Interview with Hound Group Breeder Heather Galford – HighGard Kennels
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: My husband, daughter, and I are located in Grant, Alabama. I have been “in dogs” for going on eight years now; however, before dogs, I grew up showing and raising Quarter Horses. I gravitated into purebred dogs after graduating from high school. My first breed was the German Shepherd Dog. I was training dogs for a dog sport called IPO, which consisted of Protection, Obedience, and Tracking. And I was also showing them in UKC.
Growing up, every year, I found myself watching the National Dog Show and Westminster on television. I was always intrigued by them and dreamed of making it to that level with a dog of my own one day. Being the kid that I was, I was not sure if that were going to be possible, or if my parents would even allow it.
After I finished my Associate’s degree in Advanced Manufacturing Technology, I decided to go back to college to obtain my Bachelor’s degree. Going back to college meant small apartments, which were not very suitable for a German Shepherd. I researched and fell in love with the Basenji. I reached out to a breeder who had an older pup available to a show home. He already had a major towards his AKC championship. In late 2016, I brought home my first Basenji and have been in the breed ever since. When I met my husband, he liked the Basenjis and going to shows, but he wanted his own breed. He conducted months of research and settled on a little red hound called a Cirneco dell’Etna. We reached out to a breeder, Nancy Lee Wight of Rockin’ Heart Ranch, and talked to her for hours about the breed and how we were interested in getting a lovely show quality puppy from her. We got on her waiting list, and a year later I brought home a little red male puppy. Nancy would answer any questions that we had and helped us along our journey with the puppy. Today, Nancy is my partner and my mentor when it comes to breeding quality Cirnechi.
This year, I produced my first Basenji litter, and in the upcoming months I will have what could potentially be my first bred-by champion. I also currently have plans for my first Cirnechi litter in the coming years.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: My kennel name is HighGard, and we currently have eight dogs; six Basenjis and two Cirnechi.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: A German Shepherd named “Hemi” was my first UKC champion. “Orion,” my first Basenji, was the first dog that I ever put a major on. “Spartacus” (Cirneco dell’Etna) took Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club in 2021, Breed at the AKC National Championship in 2021, and was the No. 1 Cirneco dell’Etna All-Systems 2021. He is a multiple Group placer and is currently the No. 1 Cirneco dell’Etna. Spartacus also recently finished his Silver Grand Championship, becoming the second male in the breed to achieve this and the youngest dog to achieve it at two years old. He also made breed history at Westminster in 2021 when he became the first male in the breed to win Best of Breed since the breed was fully recognized in 2015. “Thor” (Basenji) is the dog of many firsts for me; first Owner-Handled Group placements, first Owner-Handled Best in Show & Owner-Handled Reserve Best in Show, first Regular Group placement, and first placement at a National Specialty. Last year, Thor was awarded Select Dog at the Basenji National Specialty by the honorable Hound Judge, Michael Canalizo.
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: I wanted to establish myself and educate myself about breeds before attempting to breed any animals. As such, I currently have only had one litter. The current sire’s I have are GCH Dark Moon’s God of Thunder (Thor) and GCH Klassic’s Fate of the Gods at HighGard; both have pups that will be hitting show rings in the coming months!
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: Currently, everyone is housed inside in a designated area of the house for them. All puppies are whelped in the house where we can closely monitor each pup. Puppies are raised with Puppy Culture, where they are introduced to a multitude of different things, getting them ready for anything they could possibly face in their new homes.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: At 8 weeks of age, a few breeder-friends and I get together and evaluate each puppy in the litter. Typically, at 8 weeks, I will decide, unless there are a couple other factors that add in. Then, I will keep a puppy back until I either see or do not see what the factor is.
How do you prepare your pups for the show ring? Does your breed require any special preparation?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: At an early age, I begin to properly socialize all of my puppies. During this time, I am also introducing them to moving on a show lead as well as training them to be stacked on a table/ramp. My husband will go over the stacked puppies so that they can become accustomed to the feeling of a hands-on evaluation. When puppies have had all their shots, they begin to travel with me to shows where I can socialize them to busy show environments, different breeds of dogs, and to other people and children.
Can I share my thoughts on how my breed is currently presented in the show ring?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: As far as the Cirnechi, I believe that while a rare breed here in the United States, we are more represented on the West Coast than on the East Coast. I would say that the breed is more represented on the West Coast due to the significantly higher entry counts. On the East Coast, you are lucky to have an entry of two or more, unless it is a Specialty Show.
Basenjis are very well-represented in the show rings. There are typically entry counts in the double digits at a variety of shows. There is also a wide range of quality from multiple breeders from all over the country.
Are there any health-related concerns within my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: In general, Cirnechi are a healthy “primitive” breed that, with thousands of years of natural selection, has bred-out health-related concerns. However, now that man is involved in breeding there have been some issues that have arisen in the past couple of years. A big one includes issues of the eyes that can be avoidable with a simple OFA eye examination. The AKC parent club does not require any health testing, so it is up to the breeders to decide if they health test or not. The tests that I recommend for the sire and dam to have are OFA eye examinations and OFA Heart Auscultation Exam. I know of some other breeders who require OFA hips and elbows as well. Cirnechi require more of a higher protein diet due to their higher metabolism. I feed Purina Pro Plan Performance 30/20 mixed with Grandma Lucy’s Freeze-Dried Dog Food.
As for Basenjis, there are quite a few more health issues than in the Cirnechi. Basenjis must be health tested for Fanconi, PRA (night blindness), OFA Eye Certification, OFA Thyroid, and OFA Hips. These are all of the items required for an OFA CHIC Number. There are a lot of reputable breeders in the United States who genuinely care for the breed and test; however, there are a lot of backyard breeders out there who are only in it for the money. They are breeding dogs that could have Fanconi, a deadly hereditary disorder that attacks the kidney tubule function which ultimately ends in death. Basenjis should be on a lower protein diet. If on a higher protein diet, this could cause issues in the urinary tract and kidney stones.
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: Currently, in Cirnechi, the breed is in a decent place in the United States due in no small part to the responsible and selective breeding efforts by some of our top breeders. One trend that I have noticed is that in the ring there are judges who are not properly educated, thus, put up dogs with disqualifications or serious faults. This could become a grave issue unless we, as responsible breeders, owners, and lovers of the breed, take a more proactive role in ensuring proper judges’ education.
In Basenjis, the breed is in a good place thanks to all of the efforts of the longtime breeders who have paved the way to all the newcomers today. Of course, like any breed, there are concerns. For example, the Basenji is a square breed, though recently there have been a lot of dogs in the show ring that are not square. Also, there are straight front and bite issues which can only be corrected through very selective breeding. But no matter how selective the breedings, and even with substantial progress for multiple generations, these issues can re-arise.
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: The best pet home for a Cirnechi is someone who is patient and can stimulate them both intellectually as well as physically, and spend time with them as Cirnechi are prone to feeling lonely and unhappy when left alone. Prospective owners will need to keep them leashed for their own safety when outside of a fenced-in area as their sighthound instincts can kick in, especially if they spot movement which may overcome all of their training. Given this, off-leash, the Cirnechi’s long-honed hunting instincts mean it is likely to disappear into the undergrowth. Another note is that due to where the breed evolved (and in the intense heat), the Cirneco highly dislikes the cold and will cuddle with its human for warmth. Having come from this hot environment, the breed has a natural, short coat that requires minimal care and attention. Overall, with Cirnechi, you can expect a loyal friend that loves to cuddle on the couch as well as go on adventures with you.
With Basenjis, much of the above is similar as they are both sighthounds with remarkably high prey drive. However, many Basenjis are cat-like and can be less lovey-dovey than Cirnechi as they have a far more independent temperament. Many Basenjis can and do climb over chain-link or mesh fencing, so special precautions must be taken to ensure the animal’s safety.
Do I feel that my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: As far as bloodlines and ensuring that a good mix of new, native Sicilian blood is introduced to AKC champion bloodlines, overall, we are doing an excellent job. Combine this with the fact that we are only 183rd out of 205 breeds, we are currently in a good place as far as the number of breeders. But as we look forward to the future and grow our breed in terms of popularity, we will have to grow, educate, and develop more responsible preservation breeders.
With Basenjis, I personally feel that we have an extraordinarily strong group of preservation breeders who do an excellent job of supporting the breed and are willing to mentor those who are new to the breed.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Hound?
HighGard Kennels – Heather Galford: The most amusing thing that I have witnessed with one of our Hounds was when our daughter was born. The day we came home from the hospital, Thor, our Basenji, fell in love with her at first sight. In those first few days he became protective of her, sitting in front of her swing, guarding her. In the ten months that have followed, Thor has begun to gently play with her, making her giggle as if she is his puppy.