Saturday, October 25, 2014

Just a Pet

Let's talk about dogs for a moment. To be more specific, let's talk about purchasing dogs.
I am a member of a handful of dog groups across the internet- most pertaining specifically to Great Danes but some general groups as well. Often times, a member will post a photo of a puppy and ask if they should buy it. There will almost always be something questionable about the puppy, be it the parents being in poor condition, puppies not having "papers" or kept in dirty conditions, or an obvious defect the product of a spot x spot breeding which is known to produce puppies with sensory defects. Without fail, the masses chime in and a hugely popular response starts of with "If you just want a pet.... [insert justification of problem here.]"

The thing is, even if you want "just a pet" you need to put some thought into where you get your puppy. When you give a breeder money in exchange for an animal, you're doing more than just taking a cute, wiggly puppy home. You're saying "I approve what you're doing, and not only do I encourage you to keep doing what you're doing, but I'm going to give you money to be able to do just that." I see all too often folks who think they rescued their puppy from the cruel, dirty conditions and awful breeder they bought them from. If they would just stop for one second and get control of their bleeding heart long enough to realize that's great that THEIR puppy now has a loving home... but what about the rest? What about the next litter? And the one after that?
Raising puppies the right way is very demanding of time, money, and resources. If these shady breeders aren't able to sell their puppies quickly, their cost goes up every single day, and if it proves to be a more costly endeavor than they had planned they might think twice before doing it again.

"Papers don't matter if you just want a pet."
TRUTH: I don't ever send in registration on my pet dogs. It's a waste of money, there's no point. But even so, I'd still not consider buying a dog that can't be registered. The papers themselves mean nothing, but the information on them CAN mean a whole lot. Having a registered dog means being able to trace where they came from. Health testing results are available online, you can trace issues that your dog's parents, grandparents, great grandparents might have had. Common bloodlines are easier to gather information on. If a puppy came from unregistered parents, not only can you not look into what health issues your puppy may be predisposed to, but your breeder can't either. And if they don't even have documented history on their dogs, what other corners are they cutting? Is that really something you can support?

Health testing isn't a guarantee- for the most part. Just because both parents have been OFA Heart tested it does not mean their puppies will never develop a heart condition. Just because the parent's shave great PennHIP scores it does not mean the puppies will never suffer orthopedic issues. BUT, the only reasons for a breeder to *NOT* health test their dogs is 1. they are afraid they won't pass, in which case they have no business being bred anyway or 2. They don't want to spend the money because it hurts their bottom line, in which case... what other shortcuts are they taking and is that something you really want to support? I hear breeders say all the time that they don't do it because they bought a puppy from parents with xyz testing and the puppy still developed 123 problem so they think it's a waste of money and/ or misleading to buyers. Guess what? It is not that difficult to educate people when they come to buy a puppy. It's not that hard to say "We did xyz testing, and that is no guarantee or promise but hey, we did what we could with the tools available to us to hopefully provide you with a healthy puppy. We did our part and we are here for support, come what may." That's not misleading. It's not making promises. It's doing the right dang thing.

I love Great Danes. They suit my lifestyle. We mesh well together. Their exercise and training needs are on par with what we easily accommodate and keep everyone happy. I admire their appearance. I enjoy their temperament. Their laid back disposition fits nicely into our family. I enjoy their novelty size and am realistically equipped to maintain them. I love their clown-like antics that keep us on our toes. I enjoy the fact they aren't a terribly vocal breed. I also mesh well with their minimal grooming needs. Ethical and conscientious breeding preserves the integrity of what these dogs should be. It doesn't take many generations to go from dogs that embody what a Dane should, to hyper lab-like temperaments, whispy greyhound-like conformation with hound-like ears and schnauzer vocals. Granted, these things can pop up in good breeding programs, absolutely- but they shouldn't be the norm, and those puppies should be placed with that disclosure as well. If you love Great Danes, and you want a Great Dane for all the reasons that you love them, it's vital to find a breeder who is interested in preserving those traits and can tell you HOW they are going about doing that.

There's so many controversial topics when it comes to breeding- particularly in my breed of choice. Color families, ear cropping, heat patterns to breed, how many litters a female should have and when, acceptable puppy visitation, diet and nutrition, conformation showing, what health testing is necessary... the list goes on. Do your research, know where you stand on these issues and find a compatible breeder. If these things aren't important to you, there are HUNDREDS of dogs in the system waiting to be rescued. If you don't care about history, health testing, etc. that's OK! You don't have to, we are all different! But, if that's the case, rescue! Give a homeless dog a warm, safe place to sleep and be loved. There is just NO justifying supporting a crummy breeder. It is a disservice to the breed as a whole.

But Linsey! What do you know about ethics?! You breed against the GDCA color standard. How dare you!
You're right. I do. I bred a fawn merle to a brindle. I bred a classic merle to a chocolate. I have every intention of pairing my fawn merle with a chocolate next year. I have twice now produced litters with brindle merles, fawn merles, and some drop-dead-gorgeous fawns and brindles. I can not give my support to a group that discourages healthy dogs being paired on the premise of color, while applauding pairs that are known to produce defective puppies. Never in my breeding program will a harl be paired with a fellow harl (something the GDCA is all kinds of hunky-dory with) I do not believe the color makes the dog. In fact, color has nothing to do with the things that matter- health, temperament, conformation, type- or any of the things that made me fall in love with the breed. I stand by what we do here. I have made mistakes in the past. I have seen where I went wrong, and we strive to always be improving. At the end of the day, I can say I TRUTHFULLY did my best with the tools I have available, we have some healthy Danes out there, and I'm proud of them. Color be damned. Until someone can give me a reason other than "The GDCA says so" I'm going to continue doing what I do. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Splish Splash, Birthday Bash

Chase is one. I can't even believe it. I don't know where the last year went. I can't even figure out where Summer went. It seems like we were JUST planning our trips to Powell and anticipating Timber's litter and getting excited about all that and now it's just... over. I never understood what the heck adults meant when they'd say having kids makes time go by so far. Dude. I get it now.
We had a small party for his birthday- just family really. Well... and Jim and Becki, who really might as well be family. They count.
We did a simple casual lunch/ dinner thing with an under the sea theme. It was a lot of fun, if not a little stressful, to plan and put together. I have never felt like I'm any good and throwing parties, I tend to forget the most basic things, but I am pretty pleased with how it all came together. It was particularly nice to have so much of the family together.
We especially appreciated that so much of Jon's family made the LONG trek all the way from Vegas just to celebrate with us. What a heart-warming reminder of how much love and support this little man has around him. I did a lot of reflecting on the past year but ESPECIALLY on those first months. I don't think as a mom I will ever stop worrying about him, but those were especially tender times. It's hard to think that there was ever a time that I didn't know what a PICC line was. I had never even heard of bradychardia, and apnea was something I only associated with older men. Now I have machines stored away in the closet, extra infant leads under the sink in the bathroom and I can trace a total of 17 tiny silver blemishes from needles that pepper his otherwise creamy baby skin, including the one right smack dab in the middle of his back- a reminder of the day we thought he had spinal meningitis.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Not just for the fact that my son was one of the lucky ones who came home, but for the flood of love and support that came our way during that time. He had quite the prayer army, and that really carried our family through those days. As if simply being new, first-time parents wasn't intimidating enough, no matter how much thought and effort goes into meticulously planning, NO ONE includes the NICU in their birth plan, and we certainly didn't. I figured if Timber could give birth in my living room, surely I could too. And I still believe I can, it just didn't go that way this time.
And now, one year later, I look at this happy, smiling, bouncy 17lb boy who has come into my life and made EVERYTHING have purpose. He's incredible. I can't believe how far he has come and that's no doubt partially thanks to his vast support system that only starts with Jon and I but is infinite beyond that. He's got Grandamas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends rooting for him. And I can not think "family support" without my mind going to Grandpa Albert who has always been the rock of our family, and though he's not here in the flesh any more, I have no doubt he keeps an eye on all of us- including his little namesake, Chase Albert, from the other side. No doubts.
As the day went on, we ate, we talked, we laughed. We sang Happy Birthday to our little 2lb wonder, and we had a blast. Though, I think Chase would have preferred we skip the singing. Apparently our talents were not up to par and it was quite upsetting to him. Luckily he got over that quickly.
I feel so lucky to have this boy in my life. I am lucky to be his mama.
We took him to his official one-year checkup with his pediatrician, and he was pretty happy with his progress. As many preemies (and plenty of full-term babies, too!) do, he does have some developmental delays, particularly regarding gross motor skills and communication. We have been referred to Kids on the Move to have him evaluated and get some pointers on things we can be doing at home to help him, and also some therapies we may consider enrolling him in just for peace of mind. There's nothing we won't do for him if needed.
1. has one tooth, with two not far behind
2. his favorite foods are yogurt, meat, green beans, and cheese
3. absolutely, positively will not take any bottle we have tried- and we've tried them all
4. can drink from a regular cup, with help
5. can wave buh bye
6. says Mama
7. can pull up from a sitting position
8. has advanced fine motor skills
9. has never had a babysitter
10. is in a stranger danger phase, but somehow we're simply OK with this.
11. Has exactly zero interest in crawling
12. Is so close to cruising on furniture. So so close.
13. Wants to eat anything and everything we are, but has nothing to do with being spoon-fed puree baby food.
14. genuinely enjoys the dogs, and thinks it's super fun to feed them from his tray- something I am sure he will do the rest of his life!
15. Loves bath time, and boating, and anything else involving water
16. is officially on an Ergo strike, which is hugely inconvenient.
17. Is a mama's boy. Oh... darn. *sarcasm*
18. Has no interest in other babies. At all.
19. Is down to one nap/ day, but sleeps well through the night.
20. Is nowhere near even CONSIDERING weaning.

Because, Danes.

It's that time again. I've raised our fourth litter, and I'm so proud of them. They're eight weeks old now so that means I'm sending them off to their forever families. It's very bittersweet. On one hand I am excited to get my routine back- you know.... the one that keeps my house clean and dinner on the table when Jon comes home. On the other, I love these little guys and I miss them when they go. It is so rewarding to get to see them settle into their new families though. It's my hope they bring as much joy to their new homes as our pack has to our home. They're part of our family- a part I can't IMAGINE being without. Every couch needs a Dane.
I've been dong a lot of reflecting on what I want Velcro Danes to be. What do I want to DO with it? Where do I want it to go? I've always been so hesitant to network or deal much with other breeders because it's so political and can get so ugly. I don't have room for that in my life. I just don't. But at the same time- I believe in what we are putting out there. I BELIEVE that the color families are NOT in the best interest of the breed. I believe in utilizing the health testing tools available to me to do my part. Of course I can't guarantee that our PennHIP or OFA results will mean my puppies will never have any orthopedic issues, but I can at least say that I did my part, and that if our families DO encounter problems, I'll still be here for support.
I care about this breed- not just for the ones I share my home, bed, and life with- but for the integrity of the breed as a whole... I know there are plenty of nay sayers who point fingers and criticize breeding programs that include "off colors" and break down the walls between color families. While I respect this view, I can not agree with it, and the day I make my ethical decisions in breeding based on what someone else thinks EVEN if it goes against what I feel is the right thing to do is the day I swear to quit. It's my goal to never EVER lose sight of why I started doing this in the first place. Because I love the dogs. Because I want to be a part of their future. Because I look at what they've given my home and family and I want to share it with the world. The truth is, when I read half truths and lies about myself or my program on the internet- it bothers me. To read that I don't care about my animals, or that I am only concerned with making money, because why else would I possibly breed the colors I do? But I let it roll off my back because I know the truth. I know where my heart and intentions are at. Those who know me and know my dogs know how much they mean to me.
Since I was a little girl I've had a passion for animals- all animals- but particularly dogs. The moment I lose that passion is when I'm done with Velcro Danes. That much I know.
Raising litters, losing sleep, agonizing over every little decision, keeping in contact with their families, offering support... none of that would be worth the minuscule monetary gain we somethings bring in... a gain we know we are just one c-section, stepped-on puppy, or parvo outbreak away from losing... if not for the pure and genuine love of the dogs. It's exhausting. It's stressful. It's BUSY. But nothing worthwhile is easy, that much I know for sure.
So we wrap up litter #4. It will go down in our records as our "Breakfast cereal" litter. A success. And we look forward to litter #5 next year. We will go on this crazy adventure again, we will meet new people, find new homes, and fall in love with a dozen or so new little furry beings. I've known my entire life I wanted to "work" with animals. I ruled out veterinary care a long time ago- it hurt my heart too much. I ruled out working with exotic animals, the interest just wasn't there. I thought I had found "it" with doggy daycare, and I do enjoy that, but having a regular work schedule is not for me and luckily I have a husband very supportive of my staying home and being a full time Mom to my little man. Breeding is not a job, but it's a whole lot of work, and it gives me purpose. I have at last pinned down exactly where I belong and exactly how I want to be involved in dogs.
There's a lot of back stabbing, double-crossing, lying, and gossip involved in the Dane world. Moreso than any other breed I've ever cared to be involved with. (Boxer people can get pretty ugly, but not like THIS. Corgi people are awesome.) I refuse to take part in this, and I am immensely thankful for the people who have helped me along the way and been patient as I learn to navigate this whole world of Danes. For Jon and Natalie for showing me that I didn't need a massive house and massive yard to foster my massive love of Danes. For Whitney for not taking complete advantage of my inexperience and scatter-brained ways as of late. For Keri and Renee for trusting me to do right by our Danes, and giving me the opportunity to get started on this venture. For every single family we have ever placed a puppy with- for keeping in contact, providing amazing, loving homes, and becoming a part of our extended family. For Shannon for having extreme patience with me as we work out our first-ever co ownership, allowing us to expand our program. I've met so many wonderful people involved with this breed, and that makes all the rest worth it. We have exciting plans for next year, and we can't wait to share them. In time.