Fiona Douglas describes why she and her husband are companion animal breeders.
Breeding companion animals is – for an animal lover – the most wonderful thing imaginable. For me it without doubt stands as one of the most authentic and rewarding things I have ever experienced.
Our path to breeding really started back in 1980 when my husband and I met at Melbourne Uni while studying Agricultural Science. We were the city kids among farmers’ sons and daughters, yet all of us sharing the common goal of living a country life one day.
At 20, we became parents of a relinquished standard black & tan dachshund, Gina, who took up residence with us in our tiny rental house in Fitzroy. I’d been working the summer at a Richmond pet shop and this adult dog appeared one day. ‘What a silly, cartoon dog,‘ I thought. But not long after, the bond of a lifetime was formed. By the end of the work day I had purchased Gina (at a staff discount of 50%!) for the massive price of $65: exactly one week’s rent.
Marriage, graduation, home ownership, and children followed, Gene by my side. And then, one day – some 13 years on – Gene left. I still grieve my Gene-Jelly-Bean. I dedicated my first book – some years on – to this wonderful creature who had so enriched my life.
As life would have it, it took us a full quarter century to get our farm we had so dreamt of since those teenage days. Throughout these intervening years, we would often consider what enterprises we might run on this ‘someday-farm’ .
We toyed with the idea of goats, rabbits, cattle or sheep. But the thought of bringing new life into the world to have its throat slit before it had even grown up was too much to bear. Plus we are also passionate about the environment, and the thought of carbon (methane) producing ruminants trampling the ground was similarly unpalatable.
Then, one day, it clicked. We would pursue an activity closest to our hearts: dogs; we would breed dogs. But not just any dog, specifically the love of our lives: the dachshund!
At no stage did we consider this a business venture. We were both working full time, so money wasn’t an issue: David a policeman and me the editor of a national newspaperfor some 9 years, working from a home office. We did zero research into the popularity of the dachshund. All we knew was that THIS was the dog we loved and the dog we would breed. We also knew nothing of the industry we were entering. We did believe that most registered breeders seemed to have an association with showing – in theory, if not in practise – but dog showing was the last thing we were interested in.
No. Our goal was clear: we would bring our training as scientists (animal husbandry, genetics and so forth) to produce healthy happy dachshunds destined for loving pet homes. A more noble pursuit I could not imagine, considering the utter love and loyalty dachshunds had injected into our lives and the lives of our children over a 25 year period. Why, we would be the best breeders ever and our dogs would be the happiest ever; these were our goals then and remain so to this day.
From that point everything just fell into place. Our dachshund breeding would fit perfectly with our environmental pursuits, seeing our land begin to recover as native vegetation started returning to what had been over grazed cattle paddocks.
But you can’t have 120 acres and do nothing with the majority of it. Even the native vegetation needs some disturbance. Accordingly, the second love of our lives presented as an obvious pursuit: horses.
I have not been without a horse since I was 11 years old, back in 1972.
And, as with dogs, I have zero interest in the show circuit. I just love being around my horses and dogs and would go for a ride in the bush any day to a ride in a show ring. (Of course the fact that I am a lousy self taught rider could have something to do with this!) But, seriously, we just love animals for their own sakes and not the promise of ribbons or trophies.
And so it was that not long after we started breeding a few little dachshunds, we started our paint horse breeding. We have a special bent for colour, as we have pursued colour with our dachshunds too including importing piebald dachshunds from the USA.
Pets not pedigrees
There are many, many wonderful things associated with being a specialist pet breeder. I don’t sell with pedigree papers, because I am a part of the pet dog industry and not the showing sector. Yet no one who buys a pup from me worries about the fact that the pups are paperless.
Personally I see this as a big bonus, because this tells me that the prospective new owners are really seeing the dog for who he truly is – they see him on the inside – rather than focussing on some external cosmetic minutia with the promise of reflected glory attached.
In short, the people who buy my puppies are without exception fabulous humans. It’s a pleasure to communicate with these people, sometimes over many months of waiting for a pup to be born. It is through such communications, for example, that patiently waiting prospective owners have coined such wonderful expressions as ‘Pupdate‘ (for ‘puppy update’) and the title, ‘Puppy Parents‘. Love it.
I think dog breeding has selected for us that special sector of the human species who love dogs as one of their own family. These are the people I interact with day to day, from across Australia and the world. On top of that we have inadvertently selected yet another special group within the dog-loving-sector: the dachshund lover!
To understand the pleasure these people bring requires an understanding of what the breeder-buyer relationship involves. In my experience, at least, the relationship is anything but a clear-cut business transaction. Right from the first contact, there is the unspoken knowledge on both sides that we are talking about new family members. I cannot think of one new owner who has not shared their experiences of dogs in their lives. At times this can be very sad, when people write grieving for a much loved family member who has just left them or is about to leave. It makes me feel humble that, as a breeder, total strangers are not total strangers at all. These people implicitly trust me; that their emotions are safe with me and that I will understand; that my affinity with dogs is akin to their own. And it is.
Our relationship continues as we share the joys of their new pup’s development, with me sending messages and pics (I try to be regular – the iPhone is brilliant here!). Pup the slug, pup the piggy, pup eyes open, pup’s first meal and so on. Then, after puppy handover, I at times receive these magical pupdates – even years later – about what the loved one is up to. It is like one big extended family of the nicest variety.
Baby animals – responsibility with a capital ‘R’
The past few years have been the most amazing learning curve. I have raised my own babies and I have taken in the babies of others.
And from this experience I say this.
Companion animal breeding brings with it an incredible responsibility. For the fact is that the manner in which a companion animal is treated in its first few hours, days and weeks of life will determine its relationship with humans from there-on-in.
In my experience, this is unequivocal and those who dispute this I suggest will never have been involved with bringing such animals into this world.
This very fact makes my job as a professional companion animal breeder both incredibly challenging as well as rewarding. Gentle patient minutes and hours spent by me in those precious first few days of life create human-animal bonds that would otherwise take months to achieve in a slightly older animal.
I adore every single baby animal that comes my way; it’s simply first-nature to me. To cuddle them, blow hot potatoes into their necks, look into their eyes and tell them how lovely they many times a day simply comes naturally to me. Be them puppies, foals, kittens or my adult animals: they all get this adoration. And animals know what’s authentic and what isn’t. They are a great judge of character.
Many animals do not get this start in life and they are behind the 8 ball from then on. For the sad fact is that animals are dependent on humans.
I have spent many a long day trying to build trust with a young horse or kitten that have come from elsewhere. At these times I curse the breeder who renegged on their obligations; who failed these young animals by failing to invest but a moment in time when it mattered most: when it had the most impact.
As breeders, this is our reponsibility. To give love and affection in the earliest days so that animals can have a trusting and rewarding relationship with humans from thereon in. Way too many dogs, cats and kittens end up in pounds and way too many young unhandled horses are sold to the knackers because humans have failed them… right from the beginning.
And what of my breeding animals themselves? My stallion, my mares, my dogs…
A million words here? One word? No words? For how does one set about describing the depth of the bond that forms when one shares life so intimately with a creature as noble and honest as the dog and horse. Privilege is one word that to comes to mind. A privilege I honour and a privilege I must live up to. #