Let’s Talk Pedigrees

by Anne Jones RN, BSNE

For some people, pedigrees are gibberish. For others they are boring. To me they are a way to solve a mystery. You see, I study pedigrees to find out why certain dogs live a long time and others die from disease or genetic disorder. My interest stems from my long time involvement in Bichon health issues and my curiosity as to why some Bichons are healthy and others are not.

I can give you two very good reasons why I find pedigrees fascinating. The first is my knowledge that one certain Bichon from the very earliest American breedings had a very interesting background. It makes me wonder just how much she influenced the breed. Are you curious?

Lyne of Milton was probably Gertrude Fournier’s favorite bitch. She also had and bred her sister Lassy but Lyne was her love. I remember once walking into a room with Lyne’s granddaughter in my arms. Gertrude was holding court (Gertrude enjoyed holding court!) during one of her visits to Pennsylvania. I had gone next door to visit Oleana’s owner and just happened to pick Oleana up and take her back with me when I returned. No plan in mind, just did it. What happened next was almost eerie. Gert stopped in mid-sentence, held out her arms and said, “Lynn, my Lynn”, with a yearning look.

I was not, of course, holding Lynn but it was Lynn’s granddaughter and she must have looked very much like her granddam. Now let’s talk about Lynn and why that granddaughter could well have looked a lot like her. You see Lynn was from a brother/sister breeding, said by some to be a very influencial and strong breeding under any circumstances. But there is more. Lynn’s grandparents were also from a brother/sister breeding, as were the generation before them. Go back one more generation and the breeding was a father/daughter breeding! If you don’t believe me, look it up.

I would guess there are not many Bichon breeders these days who have even looked that far back on their pedigrees to see Lynn of Milton listed, much less to go back to the pre-USA breedings. Can you imagine how strong is her influence even many generations down the line?

More recently I have been interested in another European Bichon, a male this time. But let me fill in the background. I had a Bichon from a line of long lived Bichons. She had a number of relatives who lived into their 17th year and even into the 18th for a few. Sandy topped them all by making it to age 19, a rather rare occurrence in Bichons. When we averaged life spans after our first health survey, we surmised that 14 was about average and we knew from personal experience with show breeders that many lived into their 16th year and a few beyond that. Rumor had a couple of known Bichons as reaching age 20.

With my responsibilities as health chairman of BFCA at the time, I decided to see if we could find out how often Bichons were living longer than the expected 16 years. We placed an inquiry on the Bichon web site that asked anyone with a Bichon reaching age 19 or above to contact me. I have received a number of responses, mostly from pet owners, some giving ages as high as 22 and 23. One personal stipulation in the interest of accuracy was not to count any dog for which I could not receive either accurate registration information, including registered names of parents and date of birth, or better yet, a copy of the pedigree.

The pedigree was very important to me if I was to determine, which I hoped to do, any influential Bichon in the pedigree that might have a “longevity gene or genes”. With accurate registration names, I could trace the pedigree myself with stud pages (which I have up to the mid-80s). Date of birth and date of death were needed to provide length of life.

I will tell you that this personal “research” has been quite interesting. In every pedigree that I was able to trace, I was finding common ancestry! Now we are not talking dozens of pedigrees here, just a few, but those few were most interesting. Enough so that I submitted blood to a couple of longevity studies. I have no idea how much the DNA helped the studies – and will never know – but it seemed logical to provide blood since I had been saving blood since Sandy.

Do I think there is a longevity gene? I have no idea but it would be more likely to be a combination of genes than to be a single gene. There has to be something that influences longer than normal life in both humans and canines. A strong immune system, without question, possibly a healthy life style but I have known humans who were very careless about lifestyle who lived for a long time – have been related to a few of them! How often have you heard someone say “It’s in the genes”?

But let’s continue with my story. I did find a fairly recent American Bichon in these pedigrees but then I had a pedigree that came in that did not have him in it. I had long since dismissed his personal influence because this same dog is in lots and lots of pedigrees and many of those descendants have lived short lives. But now I find his ancestor in a pedigree that did not include him. This supported my theory that the American dog was not the influential one, he just carried some genes in his personal package. But this ancestor? Maybe.

Since Sandy’s son is now 18 ½ , I have been wondering how long he will make it. He had been extremely healthy until about 3 months ago when he developed an abscessed canine that could not be extracted due to his age. I decided to pull another tube of his blood, just in case, and contacted the Canine Data bank to ask if it seemed logical to do this. I was told yes, especially since Tucker’s pedigree goes back in 6 or 7 generations to some first American and other European Bichons. There are not many dogs alive today that you can say that about. Remember his dam was born in 1981 and he was born in 1988. The first Bichons were registered by AKC in 1973.

Prior to pulling and shipping blood, I decided to look more into pedigrees behind Tucker and, lo and behold, this earlier dog was also on the opposite side of his pedigree. He shows up as many as 4 times on some of my dogs. So maybe we do carry the longevity genes – or maybe we don’t. Regardless I will go ahead and store Tucker’s DNA, that of my 17 year old bitch whose dam was a full (older) sister to Tucker, and that of my 10 year old that also has the ancestor multiple times because her pedigree is double on both Sandy and my dog Teddy, Oleana’s grandson.

Did I mention that the mystery ancestor is also in Oleana’s pedigree? I guess I left out that part but he is! The mystery ancestor was not related to Lynn of Milton but he is behind Bertha from another line. So you can see that pedigree study in my case has led to some interesting suppositions.

By now I hope I have you very interested in researching pedigrees, if for no other reason than to try to find – ta da – Ombre de la Roche Posay. Yes, he is the mystery Bichon that I keep finding in the pedigrees of long lived Bichons. I hope you will notify me through www.bichonhealth.org if you also have a Bichon with him in your pedigree that lived an exceptionally long life. You could be helping to prove my point but remember that I need accurate registration information and pedigrees.