Irresponsible, Callous Curse
Sebastian, pictured above as he was found in a local shelter awaiting euthanasia, is a delightful loving dog of unique personality and sparkle. The world of Sebastian is one of silence and minimal vision. Sebbie, as he is affectionately known by his family, doesn't seem to be aware of this which is likely due to the fact that he was born this way. Sebbie is the result of a "merle x merle" cross of Australian Shepherds. The beautiful marble coat of Australian Shepherds (and many other breeds including Collies, Australian Cattle Dogs, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Great Dane, Shetland Sheepdog and others) is the result of unique genetics. These lovely merles, when bred together, as in merle to merle breedings (both parents are merles) can typically result in a homozygous gene pairing that will effect 25% (one out of four) of the offspring having issues with sight and/or hearing.
For irresponsible breeders, the rewards can be notable. When breeding a solid colored dog of one of these breeds to a merle dog of the same breed, they will likely not have a litter of all merles. As the merle coat pattern is considered especially beautiful and desirable, many breeders charge more for these coats. Taking the chance of having a few defective puppies in order to have a litter of all merles, seems to be worth the risk to them. The most irresponsible may even sell their "defective puppies" as normal, without providing the adoptive family with any information of the likelihood of problems.
These dogs, are not typically otherwise compromised, and as indicated in the picture above can live quite normally and harmoniously with other animals, even so they are often referred to as "Lethal Whites". Since they are predominantly white, thus lending the white in the reference, it is recognized as a key to identifying compromised pups at birth. While the condition is not naturally lethal, it is often lethal at the hands of the breeder since as referenced on the Australian Club of America website. On the page for educating people about breeding their Aussies, culling is considered the only responsible approach for the resulting pups. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, culling is the selective killing of puppies at birth or shortly after. Their quote follows "In litters from merle to merle matings, they will statistically average one defective, homozygous merle puppy out of four. This will vary from one to many defective puppies in a given litter. If you realize these puppies are going to be deaf or have eye defects, it is not too difficult to cull them at birth. This should be done as soon as possible after whelping since there is no reason to stress the bitch with nursing extra pups. If you cull all puppies with white off the blaze, collar, socks, white chest and belly patterns, there are no borderline pups. Defective, homozygous merle puppies are often primarily white with just patches of color, and nearly always have a lot of white on the head.(sic ?) Puppies with each eye surrounded with color, color over the ears, and no white on the body behind the shoulder should be sound. The patterns seem to be the key. Sometimes a puppy without very much white, but with mismarkings on the body, such as a stripe running up from the underside, will be defective..."
DigitalDog is much more comfortable with the position that such breedings are incredibly irresponsible for a number of reasons. While the ASCA and other effected clubs may choose a similar position, the fact remains that many of these so called, Lethal Whites, enjoy happy and complete lives in the homes of their loving families. While it may require some adjustment to live with a dog compromised by vision or hearing issues, it is far from impossible for the dedicated dog lover.
For those that choose to share their home and life with a dog of this genetic history, Lethal White is not a well received term. For them, these are dogs that are easily as deserving as any other for love and comfort. Their only heartache is in the fact that it was human ignorance and/or indifference that led to the issues their beloved companions must cope with.
You can learn more about lethal whites at
More wonderful information regarding deaf and blind dogs available for adoption, or how to live and train one is available with either of these wonderful websites.
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