Parent Club Urges Participation In CHIC Blood Draw Clinics

Dalmatian enthusiasts who have attended a regional specialty show or the Dalmatian Club of America National Specialty during the past year may have noticed the blood draw clinics. Dedicated breeders and owners come with their dogs to contribute blood samples that hopefully one day will provide DNA to researchers seeking answers to genetic health conditions affecting the breed.

The Dalmatian Club of America (DCA) in conjunction with the Dalma­tian Club of America Foundation (DCAF) has begun a drive to collect 1,000 blood samples for the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) DNA Repository by 2011. During the past year, more than 650 CHIC DNA samples have been collected.

Participation at the blood draw clinics is going well, says DCA president Meg Hennessey, who takes to heart the mission of gathering valuable DNA samples. She has been traveling across the country at her own expense to assist affiliate Dalmatian clubs with the clinics.

Everywhere Hennessey goes, numerous volunteers from the affiliate clubs come to help with the effort. The parent club organizes the clinics, and DCAF subsidizes the costs of collecting, processing and storing samples. The funding will continue until July 2011.

Affiliate clubs publicize the clinics and reserve space for them. Breeders are eager to take advantage of the opportunity to have their dogs' blood banked in the CHIC DNA Repository and encourage the owners of dogs they have bred to participate as well. Those who participate in the clinic are asked to complete a confidential health survey that asks medical, orthopedic and reproductive questions. The health survey will provide more information about health conditions in Dalmatians.

"Breeder participation has been fantastic," Hennessey says. "If people didn't bring their dogs, this program could never work."

Taking a Mission on the Road The blood draw drive essentially kicked off after the 2009 DCA National Specialty, where Eddie Dziuk, OFA chief operating officer, presented a talk on the benefits of the CHIC DNA Reposi­tory. Dziuk explained how participation would help in the research of deafness and other conditions in Dalmatians.

Sponsored by OFA and the Canine Health Foundation, CHIC provides a database to archive health testing data and also maintains the CHIC DNA Repository from which investigators can request DNA samples for research. The data can be used by investigators studying conditions specific to Dalma­tians and those who study demographic information across breeds.

"There's a growing awareness of the importance of health and testing," Dziuk says. "The CHIC database is already in place. All that is needed is the organized support of parent breed clubs and their members."

The hard work to collect Dalmatian DNA samples is being noticed by other parent clubs. The Newfoundland Club of America and the Golden Retriever Club of America have both launched similar blood draw clinic drives, and the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club is interested in mimicking the DCA model.

A retired teacher, Hennessey and her husband, Mike, of Garden Prairie, Ill., have bred and shown Dalmatians under the Snowood prefix for 25 years. A stray Dalmatian, whom they named "Winkle," introduced them to the breed when she "showed up and stayed," says Hennessey. A small, black-spotted bitch, Winkle may not have been a show dog, but she helped the breed by turning Hennessey into a devoted Dalmatian lover.

In March, Hennessey set out for Edison, N.J., where a clinic was held at the Dalmatian Club of Greater New York Specialty. Next, she headed to Raleigh, N.C., to a clinic at the Central Carolina Dalmatian Club show. More than a handful of other events are planned later this year.

"We need samples from all Dalma­tians," says Hennessey. "Healthy dogs are needed as controls in studies. A dog tested as a healthy 6-month-old puppy may have health issues down the line, so having that dog's DNA is invaluable."

The CHIC Health Testing Databank The CHIC program also encompasses a rich database containing health testing information about individual dogs. When owners allow the records to be posted publicly, the information can be shared among a broad community.

DCA has participated in the CHIC databank program since 2004. When DCA joined CHIC, the parent club determined that health tests should be submitted for hips, eyes and hearing in order for dogs to receive a CHIC number and certificate. This year, DCA changed the health testing protocol to allow breeders to choose between health testing for eyes or thyroids.

Thus, Dalmatian owners submit results from:

  • OFA or PennHIP testing for hips;
  • Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) testing for hearing; and
  • Canine Eye Registration Founda­tion (CERF) testing for eyes or OFA testing for thyroid.

Test results from the OFA and CERF databases are automatically shared with CHIC at no cost to owners. DCAF subsidizes the cost of registering a litter's BAER results, so owners have no cost. Results from other sources, such as PennHIP, require a one-time fee of $25 per dog.

A CHIC number by itself does not imply normal results simply that the breed-specific tests were performed and the results make publicly available. As new results are recorded — for example, CERF recommends annual eye examinations — an update is generated to the CHIC database. Breeders can use the health test information to make informed breeding decisions and ultimately promote betterment of the breed through the pursuit of breeding healthier dogs.

Linda McSherry of Norway, Maine, a nurse practitioner, is proud to have three generations of CHIC-certified Dalmatians. A member of the Dalma­tian Club of Southern New England and a breeder under the Patch Moun­tain prefix since 1984, McSherry is also on the DCA membership education committee. She urged other breeders and owners of her puppies to participate in the club's blood draw clinic last September at the specialty show in Cape Cod, Mass.

Her first CHIC-certified Dalmatian "was a bitch that was almost 14 years old," McSherry says. "I do everything with my dogs — conformation, tracking, ability, obedience, rally and road trials. You've got to have sound, healthy dogs to do all this."

When choosing a stud dog, McSherry says, "the first thing I do is go to the CHIC Web site and search for CHIC health testing results for males I am interested in using. If a dog has not been tested with the results entered in the CHIC databank, I don't use him — no matter how much he has won."

McSherry also consults breeders of other breeds. "I believe there is much to learn by studying other breeds," she says.

"Using the CHIC databank allows for intelligent choices in a breeding program," Hennessey says. "Using the CHIC DNA Repository allows researchers quicker access to family or breed DNA. More and more information is the key."

Owners who bring their Dalmatians to participate in the blood draw clinics are contributing to the well-being of the breed and helping to ensure a legacy of good health. All who participate are winners, especially Dalmatians and those who love them.

Purina appreciates the support of the Dalmatian Club of America and particularly Meg Hennessey, DCA president, in helping to identify topics for the Purina Pro Club Dalmatian Update newsletter.