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Indianapolis rescue educating others on dangers of breeding 'double merle' dogs

Pink Heart Rescue's focus is to train and find homes for dogs that are born blind, deaf, or both due to bad breeding practices.

INDIANAPOLIS — The volunteers at Pink Heart Rescue are die-hard animal lovers doing whatever they can to help pets in need.

Alyx Kopie and her husband started Pink Heart Rescue almost five years ago. The rescue focuses on puppies born blind, deaf, or both, due to bad breeding practices.

Kopie became trained in dog sign language after noticing an increase in irresponsible breeding, which was leading to complications. She said the rescue got a dog named Moses who had behavioral issues and was exhibiting signs of depression. 

"I didn't know a dog could be depressed," Kopie said. "When he was surrendered he missed his owner so much. And I remember the first time we got him, I literally just laid on the floor next to him, and he literally cried."

Kopie said she tried to console Moses, but nothing she did would make him happy, so she decided to get professional training to better serve dogs like him.

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"I went to dog training school, learned how to do behavioral and obedience training, and then did a little bit of some more intense service work and stuff like that," Kopie said.

After that, not only was she able to train Moses, but she found him a forever home, and he's now a therapy dog that goes to school with kids.

Pink Heart Rescue's mission is to educate owners, breeders and other rescues on the merle gene and how it affects breeding. The gene causes the affected dog to have more white fur than its breed would generally have.

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"Double merle" is the common term for homozygous merles, or dogs with two copies of the merle gene. When dogs with the merle genetic pattern — seen in the dog's coat — are bred with another merle, 25% of the litters can be born deaf, blind or both.

Although they may have special needs, double merle dogs can usually lead normal, healthy lives. But it's important to try to keep them in a stable environment, especially early in life, because the loss of one sense can already be hard to cope with.

Kopie said most reputable breeders try to do the right thing, but that's not the case with every breeder. Genetic testing is the best way to ensure this risky breeding doesn't happen, but it can be expensive, so some breeders will just use their best judgement by looking at the dogs' color.

"A lot of people are just unaware," Kopie said. "They just think, 'Oh, we will get a bunch of beautiful puppies.' They don't realize that about a quarter of those puppies could end up dying. So we try to educate a lot about bad breeding practices."

Pink Heart Rescue has many success stories. In less than five years, they've rescued, trained, and found new homes for 126 dogs. They don't yet have a facility for their rescues, but hope an upcoming fundraiser will get them closer to that goal.

Sunday, the rescue will host an adoption event and art auction fundraiser at 8th Day Distillery on Indy's near east side. There will be drinks, vendors, a raffle, and of course, adoptable dogs. The event will take place 1-4 p.m. To see the dogs the rescue currently has available for adoption, click here.

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