Oldest Rottweilers Inspire 'The Old Grey Muzzle Tour'
By Jennifer Viegas | Mon Mar 8, 2010 02:02 PM ET
Do you have a really old Rottweiler? If so, you might wish to roll out your welcome mat for Dr. David J. Waters, who is launching "The Old Grey Muzzle Tour" this week. During the 23-day tour, Waters, who is executive director of the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation, will be criss-crossing the country visiting the nation's oldest Rottweilers.
Bort, a 13-year-old pet Rottweiler from Holliston, Mass., will be the first dog visited by Waters, who is traveling all the way from Massachusetts to Washington state during the national tour. Waters begins his journey in Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday (March 11) and will finish April 3 in Seattle.
The complete itinerary of the tour includes: March 11, Harrisburg, Pa.; March 12, Holliston, Mass.; March 13, Philadelphia; March 15, Keysville, Va.; March 16, Columbia, Tenn.; March 19, Cambridge, Wis.; March 20, Riverside, Iowa; March 21, Alma, Kan.; March 23, Red Oak, Texas; March 24, Castle Rock, Colo.; March 27, Colorado Springs, Colo.; March 28, Tijeras, N.M.; March 29, Waddell, Ariz.; March 30, San Diego; April 1, Pacific Palisades, Calif.; and April 3, Seattle.
Waters leads a research team that studies aging and cancer in pet dogs. The research includes the study of exceptionally long-lived Rottweilers - individuals that have lived to at least 13 years, which is equivalent to a human living to 100.
"These exceptional dogs have lived at least 30 percent longer than average for their breed," Waters said. "They have dodged cancer and other life-threatening diseases of aging. We believe studying them can shed light on what it takes to live well."
Over the years, Waters and his team have tracked the lives of more than 140 long-lived Rottweilers. Today, however, their database is down to just 15, hence the tour to meet these exceptionally aged canines.
"From questionnaires completed by owners and veterinarians, my team has validated dates of birth and collected a mountain of information about these dogs, including medical history, diet and dietary supplement usage, and parents' longevity," said Waters, who is also associate director of Purdue's Center on Aging and the Life Course and professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.
At each stop, he will perform a physical examination, collect DNA samples, and record measurements such as height and chest and belly circumference. He will observe each dog in its home environment and query owners on what makes their dog exceptional.
Few veterinarians have ever come face-to-face with more than a single Rottweiler that has made it to such an advanced age. That is why Waters is motivated to accomplish this feat 15 times in less than a four-week span.
"If you're looking to come up with new theories on how kids can learn better, then you better carefully observe kids learning. When it comes to developing fresh insights on what it takes to age more successfully, the same holds true. There's no substitute for careful firsthand observations," he said.
Roger McCarter, professor of biobehavioral health at Pennsylvania State University and an expert in aging research, described Waters' work within the context of research done by others in the aging field.
"Dr. Waters is leading us to a new way of thinking about how to conduct healthspan research," he said. "Pet dogs living in the same environment as people may be just the research tool we've been looking for."
In future, the data could help to solve why women live longer than men, since long-lived female Rottweilers also greatly outnumber males. In fact, 11 of the Rottweilers on "The Old Grey Muzzle Tour" are female.
"For centuries, dogs have enriched people's lives in important ways as our pets and our companions," he said. "Now, we are recognizing that a special group of dogs may have something important to tell us about successful aging. This tour sends a simple message: We're prepared to listen."