The recent revelation of forged OFA certificates has brought to the forefront the need to address what we feel is a severe and growing threat to the Ryman-types regarding hip dysplasia and other genetic diseases. We have been watching a disheartening trend toward paying little or no attention to health issues, especially among newer breeders, and it’s about time we spoke up about it. We are focusing on hips in this post, but if a breeder isn’t even getting OFAs you can pretty much guarantee they aren’t doing anything about any other health problems either.
Why Are We So Concerned?
Most of these newer breeders probably don’t know just how bad it used to be. In the late 1980s when we first became involved with Rymans they were notorious for having the worst hips of any English setters. An average Ryman-type litter out of the more troublesome lines produced 40%+ dysplasia. Certain lines were nearly 100% dysplastic, often rated severe, and many with hips completely out of the socket. When our first advertisements came out we got DOZENS of phone calls from people who had to put down their 8, 9, or 10 year old Ryman because it couldn’t walk any more. That was by far the most common call we got. It was AWFUL. There were hardly any Rymans with passing OFA’s and the majority that did pass had so many dysplastic relatives that, from a breeding standpoint, they might as well have been dysplastic themselves. You could literally count on one hand the number of stud dogs worth breeding to in the entire country.
Since then a number of breeders have worked to eliminate the more problematic lines and improve the better ones, with good success. Currently within certain lines of Ryman-types the hips are more likely to be good than they are with any other type of English setter, and the cases that do occur in those lines are usually milder. This improvement was originally spearheaded by a small group of breeders. The most influential was the late Joan Mizer, who almost single handedly sent out the alarm on how bad the hips were, and pushed everyone hard to do better. Errol Gooding (Goodgoing), Warren Sheckells (Pinecoble), and Fran and Frank Thompson (Classic) were some of the others who had a major influence early on, and for quite a while most Ryman-type breeders made hips a priority.
Now the breeders who made those gains are gradually retiring. At the same time, the majority, and some of the most prolific, of the newer breeders are inconsistent about getting OFA’s, or aren’t checking hips at all. Some started with dogs from lines with decent backgrounds but aren’t keeping up with the OFAs. Some are using lines with no OFAs in the background at all. Others are even trying to resurrect the affected lines conscientious breeders purposely discarded years ago.
The gene pool is already too small, and it is at risk of being overwhelmed by the number of dogs coming out of these kennels. There is a very real possibility that the progress made over the last 30 years is in the middle of evaporating.
- If you are a breeder who doesn’t at least get an OFA on every one of your dogs it’s time you step up to the plate and do what’s right. Breeders cannot honestly claim to be ethical or have integrity otherwise. Hip OFAs are a bare minimum of what breeders should be doing for health clearances if they really do care whether they produce dogs that suffer.
- If you believe any of the myriad of lame excuses as to why screening for hip dysplasia isn’t necessary, or OFAs are not effective, you need to do your homework. The progress that has been made when people put the work in proves those excuses wrong. To believe them in this day and age implies ignorance. Please also see the footnote below.
- There are still enough good dogs with solid health backgrounds to make it unnecessary to breed dysplastic dogs in order to obtain the field performance and other traits you desire. No dysplastic dog (or line) is special enough to justify using it.
- Because of the limited gene pool we need more Ryman-type breeders. There is plenty of demand and we all benefit in the end if there is a larger pool of healthy dogs from which to choose our breeding stock.
- Breeders need to get back to communicating and pushing each other on this. That was a key to the progress made.
Notes To Buyers
Buyers have the power to force unethical breeders to do the right thing. The breeder who forged OFA certificates commits blatant fraud because customers don’t check to see if the dogs really have OFAs. Five minutes searching the OFA’s database would make it obvious this breeder is unethical. Buying a puppy from a breeder like this encourages and supports that unethical behavior.
Another breeder was recently asked why he would use a dog that had a dysplastic grand sire. His answer was: “Nobody asks so why should I care”.
Don’t let breeders get away with this any more. We believe they should be doing the right thing on their own, but they aren’t. Breeders like the above don’t care about their dogs and never will. They aren’t going to bother with health clearances unless forced to do so.
So what can you do?
- Don’t buy a puppy from a breeder who doesn’t care about the dogs or what he does to you!
- Buy only from breeders who OFA ALL their breeding stock.
- Check the OFA database to make sure the OFAs are real.
- Tell breeders you aren’t going to buy their pups because they don’t do OFAs. If they can’t sell their dogs they will either come around or go out of business.
- If you have a dysplastic dog submit your x-ray to the OFA and make sure you initial the line that allows making abnormal results available to the public. When a breeder has several dysplastic dogs in the public database he can no longer deny he has any problems in his kennel, something that happens all the time. This is one of the most important things you can do.
A final thought for buyers- It’s scary for breeders to take the step of being open and honest about health problems they produce. Part of the problem is how buyers react. It’s not possible to breed perfect dogs- any breeder producing 10% or less HD is doing fantastically well. You need to put the pressure on breeders, but please be realistic. As an example of what happens, and why even honest breeders are sometimes reluctant to be open, one buyer was looking at a litter sired by a dog that had over 20 offspring evaluated with only one failure. This is a very fine record few dogs can compete with. When he heard about the one failure this person decided to buy a puppy from a litter with no OFAs behind it at all! He was so worried about that one dysplastic pup he couldn’t recognize a great record and ended up buying a puppy with a completely unknown background. He also supported and encouraged a breeder who doesn’t care.
If we sound angry it’s because we are.
Forging OFA certificates is a shocking new level of dishonesty, but this deterioration in breeder ethics has been going on for while. The forgery just demonstrates that something needs to be done. If not now when? If not us, then who?
Cliff and Lisa
If you agree this is important, please link to this post anywhere you think will be helpful or start a conversation. The dogs are too wonderful to let this happen to them again!
Footnote: Yes, Hip Dysplasia Really is Bad
We know some people who are reading this post don’t believe hip dysplasia is a big deal, or think they can judge hips without x-rays. They’re wrong. We’ve owned dysplastic dogs and have seen and dealt with the consequences of the disease as it progresses. If you are one of the people who think it’s unimportant, here are a few things we’ve learned over the years that we hope you will consider. This has been reviewed by veterinarians before posting, including by a leading researcher on hip dysplasia.
- Young dysplastic dogs often show no visible signs of the disease. Rarely, dysplastic dogs never show obvious symptoms, and young dogs are occasionally crippled by hip dysplasia. But by far the typical presentation of HD is middle or old age arthritis.
- Old age arthritis is not normal. Early on we used to tell people that dysplastic dogs typically get arthritic a few years early- maybe age 8 or 10 rather than at age 12. This was conventional wisdom at the time, but was not true! With more experience we can now emphatically say that painful hip arthritis is NOT a normal consequence of aging. While lots of things can happen to a dog (injuries, spinal problems, infections, etc), pain isolated to the hips is usually caused by HD.
- Dogs adapt to pain, making it difficult to judge how much pain they are in. Studies on this in the 1990s showed veterinarians they needed to be more proactive with pain medications. With most dogs, if you can see they are having pain it’s really bad, and if it comes from a progressive disease like HD it has most likely been building up for a long time. We know from our own experience that once pain meds are started it is common to see a big change in a dog’s happiness/activity, and only then realize in retrospect that the pain has been building over time.
- Don’t be fooled by the 2006-2010 breed incidence of 9.6% for English Setters on the OFA web site. When x-rays show obvious dysplasia people tend to not send them in, so the actual incidence is always higher than the OFA’s data shows. Also, the majority of English setters submitted to the OFA are from show lines, which have been running around 10% for a while- field lines are poorly represented. Anyone who has x-rayed a pile of field ES knows the rate is far higher.
- A favorite excuse for not doing OFA’s- Our dogs have never shown any signs of hip dysplasia. We run them hard and they are fine, so the hips are good. This one is particularly popular among the field trial people, but we also hear it from Ryman-type breeders. How many of those dogs that ran well when they were 3 years old became arthritic when they were 10? We would challenge any breeder who has fallen for this one to x-ray all of their dogs and see what they’ve got. As an example of what they may find, a breeder we work with has x-rayed more than a dozen setters from a top field trial kennel and about half have bad hips. If they’re not OFA’d, you have no idea. Neither do they.