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Anatolian Shepherd Dog Litters, Puppies, and Ethical Breeders
by Kath Coniglio, Gypsy Anatolians

With all the discussion about Ethical Breeders, I thought that relaying an experience I’ve just gone through might illustrate just why it is so important for a responsible breeder to abide by a strong Code of Ethics that means something.

I bought my girl, Maggie, specifically for breeding. Going back at least 3-4 generations, she had no genetic ties to my male. The breeder I was working with knew my intent and she and her business agent, at that time, chose the puppy that they thought would best suit my needs. When Maggie arrived, at 12 weeks of age, I was very happy with her.

About 3-4 months after I got her, Maggie had a problem. One morning when she got up, she couldn’t use her back legs and it was quite obvious that she was in pain. I took her to the vet, who put her on pain medication and scheduled her for x-rays and a consult with the orthopedic specialist associated with the clinic. The suspected diagnosis was HOD. The x-ray didn’t show anything abnormal, but it was recommended that we send it to the U of I Veterinary School and Research Hospital for a second evaluation. There was also blood work done and samples were sent off for several tests in order to rule out any other possible issue. Everything came back normal, but, Maggie couldn’t use her back legs, except when medicated. I noticed a rather warm spot near her hips and along her spine and several times a day, would gently massage the area trying to increase circulation and bring her some relief. The veterinarians still suspected HOD, but nothing supported that diagnosis or any other. They wanted me to keep her on pain Meds and bring her back in 30 days to repeat the x-rays and blood work. Now, I’d just spent more than $500 for tests that were negative and they wanted me to wait and do it again. I kept up the massage and increased the amount of Oxy Drops and Nzymes that I was giving her and added Vitamins C and E, gradually decreasing the pain medication. Three days later, she was off the pain medication and moving completely normal. What was wrong? I can guess that there was a pinched nerve or something with her vertebrae, but that’s only guess. Somewhere while all this was going on, I called my breeder. I was looking for support and reassurance for the most part, but I also wanted her to know about the problem. I didn’t know if this was something that happened with this giant breed and whether she might have information that would be helpful. What I got from my breeder was not what I needed or expected. She became very defensive. My impression was that she thought I wanted to return the puppy and I assured her that was not the case. After that first call, she never called back to see how the puppy was doing or anything. I was very disappointed and felt quite alone. Other breeders I talked to were nice, sympathetic, and supportive but it’s not the same. No one could offer any enlightening information. Fortunately, Maggie never had another incident and was fine.

Things went really well with Maggie over the next several months. She did exceptionally well in show handling classes, her movement was gorgeous. Two weeks after I got her, she took a Puppy Working Group Three at a fun match, beating out puppies 5 months old to a year. She was everything that I’d wanted in a bitch. I showed her at some UKC shows and she did very well for herself, almost beating my Bear one day for Best of Breed.

With the opening of the ASDCA Studbook, Maggie was registered with AKC in time for the National Specialty in Atlanta, September 2004. This would be her first AKC show. At the Specialty, Maggie took Winner’s Bitch and on Sunday also took Best of Winners Two majors in one weekend - I was thrilled, and had great expectations for her future. The agent for Maggie’s breeder called the breeder and informed her of Maggie’s wins, however, I never heard anything.

In October 2004, Gypsy Anatolians moved from Southern Illinois to New Mexico. Finding a new vet in a new area is interesting at best. Our new home was in the Southwestern mountains and is at least an hour away although he wasn’t familiar with Anatolians, he was familiar with the giant breeds an particularly livestock guardians. I knew he was a country vet that preferred large animals, but he was the closest to us at 62 miles.

In March 2005, Maggie turned two years old and it was time to get her OFA. The vet didn’t have her positioned correctly for the x-ray and I couldn’t submit the film. He did his best, but it was obvious this wasn’t his area of expertise. So, I then started looking for another vet that was more familiar with the OFA x-rays.

Eventually, I found a clinic just over three hours from home. After making an appointment, I packed up Bear and Maggie and we made the trip - leaving home at 4:30 AM in order to have her there between 7:30 and 8:00 AM. When I picked Maggie up, the vet showed me the x-ray and told me that Maggie was extremely dysplastic and that I shouldn’t waste my money sending the x-ray into OFA and that I should have her spayed. We talked at length about the submission to OFA and this vet held firm that if it was her decision, she wouldn’t send the x-ray in - she emphasized to me that OFA wouldn’t even rank her. I knew that many people chose not to send dysplastic x-rays in to OFA. Most often the dog gets neutered and occasionally a bitch will still be bred. This is when the issue of ethics can play a very important role. Is it ethical to withhold that information? Is it ethical to go ahead and breed a dog you know has a dysplasia problem or might pass one along?

While I was pondering what to do, I asked several breeders what they thought of the x-ray and the whole situation. I got back varying opinions. I did put Maggie on Glucosamine, Chrondroitin & MSM. With no outward symptoms, it’s hard to tell if it helped. The former agent for Maggie’s breeder offered to call the breeder and let her know the situation. When I brought up the issue of returning Maggie, I was informed that the breeder was financially unable to buy her back from me and that since she no longer had any breeding stock, couldn’t offer me a puppy. This breeder didn’t bother contacting me. I didn’t call her at the time because I was still undecided as to what to do. I knew the breeder had gone through some bad times, but it didn’t excuse the behavior.

I spent many hours researching and reading everything I could find on hip dysplasia. I bugged a few friends endlessly, as well. One thing I did discover was that even when there are NO symptoms and the dog’s movement is fluid and agile as it should be, there can still be a problem. This was surprising to me. Over the years, I’ve heard many people claim that they can watch a dog move and tell you if the hips are proper or not. This just shows that you can’t trust what you see all the time. However good a person’s eye is, the x-ray is the proof. I also discovered that the altered amount of Estrogen in the system at the time of the dog’s heat can cause a change that appears to be dysplastic. Now, Maggie had her first heat when she was 12 months old. At this point, she was 25 months old and still hadn’t had her second heat, although Bear had been telling us for two months that she was coming in heat. So, I waited on a decision to spay and as suspected, less than 30 days from the x-ray, she came in heat. I decided to wait and have her evaluated again - just to be sure. If there was a chance that the hormones were causing what appeared to be a dysplasia problem, it was worth waiting and checking again; this dog had so many good points going for her in every other way.         

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gypsy Anatolians has recently moved to North Carolina and that search for a vet began again. Fortunately, I was able to contact a local kennel club and one vet in particular was recommended. So, I called and made an appointment. This vet turns out to have a brother and sister that went to school with my daughters back in Illinois. Talk about small worlds. He shows German Shepherds and he’s familiar with our breed; it just couldn’t have been any better. It was such a relief knowing that Maggie would be seeing someone that would consider all aspects of the situation.

We did a physical evaluation last week and reviewed the old x-rays. Based on everything, it was decided that we would do another x-ray to be certain. However, we really were expecting that the diagnosis would just be confirmed, and it was. Maggie was spayed yesterday.

The dysplasia is treatable with surgery and I suppose I could have considered having the surgery and just not telling anyone . . . I know that type of thing has been done before. But, why would I want to promote a dog that really wasn’t sound? I know there has been discussion on the chat List recently about breeding a dog with a similar situation as Maggie. And, it’s possible that her offspring could be OFA good or excellent. She does have excellent overall conformation and other than being a bit on the small side, is a very nice dog. What about future generations and the overall good of the breed? Personally, I don’t like those options.       

Continuing to research, read and question, I have learned that at least one other puppy from Maggie’s litter has severe problems with her back legs and that indicates the probability of a hip problem as well. Then, there were at least two pups from a previous litter of the same breeding that have joint problems. This is where a health data base would have been invaluable. With the appropriate information, would that particular breeding ever been done? An ethical breeder most likely would have passed, if there was anything in the line to indicate the possibility of problems. The lack of information creates a totally different scenario.

Since this last and final evaluation, I learned that the breeder and her agent have a new litter, from different parents and no relation to Maggie. I was offered a replacement puppy from this litter. However, with the research I’ve done, I don’t feel this would be my best option. Is it a line that I want to breed with the line(s) I already have? I’m not certain. If we had a health database in place, it might provide the information to make the difference. But, as much as I hate even talking about it, Gypsy Anatolians is moving again. There are circumstances with our new place that are not conducive to our needs and we are looking for another place in this same area. It is definitely not the time to seriously consider a puppy.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of money on this dog from initial cost, special supplements, multiple x-rays, and finally the cost to have her spayed. Then, we have all the classes, the shows, equipment and travel. It really adds up. I can understand why some people would try to hide the problem and recoup their expenses at least. But, is that ethical? I don’t feel it is. Maybe ethics goes to a level that wouldn’t have to be involved, but, at the minimum - is it responsible to the breed? My only answer is no. Breeders need to subscribe to a strong Code of Ethics and we need a health data base.

I am not pointing any blame at anyone here. Any breeding can produce a pup with problems and we should learn from that. What I would like for you to take away is the concept that there is a very real need for health information in our breed. A good health data base coupled with strong ethical guidelines will only serve to improve our wonderful breed.

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