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…

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.

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…