Organic, Pasture Raised Puppies?

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Watched the movie Farmageddon last night. Could not help but compare the “one size fits all” legislation that threatens local, family farms with recent legal developments in the world of small scale dog breeders. USDA regulations aimed at high volume agribusiness ( this includes puppy mills) must be reformatted for the very different business model of small, local farmers ( and dog breeders). These commercial and local businesses produce the same “product” – eggs, milk, spinach, puppies – in name only. That’s where the similarities end.

Puppies raised on a scale small enough to allow individualized handling, appropriate exercise, and healthy social lives are as different from puppy mill dogs as is fresh produce found at the farmer’s market from the trucked in variety found at the big box stores. Regulations and prices appropriate for “Big Ag” are just not scalable for small farms and breeders alike. They are not the same business model. Not the same relationship with the consumer. Not the same experience or end product. Ultimately, a different endeavor altogether .

It has never been more important for ethical dog breeders to distinguish themselves as an entirely different “industry” from high volume operations. The public are increasingly swayed by the animal rights extremist rhetoric of all breeders as exploitative. Fighting onerous government regulations on a legal level is certainly an important part of preserving our ability to breed dogs, but not everyone feels called to advocacy. There is much that breeders as individuals can do – even without traveling to the courthouse. Setting ourselves apart from disreputable breeders is vital.

Becoming more visible in our own communities as approachable and knowledgeable is an important part of demonstrating what an ethical breeder is about. Volunteering at our local shelter, nursing home or rabies clinic would serve to open up opportunities for (constructive!) discussion and connection. Offering to teach a mini segment on dog care at the local elementary school or summer camp helps the public experience hobby breeders as human, reasonable and community oriented neighbors. We must become creative in finding ways for the public to understand the difference and the value of local, qualified breeders. It is this public, these neighbors, that will be ultimately drive how ( and if) we pursue our passion.

15,000 Puppy Owners Didn’t Find Us…

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Commercial dog breeders from Amish community speak out at Elkhart County Plan Commission.

This is a pretty routine article about commercial, large scale breeders but I post it here because the last bit caught my eye…

In Elkhart County there are at least thirty commercial breeders that are registered with the U.S.D.A. By state law a commercial breeder is a person with at least 20 unaltered female dogs, who sells at least 500 dogs a year. Commercial breeders are required to register with Indiana State Board of Animal Health.

My math puts that at 15,000 puppy buyers that weren’t served by small scale hobby breeders. The desire is apparantly out there. Ethical, hobby breeders must be more accessible to those looking for a puppy. Networks of local, qualified breeders, visible in their communities would provide buyers not just with a new puppy, but also with education, support and a safety net should that pup ever need to be re-homed. We must take pride in our roles as the go-to source for pups. Preventative rescue…

Dogs are Good for You – Go Figure…

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Talk about a "feel good" moment!

Pet Therapy: How Animals And Humans Heal Each Other : Shots – Health Blog : NPR.

The evidence continues to mount for what we all already know – being with a dog feels good. Just underscores the importance of the dog as companion and points to the focus ethical breeders must have on the pet puppy and its people. More important all day long than a 5 point major! And the sense of satisfaction lasts a lot longer…

Local Network of Artisan Breeders….

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In a recent email commenting on what the writer saw as my artisanal approach to dog breeding (local, small scale, expert) she posited “Why can’t we do for dogs what we’ve done for bread?”. I looked up artisanal and came up with this definition:

“Artisanal” indicates something that is hand-crafted in small batches with a great amount of care that is not industrialized in any way, shape, or form.  The making or crafting of a particular good or service is viewed as high art, and it should be carefully treated as such”

Great way to frame the work of the hobby breeder…

The Local Dog Breeder, Reinterpreted

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Well raised pups make the best pets

I wrote this article ( The Local Dog Breeder, Reinterpreted) for the most recent Australian Shepherd Journal. I’m posting it here for anyone who is interested. It essentially synopsizes my thinking about how hobby breeders can be an even more potent force at helping to keep shelter numbers down…

The following are some quotes from the article.

We have an image problem. The purebred dog and its breeders are in trouble. Animal rights activists, in their purported efforts to reduce the numbers of dogs in shelters, are pointing an accusatory finger at all purebred dog breeders. They make no distinction between mass producers, backyard operations and hobby breeders. They are waging a war for the hearts and minds of the public and gaining ground each year…

…in spite of all the energy, time, money and commitment the majority of us hobby breeders put into doing this breeding thing the right way, the public’s perception of us continues to erode. We are increasingly being painted with the same brush as puppy mills and the likes of Michael Vick. We are alternately puppy factories and dog show snobs…

…The propaganda has worked its magic on us as well as the public. We have internalized the notion that reputable breeders do not breed pets and our message to the public often reflects that. Our blame lies only in having allowed unscrupulous breeders to dominate the pet market. Imagining we are doing the right thing, we have actually stepped away from being part of the solution…

…Historically hesitant to market ourselves as professionals in the area of pet breeding, we fear being seen as “in it just for the money.” Stepping away from this responsibility is not a principled answer. This is a stretch for most of us, allergic as we are to the idea of breeding pets in any deliberate way. We cringe at the very suggestion that we focus our breeding programs on the pet market, but we must. We owe it to the dogs. They deserve to be born and raised in capable, humane hands…

…If we can harness just some of the ribbon chasing determination of thousands of highly motivated, educated, ethical breeders and redirect it towards chasing accolades for accomplishments that would benefit the pet market, we would have an inextinguishable force that redefines pet breeding and helps keep dogs out of shelters at the same time…

Read the complete Local Dog article here.

FurBaby Evolution ?

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I know what MY puppies would do to this pink crib/crate bumper set...

Where does this Furbaby, Pet Parent thing come from?

What causes humans to anthropomorphize to such a level that it seems caring and right to line dog beds with pink appliqued baby bumpers instead of clean straw? To project their own emotions, culture and interpretations onto domesticated animals? According to pet industry surveys, just over half of pet owners will buy their pets a Christmas present this year. While I’m quite sure dogs enjoy novel stimuli and interaction as much as anyone, I feel pretty sure they still have a religious belief structure that does not yet embrace Christmas! Advertisers, having already conquered our children, have turned to our pets in the hopes of wresting yet another dollar out of our pockets. Given the FurBaby climate, I’m sure we’ll all be a bit poorer soon!

What is it about dogs that turns us so mushy?

The lead article in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine , entitled “Can the Bulldog be Saved?” shines some light. It was, generally,  a rather predictable discussion of how damaging breeding for extreme traits is to purebred dogs ( I must agree), but the bit of the article I found relevant to the Furbaby issue is this comment by a Bulldog owner:

…the breed brings out a particularly strong parenting instinct in many people. “Even as adults, bulldogs look almost infantile — like plump little babies,”

It was followed by this from James Serpell, the director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania.

Serpell says that our human tendency toward anthropomorphic selection — which he defines as “selection in favor of physical and behavioral traits that facilitate the attribution of human mental states to animals” — is partly responsible for the modern bulldog’s predicament.“We have, to some extent, accentuated physical characteristics of the breed to make it look more human, although essentially more like caricatures of humans, and specifically of children,”

Interestingly, the author goes on to observe:

Advertisers and animators have long recognized that giving an animal big eyes and a big head is a surefire way to endear it to humans. When Walt Disney created Bambi, the studio wanted the character to be an accurate depiction of a deer. But when the original Bambi sketches were deemed not “cute” enough, Disney shortened Bambi’s muzzle and made his head and eyes bigger.

I have often noted that it seems as soon as a breed splits into working and companion lines, the muzzles shorten, backskulls broaden and limbs thicken. The tendency towards neonatal traits often includes lower set ears, larger eyes and a more dependent personality. A study on the domestication of the Silver Fox introduced an intriguing discussion on the possibility that the gene mutation that allows domestication ( not all animals have it) carries with it the genes for these more juvenile body types – a domestic phenotype, if you will.

These excerpts from a National Geographic article on the domestic Fox farm research project encapsulate the idea

Domesticated animals are known to share a common set of characteristics, a fact documented by Darwin in The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. They tend to be smaller, with floppier ears and curlier tails than their untamed progenitors. Such traits tend to make animals appear appealingly juvenile to humans. Their coats are sometimes spotted—piebald, in scientific terminology—while their wild ancestors’ coats are solid. These and other traits, sometimes referred to as the domestication phenotype, exist in varying degrees across a remarkably wide range of species, from dogs, pigs, and cows to some nonmammalians like chickens, and even a few fish.

Fascinatingly, researchers working on the domestication project found that…

 Selecting which foxes to breed based solely on how well they got along with humans seemed to alter their physical appearance along with their dispositions. After only nine generations, the researchers recorded fox kits born with floppier ears. Piebald patterns appeared on their coats. By this time the foxes were already whining and wagging their tails in response to a human presence, behaviors never seen in wild foxes.

Some domestication researchers believe all these changes are linked solely to the gene mutation, while others point to what they believe is the unavoidable influence of the human handlers in choosing future breeding stock for the project.

Why do we see these physical changes so drastically in the dog and less so in other domesticated animals? In a 2004 Nova article, A Potpourri of Pooches,  I found this explanation…

Another part of the reason is that dogs’ bodies, particularly their skulls, undergo a major transformation between newborn and adult. (The skulls of newborn cats, by contrast, are already of adult proportion, which, along with less zealous breeding, may be one reason why the domestic cat is not nearly as motley as its household nemesis.) These physical changes are wrought by genes turning on and off at different times. By toying with the timing of nasal growth and other stages of development, breeders have engineered an assortment of canines worthy of the creative powers of Maurice Sendak.

While I have no issue with breeds being developed both mentally and physically to best suit their jobs, it is clear we have to be vigilant to avoid extremes that may compromise quality of life. I think this must include special attention to understanding and respecting what comprises a normal, healthy social and behavioral life for our pets. It just may include snoozing under the porch and rolling in deer poop –  which does do such a number on those cute pink dresses, darn!

Fur Baby – Not!

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Aaaaahhh! This “furbaby” thing drives me crazy!

I'd rather be eating something yucky...

Furry Babies, Inc is a pet store chain that capitalizes on our loving yet frequently confused relationships to our dogs. Furry Babies, Inc. keeps its puppies not in crates, mind you, but in baby cribs set up all over the pink, nursery themed store. You will go home with your ribbon bedecked “bundle of joy”. Last but not least, their financing plans will also actually help you build/repair your credit ( talk about one stop shopping!).

The stylist prepared puppy photos show wide-eyed puppies, dressed in frilly tutus, sophisticated dinner jackets and lil’ slugger t-shirts. The “babies” are surrounded with seasonally appropriate pumpkins and gourds and accessorized with orange bows and hats. As my nausea abated, my indignation grew…

who says we confuse babies and pets?

Dogs are not babies. While I’m a big believer that the job of dogs as family pet is important and valid, framing that role as nothing more than a furry, human child does only damage. This infantilization of dogs is a not only a disservice to them, it is a danger. Treating dogs like little furry babies completely disrespects the needs, proclivities, and perspectives of their own culture. We humans have a strong tendency to look at other peoples, species and cultures through our own rather limited lenses. We seem to need to assign our own attributes to those that are “other” so we can relate to, understand and sometimes even control them.

Am I human enough?

Our relationship to pet dogs is complex. We no longer view them as livestock yet, even though they are dependant on our care and companionship, they are not our children either. Our default response to them – a confusing mixture of Furbaby ( the word itself illustrates the conflict) caretaking, expectations for Lassie loyalty and Rin-Tin-Tin bravery. That the domestic dog ends up with any grasp on sanity is a testament to their remarkable adaptability and resilience.

As a child, one of my favorite movies was Francois Truffaut’S “L’enfant Sauvage” ( The Wild Child), a true story about the attempted “domestication” of a boy who had been raised (by wolves?) in the forest. I’m reminded of that child’s despair and confusion as he was “helped” to become a “civilized human” when I watch some of our domesticated dogs try to make sense of our culture with its alien social norms, rules and customs.

While we are all love our human babies (well most of the time! ), one of the big shocks of parenthood is how unlike the Hallmark card bliss and sweetness babies really are. There are days ( weeks?) that Bundle of Joy thing can be pretty elusive! This same shock and unpreparedness comes to puppy owners who have been similarly misled about the realities of puppy rearing ( put a gun to my head – I WILL not say Puppy parenting!). While there were days I thought I might need a shelter to take my kids to ( just kidding, C. and D. – I love you!), shelter relinquishment is sadly all too often the “solution” for  frustrated puppy owners who had no idea what they were getting into. We do dogs no favors when we allow them to be portrayed as something they are not. This leaves their owners unequiped to provide their pets with species appropriate handling, communication and expectations. The result is, in my opinion, tantamount to cruelty.

The Furry Babies, Inc. puppies don’t know the difference between a crate and a crib. They, no doubt, find tutus and ribbons useful chew toys. Their parents likely spend their lives in high volume breeding facilities where they endure, at the other end of the spectrum, an equally damaging of lack of respect for the culture of dogs.

“The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” Henry Beston, naturalist & author (1888 – 1968)

What Exactly is a Responsible Breeder?

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Brandy

A healthy, sound dog...

After doing some renovation and painting in my boarding kennel last month, I was rehanging my hard-earned Hall of Fame Kennel certificates when a regular client wandered in to drop off her hound mix, Riley, for daycare. Spying my framed documents, she gushed “Wow, you must be so proud! Those really prove that you are a responsible breeder, right?”.

“Er…” I mumbled, fussing with the picture wire I’d painstakingly installed the day my “proof” arrived in the mail so many years ago, “er…well…kinda’… sorta’…”. Not to be waylaid, she pushed, ” What do you have to do to be a Hall of Fame breeder? It must be a lot of work sending in all the health papers and showing your dogs have good temperaments and all that. Does the Better Business Bureau have to endorse you?” I explained that, proud as I was of my dog’s achievements, these Hall of Fame designations ( and now the AKC Breeder of Merit), really just showed that a certain number of my dogs had earned titles in a variety of competitive venues – no health checks, no temperament tests, certainly no BBB. Sadly, no real proof that I was a “reputable” breeder.

She looked at me quizzically, ” Well then, how does anyone know how to tell if a breeder is responsible?”

A new client arrived yesterday with her 10 week old puppy in tow. “Oh!” I cooed ” How cute is that? Where’d you come across this little fellow?”. “On the internet” she replied ” but don’t worry, they were responsible breeders. The web site said they followed a code of ethics and they had a guarantee. We just love him!”. This was obviously not the time to bring up the life their lucky pup’s parents might endure in what was likely a high volume breeding operation.

A prospective puppy buyer called recently and ,as I have no puppies for sale, I began my usual referral speech. He interrupted me ” I want a reputable professional, not just someone who does this as a part-time hobby in their garage”. When I explained that a part-time hobby/garage breeder might just be exactly who he should work with, his doubt was obvious. “Surely”, he insisted, ” I’d be better off with a full-time professional. They’d have the most expertise.”

We hear this phrase “responsible breeder” bandied about a lot. We are admonished to be “responsible”. Potential puppy buyers are advised to work only with “responsible” breeders. “Irresponsible” breeders are fodder for the animal rights extremists, the media and legislative initiatives. “Irresponsible “breeders are indicted in news headlines screaming “70 Starving Puppies found in Filth”. Websites abound extolling the virtues of buying from breeders who adhere to Codes of Ethics, raise only healthy dogs, breed very few litters of very few breeds, guarantee their dogs and never, ever turn away from one of their dogs in need. Responsible breeder checklists direct puppy buyers to seek out hobby/show breeders and spell out in considerable detail what to look for in such a breeder.

Locating and connecting with those breeders can be a confusing process for pet buyers because much of the “good” breeder’s ethical code is not pet-centric. Much of the current climate on dog breeding vilifies show dog breeders and although some may, no doubt, deserve it, most are, as they say, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Animal rights/welfare doctrine pressures breeders to be “good” ( if at all!) and a “good” breeder assiduously rejects identification as a pet breeder ( after all, isn’t that what puppy mills do?).

The definitions for responsible breeder are paradoxical at best. Confusing not just for the buyer but the breeder as well.

Here’s my tongue-firmly-in-cheek checklist:

  • A responsible breeder is smaller than a puppy mill, but bigger than a backyard breeder – more professional than a backyard breeder but not as professional as a puppy mill…
  • A responsible breeder is identified by how little she breeds, but is expected to be an expert in genetics, animal husbandry, puppy rearing and dog behavior…
  • A responsible breeder provides optimal health care, facilities, food and enrichment for her breeding stock, but must not make any money doing what she loves…
  • A responsible breeder should be THE SOURCE for pups to the public, but should only occasionally breed and most certainly does not advertise in the local newspaper, nor pin notes on community bulletin boards…
  • A responsible breeder is “evaluated” in the show and performance rings, but must not let striving for that validation ( no other accolades in this game!) shape her breeding priorities…
  • Responsible breeders keep meticulous records, stay on top of surprisingly onerous amounts of paperwork, return phone calls and emails promptly, spend hours meeting with potential clients, craft carefully worded contracts for puppy sales, stud services and leases, balance budgets and provide unlimited customer support, yet dares not think of this work in businesslike terms…
  • A responsible breeder does not keep just one dam and sire ( backyard breeder alert?), acts as a lifetime safety net for every dog ever produced, grows all potential stock until at least two years of age, but keeps all her dogs in the house and rarely ( sarcasm alert!), God Forbid, uses crates and kennels …
  • A responsible breeder’s website strives to attract good owners, but insists they “don’t breed pets” and “breed only for themselves”…
  • A responsible breeder structures his life around the care of his animals, but must consider breeding his avocation, never his vocation...

“Good” breeders are betwixt and between. How does anyone realistically and sustainably meet all those divergent criteria? Puppy buyers are understandably just as confused. Their heads must be spinning as they try to sort out the far from cohesive messages about where to find a puppy. This against the constant, guilt inducing drumbeat of “Don’t buy, adopt”.

How do we communicate a coherent definition of responsible breeder to the general public ( and ourselves!)? Are there aspects of what we believe to be responsible that might actually conflict with our abilities to be the primary source for ethically bred puppies?

I’d love to hear more from readers.

More next time…

Just A Pet

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A Gaggle of Pets


JUST A PET…

We’ve all said it.  We don’t mean it to be denigrating but, let’s be honest, it rarely carries a glowing connotation. What’s that about and how does it impact our effectiveness at keeping breeding in the hands of responsible breeders

I recently read an article by Patricia McConnell, PHD entitled “ Pet Peeves – Let’s Hear it for the Family Dog” ( Bark magazine March/April 2007) in which she explores society’s ambivalence about the value of the family pet. She noted that definitions of the word pet include “spoiled”, “fondled” and “indulged”. She added that it is often used disparagingly i.e. “teacher’s pet”. Interestingly, she speculated that our discomfort comes in large measure from the emotions that pets evoke in us. Ms. McConnell comments:

“Dogs make us vulnerable, pure and simple. That’s fine with some of us, but it may make others uncomfortable and motivate them to downplay the importance of the family dog. Thus, it’s at least understandable that the value of companion dogs is often demeaned by society in general. However, it’s people in the dog fancy itself who surprise me -…”

I have some thoughts ( you knew I would!) about the squeamish relationship the dog fancy has to the whole “pet” thing.

Continue reading

My Dog’s a Local Dog!

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Bad T-shirt

These T-shirts ( above), for sale on an extremist animal rights website are what got me started writing this blog. I finally took offense. I felt there had to be a better way, a more productive way to tackle the problems the domestic dog faces. I knew ethical breeders were actually a valuable part of the solution – not the cause.

So, I designed the T-shirt (below) as an alternative. As an embodiment of an idea. This is really just a mock-up. The T-shirt doesn’t exist ( yet!), the website on the back doesn’t exist ( yet!) nor does the ability to become certified ( yet!). I think this model is due for some exploration, though. The time is nigh…

Good T-shirts!

Rescue and the Spigot

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Just want to say this now, before we get too far into this discussion – I am not a purebred, bought from a breeder snob. I have spent my whole professional life working with the owners of all sorts of dogs and although I happen to be smitten with the  purebreds I breed, I do not believe (other than some level of predictability) they make any better or worse pets than crossbred dogs. I am not, by any stretch, anti rescue. I think homeless animals need to be rescued, but I do not think rescue efforts alone can turn off the spigot that keeps filling shelters.

As dedicated, ethical breeders, I do believe that we can help to reduce the flow on that spigot, by carefully placing dogs, offering support and providing a safety net for the dogs that we breed. Most of us already do a pretty good job of that, but I think we can do it even better. We have a responsibility to do so. It’s like rescue from the other end – prevention.

I don’t have the answers, just some ideas that I know will take quite a bit of fleshing out and tweaking before we know if they are even implementable. More next time…

IN your backyard breeders. Huh?

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http://goldenretriever.newyorkpuppiesforsale.com/

Massachusetts Puppies For Sale.com

 

Discovered these sites last week. Seems that they exist in most states for most breeds. Take a few minutes to poke around on this site and it will be obvious to an experienced breeder that this is a puppy broker and that although the insinuation is that these pups are locally bred, they do ( to their credit, I suppose) state that the pups come from an “exclusive national network of the finest” breeders and not necessarily from the state headlined.

They position themselves as knowledgeable, ethical breeders right in your backyard, but, although its easy to list Codes of Ethics, anti-puppy mill rhetoric and generally talk the talk, there is one thing they can’t do and that is to be, quite literally right in the client’s neighborhood. Visit-able, able to lend a hand, answer calls with crate training questions, eager recipients of cute photos and stories ( who else cares like Grandparents!). Providing family raised puppies, sold DIRECTLY to their new owners ( no middle men need apply).

Hmmm…knowledgeable, ethical breeders right in one’s backyard….that’s something we know something about. We just might have to redefine what the term “backyard breeder” means! Maybe we are the real “IN your backyard” breeders. Seems I know a bunch of breeders who could fill that niche for real!  Continue reading

Re-imagining the role of the contemporary dog breeder

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Ok. This is my first ever entry in my first ever blog. Bear with me if it takes a while for me to figure out a) how to navigate the blogosphere and b) if I have anything of value to write about.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, in the past few years, about how hobby breeders ( of which I am one) can have more of a role in addressing the problems that threaten the domestic pet dog. It seems to me that in spite of all the energy, time, money and commitment the majority of us put into doing this breeding thing “the right way”, the perception the public has of us continues to erode. We are increasingly being painted with the same brush as puppy mills and the likes of Michael Vick. We are alternately puppy factories and dog show snobs. I had seen t-shirts declaring that “mean people breed dogs”and “screw dog breeders”, but when I stumbled across a ” Save a shelter dog, euthanize a breeder” bumper sticker, I knew I needed to act ( or at least write!)  Continue reading

Research helps explain the “Furbaby” thing…

Sky News: Dogs respond like small children.

Recent research into  canine/human communication shines even more light on why we respond to dogs the way we do. Interesting. Dogs may have as much to do with the Furbaby phenomenon as we do.The evolutionary plasticity of the domestic dog just leaves me speechless. They are truly a remarkable species!