About a year ago, our family decided we wanted to add to our family (more specifically, to our pack!) and decided we wanted to go big this time.
Before we got Cooper and Molly, we had a big shepherd/husky mix named Maggie and I was missing having a big dog around, especially when my husband travels for business. So the search began!
We narrowed our search down to a couple breeds, all considered to be large breed dogs and looked for breeders close to us, or at least in our region (within a 4-6 hour drive). One of the breeds we were interested in had a breeder about 25 minutes from us; I emailed her then ended up calling one day and spent a couple hours chatting about the breed, our respective philosophies around training, feeding etc. I liked everything she had to say and she seemed very knowledgeable so we made plans for my husband and I to go visit she and her dogs.
Our visit went well; we met a dog that had been born there (from the same breeding pair that we would be receiving a puppy from), another female that she had and the dam from the litter we’d be buying from (she was to be bred on her next heat). We chatted the whole time we were playing with the dogs about a variety of things; dog shows, other kennels, genetics, you name it. She doesn’t show her dogs; she finds the shows too political, other breeders too stuffy etc. She mentioned a kennel several provinces away that had been her mentor; I asked if there were any other breeders in our region that had this breed that were reputable (she said no).
When she brought out the sire she intended to use, I noticed immediately that he was limping so I asked about it; she said he had a small issue with his elbow but that it was minor and didn’t really seem to bother him which didn’t make a lot of sense to me since he was limping but whatever…I was so in love with these dogs, I pushed that thought away initially. She said it is impossible to get an absolutely perfect set of circumstances in breeding so given how good an example of the breed he was and the fact that it was a minor issue, she felt it would be fine. She made an effort to downplay his limp (and brought him out last; maybe so we’d fall in love with her dogs before we saw his limp?).
I joined a breed group on FB for this breed that involved breeders and owners all over the world; people could ask questions, get information about purchasing, raising, feeding etc. I read along for quite some time and often it would come up what one should look for (and red flags to look out for) when looking for one of these puppies. Something had been bothering me about my conversations with this breeder for a while (almost like a little itch at the back of my conscience that wouldn’t go away) so I paid attention to these postings about how to pick a good, ethical breeder. I read the stories of many owners who had bought puppies from BYBs and ended up having dogs with heartbreaking joint disorders, heart problems etc. It became quite obvious that I needed to investigate a little further before we committed to a puppy; I really did like most of what this breeder had to offer and as I said, I loved the breed but I didn’t want to open us up to the heartbreak I had read about from so many.
I got online and researched the OFA clearances of both the sire and the dam (I had asked about clearances and saw they were listed on the website but hadn’t actually looked at the records); it seemed the appropriate tests had been done and were listed on the database. The dam’s clearances all had numbers with no notations but the sire had a notation of FCP/DJD III unilateral left. I knew the DJD meant degenerative joint disease but had to research what the rest of it meant. Unfortunately his elbow problem wasn’t minor (level 3) and was considered genetic (FCP)….so I went back to the clearances and had a better look. There was no listing for clearances for his sire’s elbows (but I knew from reading that breeders can choose not to include information that isn’t positive about their dogs) so that cranked up my suspicion….and then I read that he has produced at least 3 offspring with DJD in their elbow, two of which were unilateral left and one which was listed as FCP as well.
As much as I loved this breed, I knew we were going to have to pass on this proposed litter and find either a different breeder or a different breed. As disappointing as it was, I didn’t want to open us up to the heartbreak that would come from having a large breed dog with a pre-disposition to joint disease. And the longer I thought about the interactions we had had, I realized why my spider senses had been tingling; it wasn’t just the sire’s limp. The food she used wasn’t what I consider a quality food (she was a “big advocate” for raw feeding which I do with Cooper and Molly but she fed feed store kibble), she had nothing good to say about breeders who choose to show their dogs, not to mention that she didn’t show her dogs (so there wasn’t anyone who was unbiased looking at her dogs and determining if they were good examples of the breed or not). She said there weren’t any other quality breeders in our region (which I have since found out to be false) and rather than take the sire out of the breeding program when she realized he has DJD III, she bred him and produced puppies with DJD (and plans to continue using him). All of these things were red flags that I had read about.
So our search continues for our newest family member; we have plans to meet a breeder from a totally different breed soon and you can be sure I’ll be researching, checking clearances and paying attention to my spider senses!