sad news / happy news

I didn’t have the full picture of what was happening with Buddy and his litter mates when I last wrote about this, and it’s been quite a rollercoaster of emotions since.

Buddy’s mother, Spirit, is what is known as a ‘woolly malamute’. Woollies have longer coats than regular malamutes, which strangely makes them less capable of dealing with cold, snow, and being wet. The relationship between guard hairs and undercoat is undermined by the nature of the longer coat, so they’re not as well insulated. They are, however, generally sweeter of temperament – if you’re familiar with the research breeding program of foxes in Russia, how being bred for sweeter temperament resulted in startling changes in physical appearance, this is basically what you get with a woolly malamute.

Woollies are not ‘breed standard’, so they can’t be taken to shows. But, many breeders include them in their breeding program to create gentle and sweet tempered dogs. Malamutes are a naturally friendly (to people) breed, but they are also very large and every effort to reinforce a good temperament is just sensible.

Spirit is this breeder’s ‘temperament builder’, and she produced some lovely pups with a Belgium import. Good conformations and lovely natures – exactly what any breeder would want! Half of the litter is woolly, because their mother is woolly, but woollies make wonderful pets so they won’t be difficult to find homes.

However, everything has gone entirely pear-shaped in this last week.

Everyone knows (or should know!) the unscrupulous and unconscionable actions of ‘backyard breeders’ and ‘puppy mills’. Unfortunately, some of those less-than-honourable actions bleed into reputable breeding communities as well.

(Quick aside: ‘backyard breeders’ are pretty much all breeders, since they all tend to use their own backyards, but not all of them are puppy mills!)

A few generations ago, Spirit’s great, great grandmother produced a few puppies with a condition called Cerebellar Hypoplasia. Here’s a video if the read is too dry:

The condition most likely surfaces when both parents are carriers, otherwise genes can be carried without symptoms through generations. There seems to be no test, though a necropsy can confirm the condition through examination of brain tissue – the cerebellum will be small or malformed. It’s hard to test puppies whose brains are still developing, so MRIs are only marginally useful.

Spirit’s great, great grandmother lost several of her puppies to ‘euthanasia for research’. Though I can appreciate this from a need for knowledge and understanding, I feel a little sick to my stomach to think of animals being destroyed ‘for research’.

Especially when considering that, despite how unsettling it is to watch a dog with this condition, they aren’t in pain. They are still happy and healthy animals! Dogs with CH can live long and happy lives with families who can accommodate their special needs. They will be accident prone – they have no idea where their feet are, so slippery floors and stairs are death traps – but with due diligence, they are as loving a pet as any other dog. Perhaps more so because they’ll reflect and magnify all the love they get from the sort of people who’d take on that kind of challenge.

When Spirit’s owner acquired her, nothing was ever said about what happened to that poor litter. There was no mention of the potential genetic anomaly in any of her records. Indeed, their import from Belgium also has no record of being a carrier of these gene. As difficult as it may be to test for it, a history of CH in a line of dogs can’t have gone unnoticed! Unfortunately for Buddy’s breeder, who was just starting and hoping to enjoy many years breeding malamutes with Spirit’s gentle nature, her stock is already undermined by the silence of the larger community about CH.

I found it difficult (read, mostly impossible) to find any literature about Cerebellar Hypoplasia in malamutes. There are several other breeds with public cautions and apparently (very sensible) requirements to state whether or not a dog is a carrier, but not so for malamutes. Understandably, Buddy’s breeder is incensed (as well as deeply distressed) and plans to make a hell of a noise in the malamute community. I sure hope she rattles them into changing policies regarding exactly what genetic information is included in certificates.

What has interested me, because I am the sort of person that I am, is that only the woolly puppies in this litter have the condition – which means half of Buddy’s litter has CH. Woollies are also anomalous, which is why they aren’t included as a breed standard, but I’m interested to know if there’s a connection.

Buddy is not a woolly. I specifically wanted a regular coat because where I live my dog is going to get cold and wet and see snow (hopefully). All the things a woolly would enjoy a little less given their coat. Buddy has been cleared of CH, which is the best news for me out of this whole affair. But I also feel bad that I’m so relieved to have escaped the difficult decision of whether or not I would continue an adoption. I would like to believe I’m the sort of person who would gladly embrace another special needs dog (I say ‘another’ because, to a degree, Kulan was also a special needs dog), but my situation really wouldn’t work for a dog with CH. I have stairs to get in and out of my house. I have polished wood floors. I have playful cats. My home environment would be a torment for a dog with that condition.

As much as I would hate to be ‘that person’, I would have had to decline continuation of the adoption, though I would have also declined a refund of my money.

I suppose this is akin to ‘survivor’s guilt’, being simultaneously so relieved, and yet feeling so wretched for being happy to have escaped, knowing the unhappy situation for the breeder, and the life-long challenge half this litter now faces. Her breeding program is essentially halted before it began, and having taken the time to get to know her as a person, and her plans for her dogs, I feel this is desperately unfair.

To her credit, however, she is just happy her puppies are otherwise healthy, and it wasn’t some far worse alternative.

And as I wrote this, I received word that Buddy will be arriving tomorrow afterall. Again, overjoyed and still so sad.

Though mostly overjoyed! My puppy arrives tomorrow. <3

One Comments

  • Heather


    I never read this before. A bunch of “new” posts from you showed up in my inbox and I’ve been reading through with enthusiasm, although several were just shares of memes from Facebook. That woodpecker/owl one made me snort with laughter all over again.
    And then I reached this. I see it’s not actually a new post, but I enjoyed reading it. I was unaware of these difficulties that Buddy’s breeder went through. It seems incredibly unfair that her whole breeding operation went sideways right out of the gate. I’m soooooo happy to know the Buddy escaped a life of increased difficulty as a result of this CH condition. Watching that video you posted was heartwrenching, all the moreso because the dog in the vid still seemed so happy and eager to please.
    As for whether or not to take on the challenge of a special needs animal (or child, for that matter)… I think it honestly depends on the challenge? For example, I’m in a second floor apartment. It would be unrealistic for me to adopt a dog with, say, severe hip dysplasia, no matter how desperately I might fall in love with it.


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