Recording data on Data

Data takes a breather from romping in his backyard, which is filled with agility obstacles to keep him and retriever housemate Kenzie fit for competition. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

Data takes a breather from romping in his backyard, which is filled with agility obstacles to keep him and retriever housemate Kenzie fit for competition. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

WOODSTOCK — It’s been over a year since Rory and Carol Nansel enrolled their 2-year-old golden retriever Data in the Morris Animal Foundation Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, and they’ve recorded every little detail since.

The study began in 2012 as an initiative to collect extensive data from 3,000 purebred golden retrievers across the country on what ultimately causes cancer and other diseases in this much loved breed.

Having fostered more than 30 golden retrievers through GRREAT, the Nansels were already looking to adopt Data when they learned about the study through the Potomac Valley Golden Retriever Club.

“Golden Retriever Club of America … they were really behind this and pushing it and asking all the member clubs to try to get people to sign up,” Carol Nansel said.

The Nansels then approached Dr. Tom Truban at Shenandoah Animal Hospital, who looked into the study and signed on to be the approved attending veterinarian. The Nansels are the only participants in the study to check their dog into the Shenandoah Animal Hospital. Two of Data’s siblings are participating in the study from different states.

Data attended his second annual checkup on May 27 as the 1,144th retriever in the study. Truban performed a full physical on the young, healthy dog and took various samples from him, including multiple vials of blood for different tests.

After their analysis of the samples, the Morris Foundation sent their results back to Truban for his own clinical use.

In the yearly journal, Carol Nansel logged 34 pages of data on Data: his eating and sleeping habits, activity level, medications, sun exposure – all the way down to products used in the home and neighborhood like air fresheners and pesticides.

“I find it very interesting that they’re looking at all this stuff,” she said, listing off some of the items. “You don’t think about it.”

This meticulous record keeping will continue throughout Data’s life, but the Nansels were all too willing to contribute to a study that benefits veterinary science and dog owners everywhere.

“For people, it’s really self-motivated … we’ve heard of losing dogs as young as 4 to cancer,” Rory Nansel said.

The risks and benefits studied can also be applied to other dog breeds and even humans.

“You never know when and where a breakthrough will occur,” Carol Nansel said.

She said more than 60 percent of golden retrievers will develop cancer and out of the dogs she has lived with, all but one had cancer at some point.

The Morris Foundation has already released some information — including the deaths of around seven dog “heroes” participating in the study.

Truban said the findings of such a large-scale study will be invaluable for early detection and treatment of diseases in all dogs.

“It’s a good idea, you can’t do that with every breed,” he said. “It’s one of the few breeds that have enough numbers and enough interest to do that. It’ll be good for the breed.” He suggested that in the future, other popular breeds might be the subjects of similar studies.

The Morris Foundation sends dog care odds and ends to the participants’ owners and vets: the Nansels have a collar and leash from the study while Truban received a caliper to catalogue any lumps and bumps on Data further down the road.

Data shows off his duds in agility competitions and dock diving with the Nansels — veterans of the dog sport scene with agility obstacles dotting their yard. His retriever housemate Kenzie competes in agility, dock diving and obedience, but 11-year-old Joey has retired from agility and dock diving because of a brain tumor.

Learn more about the Morris Foundation and the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study at

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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