Nearing 80 years in dogs, Bo-Bett's Carol Harris is still "madly searching for improvement."
By Carol Harris
I live in North Central Florida, in the heart of Marion County's famous horse country. I moved here from New Jersey in 1963 with my horses and dogs in tow. Since I needed to be outdoors with my dogs and horses, I felt that conditions in the South were more suitable for not only me but also my animals. Twelve months a year I have great climate, excellent water, beneficial minerals in the ground, and plenty of sunshine. All this, I believe, enhances my chances to produce and raise strong, healthy dogs that can enjoy their lives, most of the time outdoors safely and in comfort.
I have been breeding dogs for at least 78 years, many different breeds, but for the past 30 or 40 years I have seriously appreciated Whippets and Italian Greyhounds. I'm now 88 years old and, believe it or not, I'm still actively enjoying every aspect of my 24-hour-a-day hobby/business.
As a child no one in my family understood my obsession for horses and dogs except my next-door neighbor, who was a little girl exactly my age.
We played together everyday and became mutual allies who appreciated and understood each other's secrets and dreams. My friend's name was Isabel Robson. Isabel and I remained best friends until the day she died in 2003. When she passed away, she left her Whippets and her kennel name, "Albelarm," to her friend and handler, Leslie Potts. I quite often see Leslie at the dog shows. Whenever we get together we both have a strange feeling that Isabel's presence is very much with us.
Recently at the Whippet national, I caught the eye of one of Isabel's old dogs named Alan who was being exercised in one of Leslie's ex-pens. I had never seen Alan before, but I noticed he was staring at me and wagging his tail like he knew me. I walked over to him, told him how beautiful he was, and scratched his ear. This was a moment I'll not forget.
Today, thanks to the American Kennel Club and Ron Rella, I was asked to write an article for AKC Breeder. I know it will be hard for me to add anything to what many others have so beautifully described as formulas for their successes. However, I'll try to come up with a few remembrances of things my dogs and I have encountered throughout the years. In spite of the time that has passed and the friends I have lost, I'm still having an amazing time working, learning, and madly searching for improvement.
Even today I never fail to have fun at the dog shows, and I'm especially proud to be closely involved with an association such as the AKC, which is so caring and protective of their animals.
What are the best accommodations for breeding dogs?
Breeders should always live close to their animals to ensure their dog's safety, with plenty of food, water, and exercise, because no others will care for their dogs as well as they do.
To live in moderate climate like I have is not necessary but it is certainly a plus. At Bo-Bett Farm we keep in mind that Whippets and IGs are basically pack animals that enjoy playing and basking in the sun together. Therefore, we have used large fenced paddocks to permit compatible groups of dogs to enjoy each other. I hand feed most all my dogs twice a day; this not only cuts down on washing dirty bowls but teaches the show dogs to bait and also helps them to learn how to get along with each other. No growling is ever permitted!
Sometimes I group the dogs according to their food requirements so that the fat ones can more easily be limited at feeding time. All my puppies are also given large areas to play in, and even the IGs have elevated platforms to jump on and off of. This helps them develop sound muscles and bones, so we will not have any broken legs.
For obvious reasons I always encourage visitors and my family to visit and play with the puppies whenever possible and quite often, my daughter Wendy and I take time to socialize them at local stores and gatherings. We are hooked on sound minds and personalities, so we try never to breed the dogs or bitches that have "iffy" temperaments. I am proud to say that over time our IGs' temperaments have shown much improvement, and they have gradually become strong, outgoing little athletes that are much easier to exhibit and live with than the shaky, nervous IGs of the past.
Breeders should be caring folks whose dogs' welfare always comes first.
For instance, at our house we never have a cup of coffee in the morning before the dogs are fed. Habits like this ensure dogs are never neglected. Good caretakers should always stay on top of things and never show a sign of laziness. If there is a job to do, don't put it off. Sometimes it's wise to post a prominent list of special chores that say CLEAN RUNS, CHANGE WATER BUCKETS, GRIND NAILS, REMEMBER MEDICATIONS AND DATES FOR HEARTWORM PREVENTION.
A breeder cannot operate without convenient records.
Every dog should have at least two files. One file should include registration papers, breeding records, sales records, microchips, and special health tests. The other file should contain show records, photos, and advertising.
Breeder-owners should keep a large current calendar handy to help them remember at a glance what other jobs have been done or need to be done. All past yearly calendars should be carefully stored for referrals.
Breeders should never practice their trade without thoroughly researching pedigrees for positives and negatives.
Before deciding to breed two animals, a written purpose or reason for using specific dogs should be specified. The purpose and results of these breedings should be documented, described, and stored in each dog's file for future reference. I assure you all this will eventually become valuable information.
Some problems I created were caused by my lack of jotting down specific comments regarding what I did. I guess I thought I would never forget them, but I was wrong! We have been happy with most of our litters, but too often I wish I had made more notes because line-breeding, inbreeding, or out-crossing is always a gamble with surprising results. Too often I remember saying things like, "I'd sure like to put this pup's topline or under-jaw on that one, then he'd be perfect." However, we've heard people say, "It's impossible to create the perfect dog, but it's sure a lot of fun when you come close."
We have read so much valuable information on whelping, so I'll only touch lightly on it.
We have a dog room close to my bedroom that has been made to accommodate supervision for whelping. It has a sofa in it so we can read or rest while waiting. I have two large whelping boxes with air conditioning and heat available if needed. This room has everything close at hand: telephone, heat lamps, garbage pail, paper towels, scissors, and a radio to muffle distracting noises. In addition there are heating pads for puppies that might be weak or chilled.
Generally we whelp on small carpets that can be easily changed or washed. I have found that puppies can get covered up when towels, blankets, or newspapers are used. With carpet everyone, including the bitch, can easily see where her newborn pups are located and the carpet surface provides excellent traction and comfort for both the bitch and her pups.
When whelping is complete I generally give oxytocin, exercise the bitch, and then make sure she receives a fresh pan of diluted goat's milk and water. I next place a safety frame on top of her carpet to prevent pups from getting squashed by their mother in a corner or against the wall. This frame is generally removed when the pups become 12 or 14 days old.
All breeders have different habits that they feel are important to them.
For instance I have never found it important to have written contracts with my puppy buyers. Also I have never bought a puppy from a breeder who required a written contract. I've tried to pick customers wisely by finding special ways of getting to know them and have been blessed with outstanding results. Regarding puppy buyers, I always tell them what I expect of them and often try to show them my generosity by offering them first or second picks of a litter. Many of these folks have become my friends and have often repaid me by promoting my dogs even better than I could have done myself.
To me, making friends in the dog world is very important.
One can never have too many. I have always thoroughly enjoyed making these friends. It's crazy how certain people who I have not particularly cared for at one time have become my favorite friends and have taught me much. I have discovered that a good way to make and keep friends is not to be critical – or expect anything from them. This way I've always been surprised by how much they have given me.
Today it's interesting how much more I appreciate education than when I was young. I know I have had a great many mentors in my life, in fact way too many to name. They all know who they are, and I'm sure they know I will never forget them.
I believe experience is also a great teacher. For instance, it might be wise for owners to occasionally try to handle one of their dogs themselves at a show – even if they are bad at it! This might help them appreciate all the professional handler's expertise and better understand some of the judge's placements.
In closing, my final reflections for my dog friends: They need to make a supreme effort to get tough!
Over-emotional owners and breeders appear to find it difficult to cope with their disappointments and losses. They sadly spend way too much time grieving rather than appreciating the love and joy their dogs have given them. A new precious puppy has always been a perfect solution for my quick recovery. One thing I'm sure of, my dogs have challenged me in the past to use my body and brain more than I might have and today they continue to put a smile on my face and give me all kinds of reasons to look forward to another day.
Carol Harris breeds Italian Greyhounds and Whippets under the Bo-Bett name and was The American Kennel Club 2010 Toy Group honoree in the Breeder of the Year program.
Words to Breed By
• While trying to respect the standards of my two breeds, I became aware that it might be polite for me to tell some of my competitors how nice their dogs looked. I had noticed that this was something way too many exhibitors were reluctant to do, and I think this is sad because it's such an easy way to make people feel good.
• Someone recently asked me to name in two words the worst disease a dog can have. I said, "Distemper, parvo." I asked them to name in two words the worst disease a breeder can have. They said, "Kennel blind." Actually, both diseases can be fatal! – C.H.