PROGRESSIVE RETINAL ATROPHY
During the 1970's, PRA was the biggest genetic problem facing Collie breeders. Following the general hysteria of the 1960s with CEA, the breed really didn't need another eye problem! The name of this disease said it all--Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Early breeders called it "night blindness", since impaired night vision generally was one of the first signs.
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Contrary to a popular misconception of the time and one that carries forth to this day, this eye disease did not originate with "one" popular sire of the 1970s. The truth was that PRA had been around for years and was fairly well established in certain Collie families. In the old days, before Veterinarian Ophthalmology and advances in Veterinarian medicine and genetics, eye diseases such as CEA and PRA were not only not diagnosed, but there was little distinction between the two. Unfortunately because little was known about eye disease and inheritability, many dogs with eye problems ended up being used in breeding programs. The 1970s saw everything come to a "head". Panic set in and the breed was confronted with rumors, gossip, and accusations. PRA "Lists" circulated the country. There were Carrier Lists, Non Carrier Lists, Suspect Carrier Lists, White Lists, Black Lists and PRA subcommittees and ad hoc committees.
Unfortunately this eye disease brought a whole new set of problems. Even though it was not as widespread as CEA, it had the potential of being way more devastating. For starters, it had a later onset than CEA. And unlike the various grades of CEA, if a dog had PRA, he was blind! Plus, many times the fact that a dog was a carrier was discovered years down the line, possibly after the dog had already been bred numerous times. The really good news was that dogs could be test bred to determine carrier status. Since both parents had to be carriers in order to produce it, the hunt was on for blind bitches for test breeding (a scarce commodity). Test breeding was the only tool at that time that was available to eliminate carriers. Regrettably some of the most popular bloodlines during the 1970s and some of the most popular sires, ended up being carriers. While some breeders persevered and test bred their way out of it, others fell by the wayside. Others abandoned the bloodlines they were working with and started over. One particular sire that produced PRA, (thanks to test breeding and his owner's perseverance), went on to become one of the breed's top sires and was also the foundation for one of today's top Collie families. Over the long haul, not only did PRA change many breeders' plans, but also many really good dogs were lost to the Collie gene pool. We are so lucky that today there is a simple test available!!
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