Friday, July 25, 2008

The Congress Ends (Sweden part ten)

Crystal and your writer goofing around at the podium.

The second, and final, day of the Fifth International Whippet Congress did not disappoint. We started right in - after heavenly coffee and oh my goodness pastries - with presentations on whippet health issues. Klara Helstad spoke of the RAS ("breed specific breeding strategy") project adopted by the Swedish Kennel Club in 2001. Member breed clubs are required to develop an RAS which contains:
  1. A description of the breed's history and development
  2. A description of the current situation in the breed (including information about the health of the breed, the genetic variation in the breed, and discussion about the breed's temperament, function, and exterior)
  3. Conclusion, goals and priorities for the future.

The Swedish Whippet Club worked from 2002 to 2005 preparing their RAS, which was approved by the Swedish Kennel Club in the fall of that year. The COI (percentage of inbreeding in a pedigree) was studied, health surveys were taken and analyzed along with data from the largest Swedish canine insurance company, and then goals were set, including

  • increase the number of whippets getting eye testing
  • increase the number of dogs used for breeding, to avoid popular sire syndrome
  • increase the number of whippets getting temperament testing
  • decrease the breed's average COI. The goal should be a maximum 2.5% increase per year
  • make a visit to a lure coursing event mandatory for show judges in training

Ms. Helsted reported that in the three years since the RAS had been approved, the average COI had continued to decrease to 2% in 2007. Temperament testings have slightly increased, but she pointed out that whippet owners might not feel that necessary. With the increase in eye exams, one case of Progressive Retinal Atrophy was found.

It was surprising to a number of attendees to hear that if you breed a parent/offspring litter or a sibling litter, you will receive a written warning from the Swedish Kennel Club, and a second such offense results in your expulsion. [Rock on, Swedish Kennel Club!!! ROCK ON!!!] This was met with some dismay from "old time" breeders and with applause from more modern folks.

Next up was our own Cathy Gaidos of the (American) Whippet Health Foundation. She described the Mission Statement:

  • To further the understanding of diseases, genetic anomalies, injuries and other ailments that affect dogs in general and the Whippet in particular.
  • To support and promote research on diseases, genetic anomalies, injuries, other ailments, the genetics and breeding of the Whippet.
  • To establish a data base of health and scientific educational and resource materials on the Whippet.
  • To develop and make available to general public and Whippet fanciers information about the proper care, breeding, health and development of Whippets.

And she talked about the WHF's awesome DATABASE, which is open to whippets all over the world. Pens were whipped out, and the URL was written down in 23 languages.

A sobering talk on eye testing in the Netherlands, given by the Dutchman Wim Wiersma, made everyone realise how critically important breeding practices and testing for genetic diseases are. In Holland, ten percent of the whippets tested prior to 1986 were positive for PRA. This meant, dear readers, they were, or would go blind. After years of testing, and careful breeding, in the years 2004 - 2008 only one case of PRA was found.

Next up was the brave Brit, Cathie Brown, to discuss the health of the whippet in the UK. She bemoaned the fact that there were precious few data, as there are no health testing policies in place. She was able to share an all breed survey conducted by the Kennel Club, but warned that results should be interpreted with caution. The overall response rate was only 24% with breed-specific response rates from 4.5% to 64%. Ms. Brown voiced her urgent desire that The Whippet Club immediately institute a more pro-active stance in health testing. She was met with a huge round of applause.

The next speaker was a geneticist from Poland, Natalia Bialokoz. She had already stupefied Crystal, with her encyclopedic knowledge of whippet pedigrees from all over the world. She spoke scientifically and eloquently about the need for heterozygocity (genetic diversity) in any population. She pointed out that in the wild, a population with below 4000 breeding individuals is in great danger of extinction. "Well," we all thought, "there are way more than 4000 whippets in the world." But she pointed out that

"... in Sweden only, during last ten years 626 litters were born, 3383 dogs,
which is roughly equal to the number of breedable animals during these
years. Huge number, considering it is only one country’s population, and not
even the most numerous. However, only 298 males and 436 females, 734 dogs in
total, were used in breeding at the same time – it is only a tiny part of the
whole whippet population, approximately 21 per cent. The rest, from genetic
point of view, could not exist at all. We should think only about the ones used
in breeding at least once, when talking about the size of whippet population.
Moreover, because of breeding practices, this population is far away from what
could be expected in nature – the dogs are inbred, many of them carry the same
combinations of genes. "

So, if over a ten year period, only 298 males were used, and some of those were "popular" sires, uh-oh. As she spoke, the audience was absolutely quiet and still. No fiddling, no coughing, no side conversations. She received a huge ovation, and was surrounded by folks with questions for her when she finished.

Gay Robertson of the UK next gave a wonderful presentation on speed and work, which is, after all, what the whippet was bred for. Iva Kimmelman from the USA brought some excellent slides to spark discussions on proportions and balance, with Dr. Bodegard moderating, and encouraging audience participation.

Iva Kimmelman leads her thought provoking discussion

We ate another delicious, gourmet dinner masquerading as lunch, and came back for a workshop on show ring presentation, given by American professional handler and all around good egg, Phoebe Booth. Phoebe gave a very brief talk indoors, and then out we all went to watch her work her magic. She took volunteer's dogs, and showed how you could stack them to their best advantage.

Ooohs and aahhhs were heard from the gallery as she made shoulders look better angulated, necks better arched, toplines smoother, and settled nervous dogs. Someone from Finland beside me said, "I wish she could show my dogs!"

To which I replied, "I have to show my dogs in the ring against her!"

"Oh," said my Finnish friends, sadly shaking their heads. "That is really a shame."

Phoebe moves a volunteer dog in front of the Kragga Manor house

Our last presentation of the day was Jacky: the first Whippet to become a Service Dog in Sweden. Jacky is also a Swedish and Danish Champion, and a tracking, lure coursing, and racing whippet. Jacky's human is a polio survivor, and she delighted in showing Jacky off.
This is a considerate whippet, and he didn't want to make all of the guests feel like their whippets were inferior, so he spent the first ten minutes of the demonstration summarily ignoring all commands while keeping his nose plastered to the floor. (Where there had been bitches in season parading themselves during the previous evening's Gala Match Show.)
Finally, he felt that we all were secure in our love for our own dogs, and he took of his owner's socks, pants (!), took her husband a beer, and picked up her keys, and even a credit card off the hard floor. He also picked up his toys and put them away in the red box you see above. He was delightful.

We then had an open forum, again moderated by the good doctor, where there was lively discussion of what was correct sidegait, more talk on genetics, discussion of health issues, and the conclusions of earlier topics.

Stavros chews his mini Henrietta the rubber play-chicken as Bree looks on

And with that, the Fifth International Whippet Congress was history. We moved Lisa, Bree, Stavros, and Swede William's daddy Latte into our hotel in town, and had a delicious dinner right next door. The next day would be the day for the males to show in the Swedish National Specialty Show, and Crystal and I would get to go in the ring! I would show William's brother Looper, and Crystal would show their older half brother Dustin, and Latte. Lisa, of course would show Stavros, and I swore she was much more pregnant than when we got there.

to be continued... HERE


  1. With the talk of whippet health, were there any wide findings discussed? In reading the KC health survey and the AWC health survey in the past I was surprised to see that despite a fair amount of separation of the populations, that the health issues and percentages were nearly identical. Were there any similar health studies from other countries?

  2. This is very very interesting. We are very fortunate that you are attending as an ambassador and fact-finder from the blog world. I saw a program on TV about the number of breeds that are actually facing extinction. Very intriguing.

  3. We had no idea about the vision problems with Whippets. sounds like they are very serious about making improvements there, which is GREAT! That must have been so cool to be able to hear all those speakers with so much knowledge about something you are passionate about!!

  4. It is nice to hear that the club is so active in taking care of the health of the breed. I was interested in the lure coursing thing--I think it is good when they work to make the breed standard fit with the "work" that a dog is supposed to do. As a corgador the work that I was bred to do is look irresistibly handsome, to eat as much as possible, and to guard the house from that evil cockapoo next door.

    wally t.

  5. i bet a lot of male humans would love to have 'popular sire syndrome'...


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