Dr. Marty Greer Talks “Frozen Assets”
Frozen semen is an investment not only in one family of dogs, but in the future of the breed in question. Dr. Marty Greer, DVM, JD takes us through a checklist of important considerations for preserving genetic material from our best dogs.
First, Greer said, be sure the semen is stored in a safe facility. Sometimes even storing the same dog’s semen in more than one facility is worth the cost.
Greer’s story about a private semen storage whose owner passed away without a will in place is a cautionary tale.
Insure the Future with Frozen Semen
Second, make provisions for transfer of semen ownership, whether in a will or trust, Greer said. This vital step will ensure the safety of valuable genetics.
“Don’t look at it as your dog line’s future,” Greer said, “but take a step back and look at it as the future of your breed.”
She contends the value of frozen semen is that the best dogs are what we have in frozen. Improvement in testing for diseases means we can use genetic material even if it is imperfect, by using DNA testing to line up the frozen semen with an appropriate bitch.
“If we can test their semen … they’ve got preserved,” Greer said “and use those to match with the appropriate bitches, we can really move our breeds forward, if we’re willing to think hard about this and not just be looking at that little tiny bit of your genetic material but look at your breed as a whole …”
Greer is a strong advocate for planning ahead for the transferal of frozen semen ownership. And to consider sharing it outside one’s own breeding program.
“And in our semen freezing contracts we have a provision made for how that semen should be transferred,” Greer said. “You should have it in your will. You should talk to your attorney about it and a lot of attorneys are going to be unfamiliar with this kind of transaction. So you’re probably going to want to talk to somebody that has some expertise. Somebody in a legal position that they’ve either got a dog ownership and they’re attorneys as well. Debra Hamilton does a lot of work with trust for dogs.”
Another point Greer makes is acquiring insurance for the storage of the semen.
“ I have a few clients that have purchased old semen from their mentors,” Greer said “and they may have 10 to 20 dogs frozen and so they may have a good deal of financial investment in that. … insurance is available through a small number of companies but don’t count on it being insured at the place that you’re storing it.”
Greer also provides input on how to estimate fair charges for owners who will sell vials of frozen semen to other breeders.
Listen today for all of Greer’s great advice.
And if you missed it, you can listen to our interview last summer with Debra Hamilton on the topic of creating plans for the future of your dogs, breeding program and more at this link: https://puredogtalk.com/96-divorce-disease-disaster-disability-delay-death-and-your-dogs-debra-hamilton-esq-how-to-make-a-maap-plan-2/
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Marty Greer Veterinary Voice Transcript
Pure Dog Talk is the voice of purebred dogs. We talk to the legends of the sport and give you the tips and tools to create an awesome life with your purebred dog. From showing to preservation breeding; from competitive obedience to field work; from agility to therapy dogs and all the fun in between. Your passion is our purpose.
LAURA REEVES: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. I’m your host Laura Reeves and we have with us again today Dr. Marty Greer on the veterinary voice segment of Pure Dog Talk. And we’re pretty excited about this new series. And Marty thank you for joining us.
MARTY GREER: Oh I’m happy to be there.
LR: That’s awesome. And today we are talking about frozen semen and transferring ownership of these precious pellets. They are precious pellets. They are. I’ve got a breeding I’m planning right now with frozen semen that was collected probably right around 2000 right around the turn of the century so 17-18 year old frozen semen. So pretty cool stuff.
MG: Yeah it is. And it’s very valuable and it’s something that I think we need to really treasure for a lot of reasons. But it’s going to be a pathway back into some genetics that someday we’re going to need. And a lot of breeds, when we find that we’ve bred ourselves into a corner. So it’s going to be highly valuable and I do want to talk seriously about the ownership and the transfer of that ownership because there’s a lot of damage being done to our gene pool if we’re not adequately preserving that resource.
LR: Absolutely. And you have the added bonus of being a legal beagle as well as a veterinarian. So you are the perfect person to talk about this.
MG: Well I have a different perspective on it than a lot of people do. Probably because I have both those backgrounds, so it’s giving me some insight into some things and it’s made me think about things in a different way. When I first was in law school I was in a property law class and it was at a time that a local semen bank owner had passed away and he died intestate. So there was no provision made for handling that semen. He was an independent Seaman Freezing Company. He wasn’t affiliated with symbiotic so ICSB or any of those others and when he died the whole thing just kind of blew up. And I contacted AKC and my clients were calling me freaking out because they were trying to figure out how this was going to happen and the semen literally was sitting in five tanks in a corn crib in a field in Illinois with just the local farmer who he rented from graciously adding nitrogen to the tanks to keep the semen viable. So there was a lot of legal debate between myself the attorneys I hired, because I hired multiple attorneys, and the AKC and how we would move forward with that. And ultimately we were able to secure the right to move the semen and moved it across state lines from Illinois into Wisconsin. And we’ve been able to preserve that about 140 dogs. It was a very nerve racking but a very exciting time and I learned a lot about ownership at that point.
LR Wow. OK I am literally picking my jaw up off the floor.
MG: Well it was really scary because nobody knew what to do. There was no precedent for it. So it was really trying to figure out what was going to happen to it. And the good news is that all five tanks had viable semen in them and we were able to identify 140 dogs out of about 150. We also found dogs stored in there that people thought their semen had been destroyed on. So we were calling and writing letters to people saying we’ve got your semen and they would say no you don’t. It’s lost, it’s destroyed, it’s been thawed, it’s been used. We say no actually we have your semen. Oh my gosh, you can’t even believe how excited some of these people were who thought that that genetic material was forever gone. It was an exciting and a very nerve wracking time at the same time. But Chris, my technician, and I spent three days that weekend inventorying semen and by the time we got done our fingertips were frozen, permanently numbed from being in nitrogen that much time and the partner of the person who owned the semen bank was able to go through the records with us and secure that we had properly identified every dog. So that’s the good news that some of the semen predates the AKC’s ability to determine how they wanted semen identified at the time that it was frozen because some of it was frozen in the early ’80s some of it’s the age of my daughter. So it’s in its early 30s, so it is really old semen some of it’s really old.
LR: Wow that’s an incredible story. So, what’s our takeaway from this Marty.
MG: Wow there’s a lot of takeaways from it. First and foremost you need to figure out that you’re storing it someplace safe. All semen is stored in liquid nitrogen. So that’s all electricity that runs that storage but you do need to make sure that the semen is in a safe place that there is as many protections as you can have from vandalism, from fire, tornadoes, hurricanes you know those types of things and you may really think hard about duplicating where you have your semen stored. So even though that means that you pay semen storage to two different facilities instead of just one, the value to that is if something catastrophic happens to the semen storage facility through an act of God that is no one’s fault then you’ve at least got semen in another facility as a backup plan. So that’s thing number one.
Additionally you want to make sure that you have made provisions for the semen to be transferred to someone that can continue to pay the bill if something happens or when something happens to you. Because eventually all of us will exceed our capacity to use our frozen semen. And the semen, unless you use it before you pass away or before you become incapacitated, the semen is going to last for decades. We have semen like I said that’s over 30 years old. Bull semen was started to be frozen in the 40s so that semen is now in the 60 to 70 year old range then that’s still viable. So you have to look at this as being a long term investment in your breed’s future.
Don’t look at it as your dog line’s future but take a step back and look at it as the future of your breed. And I think you said that Dr. Gregory had had a conversation with you on one of your segments and there’s a lot of value in what the Otterhound organization is doing. But we can all do something like that. And just have so many clients that really use the semen as it’s their own. They’re never going to share it with anybody. They feel like they’ve worked really hard to develop this line of dogs and they have no interest in sharing it. Well I understand that in a lot of ways. But if you’re really looking at the global picture of what your breed’s future looks like, can you have some amazing dogs that can add value to that gene pool now and in the future you need to be forward thinking enough to consider that someone else can be the custodian of that semen and those decisions whether it becomes a breed club, if we can get that model to work through the AKC, and the club whether it can be a breed club, whether it can be a group of people that you trust, individually you trust that’s in a different age group than you are. Those are the things you have to really start thinking about because it’s a little bit selfish in my opinion to think that you should have complete control over things like that after you’re not able to use the breeding anymore whether you’ve decided to stop breeding or you know like I said other things happen to people as they age. You need to really step back and say my breed is really important to me.
I’ve done a lot to improve the genetics of it and I want to share that with people that I trust. So the trick to it is finding someone you trust that you think is going to make good breeding decisions and will continue to pay the semen storage bill. And I don’t really know how to address to the semen storage facilities that I think they need to be really cautious about throwing out semen until they’re absolutely certain that no one else wants it because I think there’s a lot of really important genetic material that’s already been destroyed. And it’s a shame, because our best dogs are the dogs that are frozen you know not the average dogs but our very best dogs are frozen. And as more DNA tests and more health screenings become available even if some of those dogs carried imperfect genetic material for certain diseases. If we can test their semen, know what they’ve got preserved, and use those to match with the appropriate bitches, we can really move our brede forward if we’re willing to think hard about this and not just be looking at that little tiny bit of your genetic material but look at your breed as a whole right.
LR: And I think that was one of the things that the interview with Dr. Gregory really brought home, is not all of our breed’s have only 800 dogs right. But we all know that as you say we can Wind-Up genetic corners sometimes. And this is a perfect case study. The stud dog that I’m about to breed to was neutered as a young dog just due to the owners. And yet he has excellent health. Son he was winner’s dog at a national. And I have this one breeding …
MG: Right and it’s really important that we make sure that we use this genetic material appropriately. So we have the opportunity now to stop the destruction of some of the semen and to continue to store semen on excellent dogs. And like I said even though they may be imperfect genetically no one is perfect genetically. There’s not a single dog or a single human on the planet that perfect genetically. Every human on the planet has at least one genetic defect and we’re the most outcrossed species on the planet because we breed pretty widely through the entire universe. We don’t have animal populations that can do that. So we have to look at that and realize that there isn’t a genetically perfect animal out there but we have the opportunity to use DNA testing. Going forward as more tests are developed to do something like that now in our practice. For the last 10 or 11 years we’ve been storing blood cards, FTA cards, which is just a filter paper card. So when we collect semen on the dogs and on a few bitches when we collect blood we can store that blood on a card and then it could very easily be stored in our facility so that if a DNA test comes along, say next year there’s a DNA test for x y z disease and we want to know if that dog has that disease, instead of thawing out our semen in our storage bank we can go to that blood card and pull a little bit of that blood off of the card and the DNA test can be used to determine if that dog carries that genetic disease or not.
Now OFA stores blood samples also for DNA repositories and a lot of people at their nationals have had the opportunity to have blood drawn either at a reduced cost or no cost to them and have it stored at the OFA bank in Missouri. So that’s another place that you can have stored genetic material. But you can start thinking about those things and it’s a great way to not have to thaw that little tiny valuable bit of semen that you have to know what the genetics of that dog truly will be. And every year the DNA tests are getting better and better and soon there will be an entire panel of tests. In fact there are some companies that are starting to put those together now so you can get 40 DNA tests for a reduced cost instead of having to spend 50 or 100 dollars per DNA test. We’re going to see some panels of those tests so there’s going to be a lot of value in this.
LR: Absolutely. And what you were saying about having the blood on the cards I mean I know in a lot of us have the DNA repository that even that small sample I think that’s incredible to me ….
MG: Yeah I was fortunate enough that in my younger days I worked in a hospital, a human hospital, and I knew that these cards existed. So we started investigating it and we were able to after a meeting that I came back from all of the cards and start drawing blood.
And so I have some people that have stored their female’s blood as well, not because we can use their genetic material, but because it’s nice for us to know what’s in that line. As more DNA tests become available and they’re coming to market just hard and fast, it’s pretty amazing how fast. Now that the canine genome has been unearthed how fast some of these single entity tests are coming to market. Now things like hip dysplasia of course are going to take longer because that’s a multiple genetic inheritance. But some of the single autosomal recessive diseases that people have been battling are really coming to the market and it’s going to be a great move forward for us when we’re trying to figure out how we want to breed the dogs.
LR: Absolutely. Back to the idea of the ownership transfer, so I own X Y Z dog and I’m going to make some kind of provision is there something you draw into the will? How do we handle this?
MG: Right. And in our semen freezing contracts we have a provision made for how that semen should be transferred. You should have it in your will. You should talk to your attorney about it and a lot of attorneys are going to be unfamiliar with this kind of transaction. So you’re probably going to want to talk to somebody that has some expertise. Somebody in a legal position that they’ve either got a dog ownership and their attorneys as well. Debra Hamilton does a lot of work with trust for dogs.
So those are the kinds of people that you want to start talking to or people with some experience that even if it’s not dog experience maybe they show horses maybe they’ve shown cattle maybe they grew up on a farm maybe they have some of those things but at least they’re going to understand what you’re talking about when you talk about frozen semen and how that ownership means to be transferred to the next person. So on the bottom of our semen freezing contract we have a provision for the semen transfer to take place. But then you need to make sure that the people who have been blessed with that gift are expecting to have ongoing expenses. So you may leave money in a trust or will for them to continue to pay the storage. You may figure out if they’ve got other people that they can then transfer to. You really kind of have to look with a plan in mind of who’s going to be making the decisions how the semen gets transferred if it stays in the same facility or if it gets moved to a different location. And how you want to get the bills continue to be paid because there will be the annual fee and it’s usually under 100 dollars per dog per facility which isn’t that much initially but over the course of a number of years it can add up and we’ve seen parents that have passed away and their kids are like well you know mom’s gone now and I’m not really interested in breeding the dogs anymore. So I just saw this . And I really react with a very guttural reaction to that because it’s so disappointing to me to see that opportunity lost to use that dog again.
And we’ve had some opportunities to talk to people and say well you know you think there’s somebody else that might want it? And the kids will be like Oh yeah yeah maybe we should do something different but it shouldn’t have to be your kid’s decision to make that. It should be an opportunity now for you to start thinking through where that semen goes how you want it handled. Who’s going to make the decisions. And it is a big deal. I mean I respect a great deal. I’ve been breeding dogs for 30 plus years and I have a healthy respect for how hard I’ve worked and how hard my friends have worked to develop those kinds of dogs. But like I said I’m really thinking a lot about what the future of my breed needs to look like so I’m willing to take some steps that maybe other people are going to have a harder time swallowing because they just don’t feel like they want to share that material. So think hard about it and really get your paperwork in order so that your attorney knows, your semen bank knows. The first time that a bill goes from your semen bank to your address where you used to be and you’re not there anymore. They don’t just say well if you have an unpaid bill and 60 days we’re automatically going to destroy your semen. Have a good conversation with the semen bank so they can make arrangements for something else to happen to it whether it’s transferred to another owner, transferred to another bank, you’ve got money in an account. However you need to make that work. Think it through so you have a plan in place and your family and your friends know that. So it doesn’t have to be a year later when your will is now still being handled by your attorney. But they don’t open that clause and say Oh gosh we destroyed the semen last week.
So plan ahead and make sure that plenty of people are aware of your wishes.
LR: And you know , I’m just sitting here thinking about this while we’re talking, weaving in the Otterhounds’ reproduction bank that they’ve done, thinking I can see the wave of the future being that every parent club has its own reproductive bank that the frozen semen can be willed to if you don’t have someone specifically to give it to.
MG: I’m very hopeful that the AKC model that they are now developing is going to work. I’ve talked to my parent club my corgi club Pembroke’s and they’re very excited about it but we’re kind of waiting to see what happens with the Otterhounds and see how that all works. But I think there’s a great deal of potential and you’ve got to put together a board of people that can be trusted to make good breeding decisions and that they’re not doing them for their own personal gain but rather for the gain of the breed. So I think every breed club has a handful of people in it that can be trusted. Probably not everyone and every breed is equally trustworthy. But there are certainly enough people that are upstanding members of most breed clubs and dog people are good people in general they’re pretty good people. But every now and then you come across one that may be self-serving. You just need to make sure that you’ve filtered those people and you’ve got a good group of people that are in a position to be the custodians of that.
LR: Right. Right. Absolutely. OK. And so on the very sort of brass tacks sort of thing on this when you have your dog’s semen collected in frozen you should verify that, like your clinic, and I know most of the ones that I’ve worked with as well, they include that sort of ownership transfer provision.
MG: Right. The other thing that a lot of people don’t talk about with semen and unfortunately it doesn’t have as much to do with ownership as it does to do with damages. But if semen is destroyed generally people don’t have insurance on that. The semen bank that we have when you sign the contract says you’re self-insuring the semen. So if there’s an unfortunate event and the semen is lost or destroyed that you don’t have any compensation any financial compensation. But there are a couple of small insurance companies that will cover semen whether it’s dog or a horse or bull or whatever you can get. Semen storage insurance. So that’s something else to investigate if you’re looking at large volumes of highly valuable semen. I have a few clients that have purchased old semen from their mentors and they may have you know 10 to 20 dogs frozen and so they may have a good deal of financial investment in that. And so insurance is available through a small number of companies but don’t count on it being insured at the place that you’re storing it. Most of the time it’s not and you have to be aware of security and so forth. Synbiotics has moved their banks. It was originally ICG in Pennsylvania. Then it was moved to San Diego then it was moved to Kansas City under the umbrella of Zoetis, which used to be Pfizer. And they have huge storage tanks there with all kinds of security systems and so forth. But many of the places that have smaller semen banks, you need to think about what kind of security they have at their facility and whether you have insurance and whether you’ve adequately duplicated the storage so that you have a backup plan.
LR: Right. Those are really good suggestions and definitely things people don’t think about. Now the other one is sort of a hot topic. Maybe we could go over it in general terms. And this is again back to the brass tacks when we have frozen semen. It’s obviously limited. It’s maybe the dog is gone it’s passed away. Talk to us about what you know and your input on pricing. How do we. Someone comes to us and says hey I want to buy the last vial of Fluffy’s semen. And what do you do with that. I mean this is legitimately a question I have.
MG: Yeah and that’s a really difficult question to answer. Over the course of the time that you’ve stored the semen you’ve probably spent around 75 to 100 dollars a year to store a bundle of semen up to 25 units. You have your stud fee. You have the cost to collect the dog and you know have the semen processed and so forth. So there’s a number of different fees that will have to be taken into account. And then you also have to look at the value of a rare dog or highly valuable dog. Now most people don’t allow for a second breeding.
If something happens and the bitch doesn’t get pregnant, no matter whose fault it is, the semen is gone. So you usually don’t end up with an alternative. Occasionally somebody will offer a second vial of semen or perhaps breeding to another one of their dogs. But the pricing is really variable and I’ve seen semen as much as five and six thousand dollars for a unit of semen be shipped into us and the client is standing there, kind of knees trembling, as we’re doing the breeding whether it’s surgical or trans cervical and the like. Well you know I brought this in from outside the country and it was a thousand dollars to ship it and it was six thousand dollars for the stud fee. I’ve got a lot of money tied up in this. And they truly do. So pricing is highly variable. It depends a lot on what the dog stud fee is and of course how important the dog is genetically to your line of dogs. And if he was a top winning champion dog and one that’s no longer available they are going to be paying a higher stud fee. And oftentimes the owner of the dog and the owner of the semen won’t release that semen even though they still have some left behind. And I know that’s disappointing to people that are outside that immediate group of people that really want to have access to it. But you also have to respect that these people have put their heart and soul into getting this dog to the level that he is and they own the semen and it’s theirs. So sometimes you can’t pry their hands loose.
And I understand that but I also have people that are in an age group now that they’re starting to get smart enough to say you know what. I’ve got 20 units on this dog. I’m not going to live long enough to breed him 20 times. So I’m willing to start sharing it now. So there’s a lot of different ways that it gets handled in that it gets looked at. If there’s a dog that you really like, be really nice to the people with the understanding that they consider it to be highly valuable. You may be surprised that they may say no no no no no and all of a sudden one day say you know what. I’m good. Let’s share the semen. So don’t be difficult. And don’t be too persistent but just tell him keep me in mind if you ever change your mind and sometimes you’ll be surprised with someone that does call up and say OK I’m done breeding dogs. It’s yours. And that’s exciting to people that get to buy the final vials. The final breeding on a dog that has some semen stored that’s valuable.
LR: Yeah absolutely. I went through this a couple of years ago when my mom passed away. All right well thank you so very much I appreciate your time Marty. We look forward to our next veterinary voice episode and I really think our listeners are going to appreciate the valuable information that you bring for us. So thank you. Thank you.
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