Affaire's Outrageous Fortune, "Stella"


Sire: BISS Ch Equus Diamonds Are Forever, CGC Dam: Blanton's Country Affaire

Stella succumbed to Dilated Cardiomyopathy. She is a littermate to Indy, Sara, Beau, Scooby, Hunter, Broker and Dusty.

I can't write a more touching memorial to her than the one I received today. Here is what her owner wrote about her passing.

"We gave Stella peace this morning. She notably took a turn last week and we knew this was it. Last night that hacking cough had returned and by this morning her struggle and inevitable defeat was apparent. I can say that she ran, wagged her tail, snuggled, barked, ate treats galore until the very end. She literally took another chicken treat right as she passed.

I have cried more in the last seven months, slowly mourning her loss and to be on the other end of it has brought me, as well, great peace. I know that her absence will be felt for years to come but she and I were both ready. I was so worried that it wouldn't end so symbiotically but in true Stella fashion, she remained my mentor, my guide, and my rock to the very end.

I don't know how to express my gratitude to you, to Connor and to Cody. These past nine and a half years have been an absolute pleasure. Stella has represented all of you with such grace and gave more than she ever took. She raised my daughter and all of the other pets that have entered our family with such kindness, tolerance and understanding. Her legacy lives on in them and in me for she taught us the true meaning of love."

Well, as I breeder, I feel like I was the lucky one to have placed this dog with such a wonderful family. I still remember our first phone call. They had just lost a young dog to wobblers. When they knew that this dog was not going to have a long and healthy life, they made a list of all the things the dog loved to do and knew that when those enjoyments were no longer possible, it was time. I was so touched by their love and consideration for this dog that I knew they were going to be a great home. And they surpassed my greatest expectations in that regard.

Early in 2010, Stella started to have some coughing issues. She was seen by her vet in Utah and diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) by a local radiologist. I had been to Utah and had Stella in to see a cardiologist in May of 2008 and made the trip back to Utah to take her to the same heart specialist in May of 2010.

The cardiologist confirmed the diagnosis, but gave us some hope in telling us that Stella was doing remarkably well on her medications based on the improvement in her heart measurements between the time of her diagnosis and the echo she had just performed. The picture above was taken on that same day.

I took two of her littermates, Indy & Sara to my local cardiologist about a month later and found out that they also had mild DCM. They are still asymptomatic for the disease as of today and are on no heart medications. All of the dogs in this litter were echoed at some point in their lives and most had been done as recent as 2008 when they were 8 years old. One of them was echoed as recent as April of 2009. At the time of those echoes, none of them showed any signs of heart disease.

Given that the only two bitches in this litter have DCM, if it is an x-linked recessive gene, then their father, Conner, would have had to have been affected. I bought Conner because I could find no heart disease in his line and he was echoed throughout his life up until he was 11 1/2 years old and there was no indication of any heart disease.

It is possible that Conner did have the gene (or genes) for DCM, but had a penetrance of zero, so he never expressed it. But I would think that I would have seen some dogs with DCM behind him somewhere. Other than a few that died around 8 or 9 with cancer of various types, all his ancestors seemed to live into double digits and die of old age.

As a breeder, I have to ask myself just what to make of all this. I can't say that this proves that there is not an x-linked form of the disease. But it sure makes me think that there are other inheritance patterns as well.

Two dogs from this litter of 8 have died of degenerative spinal disease. Three have been diagnosed with DCM, two are going to be echoed in 2011 and one I do not have access to, but as of the last report in early summer of 2010, he was alive and well.

I spoke with Dr. Meurs about this expressing my frustration as a breeder since I have been doing due diligence with echoes and not finding any problems up until now. I asked her what I do with the descendants from these dogs. She cautioned me not to eliminate them from my breeding program unless they express the disease. Her response was as follows:

"These are complex diseases and even in humans when they know the genetic mutation that see that it has age related variable penetrance which basically means that some people with the mutation never show the disease, while others show it a very severe form and the age of onset can be quite varied even within the same family.

I know this is very frustrating since with DCM most dogs do not show any signs until they have been used for breeding, sometimes multiple times. At this point the best one can do is screen annually and if signs develop, stop using them, but that is about it. I know it is hard, but I think it would be a mistake to remove anyone with any family history of DCM from being used for breeding since that would decrease the gene pool. I know very frustrating, that is why we hope research will show us something! "

To me, this is why echoes, and only echoes in the case of Great Danes, must be performed early in life on every puppy produced to get a baseline. Once they reach middle age, echoes done regularly for the remainder of the life of the dog will tell what exactly we have in our lines. Echoing the dogs that we breed before we breed them and then letting them live out their lives without rechecking them periodically is a mistake. We are fooling ourselves if we think just because they didn't have it when they were bred and they didn't die of it at 5 or 6 or 7, that they are clear.

I have 2 dogs living in my house that are almost 10 years old and they both expressed DCM at 9 1/2 years of age. Neither of them are showing any symptoms of the disease. I never would have known if I did not do those echoes. You can't hear anything on auscultation on either of these dogs and they are completely asymptomatic. One of them has since been diagnosed with bone cancer and I know I will lose him to that long before he has any symptoms of DCM. I would not know these dogs were affected if I did not check. I can't stress the importance of "looking under the hood" as my good friend says.

There is no shame in breeding dogs with DCM. Don't be afraid to find out what you have and share it openly. The cardiac status on all these dogs is publically visible in the OFA db along with the puppies from the Rain and Storm litters that have mild mitral valve dysplasia. I'm going to continue to breed, echo my dogs regularly and share what I know openly. It is the only way I can continue.