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Karen Pipkin | Graceridge Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Karen Pipkin, the breeder of Graceridge Rhodesian Ridgebacks


Interview with Karen Pipkin – Breeder of Graceridge Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Where did you grow up?

Karen Pipkin: I grew up in Houston and Beaumont, Texas.

Karen Pipkin

Do you come from a doggie family? And if not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?

Karen Pipkin: I think my interest in purebred dogs simply originated with my love of animals, dogs and horses especially. We lived next door to a very successful horsewoman who rode Tennessee Walkers. I was fascinated that they were born with a specific kind of gait(s) and were a specific type of horse. I attended horse shows and loved the differences in breeds, and the beauty of each. I also studied purebred dogs as a child, and knew much about them individually and what the purpose of different breeds was in everyday life. I dreamed of owning different breeds for their different purposes, and loved that they could be beloved family pets as well. One such breed I was drawn to early on was the Border Collie. I watched them being used on ranches and loved how intelligent they were/are with their tasks. Another breed that I loved to watch move was the Afghan Hound. Their elegance was breathtaking. We had some in our neighborhood. I watched Westminster when it was televised and enjoyed watching the different breeds I had studied as a child. When I was in third or fourth grade, I organized my own neighborhood dog show and made ribbons out of fabric scraps. I held it in my backyard.

After rescuing and fostering dogs, either on my own or through Animal Care Services, I decided what I really wanted was to raise purebred dogs for the purpose of showing, and having family pets as well. I wanted to be part of a responsible community of dog owners. As I love all dogs, the problem of overpopulation of mixed breeds and purebred dogs (poor examples of their breeds, with no health testing done) was a problem I couldn’t fix. So, I wanted to own a well-bred, great example of a particular breed. I loved studying the Rhodesian Ridgeback after meeting one, and that became my breed of choice to transition into the show world. I also own two retired show Border Collies, my first purebred fascination.

The transition from owning rescue dogs to purebred dogs was gradual. As a child, I rescued or acquired a few from different sources… a neighbor, or my grandfather who found a dog during a hurricane, and others in the woods behind our house. In my twenties, I bought my first purebred English Springer Spaniel. Later, after having two children, I worked with Animal Care Services as a foster, rescued dogs from the street, and adopted from kill shelters and rehomed them. At the same time, I owned some purebred terriers. So, we had mixed breeds and purebred dogs at the same time, before I bought our first Rhodesian Ridgeback. Today, I enjoy working with Ridgeback Rescue in small ways.

Karen Pipkin

Who have been your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.

Karen Pipkin: My mentors in Ridgebacks have been Jill Davis, Dr. Christina Wistrom, and Jane Gentzen. I am thankful for each one of them in individual ways for helping me grow as a Ridgeback owner/breeder, and for giving me the opportunity to own their beautiful dogs. Handlers Antonio Vidmar, who is a Ridgeback owner himself, and Valerie Nunes-Atkinson have also been wonderful mentors in my journey. I am thankful for their help in countless ways.

Karen Pipkin

How many dogs do you typically house? Tell us about your current facilities and how the dogs are maintained.

Karen Pipkin: Currently at home we have 10 Ridgebacks and two Border Collies. Our beautiful “Rhys” (bred by Jill Davis) is currently out being shown by Valerie and Antonio, and will come home soon. They all live in the house with us. We have 8.5 acres for them to run on and enjoy. Not all of our Ridgebacks are show dogs, and I evaluate which ones will be shown. Some love it and have that show spark and look; others don’t quite have it for one reason or another. I have done OFAs on all of them. I have bred three times, and will continue to do so if the genetics are right, the dogs are conformationally approved, and their health test results are good/passing. I will work with the breeders of each dog I co-own to make the best choices before breeding. This is what keeps a breeding program moving forward in preserving the important qualities and traits with great attention to the details. Conformation, health, temperament, and genetics are all to be considered when breeding.

Karen Pipkin

As you attend dog shows, what do you think all-breed kennel clubs putting on shows could do to generate more interest in the sport, and increase spectator attendance?

Karen Pipkin: Keep up the engaging activities at dog shows. I have enjoyed the silent auctions and raffles. It is great to be able to shop and pick up extra slip leads and dog stuff while there. Having food available, and possibly even low-key entertainment (music of some kind) at the end of the day is a great idea also. Overall, kennel clubs put a lot of thought and time into their shows, and they’re doing a great job.

Karen Pipkin

Rhodesian Ridgeback entries seem to be strong nationwide, both in terms of quality and numbers. What do you think might be some of the reasons that make Ridgebacks one of the strongest breeds in the Hound Group?

Karen Pipkin: I applaud our current Ridgeback breeders and owners. People are breeding beautiful dogs and are thoughtful in what they want to produce. The art of breeding is at work! Owners are mindful of diet, exercise, and the overall care of their beloved Ridgebacks. It is a joy to attend a show and see these beautiful dogs competing. We have every reason to be excited with what we are producing today in our breed.

Karen Pipkin

What are your long-range plans for the Graceridge Ridgebacks in the next decade or two?

Karen Pipkin: I will take care of our current pack, and add additions with careful planning, always evaluating my goals of where I want to head. I will contact my co-breeders, Jill Davis and Tayler Suterko, and we’ll make these decisions together. We have a young one to train and show, and the future looks bright.

Karen Pipkin

Finally, tell us a little about Karen outside of the dogs… your profession, your hobbies.

Karen Pipkin: I have always stayed busy. I taught elementary school and junior high before I had our sons. Then I became a full-time Mom, which I loved being able to do. My husband’s schedule was busy, so it was important for me to be at home and available. The boys grew up with family dogs and are wonderful with dogs today. I jog and exercise when I can to stay in shape. We love to ski as a family and travel to Colorado. Family time is a priority. I have led women and children in Bible Study for about 10 years. I am about to begin my Masters in theology, so that will keep me busy for the next several years.

Karen Pipkin