Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Two years ago I began searching for my puppy. Today, I still don't have that dog.

Two years ago I decided I wanted to purchase a puppy, a Golden Retriever to be exact, and thus began the hunt for the right dog: a sweet personality, smart, but with a quiet temperament, sound conformation, and a pedigree filled with healthy dogs. I chose to purchase a puppy, rather than adopt one of the thousands of homeless animals in this country, because I wanted some sort of guarantee, or at least educated hope, that my sweet new family member would be of sound health, and live a long life. Today, I still do not have my puppy, and in many ways I am thankful for that.

I began my puppy hunt with sound research, or so I thought. Logically, it seemed to me, the best place for information would be the information super highway. I pulled up Google, and entered, “Golden Retriever Puppies”—the first hit on the long list was a website where you could enter your credit card and a puppy would be shipped to you—no need to even speak with the breeder. This did not appeal to me, and I was thankful I was educated enough to know not to purchase from here. My next search was “show quality golden retriever puppies” or “champion golden retriever puppies”—it was this search that led me into the world of “Rare Alpine White Golden Retrievers,” “European Cream Golden Retrievers,” “English Cream Champions,” etc. I must admit, I was intrigued by the photos of what looked like my own Golden Retriever (a dog I scooped up from the SPCA) coated in white paint! They were adorable balls of white fluff that reminded me of stuffed animal polar bears. I quickly decided this was what I wanted.

Next, I decided to search for these rare white golden retrievers. I found three websites, all of which seemed great to me. They spoke of family life, puppies they had bred that were now Seeing Eye dogs, features on national cable and features in various magazines I regularly read. It seemed the whiter the dog, the more it was worth. I book marked my favorite breeders, and decided when my lease ran up in 2 months I would contact the breeders, and the nicest most helpful, would sell me my next dog.

It wasn’t long until I saw a white golden retriever sprawled on a sofa on the cover of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. I have always been a secret fan of Oprah’s “must-have” lists, and turned to the internet to find where on earth she had purchased this white dog.

It did not take long for the World Wide Web to lead me to sites of Golden Retriever fanciers discussing the pitfalls of Oprah purchasing a dog from, “gasp” a puppy mill or high volume breeder. I soon learned my bookmarked sites were also high volume breeders and/or puppy mills. I felt a sense of relief knowing I had not purchased from them. Soon after, a dear friend of mine Facebooked me to tell me she was getting a puppy. Obviously, my first question was what kind? When I learned she was getting an English Cream Golden Retriever, I felt my search was over for the right breeder. I would simply use the breeder she had used. I got the contact info for the breeder, and began emailing them. However, each email response I got from the breeder gave me an odd gut feeling, that something was not right. I Googled the kennel name, only to learn this was a puppy mill, known for scamming buyers, and knowingly breeding unhealthy dogs with hip problems. *Phew,* another bad breeder avoided.

Having realized I had now found multiple breeders that seemed to be legit at first glance (to the self-admitting untrained eye), I decided the only way to find a legitimate breeder would be to ask animal lovers like myself—and, what better place than an online forum for horse owners? I knew this forum was frequented by people who loved their horses, spent thousands of dollars a year on their animals, and usually owned lots of dogs themselves. I drafted a forum post, seeking information and contacts on a breeder of English Cream Golden Retrievers. With in hours I had a response! A recommendation for a breeder in Canada, the woman responding owned one of her puppies, lived in the same town, and gave me a link to the kennel website—which was filled with win photos from dog shows. I was thrilled! My hunt was finally over!... or so I thought! By now, I thought of myself as a fairly educated dog owner in search of a good breeder—boy was I wrong. I knew clearances were important (“clearances” refer to health certificates given by a specialist to the parents of the dogs, the most important clearances for a Golden are hips, elbows, heart, and thyroid—for most of these (such as hips) the clearance is rated on a scale from fair to excellent)—and I assumed simply finding a dog with both parents having good or excellent clearances would guarantee a healthy puppy. Wrong again.

I began emailing with this breeder, she seemed kind, and had a “puppy questionnaire” on her website for potential buyers to fill out—that gave me reassurance, obviously she cared where her dogs went. This breeder responded to my many emails, and seemed so kind. We had selected the breeding I wanted, and were making arrangements for a deposit, and began researching importing a puppy from Canada—much easier than I had thought, the breeder would make the arrangements, I would simply pay $300 and the puppy would be flown to the closest international airport. Thrilled I had found “the breeder” I decided to Google the kennel name, in the hopes of finding owners of famous off spring that would be related to the puppy I planned on purchasing. I was devastated when the first review online was for the kennels boarding services, and spoke of the filthy conditions of the property. I pushed this review to the back of my mind, and assumed this must be a different kennel with the same name. About half way down the list of Google hits I found an online forum dedicated to everything Golden Retriever. I clicked the link, and found myself reading 20 pages of posts regarding a buyer’s experience with this breeder. Page after page explained this once reputable breeder, had traded in her love for the breed for profit, and now was a large scale/high volume breeder, though she did clearances on her dogs, she did little to ensure they were handled as puppies (a very critical factor in ensuring a dog has a sound temperament), she was known for selling unhealthy puppies infested with parasites, and underweight. Her buyer contract contained numerous loop holes, enabling her to get around paying vet bills on the unhealthy puppies she sold. I was terrified, and relieved. I had been in the process of arranging to put down a $500 non-refundable deposit, thankfully I hadn’t done so, and looking forward to receiving my new puppy, only to learn this seemingly friendly breeder was in it for nothing but profit. Reading this forum was like looking at a car wreck, I didn’t want to see it, but I couldn’t look away. I read of how this breeder routinely uses a stud with known food aggression in her breeding program—I was devastated. I felt as though I had been taken for a ride by this woman, we had exchanged countless emails, and she knew the number one trait in the puppy I sought to purchase was a gentle personality. She had recommended a litter with a mother known for producing hip dysplastic dogs, and a father with food aggression.

By now I had spent a year looking for my puppy, and secretly hoped this was simply one bad review from a person seeking slanderous revenge. I signed up for this Golden Retriever message board, and typed my first post. I sought reviews on the breeder my long time friend had purchased from (the puppy mill type) and this new Canadian breeder. I explained I wanted an English Cream puppy. My very first thread got tons of hits! Fanciers explained the terms I had used in search of my light colored puppy were simply marketing ploys, often used by irresponsible breeders trying to charge more. I learned any breeder that charges more for European type Golden Retrievers than American is not reputable. Personality of parents is vital in choosing a puppy, but equally important are that the puppies are handled regularly, preferably raised in the house. Any breeder advertising White Golden Retrievers, Alpine Golden Retrievers, Rare European Crèmes, etc. was in it for the wrong reasons. “Designer dogs” like Golden Doodles, Labradoodles, YorkiePoos, etc. are not recognized by any legitimate organization in this country. Reputable breeders of purebred dogs sell their puppies on Limited Registration (there are two types of AKC registration: Unlimited and Limited), meaning the dog must be spayed or neutered, can not be bred, and can only be shown in obedience, agility, and field events. Reputable breeders will only offer Unlimited or Full registration to owners planning to show the dog in confirmation, and often times will not offer such registration until the puppy is old enough to be evaluated as a show dog. Once the owner actually is able to have the dog on full or unlimited registration, a reputable breeder will require the dog be actively shown and have all major health clearances performed (which must be done by a certified specialist, such as a cardiologist) before a new contract will be granted stating the owner has permission to breed the dog. As a result, Designer Dogs are often parented by dogs purchased from disreputable breeders, who will sell dogs on full or unlimited registration to anyone willing to pay extra. This results in the parents of the designer dog being less than stellar representations of their breed. The other problem with Designer Dogs, is F1 breeding (First generation) do not produce a standard set of traits—both physical and personality wise. Therefore, it is extremely common to find two Golden Doodles that look nothing alike, have opposite personalities, and often times have completely different coat types.

Since then, I’ve learned the major red flags in finding a breeder, but it has been a long task. I say praise almost daily that I took the time to go down so many wrong roads before finding the right one. I now see how easy it is to be led astray, and find the internet to in ways be an excellent source of information, but in other ways an awful source of information. I often wonder if I, someone who prides herself on having great knowledge regarding animals could be led so astray, then what about the average person looking for a family pet? When celebrities like Oprah are purchasing from puppy mill type locations, our Vice President is quoted saying he purchased from a reputable breeder—with documented violations accusing them of being a puppy mill or irresponsible large volume breeder, and our president is searching for a Doodle then we are being fed mixed information.

I still yearn to own a Golden Retriever with European ancestry, but not for any of the reasons I had when I started my search. I have come to appreciate both the American type and the European type, and would love to one day have one of each. I’ve learned a European type Golden will have more trouble successfully competing in AKC shows than an American, because they are bred for slightly different breed standards—though, it is not unheard of for a European type to succeed in AKC shows. I’ve researched breeding, and am starting to understand how to look at a pedigree—though; I will admit I have A LONG WAY TO GO.

I think I have found my breeder. She actively shows her dogs, raises the puppies in her bedroom, and is in it for bettering the breed—meaning, she only breeds dogs she knows have traits, health, personality, etc. that would help improve the Golden Retriever breed. However, with all of the research I have done, I have found four breeders I would happily use—three breed the American Golden Retrievers and one, the one I am 99 percent sure I will buy from, breeds the European type.

In conclusion, it is easy to be led astray, and sometimes trying to research can lead you down the wrong path and to a plethora of websites for large scale high volume for profit breeders. At the same time, thorough research is critical in selecting your next puppy. For every one legitimate reputable breeder out there, there are at least 20 backyard breeders, puppy mills, or high volume breeders. I think I have found the breeder I will use, but over the past two years there have been numerous occasions where I thought I had found “the one.” My research has piqued my curiosity in dog shows, as I now am starting to grasp the reasoning behind breeding, and the importance of breeding to the standard represented by the AKC.

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  3. Hogwash. It has become a multi show puppy business decision for a select few people to "BREED" when in fact many smaller family owned kennels have better handling and medical needs of the dog. Dogs left in kennels for a full day and thrown in a show ring is not the perfect situation for any dog. Shame on everyone buying into this. It's abuse to me. Dogs need affection, attention and calm environment. Not an audience of knucklehead lovers to run in circles saying my dogs prettier than your dog. Who is that good for other than the EGO of the person getting the points, attention, validation of being "one of them". These people validate this abuse in so many ways and say they are better at breeding. There's an article in Ohio that states by one of the top orthopedic docs that PLACEMENT is the only reason some dogs pass or fail hips. It means nothing. Genetically it is impossible and it doesn't even lower the number of problems. It's all in the way the dog is placed for the xray. ie: a doc took one of the dogs that failed, placed it another way and vooodooo it was excellent. STOP THIS OUTRAGEOUS MONEY GRUBBING BREEDING MESS. Look for an honest family that loves their dog and you will love your dog too. Make sure they go to the vet for checks and if you would like check the heart and eyes. It doesn't mean that your dog won't contract a tick bite that causes infection (heart disease as a small puppy). This entire game of antics is to keep the pool smaller for breeding only, not to have better or worse dogs.

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