Are you seeing spots? Don't worry; your vision is fine. You're just looking at Tiger, a chimera Labrador Retriever. This gorgeous dog caught our eyes after we reported about another chimera dog named Bull. Tiger's owner and head of Sliverland Labs Melanie Phillips was kind enough to share Tiger and her amazing tale with PawNation. Read on to learn about the story behind the astounding genetics of Tiger the chimera dog.
Chimeras are the result of a genetic anomaly in which one animal has cells derived from two different cell lines. Usually this is the result of the fertilized zygotes fusing together. Tiger was taken to Dr. Shelia Schmutz by her owner, because everyone was curious why a Lab, which is usually brown, black or yellow, had a bunch of cow-like spots. Dr. Schmutz took samples from the dog's mouth, yellow spots and black spots. She then compared the DNA from these samples and found the yellow hair and mouth samples shared the same genotype, while the black hair samples had a totally different genotype.
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By testing multiple chromosomes from each sample, and getting the same results, Dr. Schmutz was able to prove that Tiger was a true chimera, not the result of a mutation on one chromosome. Tiger is an XX/XX chimera, which means she is the combination of two different female cell lines. Aside from Tiger's unique outward appearance, this genetic difference has not affected Tiger in any other way.
How did this unique dog come into your life?
Tiger was born on Dec. 22, 2010, at 4:30 a.m. We had bred and owned Tiger’s parents, GoGo and Henry. This was GoGo’s first litter and our third generation of GoGo’s bloodlines. I had stayed with GoGo from the start of her labor. GoGo was tired and I was tired. She had nine puppies and then the tenth pup was Tiger. I thought I was seeing things when I saw Tiger. Lab pups are solid colored and this one was black and white. I picked her up and began helping GoGo dry off this unusual puppy. I thought the spots would rub off to reveal a yellow pup. The spots didn’t go anywhere. I just kept looking at her. GoGo would look at her, then look at me, as if to ask me, “What is it?” With 10 hungry mouths to feed, we decided to give GoGo some help. We took turns bottle-feeding Tiger and the other newborns until GoGo worked out her feeding routine.
I woke my husband up to tell him we had a black-and-white pup. He was so sleepy that he told me he would look at it in the morning. It seemed like I had just gotten to sleep when my husband came in the bedroom saying, “Mel, what is that? There’s a black-and-white puppy with GoGo! They aren’t supposed to be black and white.”
How did you find out Tiger was a chimera?
As soon as Tiger was born, I took photos and emailed them to a friend of mine. My friend is a breeder and had knowledge of the coat color genetic work of Dr. Sheila Schmutz. She emailed the photos to Dr. Schmutz and forwarded Dr. Schmutz’s response to me.
I ruled out the possibility of a misalliance (unintentional breeding) as the cause of Tiger’s unusual coat color through DNA.Dr. Schmutz instructed me to send DNA and hair samples to her. She and one of her grad students did DNA genetic testing and determined that Tiger is a chimera.
What are the chances Tiger could mate and get a litter of chimera puppies like herself?
She can mate but she will not produce little chimera puppies. The trait is not an inherited one and cannot be passed on.
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Do your other pets treat Tiger differently because of her coat?
No. Tiger usually sets the tone of her relationship with other dogs. As a young puppy, she established herself as the pack leader. That is the beauty of animals; they don’t treat each other differently because of coat color. Tiger doesn’t know she is different.
Aside from her gorgeous coat, what characteristics make Tiger the dog she is?
Tiger has personality plus. She is a very happy girl. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She is more than a bit of a diva and a rascal. My assistant will sometimes say to her, “Tiger, really?” when Tiger is acting like a diva, and Tiger acts like she understands and will tone it down. She loves people and will let most people pet her. She will bark at someone she doesn’t know and then start wagging her tail.
Your site mentions you breed dogs with “dilute genes.” What does this mean?
It means that some of our dogs carry a gene that can produce a “dilute” or lighter shade of coat color. Dilute black produces charcoal, which is a dark bluish gray, dilute chocolate produces silver, which is a grayish brown, and dilute yellow produces champagne.
Why is there controversy in the dog community about silver Labs and other “dilute” Labs?
I think that money has fueled the controversy. Any time there is something new and different, people want it. The popularity of the dilute colors (silver, charcoal, champagne) has reduced sales for some breeders who do not breed the dilute colors.
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You also have your “purists” who believe that there are only three colors for Labs: black, chocolate and yellow. There are still people who believe that the only “true” color for a Lab is black.
Years ago, chocolate Labs did not enjoy the acceptance they do today. Many breeders fought against the acceptance of the chocolate Lab, just as some fight against the acceptance of the dilute colors today. The dilute colors have been around for a long time and just like the chocolate Lab, they are here to stay.
How expensive are the dogs you breed and what is the process for obtaining one?
Our silver, charcoal and champagne Labs sell for $1,000-$1,750, depending on the pedigree and the very rare occasion when we grant breeding rights. I would say that the average price is $800-$1,000. Our chocolate and yellow Labs sell for $750 and black pups sell for $500.
I will not set up an appointment to see a puppy without talking to a person first. Occasionally, the client lives out of state and it is not possible for the client to visit. Before an individual is considered, I want to know if they currently have dogs, if they have ever had a Lab, if they have a veterinarian, how much time they have to spend with the puppy and whether the family intends to keep the puppy inside. I ask about family dynamics: how many kids, ages of kids, family activities. I try to match the personality of the puppy with the family’s overall dynamic.
Once a puppy is chosen, a deposit will hold the client’s selection until the pup is old enough to go to its new home at 8 weeks old. I send photos, videos and updates until the puppy is ready to go to its new home.
On the day the pup is to go to its new home, I give the new family a medical record, instructions, registration papers and a health guarantee. My involvement with the puppy does not end with the sale. I am available if a client needs me regardless of the age of the puppy. I request new parents to send me photos and updates. Many of my clients have gone on to become great friends.
I do everything in my power to ensure that the puppy is getting a very good home for a lifetime. In the event that something happens so that the family can no longer keep the dog, the dog always has a home. Any dog that came from here can come back here.
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What sets Labs apart from other dog breeds in your opinion?
Labs are so intelligent. This intelligence makes them easy to train and many Labs have been trained to be service and therapy dogs. They love with abandon. They integrate themselves into the family and become another family member. They enjoy sports and don’t hold it against you when you dress them up.
They love people and need people. They seem to sense when something is not right with the person they are closest to. This causes people to believe that their Lab understands what they are feeling and quite often the dog will make an attempt to comfort the person.
Labs have been the No. 1 dogs in America for over 20 years. Labs are my favorite people. We don’t own our Labs; they own us.