Pro-rescue doesn’t have to mean anti-breeding

Lately, I have been thinking about this post on My Rotten Dogs and about the division between the pro-rescue and pro-purebred camps of dog lovers. Can they peaceably coexist?

There are purebred elitists — people who think the only dogs worth having are from registered breeders — and there are rescue elitists — people who judge the purebred elitists and think the only dogs worth having are from rescues.

I am unequivocally pro-rescue. Both of our shepherds were adopted from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue, and we served as a foster home for SGSR pups for about a year (something I’d love to start doing again one day). The beauty and mercy of rescuing a homeless dog is a matchless feeling, and that is a tie that really binds.

But I am not anti-breeding or anti-purebred dogs. Our dogs are both purebred, and I am an advocate for ethical breeders, because I have seen first-hand what irresponsible, negligent breeders can do to dogs, both physically and emotionally.

Laszlo in the evening

Laszlo, our foster puppy, a German shepherd mix.

A Pro-Rescue Person Defends People Who Purchase Purebreds

I will always have a rescue dog in my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see the serious benefits of raising a purebred puppy from Day One. I believe that Pyrrha, for instance, could have been a totally different dog if we’d met her at 10 weeks of age instead of at 1 year.

Rescue dogs, almost by definition, come with some kind of baggage, or at the very least, an element of mystery. This doesn’t mean that they are going to be screwier than a purebred, by any means, but it just means you know a lot less about their background and heritage.

Anecdotally, the most stable dogs I know are purebreds raised from puppyhood by their current owners. The dogs I know who have the most issues to work through are almost always the rescues, even those that were raised from puppyhood. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to have a purebred who is a psychopath, or that it’s impossible to have a totally sound, issue-free pound puppy: both definitely exist. But the odds of having a dog with some form of baggage to work through is greater if you’ve got a rescue pup.

Playdate with Josie

A well-bred GSD (Josie, on the left) and a poorly bred GSD (Pyrrha).

I confess that I sometimes get jealous of the people who have carefree, sound, emotionally stable purebred dogs (like Josie, Heath, and Loki). These dogs all came from responsible breeders, and the dogs are a testament of their breeders’ conscientiousness and their owners’ care. Josie, Heath, and Loki can go anywhere and do anything; they have no fear issues or reactivity; they love people, children, and other dogs. I marvel at them sometimes.

Of course, there are also rescues who are essentially bombproof (Roland and Zoe come to mind, of the dogs I know). They do exist. But when a dog-loving person buys a purebred puppy, I put aside my rescue righteousness and think, “I get it. I really do.”

I was talking with Carolyn, Josie’s mom, about this very issue during our recent play-date. Her first German shepherd, Maya, was a rescue, and Maya had some fear issues and reactivity issues with other dogs, among other things. Josie, however, came from a highly respected working-line German shepherd breeder and entered Carolyn’s household as a puppy. Josie is unfazed by most things and is a very smart, stable dog; she was the most laid-back dog at the play-date.

“Maya was my heart dog,” Carolyn said, “and I would never say anything against her, but my life with Josie is so much easier. I almost feel like I have more joy in my relationship with Josie, simply because she has fewer issues.”

That struck a chord with me. I would never trade Pyrrha or Eden for the world, and anxious Pyr is my heart dog, too, but I sometimes dream of a life with less anxious, high-strung dogs.

Support Each Other

If you’re in the rescue camp, support ethical, responsible breeders. I believe people are always going to want purebred dogs, so if we accept that as truth, we should support great breeders. Champion breeders who do their research, who produce the best possible version of a breed, and who care about the mental and physical health of their dogs. The world needs more breeders like this. If you have friends looking for purebred puppies, point them in the right direction to such breeders as these (and not to pet shops or backyard breeders).

If you’re in the purebred camp, support smart, proactive shelters and rescues. Share your knowledge of a particular breed with a breed-specific rescue (like where our girls came from). Volunteer as a foster home or as a dog walker at your local shelter. Get to know your local rescue organizations and learn about their missions and their needs.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, I am still a person who would tell people to rescue before they bought a purebred puppy, but I will never judge anyone for the decision they make, as only that person knows what kind of dog is best for their family and lifestyle. Even though I think I’ll always have rescues, I still dream about choosing that “perfect” purebred puppy.

When you acquire as much knowledge about a subject as we* have, it’s hard to stop ourselves from becoming unbearably opinionated and judgmental. (*I say “we” because if you’re reading this blog, you probably have a deep, abiding interest in dogs, dog culture, and canine behavior, more than the average person.)

But let’s stop judging each other for our decisions. You bought a purebred puppy from a great, responsible breeder? Good for you! You adopted a mix-breed dog from a shelter? Good for you! Either way, good tidings and blessings in your adventures in dog raising.

Sweet Heath

Heath, a purebred golden retriever.

Do you ever find yourself having to withhold judgment, on one side of the rescue/breeding camp or the other? How do you think rescues and breeders can do a better job supporting each other?

Related Reading:

Vote for Pyrrha to appear in a calendar!

Guilty pageant mom request!

If you’re feeling bored and on Facebook, wanna vote for Pyrrha to appear in the rescue’s calendar?

All you have to do is click “like” on the Facebook page.

The photos with the most “likes” get into the calendar. All calendar proceeds will benefit Southeast German Shepherd Rescue, and calendars can be pre-ordered for US$23.

Even if you don’t want to vote, the entire album is worth looking at; there are so many beautiful, happy, rescued shepherds! They make me so happy.

Thanks, and happy Friday!

Review: The Possibility Dogs

The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of "Unadoptables" Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing

The Possibility Dogs

Since starting this blog and my foray into the World of Dogs two years ago, I have been struck by a particular reality again and again: We do a lot for dogs, but dogs do so much for us.

Nowhere is this truth more evident than in Susannah Charleson’s latest book, The Possibility Dogs.

In The Possibility Dogs, Charleson, a pilot and a search-and-rescue handler, recounts the many stories of dogs serving a more subtle purpose: dogs who act as psychiatric service dogs.

But even the phrase “psychiatric service dog” is relatively new. We’re all familiar with guide dogs for the blind and even therapy dogs who visit hospitals or nursing homes or schools. But a psychiatric service dog? What does that even mean?

Charleson shows us what it means with her truthful and sincere accounts of rescue dogs who showed great potential to serve as daily companions and aides to those with less recognizable issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety attacks, and so on. She works to evaluate rescue dogs who show potential to serve as service dogs for people with a wide range of issues.

Particularly moving is Charleson’s own account of her rescue Jake (the pup shown on the cover; more about him here). Jake was found as an abandoned and starving puppy near Charleson’s home. But through her careful attention and love (and the love shown from Charleson’s other dogs, particularly her golden retriever, Puzzle, who acted as a surrogate mother), the puppy began to grow and thrive — and show remarkable potential for service work. Jake was so clearly motivated to work with and near people. Today, he serves alongside Charleson, who uses him as a “demo dog” for her new nonprofit and for herself, as she has personally suffered symptoms of OCD and debilitating arthritis.

I liked that this book wasn’t all sappy stories. Charleson is a clear, controlled writer, and she plainly shares the ups and downs, both of her own experience and the experiences of others. These service dogs aren’t perfect, and living with and training them isn’t necessarily easy. But is it rewarding? Always.

As briefly mentioned above, Charleson has now also started an organization by the same name as her book, which aims to rescue and train dogs that show aptitude for service work and to serve as their public advocates. Be sure to check out the Possibility Dogs website for more information.

In short, I enjoyed the various narratives and success stories and the great, incomparable work that is being done by these dogs and by the people like Charleson who see so much potential in them. How heartening to be reminded of the enormous potential that exists in so many dogs, many of the dogs, perhaps, whose lonely faces greet ours in countless shelters and rescues. We have the ability to do so much for these dogs, and they clearly have the ability to do so much for us.

You can also follow Charleson on Twitter: @S_Charleson / Buy this book in hardcover or the Kindle version.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher, but all expressed thoughts and opinions are exclusively my own.

Meet Georgia, Pyrrha’s new aunt!

It is with great delight that I introduce you to Pyrrha’s new “aunt,” Georgia!

Georgia on the porch

My husband’s parents just adopted this precious puppy, their first official “foster failure.” My in-laws are generous, loving advocates of their local lab rescue and they have served as a foster home for labs in need for about a year now.

Georgia

Just about a week ago, however, little miss Georgia came tumbling into their lives and they just couldn’t say no. I mean, could you?? Look at that face!

Sweet baby Georgia

From these photos, I’d guess that Georgia was some kind of golden retriever/spaniel mix. She’s only 7 weeks old right now. What would you guess her lineage is?

We hope to take a trip to see them and meet Georgia very soon. Welcome to the family, little girl. You are one lucky pup!

Pyrrha meets Roland

My friend Sarah called me on Monday night and said, “So… I just adopted a dog.” She was driving back from our local SPCA with this cute little dude in the back of her car:

Photo credit: Sarah Y.

Roland (or Victoire! She hasn’t fully decided on a name yet) is a 1-2 year-old spaniel/hound mix with the sweetest little disposition. He’s probably about 50 lbs. and had been dropped off by his former owner, who said she was sad to give him up but wouldn’t take him with her on her move. Sad for Roland, but happy for Sarah!

Last night, she brought Roland over to my house during small group, to meet friends and Pyrrha.

Their meeting went very well, I thought. Roland was a bit overwhelmed for the first few minutes, and Pyrrha was all up in his grill. It was strange to see her being the overly excited/gregarious one! But after some time, they acclimated to each other and tails started wagging and wrestling commenced.

Here are some terrible, fuzzy pictures of their encounter (dark in the house, plus I didn’t pull out my nicer camera):

Roland charms small group

Roland charming the ladies.

Fuzzy photo of Roland

Checking out the kitchen.

Pyrrha meets Roland

Girl, you are making me a little anxious here…

I was so impressed with how sweet and laid-back he was. There was a lot to take in–seven strange women in a room plus a pushy German shepherd–and he took it all in stride. He did pee on a rug, but you can’t blame him; dude’s only been out of the shelter for a day!

In short, it was a great introduction and I think Pyrrha has found herself a new playmate. I hope we’ll have Roland and Sarah over for a dog romp soon. I also think these two would be great hiking buddies. So, we’ll have to set that up in the future. Happy to welcome a new dog into the community, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Roland continues to grow and develop in Sarah’s care!

Next dog daydreaming…

Beautiful Australian shepherd with a tail. Click for source.

Do you ever daydream about your “next dog”? I admit that I do, every now and then… Disclaimer: Pyrrha is perfect for us right now. I can’t imagine a better dog for us. Seriously. We will not get another dog for a long time, but I’m obsessed, so of course I think about the next canine addition to the pack from time to time.

Here’s my shortlist of dogs I’d consider bringing home, in the distant future:

  • A happy GSD male from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue who was good with small children. (This is probably our most likely second addition, only because I still follow SGSR’s rescue page with avid interest and want every third dog they post…)
  • Any ol’ rescue puppy! Preferably with a shepherd or collie heritage.
  • An English shepherd. I met a photographer here in town who has one and he’s crazy about her; got his puppy from a breeder in North Carolina. They appeal to me because of the way they are bred, their comparative rarity (leading to better health lines), their energy level being a notch down from an Aussie, and the fact that they have tails.
  • An Australian shepherd with a tail. As mentioned above, I’ve come to the conclusion that tails are really important and that it’s unfair to rob a dog of a tail purely for looks, particularly since our future Aussie would not be working cattle. Where do people find Aussies with tails, though??
  • A Large Munsterlander. My husband fell in love with one of these when he was farming in Europe and has been hankering after one ever since. They are rather hard to come by in the U.S., however.
  • An English setter. I’ve always liked the look of English setters, for whatever reason. They’re also apparently becoming rather rare as well. We have friends here who have a very sweet Llewellin setter whom I’m also quite fond of (you could mistake him for an English setter, were it not for his smaller size).
  • A Belgian sheepdog or Belgian tervuren. Are they a little more low-key than the malinois? I don’t actually know. I do know that I could never handle a malinois, but I love the look of these Belgians particularly.

I’ve already decided that I want to rescue some greyhounds when we’re older, too, maybe once our future and non-existent children are out of the house. (In my wildest daydreams, I also have a borzoi, but I don’t think I’d ever actually get one…)

An English shepherd. Click for source.

I am so ridiculous. Does anyone else have a similar “next dog” shortlist?

First home visit scheduled

Not much to report today, except that we have scheduled our first home visit with a volunteer and foster parent from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue! I am SO excited.

Lyndi, whom we'll meet on our home visit.

She will be bringing her two current fosters with her, too: Lyndi and Onyx.

Lyndi (above) is a 1.5-year-old female who was rescued from a backyard breeder in North Carolina. She is a very beautiful and ladylike black-and-tan, but she does have some shyness issues and needs work with confidence-building. Lyndi was on trial with a family, but the family’s busyness and young children didn’t make her very comfortable. Her foster mom says she’s already made great strides in her confidence, but will continue to need gentle and reassuring guidance and training.

Onyx, whom we'll meet on our home visit.

Her foster sister Onyx perhaps has the opposite problem: She’s a very bold, extremely intense Belgian malinois/shepherd cross and she is just stunning; she is sable with orange-rust-colored eyes and looks like a wolf. Onyx sounds amazing, but probably way too much to handle for us, being first-timers. Her foster mom says she is twice as intelligent and twice as energetic and driven as any shepherd she’s ever fostered! Schutzhund–and daily 5-mile runs–would probably be best for Onyx. She doesn’t sound like a fit for us, but I am excited to meet her just the same.

Right now, I have my heart set on Lyndi… I am now petrified that someone is going to snatch her up before we can meet her. (I hesitated even posting her picture here, for fear that someone would see her beautiful face and try to adopt her… You won’t do that, will you?) I am positively obsessive right now. Can’t wait. Can’t.

The visit is scheduled for just two days after we move in, so it will be a little crazy, but I am more than ready for it to happen! One week and six days…

Pup links!

Floppy, cuddly German shepherd puppies. Click for source.

In rescue news, the anticipation is killing me. I applied too early, I think, because the groups have been super-responsive and they’ve all told me that nothing can really happen until our home visit. Even still, I obsessively check the postings of dogs up for adoption (like, several times a day), which is really just making me more anxious. I need to stop. I need someone to block these rescue groups’ websites and Petfinder and the SPCA… for my own sanity!

Anyway. Here are some happy and interesting dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Crufts Show Dogs Disqualified. This has been the big news in the dog world this week. While I don’t want to open a can of worms, I’m curious what you think: Are independent vet checks a good idea at dog shows? I don’t know anything about the show world, but I am all for improving the breed standards of many purebreds raised only for their looks. I hope that that will eventually be the outcome of this controversial decision. (The Bark blog)

Dog-Friendly Yard Work. Advice from Maureen Gilmer, horticulturalist and dog lover, about dog-friendly plants and other projects for your garden this spring. I’m happy to know that dried rosemary can act as a flea repellent; we will be inheriting a huge rosemary bush with our new house. (The Bark)

Mudley. Part of me has always wanted a big, slobbery Newfoundland… (Shirley Bittner Photography)

Ollydog Mt. Tm Running Belt and Leash. This looks like pretty serious gear, but I can imagine that it would be really great to have while hiking or running. (Dog Milk)

Cheap and Easy Training Treats. Kristine shares some of her ideas for inexpensive, make-at-home treats. I will definitely be trying some of these in the months to come! (Rescued Insanity)

Impeccable Style. I actually really like this line of preppy/nautical-looking dog products, from the company Milk and Pepper. (Under the Blanket)

Canine Comforts. A beautiful suite of dog beds and bags from Cloud 7. The photography for their ad campaign is also beautiful–so natural-looking. (Design Hunter)

Guess the Genotype #56. I was going to guess that the breed was a mini-borzoi, but that’s kind of what it is: Has anyone heard of the silken windhound before? Despite the goofy name, I’m intrigued… (Musings of a Biologist and a Dog Lover)

Why Calling Her a Pit Bull Matters. A thoughtful and well-expressed post about why a pit bull mama calls her girl a pit bull, and not an AmStaff or other breed euphemism. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)

My Other Best Friend. One blogger’s reflections on her relationship with her dog, Bodhi. (Elephantine)

Charlie at Home. Our wonderful wedding photographer shares some photos of her sister’s sweet dog, Charlie. (Meredith Perdue Photography)

Primer on German shepherd markings

(Photos updated 12 March 2013.)

In all of my reading about German shepherds, I keep getting confused about the different coat colors and markings. I forget what “sable” means, what “black and red” looks like, and all the other labels in between (“saddle” versus a “blanket” pattern? I don’t know). In an effort not to sound like an idiot when I do talk with the rescues, here’s my little bit of research on GSD markings.

This is the official AKC standard for the GSD coat and markings. Some, especially those with white GSDs, obviously take issue with this standard, but that’s another debate for another time.

The German Shepherd Dog varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.

Here’s a sampling of the different coats I’ve found, doing my best to rely on examples from the rescues I’ve applied to. If you live in the area, maybe one of these dogs will speak to you! Most of the ones below are up for adoption!

Black and Red

Zeva. (c) SGSR.

Zeva. (c) SGSR.

Layla. (c) SGSR.

Layla. (c) SGSR.

Black and red tends to be a more popular coat color in Europe, I’ve heard. I think it’s very beautiful and rich-looking. These dogs are Zeva and Layla, who were both adopted through Southeast German Shepherd Rescue.

Black and Tan

Regal

Pyrrha!

Our dog Pyrrha is a classic black-and-tan. She has a very traditional (for U.S. GSDs) coat pattern. The tan, as you can see, is quite light. She has almost a full saddle (the black pattern). There are plenty more photos of Pyrrha and her coat pattern on this blog, obviously!

Black and Cream

jadyn-blackcream

Jadyn. (c) SGSR.

Black and cream tends to be more diluted than the tans and reds, clearly. (Pyrrha is almost a black and cream, and I think she could become one in her old age.) This is Jadyn, who was adopted through SGSR, too.

Black and Silver

(c) German Shepherd Breeders.

OK, I am not an expert, obviously, so I have trouble distinguishing between black and cream and black and silver. This long-coat is apparently a black and silver. What do you think? Can you tell the difference?

Bicolor

Post-bath Brando

Brando, our first foster.

OK, here’s where I need someone more experienced to explain. Is there any difference between “bicolor” and the other “black and [other color]” patterns? I feel like the bicolors usually have little eyebrow markings, but I don’t really know. This dude is Brando, our first foster from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue. You can see the brown points on his legs.

Sable

Xander, recently adopted through SGSR!

enya-sable

Enya. (c) SGSR.

These dogs are Xander and Enya, who were adopted through SGSR. I’ve tried to remember this pattern as “the wolf pattern,” because sable GSDs make me think of wolves more than anything else. I’ve come to really love this coat, too. For whatever reason, sables look extra-intense to me, even more than your standard black and red/tan.

Solid Black

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

You get the idea: Solid black coat, no other markings. He looks so sleek. Many people are surprised to learn that GSDs can come in all black, with no markings at all.

Solid White

Dakota. (c) SGSR.

Dakota. (c) SGSR.

Solid white GSDs are considered a fault in the AKC and cannot be shown, but I think they are quite beautiful. This is Dakota, who was adopted through SGSR, too.

Gray/Blue (rare!)

L to R: Blue GSD, blue Belgian malinois, and blue Dutch shepherd. Photo from Cher Car Kennels.

OK, couldn’t find any gray/blue dogs up for rescue, so this is a photo from Cher Car Kennels. Gray and blue dogs are considered serious faults according to the AKC standard. I know these are three different breeds, but I think the only dog I could correctly identify as “blue” would be the Dutch shepherd on the far right. I think I would have missed it in the GSD and malinois. How about you? Have you ever seen a blue GSD?

Red/Liver Sable (rare!)

Quinn. (c) SGSR

Quinn. (c) SGSR

Quinn is a beautiful liver-sable girl who was adopted through SGSR recently. Isn’t she striking? This is a very rare coat pattern and is generally considered a fault in AKC standards.

And this is Marli, a liver GSD, also adopted through SGSR.

marli-liver

Marli. (c) SGSR.

And, of course, don’t forget the long coats!

Long-coat GSDs

The following dogs were all adopted through Southeast German Shepherd Rescue.

Galen. (c) SGSR.

Galen. (c) SGSR.

Breeze (c) SGSR.

Breeze (c) SGSR.

Atlas (c) SGSR.

Atlas (c) SGSR.

Scout (c) SGSR.

Scout (c) SGSR.

I love the diversity of coats and colors in the shepherd. I think many people are unaware that they can come in so many different colors!

More comprehensive information on GSD markings online:

Pup links!

The collies are listening. Click for source.

The big news of the day is that we have now officially submitted our applications to the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue and Southeast German Shepherd Rescue! Even though we won’t move until May, I wanted to go ahead and send our applications so the vetting and approval process could get underway. It goes without saying that I am so excited.

Here are some dog-related links from around the web this past week:

Social Dominance Is Not a Myth: Wolves, Dogs, and Other Animals. Marc Bekoff addresses the other side of the dominance coin and points out that we shouldn’t throw it out entirely. Wolves do exhibit dominance and the research is perhaps more nuanced than we formerly thought. Interesting. (The Bark Blog)

Sidetracked by Grammar. As a copy editor and a dog lover, I definitely appreciated this vet’s list of grammatical pet peeves. The one that really gets under my skin? People who write about “German shepards.” Nope. Not a thing. Learn how to spell. (Pawcurious)

Pocket Petunia’s Big Adventure. A sweet post about therapy dogs visiting a local school and teaching kids about kindness and mercy toward others. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Color-Coded Dogs. Fun photos of dogs playing in groups arranged by fur color. (Ours for a Year)

Canine Pregnancy Detector. Dogs really can smell everything… (Fido & Wino)

Day Twenty-One. A little girl and her dog: Big frown and then a big laugh! (Emily Corey Photography)