“Oh, I could never let them go the way you do! It must be so hard.” I hear this statement at least one time from every person taking home a GrayHaven Bostons puppy, retired adult, or rescue dog. Normal people – people whose lives don’t revolve around canines every waking hour of the day & even into the supposed “sleeping” hours – just don’t get how I can love and care for a puppy for eight , ten, or sixteen-plus weeks, then joyfully pass that puppy on to a new family; or raise a dog from birth to middle age with love and devotion, then hand that beloved dog to another family and watch them walk away; or take in an emotionally wrecked rescue dog, nurture him until he blooms into a wonderful companion, then adopt him out. How do I do that? Well, it’s actually easier and a bit harder than you think:
- I put my dogs’ needs ahead of my emotions.
- I work to avoid assigning complex human emotions to my dogs’ behaviors.
Dogs are pretty simple creatures, if you think about it. They don’t hide their intentions or try to engage in high-level intrigue. If Chaos wants the steak off the table, Chaos’s either going to make a grab for it while I’m looking or he’s going to mill around waiting for me to leave the room – a maneuver she’s learned over time and one for which I’ve become prepared. Chaos isn’t going to sneak to the cellar and cut the power to the house, causing me to venture into the basement to check the circuits. That’s when Chaos shuts the door and locks me in, just so she can eat the steak. Chaos also isn’t going to intentionally leap under my feet at a precise moment and angle so I trip, fall and strike my head on the counter, thus enabling her to consume the steak while I lay either unconscious or dead. Thank goodness for Mankind (and me, in particular) that Chaos’s mind doesn’t work that way, or we’d all be scared witless of our dogs and their Hitchcockian machinations! The vast majority of dogs are simple in that they just need to be loved, cared for, given a share of quality time, housed well, and fed regularly. Notice that “fed” is last on my list? That’s because for most dogs, being loved and cared for is more important than even being fed. True.
So, how do I let go of dogs I love?
I love them enough to let them go.
Although I stuff it down and don’t put it out for display, it always hurts tremendously when someone supposes that they would “love their dogs or puppies too much to let them go.” I assure you, it is precisely as a result of how much I love my puppies and dogs that I do let them go. If I kept them, it would be a grave disservice to every dog in my care, because then no dog would receive the appropriate love, care, and time s/he deserves. Have I given up dogs that I would’ve rather kept and cherished myself? Of course, but I did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do for that dog’s well-being and that is always paramount to me. This is what it means to put the dogs’ needs ahead of my emotions.
One of the first adult Bostons I had to place out was a nearly two year-old boy named Havoc who had become my Heart Dog. He was also my Velcro-dog. I was heartbroken over the need to place him, but he had proven to be deaf in one ear and I had purchased him as a show dog and breeding prospect, which couldn’t happen due to the deafness issue. In order to obtain another show prospect, I had to give up Havoc.
I thought I’d dehydrate from crying in the days before his new mama came to get him.
I fretted and worried and worried and fretted… All for good reason: Although Havoc loved Sandi, he did not love the idea of leaving the house without me to go with her. After a couple attempted draggings, I opted to carry him out to the car. He went in okay, but as soon as he realized I wasn’t getting in, all hell broke loose. He began leaping back and forth through the car, from window to window, screaming and crying, scrabbling and biting at the glass. I just sank onto the porch step and sobbed. The car pulled slowly out of the drive with Havoc yipping and flailing like a dervish in the rear window, frantic to get back to me. I wondered if I had just destroyed him.
Several hours later I found an email from Sandi. She wrote that by the time they reached the end of our road (perhaps half a mile); Havoc was lying down calmly in the back seat gnawing on a Nylabone. He then fell asleep and snored the entire rest of the ride home… Havoc went on to bond very tightly with Sandi and is currently her Velcro-dog extraordinaire. He is none the worse for his dramatic parting from me.
However, I on the other hand, learned a tremendous lesson from that crushing leave-taking: Dogs do not “feel” the same way humans do. Yes, they absolutely have emotions! No, they do not have the same type of complex emotions that people do. Havoc clearly didn’t want to leave me, but once I was out of his sight, he took comfort in his immediate surroundings and the people who offered him love and comfort. Would he have remembered me? Absolutely he would have, if I’d gone to visit him regularly. I know this from an eight year-old retired boy I placed with a wonderful woman here in our hometown just this past summer. Wiley knows my van when I pull in her driveway and he gets so excited! Even better, he’s a much, much more relaxed, happier dog at her home than he was at my home, which tells me I made the right decision to place Wiley with her. He’s always ecstatic to see me, which thrills me to the core, but he is also clearly quite content living with his new mom, which also makes my heart incredibly happy.
So, how do I do it? I absorb the joy. When I get photos and emails and letters sharing huge Boston smiles and reports of happy puppy and dog happenings, they make every difficult moment, every shed tear worth it… Because I know my dogs are cherished, adored, treasured… Exactly the way I want them to be. And I know I’ve once again met my goal and have done right by my Bostons, in the manner God intended.
Most people are familiar with the old adage, “Every dog has its day.” However, I find it interesting that it’s one of very few timeworn maxims which can be interpreted either positively or punitively. For example: the punitive theory is that a “bad dog” (or person) will be disciplined at some point (or receive his comeuppance); the opposite side of the coin is that every “dog” that’s down-on-his luck, oppressed, or suffering will sooner or later be well rewarded. As an owner/exhibitor & breeder of Boston terriers, I’ve seen this proverb come to pass in countless situations, often within my own “GrayHaven Gang” of Bostons. What I failed to recognize until recently; though, is that there exists a murky, grey area where every dog doesn’t get its day in the best way, & often the finest breeders lose sight of their dogs in the fog.
I realized about two years ago – thanks to a particular rescue dog which parked himself within my heart & refusing to budge, that even though I provided all the best necessities & comforts for my dogs, somewhere along the thirteen years of exhibiting & breeding I’d lost sight of what my dogs truly mean to me. As a result, they were losing out. All the best kibble, comfy beds, & timely vet care cannot take the place of the singular bond between Man & dog. AKC ribbons & titles, so coveted by exceptional Breeders, can become empty rewards if the dogs are merely used vehicles on the ego road-trip to success. I’m ashamed to admit I took this dead end path.
Dogs have been a constant in my life since I was a toddler & some of my best childhood memories involve our family dog, Jo-Jo, a dog which patiently demonstrated all the interaction rules to two ignorant children as we grew up together. He was a shepherd-collie cross our family adopted from the local humane society as a tiny puppy. During his life of nearly fourteen years he taught me how to train dogs, that dog fur absorbs tears, & that no one messes with a young girl who has an ultra-protective, sixty pound dog on lead. I could go anywhere on my own, as long as Jo-Jo was beside me. My parents kept Jo-Jo as an outside dog, but I spent as much time as possible with him. He & I used to curl up inside his dog house, snuggled in the fresh straw together, just enjoying being alone & quiet. Jo-Jo taught me all the best things about the human-canine relationship & he was infinitely patient as I learned. Thanks to Jo-Jo, I developed a passion for all things dog & haven’t ever lived without at least one dog – & usually two or more – in my life.
When my husband & I made the decision to show & breed Boston terriers after eleven years of being owned by spayed/neutered “pet” Bostons, we outlined some specific rules for ourselves: Our dogs would be indoor dogs; no kennel, we’d own no more than six at a time; thus we’d have a one-to-one ratio of dogs-to-humans in our home, & we would be Responsible & Ethical Breeders in every way. We didn’t have any problems honoring our rules, except for the one about keeping only six dogs. Like nearly every Breeder we had puppies that we decided to keep, we purchased a couple of promising show dogs, & then we retired some adults but couldn’t bear to part with them. It wasn’t too many years before our Boston count had grown to ten. We still felt that with six family members that all was well. The dogs were happy & healthy & we were having fun; until tragedy struck.
Haley-Bop, one of our so-called “Texas Roses” because she & her half-sister ‘Amity both came to us from Texas, was attacked & critically injured by two of our other girls, which ultimately led to a wonderful transformation of her temperament. I think this horrifying event was the first sudden gust that would grow to become a wind strong enough to clear the fog for me. The damage to Bop’s front legs was horrendous & it wasn’t clear for several weeks whether or not the worst one would require amputation. Fortunately, our vet & his crew are amazing & with tons of intensive care & daily rehabilitation at home, Haley-Bop kept both her front legs. It was during her recovery that I noticed something about Haley-Bop: as the days & weeks of intense one-on-one care progressed, her attitude changed. She became a much softer, loving, & attention-seeking dog than she’d ever been before. I was mortified to admit, even to myself, that she had never really bonded with anyone but one of our sons (“her boy”) over the several years she’d been a part of our family. The nature of her injuries, which required us to “be there” for Haley twenty-four hours a day, finally created the connection she’d been lacking. Upon reaching this insight, I stepped back & took a long, honest look at my dogs & their emotional needs.
Is it ever easy to admit you’re wrong? Once I scrutinized my dogs & our situation without the smothering fog of goal-acquisition blurring my vision, it was clear that I’d hit a dead end. My dogs were not getting their emotional needs met in the human-canine relationship. We had too many dogs to do them justice. My husband & I made some difficult choices & placed several dogs into Forever Homes where they would be cherished as individuals. We were saddened, but knew we’d done right; however, I’d still failed to see the whole picture before me.
A couple years after Boppy’s injury & subsequent recovery, an obese Boxer named Copper* was surrendered into our rescue & changed my life. For all his overwhelming size, he sneaked into my heart on cautious kitten paws & stole it. I knew I was keeping him within three days of his arrival. The past two years with Copper by my side have been the perfect storm to blast away the remaining fog before me. Copper’s reminded me again that dog fur absorbs tears perfectly; that no one molests a lady – no matter how helpless she appears – walking a ninety pound, attentive, loyal Boxer; & most importantly, that dogs are Man’s Best Friend. Thanks to Copper, I realized that I’ve been shortchanging my precious Bostons for years, even though I love them very much. None of them gets the time s/he deserves to have; the opportunity to develop the extraordinary companionship, respect, & love I’ve built with Copper. After admitting this hard truth, I made the tough choice to break away from showing & breeding to return to “pet” ownership. It was amazing how much better I felt after making that decision.
Once my husband & I agreed, I was dumbfounded at the relief I felt, & we even still had all our dogs! I hadn’t been aware of how much stress I’d been feeling. I think the hardest decision I made was to neuter my best boy, Boomer. A big part of me felt that as a wonderful, sound example of the breed, I had an obligation to place him out with another Breeder so he could be exhibited & implemented in a responsible breeding program. Then again, I was incredibly troubled at the probability that this sweet boy would once again become part of a pack, instead of the individual dog he needed to be. I waffled for weeks & even entertained a couple of offers for him; however, you’ll be happy to learn that I opted for love over breed improvement: I neutered Boomer & am keeping him. There are lots of nice Bostons out there, but there’s only one Boomer & I want the chance to build a special friendship with him. All of our girls are spayed & retired now; although a couple are still waiting/hoping for their new Forever Families to appear. We’re getting there. Our awesome dogs are “our dogs” once more, instead of being the means to the end of self-indulgent rewards. I’m already enjoying the clear, bright view from here… Plus, I’m incredibly pleased to finally be able to say truthfully that every one of our dogs does get its day – & it’s finally a GREAT one.
*Copper – read The Hunk to learn his story
They’re cute and appealing in their spot-lit pet store cases, sometimes several to a display; bouncing, wrestling, yapping, and napping…Puppies. Adorable purebred puppies, shelved like designer jewelry within starkly lit acrylic boxes, waiting to be bought and carried home. Sooner or later, someone always buys. It keeps happening because hundreds of thousands of unaware people satisfy their instantaneous urges for puppies. Indeed, the decision to purchase a purebred dog should not be impulsive; rather it should take place with help from a Reputable Breeder, because doing so increases the probability of acquiring a healthy, well-tempered companion and also thwarts demand for ill-treated, unsound, maladjusted “puppy-mill” dogs.
Ignorant of “puppy-mills” while searching for a dog, one naïve young couple bought Bugsy. Undeniably; however, the murkiness & stench of the kennel should’ve been their first clue that something was amiss, while the pathetic, abhorrent conditions of the adult dogs caged inside should’ve been their second. Unfortunately, they didn’t know enough to heed the visual evidence, and they weren’t resolute enough to leave the single remaining puppy, so the couple took home their first Boston terrier. Within days, three month old Bugsy was being treated for anemia due to profound parasite load, demodectic mange, and ear mites. He also demonstrated a serious lack of socialization which rendered him incapable of forming close bonds. This eager couple, like many people buying their first purebred dog, had no idea there were “Reputable Breeders” and “puppy-mills;” they thought breeders were breeders. As a result of their ignorance and the greed of the puppy-miller who churned out Bugsy, the short life this couple shared with their unpredictable, unfit dog was filled with frustration and anxiety, his ultimate loss nearly a relief.
Reputable Breeders – of which this author is one (Boston Terrier Club of America, Inc Code of Ethics) – strive to be fair and just, and pride themselves on not only producing sound, quality, well-tempered examples of a given breed, but also on how well their dogs are raised and treated in their homes: as family pets. Their dogs are prized, fed high-quality food, and provided timely and appropriate veterinary care. What’s more, females aren’t bred until mature, are only asked to produce a very limited number of litters (2-3 as a rule for Boston terriers), and are then spayed and pampered, whereas a puppy-mill bitch will likely produce ten or more litters in the course of her sad life (“10 Things to Know about Puppy Mills”). Furthermore, Responsible Breeders spend great amounts of time playing with and socializing puppies to ensure they are prepared to handle the world they’ll soon join, and serious care is taken to interview and choose prospective puppy families so that the best matches are made. Additionally, spay/neuter purchase agreements are used to protect both parties, plus the dog; they typically include an abiding health guarantee, an unconditional guarantee, and a lifetime return clause. Reputable Breeders expend these efforts because they want their cherished dogs in wonderful Forever Homes, so if a puppy placement isn’t proceeding in a positive manner, or if a placed puppy becomes ill, a good Breeder wants to know about it so s/he can rectify the situation.
Puppy-mills, in contrast, pull out all the stops to maximize the number of puppies produced for pet store sales each year, and this mass-production contributes to the abundant problems seen in these unfortunate dogs. To meet demands, ‘millers must breed every female on every heat cycle (regardless of age), disregard basic rules of genetics (inbreed), cram many dogs into as little space as possible, feed non-nutritious foods, and often deny even essential veterinary care. This drastic ‘corner-cutting’ means no cuddling for the pups, as there are too many dogs and puppies, too few humans to care for them, and typically no concern by the ‘millers. So, even though the pet store puppies appear active and playful, it’s quite customary for them to have little interest in shoppers who wish to interact with them; their brains did not make the ‘socialization connection’ at a critical time of development (“From Puppy Mill to Pet Shop”) – a misfortune which likely haunts hundreds of thousands of new families each year. Even worse, significant health issues in puppies have been reported from both pet store puppy buyers and pet store employees (“Pet Shop Puppies”). Numerous heritable canine maladies frequently seen in pet store puppies, such as “cherry eye,” epilepsy, mega-esophagus, heart disease, and hip dysplasia are (just a few) defects that Reputable Breeders eliminate from their breeding pools to decrease the odds of producing afflicted puppies. At the opposite extreme, puppy-millers incessantly propagate and exacerbate deficiencies by having no interest in eliminating defects to begin with, and then they create more extensive flaws by inbreeding affected dogs (“Puppy Mills”).
Yes, breeders who sell puppies to pet stores must be USDA licensed and inspected (Animal Welfare Regulations), so thousands of puppy-mills operate within federal guidelines, but the laws which govern “commercial dog breeding operations” (“Puppy Mills”) are sorely lacking. For example, although the law states it is legal to imprison a dog inside a wire cage only six inches larger than its body length (Animal Welfare Regulations), for its entire life, do you know anyone who would consider that humane? What is more, many USDA inspectors overlook puppy-millers’ blatant disregard of Animal Welfare Regulations, leaving dogs and puppies to suffer endlessly. At one site, inspectors paid no heed to numerous dogs with horribly injured and even missing eyes, clearly not receiving veterinary care over the course of five years (Puppy Mill Awareness Day). Dogs, ‘Man’s best friend,’ America’s most beloved companion animals, are handled with less regard than ‘farm stock:’ dairy cattle, or hogs grown for slaughter, which routinely receive fresh air, sunshine, clean bedding, quality feeds, and exercise (“Killing Charlotte: Breeder Says New Dog Law Made Him Do It.”). What is wrong with this picture?
There exists a tremendous population of puppies confined in plastic and starkly lit for the world to see, waiting to be bought on a whim, yet too many eyes are blind to the dreadful reality: Pet store puppies are produced in conditions no reasonable, dog loving person would deem humane or appropriate for family companion animals (Puppy Mill Awareness Day). So what will you do when you’re ready to bring a purebred puppy into your heart? Will you step into that store and shop through those clear cases, pointing out the puppy you must have right now, like it’s a charm bracelet under glass? Then again, are you strong enough to do what’s right, to make time to locate a Reputable Breeder (“How to Find a Reputable Breeder”), secure in the knowledge that this is the best path toward enjoying a happy, long life with your new best friend? Will you – can you – deny that momentary urge which propagates the suffering of so many?
Angel, Jennifer. “From Puppy Mill to Pet Shop.” New York Daily News. N.p., 1 Nov. 2011. Web.
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HBO. “10 Things to Know about Puppy Mills.” Madonna of the Mills – A Documentary about
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HKC. “How to Find a Reputable Breeder.” How to Find a Reputable Breeder. Harrisburg Kennel
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Worden, Amy. “Killing Charlotte: Breeder Says New Dog Law Made Him Do It.” Puppy Mill
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