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A Discussion on Health


A dear friend and Westminister BIS winner of her Black and Tan Coonhounds commented to me once that she did not like Yorkies. Nothing about them appealed to her, not their mess of hair, their pointy little ears or rat size. (Thanks!) But in the recent years she has become absolutely fascinated with them. She loves to comment how much Yorkies have improved as a breed in the last two decades in their assembly and movement. (Wow!) She extended her compliments to the breeders on how far they have brought the breed in such a short time, but they really needed to do something about the lameness that is apparent even under all the hair. She said, “If breeders can do in health what they have done in appearances, watch out!”  Pondering that conversation and thinking that a decade or two ago few, if any, breeders were testing Bile Acids. Now, most responsible breeders do. Through educational seminars and discussions, the importance and the necessity of such testing have become more wide spread and benefited the breed in profound ways. Perhaps now is the time to step it up in the other areas. Pick a generation and start with it. Or when the next health clinic comes around take the pack in. It may only be one test, but that is one test more than they had the day before. I would love to sit down for a conversation with my friend a decade in the future after a Yorkie has won Westminster or Eukenuba and be able to say, “Where’s that Coon Hound now?”


On October 29, 2010 a general announcement by the YTCA Board of Directors stated that as of 2011 all top awards would only be eligible to dogs that have completed CHIC testing and registry. The fall back was vicious and immediate. The YTCA requires health testing be completed prior to breeding. The necessity is generally accepted amongst the membership. Yet, while the importance of testing is acknowledged, the more difficult questions to answer are: How many tests? Which ones are necessary? Who really has the authority to set and require testing be done? Why Test? The questions seem to be floating but the answers are tangible. And while the debate runs hot not only on testing, but on its new tie to national prestigious awards, there is little dissent that testing and the future health of the breed are imperative.


 The answer to the “Why” is an obvious one. From liver shunt puppies to disfigured rear assemblies and thyroid disasters this spectacular breed is being slowly dismantled from the inside out. The concept of testing and its necessity are obviously not new and neither is CHIC. Such tests were established for the breed in by the Health Committee in 2008 after its creation at the New York General Membership Meeting in February. Even so, the testing/contributing breeders are low in number. At the time of this article, only 56 dogs are listed on the registry, 33 of the 56 carrying one of 8 kennel names and 19 of those, from the same 3 kennels, making up third of the entire total of CHIC dogs. At less than a fraction of 1% of the all Yorkshire Terriers registered, and considering that the Yorkshire Terrier was the number 3 most popular breed in the US in 2010, these figures aren’t even competitive to go to bat. Getting a CHIC number is about developing a database for the breeders of today, but also those of tomorrow. Combine it with the national pedigree database and tie it to the pedigree reports of CHIC and a real tool for the future can be formed. No dog is perfect. It is about making the next generation healthier than the one before, and the next and the next and so on. Most importantly, a less than excellent or normal rating is not a failure. It is an opportunity to take the beauty of that dog and combine all the factors that made it that way with another dog that can strengthen the weakness lurking underneath.


The “Who”is another one easy to answer – Yorkshire Terrier Club of America in its entirety. As the established and nationally recognized protection entity of the breed, it falls to the YTCA and its members to make such decisions on behalf of the entire breed. Debated decisions on awards and testing continue it has been the needed push for many breeders to say they will start testing. The backlash is that many breeders are stating that while they will start to test with the new generations on the ground, but they will not post to CHIC since the tests they feel to be most important are not required for the number only suggested so why bother? Why bother at all if not to help the breed as a whole instead of only oneself? YTCA is a small portion of the current make up of Yorkshire terrier breeders in the United Sates, but it is the protection unit and leading example for the country. Taking it a step further, each and every member signs the both the Code of Ethics and the Code of Conduct promising to screen all stud dogs and bitches prior to breeding for both infectious and hereditary diseases using the currently accepted and available techniques (#5 COE) and shall fully disclose any serious or disabling hereditary defects, including the reasonable possibility of such defects in writing (#6COE). What does this really mean; it means that YTCA calls upon all of its breeding members to test their dogs and to make the results public.


The only real debate is “Which” tests and “How Many” are necessary. To help answer these questions the Health Committee decided to take the advice of the Canine Health Foundation to limit the required testing to two vital tests and recommend additional tests to be added at a later date. The Board of Directors and present membership agreed and the resulting CERF exam for the eyes and a Patellar Luxation exam for the knees are the required tests for a CHIC number. Two tests which are simple to perform and at minimal fees nation wide, easy enough, right?  Many feel that is two too many. Others feel it is effective. Yet others feel it is nowhere near enough. And yet still others say why bother when technology and advances in science and veterinary medicine are constantly changing and re-working their positions and theories? Making use of one of the hundreds of health clinics put on each year by breed clubs across the county (including a free clinic at the NY nationals for 2011) CERF exams and OFA Knees exams can be done for as low as $35 a dog combined. Add in the fees for registration and any dog can be CHIC for roughly $60 if all results are registered normal and less if not. A small pittance to the money put out on finishing a dog and an even farther cry to campaigning a special.


This pricing leads to another question. What if all the tests are done? The current test line up for Yorkshire Terriers Serum Bile Acids, Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) for an eye exam , Autoimmune Thyroiduts Panel, and Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) testing for Luxating Patellas , Hip Dysplasia, Legg-Calve Pethes.  It seems like a lot of tests until it is broken down: one x-ray for OFA, one eye exam, and one blood draw. Testing can be done on a time line and combining tests while already at a vet’s office or show event doing a test here and a test there is not as difficult on the schedule or pocket book and it goes miles for the breed in the long term.


At a year of age the dog can be taken for its CERF exam, Serum Bile Acids, Autoimmune Thyroiduts Panel, and Patellar Luxation. The Thyroid panel is the most expensive. Only certain labs can be used and the expedited delivery of the samples is costly, however, Cornell University has been running a twelve year ongoing program to encourage the testing for only $49 a dog and expedited shipping for $14 for multiple submitted samples. For those lucky enough to have gotten their samples in on time, Bile Acid testing through Cornell was FREE. If not, the Serum Bile Acid testing can be submitted at the same time to Cornell and the cost is $41 for the combined pre and post prandial tests. Having the vet keep an eye out for studies in progress is another way to drop test fees to next to nothing and benefit not only the Yorkshire Terrier breed, but often times others as well.


At two years of age the testing gets more expensive. There is no way around it, Hip Dysplasia testing and Legg-Calve Perthes require a sedation x-ray. $150 and up is not uncommon and there is the inherent risk of putting the dog under, not matter how mildly.  On the bright side, OFA includes the Legg-Calve Perthes testing free when combined with the Hips and registering anything not normal is free. If desired, the elbows can be done at the same time as the Yorkie is small enough to include it all on the film. No extra charge involved. Many veterinarians will offer discounted rates for testing, multiple dogs and many even submit the paperwork to OFA themselves for no additional fee. Some vets will even include combined exams for no additional charge such as knees and cardiac testing. ASK and oftentimes vets will pleasantly surprise you.


Testing takes time, and yes, it takes money. If done at one time, full testing and reporting can cost up to $700- $1,000 for each dog if not more; a chunk of change on a dog that isn’t proven and whose results could prove to scream cull from one’s program. Add that expense along with the anesthesia risk to the reasoning that particular issues have not popped up in the line, the desire and logic of testing decreases significantly for many individuals. It puts the testing back at the only single test everyone can seem to agree on- Serum Bile Acids. Since the others can be looked at later if there is an issue, or not at all as the dog or bitch is sterilized and placed for some other reason. It is certainly financially more attractive and allots those funds to finishing, campaigning, or stud fees. This has its own logic and on the surface makes a lot of business sense. Same goes for the old adage heard more and more from breeders, it really isn’t necessary.  In reality, however, just because the flamingo sticks its head in the sand, doesn’t mean that it won’t get its tail bitten while it is down there, whether that flamingo is on the way out or on its way in.


No individual enjoys forced obligation to do something even when it is agreed that it should be done; even when the principle behind the action is a good one.  Yet, instead of digging in against the whole of the change in its entirety on a matter of principle and backlash for what feels like forced obligation when aspects may well be for the benefit of the breed, challenge oneself to write a proposal of a more equitable or reasonable solution for introducing the requirements. The YTCA is not a Board of Directors, but a membership of individuals who love and care about the breed. Sometimes we as members get a bit competitive and miss all the wonderful and not so wonderful things outside of the temporary blinders we put on; but we all work towards one goal the benefit of the breed. The future of the breed depends on it.


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