Making New Strides in Canine Health
Whether our passion lies in the show ring, the field, the whelping box, or any combination thereof, our goal to produce, raise and own healthy purebred dogs is one we all share.
With that objective in mind, I would like to tell you about the incredible advancements that we are accomplishing in the realm of canine health today. Of course our commitment to health is not new. But what’s special about this work is how we are achieving it through a new team approach that strengthens the bond between the American Kennel Club and the AKC Canine Health Foundation more than ever before.
Many of you have heard about the tick-borne disease initiative that is entering its second year in 2017. This set of five major grants aims to improve diagnostics and advance therapeutics to treat and prevent diseases such as Lyme, ehrlichiosis, and others. This work is so meaningful because these illnesses often go undiagnosed and can be very challenging to manage when they take hold. And they affect so many dogs -- as well as people.
The threat of tick-borne diseases is escalating in many regions of the US, especially right here in the Northeast. In 2016, AKC agreed to match up to $250,000 in contributions to CHF for this program. In just six months, the CHF team met its goal in an unprecedented fundraising effort, thanks in large part to the many AKC parent clubs that participated so generously. A second year of matched funding from AKC in 2017 is fueling the progress of these cutting-edge studies, which now count a year’s worth of data to mine in the search for treatments and cures.
Another important achievement comes in the study of canine epilepsy, the most prevalent neurological disorder in dogs. In 2017, AKC initiated another match opportunity, again offering up to $250,000 in contribution matching. A notable result of this AKC-and-CHF-funded work was a breakthrough discovery of a new gene for canine epilepsy, which paves the way for a new genetic test for the disease. The discovery, which also has important implications for the treatment of epilepsy in children, was published this year in the journal of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.
Our mission to advance purebred and purpose-bred dogs has kept us focused on supporting the veterinary community in the field of theriogenology. I am pleased to announce that AKC and CHF have injected three more years of funding into our “therio” residencies at major US veterinary institutions beginning in 2018. The four currently active residencies will be joined by two more in each of 2018 and 2019, and extends our support through 2020. The study of canine reproductive medicine has no greater champion than the American Kennel Club, and all dog fanciers should consider themselves stakeholders in this work. I am delighted that this year the AKC Canine Health Foundation now assumes the role of managing and stewarding our investment in this important scientific pursuit. Our “therio” project is a shining example of how AKC and our affiliates are working together to create progress for purebred dogs.
The bridges we are building with the veterinary community are stronger than ever thanks to a united front we have created through collaboration between AKC departments (including Veterinary Outreach, Government Relations, Public Relations and Marketing), the AKC Canine Health Foundation, and our Delegates Health Committee. So much of this work has been effective in raising our profile with the influential American Veterinary Medical Association.
In fact, our management and staff are now holding quarterly meetings with the AVMA to discuss health-related topics of mutual concern. Additionally, the AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer has been invited to speak at the AVMA convention this summer, where he will represent our interests and advance the message of purebred dogs. When we speak out together for those who cannot speak, our voice is that much more powerful.
Those of us in the breeder/exhibitor community certainly have a vested interest in canine health, but we are not alone. Today’s pet owners are more educated, more focused and more demanding when it comes to their dogs. The quest for the “healthy, happy puppy” must start and end with AKC. That is why we continue to uphold and enhance breeder programs like AKC Breeder of Merit and Bred with H.E.A.R.T, special designations that require parent-club-advised health tests on all breeding stock and resulting litters. Now, we are taking these programs further through collaboration with CHF and OFA, when we will look to new standardizations for genetic testing. The growth in registrations that we celebrated last year and carefully nurture today is surely due in part to the emphasis we are placing on meeting the public’s demand for dogs that have been responsibly bred for sound temperament and optimal health.
As a famous friend once wrote, and I paraphrase, “dogs make our lives whole.” I know you all agree – we owe it to them to make their lives whole, too. Thanks to the unique and robust partnership between the American Kennel Club, the AKC Canine Health Foundation, our dedicated dog clubs and fanciers – together we are making life better for ALL dogs, everywhere.