2006-12-20 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

As a true Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Darcy was put on earth to show the power of devotion. This darling dog adored everyone with all her heart….a heart too damaged to sustain her beyond a mere 6 years. Last June Darcy succumbed to chronic valvular disease (CVD), the most common canine cardiac ailment, a condition particularly devastating in her breed. Thanks to her owners, Darcy’s love lives on in a legacy that may one day benefit all dogs.

The Darcy Fund, created to support research into the causes and cures of CVD, was established by Darcy’s owners, Kim and Jerry Thornton of Lake Forest, California, in conjunction with the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Charitable Trust. Kim Campbell Thornton happens to be an award winning author and past editor of Dog Fancy who has written extensively about dog and cat health. The Thorntons chronicled the heartbreak of Darcy’s ordeal and expert advice at darcysdaily.blogspot.com.

Though the Darcy Fund is linked to Cavaliers, any discoveries resulting from these grants have the potential to help every breed, perhaps other species as well. A cardiologist at Tufts says that about 11% of all dogs seen by veterinarians have some form of heart disease. Of those dogs, about 75-80% have congestive heart disease (CVD.) The University of Pennsylvania already received funding for projects with Darcy donations.

Big Bob, tabby Big Bob, tabby With mitral valve disease, another name for CVD, the valves do not shut completely due to changes in their structure causing a back flow or leakage. This turbulence creates a murmur. After time, the heart starts to weaken and fail. CVD is prevalent in small and medium-sized breeds that are middle-aged or older, but it is the most common heart condition in all canines. Cavaliers and Dachshunds have the greatest incidence, while Yorkies, Poodles, Papillons, Chihuahuas, Schnauzers and Cockers are prone to develop CVD also.

According to CavalierHealth.org, Cavaliers are the most vulnerable to chronic valve disease. It is a multi-gene condition that affects about half of all Cavaliers by age 5 years old, and nearly all Cavaliers by 10, if they live that long. In these Spaniels, the prevalence of mitral valve disease is 21 times that in the typical canine. The disease manifests itself earlier and accelerates more rapidly in Cavaliers.

Scruffy, terrier mix Scruffy, terrier mix With the help of the Darcy Fund, hopefully specific genes will be pinpointed so tests can be developed to identify dogs at risk and eliminate the defect in future generations. Since 1998 responsible Cavalier breeders have followed a strict veterinary protocol to curtail early onset CVD. This includes having dogs certified yearly by cardiologists, not breeding any Cavalier with a murmur until 5 years old, any dog before 2 _ years old, or any dog at all unless both parents were murmur free until 5. Increased breed popularity, sparking the puppy mill tactic of pumping out pups for profit has ignored these caveats, disregarding the welfare of Cavaliers… thus, one more reason not to purchase a purebred from a pet store.

Cavaliers are the ultimate companion dogs, natural stress reducers- once only a luxury of the British aristocracy. Darcy herself was an import from Ireland. She adored people and Kim joked that “it was her friendly Irish nature coming out. She must have licked the Blarney Stone before she was shipped to us.” An ambassador of affection, Darcy loved meeting new people and tailored her greetings. She was gentle to kids and the elderly, yet planted more rambunctious kisses on everyone else. She wilted if a stranger chose to ignore her.

CVD presents itself in insidious ways. When Darcy was a puppy,

a cardiologist noticed that

she had a soft murmur. By

the time she was 3, the murmur was louder, but

Kim hoped she’d remain

symptom-free. On her 6th birthday annual tests showed that her heart had

greatly enlarged. Medications

began but were hard to

stabilize. Unfortunately, studies show the medicines are not effective until symptoms appear, and the side effects are such that owners hold off as long as possible.

Genes shaped the wonderful Cavalier temperament, but also weakened their hearts. When Kim describes Darcy, I see my tiny Cavalier mix. These clever characters know how to commandeer laps. They anticipate your couch arrival—be it the remote’s click or the coffee’s perking. They are most content when snuggled on you or flipped over in your arms. One of saddest parts of CVD was that Darcy was no longer able to rest this way. She had to lie alone on a hard surface to lessen her discomfort and labored breathing.

My holiday wish for my dogs, and yours, would be to “freeze them in time”- keeping them as vibrant as they are now. I know that is impossible. The Darcy Fund, though not magical, may conquer this cardiac crisis so someday all our dogs can enjoy longer, healthier lives. A tax deductible donation to the Darcy Fund- by mail: C.Tennille, Treasurer, ACKCS Charitable Trust, Inc., 14430 Overlook Ridge La, Beaverdam VA 23015 or at: www.akcsccharitabletrust.org - www.ackcsccharitabletrust.org - “in memory or in honor of” a dear dog is a gift of life and love from our hearts sent straight to theirs.

The poster pets at Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset are all decked out in holiday garb because they want to stand out from the crowd and attract a home of their own. “Scruffy” #1186 in the sweater is a friendly Terrier mix- Cairn with a twist of Scotty, while “Big Bob” #919 in the Santa hat is an affectionate, and large tabby. He greets everyone from his lobby window cage. Merry Christmas!

Female: “Maggie” #1139- a 2 yr. purebred St. Bernard; “Powder” # 1129- a sweet Boxer; a white Akita puppy #1167- about 4 _ months; “Kitcha”- #1182- the Polish cat shown last week.

Males: “Sarge” #1119- a big-boned Shepherd mix; “Talker” #1188- a mostly white cat with a Siamese voice. He said, “Hello’. I’m not kidding.

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