The year was 2007. Morris Animal Foundation had just launched a major five-year campaign to raise money for canine cancer research. The campaign was going well, but with cancer as the No. 1 disease-related killer of dogs over the age of 2, we knew we needed to do more.
Morris Animal Foundation executives hosted a meeting of scientists to ask them how we could best address cancer research needs on a larger scale. Many ideas emerged, but the one the participants all agreed upon was the need for a large study that would follow a group of dogs for several years.
In a bold move, the Foundation’s executives and board of trustees decided to undertake such a study, calling it the Canine Lifetime Health Project. A project of this magnitude was a fundamental shift for the Foundation. It would be the first study Morris Animal Foundation would manage internally, and the Foundation would rely on a global team of scientific advisers to design the study and help interpret the data. The study reflected a strong belief that the Canine Lifetime Health Project would be the most important single study ever done to improve the health of dogs. Although the study would emphasize canine cancer, information would be gathered on many other diseases that affect canine health.
The first step was to consult experts in the fields of genetics, epidemiology, nutrition, statistics and oncology (to name a few). Questions that had to be answered were: What age should the dogs be when enrolled? Should the study be open to all breeds or should it focus on just one? How many dogs would be needed? How would the study be run? What questions should be asked of dog owners and veterinarians?
After much analysis, the Golden Retriever was selected as the study breed based on the breed’s high incidence of cancer and its popularity. In addition there was a pre-existing relationship between the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA) and Morris Animal Foundation, and the Foundation would be given access to an extensive database maintained by the GRCA.
A study of this size and scope requires significant investments. Total funding needed was estimated at $25 million. The veterinary community responded enthusiastically, and a number of platinum partners were aligned.
After five years of planning and fundraising, recruitment began in 2012 for the renamed Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, the largest and longest study ever conducted to improve the lives of dogs.
As this landmark study celebrates its second anniversary, 1,916 of the 3,000 dogs needed have been enrolled, and data collection and analyses are progressing. The data collected from these dogs will help scientists and veterinarians identify genetic, environmental and nutritional risk factors for cancer and other major health problems that affect all dogs.
The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will provide unique information that will be accessible to animal health researchers for years to come, enabling them to create a brighter, healthier future for dogs.
To learn more about Morris Animal Foundation and our other programs please visit morrisanimalfoundation.org.