Each month, the American Kennel Club (AKC) profiles breeders to hear how they got started and learn about their breeding program and experience with AKC Marketplace. We recently spoke with Cathy Lewandowski of SoftMaple Curly-Coated Retrievers in Croghan, N.Y. Lewandowski is an AKC Breeder of Merit who has produced versatile, top-winning dogs.
Lewandowski’s love for dogs began in 1979 with Irish Setters. She trained her first one, Scarlet, through her local 4-H club. Cathy was encouraged to enter Scarlet in an AKC obedience trial sponsored by the local AKC all-breed club, and eventually, Scarlet earned AKC Utility Dog (UD) and Canadian Kennel Club Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) obedience titles. The UD title was completed with an all-breed high in trial. Lewandowski showed another Irish Setter in conformation.
After college, Lewandowski’s husband wanted a dog he could hunt with, and she wanted a versatile dog that required less grooming than a setter. She saw a Curly-Coated Retriever (CCR) at a dog show and started researching the breed. They got their first Curly-Coated Retriever in 1993.
AKC: How did you get started in breeding dogs?
Lewandowski: I worked with a great mentor in the breed and studied many pedigrees. When I was ready, my mentor sent me a bitch to breed, and we agreed on a stud that had the qualities for which I was looking. SoftMaple bred its first litter of CCRs in 1996. Since then, we have bred everything from group winners to the first Curly to earn both a conformation championship and Master Hunter title. We breed for a stable, healthy dog that retains the breed’s versatility and type.
AKC: What is the most important thing to know about your breed?
Lewandowski: On the whole, Curlies are considered to be more reserved than the other retriever breeds. They need a lot of socialization. Temperament is a combination of nurture and nature. A Curly is intelligent, active, and versatile.
AKC: How has AKC Marketplace helped you find puppy buyers?
Lewandowski: I have received a lot of feedback from AKC Marketplace. Even if the people contacting me are not ready to get a puppy, it has provided a great opportunity to help educate the public on this wonderful breed.
AKC: What is your favorite question to ask of potential puppy buyers?
Lewandowski: Do you have a good vacuum cleaner? Because these guys do shed! Seriously, I ask why they were drawn to the Curly-Coated Retriever.
AKC: What are the main qualities you look for in potential owners?
Lewandowski: I like a family that has previous experience with an active breed. I look for people willing to spend time with the puppy while it is young. Owners who plan on attending a puppy kindergarten or AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy class are great. They must socialize their puppy and give him a job. A Curly left to find its own entertainment will do just that!
AKC: What is the best advice you would give to novice breeders?
Lewandowski: Slow down! Find and listen to a respected mentor in the breed. Study pedigrees and lines of dogs. Learn all you can about the health problems in the breed. Never forget temperament. No matter what you are breeding for, these dogs must live with their family. Even a top show dog is a companion most of the time. Don’t breed unless you are willing to take responsibility for any problems and take the dog back at any time during its life.
AKC: Do your dogs participate in AKC sports?
Lewandowski: Yes. I feel, as a breeder, it is part of my job to participate in as many activities as possible. I think that a breeder must try sports with her dogs to understand what the sport calls for in a dog. So, I may not be the best at everything, but I like to try it all.
With my dogs, I have competed in conformation, junior showmanship, obedience, agility, rally, tracking, dock diving, barn hunt, coursing, Trick Dog, working tests, hunt tests, therapy demonstrations, and Canine Good Citizen. We have owned or bred more than 50 champions of record, with more than 250 performance titles on dogs we have produced.
AKC: What do you like best about breeding dogs?
Lewandowski: There are so many things. Everything from puppy breath to getting calls from new owners. It is a good feeling to get a call from someone who has had one of your dogs in the past and hearing them say they would only get a dog from us in the future.
AKC: Do you have a favorite breeding story?
Lewandowski: I’m going to change this question to a proud breeder moment. I would have thought that winning Best of Breed at Westminster with a dog I bred would have been my all-time highlight as a breeder. But when we got back to the benching area, one of my puppy people — who was also showing at Westminster Kennel Club — didn’t immediately put her dog away in a crate like the rest of the exhibitors. She dressed Lodi up in a fancy hat and tie, and let him perform tricks for hours for the masses of spectators. Lodi made more of an impression on the public that day than my dog, which won the breed. That made me proud as a breeder.
To learn more about SoftMaple Curly-Coated Retrievers, visit their website.