It started out as a conversation in the back of a cab between a world-renowned researcher in canine cancer, and a woman whose family name is synonymous with advancing veterinary medicine. They were discussing a large impediment to improving canine health – there were no long-term, prospective studies that focused on understanding the genetic, environmental, nutrition and lifestyle risk factors that may be contributing to disease in our dogs – particularly cancer.Dr. Rod Page, now the principal investigator on the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, and Bette Morris, wife of the late Dr. Mark Morris Jr., whose father and mother founded the Morris Animal Foundation, had an audacious idea. And then, with input from others and support of the Foundation’s scientific members, board and staff, that idea took form as the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. A pilot study launched in 2012 and the race was on to enroll 3,000 dogs that would be followed throughout their lives – teaching and informing along the way. Enrollment was slow to start, but a major push caused enrollment numbers to finally reach a tipping point. In February 2015, full enrollment was reached (in fact, to accommodate all the dogs in the approval pipeline, the official study enrollment reached 3,044). But the hard work of the study was just beginning. Data collection, with millions and millions of bits of information, is constant. Managing the day-to-day communications to keep owners and veterinarians “compliant” with study requirements takes a small team – always reaching out, always encouraging, working to keep enrollment and compliance numbers at a high percent.
In 2017, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is celebrating its fifth year. We have 97 percent of our enrollees still in the study (unheard of in similar human studies) and an 84 percent compliance rate (our golden retrievers are performing way beyond similar human studies!). “Without the help and hard work of so many people, this study simply would not be possible,” said Barb Wolfe, DVM, PhD, DACZM, Chief Scientific Officer at Morris Animal Foundation. “It’s absolutely incredible to look at the sheer size of this study, and the effort it takes to keep this going every day, and not be amazed. We are so appreciative of our golden retriever owners, our partner veterinarians, and the donors who are making this study possible. What we learn will truly change veterinary medicine and we hope give our dogs longer, healthier lives.” The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will be celebrating its birthday for the next year with special events and yearlong recognitions of this momentous achievement. We’ll keep you posted!