While sitting at the National Boxer Rescue table at the ABC in May, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to visit not only with those expressing kind words and interest in my book but those who are heavily involved in local boxer rescue in their area. Many of those who stopped by expressed interest in boxer rescue in general. Statements varied. Some questioned how to get involved some had concerns on whether or not there was really a need for a rescue movement, especially on the national scale. As a result of these conversations and after having the opportunity to visit with Jeannette Everett and review her "pedigree" book of some of the dogs coming through her local rescue program, I took a great deal of time upon my return home to reflect on yours and my concerns. I will share my reflections and observations with you because over the years I know that those of you who read my articles continue to give me a good indication of what is and what isn't important to you and the breed. This article is not intended to be a lecture nor can I offer answers to all our concerns. I am merely continuing my efforts to keep a moral pulse on our breed's lifeline and to share any information I glean from my own experiences with all of you.
Some of you know a great deal about rescue already. I also know there are some who would like to ignore the problem. The necessity for Boxer rescue cannot be ignored if we are all to take responsibility for the welfare of our breed. Sooner or later, I assure you, this particular problem will come to close to home.
As mentioned, I had the opportunity to go through the pedigree book compiled by Jeannette Everett. Keep in mind that this book represented only the dogs who have been rescued or surrendered (with papers) in her one geographical area of the United States (Chicago/Illinois). The pages were extensive and these pedigrees reflected that a great many of these boxers' origins were not from the puppy millers or unreputable breeders but from good kennels and good breeders. Some kennel names were several generations back, some appeared closer to the front. A few of the dogs had a champion sire or dam or both. We can speculate that the others who come through the rescue programs may have had some of the same beginnings. For one reason or another, these dogs have slipped through the cracks.
Many breeders, including those who have been around for many years, still question, why there is a need for boxer rescue? They are frequently left with the impression that it is the puppy millers or unreputable breeders who are causing the problems. This is simply not accurate. Far to many of these boxers came from old and well established lines. I would hope that every breeder who attended the ABC this year would have taken the time to review Jeannette's pedigree book. If that didn't open your eyes then anything I say from this point on will probably fall on deaf ears. As I glanced through this pedigree book, I saw some famous names of both old and up and coming kennels. Though I found none of my own dogs in this particular book, I know there is every possibility that somewhere, someday down the line the SARKEL name may very well appear in a book of this type. I am both fearful and angry. Fearful, for there in black and white, is the very thing we all should dread. I am angry because there are still to many who deny we have a problem. To those of you still listening and wondering, why boxer rescue? Let me proceed.
As an example of how something like this can happen I relate the following. The story is difficult to tell and one I recount with humility. I hope all of you will comprehend the point. I cannot stress it strongly enough.
A few years ago I bred a champion dog to a bitch from my own line. I have preferred for years to keep only bitches, as I have never been comfortable with the role of stud dog owner. Odds are, however, now and again I will finish a good male and from time to time I am approached about breeding a bitch. I had already, for a variety of reasons closed my studbook to pet bitches. This particular bitch was sold to a young couple out of a litter I myself bred. They contacted me when it was time to breed her as I had requested them to do. They were eager to breed her and begin establishing their own breeding program. Besides continuing my own breeding program, I wanted to encourage good breeding practices to them and educate them on the right vs. wrong reasons for breeding at all. They seemed serious about preserving the quality I strive to maintain. They gave the right answers to all my questions. They had taken good care of the bitch. I trusted them. I agreed to the breeding. The stud went back to her line, her mother had been a littermate to two of my champion bitches and all four of her grandparents were champions. It should be a good breeding. It was agreed in writing that I would request a stud fee up front but I could, at my discretion, elect to take my pick of the litter and return the fee. I wanted them to know that I had confidence in the breeding and in them. As usual, I agreed to help them with the whelping process and eventual placement of the puppies. The breeding resulted in a litter of nine puppies. Seven dogs and two bitches. It turned out to be a difficult litter to raise. Shortly after the puppies birth, the bitch's milk went bad. All of the puppies had to be bottle-fed. It was an added burden for the young couple. They had not quite comprehended my explanations prior to breeding of the complications we sometimes face. The couple also had two small children and the extra work involved took its toll even with my efforts to provide help and advice whenever asked throughout the entire process. It was difficult but not impossible. Puppies, mama and humans survived.
When the puppies reached six weeks of age I decided to select one of the flashy young males as my choice of the litter. I returned the prepaid stud fee. With the extra expense of raising this litter I knew the young couple could use the money. I was very pleased with the results of the breeding and the young male I had selected. I continued to keep close contact with the couple as they began to place some of the puppies on their own with family and friends. They had decided to keep one puppy for themselves. I counseled them that another flashy male looked like a good prospect for the ring and the remaining plain puppies could be placed in pet homes. Again I advised them I would assist them in every way I could to place the puppies and would even be willing, to help relieve them of some of the hard work involved, to take two or three of the puppies to my own home until suitable homes could be found.
Just prior to the puppies reaching eight weeks of age a Pet Fair was scheduled at one of the local malls. Boxer Rescue was to have a booth there. I planned to help out at the booth. I knew this was always a good place to make contacts for not only rescue dogs but also to make contact with people looking for good quality puppies. I telephoned the couple to determine the number of puppies still available for placement. I was surprised when they told me they had placed the remaining four puppies. When I asked how they had placed them so fast (I had last spoken with them only two or three days before), they indicated they had put "an ad on a bulletin board at American Airlines." The puppies had all been sold as a result of the ad. I was uneasy about the quick placement but I still had no reason to doubt them. As the stud dog owner I really had no legal say over the litter. This very lack of control over litters sired by my stud dog was my underlying reason for not wanting to deal with this issue on a regular basis. Once the stud fee is paid or I have selected my puppy of choice and the litter application is signed my effectiveness is ended. I was disappointed in the hasty placement but was satisfied with their explanation. They assured me the puppies had all gone to good homes.
It was not until several weeks later that I learned the truth about the four puppies and only then because the couple was having problems. Against all my warnings about "puppy brokers," the couple had consigned the last four puppies, including the other flashy male, to a puppy broker. They had been sold by the broker to a pet store in Arizona. Now because the couple had not received payment from the broker they were reluctant to provide the papers for the puppies to the pet store's owner. They wanted my advice on what they should do. I gave them more than that. It was very difficult to discuss the matter with them, all my advice, cautions and help had been thrown back in my face. The worst part for me was facing the fact that these beautiful puppies were now in the hands of less than reputable people. It was a distressing realization. Nevertheless, I did my best to correct their error in judgment. My best efforts failed. The puppies were not retrievable; they had slipped through the crack. These poor little babes had become the prey of those breeders fear the most. I was as helpless as the puppies. Even if the couple refused to provide the registration papers, the puppies were entirely out of our supervision. A final phone call by me to the pet store asking the return of the puppies, at my expense, fell on unconcerned ears. With or without papers I was informed they would bring a "good price." No mention of a "good home" was ever expressed by the pet storeowner. We know only too well that not everyone who owns, breeds or sells boxers is devoted to the breed. They care very little for the welfare of the puppies they produce or sell as long as they bring in the bucks! The owner also refused to give me any information on to whom the puppies were sold. Now I will forever wonder if one of these beautiful puppies, or their offspring will turn up in a rescue program somewhere. A simplified scenario perhaps. It does happen. What heartaches I could have saved if the bitch had been placed as a pet and spayed before the litter and not after the fact? I have enough bitches in my line to carry on. Hindsight is always better isn't it?
Another area we must give serious thought to when questioning the need for rescue is the number of puppies we are breeding. Are we breeding too many boxers? Like many of you, I only breed my own bitches when I want something for myself to show and certainly not for pet puppies. Often a litter gives us more than one show puppy and we try our best to get all of the good show prospects in show homes. The surplus puppies in the litter are then placed in our "pet homes." Their well-being is just as important and most of us have an ever growing list of good people interested in our extra little blessings. Although it is tempting to breed an occasional litter to fill this constant demand, we must not fall into this mind set if we truly want to protect the breed and limit the volume of boxers who show up in boxer rescue. Personally, I would like to terminate the necessity for boxer rescue all together. I'm sure all of those involved feel the same way; an "out of business" sign would be welcome. For now we all must be sure rescue is there to catch these dogs when they do fall through the cracks. This reason alone makes rescue on a national level so vital! We need a central organization, in this case the parent club, to gather us all together. I am grateful for the Board's support and interest in boxer rescue.
I decided to do a study of the number of puppies entered in the futurity this year and the number of litters these puppies included. A total entry of 213 represented a total of approximately 139 different litters (when more than one puppy was entered from the same litter, the litter was only counted once). Assuming that the average litter size is six (6) puppies, that represents a total of 834 puppies. Remember these futurity puppies are the cream of the crop. They do not include the puppies nominated but not entered, sired by stud dogs not futurity nominated, puppies that did not work out or the litters that may have been bred for other reasons (proving a young dog or bitch, the completion of a contract or in some instances providing good "pet" puppies). These figures certainly don't incorporate the total number of litters produced last year by puppy millers or other entities breeding not for quality but for quantity. Even the AKC statistics do not represent the total number of boxers bred without proper papers or proper concern for the breed.
Other puppies from our futurity or perspective show litters may be shown. Still more will be placed in other situations (pet home, another breeder's kennel, etc.). Not every show placement, breeder exchange or pet placement works out. This is often where another crack begins to separate. A good puppy is placed in what we all hope is a stable, life long home. That unfortunately is not always the case. A divorce, a move out-of-state, a death, the puppy doesn't work out for show or any number of unforeseen problems may lead to that puppy being sold or given away to a relative, friend or an interested stranger. Remember we are now not the ones screening the perspective new owners. If the original party does not contact us when they have a problem, we may not find out about the problem until well after the fact. Plenty of time for the puppy's trail to begin to deteriorate. Though most of us keep very close tabs on the puppies we place from our home, what about the puppies from a litter sired by one of our stud dogs? Let my own experience be a reminder to you of what can happen. Once the stud fee is paid or the pick puppy is chosen, we have no clear voice regarding the placement of the remaining puppies. Even written contracts can be broken, that happens all the time too. Ask yourselves, how many litters do you breed each year? How many litters are sired by your stud dog(s) each year?
I can hear some of you now replying; we simply cannot supervise every puppy who leaves our homes! To difficult? Maybe? Not an insurmountable job. I think we better try harder for our breed's sake. If each of us will oversee our own, we can begin to eliminate some of the overpopulation in our breed and slow down the constant stream of pathetic boxer eyes who show up at rescue's door. We can limit the prospects of the puppy millers and pet stores in obtaining a seemingly endless supply of purebred animals to destroy with their heartless and careless ways. The biggest questions to answer are how and why. Why should be obvious. How is not as simple! Some of you will not agree with some of my proposed solutions. Perhaps you may have better ways of dealing with this problem. I solicit both your concerns and counsel. For now, without benefit of your counsel, I have already made some preliminary decisions concerning my own dogs.
We often advertise, "to approved bitches only" in ads for stud dogs. Of course the bitches pedigree and background are important ingredients. That phrase means more to me than just a simple approval of the bitch. As I mentioned, my own studbooks have been closed to pet bitches for some time. I must now close them to other outside bitches with exceptions made at my sole discretion. I will still welcome solicitation for services from my stud dogs from any individual or kennel I respect and acknowledge as involved in good breeding practices. Those who wish to continue the devoted quest for the perfect boxer. Those who I recognize for their commitment, or who are recommended by people I know and trust as dedicated to safeguarding our breed. We have always provided references to our puppy buyers upon request. Is it feasible that we also provide references to other breeders when we inquire about the use of their stud dogs? I personally do not feel offended if asked to provide references for my puppies. I should not feel offended when asked to provide references on my breeding stock and practices. Why should we expect a fellow breeder to make a decision about us based only on the fact that our kennel name is known or familiar to them? We should appreciate the opportunity
to solicit the recommendations of our peers to validate our reliable reputation.
I do not personally plan to exclude a novice breeder, that is not my intent. Being more selective is my only goal. I do not wish to offend anyone and certainly want to continue to encourage the novice. My boxers and I do deserve absolute honesty and I will never lose sight of that again. It is not too much to inquire of anyone who wishes to gain the benefit of the passion, blood sweat and tears we have all invested in the breed throughout the years. I just finished a young male who may never be bred for the very reasons I explained above. Unless I use him in my own breeding program or a responsible breeder expresses an interest to use him in their program, why should he be bred? Some may consider that a selfish or foolish attitude. Possibly? Based on what I have shared with you, it is an attitude I feel necessary to embrace to help curtail the over breeding and possible undoing of our breed. I can sensibly oversee the puppies produced by my bitches with breeding contracts, co-ownerships, etc. I can place puppies after they are spayed or neutered or with a firm, legal commitment from the puppy buyer to have the procedures done at the appropriate age. The AKC Limited Registration is already available to us. We need to use it!
I cannot, I have tragically learned, control puppies produced by one of my stud dogs. Therefore, closing my stud books to pet and outside bitches is still not enough, I must also take an even harder look at each puppy in my own line I consider for breeding in the future. Certainly no stud fee or potential show puppy is worth the misery it may cause another boxer as a direct result of a boxer born in my kennel who may later fall through one of the cracks. The unforeseen future of the generations of boxers who could follow is frightening to me. I have tried hard in the past to prevent this from happening. I have not tried hard or thoroughly enough. I believe there are some of you who may have fallen short in this area as well. Time to realize we must unconditionally practice what we should all be preaching. We cannot preach responsible pet ownership and/or breeding practices to others if we, ourselves, are not prepared to follow all the rules to the letter. We have plenty of good pet puppies in our litters and for now a far to constant stream of rescue dogs. We can provide the genuine boxer lover with one of our own well-bred puppies or with a heartbroken rescue desperately in need of love and tenderness. Remind those on our puppy lists, good things are worth the wait. There can be no acceptable reason to breed our stud dogs to the pet bitch down the street just for the sake of some pet puppies.
Closing my studbooks and following through with the spaying and neutering of the puppies I sell, as pets are good starts for me. At the very least I am limiting the number of puppies for which I will be directly or indirectly responsible. My heart will continue to ache for those boxers my carelessness may have let down in the past.
These steps for me, and hopefully some of you, are significant if we even want to attempt to eventually limit the supply of breeding animals for the puppy mill marketers and begin to abate the growing number of boxers needing to be rescued. Our boxers cannot count or survive on our good intentions. Remember the saying, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." I for one do not want any more of our boxers to travel that road. The truth you and I must live with is some of them have!
The humiliation in finding our kennel name in a pedigree book of rescue boxers is not as damaging to us or the breed as finding it or knowing it is there and then doing nothing about it! The old cracks we allowed to develop may remain for a time; we can stop new ones! Having shared with you what I have learned, the unintentional neglect of our obligation to the breed is no longer an acceptable excuse for any of us in allowing any more boxers to slip through the cracks
If you cannot support boxer rescue in any other way, at least consider what I have revealed to you, and take a long, hard look at your own back yard. You might find you can help more than you ever imagined.
We would like to add a special thanks to Shirley Lawler of Indrio Kennels who provided Jeannette Everett with the pedigrees on her rescue boxers. Shirley has tirelessly worked for not only her own breed but for other breeds involved in the rescue of purebred dogs and the educating of the dog buying public.
Any one wishing to have a pedigree traced on a rescue dog may write:
P. O. Box 681123
Houston, TX 77268
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