An early death from cancer

By Jennifer Stoeckl, MAT - Dire Wolf Project CEO, March 4, 2024

Yesterday, we learned that the Luck of the Irish litter (Chisel/Dreamer) has been officially confirmed.

It is always such a happy time knowing new furry friends will soon arrive to grace our lives.

Just like the first signs of spring, new life brings with it a hope and longing for rebirth and renewal.

We look toward the future in anticipation of the arrival of happier times.

Today, we must acknowledge that with new life also comes an eventual end.

With the dawning of spring, we want to look toward the warmer days in its uplifting goodness.

But, winter’s harsh cold has not yet fully loosened its grasp.

And with winter’s restful hibernation and feeling of emptiness, we must recognize that death is inevitable for us all, including our beloved, innocent companions.

It hardly seems like these amazing dogs deserve to feel the pain and suffering that death can bring.

When we embark on building a bonded, trusting relationship with an American Dirus dog, it is good to occasionally be reminded that the bond we feel with our canine companions cannot last forever. Because to do so allows us to cherish each precious moment we have with them.

Unfortunately, some dogs succumb to death’s grip much too early in life.

While the Dire Wolf Project aims to maintain a healthy longevity through sustainable strongbred breeding practices, not all of our dogs have the privilege of being in that category.

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce a particularly difficult passing from a 6-year-old American Alsatian named Barghest out of Boss and Vegas from the Schwarz Kennels.

His owner shares how loved he was…

“Bar was a large dog, very long and lean with enormous paws. We often called him ‘Lion Paws’ due to the size and color. He was around 115 lbs throughout adulthood, and the vet was very happy with that weight for his build. He was never a graceful dog, but I constantly got compliments from strangers on how beautiful he was. (And a lot of other people gave him a wide berth due to size.) Everyone who spent much time with him loved his temperament, though he did show a protective streak around my wife and kids. I'm basically a giant, so he always expected me to protect him instead.”

Through his short six years, Barghest showed consistent health weaknesses, including a weak immune system. Infections would require large doses of aggressive antibiotics over a significant time in order to clear up. He developed hip dysplasia at one year old, which caused him to stumble often. This led to a back injury, which resulted in periodic debilitating cramping, which was the only thing that made him cry out in pain. If that wasn’t enough, in his sixth year, Barghest showed signs of cancer.

His owner describes the recent progressive symptoms well…

“Despite all the illness, he was a happy dog, always trying to play and cheer us up. However, over the last few months what we first thought was picky eating turned into ‘no eating’ caused by severe nausea and something wrong with his digestive tract. Hi-strength anti-nausea meds let him start eating again while the vet worked through blood tests, but despite the return of a voracious appetite he was rapidly losing weight until within a few weeks he had lost about 25 pounds and was gaunt and bony. Last week when we took him in for further tests, they found he had a severe pleural effusion, crushing his lungs. The vet concluded that he either had metastasizing cancer or heart failure combined with something in his digestive tract, and said we should say our goodbyes and make sure he didn't suffer. After a few more days going with him to some of his favorite places and watching him struggle to breathe, we held him as he was put down on Saturday. He wasn't even seven yet.”

My heart aches for such a tremendous loss in what should have been the prime of this dog’s life.

I know his owner will never forget his sweet friend, Barghest.

“Barghest was a wonderful dog, sweet and loyal, who was great at watching over our young kids and being my best friend… He was the best dog. We miss him terribly.”

I hope this email honors his precious memory, but I also wish for us to take a moment to reflect on what this early death means for the breed moving forward.

If you are not aware, we learned last year that Barghest’s father, Boss, who was also the father of many other DireWolf Dogs, died early of cancer at 8 years old.

And Bargest’s full sister, Anastasia whelped many litters for the Dire Wolf Project.

Since we have a tiny and rare population, any significant health issue that crops up can potential be devastating to the entire breed, so we must take each health concern seriously.

If you’ve read the Dire Wolf Project book (it’s on Amazon), then you know we do not subscribe to the “wait-to-breed” or “health prevention” breeding model that permeates the dog breeding industry today.

Instead, we mimic nature’s breeding plan and breed first in a “disease elimination” breeding model, thereby keeping a robust and diverse population that seeks to eliminate ill-health when it arises.

(NOTE: Disease cannot be prevented, it can only be eliminated once it is known to exist.)

There are only two ways to eliminate health issues from the lines. Both ways require the health issue to be identified first.

  1. DNA testing
  2. Trial mating

ALL other preventative measures that breeders try and convince you somehow make them “responsible” are NOT EFFECTIVE over the long run.

This is because you cannot KNOW what lies within the genetic code of an otherwise outwardly “healthy” dog.

There are way too many genetic variables. (millions, in fact)

(The one exception would be hip x-rays… but not because of the x-rays themselves as you may think. But because breeders chose to breed dogs with tight, well-formed hips - which consequently many otherwise unaware breeders were able to identify through x-rays. But that is a discussion for a different email.)

In this case, we have identified a significant new health issue within the breed that seriously reduces a dog’s longevity… cuts it in half, in fact.

Remember, as I stated above, there are only two ways to ELIMINATE a health issue from the lines.

  1. DNA does not yet identify cancer, so we cannot use it to help us track down this particular cancer issue that’s crept up.
  2. There are specific criteria for trial mating to be effective. Cancer is a very severe health issue that happens in middle-aged dogs, so trial mating will not be effective in this case.

You are probably thinking, “If there are only two ways of eliminating a health issue from the lines and neither of those two ways is going to work, then how are you going to eliminate it?”

The answer is… we can’t.

Not completely.

What we can do, though, is diversify the lines (crossbreed) to mix up the genes. When we crossbreed, the specific combination of genes with the propensity of producing cancer growth in our dogs gets diluted in the vast majority of our dogs.

It’s like adding black spades to a set of red hearts in a deck of cards and then shuffling them together. Instead of all the red hearts being next to one another, now the black spades are intermixed separating the reds from each other.

Increasing genetic diversity in the breed at strategic and systematic times is a necessity to aid in the longevity and vitality within the breed.

While crossbreeding does not eliminate health issues from the breed, it does mix things up effectively to initially see a decrease in ill-health and an increase in longevity.

Using inbreeding through the use of trial mating is like major surgery to cleanse the lines and completely eliminate certain disease.

Using outbreeding through the use of crossbreeding is like a cast. The break or sprain is still there, but is able to heal from within as long as we do not put too much strain on the weakness in the future.

BOTH inbreeding and crossbreeding are needed to sustain a breed over time.

They must be used strategically and for very specific reasons.

Incredibly, nature does this automatically by its very design.

The Dire Wolf Project aims to mimic nature’s breeding design as much as humanly possible.

Which is one of the reasons we recently crossbred to a completely unrelated 50/50 Lab/Shepherd named Opal a year ago.

Both Boss and Anastasia reside within Dreamer’s ancestry, but by breeding to Chisel, who does not have Boss or Anastasia in his pedigree, we have completely mixed up the genes, should any of those cancer genes have been inherited down the line.

The upcoming Luck of the Irish litter is genetically diverse with a 4.29% coefficient of inbreeding. The pedigree is equally diverse with 93.3% of the ancestry being unique.

As we leave the fond memories of a very special dog in winter’s embrace, we can look forward to a new hope in the warm hug of spring’s delight through the Luck of the Irish litter arriving in just a few short weeks.

Find out more about the officially confirmed Luck of the Irish litter below:

P.S. If you hope for a puppy from the Dire Wolf Project and are not yet on the waiting list, your first step is to complete our puppy adoption questionnaire.

Here’s the link:

If you have already been officially approved for a puppy but aren’t yet on the waiting list, place your $600 deposit to hold your place in line.

Email the Dire Wolf Project’s administrative assistant: for more information on how to do that.

Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Dirus Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Dirus dogs.