Take your attacker’s power away.
In 1797, Alexander Hamilton was serving as Secretary of the Treasury, false accusations were levied against him that he had conspired with James Reynolds to misuse funds from the treasury department. Hamilton faced these accusations in an unorthodox way. He wrote the Reynolds Pamphlet. A document that detailed Hamilton's affair with Maria Reynolds, James' wife and the blackmail payments to James Reynolds - a very different scandal than the misuse of public funds accusations of which he was accused. Telling the truth cost Hamilton his career, but ultimately robbed his detractors of the ammo they so desperately wished to lobby against him. The words to Lin Manuel's "Hurricane", which details the above story, have played on repeat through my head for over a week now.
"Other people's opinions of me are none of my business."
It's a quote that might originate from someone else, but I heard it first from Laura Reeves. It's the other mantra that has played through my head the past few weeks. That and:
Don't listen to people who you wouldn't go to for advice.
I haven’t reached that level of zen. To pretend a lot of what has been said isn't hurtful would be a lie. But I'm trying. And I think they're words to live by.
And now, a story I’ve told many times:
I tested Tabiri's thyroid back in fall of 2021. I have always been forthcoming that he came back with a result of Autoimmune Thyroiditis (AIT), a form of hypothyroidism. That is listed publicly with OFA. Prior to his diagnosis, Tabiri had had a handful of seizures after coming to me and I had ultimately intended to wash him as a stud. Seizures are the number one physical health issue in the breed and they are generally considered to be idiopathic (without known cause). Unfortunately, no bloodline is free from seizure episodes and it’s a small gene pool, so the best that can be done is to breed away from affected dogs. However, it must be acknowledged that if we were to wash all related dogs to those affected, we would be left with no breed.
Upon his diagnosis, Tabiri started levothyroxine, which entirely resolved all seizure episodes, thus indicating that the seizures were based on an endocrine problem (low thyroid) rather than a neurological problem (idiopathic epilepsy). On a very low dose of a very inexpensive medication (I pay under $4 per month) he lives a completely normal life, no restrictions, no symptoms. This has remained true for two years now.
After a lot of research, heavy discussion, and the fact that Tabiri has continued to live a completely normal life. I decided I would breed him to Amidi, a bitch that has a history of Normal results. Through a complete OFA panel, she tested Normal at 2 years old and at 4 years old (less than three months before being bred), with a normal in-house panel at 3 years old. She has multiple relatives that have had OFA thyroid panels return Normal. She does have a relative two generations back that had thyroid cancer as a veteran, though that dog is still alive four years later. It is probably the most known family history of thyroid in the breed.
I chose to breed one litter out of Tabiri to Amidi with full disclosure that he was AIT. I publicly listed the information on top of discussing the information further with people who are interested in a puppy.
Over the course of the last two weeks, the frequency and intensity of verbal attacks I have faced from a handful of people within the community is bone chilling. They’ve attacked my character, my dogs, my program, my puppies, my friends. My decision has brought backlash against people I trust and respect, a fact that pains me greatly.
This handful of detractors scream I’m unethical. Yet not one health tests. They assert they would never breed an affected dog. Yet, conditions like low thyroid can be subtle and go undiagnosed for years, if not a dog’s whole life. It is entirely possible they have bred affected dogs, but never knew, especially considering Tabiri’s seizures were endocrine in nature. How often is that true in the breed, I wonder? Without a full thyroid panel through an OFA approved lab, it is impossible to have a true answer to that question. While in house T3/T4 panels can give you a very general picture of thyroid condition, it is also very possible for normal results on those panels to still be affected if looking at the full parameters of an OFA approved lab which includes TGAA, T3 and T4 antibodies, and more. How can these breeders, who do not categorically and definitively know the endocrine health of their dogs, stand in their glass houses and throw stones?
This isn’t about thyroid in the breed. It’s not about health in the breed. If it were they would object to more than just this pairing. They would call out themselves and their friends. They seek to punish me for walking a path different than them. These attacks on me are expected. The attacks on others beyond myself are uncalled for. I have seen on multiple occasions people say that the people interested in a puppy from this litter are deluded. That despite the fact that I have been perfectly upfront, that I’m taking them in and deceiving them. Just looking to sell puppies by preying upon their excitement for a puppy to love, but it will be too late when health issues develop. The people spewing this nonsense clearly have never talked to any of my puppy owners, because these are savvy, intelligent wonderful dog people who fully have the competence needed to grasp the full situation at hand. To say otherwise is condescending.
I made my own decisions guided by research, conversations with experts, and with mentors. As I have said, I went against advice from a number of people when I chose this path. Anyone who thinks that I have been taken in and deluded by a friend or mentor, feel free to ask my parents. They’d be happy to tell you that even as a child I made my own decisions and they couldn’t influence my decisions if I truly believe at my core that my decision was the best one that I could live with. No one in my life is to blame for this decision but me. To attack others for my actions is beyond petty.
The easiest path to take for me would be to never publicly acknowledge the AIT result and do as I see fit anyway. I have been honest about all my dogs' health testing results and will continue to do so, what others do with their programs is their choice. In the cases of co-owns I will bow to my co-owner's wishes always. And at no point have I ever discussed any health issues in specific dogs beyond those of my own dogs. I have a great deal of knowledge about the breed that I have never and will never disclose because of people who have confided in me and it is not my story to tell. I have information that could turn the tide of public perception in my favor against those attacking me. I have chosen and continue to choose not to go down that path.
This was not an idle choice, it was made after consultation with numerous experts, some who agreed with my decision, some who did not. I consulted multiple repro vets and multiple sighthound breeders of breeds with known sighthound issues. Michigan State University, the gold standard lab for thyroid panels, has stated that offspring have a 25% chance of passing the issue on, based on their data.
Autoimmune thyroiditis is polygenic and complex in inheritance. We do not know how inheritance works precisely but there is typically thought to be a genetic component and there are AIT affected dogs that never produce affected offspring and normal dogs where three-quarters of their offspring are affected. I say typically a genetic component because there are multiple examples where AIT only appeared after a stressful and traumatic incident. Epigenetics (genes that only turn on after an environmental influencer) are a complex topic, with very little understanding but there does seem to be an epigenetic component at play with some conditions.
Tabiri was degloved while living with his first owner and underwent extensive reconstructive surgery. Could this incident play into his AIT diagnosis? Potentially, potentially not too, but this is a case where substantial trauma did occur prior to an affected diagnosis. He turns six in a couple months, lives a completely normal life with zero limitations on his activities and zero symptoms on a relatively low dose of Levothyroxine to supplement thyroid levels. He has traveled the country, does performance, and shows despite never experiencing any of this before 3 years of age. He has taken unsedated radiographs (to assess any potential skeletal damage from his injury). He lives in a mixed pack with four other intact males. I have used him as an assessment dog for my dog training business. He is a consummate brewery dog. His parents are both in their double digits and doing well and all his siblings are happy and enjoying their lives. Yet I have two other dogs that are of an age or younger that lost siblings young and no one has batted an eye over me breeding them.
Never in my substantial professional life as a dog trainer (working on average several hundred dogs a year) have I met a dog with such stability and emotional resiliency. I have asserted many times that I feel the number one health issue (even beyond seizures) in this breed is unstable temperaments. I have literally worked with, on a professional basis, over a dozen Azawakh for pretty severe behavioral issues, all of whom I encouraged to speak to their breeders, many of whom felt too judged to do so. Yet you don't see me publicly dragging their dogs' breeders. Behavioral euthanasia and accidental death related to temperament issues (jumping a fence/slipping a collar in fear and getting hit by a car) is the leading cause is death for young dogs in this breed. This is a reality I deal with regularly in this breed. And more than hypothyroidism, more than seizures, I would not wish a dog that was dangerous to live with on anyone. And yes, I will take my AIT dog that walked through hell and came out stronger over some many temperaments in the breed these days.
I have dogs in my program that I will wash if they turn up AIT, where their contributions would not outweigh the risks. This dog is not one of them. You cannot ensure you have health without testing. I know many client dogs who went undiagnosed for years because the signs of many conditions can be very subtle.
I am the only one currently breeding, worldwide, running a full OFA diagnostic thyroid panel. You cannot preach transparency while flinging vitriol at one who walks that path. By punishing those who are transparent, you are only serving to drive health issues in the breed further underground.
I health test to inform. Not to eliminate. The Azawakh gene pool is small. If I washed Tabiri then are his siblings washed? Cousins? Parents? How far do you go? I have watched friends' rare breed's gene pools be decimated in a few generations when a disease is discovered to be penetrant within the population and all dogs carriers, affected, and related were washed. So I walk the conservative path when it comes to washing a dog from a rare gene pool. I will monitor and test his offspring and should the condition prove to have a clear and prevalent genetic component, I will assess and likely wash his offspring.
People want to punish me and make me stop walking this path. And up until today, I haven’t been inclined to give them that reinforcement. They can scream into the void. But when they attack people I care for, I can’t justify letting people attack my friends. And if I can’t proceed in a way that I can comfortably live with without bringing attacks against my friends, then I have to be done.
I’ll breed Anubi x Amalu, because I want a puppy from that pairing, but honestly, after that I think I’m done breeding. Nothing is worth this hell. Maybe I'll change my mind down the line, but right now I can't imagine that scenario.