Today we received a call from a person looking for a puppy. We are within a few days of an ultrasound that will tell us if our bitch is in whelp. Of course we were eager to ascertain whether this person was suitable, in our opinion, for a Kerry puppy. It was obvious our caller had done some research about our breed. She knew it was a larger terrier, needed extensive grooming, could be good with kids and required ongoing training. After she listened to me explain some of the breed’s more endearing qualities, she asked me about a contract. Her previous dog had been purchased on an extensive co-ownership agreement. There was also the promise to show her to her championship and breed two litters from her. They were so enamored with the cute, fuzzy puppy that she admitted they signed the breeder’s contract without thinking they would ever be held to it.
The more we talked the more clear it became that mentoring in the sport of purebred dogs takes many forms. Mentoring is essential in every breed to make sure the puppy stays in its home, or if he has to be relinquished, that he comes back to his breeder. A call to the breeder can give new owners insights into their puppy that only comes with years of working with the breed and a deep love and caring. Quality mentoring lays the groundwork for a breed’s future and can have tremendous influence on its development. Every puppy sold, whether as a companion to a busy family or a show dog to aspiring breeders, leaves the breeder’s home as an ambassador for how she does her business. If the relationship between the new owner and the breeder remains strong, the breeder’s particular way of caring for dogs, breeding litters and selling puppies carries forward.
In my family, all the adult women smoked. None of the men did. All my friends’ mothers smoked and since I had limited contact with their fathers, I never saw if they did either. In those days, smoking didn’t make you the social pariah it does today and people smoked freely. Cigarettes were advertised on TV and radio, and all the sophisticated people in the movies smoked, too. I was never told not to smoke, but was not encouraged either. It was only as an adult that I discovered that statistically more men smoked than women. Where I came from it was the opposite. So it goes in dogs. The puppy buyer has a respect and almost reverence for their breeder. It is like acquiring another family member. If this person has a lengthy, rigid contract the assumption by the buyer is everyone does business in this same way. As the relationship deepens between the buyer and the breeder, and the breeder’s advice and compassion never fail the new owner, the buyer has little motivation to question his mentor. If this person becomes a breeder, he will naturally follow the model laid down for him. This is also part of the mentoring process.
From the breeder’s point of view, the way she does things is right for her. She seldom has complaints from her buyers and she herself is probably a reflection of where she bought her first breeding dog. Many people never think to ask their peers what price they sell their puppies for. How many times they breed their bitches or how they make their breeding decisions. I know many people consider this crass or nobody’s business. However, how can any of us learn if no questions are asked? The fear of being judged by our peers has left us to proceed as our breeders did. For the good or the bad.
We came up in dogs in a time where puppies were bought, not adopted. There were no contracts, just a hand shake. Did puppies end up in commercial breeding operations, probably. Were some taken to pounds or sent to a cousin’s farm when the family could no longer deal with them. Certainly. But no contract in the world can prevent these occurences. If somebody, whether breeder or buyer, is going to behave unethically there is nothing that can be done to stop them. We have made some concessions to the changing times. Our puppies are sold on a basic contract with clear language encouraging buyers to return the dog to us if they can no longer keep it. We still do not co-own dogs, believing once again, that if we trust somebody well enough to sell them a puppy, we have to trust them to do the right thing. This isn’t necessarily the only way or the right way, but it’s our way. It’s how we started, from our first dog in 1956 purchased from a newspaper ad to our first show dog from the Schlesinger’s.
In 1979 a kennel known for Miniature Schnauzers in the Northeast purchased their first show Kerry. She was a quality bitch that did some winning and some producing. As this kennel grew and puppies from this line were sold across the country, and in Europe, things began to change. The emphasis of this kennel was on breeding and finishing champions. They co-owned many of the puppies deemed show-worthy and bred their bitches five times. But they did something else that played a major role in how breeders of the last twenty-five years or so manage their puppies. They sold their puppies on extensive contracts with co-ownerships. They also provided an unpresidented level of support for their buyers. These two people, one an expert groomer and the other an excellent handler, made sure their puppy people had well-groomed, trained, competitive dogs from their first shows. Their level of support guaranteed a positive experience for their buyers, and when it came time to breed their bitches it was the same. As more puppies from this line were sold and many of these buyers became breeders themselves, the ways of this famous kennel were carried on. You can often tell which current breeders got their start from this line by their breeding practices and type of contracts they use. Today the influence of this kennel can be found across the US. We are the only line in our state that has no dog from this line present in our pedigrees.
No system of selling puppies, breeding bitches and mentoring buyers is perfect. It is healthy to re-evaluate one’s business model periodically to provide a level of caring that will make the puppies you sell stay in their homes and reflect positively on you. If you are fortunate to start a new breeder, it is no longer enough to sell them a quality puppy. Mentoring, in the form of setting ears, grooming help and ring guidance are expected. To many breeders finishing champions is the goal. Sometimes dogs we would not put into the ring finish easily against kennel mates. But what is wrong with this? Owning dogs and showing them are not necessities. These are supposed to be fun, hobby activities where new friendships are formed and weekends can be spent in the company of the dogs we love. For some breeders the more champions finished validates the quality of their dogs and by extension their own self-worth.
As we contemplate our coming litter, we are making decisions about the price of the puppies and how we will pick their new owners. We hope some of the puppies will be the quality we would be proud to show. Sending one to a breeder to start or restart their line would be thrilling, We hope we can keep pace with other breeders in our area by providing a quality experience for our buyers whether they take home a show or companaion puppy. While we are all products of where we have come from, nobody can afford to remain static, and that includes us.