BLACKSBURG – He may not shoot hoops like the players his Virginia Tech women’s basketball coach namesake guides, but this Kenny Brooks, a five-month-old cavalier King Charles spaniel whose name the family shortens to Brooks, is dribbling his way into the hearts of researchers.
Kenny Brooks, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, shows off his game face on the court at Cassell Coliseum. Photo by Andrew Mann for Virginia Tech. As a key player in a cardiology study at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, this charming puppy is helping to unravel the mysteries of heart disease in his breed.
Owned by Dave ’83 and Betsy Kohnke and their two daughters, Katie ’23 and current Virginia Tech student Elise, Brooks plays a crucial role in advancing veterinary science. Betsy Kohnke said, “It’s important that we contribute to research. We may not find out anything from this study, but we also might find out a lot.”
This dedication is seen in their regular six-hour round trips from Richmond for echocardiograms, examining his heart for any indicators of abnormalities.
The Kohnke’s previous cavalier, Frank Beamer, inspired their love for the breed and was the catalyst for their involvement in this study.
The names of both spaniels also reflect the family’s enthusiasm for all things Hokie.
“The only way I could bring a cavalier into a Hokie house was to name him after a VT coach,” Betsy Kohnke said.
“Katie is a fanatic basketball fan and she got us into watching the women’s basketball team,” she said. “And we were like, Brooks, that’s a great name.”
The choice of name reflects not just their love for the sport but also their admiration for the character and sportsmanship of coach Brooks, who led the Hokies to their first Final Four appearance last season.
“I wouldn’t have named my dog after him if I didn’t believe he was a nice man.”
Cavalier King Charles spaniels, like Brooks, are predisposed to heart conditions, particularly myxomatous mitral valve disease (MMVD). This disease, characterized by the improper closure of the heart’s left valve, typically affects older dogs, many of whom never develop symptoms.
However, in breeds like the cavalier King Charles spaniel, MMVD can manifest earlier and more aggressively, potentially leading to congestive heart failure and premature death.
Mindy Quigley, clinical research coordinator, likens the heart’s blood-pumping action to a room of people: “The room fills up, then the door opens, and every single person should leave. The door should close completely before a new group of people comes in. If anybody can sneak back in the door, that’s when problems happen.”
Researchers have observed that adult cavaliers, even those yet to develop the disease, exhibit distinct differences in the shape of their mitral valves when compared to adult dogs of other breeds.
“Naturally, our question then was: Are cavaliers born with a valve that is differently shaped?” Meciotti said. “Or do they develop these different shapes as they grow? And how does that predispose them to develop the disease compared to other breeds?”
Andrew Mann for Virginia Tech