Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dog DNA Tests Wisdom Panel VS Embark

This is Quintana Roo
Roo definitely looks like a chocolate Labrador. But having had purebred Labs before, it's fairly obvious (to me and Jeff anyway) that he's not a pure Lab. We were very curious what other breeds he might be. Friends also had lots of guesses. Most common guesses were Chesapeake Bay Retriever, German Shorthaired Pointer, Australian Shepherd, Vizsla, Blue Lacy, Dalmatian, pit bull (aka Staffordshire Terrier), Weimaraner, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and coonhound.

Dog DNA tests have become pretty popular and of course we wanted to know what breed(s) Roo might be in addition to the fairly obvious Labrador. I told Jeff when we tested him, if it came back without any Labrador, I would be sure the test wasn't accurate. I did some research, looked at many brands of Dog DNA tests...Wisdom Panel, Embark, DNA My Dog, DogDNA, etc. I chose Wisdom Panel based on the price and the good reviews (knowing that I might do a second test as a "confirmation" later).

I ordered the Wisdom Panel test for Roo in March and got it in the mail just a few days later. Wisdom Panel tests cost about $60-80. Swabbing Roo's cheek was very easy, and the instructions were simple to follow. I mailed the kit off the next day. I got an email saying they had received the sample and then about 2 weeks later got another email saying my results were ready! I excitedly clicked on the link saw Roo's pie chart. 37.5% Labrador, 25% Chow, 12.5% German Shepherd, and 25% mixed.
Roo's Wisdom Panel breed chart
I had learned enough about the tests to know that all dog DNA tests only go back 3 generations and if a dog's great grandparents are highly mixed (mutts) the results will likely come back as "mixed".
Roo's Wisdom Panel ancestry chart
So I wasn't surprised by the Labrador or the mixed results. I was a bit surprised the Labrador percentage wasn't higher. I wasn't really surprised by the Germain Shepherd, and neither were most other people, they'd look at him and go "yeah, I can see that" even though he really looks nothing like a German Shepherd. He does act more dignified and thoughtful than most Labs, and he's got a big German Shepherd-y bark.

But the 25% Chow stumped everyone! They're fluffy, Roo has short hair, they have pointy ears, Roo has floppy Lab ears, they're stand-offish and wary of people (stereotypes anyone?), Roo thinks everyone is his best friend. But at the same time, Roo holds his tail over his back like a Chow, he has a shorter muzzle than a Lab, he's more dignified and patient, he's lighter in color and has "highlights". I even called and talked with a representative from Wisdom Panel. She was very nice and talked with me for a long time. She confirmed my suspicion that many Labrador traits are dominant, which might be why so many "mutts" look like Labs (Roo included). I was pretty convinced the test was accurate, but quite a few people said they didn't think Roo could be part Chow.

I really liked the format of the Wisdom Panel results. They give you quite a bit of information about each breed, you can set up a profile with information about your dog, and you can look at other Wisdom Panel dogs in "The Dog Park" and see what breeds they are. The site is fun to explore. Wisdom Panel tests for Multidrug Sensitivity, but no other genetic health issues. Overall I was really happy with the test.

I figured eventually I'd do an Embark test and see how it matched up (or didn't) with the Wisdom Panel test. Embark is more expensive at $199 (but here is a link for $30 off). So it's significantly more expensive than Wisdom Panel, but Embark also tests for 164 genetic diseases. When we got Wichita, we definitely wanted to do a genetic test since so many "pit bulls" aren't really pit bulls (aka Stafforshire Terriers, or American Pit Bull Terriers) at all.

This is Wichita. Photo credit: Dogs of ATX, Stephanie Conrad
The process was exactly the same and just as easy, order kits, swab dog cheeks, mail the kits back, get email confirmation and then wait. Embark takes longer to get results, they say 6-8 weeks. In our case right at 5 weeks. I got Wichita's results back 2 days before Roo's, I assume because Wichita's breed info ended up being very simple- 100% Staffordshire Terrier (aka pit bull). I wasn't necessarily surprised by the result- Wichita definitely looks like a pit bull, but I generally assume most "pit bulls" are mixes- not in our case!
Wichita's Embark breed make up
When I got Roo's results, I just thought..."well, that's interesting". Embark found 7 different breeds in Roo and none of them, aside from Labrador, were breeds that anyone had guessed. They did however, get Labrador at 30%, Chow at 13.9%, and German Shepherd at 6%, which are the same breeds (although lower percentages of each) as Wisdom Panel. In addition, they found Great Pyrenees at 8.6%, Brittany Spaniel at 7.7%, Rottweiler at 6.7%, and Doberman Pinscher at 4.6%. They also got mixed, what they call "Supermutt"at 22.5%. What a crazy mixed up mix!
Supermutt as defined by Embark
As I said before, Roo clearly favors his Labrador genes. He may have a few very slight Chow traits, and in Jeff's words "A Great Pyrenees is just a big, fluffy, white Lab" I'm not sure that's true genetically, but it's certainly true for looks. The other breeds are all such small percentages that I doubt you'd really "see" them very much in Roo.
Roo's Embark breed make up
Embark gives you the ancestry tree and breed info very similar to Wisdom Panel. But they also give you info on maternal and paternal lines. They include "advanced" information on things like coat color & length, shedding, and size. And the health info includes testing for 164 different genetic diseases. Roo came up clear for 163 diseases and as a carrier for Exercise-Induced Collapse (fairly common in Labradors). That means Roo will not get EIC, but he could pass it on to offspring (if he weren't neutered). All of the 164 genetic diseases are described, I had never heard of many of them. They even give you the breed mix by chromosome.
Roo's breed mix by chromosome
Honestly, Embark gives you so much information that if I weren't a little nerdy, it might be overwhelming! But to me, it's fascinating!

Embark has a great website, and for the amount of information they give, I think they do a great job of making it easy and user friendly. They let you set up a profile for your dog and see other Embark dogs, similar to Wisdom Panel's "Dog Park". They even give you a shareable link to Roo's info. and Wichita's link. Embark also has a blog that is a pretty good read. They even give you a specific report to sent to your veterinarian so he/she will know if your dog tested positive for any genetic diseases.

So why the differences between Embark and Wisdom Panel? Wisdom Panel says they use "1800+" genetic markers to compare each dog's DNA, whereas Embark says they have a database of 200,000 genetic markers. So it makes sense that you'd get more detail from Embark than Wisdom Panel. I don't think the differences mean either one is "wrong". I think the fact that they both included Labrador, Chow, and German shepherd means that they are both accurate, it's just that Embark has more markers and gets more detailed. I also think that Roo ended up being a bit of a tough case for genetic testing since all the tests really only go back 3 generations and most of Roo's ancestors, aside from a pure lab, are straight up Supermutts! I never would have guessed that Roo is quite as mixed as he is!
My Supermutt and my purebred Staffy
So which test did I like better? Hands down, Embark gives you more information, including genetic disease info and in my opinion, more detailed breed results. Embark will also update you with more info as their technology improves- that's pretty cool! I think Embark is definitely worth the higher price tag. For me personally, I think I'm glad I did both tests. I'm not sure I would have believed Roo's Embark results had I not already seen Chow and German Shepherd in his Wisdom Panel results. 

If you read this far, you certainly deserve a coupon! Here's the link for $30 off an Embark test.. It's a refer a friend program, so it should work for everyone. And here's a Wisdom Panel code for $15 off FF6097934HE, it says it's a "one time code" so I'm assuming it'll work for the first person who tries it but no one else.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Quintana Roo's 2nd Rescue Run Race Report

Hi, Roo here! I know everyone wants to know how my new brother Wichita is doing, so before the race report...a Wichita report :) He doesn't cough anymore and he has lots of energy to play with me now. My parents are teaching him to do easy stuff like sit, down, & shake paws. I like to show him how to do it, so we both get lots of treats. He does sometimes chew the ears off my toys, that's the only thing I don't like, otherwise having a brother is fun!
This is my brother Wichita
Now for my race report. Last year the Rescue Run was my very first race. Now I know all about running races. I still run with my mom really early most mornings, so we actually got to sleep in before this race. We got to the race site and parked in a big open field, the field was full of awesome smells! We walked over to the tents and race area and lots of people petted me and said hi. There were lots of other dogs too! I tried really hard to be good and I only barked at a couple of dogs who looked like so much fun!!
haha! I thought this was a real dog for a minute!
Me & my mom before the race.
I even got to meet some firefighters and have my picture taken by their truck
Finally it was time for the race! We got out on the street and lined up. I was so excited!! Then we ran!!! Yay! I ran fast because there were people and dogs in front of me and I wanted to be FIRST! We passed all but one of the dogs and then a guy said to my mom,  "hey that's cheating!" My mom laughed and said, "I know, right!! He makes me run 2 minutes per mile faster than I really can!" Then they laughed, so I ran even faster!

Then my mom made me slow down. She said, "Roo, I can't run that fast and you can't run that fast for 3 miles!" We were almost at mile 1 and then nature called...sigh. My mom always tells me to go BEFORE a race, but somehow, I never can and I end up having to take a natural break during every race. But we still ran our first mile in 9:30, which my mom said is awesome!

At the aid station at mile 1.5, I stopped and got a big drink of water and a very pretty yellow lab in a blue tutu came up behind me. I liked her a lot and tried to run with her after the aid station. I slowed down a little for miles 2 & 3. Don't tell my mom, but I think she was right. I really can't run super fast for 3 whole miles...maybe someday. But when we turned the corner and only had less than 1/2 a mile left to go, my mom said "ok Roo, you can go fast now!" so I went really FAST again to the finish line!

I had so much fun! And I raced really hard this time. I had to drink a lot of water after we finished. We finished 58 seconds faster than last year. So my mom and I are both super happy with our second Rescue Run.
After the race
I hope I get to do more races soon, and I hope I can get to the computer to write race reports too.

Peace, Love & Puppy Paws,

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Wichita Chronicles

On August 18th a gray-brown stray dog was brought to the Missouri City Animal Shelter by animal control. On August 22nd, that dog came off of stray hold and needed a name to help him get adopted. Valerie, the volunteer manager, had just gotten back from watching the total solar eclipse in Wichita, Kansas, so she named him Wichita. On Friday, August 26th, Hurricane Harvey hit, and shortly after, it began raining and flooding in Houston (Missouri City is a southern suburb of Houston and was particularly hard hit with the flooding, but luckily the Missouri City Animal Shelter did not flood). The Missouri City Animal Shelter, along with most shelters in the Houston area, needed to clear out its adoptable dogs to make space for owned dogs, whose owners needed to evacuate but couldn’t take their animals with them. Austin Pets Alive! (APA) stepped in and took hundreds of dogs and cats from Houston shelters (including Missouri City) to a temporary shelter (actually an old furniture store) on Burnet Road. Wichita was one of those dogs. He arrived at APA on September 1st

I met Wichita on Friday September 1st, the first day I went to the APA temp shelter. He seemed really sweet and was wearing a red paper collar that said “Wichita Missouri City” At first I thought that meant he had an owner and would be claimed soon.
The Missouri City shelter put red collars like this on all their dogs before they left
I continued walking Wichita and tons of other dogs the next week. I took a toy out one day while walking Wichita and he had no idea what to do with it. Even when I squeaked it or threw it, he watched it fall on the ground and then looked up at me. I took treats most days, and I was able to teach Wichita to sit in just one day. Wichita had a couple of scrapes on his nose, which I found out were from trying to escape from his crate, they had to put a clip on the crate door to keep him from escaping.
Walking Wichita at the Burnet Rd APA temp shelter
On Thursday, APA announced that volunteers would have first choice to adopt any of the dogs at the temp shelter who had been confirmed to not have owners. Wichita was available for adoption. Jeff came over to APA to meet him and on Friday I brought him home to meet Roo. They seemed to like each other, but Wichita played a little rougher with Roo than I think is ideal.

Bringing a second dog into our household is a HUGE deal. As I told Serena, “we want to make sure we don’t make a mistake and ruin our perfect little life…but we have the potential to make our perfect little life a little bigger”. Jeff has said all along that he sees us having 2 dogs, and that I should “find another Roo”. If you know Roo, you know that’s a very tall order. I thought Wichita might be the right dog, but we were extremely hesitant to spend just one day with him and then commit forever. We ended up taking him back to APA for the Saturday public adoption event, hoping he would find the perfect home. But then we spent the entire day thinking about him…we finally decided that if he was still there at the end of the one day adoption event, it was meant to be and he would be our dog. Of course, when I went back, he was still there, and man, was he happy to see me!
New Tags!
We knew Wichita had been through a lot in a short amount of time. By then I had been talking with the people from the Missouri City Animal Shelter, so I knew he had had 3 very different homes in 3 weeks. We knew he was highly stressed and would need some time to recuperate and get used to us. A few friends had told us their newly adopted shelter dogs just wanted to sleep for the first week or so, then their personalities started to come out. So we weren’t worried when Wichita just wanted to sleep all the time.
"I'm just going to lean on this guy while I sleep"
We weren’t really worried that he seemed picky about food either. We figured he’d eat when he started to get used to us and our house. But after a week, he was sleeping even more, eating even less, coughing some, and just looked pitiful. I had made a vet appointment for Thursday when my vet would be back in town. But Monday, I called and moved the appointment up to Tuesday with one of the other doctors at the clinic.
"She makes a good pillow"
I weighed Wichita at the vet’s and saw that he had lost 4 pounds since we had adopted him, I knew he had lost weight, but I didn’t realize it was that much! He also had a fever of 104.9 (normal for dogs is 101-102). They did blood work and chest x-rays and determined that he had severe pneumonia in both lungs. They gave him IV fluids and antibiotics for a few hours, then sent us home with 2 types of antibiotics and instructions for coupage (aka beating on his chest and sides to help him cough the crud out of his lungs). They were very concerned that if he didn’t improve soon, he would need to go to an emergency clinic for more fluids, and tests for fungal pneumonia. The antibiotics would help cure bacterial pneumonia, but they wouldn’t help if it was fungal or viral. It was a very scary and sad day.
Pitiful Wichita
That night Wichita ate some chicken and oatmeal, more than he had eaten in a few days. But the next morning he wouldn’t eat again. Jeff went home at lunchtime and I got a text saying “he’s an Arby’s dog” he ate an Arby’s roast beef sandwich in about 2 seconds!
"I guess I'll eat some cheeseburger"
At dinner, I tried everything- kibble-no, chicken-no, canned salmon-no, hot dog-no, peanut butter-nope….so I got him a Sonic cheeseburger, he ate about half of it. On Thursday it was more of the same. I made bone broth and Wichita seemed to like that. I think we hand fed him every bite he ate. I took his temperature on Thursday night, it was 102.0, down 2.9 degrees from Tuesday…improvement, but it still felt like a huge uphill battle.

On Friday after work, I went over to Lofty Dog and asked Zoe and Erin to help me find anything that he might eat. They loaded me up with a variety of samples to try and some treats most dogs really love. Wichita was no exception, he loved the bacon treats and the Primal freeze dried food. He ate the most I’d ever seen him eat at once!
"These Gibson's bacon treats are yummy! Thanks Zoe & Erin!"
On Saturday night, for the first time ever, I set a bowl of food in front of Wichita and he ate it all and licked the bowl clean! On Sunday Wichita had more energy, he chased a squirrel in the yard and actually picked up a toy for the first time!
"This kitty is so ugly! But I like it!!"
Last week was sad, stressful, and exhausting for all of us. But this week is starting off much better. We still have a long road to full recovery. 3-5 more weeks of antibiotics and coupage and then follow up x-rays to be sure the pneumonia is gone. But Wichita is clearly feeling better. He enjoyed going for a walk last night and again this morning. He seems alert and happy now. And he loves to cuddle.
"I feel so much better!"

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I have the BEST friends!

I'm not sure if I'm just lucky or if I have done a fantastic job of choosing my friends. But you are all absolutely amazing!

I'm sure you all know that I work for the Marine Science Institute (MSI) in Port Aransas, Texas. But I am stationed in Austin at the main UT campus. I'm sure you also know that cat 4 Hurricane Harvey hit MSI directly and there was extensive damage.

On Friday afternoon when I realized this might be a whole lot more serious than a little tropical storm, I asked on facebook if anyone had a spare room to loan out to poor graduate student hurricane evacuees from MSI. I've gotten 18 offers of rooms and I've been able to pretty quickly accommodate everyone who has responded to my email asking if anyone needed a place to stay. Even those with cats or a chinchilla, those without a car, etc.

A few of the comments from friends (either to me or to the evacuee staying with them):

"don't take a cab to my house! I'd be happy to [drive from North Austin in horrible rush hour traffic] pick you up at the airport"

"of course we'll babysit your chinchilla while you go down to Port A to survey the damages to your home"

"a friend from Houston just claimed our spare bedroom, but we'll go over and clean up the house we're in the process of moving out of and let people stay there"

"I can take allergy meds, so I'm happy to welcome them and their cats, it's no big deal"

"we already set our Airbnb to $0 for evacuees, but if one of your people needs it, just let me know"

[Their kids just started school, they have an older dog, and her father just passed away, but] "we're happy to offer our spare room"

And quite a few "are you still looking for rooms for hurricane evacuees from the Marine Science Institute?", "I don't have a spare room, but I can loan out air mattresses".

Reading the reports of damage from our director at MSI has made my heart sink, but seeing the generosity of my friends makes my heart soar. It's been an emotional few days and it probably won't be over soon. From the bottom of my heart, I just wanted to say Thank You.

*just as a note- as of right now, I have more rooms offered than I have MSI people needing them. If that changes, I'll definitely post and ask if anyone else has space.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Copper was our second foster dog through Austin Dog Alliance. I didn't write a blog about Copper while we had him, but I thought I would now. Austin Dog Alliance adopted him from a shelter in Buchanan Dam TX because his personality shows promise for becoming a service dog.

When they adopt a dog, he/she always goes to a foster home for 2 weeks just to de-stress and get healthy if needed. In Copper's case, he was stressed from being in the shelter and he was severely underweight. He also needed to get neutered before he could move up to ADA and begin his service dog training.
He came to our house and it was pretty apparent that he had never lived in a house before, he wasn't house trained and didn't even seem to understand that when I hold a treat in my hand, I want to give it to him. But he adored Jeff and I from the start, followed us around the house, always hung out right by us. We had to put his crate in our bedroom so he would sleep at night.

Copper is very sweet and has a great personality, he loves to play fetch, loves to play with Roo, and loves to play in water.
He clearly had never been taught anything, before coming to our house, but he's smart. I was able to teach him to sit, and we got him house trained in the 2 weeks he was with us. He's working on polite leash walking and chilling out around other dogs at ADA now.
He gained almost 6 pounds in the 2 weeks he was at our house, he got neutered, and he seemed to gain energy and feel healthier in the time he was with us. It was pretty cool to see the difference in just 2 weeks.

Copper moved up to Austin Dog Alliance on July 31st and since we were there for my party on August 5th, we got to see him. He looks great and his trainers agree that he's very smart and a fast learner.
Good Luck with service dog training Copper!

40th Birthday Thank You

My 40th Birthday was a huge success! Both the fundraiser and the celebration. To blatantly steal the words of Laurie Allen “'Thank you' seems inadequate to convey my gratitude"  to everyone who donated. I appreciate it so much, but I guess "thank you" is all I can say. So THANK YOU!!

At this point I have raised $4245 for Austin Dog Alliance. This has absolutely been meaningful and rewarding, exactly what I wanted for my 40th birthday. And the money will definitely make a difference for Austin Dog Alliance.

The Executive Director of Austin Dog Alliance told me she's honored to have me supporting ADA. And she said my fundraising is "impressive". I told her, it has very little to do with me, it's that I have amazing and generous friends and family. That's the absolute truth. All of your love and generosity made my 40th birthday my best ever. And it will make a huge impact for Austin Dog Alliance.

If you meant to donate, but haven't done it yet, you can definitely still donate here. 

One more time: THANK YOU!! 

Friday, July 7, 2017

40th Birthday!!

Donate here

In 29 days, I will turn 40! It's a big milestone that makes me reflect on my life. Although some of my friends who are 50, 60, 70, and almost 80(!) may not agree that 40 is any big deal, it feels like a big deal to me right now.

I have had a pretty great first 39.9 years. I have a great family, an awesome husband, lots of super cool friends, the best dog in the world (and 2 of the best dogs in the world before him), a good education and job, and I get to live in Austin, Texas. I've finished 3 Ironmans, won a public speaking contest, won a "best teaching" award, and I hope I've positively influenced the lives of some young adults and maybe even a few friends. Though I sometimes I feel like I haven't accomplished enough and I'm not successful enough at almost 40, I'm really not doing too bad.

But I want to do more. I want to feel like I'm making a difference. When I was young (really until I started college) I wanted to be a veterinarian. I wanted to work with dogs and other animals every day and help them. For many reasons, I've put off this dream for a long time, probably too long. But luckily I have other options to realize this dream in a different way. At this turning point in my life, I want to do more work with dogs and do more to help both dogs and people. I want to have more meaning and purpose in my life.

This brings us to Austin Dog Alliance. Austin Dog Alliance does so much great work and I feel really lucky to have found them and to get to be a part of that amazing work! I'm also really grateful to have found the amazingly awesome Quintana Roo (thanks Kristen M. and Melissa D.!!) --without him, I might not have gotten involved with Austin Dog Alliance. Roo and I love Bow Wow Reading. We go to the library where kids read books to Roo. It's fun for us and for the kids and I can see the kids' reading improve over the weeks. It's an awesome feeling to make a difference in someone's life!

To celebrate my journey toward having more meaning in my life, I want to have a special birthday. So I decided to plan a Birthday Fundraiser to benefit Austin Dog Alliance! You can donate here, and the first 40 people to donate over $40 get the first invitations to my party. I hope to be able to invite more people, but that will depend on the place.

At first I wanted to say "everyone who donates anything is invited" but then Jeff and a couple of friends brought me back to Earth. "Heather, you could end up with hundreds of people invited. You don't have that much space and you can't afford to feed them all!" Unfortunately, they're totally right. So we went with the obvious theme of "40"

I really hope everyone will donate whether it's $100, $40, or $5 because Austin Dog Alliance is an awesome organization and I really want to be able to give them $4000 for my 40th birthday!!

You can learn more about Austin Dog Alliance at their website, or you can get a very brief overview on my Fundraiser site.