As active breeder-exhibitors, much of our lives are tied up in numbers. Progesterone testing. Gestation periods. Keeping track of puppy weight gain. AKC registration numbers. Tabulating majors and point totals as we show our next generation of young hopefuls.
One of the most important numbers we must keep in mind at all times is the number of dogs we each maintain in our home kennels. It is an ongoing challenge, if we are to keep the peace with family members who do not share our passion for the sport and also ensure quality of life for every dog we own. The old saying goes, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” Well, if you’re going to call yourself a breeder, you will be breeding a litter now and then. Responsible breeders don’t bring a litter into the world just because there is a waiting list of puppy buyers and a bitch that comes into season. Typically, we plan to keep a promising puppy for ourselves, thereby advancing our breeding programs. If that is the goal, and we already house three-to-five adult dogs, do the math. We will eventually end up with more dogs than we can do justice to.
Since few of us would be willing to take a five-to-seven-year hiatus from the show ring as our dogs age, the sensible approach we all must consider is placing an occasional older dog in a great retirement home. If you’ve had your stud dog’s semen collected and stored, or are running on a promising show prospect from your bitch’s third and final litter, why not offer those special, older dogs to special people who love your breed and can’t wait to start spoiling your retired champion? Beyond living as cherished companions, enjoying undivided attention and a couch of their own, many dogs in retirement homes get to do agility, rally, pet visitation, and any number of other fun activities with their new owners. There is life beyond the show ring and many stimulating alternatives to vegging out as one of the pack in an already congested household.
A few decades ago, just about every dog owner insisted on starting with a puppy. No one wanted an older dog. But that one-size-fits-all approach to owning dogs was never practical. Today, for working couples, single adults, and active senior citizens, adding an older dog to the household makes infinitely more sense than bringing home a young, needy puppy, especially when it’s a well-mannered, health-tested, crate-trained show dog from a conscientious breeder. The public is much more sophisticated these days, and aware of how adaptable older dogs are. Over the years, many of us have taken back adult dogs of our breeding when “life gets in the way” for a good owner, whether it be due to divorce, loss of job, or a child in the family suddenly developing allergies. Far from pining for their past life, dogs adapt readily to a loving and patient new owner. It’s an adventure waiting to be discovered.
While pet lovers may intellectually appreciate that adult dogs are adaptable, most cannot fathom the idea of parting with a four-legged family member. That’s understandable. And why should they? It’s unlikely they would ever be in the position of having to find a new home for their dog. Unfortunately, in these times of over sharing on social media and users feeling the need to contribute their unsolicited two cents, posting a profile of your older, available dog may earn you the loud, public disapproval of some. So be it. Do not engage. Develop a thick skin. Deciding to place a special, older dog is never undertaken lightly. It is done for the best of reasons: to ensure ongoing individual attention for the dog being placed and more time for those remaining with you. A highly private and personal decision has become political, and many will want to judge you. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Don’t rise to the bait. Above all, don’t fall into the trap of believing that no one else can love one of your dogs as much as you do. While we are not raising livestock, but loving companion animals, struggling to maintain more dogs than you have the room or the budget for is in no one’s best interests.
Be gentle with your dogs and new owners, but firm in your resolve to keep your numbers where they should be. Occasionally placing a great dog in the right retirement home is a selfless act of generosity.