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Life With A Bleeder

"Bleeder," the common term for a von Willebrand's Disease-affected Scottish Terrier, pretty well sums up the problems, expense and heartache this devastating bleeding disorder holds in store for owners. Though many Scottie breeders have never seen a bleeder, bleeders are out there. The estimated carrier frequency in the general Scottish Terrier population is 8.4% as figured from data in the STCA's 1995 health survey. That means 8.4% of Scottish Terriers carry the vWD gene! Possibly, it's higher. A 1996 DNA research sampling from Scottish Terriers showed 15% of tested dogs to be carriers.

Since von Willebrand's Disease is inherited by an autosomal recessive gene in Scotties, both parents must be carriers before any puppies will be affected. Statistically, breeding two carriers will produce 25% affected puppies.

Stories of life with bleeder Scotties are remarkably similar. Simple events like teething can turn into major bleeds. Teething is often an owner's first indication he has an affected Scottie. Donna Cambron, Charlestown, IN, remembers her first Scottie, purchased for show: "When she'd lose a puppy tooth, it looked like someone murdered her." Spaying nearly killed Sissy. Cambron now knows pretreatment with Vitamin K might have diminished spaying complications that required three days intensive veterinary care.

Cambron later placed Sissy in a loving home with Carolyn Williams, Louisville, KY. Amazingly, Sissy survived a Great Dane attack, only to die two years later at five of intemal bleeding, for which no precipitating incident was identified. "She died in my husband's arms at the vet's," recalls Williams.

Gary Mason, Milford, NH, soon leamed his new Scottie had vWD. "We noticed blood on socks Kramer played with," said Mason. That bleed went on four days and included bloody stools and a transfusion. One of Kramer's littermates also is affected. Mason is prepared for bleeds. His local vet keeps cryoprecipitate ready and Mason has silver nitrate sticks for chemical cautery of small bleeds at home.

Marianna Yesh, Dearbom, MI, bought a Scottie from a newspaper ad. She sensed something was wrong even before she woke to find a lethargic, teething puppy and a kitchen full of blood. Duffy was transfused, but lack of canine blood typing/cross matching meant he could not be transfused again locally. Yesh opted to let Duffy help von Willebrand's research and live where he could be transfused. Since five months old, Duffy has been at the Wadsworth Center For Laboratories in Albany, NY, and now at Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Duffy's blood helped researchers discover the gene mutation which causes vWD. He's five now and unaware he is a celebrity, but Yesh follows his life faithfully, calling his caretakers on holidays and birthdays.

Rescue worker Daphne Branzell, Windcrest, TX, encountered one probable vWD-affected Rescue. Sammy, a puppymill Scottie, urinated much blood after neutering. Branzell was ready to euthanize him when Sammy was no better a week after neutering. Her vet used Vitamin K, mild tranquilizers and enforced rest, and Sammy recovered. He has had no bleeding episodes in his new home. Helen Harbulak, Huntington, WV, has lived with vWD twice, many years apart. She still finds it almost impossible to describe the morning she woke to discover her male had suffered a massive hemorrhage. Later Harbulak had a litter in which both puppies and the mother tested affected. Mother Daisy showed no symptoms until spaying. Daughter Dolly lived with Helen to age 10 and provided important tissue for vWD researchers. Daughter Misty lived with Lois Smith, Pittsburgh, PA, to age 8. Misty experienced no bleeding until she bit the fence when fussing with the next door dog. She needed transfusing, and later the Smiths took her to Michigan State University for additional help. "The day they transfused her in Michigan, the bill was $1,200," remembers Smith. "I thought she'd live forever. It was not to be. My husband's life was wrapped around this dog. I don't think we'll ever forget this."

These stories need never be repeated! The new VetGen DNA test for von Willebrand's Disease offers breeders the information needed to eradicate, or at least never produce, the disease. VetGen's test is definitive and positively identifies carrier, clear and affected dogs, according to researcher Dr. George Brewer. Cost is $135, plus $5 for the home sampling kit. For information, call VetGen, 1-800-4VETGEN.

Some may argue that perpetuating the vWD gene in any way is crazy, but the new DNA test does mean that significant dogs which carry vWD can be bred safely if their mates test clear on the DNA test.

Whether owners of bleeders would promote that breeding strategy is another story. I've heard one owner sob as she remembers a killer bleed. Breeders may argue the new test is expensive. Anyone who has lived the heartache of a bleeder will tell breeders that $135 is a small price to pay to prevent vWD!

Think of the new test as cheaper. It really is! With DNA results absolute, puppies out of parents DNA-tested clear will be clear. They should not require DNA testing. The old vWD blood evaluation often required repeat tests, but still no results we could count on with certainty. Testing entire litters was expensive.

If you still need a reason to DNA test for vWD, listed to Helen Harbulak: "...I still have nightmares about Jamie's death. I got up one Sunday morning at 6:30 to let the dogs out and found his pen completely drenched in blood. He was bleeding from every body opening - anus, penis, mouth, nose, ears - it was horrible. I got him to the vet in about 15 minutes; and they were able to stop the bleeding and get him out of shock, but the bleeding started again in a couple of hours, and we could not save him. He was not quite 7 years old when he died. I will never forget the horror of that morning, and would not want anyone else to have to go through the agony of watching a beloved dog bleed to death and not being able to do anything about it ... So there you have my story of living with vWD. It is very heartbreaking and, in my opinion, no carrier should be bred, regardless of how good the dog or bitch may be."

My own comment: VWD DNA developments of 1996 are news of the century for Scottish Terriers. Researchers Dr. William Schall, Dr. Patrick Venta, Dr. Vilma Yuzbasiyan-Gurkan and Dr. George Brewer deserve names engraved on a perpetual national specialty trophy. But right in our midst, we owe thanks to a few good men and women from Michigan, led by a breeder with an unflagging dream. Barbara DeSaye of Sandgreg Scottish Terriers and STC of Michigan led a grassroots effort that brought in approximately $25,000 from Scottish Terrier fanciers. STCM donated $14,700 of that. The STCA and nine other regional clubs also backed the effort with donations. The Molecular Genetics Canine Health Project of AKC, Morris Animal Foundation and Orthopedic Foundation for Animals provided the balance of the monies. Time for excuses is past. Time for producing Von Willebrand's Disease affected Scotties is past. The new DNA test for vWD leaves no room for mistakes, or excuses!

The Bagpiper 1996, Number 2
As printed in The Bagpiper:
"Copyright 1996, Carole Fry Owen."