EletiofeA Scandal Is Tearing the World of Record-Breaking Dogs...

A Scandal Is Tearing the World of Record-Breaking Dogs Apart

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When Bobi, the world’s oldest dog, died in October 2023, the outpouring of grief online was immediate. But it wasn’t long before that sadness turned to suspicion, as experts raised doubts about whether the Portuguese dog really did make it to 31 years and 163 days. In December, a (totally serious) WIRED investigation revealed that a government agency that was supposed to have verified Bobi’s age didn’t actually have evidence he was born in 1992.

Now the doubts surrounding Bobi’s longevity are spiraling into an even bigger scandal that is rocking the world of record-breaking dogs. Guinness World Records, which verifies the longest-lived dogs in the world, says that it has temporarily paused the records for the oldest living dog and oldest dog ever while it reviews the evidence behind Bobi’s record. For now, the throne of the world’s oldest dog remains empty.

In earlier years, when the world’s oldest dog died, the record reverted back to the previous holder of the title if they were still alive. This was the case in October 2022, when Pebbles the toy fox terrier passed away and the former record holder, TobyKeith the Chihuahua, briefly retook the title, before an even older Chihuahua mix called Gino Wolf came forward, and the title passed to him. The dog that held the crown after Gino but before Bobi was Spike, another Chihuahua, who was recorded as 23 years and 7 days old when he first took the record in January 2023.

Spike is very much still alive and kicking. Sure, his lack of teeth means he can no longer eat his favorite snack of cheesy Doritos, but he is the same dog that Guinness had crowned less than a year earlier. On October 23—the same day that Guinness announced Bobi’s death—Spike’s owner, Rita Kimball, wrote to the company to ask what she needed to do to find out whether Spike had regained the title of the world’s oldest dog.

Guinness confirmed that the record would revert back to Spike and asked Rita to send a photo of the dog with that day’s newspaper to verify that he was still alive. But after Rita responded with a photo of Spike, Guinness told her that they now required further proof in order to give Spike the crown. “We are reviewing how we verify animal age records at the moment, so ahead of reinstating Spike as the record-holder, we would like to discuss the possibility of you arranging for a second vet to assess Spike and confirm his age. It’s likely many of our record categories will require a second opinion for verification in the future,” a Guinness World Records representative wrote to Kimball in an email.

Kimball says that for Spike’s initial verification, she provided Guinness with vet records and bills that put his date of birth in 1999 and photos that showed Spike through the years. Kimball had found Spike in a parking lot in 2009, and when she first took the dog to the vet they put him at 10 years old—an age that went on his medical records and vet bills. Six years later Spike visited another vet after a brush with a pit bull, and they agreed on a birth year of 1999, Kimball says.

But when Kimball asked Guinness about re-verifying Spike, these vet estimates were no longer sufficient evidence. One way to estimate the age of an animal is by their teeth, something that Spike lacks, although Kimball says she still has a few loose teeth left over from Spike’s run-in with the pit bull in 2015. Without any teeth in Spike’s mouth to provide evidence, Kimball told Guinness that she was struggling to find a vet to verify her dog’s age.

“We greatly appreciate your efforts in supplying the newly requested evidence, but at this stage we are unable to re-award Spike’s record,” Guinness World Records wrote to Kimball. “His original record is not affected by this review, but it does mean that for now we are unable to recognize him—or any other claimant—as record-holder.”

Kimball is not pleased that Guinness is refusing to re-crown Spike as the world’s oldest dog. “I’m not upset that he got beat, that can happen. I am upset at the fact that they’re withholding his record, because this record should have nothing to do with this other dog,” she says.

It’s extremely difficult for vets to accurately estimate the age of an adult dog, says Louise Allum, head veterinary surgeon for the UK Royal Veterinary College’s shelter medicine program. Puppies are much easier to age because they lose their teeth in a predictable order: incisors first, then canines, premolars, and molars. Tracking the development of adult teeth is a reliable way to estimate the age of a dog up to about a year old.

“After that it gets more and more tricky,” Allum says. There are subtle tells that a dog is getting long in the tooth. Older dogs might have more tartar buildup, but that varies a lot with diet and dental care. Older dogs sometimes have cloudy eyes, but this can set in anywhere from the age of 5, 10, or even later. Some dogs go gray, others don’t. Some start to thin out in the face, while others stay chubby-cheeked all the way into old age.

All of this means that it’s near impossible to accurately assess a dog’s age once they get past a certain age. Even though Allum estimates the age of dogs as part of her day job, she still says that it comes down to a well-informed “best guess” when she has to put an age down in the medical records of a stray dog.

The only way to be sure of a pooch’s provenance is to have a record of them since their birth, or at least since they were a puppy. In the UK, dogs must be fitted with a microchip that contains a unique identifier before they are eight weeks old. A combination of microchip records and photos that show a dog aging over the years would be the most reliable indicator of a dog’s true age, Allum says, although she notes that even those records could be falsified.

Guinness World Records’ head of publishing and brand communication, Amber-Georgina Maskell, says that the company decided to review its age-verification process after receiving “some correspondence from vets” in the wake of the news of Bobi’s death. Maskell says that the company is reviewing the evidence it already has on file, seeking new evidence, and reaching out to experts and people linked to Bobi’s record-breaking claim. As Bobi was also the oldest recorded dog ever (the previous record holder, Bluey, died in 1939), that record title has also been paused. Guinness also has records for the oldest cats, llamas, and mice, but Maskell said that those categories are not currently paused.

“Guinness is in a very sticky situation on this,” says Allum, who is “deeply suspicious” about Bobi’s purported 31 years and 163 days. If we want to crown the oldest dog in the world, we might have to get comfortable with some less-than-perfect verification methods.

But the owner of a previous holder of the world’s-oldest-dog title says that it’s a “slippery slope” if Guinness World Records awards titles to dogs with questionable paperwork. “I grew up reading that book, and it’s kind of a little heartbreaking,” if Guinness’ records can’t be trusted, says Alex Wolf, whose dog Gino was crowned the world’s oldest in December 2022 before swiftly being usurped by Spike a few weeks later.

Wolf adopted Gino when he was a couple of years old, but he says he was able to supply Guinness with adoption records, paperwork from the pound that listed Gino’s birth date, and photos showing his age progression. “It was awesome,” Wolf says of his dog’s verification. “It felt very fitting for this dog that came from this pound in Colorado that was now living in a nice house in Los Angeles.” Gino died in September 2023, five days after his 23rd birthday.

One thing common among owners of the world’s oldest dogs is how they came to hold their records. They see on TV or online that another pooch has been crowned the world’s oldest and wonder if their senior pooch might be in the running. So they put in an application with Guinness World Records, and the record pings from dog to dog and back again in an unbroken chain of record-breaking: Pebbles to TobyKeith, TobyKeith to Gino, Gino to Spike, and Spike to Bobi.

Now that long line of record-breaking hounds is broken, and we’re entering a doggy interregnum. Spike, the heir apparent, is pottering on as ever. He still gets out, naps, eats as he used to, even if his food has to be mashed up. “He’s doing really well,” Kimball says. But still, she can’t shake the feeling that her grizzled pup isn’t getting the recognition he’s earned. “It doesn’t seem fair that they’re going back on their past winners and coming up with new rules,” she says.

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