudden loss of our two brightest stars. Up until Sandy's death Honey had been a happy, utterly active and such a well muscled cavalier who definitely did not look her age. She 'oozed' confidence and charm, she was a true companion and a sweetheart and never slowed down as she got older. Honey even took part in her last show only a few weeks earlier (only because she really *loved* showing, applauses and people admiring her), the main event of the year, 'our crufts' - the Winner show, and competed against veterans *half* her age. She was awarded as the 4th best bitch eventually out of the over 100 cavaliers entered and was recommended by the judge as one of the best movers of the whole day.
So - back to the actual topic --- during the years and now, Honey showed us there was hope and possibilities; we had lived with 'the perfect example of the cavalier breed', we experienced what there could be, if the breed would not suffer from MVD or SM.
We have always tried to follow the breeding guidelines. We have made some exceptions, when we have thought the dog/bitch to bring something very valuable to our breeding programme. Lately we have preferred to use dogs that are slightly older, preferably with a long-lived and heart-healthy family behind to continue the valuable genes that we have hopefully coming from Honey and her progeny.
In Finland we have the following guidelines for breeding:
1) all cavalier litters that are registered (The Finnish Kennel Club, member of FCI and our only breed registry) must have heart certificates for both the sire and the dam. The certificate cannot be older than 12 months. This programme is part of the FKC prevention of hederitary illnesses and defects. Several breeds have similar rules for other defects such as HD or various eye illnesses. Our programme has been running since 1995 and the results are nowdays publically shown on the FKC pedigree database (http://jalostus.kennelliitto.fi/frmEtusivu.aspx?R=136).
2) Our breed club has the following guidelines in addition to this:
- Since 2007 the breeding age was raised from 12 months to 24 months
- Since early 90s the patellas have had to be at least 0+1 & 0+0
- Since "", official eye examinations should not show signs of hederitary eye illnesses (PRA, HC, RD)
- The dog should be awarded at a show with 'excellent' and the bitch with at least 'very good' (FCI)
NOW, since October 2007 we have had the possibility to MRI asymptomatic, clinically healthy cavaliers in Finland. We have only one clinic at the moment here in the capital region doing the MRIs, but we hope to have some more places in the near future. Only 40 dogs have been MRIs despite our cavalier club funding every scan by 100 euros, dropping the price from 400 to 300 euros. All the time I wish the biggest breeders and producers would see the light...
We have started slowly by doing the least we can. Emmy and her litter brother Emppu, who both turned 3 in August this year were both MRId in August/September. Both had a mild CM but no signs of SM, no syrinxes, no sign of hydrocephalus and both clear of PSOM and normal BAER-results. We are overjoyed by these two results (both 'A') but understand they are only 2 dogs out of the lot that we are still planning to keep in our breeding programme (should they be eligible in every other way).
Emmy had her first litter in the spring and Emppu we have used for a co-owned bitch that is a gr-gr-gr-greatgranddaughter of our Honey, Helmi. Hermi has not been MRId, thus giving her the grade 'D'. According to the guidelines we have now mated her with an 'A'.
Emmy we are planning to mate again in a year or so and we hope to find her an MRId mate. We are happy to see that some other breeders have taken their dogs to be MRId as well (small scale just like us...only one bigger breeder has taken some of the studs to be screened, but unfortunately not all and none since the first lot and some D-grades...).
The future? well, definitely not 'rosy', but hopefully not black. I guess I wanted to share a small piece of our world with you - after all, this forum is always the first place that I come to to find well written information, news from the health research and to keep myself connected to what's happening in the cavalier world abroad. Thank you to everyone who had the time to read this and sorry for any spelling/grammar mistakes and for not being economical with my words...