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"She could be a they": Pennsylvania family learns dog is intersex after testing

Montco family surprised after dog's genetic testing
Montco family surprised after dog's genetic testing 02:47

HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa. (CBS) -- When the Warren family sent in their dog, Darla, for genetic testing, they received some unexpected results.

Darla, their bright and lovable Australian shepherd, appears female on the outside - but veterinarians learned she's actually intersex.

The stunning discovery happened when owner, Sandy Warren, had Darla tested before she was spayed. Australian shepherds can have bad reactions to certain medications and procedures, and Warren wanted to see if Darla would have any bad reactions to drugs used in the spaying process.

"It turned out she was sensitive to the drug," Warren said.

Darla the Australian shepherd as a puppy. Genetic testing revealed Darla, who owners believed to be female, was actually intersex. Warren Family/CBS News Philadelphia

Then there was a shocker.

"They said, 'are you sure she's a female?'" Warren said. "And I was like, 'yeah, she's a female. Outwardly, yeah, she's a female.'"

However, the tests showed Darla was male, with XY chromosomes.

"She could be a they," veterinarian Julie Sanders said.

Sanders did the neutering operation at the Rockledge Veterinary Center in Rockledge, Pennsylvania. And then there was another surprise.

"We found testes, not ovaries," Sanders said. "Darla has female external genitalia, but testes on the inside."

Warren was stunned.

"I didn't know what to say," she said. "I was like, 'this is crazy.'"

Sandy Warren (right) takes Darla for a walk. CBS News Philadelphia

Other than her extremely rare condition, Darla is perfectly healthy.

"We used to call these pseudo-hermaphrodites," Sanders said. "We now term that condition as intersex."

Darla's internal testes were removed to prevent complications and surgical medications were adjusted after the genetic testing results showed Darla would be sensitive to them.

"It allows us to customize and be proactive about the complications that might occur," Sanders said. "It can be life changing, it can prevent a major post-operative bleed."

Darla quickly recovered from the surgery and is back to her playful self.

Warren still calls Darla her beautiful girl, or a "good girl," though it's more complicated than that - Darla is not technically a girl.

Warren: I still call her a she because I mean outwardly, she looks like a she.

Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl: Darla is still Darla to you?

Warren: She's still Darla to us.

Genetically a little different, but still totally darling.

The genetic testing requires saliva or blood samples from the dog and costs between $60 and $200. It's available at

Darla gets pets and a treat from Dr. Julie Sanders at Rockledge Veterinary Clinic in Rockledge, Pennsylvania. CBS News Philadelphia
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