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Embark Customer Stories: The Winston Family

August 22, 2021

When Winston came home to his new pet parents Griff and Laurel, he was a 50-pound bundle of sweetness and energy. A one-year-old rescue dog from Tennessee, Winston’s personality was immediately apparent—but wasn’t as clear as his breed, his background, and his health profile.

That’s why Griff and Laurel turned to Embark. Earlier this year, they decided to get a Breed + Health Kit test for Winston, offering them new insight into who their pup really was, where he came from, and the potential medical conditions they should let their vet know about.

Brand New Pet Parents

Griff and Laurel both grew up with pets, but adopting Winston in April of 2019 was their first foray into pet parenthood as adults and as a couple. It was daunting at first, but it was something they both knew they wanted. Laurel, in particular, had long been passionate about rescue animals, and Griff had always loved “city-sized” dogs: Pups that were on the larger side, but compact enough to fit comfortably in a cozy Cambridge apartment. Winston was a loving, exuberant rescue, and he was perfectly city-sized, fitting just right into Griff and Laurel’s home.

Laurel and Winston in Car

Of course, Winston was also a little nervous at first, and he had some adjusting to do himself. He was anxious when he first arrived, panting excitedly, and he hadn’t yet been trained to walk on a leash or stay off furniture. But he was overflowing with happiness and a playful enthusiasm for life, and immediately won over Griff and Laurel’s hearts. Winston quickly transformed into what Laurel calls a “Velcro dog,” sticking to Griff and Laurel wherever they went, eager to cuddle and play. 

Winston was happy to follow Griff and Laurel around the house all day, making himself comfortable between them on the couch for movie night, lying by their sides while they worked, and of course, nudging them towards his food bowl with gusto each morning. He also loved to go on adventures, with lots of energy for running around at the park and hiking trails, and he was always excited to go outside, rain or shine. 

 

Winston in Raincoat

Then, when the pandemic forced both Griff and Laurel to work from home, Winston became a touchstone of normalcy and routine. Quarantine or not, Winston needed to be fed, to be walked, and most importantly, to be cuddled. Today, Winston has become the rhythm of the household, all but dictating Griff and Laurel’s daily schedule. He wakes them up in the morning, offers an excuse for a much-needed midday break, and his evening walks remind Griff and Laurel when it’s time to sign off from work. 

Even more importantly, Winston is a constant source of emotional support. He’s always so happy to see his favorite humans, and his happiness is contagious, keeping Griff and Laurel afloat through even the most stressful days. In short, Winston is a member of the family. He is everything to Griff and Laurel, and that’s why they were so excited to try out Embark and learn more about Winston’s genetic makeup. 

Embark Reveal Day

The Q-tip DNA swab was easy—Winston hardly noticed a thing—and after just a few weeks, the results were in! On the day the email arrived from Embark, Griff and Laurel were more nervous than they expected. On the one hand, there was the possibility of bad news: a serious health condition, or a predisposition for certain medical issues. On the other hand, they would learn exactly what breed Winston was, and they might even find out about his genetic relatives. It felt like a momentous occasion, almost like getting a college admissions notice or important test scores in the mail.

When they finally opened the email (Griff had to wait until Laurel finished a late work day—he wasn’t going to read the results without her, after all), they could breathe a sigh of relief. On the health front, it was all good news. Winston didn’t have any serious conditions, but he did have two genetic traits that were helpful to share with the vet.

Embark Health Risks Report 

The first health-related finding was that Winston had inherited a gene associated with Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), a common and painless condition that results in slow vision loss over time. Because of dogs’ strong reliance on their other senses as well as the progressive nature of this condition, many dogs are able to continue living long, happy lives with PRA. Still, with such advanced notice of the potential for vision issues later in life, Griff and Laurel could proactively work with their vet to make sure they were doing everything they could to keep Winston’s eyes strong and healthy. And if Winston’s vision does start to deteriorate, Griff and Laurel will know the warning signs, and they’ll be prepared to support Winston and help him adapt as smoothly as possible.

Second, the genetic testing identified markers of low ALT Activity. This doesn’t have any direct negative health implications, but simply means Winston’s normal baseline bloodwork for liver health will likely be different from that of dogs without this gene. Armed with this information, Griff and Laurel knew to ask their vet to conduct special bloodwork to determine an individualized baseline for Winston, helping the vet to more reliably identify and address issues if they do arise in the future.

Before conducting this genetic testing, Griff and Laurel hadn’t been familiar with either of these conditions. Embark made it easy to see exactly what genetic predispositions Winston might have, giving Griff and Laurel easy access to educational materials and explanations of what the different genetic markers meant. Plus, they could also share Winston’s results directly with the vet, ensuring that the vet’s office had all the information they needed to provide the best possible customized care.

Embark Relative Finder 

Of course, health was just one component of the test results. Embark also uses its global library of genetic data to identify any biologically related pets that are already in the system. Similar to human genetic testing services like 23andMe, Embark’s large and growing database makes it possible to connect relatives even if you have no idea where your pet is from or who their biological parents might be. Anyone who gets an Embark test kit can opt to be included in this database, making it possible to discover genetic relatives that you would never have otherwise known about.

Winston Relative Finder

In Winston’s case, Griff and Laurel were excited to find out about not one, but two genetic matches in the Embark database. Winston had a cousin, Tilly, who was a 14% genetic match, as well as a sibling, Rocky, who was a 54% match. While the pandemic makes an in-person family reunion unlikely for the moment, it was great just to know that Winston had family out there, and that they could potentially connect with them someday.

More than Meets the Eye

Finally, the last part of the Embark test was the breed results. Just based on his appearance, Griff and Laurel had guessed that Winston had a lot of Labrador in him, but they were curious to learn exactly what his breed makeup was, to get a better sense of who he was and where his sweet, energetic temperament came from.

Winston’s Embark Breed Results

Unsurprisingly, the test results showed that Winston was 30.5% Labrador Retriever. However, they also revealed that he was 18.2% Pit Bull, and 10.7% Chow Chow. The Chow Chow discovery was particularly exciting for Laurel, whose sister also had a dog that was 10% Chow Chow. Laurel didn’t think that Winston or her sister’s dog looked much like a traditional Chow Chow, but her sister was convinced that the small bit of Chow Chow DNA explained their pups’ similar, thicker necks. And of course, both Laurel and her sister were thrilled to find out that their pups might be related (however distantly).

Griff and Laurel were also really interested and pleased to learn how much Pit Bull there was in Winston. As longtime supporters of Pit Bulls, Griff and Laurel were passionate about destigmatizing and dispelling negative stereotypes about the breed—and nothing could demonstrate just how friendly a Pit Bull can be more than Winston’s happy, loving personality.

The Winston Family

Of course, Griff and Laurel didn’t need Embark to know what really mattered: that Winston was the sweetest gift they could ever have hoped for.  However, their Embark results were invaluable, giving them a leg up on dog care (pun intended) and bringing them even closer to their pup.

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