After 40 Years of Golden Retrievers, this Texas Couple Can’t Imagine Life Without Them
Andrea and Vincent Conti have been married for 45 years, and they’ve enjoyed the companionship of golden retrievers for almost as long. Gemma, Hero #2236, is their seventh golden retriever in a line that stretches back to 1976, and a little extra special because she is their first girl as well as a participant in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.
“When we registered Gemma with the AKC, we learned about the study and that Morris Animal Foundation was looking for participants,” said Andrea. “We were drawn to the study because we’ve lost too many of our goldens too soon to cancer. Vincent and I have science backgrounds so we also appreciated that what we learn from the study could advance the health of all dogs”
Andrea has her master’s degree in nursing and Vincent is a cardiac surgeon on the faculty of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Being well-grounded in science, they value the design of the study, as well as its goals – better understanding the environmental, genetic, lifestyle and nutritional risk factors that may lead to disease, including cancer.
Gemma is a walking, swimming and running ambassador for the study, and Andrea takes every chance she gets to educate others about Morris Animal Foundation and its Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. The staff at the Galveston Veterinary Clinic are now well acquainted with the study and play an important role in Gemma’s participation.
“When we enrolled Gemma, we were so fortunate that her veterinarian, Dr. Richard Henderson, wanted to get involved with the study, too,” said Andrea. “As the staff there has learned about the study and Gemma’s involvement, she’s become a little bit of a celebrity.”
Gemma did give Andrea and Vincent a scare though when she was younger and in a heavy chewing phase. They had gone on vacation and Gemma was tended to by their housesitter. When they returned, it was obvious that something was wrong. A normally exuberant Gemma was listless. A quick visit to their veterinarian revealed that Gemma was obstructed by “a combination of all kinds of stuff” that Gemma had shredded and ingested – 3 feet of her small intestines had to be removed. Two surgeries were needed to bring Gemma back to health and she hasn’t slowed down since.
“We live on a canal and all of our dogs have learned to swim with a little bit of help from us,” said Andrea. “We had special stairs built so the dogs could get in and out of the water safely, and now Gemma gets to swim several times a week, fetching her bumper gives her so much joy. She loves chasing tennis balls, and going for walks and just being a lovable golden retriever. We enjoy her tremendously.”
Gemma’s enrollment in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, said Andrea, not only will help advance the health of dogs in the future, but is a tribute to the dogs they have lost in the past – Bentley, Chester, Sherlock, Tyler, Oliver and Dudley.
“We want to find out why, and the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is helping us learn not only why our dogs died young, but perhaps what we can do today and in the future to keep our dogs healthy,” said Andrea. “We hope Gemma lives to the ripe old age of 12 or even 14, but even if we lose her before then, we’ll know her life made a difference. She really is our hero.”