Wednesday, October 29, 2008

News of Zack's Cause of Death

Today I got word that Zack died from Systemic Histiocytosis. This is not as aggressive as Malignant Histiocytosis but it is still sad news. I have thought a lot about what his cause of death will mean to me as a breeder, and so I was somewhat prepared when I got the news.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in humans and in dogs – we simply cannot get away from it. There is no line or pedigree in berners that is free of the histiocytic diseases; if we eliminated all dogs who were close relatives of dogs who died of one of the histiocytic diseases we would stop breeding Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Information is a double-edged sword. Knowing something generates a consciousness that eliminates the “ignorance is bliss” option. But knowledge is power – it gives us the opportunity to make thoughtful decisions. I sometimes wish I could live in a blissful world, but I do not – instead I live my life constantly trying to know and understand things.

There is no doubt that berners are at increased risk for cancers and especially the histiocytic ones. These cancers are thought to be polygenetic in nature, meaning that there is not a single gene responsible for the development of the diseases. I wish I could avoid all cancer in my dogs’ pedigrees but the only way I could do that is by plugging my ears and singing, “la la la, I can’t hear you.”

And so Zack has died of a common berner cancer – just a few weeks shy of eight years. He lived an average age for a berner, which is to say he died much too young. He brought many wonderful qualities to these and other puppies. I wish he had not died of Systemic Histiocytosis but he did. I will not change what I plan to do because of his cause of death. If I tried to avoid cancer in a berner I would just need a stuffed one from Costco.

What I will do is what I always do – I will watch for patterns or clusters. A single case of this disease or any cancer – even in a parent – does not scare me like a cluster of cancer does. There is no evidence suggesting Zack is in a cancer cluster, and so we will move forward with Zack kids in our breeding program, always mindful of the need to continually collect information on all of our dogs – no matter how that information complicates our bliss.

We appreciate that Lisa Ebnet values information as we do, and that she is open with information. We express our condolences to her and Sean on the loss of a magnificent dog, and we are honored to carry on his legacy in our special puppies.

Rest in Peace Sweet Boy.


  1. Well I now know I can shed a tear for a dog I never new. Probably a result of losing my dog in April. What a beautiful Berner Zack was.

    RIP Zack and Marley


  2. What a beautiful boy. My heart aches for Lisa and Sean, having lost my own recently I have some sense of how it feels.

    And for Mary-Ann my heart goes out to you as well, as I know how much Zack is a part your line and legacy, a part of the dogs you love so much.


  3. What a gorgeous boy! No wonder the F litter is so handsome. I can't believe how perfect the markings on his face are. My Monty has lopsided white on his face, but I think it gives him character.

  4. My thoughts are with Zack's family . . . I'm so sorry for their loss of a beautiful and well-loved boy.

    ~ Liz A.
    Urbana, Illinois