I know some of you are cringing already. But by all accounts, I am a dog person. I love all sorts of dogs, big and dopey, tiny and yappy, energetic and crazy, or quiet and lazy. I love them all.
We have raised dogs that were given away at the supermarket, adopted from the animal shelter, purchased from good and bad breeders. We have loved them all. We give them a good home, with plenty of love and exercise, healthy food and proper veterinary care. In short, we are responsible pet owners. We choose to bring dogs into our lives because they bring love and innocence to our family. We owe those dogs a permanent, loving home.
Not all dog owners love dogs as much as we do. Not all of them make good decisions in getting a dog. Not all can afford a good life, healthy food and veterinary care. Sometimes dogs from those homes end up in the animal shelter or placed for adoption through various agencies. It is a great choice for people to rescue shelter dogs. It’s true that shelter dogs need to be adopted or in many cases they will be euthanized. I care about those dogs, but I do not owe those dogs a home.
About two years ago, our beloved Golden Retriever, Sam, developed bone cancer. This is an amazingly common condition among Goldens and one that is almost always caught far too late to help the dog. We were sent home with an arsenal of pain medications to keep him comfortable and told to return to the vet when the pain meds could no longer help our poor Sam. It quickly became too painful for him to walk up the steps, so I stayed downstairs to sleep on the couch near him. Soon after that, he had to be euthanized. Sam was only 10 years old, and we were devastated.
After Sam died, my daughter and I were deeply depressed for several months. When we decided we were ready for a new dog, we chose to research all the breeds that captured our interest so we could find the best fit for our family. Sammy was the love of our lives, but he was huge! We decided right away to go with a smaller dog. Also, we were interested in dog training and dog activities that require a fairly energetic dog. In addition, my children wanted to raise the dog from a puppy.
We decided that we would love to get an English Springer Spaniel, particularly the field-bred variety. They are medium-sized, high energy dogs with long life spans, and no increased risk of cancer. However, like many purebreds, there are genetic problems that occur at higher rates within the breed, such as eye problems that can lead to blindness. Good breeders assure that parents and grandparents of the puppies have no such eye problems and have certifications to prove it. Puppies can be DNA tested before they go to their new homes to be sure they do not have the condition. This is true for some other genetic conditions as well.
My definition of a good breeder is one that breeds dogs to improve the breed, not one that is primarily concerned with money. We live in Pennsylvania, a state with many money-motivated breeders who are not concerned with the health of the dogs they sell or the suffering of the dogs they continually breed. We searched for a few months before finding Fast Track Springers, about an hour northeast of our home. We went to visit puppies twice before bringing one home. The puppies were kept in the house with their mother. Besides that, the breeder had many files on the generations of pups she raised and offered to let us contact other people who had purchased puppies from her. She is primarily interested in hunting trials with her dogs and breeds them to improve the breed and as obedient hunting dogs. All of the puppies have been fully tested, and their parents have no health problems.
Fast Track Springers is just the sort of place I want to encourage to breed dogs. If people don’t buy dogs from good breeders and only get dogs from shelters, who will be the breeders of the dogs? What happens to the strength of the breed if the only ones breeding are those who don’t care about the health of the dogs?
In the end, we decided to buy a well-bred, purebred English Springer Spaniel, field variety. We named him Pi as a tribute to a favorite book character and a tongue-in-cheek nod to his 3/14 birthday. He is an obvious testament to his outstanding breeding: beautiful, healthy and easy to train. We have him in rally obedience classes as well as flyball (no dog loves a ball as much as Pi!), and he’s a certified AKC Canine Good Citizen. You can certainly do many if not all of these things with a shelter dog, and that is a lovely choice for many people. However, our family found our perfect pet from a responsible, loving, professional breeder, and it is a lovely choice for us.
Beverly Baptiste lives in Camp Hill, Pa., where she is working toward her doctorate in genetics at the Penn State College of Medicine and trains her energetic and loving English Springer Spaniel. Pi’s recent interests include rally obedience and flyball with his buddies at the Dauphin Dog Training Club.