May 22, 2011

We found our breeder!

Posted in dog breed selection, dog ownership, dogs, pets, Tamaskan Dog tagged , , , , at 12:16 pm by Angie Hilbert

The most beautiful email arrived in my in box! Judy of Double J Kennels invited me to call her about a Tamaskan breeding she is planning late this summer. Several phone calls and emails and a letter later, she is willing to accept us as a home for one of the pups. We are not, of course, the only interested candidates. She fields many inquires through email, her facebook page, and face-to-face.

If mother nature follows her expected schedule, our prospective mother, Ruby will come into season mid to late August, Whelp in October and Pups will be ready to go home in late December.

How do we know we can trust this breeder? Judy, her husband Jim and their kennel “J&J” has the unique distinction of being the home of the first breeding pair of Tamaskans in the USA as well as the home of the first Tamaskan litter born on the American continent.

In 2005, a pair of litter mates from Lynn at Blustag Kennels in the UK   arrived in the USA as the first Tamaskans imported to America. One, Blustag Menominee Owl, called Woulf,  went to live with Jim and Judy at J&J. The following year, Blustag River Rising, called Lobo, arrived from Finland to complete America’s first breeding pair.

It was June of 2007 when Woulf and Lobo produced the first Tamaskan litter born on American soil.  The following year, Woulfe and Lobo produced another litter but both had to been delivered cesarean section. Judy made one final effort to breed Woulfe for the specific purpose of reducing her uterine scar tissue in an attempt to preserve her line. It was a controversial decision, and Judy decided it was not worth it. Woulfe was spayed immediately upon cesarian birth of that final litter. All the puppies were spoken for and Judy was under contract to give them to their new owners. Fortunately, one pup from that litter was reclaimed, Jethro.

After being sold, Jethro’s new family experienced some personal hardship. To cope, they would run and exhaust the puppy so he would be too tired to get into any antics at home. Unfortunately, Tamaskans, like most large-breed athletic dogs, need carefully moderated exercise as puppies to prevent hip damage. Hip dysplasia has a strong genetic factor that determines predisposition for the disease, but also a lifestyle factor that can often determine how or even if symptoms ever develop. Like people and heart disease, genetics and lifestyle intertwine in complex and sometimes unpredictable ways. When damage was discovered, the family returned the pup to Judy.

“That’s how we came to keep Jethro, once he came back, I said ‘that’s it. He’s not for sale.”

Under Judy’s care, Jethro made a full and vet-documented recovery from juvinile arthritis and grew into an exceptional dog. He has the tolerant, easy-going temperament Judy can claim as the pride of her kennel.

“My dogs handle people and commotion really well. I can put them out with anyone, they love people and get along with other animals. I’m breeding for temperament more than anything else.”

But Jethro also has the unusual light amber eyes so coveted by Tamaskan breed enthusiasts. He also has the full, straight bushy tail and a true wolf-gray coat the color of pewter. He became a handsome dog. Upon maturity, he took over stud duties at J+J. This would ensure the continuation of his honorable pedigree as the original Tamaskan bloodline in the USA.

But there was a risk. Unlike older, more traditional dog breeds, Tamaskan breed development started during the scientific age of genetic testing, x-ray and hip score science. Thanks to seamless international communications and electronic data exchange, the Tamaskan Dog Register coordinates an aggressive initiative to actively prevent the Tamaskan breed from suffering the fate of many pedigreed dog breeds. What if hip dysplasia, a common but potentially crippling disease, could be bred out of the Tamaskan? Why not do the same for  seizures, degenerative myelopathy and other genetic health risks? This is the goal of the TDR health database.

In their efforts to prevent health problems in the Tamaskan breed, all registered Tamaskan breeders have to send genetic health screenings and hip x-rays of their breeding dogs for official OFA scoring. Any dog with even one hip scoring higher than 18 for hip dysplasia would not qualify to have his or her litter registered at birth, discouraging breeding of high scoring dogs. No matter how pure the pedigree or how perfect the confirmation to breed standard or how ideal the temperament. Pups from these dogs would have to wait until they reached maturity and would only be registered after they presented good hip development. Jethro’s x-rays scored his right hip at 19, one point outside of the accepted range.

“When I sent the x-rays in, I was feeling pretty good. My vet said they looked ok and should pass. When they came back and one hip was no good, I was not happy. I really thought he was going to make it. Now instead of having a registered litter, anyone who wants to register one of his pups, has to have the pup  x-rayed at 1 year.”

(edit 7-31-11) Debby Stainforth of Sylvaen Tamsakans  and the TDR committee confirms that there is a precedent where pups born to a dog with a failing hip score were accepted for registration following TDR committee deliberations pending acceptable hip scores at 1 year. But if the dogs involved are to be considered for breeding, official hip scores must be submitted to the TDR when the dog is two years old. She also informs me that the OFA hip scoring system is no longer recognized by the TDR for registration or for sanctioning breeding. Instead. All Tamaskans breeding stock around the world mustr have x-rays submited directly form their local veterinary radiologist to the British Veterinary Association for evaluation according to their hip scheme. This is a second chance for Jethro! Judy is making arrangements for him to be re-scored by the BVA.

Now Jim and Judy had a serious dilemma. The TDR committee does have a history of sanctioning exceptions under special circumstances, but the stakes were high. Crossing Jethro to a dog with strong hip scores could preserve his line for future generations while breeding out the tendency toward borderline hip scores. With Canine Hip Displasia being a multifactorial trait (controlled by many genes, not a single gene.) controlling CHD through selective breeding has come into question among many breeders and breed clubs.

Judy, considered carefully; Jethro carries many highly prized traits and characteristics. His blood line includes the YouTube celebrity “Loo-loo” uncommonly graceful, tolerant quick and intelligent, the startling “Gracie” with her uncanny wolf-like resemblance, yellow eyes and problem-solving intelligence , and “Tundra” who is famous among Tamaskan enthusiasts for her conformity to breed standard.

Moreover,  Judy’s work with the Nokota Horse Conservancy, preserving the genetic viability of a closed population of Nokota horses in the US, taught her much about the importance of looking ahead, as well as behind, in breed planning. It is the breeder’s duty to insure that future generations of Tamaskan Dogs did not become a homogenous population and that genetically appropriate lines of unrelated dogs were preserved intact for future breeding crosses.

There was only one solution to find a mate for Jethro. Judy turned to her friends across the Atlantic and imported Ruby from Liz at the Alba kennels in Scotland, This bonnie lass represented a new blood line on this continent. Wrapped in the distinctive, almost regal, red-gray coat inherited from her father, Ruby developed into a remarkable dog. She does have a tail that tends to curl a bit when she gets excited. This is no concern to a family wanting a pet, but it is considered a flaw according the Tamaskan breed standard. But to Judy, a breeder,whose primary interest is first temperament, second breed integrity and health, with appearance last, Ruby was a precious gem!

“She has nice, graceful movement, a stunning red-gray coat and I call her my ‘softie-dog.’ She likes to cuddle up and press against you instead of jump up into your lap.”

And – she had excellent hips! No dog is perfect in all characteristics. This is why careful breeding is so important.

“We’re trying to correct faults through our breeding not strengthen them.” Says Judy.

In considering a Ruby-Jethro cross Both dogs have some remarkable contributions to make to future generations. Jethro has light eyes, high intelligence, and a straight tail. Ruby has her stunning coat, grace and gentleness and her fine strong hips. Would their strengths balance out one another’s weaknesses? These are the tense decisions ethical breeders struggle with over each litter they plan, balancing their fears with their  hopes. At stake, is the very future of the breed.

In October or 2010, a Jethro-Ruby litter was born. The gentle Ruby proved herself an excellent mother.

“I woke up when I heard this squeak.  And when I went out into the kitchen, there were a couple of puppies born already. She did everything herself, I just kind of sat there and dried off puppies.”

The Ruby-Jethro cross was highly successful producing beautiful puppies with exemplary temperament and beautiful features.

Judy was thrilled with the pups. She is even keeping one as a future potential mother “ a lot of the pups got the light eyes.”

But it will still be a few months before any of the pups are old enough to have any preliminary x-rays done for hip screening. Now Judy is planning Ruby’s next litter. She loved the pups she produced with Jethro. But there are other potential stud dogs to consider. Each with his own set of risks and advantages to weigh.

At publication, Judy has not decided on the sire for Ruby’s litter this fall. But after talking with her and witnessing her mindful contemplation and hearing her frank, sincere and down-to-earth analysis of each dog’s strengths and weaknesses, I am confident I can trust her decisions and instincts. I respect her honesty and disclosure.

If your breeder is reluctant to talk about their breeding program, or can’t identify any weaknesses in her dogs, I recommend finding a different breeder.

Wayne and I have sent our deposit on a female of Ruby’s next litter. We now have first pick of Ruby’s female pups this fall.

I am planning a trip to North Carolina and Virginia next month for the National Tamaskan Club of America’s Round up and visiting J&J kennels personally. I will meet Judy, Ruby, Jethro and even see other candidates for our pup’s father.

Our baby girl Tamaskan isn’t even a twinkle in her daddy’s eye yet. We don’t even know in which daddy’s eye to look for a twinkle. But she already has a place in our hearts. And regardless of her parentage, one thing is for certain. We will be very careful of her developing hips!

Is it too early to buy her THIS? (just kidding)

*** UPDATE*** August 7, 2011

Judy has decided Jethro will be the stud for Ruby’s fall litter. Details surrounding her decision will be discussed in an upcoming post.

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