The Joy of Leftovers
Regency's Beverly Verna speaks for the silent majority: the "other 70 percent" of dogs you breed.
As a breeder-owner-handler of Miniature Schnauzers for the last 37 years, I have been blessed to have been able to produce a dog with a very specific look that speaks to most as “Regency.” These dogs have done well. Some have been number-one in my breed, and one is the top winner in Miniature Schnauzer history. Of those dogs, I am proud and feel I am accomplishing what we all set out to do. But I wish to speak now of those other dogs—the “leftovers.”
When breeders get together, the talk is about who bred to whom, how many champions so-and-so produced, and the latest big winner. That’s all well and good, but I don’t hear much about the leftovers, the other 70 percent of the dogs we breed.
Producer or Breeder?
A well-known judge once told me there are “producers” and there are “breeders.” Breeders do not breed just because a bitch is in season or they need puppies to sell. A breeder does not promise or take deposits on their entire litter before they are even born. A breeder does not keep the best puppy in a litter to show if it is not truly show quality. Each litter should be an attempt to produce dogs who will: 1. in the case of a beginner, establish a unique type/line; 2. improve on the line both in looks and in health; 3. maintain a very good line.
If you are lucky, you will produce one or maybe more of these dogs in the litter, the rest will be pets, leftovers. Well-established breeders have probably produced five times the number of pet puppies as they have show dogs. It is these dogs that I want to speak about.
In my office I have file cabinets and bookshelves filled with all things dog: scrapbooks of top-winning dogs, magazine ads for my show dogs, thousands of show photos, pedigrees, and show entries. But in one special cabinet I keep letters and Christmas cards and family photos sent to me from the people who live with and love my pet puppies. Occasionally I go to that cabinet and reread some of those letters. It makes me feel good to be able to do something that makes so many people so happy. It's kind of like the feeling you get at Christmas, the joy of giving. It gives me a different kind of satisfaction and pride in what I do.
We treat every litter born here as if they will all be show dogs. They are handled every day, and they are groomed and stacked kissed and hugged on a regular basis. Our process of elimination begins at 8 weeks of age, then again at 12 weeks, 4 months, and 6 months. Only the very best pups will be here past 6 months of age, and even then, some small thing could change and that puppy too will become available to a pet home. I tell people that “show people” want all the same things in a dog that they do-we want them to be healthy, beautiful, playful, full of confidence, and possess a willingness to please. So in that respect, good show dogs make good pets.
Finding homes for older puppies is never hard because the longer they have been here, the better they are. Most all are crate trained and some have already been lead-trained.
Pets: Looking for Joey
Screening is a must. The best-case scenario is a family that has already owned a Miniature Schnauzer who died of old age. That family knows about the breed and all its pros and cons, and they are anxious to add another to their home.
The exception is the case of someone who just isn't ready yet. After losing a dog, some people can only think of replacing Joey with another Joey. To those people I advise waiting awhile, till they can understand that though this new dog may have many of the characteristics Joey had, he will not be nor should he even be compared to Joey.
Many breeders will not sell to families with young children. I think this can be a mistake. My children were taught a healthy respect for all living things, and I think families today are capable of doing the same thing with their children. All it takes is one visit to see whether or not parents have taught their children how to interact with animals. What is more wonderful than growing up with a dog? And what can make a dog happier than a child who adores him?
Old Girls Need Love Too
When I first started breeding dogs, I visited a very successful old-timer who showed me her house and kennel. Toward the end of the tour, she opened a door into a room of six or seven crates and a little ex-pen, with older, and some infirm, dogs.
She called this her “geriatric ward.” They were segregated from all the others and looked so forlorn, it was sad. Then and there I promised myself never to have a geriatric ward. That is why I begin to look for homes for bitches after their last litter. Ideally, I want an older couple with no other dogs. A special place where my girl can live out the rest of her life as someone’s only dog.
So the next time you talk about all your champions, mention, too, the lovely family you just sold a great pet to, or the second or third generation of pets you have sold to the Smiths down the block.
I can tell you that I am equally as proud of those puppies and what they have brought to the lives of their families as I am of the champions I have bred. They give me great pleasure. There truly is a joy in leftovers!
Beverly Verna was the Terrier Group’s American Kennel Club Breeder of the Year in 2006.