dogs

My dogs have “Embarked”…

As some regular readers know, my husband Bill and I adopted a dog last fall. Noyzi came into our lives after a dog we had tried to adopt from Sardinia escaped his pet transport taxi and got hit by a car. We had tried to adopt the dog from Sardinia, months after we lost our precious Zane, a beagle mix we adopted from Atlanta Beagle Rescue in December 2009. Zane was a very special dog to me and I missed him terribly, but it’s not so easy for Americans to adopt dogs in Germany. A lot of the reason stems from animal shelters near U.S. military installations, having been burned by servicemembers who adopt animals and bring them back when it’s time to leave. Or they just dump the animals they brought over to Germany.

Naturally, Bill and I aren’t like that. Our dogs are family members, and we would never consider leaving them at a shelter. But thanks to the irresponsible actions of some of our countrymen, we figured we’d be wasting our time going to a local shelter. Additionally, thanks to COVID-19, getting a dog from a German dog rescue was also not going to be feasible. Last spring, we were not permitted to travel out of the area where we live. After the botched delivery attempt from the pet transport, we decided we’d rather be responsible for picking up our new friend ourselves. At least then, we could be sure the dog was properly secured before we took him out of the car! I am still haunted by the memory of that sweet hound from Sardinia, terrified as the taxi driver took him from her vehicle and set him on the ground, unsecured. Once that happened, there was nothing at all that we could do, and I knew in my heart that he was doomed.

Noyzi (also known as Noizy) was named for an Albanian rapper by a young man in Kosovo who found him wandering the streets, shrieking at the top of his lungs. He was a very young puppy when he was found; perhaps not old enough to be away from his mom. The young man gave him to an American woman named Meg, who rescues street dogs in Kosovo. A couple of years later, a mutual friend put me in touch with Meg, and we arranged to bring Noyzi to Germany. Noyzi was one of a few lucky pooches who found new homes last fall, just in the nick of time. If we had waited another month, it would have been hard to get him up here to Germany, thanks to COVID-19. I sure have loved having him around, though. It’s rewarding to see him evolve and his personality is very endearing and sweet.

I have never had a dog like Noyzi before. All of my dogs in recent times have been beagle mixes of some sort, although they’ve all been mixed with different breeds. Our first beagle rescue, for example, probably had husky mixed in with his beagle heritage. He had ice blue eyes and shedded constantly! Our other rescues were beagles to varying degrees; Flea was probably the closest to a purebred beagle, while MacGregor was definitely part basset hound, and I always suspected Zane had a touch of Labrador in him.

Since DNA tests are all the rage right now, I decided we’d see what breeds make up Noyzi and Arran. A couple of friends recommended Embark DNA tests. After a few weeks of resistance, I finally took the plunge. I bought two tests from Amazon. When they got to me, I used the high speed Q-tip like swabs in the kits to collect saliva from the dogs’ cheeks, attached the swabs to the vials of solution that came with the kits, put the completed kits in the included postage paid envelopes, and sent them off. Last night, after about a two week wait, we got the results, which included genetic health tests and breed analyses.

When we first got Arran, I figured he was a beagle/coonhound mix. But then Bill had a colleague who said he looked like a German Shorthaired Pointer. After reading up on GSPs, I thought maybe she might be right about that. As for Noyzi, I had no idea… At first, I wondered if he was part hound, due to his coloring. But then, after living with him for awhile, I figured he had some herding dog in him. He likes to collect toys and put them in his bed, or more recently, up in the spare bedroom we use as an entertainment room… but since we don’t have proper seating in there, it’s more of a doggy hangout room. Zane used to like to sleep in there during his last months.

I kind of knew that when we sent in the DNA samples, Noyzi’s would probably come back as “village dog”. Sure enough, I was right about that. However, I think it’s cool that his DNA is another sample for Embark, adding to the bank of unusual dog breeds they have in their database. I was pretty tickled with Arran’s results, especially since they sent us a cute video and guessing game for his results (Noyzi didn’t get a video for his). It turns out my instincts about Arran were right. He’s mostly beagle, with American English Coonhound and Llewellin Setter and “Supermutt” DNA. I had never heard of a Llewellin Setter, but it seems it’s kind of like an English Setter. When I was a kid, we had a dog who was a mix of Cocker Spaniel and English Setter. Now that I think about it, Arran shares a few traits with her… and he’s definitely got bird dog proclivities. But he doesn’t have any GSP, after all. I guess I should trust my instincts.

I resisted getting the tests done because I wasn’t sure how well they’d work out. I’m sure there aren’t a lot of dogs like Noyzi in the United States. I was right about that, hence the Eastern European Village Dog label. I thought we could get them done over here in Germany, but the results would have been in German. We did have our vet do DNA testing, but it turns out the kind she ran is more for breeders to show genetic information to buyers and prove bloodlines. It doesn’t tell you anything about the breed. It’s also NOT cheap! Apparently, Noyzi doesn’t have any significant genetic issues anyway. Arran is at a higher risk of getting disc disease, thanks to his beagle ancestry. The Embark vet sent us an email ahead of the results to let us know about Arran’s increased risk of getting IVDD. But as he’s about 12 years old and still very much a scrapper, I’m not too worried about it. I think he’s going to be our longevity dog.

Anyway… I highly recommend the Embark DNA tests. It was a lot of fun learning about our dogs, and I suspect that as the systems refine, we’ll learn even more about them. I wish I could have done these tests on our other dogs, too. I will make it a point of having them done whenever we add new canine family members. I think they’re helpful in determining the best ways to take care of our dogs. As the weather gets nicer, Noyzi gets more playful and sweet. I made another video yesterday featuring my crappy guitar playing… but at least Noyzi is a cute co-star.

I’ve been wanting to try this song for ages, but needed to be able to play it. Now I kind of can play it… I’ll keep practicing, while Noyzi continues to be adorable as he interacts with Tommi, the neighbor’s Lab.
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23andMe

Guess I’m not Spanish or Italian anymore…

23andMe just updated their algorithm again. According to them, I no longer have Spanish or Italian DNA. I’m a little bummed about it. Now, instead of Spanish and Italian DNA, I have gone back to having Scandinavian DNA.

Back in September 2017, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. These were my original results.

South Asian? That was surprising. Turns out it was also apparently wrong.

About fourteen months ago, 23andMe updated again. This time, they said I had Scandinavian DNA to go with my majority British heritage.

I always wondered if maybe there was a little Swede in my creed.

But then they updated again… and until a couple of days ago, they had removed the Scandinavian connection and added .7% Spanish, Portuguese, and .5% Italian ancestry. I also went up a trace in British and Irish ancestry, as well as Native American. I could believe the Native American connection, given that my people have been in Virginia for a couple of centuries. I figured at least one or two of them must have gotten with a local. And I could also see the Spanish connection because of the Spanish Armada. There is such a thing as “Black Irish” people– those are Irish folks who have dark hair and dark eyes because they made babies with people from Spain. Also consider that Spain actually isn’t that far from Britain or Ireland as the crow flies… and that they got their dark features from people in Africa. Southern Spain is not so far from Morocco, you know.

I kind of enjoyed thinking I might have a dash of spicy Spanish or zesty Italian in my DNA. But, then 23andMe ran their data again and, wouldn’t you know it? I’m not only no longer Spanish or Italian at all; I’m also a tiny bit more Native American.

So maybe I’m a little Scandic after all… for now, anyway.

All of these tests are done at a 50% confidence interval, so chances are excellent that these results are mostly bullshit anyway. What they do know is that my origins are almost 100% European. All you need to do is look at me to know that. I’m actually glad to see the higher concentration of German ancestry, since I know for a fact that I had German relatives from the Rhein and Karlsruhe relatively recently, as in the 1800s. You can change the confidence interval on 23andMe to see your actual raw data if you want to– up to 90%. I have always sucked at statistics, even though I took six classes in the course of my seven years in university studies. What I know is that at a 50% confidence interval, researchers are only 50% sure of their results. The overall results become less specific at 90%, though they are definitely more accurate.

Bill’s results changed, too. He’s no longer got Nigerian roots. Instead, he has links to Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. I never thought I’d be in an “interracial relationship”, but I guess I am… Looking at Bill, you’d never know he has any African genes, but apparently, he does. He has Dutch ancestry and the Dutch were quite involved in the African slave trade, which means some of them were having sexual relations with African locals.

I can’t help but remember studying slave narratives in my African American and Women’s literature classes at Longwood University and learning about the “tragic mulatto“. That was a fictional character that appeared in literature back in the 19th and 20th centuries… a character that was sad or even suicidal because he or she was “mixed” race and did not fit into either black or white worlds. In the slave era, many white men got black women pregnant. The children that resulted from these sexual trysts were considered “black”, as one drop of African blood supposedly meant a person was black. Naturally, some of them “passed” as white people and enjoyed more privileged lives. It kind of makes me cringe to think about that today, but it was the law in parts of the United States back in the 1800s. The “one drop” rule was never federally codified and is now, thankfully, a defunct law.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t even been 100 years since my home state of Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriages illegal and required all birth and marriage certificates issued in the state to declare a person either “white” or “colored”. Even today, there’s still controversy about racial relationships in Virginia. Just recently, Rockbridge County, which is where most of my family is originally from and where Bill and I got married, was in the news because the marriage licenses issued there required applicants to state “what they were” racially speaking. Virginia was recently sued due to requiring marriage license applicants to list their races. It’s not the first time Virginia has been in the news regarding its attitudes about interracial relationships. Until 1967, it was illegal in Virginia for a white person and a black person to marry. It took the Supreme Court to make the decision to lift bans on interracial marriages.

I’ve spent over half of my life in Virginia, never fully understanding just how racist a past it has. And this is even though I had the benefit of education and a normally functioning brain. What’s funny about these DNA tests that anyone can take is that people are realizing that we aren’t as “pure” as we think we are. People with racist attitudes are finding out that many of them have genetic links to the people they most disdain. We are more alike than we are different. And yet, even in 2019, we have plenty of white supremacists around, proudly showing off their racism to the masses.

I suppose I shouldn’t care so much about where I came from. I find genealogy and DNA testing fascinating, especially since there are so many stories connected to it. I recently wrote about how I found a DNA relative through 23andMe. Her mother was the biological daughter of my great uncle Edward, whom I never knew. He was my paternal grandmother’s brother, and he died six years before I was born. My relative, who writes that I am the only one on 23andMe from my great uncle’s family who has connected with her, explained that her bio grandmother had a “fling” with my great uncle and got pregnant. She was originally from Farmville, Virginia, the town where I went to college and where Virginia’s great teaching college, Longwood University, is located. It’s likely Edward’s girlfriend was a Longwood graduate like me, since she was a teacher by profession.

Bio grandma gave up my DNA relative’s mother for adoption in Roanoke, Virginia, not at all far from Natural Bridge, Virginia– which is where my father’s family is from and many relatives still live. My new relative’s mom had a fling with a man who worked at the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington, DC back in 1944. In 1945, my relative was born. She grew up thinking she was half Hispanic, but she learned thanks to 23andMe, she is actually half Ashkenazi Jewish. Her father, who had “passed” for Uruguayan, was actually most probably someone whose family fled Europe to escape the Nazis.

I love a good story, and this lady is now sharing her story with me. And it’s all because of 23andMe, she’s learning about her mother’s father… a man whom I never knew, but I knew his sister, my grandmother, quite well. I am providing a link to that part of her history, all thanks to DNA testing. Still, I have to admit that having done the test, I have a lot of questions I never considered before… and it’s very interesting to see how the guesses as to what and who I am are changing as more people get DNA testing done. My new relative even found pictures of our great grandparents– Rebecca and Edward Barger– my granny’s mom and dad and her grandfather’s mom and dad. It amazes me that until very recently, making this connection with my relative would have been very unlikely. I wish I could connect her to some of my older relatives, whom I know could answer more of her questions than I can.

Anyway… writing about this keeps me from watching bad TV and eating junk food, which according to 23andMe, I’m probably statistically more likely to do, thanks to my DNA. I’m just kidding. I don’t think they’ve yet made that determination. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if, someday, they did.

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