In the first half of this year I bred a litter of boxer puppies and, as a result, am now regularly the victim of insults and abuse.
Why, you might ask? Did I allow my bitch to become pregnant by mistake? Did I not look after her properly during the pregnancy, birth and period of lactation? Did I not seek out veterinary care when it was needed? Did I not give her sufficient or nourishing food during those periods? Did I not give the puppies sufficient or nourishing food when they were old enough to go onto solids? Was I puppy farming? Was I trying to make pots of money? Did I not make sure that, apart from the puppies we kept, they all went to good and loving homes after having received their vaccinations and deworming medication?
None of the above.
I had planned the litter over the preceding six years, from the day it dawned on me that my male boxer had a unique temperament that needed to be passed on. I found an unrelated female puppy from nice-natured parents, keeping her on contraception until she was old enough to become a mother. She was just shy of three years old when she had the puppies. Birthing was not easy for her and, having taken her into the vet earlier in the day, a Caesar was done when I took her back in the late afternoon. Later that evening I brought her and her babies home to a specially constructed whelping box, settled her in and didn’t get much sleep that night. Five days later I had to call a vet out at 11 pm because she had gone from just fine to terrible in a few short hours, with raging mastitis. Thereafter, because lab tests proved that it was a nasty, rather drug resistant bacteria that had caused the mastitis, I largely hand reared those puppies – four hourly feeds, mixing puppy formula, sterilising bottles, with sleep a distant memory and all the while trying to keep mum alive and pain free every time the infection reared its head again. Hot or cold compresses, milking her teats, administering medication, emergency dashes to the vet (so many of them out of surgery hours) ……..and eventually an early spay to dry up the milk supply so that the bacteria had nothing to feed off. It worked and she is now back to being the same naughty, delightful dog that she was before all of this. I must add that through it all, not once did she growl, snap or bite those helping her. Proof, if it was needed, of her beautiful nature.
Months later a member of staff at our veterinary hospital told me that it was very lucky that my bitch had survived an infection caused by that particular bacteria, that it was down to careful attention from me (and I would add, them) and that ‘you are our best owner ever’. Well, I’m not so sure about that necessarily but, at the very least it did say to me that I did this thing in a considered, responsible way and that when it went ‘tits up’, if you’ll forgive the pun, I persevered – tried my best to make sure that it all ended well.
I am not telling you all of this to brag. It’s what happened, we dealt with it, we now have two lovely boxer teenagers from two lovely parents and it all worked out. Happily.
So, why am I the victim of abuse and insults?
There is a bunch of very zealous people out there who think that nobody should knowingly allow any dog to have a litter of puppies. That there are too many abandoned, abused and stray dogs out there, dogs that we should adopt.
We SHOULD be adopting these dogs and I have one of them. She’s lovely, we adore her, and she has added a dimension to our daily lives that we would not want to be without. She’s a valued and much loved member of our pack.
If I had young children – toddlers – I might not be saying what I’ve just said. As lovely and as loved as she is, she is skittish and unpredictable. Having grown two children through the toddler stage I am fully aware of what they are like with dogs. I often had to stop one of my children from ramming into a peacefully sleeping boxer with a plastic scooter, from pulling an ear, from taking a great big fold of dog flesh and sinking teeth into it. Children do that. They just do. Of course you put a stop to it but sometimes you don’t see it happening and that is when you need to have a dog that won’t retaliate. My boxers never did. They got up, licked the culprit’s face and walked away.
When you take on a large breed dog you are potentially taking on a lethal weapon. You can minimise the danger to some extent in the way that you treat that dog, and whether or not you train it. I have, however, owned enough dogs to know that, like humans, they are born with personalities and traits that stick. That no matter what treatment and training they do or don’t get, some things won’t change. The other thing that won’t change in our society is that if a dog bites a child, no matter what provocation that child provided, the dog will be blamed.
If I had toddlers I can say that without any shadow of a doubt, we would have had unpleasant and injurious episodes between them and our adopted rescue dog. Our children have grown up, so it doesn’t matter. We love her, are philosophical about the bites that we’ve received from her and she has improved as she has become more secure, realising that she can trust us. You see, that’s the interesting thing. It wasn’t her that was rescued, it was her heavily pregnant mother. The puppies were born in hospital and never received anything but the best treatment from birth. So, there was no remembered abuse that she had to get over. It’s in her, it just is.
If we’d had young children when we took her on, we might have had to find another home for her or, heaven forbid, have her euthanased. I would not willingly take on a dog if I thought it might end that way.
Which brings me to why I am writing this article. There are two sides to every story.
I agree that the number of stray, abused and abandoned dogs out there is heart breaking. It is absolutely correct that those of us who can care for these dogs should be adopting them, if we have the space, the love and – it must be mentioned – the money to care for them properly. I applaud every single person that is working in this field and, more than that, I admire them. I’m not sure that I could do it.
It is not these people that irritate me. It’s the anti-breeding zealots who are just paying lip service to the problem because it is fashionable to do so. The ones who suggest that someone like me is in need of some subtle enlightenment, that by allowing a carefully thought out litter of puppies to be born I am in some way cruel to animals. These are the people that just talk. They are not the people who are getting their hands dirty, they are not joining those doing their bit for promoting sterilisation and proper animal care and they are not part of those teams that are going out there to physically rescue distressed dogs.
Dogs have, over centuries, been bred for specific reasons. The border collie for its herding aptitude, the German shepherd and the French poodle for their receptiveness to training, others because they make fine security dogs and whereas, in other parts of the world, you see beagles being led around airports because they are particularly good at sniffing out illegal things, at Johannesburg airport you now see little Africanis dogs in the international luggage collection hall. They walk around proudly amongst the carousels, tails in the air, sniffing the hand luggage for meat products (foot and mouth being the problem here). I love it, they look so pleased with themselves and they’re obviously good at it, or they wouldn’t be there.
For most of us, however, we want a family dog and that dog needs to be suited to life in a suburban home. I am of the opinion that every child should be brought up with a dog because they have so much to teach all of us, so a family dog needs to be tolerant of small children. It should not eat guests or repair men that come into the home. Whilst you would want it to alert you to intruders, you would not want a dog that spent hours yapping at nothing and you would not want it to be scared of the vet. You would want to be able to go for nice walks on a lead without getting into any kind of trouble and you would want it to love you as much as you love it.
We would not leave our much loved rescue unattended near a small child because she is unpredictable. When guests or repair men come into our home she has to be put away, after which she barks continuously until she is allowed back into the fold, by which time we are nearly demented. Intruder or not, she will sit at the top of the driveway barking for hours at seemingly nothing if we don’t call her in, put a stop to it and when she goes to the vet she shivers with fear. Then she piddles all over the floor the minute said vet makes a move to examine her. After many struggles we finally managed to persuade her that putting on a collar and lead to go for a walk is a good thing. She does that thing very well nowadays and she certainly seems to love us as much as we love her. I must also add that she is so clever, puts the boxers in the shade. I’ve now been forced to admit that they are, well, not that bright. In comparison.
I’m not in the habit of breeding dogs. It’s hard work and if you do it properly it is ruinously expensive. When our children were young we allowed two of our Maltese to have a litter each because, despite what these zealots say, I firmly believe the birth of a litter of puppies in the home is a valuable lesson in the facts of life, love and nurturing. I will not be dissuaded from that view. Whilst there are many out there who breed dogs for income, looks and dog shows, I’m not one them. Even if I were, however, I am inclined to think that it would be my business. That the busy bodies would only be entitled to an opinion if I were abusing or neglecting my dogs. But, I digress.
If I go looking for a new puppy, I want to know what I am getting, particularly if it is a large breed dog. I want to meet the parents, I want to see that they are friendly. Whilst not fool-proof, a dog with a pedigree or some proof of lineage, goes some way towards a guarantee of what you can expect your puppy to become. It was lovely to be able to give the puppies in our litter to people with young children or grandchildren, safe in the knowledge that those children will not be bitten or maliciously harmed. They might be bowled over by the boxer enthusiasm, it’s wish to play, but they won’t be harmed by unjustified fear in the dog. I know that those puppies will grow into loyal friends and protectors that make them laugh every single day. A boxer does that.
I bred my precious litter of boxer puppies because, if the truth be told, I felt what you might call a civic duty to pass on the temperament needed in the perfect family dog. And, I might do it again. If I do, I will refuse to feel guilty. I will ignore the insults and the abuse. I will not apologise. If there is only one reason to breed a litter of puppies, it is to pass on a fine temperament and for that I will never apologise.
I understand the thinking behind the concept of not breeding dogs, rather adopting those that need a home and I do agree with it on most levels. The same could, of course, be said of human babies. With the population on the planet past the 7 billion mark, with poverty, child abuse, neglect – pretty much the same things that apply to dogs – would the armchair zealots, when told that a happy young couple is expecting a baby, insult them by suggesting that they should rather adopt a child?
I think not.
In the middle of writing this article, our Maltese came back from the parlour looking like a fluffy white cloud. I told ‘my poodle parlour lady’, a keen adopter of distressed dogs herself (she has about 13 of them), what I was writing about. After some discussion, we agreed that people who want to breed a litter of puppies should be required to register before they can do so. Not with a kennel union or municipal department, something far closer to home. Maybe their vet who would know whether they are responsible and caring, whether they are doing it for the right reasons. The vet, of course, would know the prospective mother dog, maybe even the intended father. Who better to grant a properly considered registration certificate? (May I apologise right here and now to the veterinary profession. I do know that you have more than enough to keep you busy. I’m sure you could charge a professional fee for this.)
It’s her idea and it’s a jolly good one. Maybe those that feel so strongly about this should channel their energies in that direction. But while they are at it, they should not forget to push for a similar human registration to breed.
Just a thought.
There are two sides to every debate. I’ve tried to give you the balanced view and if you have read this I would ask you to please, stop abusing those that breed dogs for the right reasons.
It’s not a crime. It really isn’t.