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The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

I feel like I am about to write about politics or religion or something equally controversial. This subject is so volatile, that I expect to lose a reader or two and probably be called some names that won’t make it to the comments section. Asking my Facebook page members where they got their dogs and why, resulted in more than 5000 people seeing my question and more than 100 responses. Surprisingly, I only had to delete two of those responses. I appreciate the tempered opinions on what is such an emotional subject. So I write this with full awareness.

Until the last not quite three years, all of my dogs have been rescues from various sources. I even ran a Doberman rescue for many, many years. But as regular readers know, after losing my heart dog, Merlin, I got the opportunity to be gifted with a wonderfully bred dog now known as Kenzo. You can read about that here if you so desire: Introducing Kenzo. So I fully get the emotional response that such a subject brings to those passionate about rescue. But despite the fact that rescue has always been a part of who I am, I have never accepted that all breeders should be painted with the same brush. Running a purebred rescue, I never viewed responsible breeders as the enemy because I met some of them. Responsible breeders are who started most original purebred rescues to help save the creations of their not so responsible counterparts. Despite what some of you believe or have read, responsible breeders are not the cause of shelter dogs dying no more than being a cat person is. It’s an absurd idea that needs tossed to the curb.

Adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter or a re-homing situation is an honorable action. As I mentioned, all of my canine kids up until Kenzo have come to me via varying rescue situations. I took in my first dog, Samantha, from a past friend who got a puppy at the same time as having a baby. Layla, my second dog, was found wandering the streets and rescued by my neighbor’s child, while I was still mourning my first dog. When no one claimed her, I gratefully called her mine. Merlin and Kera were both adopted mere months apart from the shelter at which I spent much time volunteering. Siri came to me as a foster puppy who never left, one of seven rescued from the irresponsible owner of a purebred dog who had an “oops litter” with the neighbor’s dog. Trent belonged to someone I knew who sent him into a rescue of my suggestion, when a baby’s allergy made keeping him impossible. The rescue turned out to be a hoarder and he came to me, never to leave. I have personally fostered literally more than a hundred dogs. Some ended up becoming family, even if for a short time. Damon, who my Doberman rescue was named for, was my foster failure for almost a year before I lost him to Wobblers.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

I will always have a rescued dog, very likely several rescued dogs. I love making a connection with a dogs who need help and watching them blossom with love and proper care. It’s an amazing feeling. If I had more humans in my home and more money and more time and more space (don’t we all say that?), I would have far more dogs than I should. Facebook shares are hard on the soul, with all the dogs in need. But my first responsibility is to my current dogs and I would never add a family member that would cause them too much stress. Read more on that subject here. The fit should be appropriate so that responsibility limits my desires. When the time comes, I will be on Petfinder looking for my next crew member.

Every dog person I know has a bucket list of dogs that they want to “have” before they die. I have not fulfilled mine yet. So I won’t rule out getting another responsibly bred puppy at some time in my life. Despite what you hear some rescuers state, you cannot find every kind of purebred dog in a shelter or rescue. There are hundreds of breeds that many people have never heard of, who are never going to find themselves in a shelter. Someone wants those breeds and that is okay. Everyone has the right to choose the dog breed that feels right to them. Some people choose breeds for utility such as herding sheep, guarding livestock, helping to hunt, and even guide dogs. Working lines, as they are called, are bred for generations for their jobs. There is nothing wrong with that. Working dogs cared for properly are a joy to watch.

Responsibly bred dogs are not causing dogs to die in shelters. Irresponsible breeders and irresponsible owners are. Insufficient laws addressing breeding are responsible for the over-population problem in this country. Lack of education in proper care and training of dogs are among the many reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters or rescues. A throw away society that wants a quick fix is prevalent in the American culture. None of these reasons are conducive to long term commitments for the lifespan of a dog. Shelters and rescue groups exist because of the irresponsible and uneducated, not the responsible.

Stable temperaments and sound health are the hallmarks of a responsible breeder. Without them, the future of dogs is in jeopardy. Breeds that you know and love will cease to exist without responsible breeders. Learning how to identify responsible breeders and how involved they are in the lives of the dogs that they create could be a pleasant eye opener.

Buying a puppy from a responsible breeder should involve en extensive questionnaire. You will be thoroughly screened with references checked and multiple phone calls back and forth before you are approved. You will meet in person or see via Skype, the puppy’s parents. You will get the appropriate health testing information for the breed. You will get questioned on your lifestyle and whether you are a good match for the breed. The breeder will have an ironclad and extensively worded contract with requirements that you must meet for the dog’s lifetime as well as a requirement to return the dog at any time in his or her life, should there be a need to do so. You will be asked to contact them throughout the dog’s life for questions on diet, exercise, health and any other subject that you can think of that pertains to your choice.

This chart can help people understand the difference between the type of breeders that exist. Supporting the last two columns should be your goal. Support of the other types of “breeders” is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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At this point, some of my rescuer readers are probably wondering if the above is a commercial for breeders. Not at all. It’s simply an attempt to educate that responsible breeders are not the enemy. Backyard breeders, commercial breeders, puppy mills and pet stores that treat dogs like a commodity rather than living sentient beings are the enemy. Don’t confuse them with each other. The goal of humane educators should be focused on eliminating the need for the aforementioned sources of irresponsibly bred puppies.

Since I procrastinated while writing this blog post, I had the opportunity to be thoroughly appalled and disgusted at what was meant to be a Super Bowl ad for Go Daddy. This sad excuse of an ad portrays a “family” who sells puppies online, with no regard for who they get sold to. This is not a responsible breeder. See above chart once again. Because of the huge outcry from dog lovers everywhere, the ad was pulled. This shows you do have a voice. Use that voice wisely. Don’t generalize. Support responsibility on the part of breeders and rescuers alike.

That brings me to responsible rescue practices. All rescues and rescuers are not created equal. Rescues should have a thorough screening process, with a questionnaire, a home visit, behavior and medical screening and treatments before placement, as well as putting the utmost effort into making appropriate matches. A good rescue will also be present for you for the lifetime of the dog. Responsible shelters offer the same comfort. What rescues and shelters should not do is be too stringent so that good solid homes get turned down for reasons such as no fences, working a regular job, having children, etc. Obviously, some dogs will require a fence, some will require no kids, some will need more attention than others. But blanket statements and requirements that are rigid regardless of the validity of the home, help no one but irresponsible breeders. Then there is the opposite end of the rescue spectrum; the rescuers who screen no one, adopt out intact and unhealthy animals as well as those with unaddressed behavior problems to people ill equipped to handle it. Read more about that subject here: Saving Them All: At What Cost?
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Responsibility is important on all sides of this equation. The only solution to this is education. Make it your goal to know more and you will make more informed decisions. That is always going to be a good thing. Diversity is also a good thing. Allow people their individuality. Judgments on others for their choices won’t help educate. So leave your ego at the door and please share your story on your canine choices in a respectful manner. Rudeness will not get your comments listed. Thanks in advance!

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Executive Decisions: Why Do You Have to Parent Your Crew?

Frequently, I walk into multiple dog households that are running amok, for lack of a better term. Some just a little, some far more than a little. In many cases, my presence would have been mostly unnecessary if someone had stepped in as the decision maker right off the bat. Simply put, stepping in as needed assures the safety of all your dogs.

Many of you, who are also human parents, understand the need for creating and enforcing boundaries. Fairness and polite behavior towards siblings is important for human harmony in a family. The same thing applies to the canine members as well.

This is not an advisory to micromanage your dogs’ interactions. A comment to this effect on the How Many Dogs Facebook page brought up this important point. Intervening is a judgment call in some cases. For what can be considered small things, no intervention is necessary if your dogs generally get along well. An example of this is a dog objecting to being stepped on by another dog, by grumbling or barking but nothing further. As long as the clumsy one is not inclined to redirect, that is a perfectly normal interaction between family members.

Parenting Your CrewHumans object to being jostled too, usually by reminding the jostler to be more careful. Dogs get this same privilege provided they can be reasonably polite about it. The key point here is to know your crew. If there are issues, you need to intervene far more often in order to prevent bigger problems.

Do not let your dogs work it out on their own! Not most of the time anyway. Really, the implications of such a scenario boggle the minds of behavior experts. It’s a recipe for disaster, just as allowing one’s human children to make inappropriate decisions regarding their interactions with their siblings. Oh sure, if you “raise them right”, some decisions will be appropriate. But so many more won’t be without initial supervision, intervention and consistency.

Consistency is the key word here. Set an example, make it happen all the time with few deviations, and you have a guideline for success. It doesn’t mean that you need to run your household like a boot camp. Nor does it mean that force needs used to ensure compliance. The best human parents don’t scream, shout and/or hit to handle their children’s infractions. They use conversations that include wise words and consequences for bad behavior. But intervene they do, and because of that the entire family feels a sense of security that all members are properly cared for emotionally and physically.

Will you always have to intervene? That depends on your particular crew and their relationships, but the goal is that you have to intervene as little as possible – aside from preventing furniture from flying due to playtime bursts in the wrong rooms!

Security is one of the most important issues to any life form. Feeling secure allows everyone to relax. Safety from emotional and physical assaults ensures security. Give your crew security early on and you create the right formula to prevent problems later on. Combine safety and security with teaching manners and impulse control and you will put a lot of behavior consultants out of business!

Feel free to use the spaces below to describe how you create safety within your crew.

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How Many Is Too Many Dogs? Part 2: When Rescuers Need Rescuing

This subject has been my most popular blog subject ever. Google searches on this phrase find the original blog more frequently than the website itself. The question itself crosses the mind of all who have more dogs than is considered the norm by the general public. The general public’s opinion, however, is not who anyone should base their perfect canine number on. Not by a long shot.

The renewed interest in this subject was prompted by a recent story locally of a breed rescuer who is being forced by local law enforcement, to reduce her numbers from more than eighty dogs, to twenty five dogs. Neighbors complained and ordinances are now being enforced. She has very little time to perform such a feat, meaning if seized, more than fifty dogs are facing a death sentence. This disturbs me greatly, for a number of reasons. Hopefully, by the time you read this, these dogs will no longer be in danger. Follow up to be noted when available, never fear.

Photo from a recent hoarding case.

Photo from a recent hoarding case.

But back to the reasons this disturbs me: there are so many, let me count the ways. Having been a rescuer (currently resting emotionally from that task), I can say with passion that it is really hard to say no to dogs in need. But I can also say with passion that I learned the hard way that if you don’t take care of yourself and your own dogs, first, everyone suffers and no one is truly helped. It is important to know your limit: emotionally, physically, financially, etc. regardless of whether you are a rescuer or just a plain dog owner who wants more dogs in your life. Know your limits!

If you are sentencing dogs to hours upon endless hours in crates or kennels, with little to no exercise and human interaction; that is not rescuing. That is hell on earth. Don’t pull dogs from shelters if you are not bettering their situation. Don’t call yourself a rescuer or even just a normal multiple dog household when you are clearly in over your head. No one human can take proper care of eighty-something dogs. It’s just not possible. Even with a couple of volunteer hands, it’s not enough.

There is another new hoarding situation almost every day in the media. This person was found to have fifty cats. That person was found to have a hundred dogs. This is a sickness. It’s not well intentioned rescuing or a loving multiple dog household. It may have started that way but it did not end up that way. At heart, it’s about selfishness, not selflessness. Rescuers make themselves feel good about rescuing. There is nothing wrong with that if you are not also using that as the ends to justify the means. Rescuing a dog is more than simply keeping them alive. Being alive is not the same thing as living well.

Buy the book, How Many Dogs?! click here

Dogs are sentient beings. They have thoughts and feelings and emotional needs, in addition to the physical needs of food, water, physical care and warm housing. No one would think it appropriate to expect people to live in a small space with no interaction or exercise day after endless day. It is equally unreasonable to expect the same of a dog, if the expectation is that the dog in question should remain mentally stable, that is! Placing unstable dogs is not appropriate without behavior modification and then we come back to lack of resources again.

The moral of this story is that as a multiple dog owner and/or rescuer, you dear reader, need to be fully aware of your limitations; physically, emotionally, financially, etc. Take into account your own basic needs, the needs of the dogs you currently have and calculate it all together in a PRACTICAL way. Then make a decision on whether to add another dog, foster or permadog, to your life. There are plenty of people on this earth who can care for a dog just as well as you can, I promise you this. If your urge to help a particular dog is strong but your limitations are stronger, sponsor the dog, promote the dog, do things other than adding the dog to your household to get him or her a good home. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. And above all, be there for your current crew as a responsible multiple dog owner and/or rescuer.

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Can You Feel the Love? Dogs and Emotion

Do dogs love? I was recently very startled to hear someone I thought of as pretty dog savvy, say that dogs don’t think nor feel. They only act out of instinct. I don’t think a statement exists that I disagree with more than this one. This statement was made in reference to dog/dog relations, but either way it is inaccurate.

Do these dogs have feelings for each other or does it only appear that way?

Do these dogs have feelings for each other or does it only appear that way?

I could fill another book with the whole “do dogs think” part of this statement but since solid information supporting thinking in dogs is not only prevalent anywhere you care you look including science, I will simply address the feeling part of this equation.

Several brilliant minds well known in the behavior world, with far more initials following their names than I have, have already addressed the matter of dogs and emotions before. This information is also available in print. They have come to the same conclusion that I have.

Of course they feel emotions! One only has to live with and observe them with any regularity, to fully grasp this fact. Personally, I think it’s especially obvious when dealing with multiple dog households. If at least two of them get along, that is.

Dog/dog interactions aside, whether a dog feels emotions or not, also applies to their interactions with humans as well. To be blunt, why have a dog or any pet for that matter, if there is no mutual bond to share? The thought baffles me.

Of course, all of the “evidence” I will be discussing here, is anecdotal. For science, see Patricia McConnell, Marc Bekoff and Vilmos Cysani for starters. But I am not a scientist; I am a dog behavior consultant. I don’t conduct double blind studies in sterile labs. I do, however, make my living observing dog behavior. This observation that I do, gives me the information that I need to successfully modify the behavior for the better, of my client’s dogs. I have to assume that my observations have thus far been pretty accurate since my clients are pretty happy with the results.

My observations so far are too numerous to catalog in entirety on this subject. But my knowledge of this subject is not limited to my observations alone. Plenty of dog caretakers have the same stories to tell. My most recent story that doesn’t come from my own experience is from a friend who I asked to let my dogs out while I was gone too long one day. My friend commented that Trent was very protective of Kera, who is suffering from not only canine dementia but also kidney failure. She said that he stuck very close to her in my yard when she let them out to potty.

Front cover, How Many Dogs?! book

Siri declined a potty break that day, so clearly she had no qualms about Kera’s safety with my friend, who is by the way very well known to my dogs. I told my friend that Trent had never done that when I was there, not in the yard any way. Both Siri and Trent are attentive to her needs including indicating that they are waiting for her when need be. Trent is also very mannerly about letting Kera enter doorways first, when mannerly is not necessarily his foremost trait. So this story was interesting to me.

I have too many stories of my own observation to list. Trent took great care of Merlin in his last months. He was very focused on cleaning his ears frequently as well as circling him when he was walking with him to seemingly ensure his safety when he was tired. Siri stood sentry by the truck the day Merlin wasn’t up for getting out at our favorite spot until he finally did venture out. Then she followed him while he walked slowly. She does the same thing with Kera now.

Siri’s brother, Xander was almost inconsolable at first when his “big sister” Mona passed away. He wasn’t present the loss so he only knew that she left one day and never came back.

When Merlin spent the day and an overnight at the vet’s for an operation, the other dogs were visibly ruffled. The joy that they greeted him with when we picked him up the next day was undeniable. They were very gentle and careful with him.

They shared the loss when we had to say goodbye to him. I made sure that they were present so that they would know what transpired. I wanted them to understand and the transition was much easier for them than it was for Xander and his Mona.

Trent adores Siri. He fawns over her as often as she allows him to do so. He would be lost without her. He would lay on her if she would let him.

Almost every multiple dog guardian I know has stories like this. Many include other species in the bond, in addition to a dog/dog one. Feel free to add your story in the spaces below. Let’s dispel the old fashioned myth together.

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