Though it’s an invaluable resource for humans, the topic of sperm banks can still be a tough conversation starter. Tell someone there’s an equally thriving semen service amidst the canine community and their eyes might grow even wider. While dog sperm banks may seem like a strange reality, the trend is growing beyond professional breeders to the average dog owner. Increasing options have many pet parents curious—and some dog lovers nervous.
A short history lesson to get us started: the first batch of puppies produced by preserved semen occurred in 1969, ushering in a new option for breeders of show dogs to maintain and extend bloodlines.
Passing along physical appearance as well as temperament meant big business for these owners, and technology has only increased into the new millennium. The American Kennel Club endorsed the process in the 80s and, according to Bloomberg Business, over 2,200 litters of puppies have been conceived using the method.
Some companies have capitalized on the demand and created canine-specific sperm banks to professionally handle the supply. A look at all the precision, care, and security makes you think they treat a dog’s procreative futures like Fort Knox.
- Guarded containment facilities
- Vault-like steel doors with coded locks
- Computer-monitored nitrogen supplies
So how do you get the…raw materials there in the first place? The ICSB in Oregon provides:
- Cryo-Kits to contain, chill and send your sample to the closest facility.
- “Puppy Packs” for more immediate use between donor and recipient (with instructions for collection and insemination).
- Equipment and instructions to ship testes from a dog that has been neutered, euthanized, or expired.
There are over 30 ICSB centers in the United States alone, and other sperm banks like Canine Cryobank (which boasts at least an 80% successful insemination rate) and others.
Of course, many people aren’t planning to collect the sample from their own dog, so many centers offer their own collection methods. That’s where it gets a little strange:
- A female dog (in heat) called a teaser is used to get the client dog ready.
- When he’s just about to get busy, human technicians intercede.
- Manual or electrical stimulation is used to produce a sperm sample, which is typically enough for multiple future breedings.
NBC news provides a more colorful and detailed explanation for the procurement, as well as a variety of options for insemination.
As mentioned, users of these services have expanded. What are the underpinning motivations for saving sperm? Beyond business, dog owners are now interested in leveraging the process for more personal reasons. Why keep your dog’s future prospects on ice?
- Show Me the Puppy: Obviously, breeders who frequent dog shows want their prize-winning pooch to produce equally award-winning offspring, and storing future canine runway models is a good way to prolong that reign, particularly if something unexpected happens to the current champ.
- Sharing is Caring: You think your dog is the best—why not share with the rest? In many cases samples are stored with bios and sold to buyers who want to breed the winning traits of your dog with another to produce a similar dog, or a hybrid, making the best of both worlds. This can obviously be quite lucrative as well: one show winner’s owner makes $2,000 per sample.
- Long Distance “Relationship”: Perhaps you want to breed animals that are across the country from each other…or continents apart! It’s much easier to traffic in sperm, safer for the animals as well, and less expensive. Great Pyrenees don’t fly coach.
- Classic Canine Looks: A New York Times article on dog sperm banks mentions that a 20-year-old Irish wolfhound sample yielded an animal that looked quite different from modern breeds. Sometimes the generational changes are so subtle, we don’t notice the shift over time, so this method provides a look back in time.
- A Healthy Choice: Dipping back into previous generations might also dodge a genetic defect that has crept into a breed. In addition, donor samples in many cases are checked for histories of genetic hip diseases and other potential problems.
- Safer Procreation: Sometimes a canine hookup can have unexpected outcomes like fighting and biting, or the missed acquisition of venereal disease. Storing healthy sperm removes those potential hazards.
- Servicing Service Animals: Well-trained animals that help the blind, pull wheelchairs, and even K-9 police dogs are using this option to increase chances of equally trainable, talented offspring.
Those are some of the more longstanding reasons, but as the practice becomes more common, people are realizing they can explore a whole new option:
- Personal Continuity: Perhaps you aren’t interested in purebreds and appropriated characteristics at all. The reality of lifespans—dog versus human—is that many of us will outlive our pets. We may not want litters of puppies right now, and may even have our pet neutered. When our beloved buddy passes on, the sperm bank provides an option for us to reconnect, to produce a “junior” that may share the looks, traits, and temperament of our fallen friend—the son or daughter that allows them to carry on in their own way, and by our side. It’s now another choice pet parents face, and evidence suggests some find it’s worth it to procure a sample and store it for the future.
As more dog lovers consider this option (beyond the business side of the equation), animal rescue advocates raise important questions: What about the many dogs in need of rescue and adoption?
Are pet parents going to become so beholden to this kind of “immortalization” that they’ll store samples and produce similar canine kin for decades? As the science grows, sperm banks have produced results with collected and stored samples almost 40 years old. If we create litters to give our favorite pet a measure of immortality, what of all the other puppies we’re producing, and how many dogs overall will receive lack of care, sitting in shelters or facing euthanization?
With those concerns in mind, it’s important to note the following:
- Dog sperm banks are expensive: Collection can cost several hundred dollars, and storage for each sample around another hundred dollars a year. Then there’s an insemination fee, which might be considerably more. This may mean many will still look to traditional rescue and adoption for their next four-legged friend.
- No guarantees: Even if prices do trend downward, there’s no certainty an offspring will have the same traits or temperament. In some truly scientific ways your new dog will carry on a piece of your previous pet, but they’ll be their own canine with their own personality.
- No Replacement: A similar genetic offspring (or even someday, possibly a clone) may not be the best way to deal with the loss of your pet partner. Don’t miss our post on how to deal with a dog’s death. In time, it may be the best way to honor that unconditional love legacy is to extend it to another dog already in need through adoption.
With all that said, dog sperm banks aren’t going anywhere soon, as it will be increasingly big business for breeders. It may also be that some dog lovers will choose to store samples, in case their furry friend passes before they’re ready, and they truly feel it’s a way to maintain the spirit and lineage of their adorable dog.
We’ll keep an eye on this development to see how dog lovers respond, and what effect it has longterm on pet parents nationwide.