(One woman’s fight against GSD Myelopathy and the apathy of the GSDCA)
August 4, 1998 Perhaps I have led a charmed life, for nothing in my life could have prepared me, on that infamous day, for having to euthanize my companion of 13 years, my sweet German Shepherd Dog, Jack Flash. I knew Jack was ill with Degenerative Myelopathy, and I knew the prognosis for dogs with his condition. I had watched Jack become weaker and weaker, before the day he lost his smile, and I had thoroughly researched and learned everything I could, in relation to DM. [ed. note: Degenerative Myelopathy, also known in North America as GSD Myelopathy, and in the U.K. as â€œchronic degenerative radiculomyelopathyâ€ (CDRM).] However, nothing could prevent the ultimate outcome of this devastating disease, and although I had learned enough to give Jack Flash extra time, with quality of life, eventually the disease, which always wins out, won out again, leaving one heart that was broken into such tiny pieces, that it would never be the same.
I remember, so clearly, the day I had to let Jack go into the good night. I remember holding him in my arms, and I remember asking God to give me the strength not to cry. Thankfully, God obliged, and I was able to calmly talk to Jack and hold him in my arms, making him that famous promise, to smooth the way for others who had to follow in our footsteps, and to try to rid the breed of the disease that took him from my life.
I knew the meaning of the word “naive” before I made my promise, but never did I consider that term would be such a perfect description of my promise. Looking back on the promise, I realize the word “naive” was spray painted on me, in big red letters, fitting like a glove, or, better yet, like one of those Lycra stretchy and clingy dresses that leave nothing to the imagination. In making that promise, to Jack Flash, I never realized I would be going up against two major problems- ego and politics.
Personally, I don’t believe that ego and politics belong in the world of dogs. Breeders are SUPPOSED to be the caretakers of the breed-we hold the future of the breed in our hands. Breeders are supposed to want the best for the breed. We should be open about health problems and we should want to encourage and participate in a free exchange of information. However, secrecy seems to be the name of the game, and all too often, the dogs, which are supposed to be the central focus, seem to be lost in the shuffle. We tend to focus on the “donut hole”, forgetting about the “donut”.
I hear breeders speak of how wonderful the dogs were at the National, openly, but in private conversations, I hear of locked hocks, dead tails, and poor temperaments. I see pictures in the GSD Review of dogs, with handlers and judges smiling, but when I look at the dog being advertised, my heart plummets to my toes, as I see a dog that looks like it is in the advanced stages of DM, barely holding itself up, by the power in its front legs, standing beside a plaque that says winners dog or winners bitch. I see rear legs that look like the rear legs of Jack Rabbits, and wonder, “How can this possibly be? — How can dogs that look like this be winning??? Worse yet, if dogs like this are being put up by the judges, these dogs will be the ones which are heavily bred, and this style of dog will be perpetuated. I know the rationale of rear angulation for under-reach, but there must be a happy medium! Why on earth would a judge put up a dog that stands like it is crippled? Politics!
Please do not misunderstand me- I am not saying that all over angulated dogs have DM- however, I will tell you that many over-angulated dogs do have mobility problems. As the founder of the Degenerative Myelopathy Support Group, I see the pet dogs from these show litters, and I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that there is a problem. I have many people contact me because their pups are dragging toes, have bloody toes, nails worn down to the quick, and whose rear legs wobble back and forth like eggbeaters. Is this functional? Isn’t this breed supposed to be a breed that can function? How can they possibly function, when they cannot walk? I have been to shows where my heart was in my mouth, and the tears were welling up in my eyes, as I saw dogs that could NEVER have competed, if not on grass, for their toes would have been reduced to bloody pulps, their feet never, once, clearing the ground. I cannot believe the nerve of people who show up with dogs that cannot walk, and place these dogs into shows, as specimens of the breed, to be promoted. If this is NOT an ego problem, then the only other reasons I can think of, to account for the showing of these dogs, would be that these people are either completely out of touch with reality, they are totally insane, they suffer from rampant, innate stupidity, or, they are idiot-savants, being successful in their chosen occupation, in life, but nonfunctional in the real world.
It is now  over 3 years that I have been attempting to keep my promise to Jack Flash. I have been blackballed, by self appointed control seeking individuals, who have manipulated their way to “power” in the club, cutting me off from communication with the majority of breeders, for I guess the old “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is still the order of the day. How sad! Many of the breeders objected to this separation and severance of communication, but fear of rejection, and being also “exiled” overcame rationale behavior. Politics! It has been over 3 years, and I have made little or no progress towards my goal, partly because my sources of communication have been denied to me, and partly because heads wish to remain buried in the ground, for everyone likes to think they breed the best dogs, and therefore, their dogs can have no flaws, and if they do, these flaws must be hidden, lest someone view their dogs as less than the perfect dog.
There are no links to health sites from the parent club website, to diseases that plague our breed! I have repeatedly made requests for links, suggested links be added to the Parent Club site, yet, all I have gotten is the big ignore! Do we have perfectly healthy dogs? If not, why are there no links, despite my repeated requests, to help make life easier for those with ill dogs? Why are there no links to educate club members who face problems with their German Shepherd Dogs? If the breeders do not wish to participate, there are still pet owners, members of the club, who come to the club site looking for help, and there is no help is to be found, in relation to health problems. That is a very sad state of affairs!
The perfect dog-there is NO such thing as the perfect dog-there never has been, and there never will be. Perhaps it is easier for me to see this, since I am standing on the outside looking in. At one point, I wished to be on the inside, but now that I have had my glimpse, short lived as it was, of the inside world, I truly have no desire to be a part of the world of show, in its present mode of operation. I cannot help but wonder how many other “newbies” feel the same way. Competition is cutthroat, and I believed, when I got involved in the show world, that this was supposed to be for fun, a hobby, with the ultimate goal of bettering the breed. However, when breeders of dogs with lines that are known to bloat continue breeding these animals, and others breed to these dogs because it is the “in” thing to do, dogs with pancreatic insufficiency are bred, because “all dogs have problems”, and the same pattern holds true with dogs with DM, I see that all the talk of the betterment of the breed is no more than “lip service”! People talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk! Therefore, they do the breed a disservice, when they choose to breed dogs with known health problems!
The more I see, the more I realize that politics rule, political wins are the order of the day, and its not what you have at the bottom end of the lead, but rather, more weight is given to who is at the top end of the lead. This is not a level playing field, and conformation showing is becoming a sport for the wealthy, in other words, for those who can afford to pay for the best handlers (of which there is a major shortage). With judges putting up dogs that I, personally, would be rushing to a neurologist, secrecy, “in-crowds”, politics, and the blind eye towards health, I cannot wonder how “newbies”(who are attracted to the sport, and will quickly discover this has gone waaaaay past being a sport, to being nothing short of cutthroat, backstabbing competition and politics at its finest) will ever choose to remain with the sport. If “newbies” become turned off to the show world that is being presented to them, and the older folks in the breed retire, who will be left to make the majors? We are shooting ourselves in the foot, with politics, ego, and the breeding of dogs that should not be bred, just because they are “beautiful” and belong to those who are “politically correct”.
When I see a well-balanced dog being passed over for the dogs whose rear legs cannot support them, I cringe. When I see a well balanced dog, with beautiful suspension, being passed over for a dog whose hocks knock together, going away, and elbows thrown out to the sides, coming, I cant help but wonder if anyone is REALLY looking at the dogs, or is politics the determining factor of what dog will win on a given day? Since these same dogs, as I stated previously, are being advertised, I would assume the pictures being presented in the Review, are accurate representations of the dog that is being campaigned. I cannot imagine one would make a huge expenditure to place an ad in the Review that did not do their dog justice. That leaves me to believe that what I am seeing is an accurate representation of where the breed is headed, and I cannot help but wonder what everyone else thinks of the direction the fancy is taking. How much rear does a German Shepherd Dog need?? Some of the dogs I see in the Review look like aberrations of nature to me. Does anyone really believe there is a beneficial purpose for dog’s knees to almost touch the ground, due to absurdly elongated upper thighbones? Please say it isn’t so! I thought the Fancy was supposed to be about producing a better dog” bettering the breed. I am sure everyone loves their dogs, but they seem to love winning more. I suppose those whose dogs are winning are perfectly content to keep things status quo, and those who aren’t winning would like a change. However, politics determines what will stay, for people are just too afraid to stand up and say what they truly need to say.
I am not afraid to say what needs to be said, for I have nothing to lose. I have a promise to keep to Jack Flash, and I will keep plugging away until, eventually, I wear everyone down enough to help them see the light. Hopefully, seeing, in print, some problems I am sure all have thought about, privately, will bring to light the changes that need to be made, and thereby let some light, and knowledge, into the darkness of Status Quo, which is, undeniably, the enemy within!