As a breeder holds a little puppy, inevitably hopes and dreams of its future mingle with the present moment. Will it be given a chance to do great things, to live its life to the doggy fullest? Will it be a big show winner? Will it be winning everyone’s hearts? Will it be healthy and happy?
Well, today four wonderful dogs celebrate their 11th birthday – Woody, Smidgen, LilyRu and Kate. And so today, I reflect on their lives and think back to the puppies they once were. I am thinking of the ultimate answer to what all this dog breeding endeavor is about.
It was such a lovely litter but where they all ended up is what is truly remarkable. Their story is worth sharing. It shows the depth of our dogs’ potential. Give a dog a chance and he will surpass your expectations.
From the size, to the temperaments they were different as puppies, yet all brilliant. The first born Woody was the only boy. By the age of 3 months he was such a big guy that it caused me to ask predictions about his adult size on various breeder forums. This is when I learned from one of the responses that an adult of a small terrier breed is usually twice the weight/ size of what he was as a puppy at 16 weeks of age. That prediction proved exactly right for Woody: big!The big guy was destined for greatness in more than size. In a heart wrenching tragedy, Woody’s sire and his human were killed in a car accident just days before the puppies were born. Woody went to live with the young grieving widow and her son and although he would never replace his sire in their lives, he brought joy the way only a puppy can, and has continued to be a healing force, reason for laughs, reason to get up and face a day. He brought love and life and has always carried out superbly that noblest of destinies a dog can have. Trust me when I tell you, Woody’s life is an antithesis of sadness. He has a vibrant personality and an attitude of a dog that can charm his way out of a fox hole, although this city boy knows more about Upper West Side fashion than foxes. When I think of Woody, and how much he is loved and how much he loves his family, I don’t know if anything can top this fulfillment of a breeder’s wish for a puppy to lead a good life.
Smidgen, who was born second, was tiny. She was all girlie girl – interested more in humans than her siblings. She loved it that visitors paid her most attention: an engaging littlest fluff ball. People cooed over her and she ate it up. I loved her conformation and sold her on a show co-ownership contract. However, Smidgen never set a foot inside a show ring. Like her brother, she too was meant for a different life than winning ribbons and having puppies. Smidgen’s owner was diagnosed with a debilitating neurological illness, Huntington disease. Smidgen became a therapy and alert dog- warning about seizures before they happen, picking up dropped objects, sounding alarm when help is needed.
LilyRu was born third, a little whippersnapper that ran circles around her siblings still learning to walk. By the age of 12 weeks she was running down an agility teeter at full clip and zipping through tunnels. Smart, sensitive, a worrywart and yet a daring speed demon. LilyRu is one lucky girl to live a life that could not be designed any better even if I tried. She gets to play in agility, rally and obedience and live with two other wonderful canines. And how she is loved goes without saying. I always smile when I think of LilyRu and the alphabet soup of performance titles behind her registered name. I believe she is now Dignpop Lucky LilyRu RN MX MXJ MJS MXP MJP2 MJPB OF NFP, each acronym a story in itself.
Kate was last born and almost did not make it. She was my heart dog from her first tenuous breath and became my instant side kick the moment she could walk. We have been inseparable. Years later she saved my life and I don’t mean it figuratively. I wrote an article in 2008 for AKC Gazette describing that particular experience (not to bore you I am quoting that piece below, if you are inclined to read it). Kate is a light of my life, a warm and sunny spot in every day – a jealous, possessive lunatic I would not trade for the world.
Happy Birthday precious Woody, Smidgen, LilyRu and Kate! You are a breeder’s dream come true. I love you!
The article below was originally published in December 2008
On The Scent of A Killer
As breeders, we deal with life-and-death issues. And sometimes while we witness a birth resulting from our actions, we may also have to wrestle that new fragile life from the grips of death. Yet, I never thought that when I was working to resuscitate a nonresponsive newborn Norwich Terrier after a difficult whelping, I was not only fighting for her life, but in a strange twist of fate, I was saving my own. Four years later that little terrier girl told me I had breast cancer, while a mammogram taken just a few months earlier had not.
SCIENCE TAKES NOTE
The powerful scenting capabilities of a dog’s nose have been recognized, but it’s only in the past five years that the scientific community has considered using it in the detection of cancer. Despite countless anecdotal reports of dogs finding tumors on their owners, all early attempts at funding scientific studies involving dogs sniffing cancer were met with cynicism, and often ridicule. Nevertheless, some researchers have conducted investigations. And the results are astonishing.
Perhaps the most rigorous was the 2004 study, conducted at Amersham Hospital in Great Britain, in which canine subjects were taught to distinguish between urine samples from bladder-cancer patients and those from normal controls. Its results, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that dogs identified the cancer-containing samples with a high level of accuracy.
In the course of the experiment, the true power of the canine nose was revealed when the dogs consistently pointed to one of the control samples, which was supposed to serve as an example of cancer-free urine. Since the dogs had been so successful in correctly sniffing out bladder cancer during the study, the lead surgeon ordered more tests on the sample donor. As in my case, the dogs had discovered something medical technology had missed. There was no malignancy in the bladder, but the patient had kidney cancer.
This side of the globe has also seen a number of experiments in cancer detection by dogs. In 2006, the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies reported on a study designed to see if dogs can detect the scent of cancer in breath.
“Our goal was to find out whether cancer has a unique smell”, says Nicholas Broffman, executive director of the Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo, California, where the study was conducted. “We chose breath samples because they were easier to obtain and store than urine. The body is interconnected, so cancer waste product eventually finds its way to the breath.”
To add to the boldness of the experiment, the researchers at Pine Street Foundation used volunteer pets. Dogs without any previous training in scent discrimination were able to learn very fast, and indicate correctly, which sample tubes contained breath from cancer patients and which ones were control samples. Their accuracy was 99 percent for lung cancer patients and 88 percent for breast cancer”, says Broffman.
The study followed a rigid protocol developed by a Polish researcher, Tadeusz Jezierski. He was the only person who knew which were the cancer-breath samples, and which were controls. Jezierski was hidden from view when he monitored the experiment, so that the dogs could not cue off his reactions. Trained by dog behaviorist Kirk Turner, the dogs were taught to distinguish between vials with breath from cancer patients, and the empty unused tubes.
Using clicker training, the dogs learned to indicate the samples that contained breath. Next, again with the help of a clicker and treats, they learned to indicate the samples that had breath from cancer patients instead of samples with breath from healthy individuals.
In the final phase of the experiment the dogs worked with new samples, different from the ones they encountered in training. The dogs, the handler, and the experimenter did not know the location of the cancer samples. The dogs were given “go to work” commands, to which they responded by sniffing all the samples and then either sitting or lying down in front of the ones that contained breath from cancer patients.
“Not only did the dogs perform exceptionally well, they did so consistently over a lengthy four-month investigation of 12, 295 separate scent trials – each one documented on videotape,” the researchers wrote. What was the most interesting in this experiment was that the participating dogs were random pets, ordinary dogs without any previous training, leading to the conclusion that all dogs can sniff cancer. It is only a matter of teaching them to communicate what they smell that transformed those particular dogs into cancer sniffers. “All dogs have the same hardware,” says Broffman. “People use dogs in search and rescue, sniffing out drugs and bombs, why not sniffing cancer? We underestimate animals when it comes to science.”
NATURAL BORN SAVIORS
Without degrees in chemistry, dogs are able to identify abnormal metabolic products of cancer cells, bio-chemical markers of the disease. In other words, the waste products of a cancer cell has a smell that differs from the waste product of a normal cell. If we were able to reproduce the dog’s nose as a diagnostic instrument, and find what it smells, it would tremendously advance early cancer detection. When you consider the notoriously inaccurate detection of ovarian cancer, or early stages of lung cancer, you start appreciating the possibilities.
Every dog fancier who ever worked on tracking with dogs, or trained article discrimination for obedience, knows that a dog’s sense of smell is phenomenally superior to ours. In fact, it’s estimated that the dog’s scenting ability is at least 10,000 times better than that of humans. “Dogs can smell one-trillionth concentration of a scent. Its like a drop of ink in and Olympic size pool,” says Broffman.
If you were to look at the anatomy of a dog versus human olfactory organs, and compared the two, you would be amazed at the disparity. If unfolded, and then spread out, the surface area of an average dog’s sensitive nasal membranes would be slightly larger that the size of this page. In comparison, the area of our human nasal membranes involved in detecting scent would be about the size of a postage stamp. When a dog sniffs, he draws air up through the nasal cavity lined with this highly sensitive membrane. An olfactory bub at the end of each nasal passage then sends information about the scent to the brain. A dog’s olfactory bulbs are four times larger than hours, even though the canine brain is much smaller. And a third of the dog’s brain is devoted to smell. Additionally, a dog can focus on a scent for longer time than we can.
Gary Settles, professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State University, studied various aspects of olfactory trace detection. With the help of a high-speed camera, capable of recording 100 frames per second, Settles documented the action of canine nostrils when sniffing. A dog inhales through nasal tubes, but exhales outward and sideward through slits at the sides of its nose, which flare up with each sniff. The exhaled breath stirs up the air surrounding the dog’s nose, kicking upeven more scent molecules. When all the differences are added up, a dog’s sense of smell is unimaginably superior to ours.
KATE ON THE SPOT
Early this year, a team of Korean scientist announced that they had cloned a cancer-sniffing dog. While it sounds more impressive to say “cloning of a cancer-sniffing dog”, the truth is that every dog is equipped to sniff cancer. But few know instinctively what to do with this ability.
A really special dog is the one who smells cancer in her owner, senses that it is something bad, and tries desperately to communicate her concerns. Kate is one of those dogs. Her registered name is Ch. Dignpop Katest the Greatest NA NAJ, and she’s a home-bred champion, my agility buddy, a wonderful brood bitch, and my savior.
Kate started sniffing incessantly at one particular spot on my breast. Whenever I cuddled her on my lap she would turn to sniff and would try to lick me, always in the same spot. After each play session with tug toys, which usually involves me getting down on the floor to be closer to my little terriers, Kate would jump up and try to get to “the spot”. Kate had bed-buddy privileges, but her habit of trying to lick the side of my right breast was so annoying that I exiled her to her crate at night.
Every time she tried to communicate her worry about the specific spot on my body that smelled differently, I told her to stop and sent her away. I even changed my deodorant, thinking that it might be the reason why Kate was obsessed with sniffing me. Finally, my husband asked me the obvious question: “Why is your smartest dog insisting on the behavior she knows you don’t like?” I knew the answer instantly. She was trying to tell me something.
“What is it, Katest?” I asked her. In response, Kate put her tongue on that one particular spot, kept it there, pressing slightly but not licking, and looked me straight in the eye. A chill went down my spine.
When I went to the doctor, I learned that Kate had detected tumor, just months after I had a mammogram with “all clear” result. My tumor was larger than one centimeter, putting it in Stage II. Since the mammogram had missed it, it obviously grew rapidly. Had I waited until I finally could feel the tumor, it would have been much larger, and most likely would have spread. Kate really did help in early detection, a key factor in successfully treating cancer. I had chemotherapy and radiation and my prognosis is excellent.
I remember once talking to a person who openly disliked dogs. “What are they good for,” he asked cynically, “other than shedding and slobbering?”
My answer was a slow litany of canine abilities: they tow boats, retrieve birds from water for hunters, catch rats, race, alert people with seizures, lead the blind, and on and on I went. If ever asked the same question again, I will not forget to include that dogs sniff out cancer. I’m living proof.