February 11, 2009

Pet Owners Use Frozen Sperm With Remarkable Success

Pet owners with a desire for nostalgia are resorting to the use of frozen sperm to keep certain attributes of their pets alive.

Artificial insemination using frozen sperm began in the 1960s when Carrol C. Platz Jr. and colleagues at the University of Oregon created a litter of mixed-breed puppies.

Research into the method continued throughout the 1970s, and in the early 1980s, and the American Kennel Club formally endorsed its use.

In 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, frozen semen was used to conceive 760 litters of A.K.C.-approved puppies, David Roberts, assistant vice president for registration services at the kennel club, told The New York Times.

Platz is the director of the International Canine Semen Bank in Sandy, Ore.

Tim Brazier used Platz' services to bring attributes of his former champion black poodle, Snapper, back to life. Snapper died in 1990, and 13 years later International Canine Semen Bank used his frozen sperm to give birth to Yes, Brazier's newest black standard poodle.

Brazier says he sees Snapper's characteristics in Yes' movements.

"The little personal quirks, too, like cocking her head to the side, like he always did," Brazier said.

The use of frozen semen continues to become more widely used among pet owners like Brazier who want to keep those quirks and characteristics alive.

"Nobody ever dreamed that this would take "” nobody," said Dennis McCoy, one of Yes's breeders.

According to the Times, the idea to create a puppy from Snapper's semen originated as McCoy and Randy Garren, both longtime professional dog handlers, contemplated retirement.

Many of McCoy's and Garren's top poodles, including a best-in-show winner at Westminster in 1991, have been white.

"I always said, I would love to retire with one black bitch as our house pet," McCoy told the Times. "And Randy said: "ËœWe always liked those Snapper puppies. Do you think Tim has any of that semen?' "

Brazier gave permission to use Snapper's semen, which was then used to impregnate Tracy, Yes' mother. The semen had a 4 percent motility rate, forcing Dr. Katherine Settle to implant the semen surgically in Tracy's uterus, which altogether cost about $10,000.

On Jan. 31, 2003, Tracy gave birth to a single black poodle. For the first time since his death, Snapper was a sire.

"We'd watch her out the window, and she just got better and better and better," McCoy told the Times. "At eight weeks, she would just stand out there and pose. I'm laughing and I'm saying: "ËœI can't believe this. I can't believe this is turning out this good.' Who knew?"

The technique is often used to breed dogs who live far away from each other, but it is also used by owners who want to inject variety into litters.

"Probably within the last 5 to 10 years, the technology has improved," said Debbie Leach, an owner of Straws to Paws, a canine semen bank in Washington, N.J. "It's really quite commonplace."

Leach and veterinarian Mary Stankovics recently used 20-year-old semen that had been stored in the Netherlands to produce a litter of Irish wolfhounds that surprised their owners because they had such a classic look unlike the modern breed.

"One of the reasons people like to use frozen semen is to be able to dip back into a gene pool for a more classic look or before a particular health problem came into the breed," Leach said.

But some have voiced concerns over the use of frozen semen to revive older genetic lines.

"Ideally the purpose of our sport is to move forward to the next generation," said David Frei, the director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club.

Frei was among the first Afghan hound owners to breed a dog using frozen semen in 1984.


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