In my career as an LGD training specialist, I work with some amazing people and wonderful dogs. What a privilege it is! I now do training with a large variety of LGD breeds and work with dogs of varying ages and backgrounds. Mostly, this is a joyful experience, but life isn’t fair, and sometimes heartbreak comes along too. This brings me to the story of Fuzz and Kyrie and my journey with them here on my ranch.
Fuzz and Kyrie are siblings, purchased at four months of age by dedicated owners who did lots of research before they bought the pups. After their purchase, they kept in touch with the breeder, to a point. The training advice they received didn’t always fit with how they wanted to live with their pups; alpha rolls and leash pops weren’t things they were willing to do.
They reached out to me for professional support. Although they live out of state, they were willing to bring the pair of pups to me here at the ranch. The plan was for me to work with the pups while the owners worked at home, completing the KPA Foundations course with my training manual as additional information.
Kyrie is seven months old in the photo above; she is on the left. On the right is Echo, one of my best mentor dogs.
When the pups arrived, it was apparent to me that they had hip issues. With the permission of their owners, I had radiographs taken of both pups; first Fuzz, and then Kyrie. Fuzz's radiographs were taken the day after he arrived at the ranch. I could see that he was in trouble.
Fuzz’s radiographs showed that he had almost no hip sockets, bilaterally. This was devastating news, for Fuzz and for his owners. He could not stand or walk normally. The breeder had told them Fuzz was a "calm" pup. Well, he didn't walk as far as Kyrie did, or play for as long as she did, so I guess that is one way to think of him. As new LGD owners, they questioned this situation but trusted the breeder.
Having been a breeder myself, I cannot imagine having either of these pups under my care without being very aware that something was wrong. Remember, they were sold at four months of age. The radiographs were taken less than three months after the pups were purchased. Soft tissue was all that held Fuzz'z hips together; no bone supported by bone, as it should be. He actually traveled sideways when he walked, and he sat down a lot.
The radiograph below shows what normal hips should look like.
Next came Kyrie; her radiograph is below. She has one good hip. I took her to an orthopedic surgeon for an evaluation. He let me know he thought she might have a few pain-free years if she was carefully managed, maybe.
Now, take a look at the video below. It is my first indoor clicker session with Kyrie.
Being around Kyrie is an absolute privilege. I can’t help but grin at her infectious sweet energy and enthusiasm for life.
When you watch this video, watch how Kyrie sits; she sits, and then her hip rolls to one side. My poor girl. Even now, even before her hip is causing her pain, it also can’t support her normally. As I watched her do this, I wanted to cry, even through our joyful party. Watch her posture as she sits, over and over.
But now, let’s go back to what is real; what can the future look like for this beautiful pair of pups? Both of these pups have been dealt a huge injustice by their breeder, as has the buyer of the pups. The pups are physically unable to do the work they were bred to do and purchased to do. They must also be supported through the life they have, financially and through management. What now?
The health guarantee
Most breeders offer a health guarantee with their pups – I hope. It is entirely up to the breeder what that guarantee covers. Buyers, especially first-time buyers, often don’t know what to look for in a health guarantee and can’t imagine ever having to count on that guarantee. I have never seen hips as bad as Fuzz and Kyrie have, so even I would have been surprised by this horrific news.
Buyers, you are in charge! Hold breeders to a higher standard! And don’t sign a contract you aren’t completely comfortable with. Imagine yourself in the situation of these owners – what would you need from that breeder?
Some guarantees offer a replacement pup. Is that what you would want? For me, getting in deeper with a breeder who produced pups like these would not be my choice. My faith in that breeder would be very changed, and I would be afraid to bring home a pup that shared genetics with these.
What if the breeder promises a money-back guarantee, but only if you return the pups? Could you, after living with the pups for months or years and welcoming them into your family and heart, drive them back to that breeder and drop them off? These aren’t defective refrigerators. They are living, breathing animals in trouble. To me, offering money back only upon surrendering the pups is extortion. I think the breeder counts on the buyer caring enough about the pups that he/she won’t be willing to give them up. A guarantee like this is profitable for the breeder. No pesky, expensive hip testing. Puppies get sold, and they don’t come back.
When I sold pups, I offered a money-back refund, or a replacement pup, at the buyer’s discretion. My breeding program never produced pups like this, but if it had and an owner had wanted to keep the pup and continue to care for him, I would certainly have allowed that. To me, not to do that would have been unconscionable.
I have been both a buyer and a breeder
Early in my relationship with Maremmas, I was sold a pair of dysplastic pups, purchased from someone I thought I could trust. She was an MSCA board member and had been a breeder for many years. When I contacted her about my dysplastic pups, she offered to sell me a third pup at a reduced rate. That’s it. I was shocked, but mostly my heart was broken. I declined that offer. Shortly thereafter, this breeder stepped away from the club and stopped breeding Maremmas, to the best of my knowledge.
I euthanized one of the pups at six months of age. He died in my arms, having reached a point where he was reluctant to walk or stand. The other pup made it a few months longer. The utter frustration I felt! These pups were produced by hip-tested parents. It is true that any combination of dogs can produce hips with problems. That is why it is so important for a breeder to do all they can to protect the pups they are responsible for bringing into the world because there are no guarantees. This is the best a breeder can do.
Personal ethics come into it when a breeder has sold a pup and learns there is a problem. What does that breeder do? Buyers learn a lot about the breeder in this circumstance. Mistakes can happen. Tragedies can happen. In my opinion, it is the breeder’s responsibility to do all he/she can to protect the heart and finances of the buyer when it becomes evident that something has gone wrong. That isn’t necessarily what happens.
How to hold breeders like this accountable
I have no idea. A person can be sued for slander even if they are telling the truth. The MSCA used to have a mechanism in place that attempted to deal with this sort of thing. The legal quagmire the club endured with past board members has shown us that it isn’t really possible to hold a breeder accountable through the club.
Breeders can talk to each other, but often don’t, and a breeder that says disparaging things about another breeder just seems unethical themselves.
If you have purchased pups with problems, tell your story – carefully. Social media is a great platform for this. Talk about it from an emotional standpoint, not a legal one. Don’t name names. But if someone contacts you privately, tell them the truth.
There just has to be a way to spread the word about breeders like this. Litter after litter after litter. How many puppies are out there looking at a life of pain? I think there are a lot of them. Higher visibility of this kind of thing happening may make it seem more real and possible to prospective buyers still trying to make a decision about who to buy pups from.
Buyers! Be careful!
I think the answer may lie with the consumer. It can be very, very difficult for a buyer to make a truly informed decision when buying a pup, but do your best. Don’t support breeders who cut corners. A breeder who advertises “affordable” pups just told you what they think is important. In order for them to produce affordable pups, they have to keep their own production costs low. This means the level of husbandry care suffers.
Insist that you be provided with a physical copy of the registration papers of both the sire and dam. Check to see that the registration status says “Full.” If it doesn’t, that breeder does not have permission to breed the dogs. Do you really want to enter into a legal contract with a person who, based on this evidence, does not honor contracts? There are a lot of reasons breeders don’t offer all of their pups with breeding rights, good reasons.
Insist that you be provided with physical copies of the hip certification certificates of both the sire and dam. Don’t accept certificates of immature dogs. PennHIP will provide a permanent score for pups over 16 weeks of age; OFA does not. Think about Fuzz and Kyrie and the lives they have been cheated out of. Make breeders hip-test their dogs, or don’t buy their pups.
Don’t accept delivery of your pups without the actual necessary registration papers in hand. Once you drive away, you have no leverage to get them. The registry I prefer is the United Kennel Club. They are a well-established for-profit business. They process paperwork quickly and accurately. Maremmas can be registered with both registries, as far as I know. This was true the last time I registered a dog. Having the pup registered with the UKC ensures that you may also be able to register it with the MSCA, if you chose to, for however long that might take. If a breeder can’t hand you the paperwork necessary to register your pups, chances are good that this person does not have the right to breed their dogs. That means you can’t register the pup you bought.
If you are buying pups in the hope that they will guard your livestock, buy from a breeder who walks that walk. Don’t buy from breeders who pose their snowy-white pups near the flowers by the pool. Puppies should be wearing a little dirt! And a dog standing near a sheep, or a cow, particularly if they are separated by a fence, is not the real deal. Buy from a breeder who relies on their dogs to protect the animals they love, not a hobby breeder, if you want to use your pups as working guardian dogs someday.
I am glad I met Fuzz and Kyrie. I am glad that my base of experience could be extended to them. For their owners, it helps them to be heard and feel supported in some way in a very unfair situation. I can do that.