Alexandra Gabrisch, age 49, is a German Shar Pei breeder. She breeds under the FCI protected kennel name "Ga Te's Dynasty Shar Pei". In addition to her family and her dogs, she is very interested in genetics and has been supporting scientific research about the Shar Pei for years.
Alexandra, how did you get hooked on dogs and where does your genetic interest come from?
The great enthusiasm for animals of any kind, was passed on by my father. During my childhood, I was always surrounded by family dogs, which increased in size with the size of our home and garden area. Our first dogs were 2 Chihuahuas, followed by Boxers, Bullmastiff and Carne Corso. I was a big fan of Molossoid breeds. Back then, we often spent our vacations camping in the wilderness.
Since the television program was very limited in the 1970s and social media did not exist, I was always looking forward to the animal documentaries of Heinz Sielmann and Prof. Bernhard Grzimek. These were father and daughter times.
Our animal stock grew. And since we could not introduce any lions and tigers from another continent, we agreed on the acquisition of budgies and nymphatics. We also held chickens, ducks and geese. My brother and I were involved in the care of the animals, feeding them and of course cleaning their inclosures. I still remember what excuses we came up with to get the more pleasant assignment from each other.
Through the hobby of my father, I learned about Mendelian inheritance and other principles of genetics in breeding birds. At the age of 13, I was allowed to take over the breed of his budgies. These were my first touch points with breeding activities.
My interest in genetics developed very early. Even today, I am very interested in this area, both, animal and human genetics. I am further interested in modern medicine, also alternative medicine and alternative healing methods. Basically, I am open for many of these things, but I also question them very critically.
In addition to my family, good friends, my dogs and my job, I am interested in the implementation of any DIY ideas in my spare time, such as felt figures, collars, concrete creations. I like creating these things, switching off and giving them to family and good friends as a spontaneous surprise - even if I sometimes run the risk of them not liking it.
My family and I live in northern Germany, near Hanover. Our children are 12 and 18 years old. They are happy to help and actually volunteer with the rearing of our puppies, but also take care of our adult dogs. From time to time they accompany me to shows and take the opportunity, whenever possible, to stand in the ring with one of our dogs themselves.
How long have you been breeding?
I have been a breeder for 12 years and run my Shar Pei kennel in Germany under the FCI protected name GaTe's Dynastie Shar Pei.
Our first litter was born at the beginning of 2011 under the oldest German "Assorted-Pedigree-Club" VRZ e.V. We have been a member of the 1st German SharPei Club e.V. since October 1st, 2011. We continued our breeding in this club from 2011 to 2017. During this time we had 3 litters.
On January 1st, 2017 we moved our kennel to the Club for Exotic Pedigree Dogs, but we also remained being a member of the 1st German Shar Pei Club. Since, we had 2 litters.
Both clubs are affiliated with the German Association for Pedigree Dogs, VDH e.V. (FCI), and look after the Shar Pei breed.
We take a lot of time to plan and select a mating. We only plan a litter if it fits 100% into our family and work life. Our dogs live with us in our house and our puppies are integrated into our everyday family life from day one. Regarding our own breeding, we are currently in the 3rd generation. Our 1st generation foundation dogs, both imports from the US, are currently 11 and 12 years old. Our 3rd generation male is 1.5 years old.
For many years I have been a member of the "Society for the Promotion of Cynological Research e.V." (gkf)
Since August 2019 I am also a member of the "European Federation of Shar Pei Clubs" (EFSPC). I like the intentions of the EFSPC and I hope that as a member I can contribute something useful
What do you like most about the Shar Pei?
Their appearance and character.
I particularly like the graceful appearance of many sporty type horse coat Shar Pei. I also prefer clearly defined heads with beautiful eyes. Since beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, I included photos to add vibrancy to my description.
And some will probably be amazed now: I love exactly these types in the color black!
I also really like the special and peculiar character of the Shar Pei. I appreciate his basic reserve and wait-and-see attitude towards strangers, his predominantly calm and balanced manner.
Because of this trait, the Shar Pei is great with children. I have often seen when our children had visitors that even the children who were scared or had no experience with dogs quickly trusted our dogs.
I like their self-confident manner, even if they sometimes drive me to despair.
How and when did your personal history with the Shar Pei begin?
I first encountered the Shar Pei, as the rarest dog breed in the world, at the age of 6 in pictures in the Guinness Book of Records, which my brother received as a Christmas present.
I was fascinated!
However, I had my first personal encounter with a Shar Pei much later in 1998 at a dog show in Hanover. I saw a beautiful horse coat Shar Pei. He belonged to one of the oldest breeders in Germany.
We got into conversation with her and were invited by her to visit her and her dogs. At this meeting we were very taken with her dogs and were put on a waiting list for a puppy from her kennel. But due to various circumstances, our path should be different for the time being....
9 years later in 2007 our first two Shar Pei moved in with us - Sumo and Chaly. Sumo came from a hobby breeder. His mother came from Russia without a pedigree certificate and his father came from a German breeder with a pedigree certificate. Unfortunately, Sumo died very early at the age of 3 and showed us for the first time what it really means of being affected with numerous breed-typical diseases. Among other things, Sumo suffered from entropion, a rolling lip, recurring episodes of fever with swollen joints.
Chaly came from a well-known Dutch breeder. His story was the trigger for SPAID research at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover. I answered in more detail how all this came about in question 6 of the interview.
Sumo and Chaly have never been bred from. At the time when the two came to us, I had never thought about breeding dogs. Ultimately, the fate of the two and the resulting intensive research into the breed was definitely a decisive impetus for my breeding thoughts. I knew it wasn't going to be easy.
Can you tell us something about the history of the Shar Pei in Germany?
Yes i could But at this point I would like to suggest asking the oldest breeders from Germany, such as Ms. Reinelt Gebauer and Ms. Isolde Kohle-Brusis. For me as a German breeder, this is a matter of recognition and respect.
Health is one of the most important issues in pedigree dog breeding. For several years now there are various tests developed by different universities. You have followed the development of the SPAID test of the TiHo Hannover from the beginning. How did that happen?
At this point I would like to come back Chaly's story.
Chaly Rainbow of Colour , 01.09.2007 - 05.03.2021, ( SPAID -tested : N/S )
Who was Chaly?
Chaly moved in with us in 2007 at the age of 8 weeks.
He grew up to be a very athletic and agile dog. Chaly was a moderate type horse coat Shar Pei without excessive wrinkling and padding. He seemed perfectly healthy until he was four years old.
But then Chaly got his first fever attack, accompanied by an extremely hot and swollen leg. These episodes repeated themselves within a very short time.
Our 2nd Shar Pei with fever attacks! We were very concerned and I could not and would not believe that this was our destiny with the Shar Pei breed.
At the end of 2012 it happened that I took part in an event with prospective veterinarians at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover together with Stefanie Kurz (today the 1st Chairwoman of the 1st German Shar Pei Club). Steffi and I were there on behalf of the 1st German Shar Pei Club to tell the students about the Shar Pei breed and to answer their questions. This was followed by a meeting with the professor of genetics, Prof. Distl, with whom we were able to exchange ideas. I took the opportunity and told him about Chaly in detail. The course of Chaly's disease and his type description aroused great interest in Prof. Distl at the time. I asked him directly if it was possible for Hanover to get involved in Shar Pei fever and amyloid research alongside Sweden, the US and Antagene in France.
After further discussions and e-mail correspondence, Prof. Distl informed us that Hanover was ready to start their research. But was it required that we would provide a blood sample of our dogs plus at least another 50 samples of pedigree proof purebred Shar Pei . The immediate availability of the blood of our dogs was not a problem for us. However, the procurement of 50 further blood samples was. We were very quickly aware that we would arouse little enthusiasm and understandable skepticism among some breeders. That is why we were primarily dependent on timely support from private owners. But that did not stop us. It actually took a lot of effort, time and education to get these 50 samples. At that time we were supported by Melanie Lass and Kathrin Bräuning.
We also knew that these few samples were only a small, initial success and that further research would require many more blood samples. During this initial period, we were exposed to increasing criticism, skepticism and hostilities. From a human point of view, this was an unusual and sometimes very difficult time for me.
Following this initial phase and the first evaluations, the 1st German Shar Pei Club decided to continue to support the research by paying a considerable amount of club money to the TiHo Hanover. Other breeders and members of the club took part with their dogs. This gave the whole thing a more official character, first in the German Shar Pei world, later also abroad. In this context I like to remember the exchange and cooperation with a breeder in France, Gudrun Bollig, at the beginning of 2014.
In order to reach a larger number of people and to increase the number of blood samples sent to Hanover and Antagene, detailed and informative posts were made in German Shar Pei groups on Facebook. The forms to enter and submit blood have been made available to members of these groups. The corresponding websites of TiHo Hannover and Antagene were also linked.
Unfortunately, the positive response at the time was not what we had hoped for. Our desire to reach a large number of people through education and thereby persuade them to take part in the research was only fulfilled years later.
It was only when it was foreseeable that the SPAID test in Hanover was about to be published that there were far more supporters of the test. The publication took place in May 2017, BMC Genomics - approx. 4.5 years after the research started. I can understand why many wanted to wait for a (pending) publication, but my opinion is: There would be no research results without the provision of research material (in our case blood), which in the best case would ultimately lead to a result and publication. The years between the research started at the TiHo Hannover to the publication were an exciting and instructive time for me, as we were constantly informed about the new findings about our dogs.
A lot has happened in the research of our breed in the last 10 years. The CNV test (Cornell, Uppsala), the SPAID test (TiHo Hanover), the POAG/PLL test are now available to us. We can also use the biomarker for the early detection of kidney problems (SDMA) when evaluating the geriatric blood profiles. Probably the most successful and meaningful test for us is without a doubt the test for POAG/PLL, which we owe to the British Kennel Club in cooperation with its breeders.
Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to prove the development of amyloidosis using a genetic test.
For my breeding I have decided to use the above tests for all my dogs and to include them in my breeding plans. For me this is a logical and necessary consequence of my personal experiences with our breed. The fact that I, as a 12-year-old breeder with few litters, cannot make comprehensive and meaningful predictions about my lines also contributes to this.
I have been carrying out the SPAID test on my puppies since 2013. Because almost all puppies from my matings are tested, I was able to draw comparisons in my breeding, e.g. in terms of phenotype, health development and state of health. Most of my offspring are also tested for hip and elbow dysplasia, POAGL-PLL and PL.
Every year I have a large geriatric blood profile drawn up for my dogs, which also contains the SDMA value and thyroid values. Luckily many of my puppy owners do this too, so we have been able to compare a lot of these blood counts and individual results over the years.
I avoid mating two dogs with SS and SS, as well as CNV 10 and CNV 10. It is important to me that I know both test results. Because how do you assess a mixed mating with regard to Spaid, in which one parent is tested for Spaid (TiHoHannover) and the other CNV (SLU, Cornel )? At this point it is important for me to make it clear that I can only judge and draw comparisons about my own breeding and the underlying results of my dogs and puppies.
Our breeding dogs are also tested for: hip and elbow dysplasia, transitional vertebrae, patella, thyroid, DNA
I am not fixated on individual results, but try to include all results in my considerations. In addition to the health results, this also includes longevity and the lowest possible inbreeding coefficient. I know, if only looking back at a few years, that despite great efforts to consider as many factors as possible, reality can look different and the rethinking begins again. But that's a good thing: for me, breeding doesn't mean standing still! Negative events and setbacks in breeding can advance personal development and perhaps be of use at some point.
With that in mind, a little anecdote:
I came into contact with a professionally performed gold acupuncture through one of our dogs. The success of the intervention could be confirmed by conventional medicine as well as by another expert evaluation of our dog. And now I too have gold in my knee through the same acupuncture procedure. Both with great success, both with our dog and with me!! The only difference: I can put the improvements and freedom from pain into words.
What was your personal biggest challenge with the breed and breeding?
I would like to use the past AND present here and use the plural instead of the singular of the word challenge.
Breeding Shar Pei has been a big challenge since my first litter and it still is today. My basic goal of breeding healthy dogs in compliance with the FCI standard is one of the biggest challenges.
When choosing stud dogs, especially from abroad, I often felt very limited in the past. In Germany we have to observe many breeding regulations, which also provide regulations for male dogs from abroad. Some of these regulations are not identical to the conditions in the country where the male dog is located. If you compare the breeding requirements in many countries with Germany, it quickly becomes clear how big the differences between the individual countries can be.
At this point, however, I would like to make it clear that I am fundamentally a supporter of controlled breeding, the purpose of which should be to maintain or improve the health of our breed - in compliance with the FCI standard. However, the controlling measures should not lead to an excessive restriction of our already small gene pool.
The search for "Shar Pei Mentors". By the term I mean seeking and actually finding experienced, advising and supportive breeders or connoisseurs of the breed. Unfortunately, over the years I have only been able to build up a trusting basis for a few of them very late, some are just emerging. I would have liked this support at the beginning of my breeding or a lot earlier. I wish every new breeder or breeder with little experience a mentor of this kind who helps to understand the "big picture of Shar Pei breeding".
One often hears the word cruel breeding in connection with the Shar Pei. A subject that is often a taboo within Shar Pei breeder and among fans of the breed.
What is your personal opinion on the subject? How do you react when confronted with the topic?
Cruel breeding is a very sensitive subject.
Here in Germany, cruel breeding has become an increasingly important issue in politics and the media over the past 1.5 years.
Through new laws in some federal states from 2020, through the revision and specification of the torture breeding report in 2021 on the German animal protection law and explicit naming of the torture breeding characteristics (SHAR PEI: currently excessive skin folds, entropion), as well as the development of the Quen database (torture breeding evidence network) so far in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the subject of tormented breeding has reached another dimension for me.
In my view, these circumstances require an intensive examination of the current situation, far from an head-in-the-sand strategy.
Confrontation should be open and honest with as much knowledge as possible of these issues, although this requires rethinking breeding strategies and acting proactively.
Pointing out problems in breeding and making up for omissions can help to ease the situation. A comparison with other countries that have already been actively confronted and have made improvements, could serve as a role model is a step in the right direction for me. I have already made a country comparison, for example with England, Sweden and Austria with the help of Jenny Webb, Anna Thorsjö and the ÖKV and presented it to both German clubs.
I see the two German clubs, the VDH e.V. and us breeders as jointly responsible for further concrete implementation.
What are your hopes and wishes for the future of the breed?
- Continuation of amyloid research and the resulting successes
- Health maintenance or improvement of our breed in compliance with the breed standard
- Strengthening of cooperation and exchange between breeders - also beyond national borders
- Respectful and appreciative interaction with each other and tolerance in relation to the different types of this breed / different breeding goals within our standard
- Timely development of strategies against torture breeding accusations to preserve our breed
Alexandra Gabrisch, thank you very much for this interview.
Dear Sandra, I would like to conclude by thanking you for your interest in my breeding and in me as a person.
I wish you every success in your future breeding projects, openness to other breeders and opinions, acquaintances that will help you and, ideally, friends in the breeding world who will support you, impart knowledge and provide you with constructive support.