Responsible Dog Breeders Are Rare, But I Found One and So Can You
After receiving the umpteenth Dogster newsletter featuring articles promoting the adoption message in some way, a frustrated reader wrote us last month saying, "On more than one occasion, I have felt like responsible breeders -- read that as protectors of their breed, not breeders whose sole motivation is to make a buck -- are made out to be monsters."
"If it were not for good breeders who raise a handful of healthy, breed-standard pups from hip/eye/DNA/health certified parents (not to mention parents who actually work and do more than raise puppies), purebred dogs would only come from large USDA breeders which operate more like legalized puppy mills. Perhaps the Dogster mentality is to put hobby breeders out of business and make it necessary to obtain [a] spayed or neutered dog from a rescue. I just feel like uneducated and unethical breeders aside, Dogster should promote all aspects of furry family member selection."
I was saddened to read this, because hobby breeders are close to my heart, and while a majority of the regular Dogster writers are big on adoption and write about it often, we (the editors) don't allow them to bash decent breeders in their articles. In our list of Dogster Values, released in July, the third item on our list of five states: "We love adoption. And we support responsible breeders."
But this reader is correct in pointing out that our ratio of responsible breeder to adoption message stories is definitely out of whack. This is a small step in the way of changing that. (Also, if you have a story about a wonderful breeder who made a difference to you, e-mail me at janine AT dogster DOT com. We'd love to have you write a guest post.)
My own dog, Mr. Moxie, is from a wonderful hobby breeder named Kim who carefully picks Italian Greyhounds for her breeding program once every few years, mainly for her own love of the breed and for her own small stable of show dogs. (Read: Profit was never her sole goal.) It was sheer luck on my part that one puppy wound up being too large to show and ended up in my hands. But it was a long road from Point A -- getting aproval from our landlord to add a dog to our household-- to Point B, sitting in Kim's living room fending off puppy kisses. So for those of you looking for a dog of a specific breed and exploring your options, here's my own tale of how I found a great breeder I still exchange emails with years later.
Note: Again, this post does not diminish the adoption message. We push that almost every day on Dogster, and writing about other acceptable ways to bring a dog into your home does not take away from that. Thanks.
My story actually begins with a bad breeder I found on the Internet; the alternative title for this post easily could have been "How I Almost Purchased a Puppy Mill Dog." It was more than five years ago, and I hadn't heard of Dogster and was a complete neophyte when it came to dog issues. My partner, Jeff, who was equally uneducated, and I had gone back and forth on breeds that would fit the 25-pound weight limit the apartment association gave all residents for pets.
We decided upon the Italian Greyhound, a sweet, sensitive, attention-loving breed who happened to be low-shed and whose average weight was well below our limit.
My middle name is "impulsive," which has gotten me into trouble a number of times, so I wasted no time hitting the Web in search of our new family member. A listing on Puppyfind.com led me to "Dreamland Pups," (which I can no longer find a website for - hmmm) which pimped the puppies of a whopping 11 breeds and allowed perusers to place a $100 deposit on available dogs using PayPal -- RED FLAGS everywhere, in retrospect, I know!
Knowing nothing about how difficult it can be to produce a healthy, well-adjusted Italian Greyhound puppy, and seeing the adorable face on a pup named Timmy who had the cutest tuxedo markings, I put that $100 down and waited for the breeder to e-mail a confirmation.
Puppy chosen, I started to bone up on Italian Greyhounds, reading everything I could find online and even joining several forums frequented by hobby breeders who know the breed inside out and were quick to educate newbies. The forums had threads on every topic imaginable, from common genetic issues that plague IGs to red flags to look for when assessing breeders listed online. Let's just say I had a very rude awakening, and ultimately e-mailed Dreamland to release Timmy from the hold my deposit had on him. I lost that $100, but the new friends I had made from the forums helped me get a step closer to finding the right dog.
Today, googling Dreamland brings results that make me cringe: "The broken wires cause sharp points that can injure the dogs as they move about," reads a note from an inspection in 2009. "Inside the puppy room there are numerous rodent droppings around the water heater and door. There are rodent droppings on the floor in the whelping room. This affects 144 adult dogs and 87 puppies," reads another.
All the rumors about puppy mills are true, people. They don't give two s***s about that puppy you're buying. Please be extra careful.
But going back to my search, two sources were most valuable to me: 1) Referrals from breeders and breed fanciers I grew to respect from the Italian Greyhound forums (particularly Iggy Planet), and 2) breeder listings from the Italian Greyhound Club of America. (Looking for the breed you're interested in followed by "Club of America" will likely bring you to hobbyists who can give you referrals. Finding a breed-specific forum is highly recommended as well.) I was able to cross-reference the breeders recommended to me from the forums with those on the IGCA's list and sent out a few introductory e-mails and litter inquiries.
Most did not have litters that year, but one breeder, Kim, told us she had one puppy who was too tall for the show circuit to spare, as well as an older male who had already earned his championship.
We got on the phone and she grilled me for a solid hour on the ups and downs of the breed, and made me describe my living situation so she could figure out whether she could see her dog in it. She told me the history of the pup's parents, and all the tests she routinely does with litters and the dogs chosen for her breeding program. And she told me that if I couldn't keep the dog for ANY reason at any point, I would have to return the dog to her -- it was in the contract I would eventually sign.
We drove to Fresno with a medium-sized kennel, lead and collar, all sized to Kim's specifications. We arrived early and waited in her driveway, where I admired the Italian Greyhound weathervane on her roof. (That was only the beginning -- Kim's home featured IG art, statues, you name it! You could tell she was in love with this breed.)
When she and her husband arrived home, they showed us into the living room, which was sealed off with puppy gates and soft flooring. We sat on the floor and they released the pint-sized hounds, who came racing towards us. Moxie (then called "Walker") was almost twice the size of his three sisters, and all four were wiggling balls of energy in my lap. My partner would later tell me he'd never seen me quite as happy as I was in that moment when all four puppies were kissing my face.
After meeting the puppies, we met their champion parents - a sweet, friendly seal-and-white female and talkative, spunky red-and-white male. (Puppy seekers: ALWAYS ask to see the living conditions of the parent dogs.) All of Kim's dogs were beautiful, and many not as fragile-looking as IGs we'd seen on the Internet.
She gave us some fleece sweaters for Moxie to wear in the cold, loaded us up with the food he was accustomed to with instructions to wean him off at a certain age, and after paperwork and money was exchanged we loaded him into his padded kennel and started the three-hour drive home.
A year later, we met Kim at an Italian Greyhound specialty show in Vallejo. When Moxie saw her, he started crying and trying to climb up her skirt -- our usually-reserved boy apparently recognized the woman who helped bring him into the world. She seemed stunned that he would remember her (he was four months old when we took him), but his vote of confidence only cemented my own.
I e-mail Kim photos of Moxie once a year (usually around Thanksgiving, when his litter was born), and last year I even sent her some videos of him starring in "The Dog Show," Dogster's original video series. "Maybe he just needs a manager to become a big movie star," she writes like a proud grandmother.
Good breeders are hard to find, but the best ones become an extended part of your family -- because by taking in one of their pups, you're immidiately part of theirs.
Dogster readers, is there an A+ hobby breeder in your life? I want to hear all about it.