They’re Just Like Us

 They arrived after 4:00 on Sunday afternoon.  The group judging was already underway.  The best dogs on this day from every breed, regroomed and happy, at work with their handlers in the ring. Unnoticed, two crates with three six month old pups were wheeled into one of the satellite buildings by the owner of the stud dog that had produced them.  His jaw set and eyes down.  Waiting for them was his wife, her eyes calm with a hint of hope.  Two brothers in one crate on the bottom and their sister in her own crate on the top.  They were motionless and quiet amid the barking and banging of dogs being loaded into vans and setups being broken down after a long, hot show weekend.

Their breeder showed up looking disheveled and worn out.  Still fiercely proud of the pups in the boxes.  Unable to admit her culpability in their miserable condition.  We gathered round a grooming table in the set up and pulled each puppy out of its plastic cave and placed it on the grooming table.  They neither shook nor looked to us for comfort.  The breeder had shaved their heads and attempted a clean up to aid in the evaluation.  None knew anything about walking on a leash or seemed particularly attached to their breeder;  the only human they had really known.  Overwhelmed by the circumstances they found themselves in, they remained shut down and too quiet for their breed.  Gently, we stood them, one by one, on their feet and with slow, methodical handling they each stood and accepted our hands.  Voices calm and dispassionate, we all shared our observations.  Ears cleaned, but too long neglected, hung like thick, heavy swags from the sides of their heads.  Coats lank and unbrushed draped their young bodies.   Scabbed heads revealed the effects of living in too close quarters with little to distract them from the ongoing battle for dominance.  These three pups were the remnants of a litter born in November, a planned breeding, eagerly anticipated by those clustered around the table in the waning afternoon. Looking at the reality of  the breeding all thoughts of champions and titles evaporated.  Instead, we were silently thankful there was no biting and each puppy seemed resigned to accept whatever came its way.

The puppies remained in the cool building inside their crates until the end of the show day.  Space was made for them in two vans and they started south to begin a new life.  Lives full of structure, good care, clean surroundings and lots of attention by dogs and humans alike.  As long as it takes they will have a home with these people, breeders in their own right, whose quiet intervention this day might save three lives. The success of the weekend was dampened by the pallor of shame and guilt we all seemed to feel.  These puppies are part of our line.  We all fought the voices of reason in our heads telling all of us this breeding would result in just what happened, but this one time we allowed our hearts, and their co-conspirators Hope and Dreams, to blind us. The pups’ conformation was poor and months of rehabilitative kindness and physical care will lie ahead of them.  The breeder melted away quickly.  She had failed to leave food for the pups, money for vaccinations or even names. Worse, she failed to leave them with a good start in life. The puppies will have to learn to respond to affection and someone calling them by name. If they are resilient in temperament, they stand a chance and will get a future.  If not, a kind but different fate will overtake them.

In April our cell phone rang in the car as we drove back from a weekend in a small fairgrounds where we had seen our dog win his second Best in Show.  The woman on the other end of the line was unfamiliar to me and in her neutral tone, told me of the death of her sister.  Her sister had been an acquaintance for close to fifteen years and shared a love of our breed. She had died from the effects of the rapid advance of cancer and left behind a young male from her last litter and his mother, bred by her friend and ours.  As is so often the case among our dog show family, other relatives don’t share our passion for dogs and the sport. When a death such as this occurs, the dogs are cast to the wind.  So many of us fail our dogs by making no written provisions for their care after we leave them for the last time.  Our friend was typical in this way.  Nobody in her immediate family wanted either dog but since they had been house pets, and well socialized, they were easily placed with those familiar with our breed.  The burden of finding suitable homes for this mother and son fell to members of the local breed club.  These caring people mobilized quickly and found sanctuary for these victims of circumstances.  The breeder of the bitch would not take her back.  She was after all, only the one who had caused her to be produced.  The bitch was sold eight years before, and any responsibility ended there.  People in dog clubs who do rescue see a situation like this from the standpoint that when a breeder produces a dog it is that person’s responsibility the dog’s whole life.  There are no valid excuses to do otherwise.  Harsh perhaps, and a philosophy that illustrates the conflict between old breeders and new.  Back in the day, all sales were final. No one had heard of the “dog community” where it takes a village to raise a puppy and those not performing to community standards are lambasted on electronic bulletin boards or Facebook.  We and the bitch’s breeder, come from that era.  Many of us do.  But some of us have always accepted into our homes dogs of our breeding, or dogs bred from our line by others, when the need arose.  Our Aejos and Elvis were two such dogs for us. Some of us have relinquished dogs raised in our homes, from others’ lines, when we became too ill or overwhelmed to care for them. Our Mickey was one of these. This shifting of dogs was done quietly with no public condemnation.  Just like-minded people working together for the good of the dogs. We feel disappointment in the breeder who wouldn’t accept or aid in the re-homing of the dog she had produced.  She may miss a wonderful opportunity to know a dog that would bring joy to her life. Old ways are not so easy to overcome for some breeders.

At shows, we often gather to talk dogs as we did in the past.  No matter the breed, newer breeders and fanciers sharing ideas and perspectives with those in the breed decades longer.  Rivalries are forgotten as we learn from each other.  Competitive in the ring, but comrades outside, we realize how many breeders are just like us. Those of us who love the same breed of dog share an even deeper sense of unity.  When one of us falters, we all feel the sting.  We assume and expect our friends to respond to the needs of their dogs in the same ways we have.  Feelings of disbelief and betrayal follow when they don’t.

Earlier this week we received word about some new and disturbing behaviors of the three puppies taken from the shows this past Sunday.  Habits that will need more time to overcome and may impinge on their ability to successfully transition to new homes. Still without names, they are struggling with the most basic behaviors most young dogs learn in the first few months of life.  So much time lost.  The breeder who vanished into the late day crowd at the show, has never contacted our friends to check on her pups.  Certainly she is ailing herself and has burdens at home not easy for the most able person.  But, she has a responsibility to these lives she caused to be created.  Her inability to provide the basics for all her dogs is not easy to excuse or understand.

These puppies are fortunate in one thing: their sire’s owners are compassionate and determined to do the right thing.  They are not club members and don’t need motivation from their peers in the social media to carry out this intervention.  They are strong-willed like our terriers, tenacious and patient.  Just what these pups need.  Eventually the breeder will re-emerge wanting at least one of the puppies back.  Likely the little bitch.  The cycle of neglect will begin again with her puppies.  We will do all we can to prevent this. 

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