Going Extinct: Breeders in Hiding

By Cara Ryckman. From ShowSight Magazine  – September 2017 Issue.  Photo Collage by D. Cartier

I am a responsible breeder of AKC Chihuahuas.  I am a Breeder of Merit, given that designation by AKC.  I had the #1 smoothcoat Chihuahua and the #3 longcoat Chihuahua in 2016.  I breed only a few litters a year – and Chihuahuas often only have 1 to 2 puppies per litter.  When I do place a puppy, I utilize limited registration and spay/neuter contract, or the puppy is already spayed or neutered before placement.  I am in no way a business – but I enjoy breeding and exhibiting dogs as a lifelong hobby.  What I spent on my dogs in 2016 goes into 6 digit figures.  What I made on my dogs in 2016 was NOTHING!  In fact if my CPA took a look, he’d tell me I’m crazy.  I am indeed.  Crazy about my Chihuahuas.  When I place an older puppy or adult, it is generally for the fee of the spay or neuter, and I allow the buyer to pay directly to my vet.  I am in this for the right reasons – the betterment of the breed.  As I’m preaching to the choir, I think we can agree I’m one of the good guys.

Unfortunately, I am finding it more and more difficult to advertise an available pet because of the rage of the anti-breeder crazies.  I did a paid ad on my Terlingua facebook page to try to get more “likes” and more visibility of what I post, due to Facebook’s policy now where most who belong to your page do not see your posts.  This was prior to Facebook’s new policy of no animal sales.  I had to block 5 people.  On a show quality bitch I was placing due to her breeder no longer showing dogs, I had a ranting woman screaming for her to be spayed.  This same bitch was reposted by an individual begging rescue to “save her!”  I let this person know that she did not need saving, that in the past I have kept a dog for over 2 years who I was trying to place because I had not yet found the right person.  One woman was going completely nuts on me “Facebook does not allow people to advertise pets!”  (Well apparently they did at that time, they certainly took my money.)  One was saying it was “sad” that I would place a retired breeding bitch in a loving pet home where she would receive more attention.   Another lady was crying out that everyone should boycott me, the evil breeder, as long as there were dogs in shelters.  I considered strongly answering publicly each and every one of these detractors, yet in the end I just deleted their posts and blocked each of them where they can’t see or post on my page. 

It is officially “cool” to hate dog breeders.

I do not often have dogs for sale.  I have given dogs to friends I know will provide them with excellent homes.  There is a young lady who I allowed to buy one dog from me for $100, and her second dog from me I gave to her.  It is a wonderful home where she posts pictures to facebook continuously…I have been able to see these babies grow over the years.  Would that every home be like that!  But, inevitably there are times that I need to place a dog that I may not have a definite home for in mind.  I feel very strongly that a retirement home is a wonderful thing for an ex show dog/breeding dog to get to experience that pet life where they don’t have to compete for attention as one of many.  They don’t have to see that RV pulling out for the next dog show and they are staying at home, but they get to accompany Mom to work or help Dad around the house.  Even the best breeder will have pet puppies to occasionally place. 

Many years ago, when a responsible breeder had a pet to place they would put it in the newspaper.  I remember you could always tell the responsible breeder vs. the backyard breeder or even worse, the “puppy mill” type ads.  You could look to see what registry a breeder was using, if health clearances had been obtained on the dogs prior to breeding, you could see if a breeder showed their dogs and see how the dogs and puppies were described in the ad.  There were many articles out there at the time on how to tell the responsible breeder from the pet breeder who was in it to make money.  People don’t read a newspaper anymore – just about everything has gone to online.  Magazines also are not somewhere people go to look for a puppy.

Craigslist is an interesting animal.  Craigslist policies state in its prohibited offerings are “pet sales (re-homing with small adoption fee ok)”.  Of course, anyone who checks out Craigslist can see that is completely ignored.  It is the mecca of the money breeders who sell puppies for $100-200.  Any responsible breeder advertising would be flagged, but due to the price of these puppies, these backyard breeder ads often slip by.  Savvy money breeders know the terminology to use, actually stating they are “rehoming” the puppies.  There are (truly crazy) people who apparently do nothing all day but sit ‘flagging’ craigslist ads that do not fit the less than $200 “rescue” guideline.

Puppyfind or some of the breeder referral pages can lead to mixed results – an occasional sincere good home, a few educatable people, down to people just simply trying to obtain breeding stock for money breeding.  Many ads of dogs that do not even look like the breeds they are representing crowd the few pets from responsible breeders.  I believe it is possible to find a good home there, but unfortunately it’s national…you can see dogs in your area by refining the search, but a person on there looking for a companion may not be able to find a dog in their area. 

Hoobly.  I have never advertised on Hoobly, but at first glance it’s a scary place.  Many “micros” and “teacups” advertised for huge prices, and these are terms in our breed that are used by pet breeders.  Interestingly enough, their puppies without health cleared parents bred for particular colors or size are priced higher than my show puppies.  There are a few ads who do appear to be pet puppies for normal prices.  The ads I pull up on Hoobly are from New York and Pennsylvania, not local – pet families are looking local.  I just can’t see that Hoobly would be an optimum place to find a family for a pet, more than anything due to the ads not even being local or easily organized.

I heard one show breeder say that they don’t advertise.  “Responsible breeders don’t advertise.”  In my breed, that would mean a few pet puppies to find homes for but what about breeds who have 10 or even 20 puppies in a litter?  In my breed, few keep “waiting lists” due to very small litters that often no puppy is available to place from – we keep them.  I can’t tell you the times I have heard “Responsible breeders don’t advertise here…or there…or in that publication…or online.”  Possibly that is where we have shot ourselves in the foot.  We are in hiding.  We are not visible.  What the public is seeing is the money breeders.  We should be out there everywhere, showing people the difference.  But we’re not.

Ok, so as a breeder…a responsible breeder…of dogs, where does that leave us?  We aren’t supposed to advertise – anywhere – because “there are shelter dogs.”  Did we – as responsible breeders – produce the shelter dogs?  I can say overwhelmingly NO for me – I keep track of my puppies.  My puppies are microchipped, and the microchips are registered to me.  There are so few puppies I place anyway, and those are placed on an agreement where if the person ever has to rehome the dog, it comes back to me, period.  So, no, I do not take responsibility for the shelter dog.  There are those who would say that because of my well bred puppy there is a shelter dog somewhere that is being put to sleep.  I again disagree on this point – the person who is looking for a puppy from me or someone like me is not the person who will go pick up a dog instead from a shelter.  Animal rights activists would say that we have no need for purebred dogs – I say we have no need for animal rights activists.  It is not their “right” to say purebred dogs should perish, and that the world should only have mutts…then their real agenda comes out that we should have no pets at all.  I reject all of that.

My theory is that if a family actually did their research and chose a breed based on the characteristics of that breed and its suitability to that family, then bought from a responsible breeder who considered health and temperament in their program, then followed the advice from that breeder in raising and training the puppy – getting lifetime advice from that breeder during the journey – it would be much more likely that the puppy would work out as a pet for that family for its lifetime, and it would be LESS likely to ever end up in a shelter OR to produce any puppies that end up in a shelter.  In supporting RESPONSIBLE BREEDERS, the activists would be much more likely to accomplish their supposed goal of less dogs in shelters.  Of course, since their real goal is extermination of purebred dogs and removal of dogs as household pets, their current agenda is working just fine.

I decided to do a poll on my facebook page, and here were the results.  I have 54 responses.  I asked my dog show friends not to answer, so the answers were ONLY from the general public.  The question was, if you decided today to get a new dog, where would you go to find one?  Here were the results of that survey.  If this doesn’t scare you, you need to re-read! 

Humane Society 10
Breed rescue 10
Ask a reputable breeder they know 7
Word of Mouth 6
The newspaper 4
Facebook 3
Craigslist 2
Kennel Club 2
Dog show 2
Petfinder 2
Puppyfind 2
Google 1
Pet Store 1

So, back to my original question…where do we advertise?  How do we reach those who long for a well bred companion of pedigree?  How do we find those who know they want a Chihuahua because they have researched the breed and found that the size, activity level, personality, and appearance of that particular breed meet their lifestyle requirements…and they know that the best place to find a Chihuahua that most closely meets the AKC breed standard is from a responsible breeder?

AKC suggests that we should go to the parent club or look at AKC Marketplace.  Many clubs no longer publish membership lists due to harassment from animal activists.  I have actually had some wonderful results from AKC Marketplace.  I have only been on there for about a month now, but the leads from there have been GREAT quality homes.  For me that may be the answer, but I wish that AKC would more strongly advertise and advocate for purebred dogs and explain its AKC Marketplace as an option to the general public.   From my own poll, only two respondents said they would ask AKC.

Online I googled “Where do responsible breeders advertise?”  Dog Owner’s Guide suggests area kennel clubs or obedience clubs.  I wonder how many pet people realize there is even a thing called a kennel club, or how you would find such a thing.  Also I hate to suggest that simply belonging to a local club may not be screening enough for “a responsible breeder,” though it might be a good starting place to screen from.  AKC and UKC apparently both have Breeder Referral numbers, says gocorgi.com.  I found a suggestion there too of asking your vet…and, although my own vet would have a clue as she is a breeder and a dog show aficionado, I don’t think every vet would.  Many online suggestions are dated, mentioning publications that no longer exist.

My personal facebook has actually gained me a lot of Chihuahua friends and other dog showing friends.  I post my wins there and if I think about it, I forward them on to my Terlingua Chihuahuas page and Thunder’s fan page.  I like to think I have a lot of great content.  I try to be funny.  I try to be educational.  Not just about Chihuahuas, but I will put up any article I read that I think has merit or that I feel might help others.  On my personal facebook, I have 744 “friends.”  Prior to the facebook animal sales/adoption ban, I have placed several dogs from my personal facebook, usually to someone I know well or their mother or cousin or friend.  On the plus side, I have only blocked ONE person on my personal facebook due to their anti-breeder stance that she chose to post as a comment on a picture of one of my dogs.  Of course now, if you “advertise” on facebook by posting a dog for sale or even adoption, you run the risk of getting in trouble as it is now against facebook policy.  What I am seeing now is some still blatantly advertising, and some skirting around by using different wording avoiding keywords that will be caught by facebook.

A friend of mine suggested that she is afraid to let people know she is a breeder.  She hides it like an addiction.  I refuse.  There is nothing wrong with my hobby.  It is a wholesome family activity to show dogs.  Yes I breed dogs.  No, I do not contribute to the shelter problem.  No, my dogs are not exploited and mistreated.  My dogs are better cared for than many children!

So, what is the solution?  I wrote an article many years ago where I suggested that our fancy was fighting a losing battle if we – and by WE I do not mean just responsible breeders but ALL who believe we should have companion animals, ALL who believe we should have the CHOICE to breed animals- cannot come together.  If we cannot set aside our looking down our nose at another breeder because they are focusing too much on head type and not on the total package, we sure aren’t going to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with a commercial breeder to stop the animal rights activitists.  I know dog friends who were fine with the destruction of the Ringling Brothers’ Circus.  Do you think for one minute that we as the dog fancy are not on their agenda?  We should have been out there fighting for the CHOICE for Ringling Brothers to HUMANELY train elephants for their performances.  Were you?  I wasn’t.  I never believed it could happen.    We can all agree that nobody should be abusive to animals – that is the animal welfare we have been telling everyone about for years that they should be supporting instead of animal rights.  Everyone knows that, right?  Our neighbors and friends don’t send their money to PETA or the Humane Society of the United States, do they?  Yes, they do.  Have we been loud enough in decrying the agenda?  Or have we accepted that they are currently after fur, or circus animals, or laboratories…and not realized that they with their millions of dollars in advertising have people on facebook decrying a responsible breeder for attempting to find a loving pet home for a retired brood bitch for the cost of a spay…because….because…SHELTER DOGS ARE DYING! 

We must find a way to show the public the truth, or our beloved dog fancy will vanish.  The breeds we love will be gone.  Have you noticed that the fanciers at dog shows seem to get older and older?  We are losing the young people.  How do we replenish our ranks?  How do we make it to where a responsible breeder doesn’t feel like they have to go into the closet and hide from friends and family their love of the sport of purebred dogs?  Trump rallied Americans with his call to “Make America Great Again.”  I would just like to see America be sane again, when it comes to the ownership and breeding of purebred dogs. 

For awhile, it seemed that the public was “getting it.”  They understood that there were different calibers of breeders…they understood that going to a responsible breeder for their chosen breed of  companion was a different experience than getting a Heinz 57 at the shelter.  Now, it is almost a criminal act -and certainly not what’s “in” – to BUY a dog.  Adopt don’t shop, all of the ads say!  Be a Green Monster, the environmental website says no breeder is responsible and to “be green” you have to go to the shelter. 

Our dog clubs are going to have to start showing a public face.  Educating the public needs to be a primary goal of ANY dog club.  Where we used to have to draw the line in the sand to show the difference between the “responsible” show breeder and the “uneducated” pet breeder, now we are going to have to show why it is valid to have purebred dogs, or sadly why we should have the right to own pets at all.  We need to get the general public out to see a dog show in person, and to see activities such as obedience and agility.  We have to help them to understand that each breed has known QUALITIES that might be better for an individual person’s lifestyle, that will lead to a more permanent home.  Breeding for health and temperament as part of a total package is an important plus of the responsible breeder, as well as a lifetime resource for advice and help with your pet. 

As for me as the responsible show breeder, I’m going to keep talking.  I’m going to advertise, if nothing else just to show the difference.  I’m going to take my dogs out in public and talk to others.  I’m going to take the time to talk to pet people who come to shows, and hopefully lead them to a kennel club meeting.  If I don’t have a pet available, I’m not going to say “No, I’m sorry…” – I’m going to help direct them to other responsible breeders.  I’m not going to hide.  I am proud of my program and I am proud of the time and effort I put into my dogs.

The dog club that I was a part of 35 years ago was a thriving organization of all ages.  Each meeting would have 20-30 attendees.  Many all-breed clubs today seem to only have a few active members.  Sadly we just saw the announcement of the demise of the Eugene Kennel Club, due to lack of ability to find active members who would work.  Entries in some breeds have decreased so much as well – it is hard to find majors.  Dog laws are going into effect in various parts of the country – a friend talked about her concern in moving to Florida due to how many areas there are affected by kennel licensing.  Wake up friends.  You thought the circus would never cease to be.  The curtain call is coming.  We need to turn the tide.

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