In the Name of Science

Recently we found ourselves as participants in the Dog Genome Project. I had read somewhere about how scientists had sequenced the entire canine genome (a boxer’s DNA if I remember correctly). The project was important enough that it had a name, a website and was affiliated with the National Institutes of Health. They had expanded their focus to a herd of breeds through which they were studying various canine traits and illnesses. I paid a visit to the website and found there a list of breeds for which they were asking the dog owning public to contribute data. Scanning the list, I found that they were in need of greyhounds. In fact, greyhounds had an asterisk beside their name. This denoted that they were a breed singled out for special studies in which the dog owning public could take part. Checking further, I found that cancer was one of the canine issues they were working on. I immediately sent off an email to the project’s contact to see if we could help. Cancer has reared its ugly, nasty, life-ending head in our house and since that moment, we’ve taken every opportunity we could find to help find a cure.

After a short while I received a reply from someone at the Dog Genome Project. They were indeed in need of greyhounds to take part. I had visions of scientific greatness when Blue and Bettina became responsible for identifying the gene in greyhounds, oh heck, in all dogs, that controls whether or not cancer develops. The woman who emailed me said she would be snail-mailing me information and the necessary items we would need to take part.

In a week, important looking envelopes arrived from the National Institute of Health. I opened the first two and found mysterious tubes. Inside were two vials for each dog, wrapped in tissue. The vials contained preservative and directions on finding a canine phlebotomist to draw the blood samples. Of course. Blood samples. Nothing good in science can happen without blood samples. I eagerly opened the last two envelopes. What other hard science apparatus had they sent us so we could cure cancer? It was….measuring tapes. Huh?

The accompanying paperwork asked for a list of about 20 measurements they wanted taken of the hounds. Stuff like, length of ear from head to tip and circumference of hind leg between hock and foot. Okay, why not. It’s in the name of science. I started with Blue. Since I’ve managed to turn him into a large lumpy couch potato, the hardest part of measuring him was getting him to stand up long enough so I could measure his chest and waist. Luckily the rest of the measurements could be made on a supine hound. It took about 15 minutes to complete.

Getting Bettina’s measurements took the next three days. She has not yet bought into our sedentary, lay about lifestyle. At any given attempt to measure her, I could get her to stay still long enough to get one measurement on the list. Some took several tries. If I was lucky, I might knock off two in a session, but only if they were easy ones. All the while I had to frequently wrestle her down and extract the measuring tape from her jaws. She thought that this was a fine game and she seemed a bit let down when the list of her measurements was finally complete.

Next we made a visit to our favorite vet, Dr. Edelbaum. She gladly drew the requested blood after reading the information on the Dog Genome Project. She and her staff printed out wonderful labels containing all the dog’s vital stats. My plan had been to write their names on each vial with a Sharpie. We were given an extra label for the outside of the mailing tubes. She even declined to charge us since we were bleeding in the interest of curing cancer.

We took the two tubes filled with blood vials. I packed in their measurement sheets; packing taped them to within an inch of their lives and made straight for the post office from the vet’s parking lot. The blood would be good in the vials for a week, due to the preservatives, however, I didn’t want to take any chances and I wanted to hurry up and cure cancer in greyhounds. At the post office, the counter person asked if there was anything hazardous, perishable, liquid, flammable or otherwise dangerous in the tubes. I proudly announced that they contained dog blood which would cure cancer. Maybe even cure cancer in humans since dog and human cancer is so similar. Our adventures in science almost came to a screeching halt then and there in the post office lobby. Apparently the counter person had never encountered anyone attempting to mail dog blood. She wasn’t sure if that was considered hazardous or otherwise dangerous. She consulted a poster on the wall. Not finding the answer there, she pulled out a giant laminated document, folded accordion style. She unfolded it until it reached the floor. We were almost a week there in the lobby while she went down every one of the 3000 or so items listed which were either unmailable or which needed special handling.

While searching her list, she mentioned that someone regularly mailed goat urine and that, surprisingly, is not on the list. After she checked her list for a second time, she determined I was free to mail out dog blood if I so desired. So, with postage duly paid, our blood and measurements went on their way to the samples manager in Bethesda, Maryland.

They have arrived by now and we anxiously check the website every few days, waiting to see the announcement that canine cancer has been cured thanks to our special donation.

(If you want to help, or are just curious, check out The Dog Genome Project’s website by clicking on the title of this post.)


  1. What a wonderful thing you did! Too many folks turn inward when cancer strikes their hounds ... it is a special person who turns outward to seek a way to help find a cure. That's what we did when we took over Greyhounds Rock (we work to raise money and awareness for Ohio State and Dr. Couto's cancer research.) We're always thinking ... what can I do to make this bigger and better ... to help more people and their hounds ... and make my life more hectic. :) If this group still needs greyhound participants, I have two sacked out on their beds here in the Family Room that would probably love to help. (We would love to put a photo of your cancer 'hound on the Greyhounds Rock web site memorial page ... this puts a real face on the problem. It saddens me that I know so many of the 'hounds that are there.)

  2. What a cool thing you did! I had to giggle about the part when you went to the post office. In our little town, that would probably make the postmaster's week! lol


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