A short-legged, long-tailed dog greeted 12-year-old Jinnie Strickland when she stepped off the school bus.
She had never seen him before, but the little dog wiggled, jumped and acted like she was his long-lost friend. He followed her home and stayed.
“I studied the Book of Dogs and decided that he was a Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Eventually we found his owners, but he would not stay home so they gave him to me,” Strickland said. “I had wonderful memories of him all of life.”
As an adult, she wanted a dog that could do dog sports, but that she could keep up with, and thought of her childhood buddy.
“I found my first CWC and I haven’t looked back. Cardigans are a breed that fits my lifestyle.”
The Georgia resident has now owned, bred and shown Cardigan Welsh Corgis for more than 20 years. She is devoted to maintaining the temperament and health of the herding breed that captured her heart as a youth.
When she lost a beloved Cardigan at age 14 to canine cognitive dysfunction, she wanted to do even more.
She volunteered to participate in the Dog Aging Project – a national study to improve longevity in all canines. “When I read about the project, I knew I wanted to help. They were looking for younger Southeastern dogs for the study, so I nominated my youngster, and he was accepted in the program.”
The goal of the Dog Aging Project is to understand how genes, lifestyle and environment influence aging. The study brings together a community of dogs, owners, veterinarians, researchers and volunteers.
“The Dog Aging Project has captured the imagination of dog owners around the world. Not just because the project’s discoveries could lead to more time with our beloved pets, but because what we learn will be directly transferable to human health as well. Ultimately, it will lead to longer healthier lives for both humans and their canine companions,” said Dr. Audrey Ruple DVM, MS, PhD, an associate professor at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech.
Ruple is part of the Dog Aging Research Team, which includes representatives from 28 universities around the world.
As of mid-March, there were 35,000 volunteers in the Dog Aging Project Pack, who report regularly on their dogs’ health, lifestyle and care.
But more dogs are needed, Ruple said. The team is particularly interested in studying more intact dogs, large dogs and dogs that live in central and southern United States.
“All dogs are welcome: Any size, any breed, any age, and any health condition! However, we can learn the most from dogs enrolled as puppies, ideally before they are spayed or neutered,” Ruple said. “We can only enroll one dog per household so it’s particularly helpful if the owner nominates the dog about whom they know the most.”
To contribute to the project, you can nominate a dog by going to dogagingproject.org and nominating your dog. You create an online personal portal and then receive an emailed invitation to complete the Health & Life Experience Survey.
The survey is in-depth and covers many topics including demographics, environment, behavior, diet, medicines and more. The survey is lengthy, but you can take your time and complete it in sections, as long as it is submitted within six weeks. Participants are also asked to upload their dogs’ veterinary records, and project team members can assist with that if needed.
Strickland nominated her now nearly 2-year-old male Cardigan, Solstice Jalapeno Popper BCAT SCN SIN IT RATI, known to all as JeffJeff.
“He is a very social dog and always up for fun. He is young and is just starting out doing doggy sports, but he is competing in AKC Scent Work, Fast CAT, and Barn Hunt. He also got his AKC Herding Instinct Certificate.”
Participating in the project has been easy and fun as it enables you to connect with other dog lovers around the country, Strickland said.
“The project has everything laid out so that it is easy to complete, and you update as information becomes available,” she said. “The project team is easy to work with. They even have an area on their website called the Dog Park where Pack Members can interact with one another and share their dogs. JeffJeff is Pack Member #36,017.”
The Dog Aging Project began forming in 2007 when Dr. Daniel Promislow of the University of Washington and Dr. Kate Creevy DVM of Texas A&M University collaborated on a study investigating the causes of death among companion dogs. In 2013, they joined forces with Dr. Matt Kaeberlein PhD of the University of Washington, and the collaboration began in earnest.
In 2018, the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institute on Health, funded their grant proposal for the Dog Aging Project. Creevy now serves as Chief Veterinary Officer for the project, and Promislaw and Kaeberlein as co-directors.
“When the Dog Aging Project launched in November 2019, the response exceeded our wildest expectations. Within a week, the project grew from 4,000 nominations to over 70,000, and we are now at over 92,000,” Ruple said. “Thousands of media outlets covered the project, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and NBC Nightly News.”
The project’s work is centered on two goals: understanding how biology, lifestyle, and environment influence aging and intervening to increase “healthspan,” the period of life spent free from disease. Currently, there are five major research components:
- Defining frailty and successful aging in dogs. Unlike in humans, there are no clearly defined metrics to determine how well a dog is aging, no canine equivalent of the chair stand test or grip strength, nor predefined age-specific ranges for clinical chemistry measures. To fill this gap, they are developing new metrics of canine aging, which will form the basis for a new veterinary specialty: canine gerontology.
- Genetic analysis of aging in dogs. Genome sequence data for the 10,000 canine participants is being integrated with health measures and behavioral traits to carry out comprehensive genome-wide association studies.
- Systems biology of healthy aging in dogs. Identifying molecular biological predictors of disease and longevity and developing an epigenetic clock that predicts biological age in dogs.
- TRIAD—Rapamycin Intervention Study. Conducting a large-scale trial of FDA-approved rapamycin, a drug shown to increase lifespan and delay the negative effects of aging in mice. They are testing the effects of the drug on cognitive function, heart function, immunity, and cancer incidence in 500 middle-aged dogs.
- Canine Cognitive Health. Monitoring cognitive health in aging dogs through a variety of cognitive assessments as well as physiological and structural measures of brain health in order to understand the progression and correlates of canine cognitive dysfunction.
“Out of the Pack, we invite subsets of dogs to join more in-depth studies, like the genetics study, TRIAD, or the brain health study. We will select dogs to ensure variation, both genetically and geographically, and we’ll be looking for owners willing and able to participate in various research activities,” Ruple said.
“If a dog is invited to join an additional study, we give the owners all the information they need to make an informed decision about whether or not to participate. If they don’t want to, that’s fine; they remain valuable members of the Pack and will have the opportunity to opt-in to other activities in the future. “
Strickland said she encourages all dog lovers to contribute to the study in any way they can, Strickland said.
“If it helps our pets live longer, why wouldn’t you? I want them to live forever and even if forever is just another few years, I will take it.”
To reach the Dog Aging Project team, contact firstname.lastname@example.org