We are now down to a census of seven dogs: Frankie & Margret (two rescue Bostons) who are still awaiting Forever Families; Pinky, Chaos, & RocketDog (our retired show Bostons); & Copper & Finnegan (adopted rescues), Boxer & Labrador, respectively. Just a few short weeks ago, our count was eleven & that did not include the Labrador. Finn didn’t arrive until December 14th, 2012! It was all Bostons, baby! Well, except for my Hunk, Copper, of course…
Matt & I keep walking into rooms & finding ourselves looking around corners & behind furniture, trying to figure out where the hell all the dogs are. Several times I’ve found myself in the kennel room (which is our fancy-schmancy name for what used to be a porch-turned-office-turned-room-with-crates-&-dog-show-supplies-in-it) double-checking to see if we (meaning Matt) have forgotten to free all the dogs from their crates. Nope.
Once, I even ran outdoors in a near-panic, frightened dry-mouthed at the image in my head of the back gate standing open & half my GrayHaven Gang of Bostons dancing a jig in the middle of the road, down which most drivers speed at a cool sixty or seventy miles-per-hour, with imagined checkered flags fluttering across their fields of vision. But what did I find out there in the blustery December afternoon? Nothing but a single indignant Guinea fowl clucking & hollering at me to get my shivering butt back in the house. She even chased me a few feet just to get me moving.
Matt & I sit down nearly every day after work & enjoy a few minutes at the kitchen table with tea or coffee. It’s inevitable that we end-up with a dog or two or three on our laps. Lately, though, we’ve noticed a dearth of demands to be held & oddly enough, we’re bothered by it. Funny that, because previously the endless pawing & snuffling & licking drove us both to distraction while we sat together… Now; however, we agree that the house just feels so – empty. After the insanity & hubbub & noise of eleven (& sometimes more) dogs, seven really feels like so FEW. I know that must sound tremendously strange, but it’s true.
The heart of the matter is this: we are grieving. We are not callused, hard-hearted people; quite the opposite in fact. To effect this huge change in our lives, we had to make incredibly difficult & painful decisions. We parted with companions we helped into the world & aided in taking their first breaths, dogs we trained & who accompanied us on romps & errands, friends & confidants who’d been there for us & never asked for anything in return beyond loving care. The oldest was eight years; the youngest only six months; the others were all ages in between. Moments & lifetimes… gone from our hearts & home.
We love every one of them unconditionally.
We miss each one of them quite terribly… Although we are trying quite diligently not to admit that it’s true.
So, in this moment, I want to thank each of them for their love, loyalty, compassion, joy, & adaptability that make the Boston terrier such an incredible breed of dog in general, & personally such a treasure in my & my husband’s hearts:
~ Wiley, 8 yrs – CH GrayHaven’s Brains Of The Operation
~ Boomer, 5 yrs – GrayHaven’s Bona-Fide Brainstorm
~ Gossamer, 18 mths – GrayHaven’s Sheer Terror
~ Bouncer, 4 yrs – GrayHaven’s Bouncin’ Betty O’Katbird
~ Ruby-Ruby, 18 mths – GrayHaven’s Corundum Conundrum
~ Tazmania, 6 mths – GrayHaven’s Tazmanian Devil
Every single one of these beautiful, loving Bostons was an incomparable friend & companion to our family. For me in particular, Wiley, Boomer, & Bouncer were very, very special friends. I’m still not really able to talk much about letting go of Bounce-Bounce; she was such a special girl to me & the pain of letting her go will remain for quite some time, I think. Letting Boomer go ended-up being sort of a humanitarian mission when I learned that dear friends who owned another of my cherished retired boys had found him passed away in his sleep, then his sister died a couple weeks later, & their third dog (Boomer’s sister) was left alone. I made a rather rash decision to let them take Boomer & amazingly I am content with it. It was right. Wiley, I am thrilled to report, lives with Gossamer (his grandson) just a few minutes away from me so I am able to visit regularly. That alone helps with the pain of all of the other losses.
I think Matt & I are beginning to get used to the quietness. I don’t notice Matt looking around the living room with that haunted look anymore, at least. And I have to guess that I’m not doing the same thing as much. We’re definitely enjoying watching television with only five or six dogs lying on the sofa, as opposed to nine or ten leaping & chasing one another across us. It’s a totally changed atmosphere & the dogs, too, clearly appreciate it. They are much more relaxed & calm (well, except for Frankie, of course).
All of the dogs we placed out are doing very well – probably better than we are! Bostons are so darned adaptable it’s amazing. I am happy for them & I’m so glad that I knew when it was right to let go in order for them to enjoy life to the fullest. All the best dogs deserve that… And really, aren’t they ALL the Best Dogs?
Do what is Right.
Do the hard work: making sure your dogs are happy isn’t the same thing as making sure you are happy.
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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BTCA. “Boston Terrier Club of America, Inc. Code of Ethics.” Bostonterrierclubofamerica.org.
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HBO. “10 Things to Know about Puppy Mills.” Madonna of the Mills – A Documentary about
Puppy Mills. HBO, 2012. Web. 09 Oct. 2012.
HKC. “How to Find a Reputable Breeder.” How to Find a Reputable Breeder. Harrisburg Kennel
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Puppymill Rescue. “Pet Shop Puppies.” PuppymillRescue.com. N.p., 1999. Web. 09 Oct. 2012.
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Worden, Amy. “Killing Charlotte: Breeder Says New Dog Law Made Him Do It.” Puppy Mill
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