Knowlton A. Reynders, Highwood Norwich
In January of 1992, I wrote an article on epilepsy in the Norwich terrier for Dog News. I was stunned by the response. Letters poured in from all over the country asking for more information, a flow that continued after the piece was picked up by several other publications. Prominent among these letters were the poignant stories of pet owners who had purchased Norwich puppies that had started seizing at an early age. (For those of you that may not have read my first article, I had defined two types of the disease: Idiopathic epilepsy, which I believe is inherited; and acquired epilepsy, which can appear at any age as the result of an illness, exposure to toxins, a blow to the head, or any severe trauma. When I speak of epilepsy and seizures in this article, I am referring to the genetic, idiopathic form.)
When letters with pedigrees began to arrive, I turned to the computer. During my research for the original article -- with the cooperation of concerned and prominent breeders -- I had created a data base of the pedigrees of some 3000 Norwich. In particular, the late Joan Read, ever committed to the hardiness of the breed, was extremely resourceful and supportive. She opened her files to me for reference and provided records from many owners and breeders who had bred to her stock. She also made available some recent English stud books. In addition, I had my mother’s wonderful early history of 22 litters in the Philadelphia area in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I made several trips to the AKC library, where the genealogy of the first Norwich appears, with all the English history of the breed. Cross-referenced, these data provided a comprehensive family tree of the Norwich terrier.
It was into this data base that I entered the arriving pedigrees, hoping to determine if there were any connections going back to early dogs. I tracked down one English and one Norwegian import that were showing up consistently. I was able to explore their genealogy, and there I began to see the same dog, then a brother or a sister.
Clearly, the difficulty had originated in northern Europe. Many of the dogs exported from England, to the U. S. and to other countries, were affected.
The good news: As far as the U. S, is concerned, I must say that we have come a long way from those imports. Those dogs were old when I wrote the first article and most are now deceased. Many of their offspring are past breeding or are themselves deceased. Most breeders who discovered that they had a dog with a problem chose not to breed it. The few line continuations floating around are readily recognizable
Responsible domestic breeders have assiduously avoided epileptic contamination in their lines and, as a result, we in the U. S. have more choices for breeding to dogs that have been clear for five and six generations. Epilepsy is no longer our biggest worry.
Today, European breeders of Norwich are becoming aware of their problem; they are now turning to us for clear lines. Joan Read was the first to send a dog to England to strengthen their gene pool.
Nonetheless, what is behind an imported dog is worrisome until several generations are on the ground. Trying to get honest information from abroad is difficult. Epilepsy is referred to in England and Germany as “Cramp”. No one will admit to having any difficulties. And this is where we have run into problems in the past.
Too, we need to recognize that, even here in the U. S., the gun is still loaded. I have learned that some people are going to do what they want, making decisions based on cost, distance, and convenience. They will, regrettably, continue to provide us hard and painful lessons.
But today, American buyers as well as breeders have become more sophisticated. The Internet has been helpful in acquainting the public with many of the inherited disorders of the breed. Buyers are aware that epilepsy has been a problem in Norwich and have been asking informed questions.
The bottom line is that, at some point in the genealogy, we all have had in our pedigrees a dog or dogs with epilepsy. It was there early, and there because the gene pool was so small its recessive recurrence was amplified. It is what we do when we identify the presence of the epilepsy gene that is important: That we take our bitches to a stud that is clear and to a breeder whom we trust. That we be responsible as stud owners, breeding to bitches whose pedigrees are free from inherited problems.
U. S. Norwich are in much better shape because we who love these little dogs have talked and written about our problems and acted to address them. I feel that most of us who are now breeding are conscientiously improving the stock. Epilepsy has receded as a threat, and it may be time to concentrate on other inherited problems that seem to be appearing in a number of current pedigrees -- those of elongated soft palette, collapsed trachea, enlarged heart or luxating patellas.
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