Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Testing Rescue Corgis for DM

A well-respected rescuer asked the question, would you do a DM DNA test on a rescue dog at the request of a potential adopter? She concluded that she would not, stating that the genetics of the dog were not her responsibility as a rescuer, and she would not want to know the status because then she would have to disclose it to any other potential adopters. She was asking what other rescuers think about the issue. The following is based on my response.

I agree it is a tough question but I would do it if asked. My reason has more to do with placing the dog in the right home. If someone is set on a dog being
DM carrier or clear, she isn't going to adopt an untested dog, I know this for myself as I will not put myself through that again, and I have heard it from many, many other owners who have lost dogs to DM. Regardless what anyone says to the contrary, DM is more heartbreaking than any other way I have lost a dog, it is a slow death that breaks your heart, it has no clear end point, and the emotional toll is high.

Oliver has IVDD, but his DM status is clear.

For those who don't know me, I have adopted three wheelchair corgis, all with IVDD. I would not adopt a corgi At Risk for DM, having lived through it with Merlin. Paraplegia did not put me off adopting my latest corgi, but had he not been clear or carrier, that would have. When the test was first available I thought I would be able to adopt an at risk dog, but by the time of Merlin's death I realized I could never face this disease again in a dog I loved.

I had an email yesterday from an owner who has just lost two DM corgis, she is leaving the breed. She may reconsider if she can find a tested pup but right now she is too devastated to consider it. And tested, clear or carrier dogs are not easy to find.

Another owner who has lost a dog to DM stated adamantly that she would not adopt a rescue or buy a puppy that wasn’t tested, even if she had to change breeds.

So saying no to testing means the potential adopter who asked for the test will not adopt this dog, period. Saying no to testing does nothing to help the dog get a home. Chances are reasonably good that the dog is carrier or clear, I firmly believe the incidence of DM is higher in well-bred corgis than in others. I tested my own rescues and got two carriers and a clear. By not testing you are removing the chance that adopter will adopt that dog. For an easy to place, highly desirable dog, that may be fine. But what about the dog that is going to take some time to place? Can you afford to refuse a home that might be the right one?

The difficulty in testing is that you, the rescuer, now know the dog's DM status, and have the ethical dilemma of telling the next potential adopter or not. For me, that isn't an issue, as I believe you have that same dilemma if you don't test, do you tell all your adopters the dog might be at risk for DM? Ethically, since you know it is true that he might be, do you inform them about the disease?

If, for example, 1 in 10 dogs with at risk genes get DM (and I think that is a very low estimate), then 1 in 20 untested dogs get it. Are you, a corgi rescuer, telling all of your adopters their corgi has a 1 in 20 chance of getting DM? Then why would you feel obligated to tell them there is a 1 in 10 chance?

For some rescuers as well as some breeders, that is the issue. They would rather not know. I don't know what I would do. I stopped actively rescuing when Merlin got DM and then Janine developed an autoimmune disease and is on immuno-suppressants for life. We can't introduce new germs from new dogs, so I don't have to answer that question. I might take a "they don't ask, I don't tell" approach, but I would feel guilty about it. But as I said, I would feel the same about placing an untested dog. I don't think you would have to euthanize an at risk corgi, there are enough people at least today who have not experienced the disease and would even knowingly take a chance. But they are not the people asking the question,

As we learn more about DM- what percent of At Risk dogs get the disease, for example- the question may become easier- or harder- to decide.

There is an advantage to knowing the status. It makes more sense to place an at risk corgi with someone who is sure to be strong and healthy when the dog reaches its senior years, to avoid homes with lots of steps, or owners with health issues that might interfere with caring for a disabled dog. You can't know the whole future, but you can guess at some of it.

I do think if you allow testing it is perfectly reasonable to ask the requesting potential adopter to pay for it. In some circumstances such as crowded foster homes or a dog in great demand I think it would also be reasonable to include the stipulation that if another good home comes along without the testing requirement the dog will be placed and not held for the adopter who is waiting for test results.

But I do think rescuers will be faced with this question more and more often as the incidence of DM grows, and will be losing potential homes if they do not adopt a pro-testing policy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Llyr's DM Blog

Our friend Llyr has his own blog now, which you can find at Llyr's Blog

I encourage anyone with a corgi or other dog with DM to start a blog. If you aren't a writer, do it with pictures. It is a nice record to have, it helps educate others, and it helps the owner to see the changes in her own dog as time goes by, something that is harder to do on a day to day basis. Millie Williams suggested it to me soon after Merlin's diagnosis and now I am grateful to have kept it.