Breeders’ Voice: Michelle Santana – Foxfire Dobermans
Michelle Santana of Foxfire Dobermans has been voted Breeder of the Year by her peers and Working Group Breeder of the Year by the American Kennel Club. She has a lifetime devoted to her beloved breed, focused on a style of dog that she has permanently emblazoned on her mind’s eye.
Foxfire has produced national specialty winners, best in show winners and top ranked dogs. Her puppies have earned titles in a wide range of performance competitions as well.
Past president and deeply active in her parent club, Michelle was honored with the 2015 Doberman Pinscher Club of America APEX Legacy award: “For making a lasting, positive impression on the Breed, improving public awareness and perception of the Breed, and through service to the Breed community The Doberman Pinscher Club of America herby grants
Michelle Santana of Foxfire Dobermans the APEX award GOLD level as an outstanding Breeder.”
You can listen to Michelle’s Pure Dog Talk interview, episode 58, in which she talks about working with a cropped and docked breed in today’s hypersensitive, Animal Rights driven environment.
Enjoy our conversation with Michelle in the debut of this exciting format, Breeders’ Voice, as PureDogTalk focuses on the very core of our passion for purebred dogs: our breeders. Join us in honoring our Master Breeders as we look to the future through the lens of the past.
BV: You have consistently produced successful dogs.
Let’s talk about breeding a “family” of dogs. Type, style, breeding plans, how you got from point A to point Z….
MS: Well, first we have to recognize what makes a dog(s) successful. It’s MANY elements that come together. Usually encompassing a TEAM of individuals lending their hand at the success of said “Successful” Dog(s). You will often hear me say, “It Takes A Village”… AND It DOES!
1.) Quality of Animal (Obviously)
2.) A TEAM around that animal that consists of an Owner who realizes what they have and has the ability to travel (or let travel) this “Special” dog to be successful! If a Handler is involved, a handler that is an expert at the care and presentation of the Breed exhibited. And the ability to pull together to determine the “path” a dog should take to success! (Judges to show under/Circuits to attend etc.).
BV: How do you produce a “family” of dogs that can reliably be of particular quality, type, style etc..
MS: A VERY long time ago I decided what the “ideal” Doberman would look like in my mind’s eye. It was a visual that brought the Standard Blue Print to life for me. (This could be based on your favorite living (or past) dog at the time). Mine was the Westminster Best In Show Winner, of the day, Ch Royal Tudors Wild As The Wind, “Indy”. She was the epitome of a Doberman to me, as with many. You keep that “visual” tucked close to the vest so you can use it time and again to check in with yourself and guide your destination!
I remember walking up to the Doberman Ring one time- Pomona Memorial Day circuit` when it was at the fairplex under those cement pillars. I saw this black male dog in the classes with Andy Linton and said, “THAT!”. It was just a type I always fall for. A short time later I bred to him, and though he had some success as a Special with Andy, it wasn’t like he was an “Indy”.
But it’s a type I very much still carry close to the vest today. If you just keep your eye on the ball of that “type”/ “style” your breeding plans will take you from A to Z, time and time again even through decades of generations.
BV: What do your most successful pedigrees look like? Why? Are you working with a prepotent sire? A powerful dam line? What is the secret to your success (in general terms) and how did you arrive there?
MS: A little more than two decades ago (1997) I purchased a book called “Born To Win-Breed To Succeed,” authored by Patricia V. Craige (Trotter). I read this book cover to cover and, at least in my mind, I feel it particularly educated me on how to look at pedigrees and move forward from where I was.
I feel Foxfire has always based our breeding program on the Maternal strength of our dams (starting with our foundation bitch that every current Foxfire Dobe traces back to). Having said that, over the years, I think it can be said that Foxfire has equally become dominant for its Stud Dogs’ prepotency as well. Our first real successful sire was Ch Foxfire’s Devils N Demons, WAC (DPCA National Specialty winner from the Veterans class in 1998).
We’ve had a smattering of mildly successful studs since Demon- but the most notable is probably Ch Foxfire All Star who is the sire of 100 champions and a like amount of performance titled kids. Including his two most famous daughters Westminster Working Group Winner and #1 Dobe for numerous years Ch Protocol’s Veni Vidi Vici, ROM “Fifi”.
And Ch Catawba’s Take No Prisoners CD IPO 1- the only Best In Show/DPCA TT/IPO titled Doberman in Breed History.
Both of these Stud dogs have received the Doberman Pinscher Club Of America Highest Award- Legacy GOLD. It is very difficult to achieve as it encompasses Performance and Conformation titled progeny.
I can’t say I’m stuck on any one “Pedigree Pattern”. Although I’m sure if I laid them all out on a table it probably would look so! <laugh> What I have found myself doing, on several occasions, is “discovering” little known stud dog(s) and liking the “nick,” then following suit to breed multiple bitches to them, as they themselves discover “stud dog success” within our breed.
This has given me an avenue to mix and match these pedigrees for the generations to come.
I like to piece together pedigrees with my “mind’s eye.” I’ve been fortunate to have been around long enough to have personally seen, created, and/or had my hands on most of the dogs that comprise my pedigree of today. So, its just a matter of saying, “this needs that, and that needs this” and away we go. I feel ever so fortunate, that while many are saying, “There isn’t anything to breed to,” all I have to do is look at my stud dogs in the yard, or that I have breeding rights to, and “Pick” what I want!!” I only occasionally breed out to a Stud Dog that catches my eye, for diversity.
BV: Give us some idea of the struggles… Dead ends or pedigrees that didn’t pan out, health/temperament issues that caused a reset of the program and how you handled it, the breeding that looked incredible on paper and was a disaster, like that.
MS: I often ponder to myself if we are “Health Testing” our Breed(s) to imminent extinction?
On the one hand we are super proud that as a Dog Breeding and Showing culture, we promote our Purebred Dogs as being the healthiest colony of dogs in the world.
On the other hand, the current trend is researchers telling Breeders our dogs are “too related” and we need to Diversify the gene pool by monitoring the COI (coefficient) numbers of the pairs we breed together.
There is now DNA testing (via Saliva) to test for Genetic COI vs. the Pedigree (guestimate) COI Breeders’ used to have to rely on before the DNA test was developed that TRULY shows your dogs genetic make-up. And give the ability to breed “less genetically related dogs together”.
I’m not sure how much faith I place in this theory (lowering the COI in a litter will equate to better health/longer longevity). However, I have agreed to participate in the DNA data collecting and analysis (and promotion of the 501c3 Doberman Diversity Project) to see where it takes us.
When I say “Are we “Health Testing” our breed to extinction? The question is brought about by my observation of Breeding trends over the past 36 years since Foxfire produced our first litter back in 1982. And I often wonder if we’re shooting ourselves in the foot because John Q Public certainly doesn’t seem to understand the limitations of “Health Testing” and its relationship to actually breeding dogs.
Recently the propaganda on the internet is that “Dobermans are dying younger, in mass, than they ever did in generations past.” (I don’t personally believe that. But that’s another article!LOL)
However, IF that propaganda proves true, how can that be when we have MORE “Health Tests” to “check off the list” to come to a determination whom to breed your bitch or stud too? Whilst we promote “Health Testing” as the means to longer lived dogs? Could it be that basing breeding decisions heavily on “Health Tests” is causing a further bottle necking of our Gene Pool…..To the point of extinction? Because every health test becomes another reason to cull a population of individuals from a breed. Until the populous of dogs being bred can’t support the genetic viability and diversity of the Breed anymore.
Back when we bred our Foundation bitch the only test any Breeder ever did was OFA Hips. The rest was just finding a stud that made your heart pitter patter! Yet, today, we’re told those generations of “yesteryear” were longer lived. An interesting proposition because Breeders had fewer “Health Tests” at their disposal to match breeding pairs!
Early on after our first litter, a Veterinarian developed and named a Disease and test for said disease called von Willebrand disease (vWD). (Even though, if you speak to many of the old time Breeders they will tell you the “New Disease” was a NON issue manifesting in our Dobermans). It was described as along the line of a hemophilia based disease that could, for those deemed “affected” (those that came back with a “low” Elisa test score), cause prolonged clotting times, and in the most severe cases, uncontrolled bleeding resulting in death from blood loss. The test developed was a blood test that measures the antibodies useful for measuring vWD factor in plasma called the “Elisa” assay test.
All of us Breeders at the time (we are talking 80’s on) submitted tests for our dogs and made Breeding Decisions (often) based on the assessment of this (now deemed) ambiguous antibody testing method. Along came a DNA test for vWD in the early 2000’s and, again, hysteria began over the disease and everyone began flocking to the “Clears” in the Breed, bottle necking our gene pool.
At least the DNA test was a definitive testing method. The “affected” (carry two genes for the disease but that in No Way meaning they would actually be “Clinically Afflicted” with the disease) were pretty much discarded from many Breeding Programs. “Affecteds” were stigmatized by John Q Public and Veterinarians that weren’t familiar with how FEW Dobermans ever really had a “Bleeding Disorder” from vWD. (In fact, many of my longest lived Dobermans were “Affected” according to the new DNA testing method.) The downside of everyone pursuing “Clear” Stud dogs was that, as it played out, many of the Popular “clear” vWD studs ended up dying of a much more serious disease that plagues Dobermans — Heart Disease.
Thus, we Doberman Fanciers traded one less lethal disease for a more lethal disease entrenched in our breed!
Slowly but surely JQP’s demand for “clears” and “carriers” of vWD drove Breeders to limit their consideration of possible mates based on the vWD test status. This left our gene pool severely under utilizing a whole population of individuals because of their “affected” vWD status.
Looking back, I ponder how many long lived, GOOD Dogs, were “culled” from consideration to contribute to the Gene Pool because they were “Scarlet Lettered” by being vWD “Affected”?
Many Breeders’ wouldn’t even consider breeding to an “affected” even if their dog was clear and genetically impossible to produce an “affected”. (Clear to affected would only produce a whole litter of “Carriers”.)
Has the stigma of being “Affected” (even if they weren’t “Clinically Afflicted”) hurt our Breed?
Is the stigma from the results of some of the other contemporary “Health Tests” that are far less deadly than DCM, stigmatizing even more and more dogs, ”culling” them from our Show Line gene pool? There are “New” buzz word “Health Tests” like PDK4 & DCM2 (DNA tests for a couple of gene mutations for Cardio Myopathy which have already proven completely unreliable in predicting manifestation of DCM over-all). Another disease getting a lot of coverage these days is various thyroid diseases “Autoimmune” and/or adult onset “Acquired.”
The AKC Health Foundation states in a release in June 2016;
*Hypothyroidism is one of the most common endocrine disorders in adult dogs; with a majority of cases caused by autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT).
*Identification of elevated TgAA with otherwise normal thyroid hormone concentrations is referred to as ‘subclinical thyroiditis.’
*It is assumed that while dogs with subclinical thyroiditis (remember, NOT expressing the disease) have increased TgAA, the rate of progression to hypothyroidism varies, and *not all dogs with increased TgAA will become hypothyroid*.
So now Breeders are culling Normal Thyroid dogs from the already devastatingly shrinking gene pool based on a portion of a thryoid test known as TgAA concentration, which research has indicated *May Not* actually ever manifest into low thyroid disease!
Something even as benign, and non life threatening, as a missing tooth (when our DQ isn’t until you reach four missing) will make a dog undesireable to breed to. And most recently internet banter that dogs with pink lower gum lines should be culled from breeding programs (and I am not talking about true Vitiligo where dogs have large splotches of lost pigment in their tan markings), just pink lower gum lines.
Has the hysteria and misunderstanding about how to assimilate “Health Tests” into Practical Application in maintaining a population (Breed) of Purebred dogs brought us to the point of no salvation? Are Breeders relying on “Health Tests” as their sole criteria for matching mates? Without giving due process to the individual evaluation of animals, and the over all longevity, a dog or pedigree represents?
I think so.
I think over the past three decades Breeders have begun breeding “By Numbers” (aka test results, even of tests for “Health Issues” that are not usually terminal to our breed). I think this is having the over all effect of shrinking our gene pool options/bottle necking the entire Breed.
Because every health test becomes another reason to cull a population from the Breed. Until the population of Dogs being bred can’t support the Viability of the Breed anymore.
I see JQP misunderstanding WHY Breeders’ health test. I have numerous conversations with individuals inquiring about the purchase of a Doberman that have a complete lack of understanding that MOST of the Diseases Breeders’ are testing for is for the Assessment of the health of their individual dog(s), NOT as the end all be all prediction of what any one puppy WILL inherit from a parent. The diseases ARE NOT of Dominant inheritance, and with the exception of the DNA vWD test (reliable information), TESTING of most the other diseases is NOT predictive of what will be the long term “Health” any one dog produces in their progeny!
It just means when a disease crops up an owner can (possibly) extend longevity through proper treatment!
Only Mother Nature wields the fickle finger of destiny for an individual’s “roll of the dice” in regards to long term genetic health. NO “Health testing” will guarantee “Longevity.” Breeders are NOT Super Human Individuals that control Mother Nature.