Lost sperm samples prompt suit by champion dog breeder

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BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Linda Blackie made a career breeding championship-caliber poodles.

It started with Peter -- her prized dog that captured Best in Show honors at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1991 -- and continued with his descendents, who have since collected countless awards.

But a mistake by Mount Nittany Veterinary Hospital will prevent Ms. Blackie from passing those genes on to hundreds of other potential show dogs. As a result, she and another woman are looking for more than $300,000 in damages in a civil jury trial that got under way last week in Bellefonte.

What's not disputed is that the animal hospital lost 122 sperm samples from several of Peter's descendents, owned by Ms. Blackie of Altoona and Miriam Thomas.

The women's attorney, State College-based Louis Glantz, said the samples were kept frozen and preserved in liquid nitrogen.

But because of a mistake at the veterinarian's office, the samples thawed and were destroyed.

Now a jury of nine women and three men must determine how much they were worth. Ms. Blackie contends she would have made $5,000 selling two samples -- a lofty figure, but appropriate because of the quality of the genes, she said.

"These dogs are the equivalent of Secretariat, not like the dogs we have at home," Mr. Glantz said. "They are special."

Bellefonte attorney Robert Mix, who is representing the animal hospital and Bob Cohen, owner and veterinarian, did not dispute the dogs' championship lineage and winning track record.

But even the best dogs, he said, can produce poor samples for breeding. Poor quality means more samples must be used to ensure success, and less money can made from each.

Mr. Mix said the quality of the samples in question was "from moderately good to extremely poor."

Mr. Glantz, however, said Ms. Blackie's reputation and her dogs' past success alone makes it likely others breeders would pay her price.

Peter and Gordon, another dog bred by Ms. Blackie, "were the two best poodles the world has ever known," Mr. Glantz said.

"That's lost to the breed. When you talk to breeders, it's a shock. That line is gone."

He said the price for those genes likely will rise as more time passes, and fewer of Peter's descendents remain. "We're at 12 years," he said.

"We're not asking for a windfall," Mr. Glantz said. "There is nothing my client would like more than to go back, because she could have earned a lot more than we're asking for."

The samples were destroyed in May 2010.

They were placed in the animal hospital when it was still owned by Ms. Thomas' ex-husband. The facility was later purchased by Mr. Cohen, according to Mr. Mix.

Ms. Thomas owned a dog bred by Ms. Blackie, and also had samples in the facility.

For Ms. Blackie, the loss of the samples erased years of work finding the right matches and removed another link to her late beloved pet, Peter. "That's 40 years of work that's totally wiped out," she said.

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