Saturday, February 9, 2013

Parental Guidance

On the heels of my last post I thought I'd follow up with this post about actually being a responsible breeder with integrity and a good reputation. Surely you don't think I'm referring to myself? It's not for me to say; your reputation is determined by other people, you can only influence their opinion by your own actions and as we know, they speak louder than words. The truth will out ... and all that.

As mentioned in the past, and probably multiple times, I take breeding pretty seriously. I think the reason I take it seriously is because my parents take it seriously and it was just something I grew up with. My mom refers to herself as a hobby breeder and wouldn't describe her life's work and dedication to the dogs from a presevationist's standpoint. She loves the dogs, she is devoted to their health, temperament and in producing the best Pulis she can. My parents have done this for over 40 years and have never considered themselves 'guardians of the breed' or other such nonsense and that is because they don't see themsevles as being appointed as a Grand Poobahs of raising Pulis, they see it as a simple joy and delight in watching generations of quality dogs accumulate.

My mom is really my anchor when I have questions or concerns about things that are happening in my breed, or in purebred dogs. She doesn't just draw from her life's work of breeding dogs, she draws from her insatiable need to learn. She has a library of dog books on breeds that she will never own, texts about structure, shows, breeding, and training, and shelves of books on dog fiction that span decades. She is obsessed with learning, expanding her knowledge and then writing about it. For years she has written acticles for dog magazines, published a Puli grooming guide with my Dad, edited and produced the Puli club's newsletter, and been nominated and won awards for her writing. For years she's been a member of several online dog lists, both public and invitational, that almost certainly benefit from her knowledge and experience. I know if I have a question she can't answer, she can draw from their pool of collective information.

My mom is the only person in my life that can actually say she is 100% responsible for the success of all the dogs in her kennel. I don't know anyone else who can point to a dog and tell me that they knew, and probably bred, that dog's 8th generation grandfather. Very few breeders can take all the credit for their dog's wins. Every ribbon she wins is appreciated despite the hundreds that have come before it, and although perhaps the placement might not have been as high as it could have been, sportsmanship is always on the table.

I'm pretty sure my mom dispairs sometimes at the things I do and say. She rarely comes out and says "Just shut up already" but I know sometimes she's thinking it. I'm quite sure that the passion I write with sometimes is just a different version of the passion she has for the Pulis - she's just not as vocal about it! She likes to simply go about the business of producing great dogs without all the fuss. Thankfully I am able to provide entertainment for her through the wonder of the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed and all the facets of the people who have them and breed them.

For my Dad's part he is the anchor to their kennel. He is the work horse in the operation and it would be difficult, if not impossible, for my mom to maintain 10+ dogs without him. He does the manual labour which includes everything from cleaning the kennels to carrying a heavy, wet, just-washed dog upstairs to be put on the deck to dry in the sun. He does all the driving in the motorhome and loves to travel to the shows and see new places. He helps handle when he's needed and does a fine job (although sometimes with a little guidance). He obviously does a lot more than this but the list is too long to relate; just know that everything he does for the dogs he is actually doing for my mother. A better example of a marriage would be hard to find and it's probably the reason I am still looking for my 'kennel help' - my example set the standard too high.

If ever there was a breeder who has earned a reputation of honesty and integrity it's my parents. My Dad is honest almost to a fault and that's probably where I get this infuriating inability to lie convincingly. A good reputation is not self-appointed, it comes with time, not only wins in the ring; it is determined by course of action, not words on the internet; it takes decades for a reputation to become established and is quietly earned. There is no fast track, there is no short cut, there is no easy way in. Show wins aren't the only thing that gets people clamouring for your lines; making connections, demonstrating reliability, being humble, giving credit where it is due(and sometimes even where it is not), and maintaining healthy relationships with other breeders is paramount to success. My parents are still friends with Puli people they met before I was born and who watched me grow up at dog shows; I think I make them feel old when, after several years apart, we meet at ring side and they realize who I am!

I will never be my parents. I will never have a dozen generations of Ridgebacks. The idea is beguiling, to be able to look back on a life of dedication and work simply for the love of the dog and the breed. But that is not me. I have other legacies I intend to leave and although they involve dogs and dog shows, this life is not about one specific breed for me. I love having the dogs, and perhaps in time will see another litter pass through my doors, but the singular, devoted determination and purpose that my parents possess is just not my path. It's not a lot of people, and as the cycle goes we can expect some new breeders to be out of the breed in 5 to 10 years. Some people can't take the drama, the seriousness, the overload of information; and some people are like me, despite my upbringing, it's just not my calling.

However; I am lucky, although not uniquely so, to have been raised by dog breeders. I am part of an intricate world that is constantly changing, fighting, celebrating, weeping and growing. I wouldn't ever change my childhood and at my age I see now how interesting and bizarre it was(although as a child it was simply my life). I wasn't traumatized by circumstance and I don't have any crazy stories to tell, there was no abuse or neglect, no addictions or therapy; I only have stories of road trips to half a dozen states, driving up Going to the Sun Road(do it, you won't regret it), vehicle trouble hundreds of miles from home, overnighting in seedy motels, learning about more birth and death before the age of ten than most people understand in a lifetime and two parents who worked together in our travels across the continent and in every day life.

So when it comes to being responsible and demonstrating integrity my examples are a tough act to follow, but I try. I don't always succeed and in those cases I am usually more of a disappointment to myself than anyone else. Only you can know what your personal standards are but, whether you like it or not, people are taking note of your actions and your words and whether the two actually meet. If you are in the breed now, or intend to be in the future, you must begin how you mean to go on and remember, no matter how long you are in the breed, you will have earned the reputation with which you end up.

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