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History of the OESCA Health & Research Committee

by Marilyn O'Cuilinn

In the June, 1973 OESCA Bulletin, predecessor to the Old English Times, Dr. Gary Carter is listed as the Health and Research Committee Chair and Mrs. John (Ginger) Herlihy was the Hip Dysplasia Committee chair. By 1976 there was also an Eye Health committee chair, and in each and every one of these old publications there are articles related to canine health and to OES health in particular. However, these committees were actually one-person entities. The Health and Research chair had the task of identifying and recommending or writing articles about health issues, and in later years organizing health seminars for the National Specialties. The other committee chairs were keepers of lists of dogs certified for hips and eyes as those registries became available. As interest in health increased and veterinary technology and research expanded, OESCA took notice and tried to keep the members informed and aware.

We are now in the age of the successful mapping of the canine genome, the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the CHIC registry and the fight against still another threat to our breed's health, CA (Cerebellar Abiotrophy). For more than eight years proceeding the 2001-2002 OESCA Club year, Cass Arble was the HRC, all by herself! She was the front line of the CA effort from the time it was identified as a problem, and for several of those years she and three or four other OESCA members worked with Dr. Jerold Bell to establish the pedigree risk analysis and initiated the research project that began looking for a genetic marker. Meanwhile, CA was not the only OES health concern Cass had to deal with!

During the last year of Chris Gaburri's presidency (1999) and the first years of mine, AKC CHF came very strongly to the forefront of canine health efforts, and there was a push for an OESCA breed Health Survey to take advantage of increased awareness and research work. In that same time period Chris and Cass brought CHIC to my attention and as I recall we all urged OESCA to become a participant. (That has now happened!)

It became very obvious that one person could not handle all the demands of creating and implementing the health survey, monitoring ongoing PRA research efforts, CA concerns, and all the other health and research matters that present technology is now capable of addressing, so in 2001 with the help of Chris and Cass I appointed a committee that was known at the time as the Health and Welfare Committee, now the Health and Research Committee. If you check your June 2002 OET you will see, in the President's Message, the announcement of its formation and a list of the first members: Cass, Diane Edison, Karen Burdash, Chris Gaburri, Margueritte McDonald, and Paula Mullins. Paula and Chris handled the Survey, an enormous job! As is its mandate, the Board approved this committee. Over the years the name of the committee has changed, if only slightly, but this is the first time that a truly coordinated approach to the health and research issues so vital to the well-being of our breed has truly existed and functioned. At last it is really a multi-person, multi-task committee!

As is natural, composition of the committee has changed in the past few years. Some members dropped out and other members were added as they volunteered or were "sandbagged" to join. Ann Lapp was one of the "sandbagged" ones, and agreed, to my delight, to chair the group. From the beginning we wanted a DVM on the committee, and Dr. Amy Spaeth became an extremely valuable member. Others vitally interested in the health of the breed have stepped up to contribute positively to the effort. To my knowledge, no volunteer has been turned away and those who join can expect to work hard and actively participate in projects that benefit the breed.

So this is how the present HRC came about. As OESCA committees go, this is a relatively young one, still developing and now actively working on several projects—for example, Chris G is now lead on the CHIC effort. Nothing happens overnight, and never as fast as all of us would hope, but the committee now is large enough to more effectively address more OES health issues. I believe that given the years of experience and depth of knowledge of the members of this committee, the Board and the membership can follow their recommendations with confidence. Of course the membership can and should always come directly to a member of that committee or to the Board with their concerns.

Now we are all concerned with the extent to which CA is found in our OES gene pool. There are some present positives:

1. Over the approximately 12 years since CA was determined to be an OES problem, the approximately 10 years since the beginnings of the CA research effort and over the seven or so since the open registry for other diseases (CHIC) have been available, I believe OESCA members have become more ready to accept open registries as evidenced by the vote for CHIC at the 2005 Annual Meeting.

2. The mapping of the canine genome was one of the real advances in all canine health research and we are so very, very fortunate to have Dr. Olby, who received a very special award for her part in that effort, as one of our researchers. Although any research progress seems glacial, there have been several breakthroughs in marker identification thanks at least in part to her accomplishments, and with cooperation on the part of our members it seems there is real hope. There is most certainly highly increased awareness of the breadth and depth of the CA problem and that will also be a great help in acceptance of the open registry that the HRC states is a goal.

3. The first announcement of the CA risk analysis that I can find is in the October 2000 OET. This service has been available to ALL, very publicly, since that time and those who have used it proved its worth. All breeders have had the opportunity to work to avoid the some of the nasty surprises that have occurred since. Such things as the OES Health Survey and Dr. Bell's risk analysis are only valuable if breeders cooperate and USE THEM. The accuracy of any risk analysis depends on the completeness of the data base -- ONLY sharing information and responding to the requests of the researchers in an open manner will help us fight the threat to our gene pool!

Veterinary science has come a long, long way in the past thirty years and if we take advantage of the advances and are open and honest about our problems so that we can work toward better solutions, progress for our beloved shaggy friends is now more than ever possible. That's what the Health and Research committee is all about! 

In any discussions of health issues we must, at all costs, avoid negative attitudes and take a realistic, direct, and practical approach to solving our problems -- really work together for the good of the breed, not just give it lip service. Unfortunately, many times our dogs' problems are very emotional issues and emotion can cloud judgement; but remember, too, that nobody breeds FOR hip dysplasia, bad bites, hypothyroidism, or CA, or any other problem, and that only by honesty and openness and support of research and the wise use of knowledge can we make it better. This "young" committee and our research projects -- and our dogs -- need everyone's help and support.

Marilyn O'Cuilinn