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The health of our breed: Taking it to the next level
By Dale Malony - updated by Judy Huston

Photo by Judy Huston.
Picture from left to right are: Joanne Chanyi, Maurice Seeger, Lynda Proulx, Debbie Martin, Dale Malony, and Dr. George Padgett, DVM.

When Judy Huston read The Control of Canine Genetic Disease in 1999, it sparked a flame in her and inspired a new drive in her life. She was motivated to apply the principles described in Dr. Padgett’s book to improve the health of a whole breed, and in almost no time, she had conducted a health survey of over 1000 dogs and generated excitement among many breed club members. That survey has since developed into a multi-pronged project independent of any breed club, and is positively impacting the decision making process for many breeders as they strive to pick the ideal match and produce the best and healthiest puppies possible.

This project not only includes genetic disease tracking, but also involves developing projects for breeder/owner education and a worldwide internet database of our dogs. Since every dog alive is at least carrier of genetic diseases, there are still a large number of dogs that need to be surveyed and tracked in order to truly improve the health of our breed.

"Kyra's first swim after spinal surgery - Easter Sunday"

Little did Judy know that her Kyra (Crystal’s Lady in Red) would become a statistic to be included in the next genetic health survey. Kyra was the inspiration for Judy’s initial desire to learn about the diseases which affect our dogs and pushed her to keep on keepin’ on, even when it seemed progress had slowed to a crawl.

Kyra was born September 20, 1995, and until December 2001, she was the healthiest, happiest, highest-drive dog Judy had ever been around – bossy and spoiled too. Sadly, in January 2002, Kyra was simultaneously diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome, Spinal Stenosis, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Eosinophilic Ulcerative Colitis/Proctitis). On January 22, 2002, a discectomy and a nucleotomy of the L7-S1 disc were performed. As of this writing, August, 2003, Kyra is back herding and doing agility.

Project development to date
In early 1999, Judy sent a copy of Dr. Padgett’s book, The Control of Canine Genetic Disease, to Joanne Chanyi. Joanne has been breeding White Shepherds longer than anyone else Judy knew. Judy also realized she needed someone with Joanne’s expertise and experience to respond favorably to Dr. Padgett’s methods.  Joanne embraced the project whole-heartedly and has not looked back.

In September 1999, Maurice Seeger, (then the American White Shepherd Association (AWSA) President) agreed that the health of our dogs is extremely important and found room in an already full Midland, Michigan AWSA National Specialty show schedule to include a seminar by Dr. Padgett.  Only a small number of participants could attend due to their involvement with, and the timing of the show. Attendees of the first seminar were Joanne Chanyi, Debbie Martin, Marion Lopizzo, Margaret Stafford, Pam Hovind, Susan Ewart, Henk Van Der Graaf, Diana Updike, Carol Martin, Judge Sundae (Friday conformation judge), and Judy Huston.

The AWSA membership then voted to fund the first-ever White Shepherd/White German Shepherd Health and Genetics Survey. By September of 2000, the results were in on 1,000 dogs and Judy Huston prepared the report. Dr. Padgett presented the results in a videotaped seminar in Howell, Mi. In attendance at this seminar were Joanne Chanyi, Tim Johnson DVM (Joanne's veterinarian), Lynda Proulx, Debbie Martin, Gloria Erskine, Pam Koons, Michelle Koons, Diana Updike, Doug Wynn, Stefanie Wynn, Jacki Wheeler, Mark Echterling, Maurice Seeger, Dick Huston, and Judy Huston.

Copies of this video may be obtained by contacting Judy Huston:
(517)546-3046, or mail requests to P.O. Box 2068, Howell, MI. 48844-2068.

In November of 2000, the “White Shepherd Genetics” Internet discussion group was created on Yahoo. As of this writing (August 2003), over 200 people are members of the group. Recently, Debbie Martin agreed to take over as list owner and also take on Health and Genetics Chair for the White Shepherd Club of Canada. Ruut Tilstra of the Netherlands has been invaluable in posting charts and articles to the shared files and holds moderator status for the list along with Dale Malony, Joanne Chanyi, and Judy Huston. The list is open to new members and can be accessed at the following URL:

White Shepherd Genetics Forum

Debbie Martin, member of both AWSA and the White Shepherd Club of Canada (WSCC), and Joanne Chanyi, owner of Hoofprint Farms and breeder for over 30 years, were the first to begin discussing the genetic diseases in their bloodlines openly on the White Shepherd Genetics discussion list. Thus began the arduous task of analyzing the data in the survey, learning about the large number of genetic diseases which can affect our dogs, and learning to apply the data to charts which simplify the task of calculating the probability that any given match of sire and dam will pass the genes for each specific genetic disease to their puppies.

Armed with a map of genetic obstacles never before available, breeders began using Dr. Padgett’s methods to select a match in order to reduce the risk of breeding affected puppies. Joanne became the logical person to maintain the ever-growing database known as our “charts” and continues to fill this important role.

Other breeders, such as Jacki Wheeler of WillowWood Kennel, soon followed Joanne and Debbie’s lead and began discussing the pedigrees and genetic traits carried in their kennels. Though open discussion is not required to participate in the project, the open discussion process has been very helpful in demonstrating to people exactly what breeders are doing to try to improve the overall health of the breed and to help in understanding the process.

A club-independent, worldwide Internet database project is currently in the development stages with the hopes of simplifying both the data submission and analysis processes. Bert Tangelder, MCSE and owner of Witte Herder Kennel in the Netherlands, is the workhorse of the project. Dale Malony contributes his fresh perspective and experience to the project and has agreed to act as the WS Genetics Project Education and Planning Coordinator.

Ronda Beaupre and Heather MacLeod have been on-board since the beginning and joined forces to work with Dale Malony and Debbie Martin to launch the initial website. It is hoped that this medium can reach individual owners of White Shepherds and gather data on a much grander scale than previously possible. It is especially hoped that this project will attract participants from all White Shepherd/White German Shepherd breed clubs worldwide in a united effort to permanently improve the health of our breed.

An interview was conducted with Dr. George Padgett in March 2002, at his home in Okemos, Michigan. Read the complete article here and in the Hoflin White White German Shepherd Annual, 2002 edition. In attendance were Joanne Chanyi, Dale Malony, Maurice Seeger, Lynda Proulx, Judy Huston, and Debbie Martin who conducted the interview.

Dr. George A. Padgett, DVM will be conducting another seminar at the American White Shepherd Association’s National Specialty Show on October 10, 2003 at 7 PM. He will be analyzing a family of White Shepherds and answering the questions: Where do we go from here? How do we make the best use of the information we have? What are the benefits of an Open Registry and how do we use it to calculate risks in our dogs? Debbie Martin is hard at work preparing the brochure visualized at the inception of this project. It will contain the latest information about the genetic diseases affecting our dogs and can be used by puppy buyers, breeders, and their veterinarians to expedite the diagnostic process.

We see this document as a historical record of the steps taken by committed people to do everything possible to earn the reputation of a group of breeders and dog fanciers who, together, took their dogs to the highest levels of health possible in the world of dog breeding.

Most of the contents of this document were originally written by Dale Malony as an introduction to the interview conducted with Dr. Padgett in March of 2002 and it was originally published in the Hoflin White German Shepherd Dog Annual. Judy Huston updated it to be included on our genetics website as our historical document. It will be updated periodically.

Send personal donation checks or money orders to:

     White Shepherd Genetics Project
     Susan Ewart, Treasurer
     75 Old Albany Road
     Greenfield, MA 01301