Marina Phillips: Breeding Cooperatives
Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at www.functionalbreeding.org, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.
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Jessica Hekman: Hi friends. Welcome back from our break. This week I’m talking to Marina Phillips. Marina is the Breeding Director for the Assistance Dogs International Breeding Cooperative. A breeding cooperative is a group of breeders with similar goals who exchange animals to form a larger breeding population than they could on their own. So, in this episode Marina gets down and dirty with the details of how to put together and run a breeding cooperative, and wraps up with some insights on how she makes guardian homes work for her. A guardian home is when you place dogs in pet homes, but you keep breeding rights. So, if you’re a breeder who’s ever struggled with how to keep enough potential breeding dogs in a house with limited space, this episode may be for you.
So thank you, Marina, so much for coming on to the podcast. I’m so happy to have you here.
Marina Phillips: Thank you.
JH: So, my first question is always the super, super hard one of why don’t you tell us a little bit about your own dogs and what you do with them? And what kinds of dogs they are.
MP: Oh my God, I would love to. I think that’s so kind that you’ve asked that question. I’ve listened to the podcasts, which I really enjoyed. And I just, I just think it’s very pleasant, because of course people are in this type of work because they love dogs and adore their own dogs. So, I have, right now, a female household. A really nice, harmonious, household of three females. And my oldest is…
JH: Are you being sarcastic? Or is it actually harmonious? (laughter)
MP: Oh, God, no. It’s very harmonious.
JH: Oh, that’s lovely. (laughter)
MP: Oh, it’s awesome! Yes.
JH: That’s lovely. Sorry, I’m just thinking about the girl dog politics that I’ve seen before, and I couldn’t tell if you were like, “It’s all girls. It’s horrible.”
MP: You know, I know this probably isn’t, um, modern. But I am definitely the… There is no doubt who’s in charge in my house. I’ll just put it that way.
JH: (laughter) Yep.
MP: So, maybe I never see politics because there’s no room for them. Um, so, I have an old dog. Her name is Bico and she’s a dachshund/papillon/shih tzu mix. And she’s a little hairy dog. And she, I got her for my daughters because when I was working full time in the guide and service industry, I was bringing home a lot of dogs, either training dogs or breeding dogs. So we often had big dogs coming and going. And they had rules and training parameters. And so I wanted to get a little dog for my daughters who could be their little cuddle dog. Could be up on their beds, etc. So, I got a little puppy from a co-worker, and that’s our little Bico.
And then I have a 10-year-old golden named Tassel. And she’s a really good sport, really sporting dog. And I got her via a connection from one of my mentors from New Zealand. And I also just recently imported some semen from her father. So I’m really stoked about that.
And then I have a youngster, another golden named Rue. And she’s kind of interesting because you know how like through your life you meet and you work with a lot of good dogs? And then occasionally you meet and work with a great dog? And she’s a great dog. Like she’s great. She’s like having… She’s like living with Lassie.
MP: She’s just, she’s responsible. She’s intuitive. She’s game. She is just super connected and really fun. And I also got her via a connection with a mentor from Career Dogs Australia. And I’m feeling really stoked about that because when I used to travel a lot in the guide dog industry, the dogs who I was the most impressed with were those in the UK. And she comes carrying that lineage from those dogs that I met back in the day and fell in love with so. That is what’s hanging out here and…
JH: Is she planned… Is she gonna be the recipient of the imported semen?
MP: Whoo, that’s a loaded question. So… (laughter)
JH: Oh, sorry. I thought it was something that you had … (laughter) I thought it was something that was clearly planned and you were just gonna be like “Oh, it’s great!” (laughter)
MP: Well, I would love that. And that’s something that’s kind of interesting, in relation to some of the other podcasts that I’ve listened to with your group, is that my youngest, Rue, is not kennel club registered. So, where does that leave me as a private individual? Certainly, within the assistance dog field, that’s not a problem at all. Most of the dogs, the vast majority are not kennel club registered. But as a private breeder, you know, I need to be able to place puppies to recoup my costs. So that’s still up in the air because the New Zealand semen is registered. But my girl, Rue, who comes from the long guide dog lineage is not registered. We’ll see.
JH: That will be interesting. And I, and the last question I have about your household is, is it the tiny dog who’s in charge?
MP: Oh, yes, absolutely.
MP: Has been since day one.
JH: Yes, totally.
MP: I’ve never known…
JH: Yeah, my…
MP: Go ahead.
JH: I would say my smallest is also my only female. Is totally in charge. 100%.
MP: You know, really, by the size virtue I think they have to be because they can get injured. You know, she only weighs 11 pounds. And so, she’s very sharp to train the puppies that… She teaches them right off that she has an 18 to 20-inch bubble around her.
MP: And when they cross that bubble, they hear about it. And it’s so cute to see. Like, she’ll be laying on a bed in the corner, and puppies will be running around, kind of getting goofy and wiggly. And they’ll go running past and then they’ll just like (makes puppy sound), skid and put on the brakes.
JH: Oh my God, I’m too close.
MP: I’m too close!
MP: So yes.
JH: That’s adorable.
MP: Yeah. And I’ve never known a papillon, so I can’t really say. That’s what her father was. But I would certainly say that the dachshund in her mix is part of what’s keeping everything in charge.
JH: Yes, yes. There have been various studies about the strong personalities of dachshunds. (laughter)
MP: All the ones I’ve known, ah, yes. I would agree.
JH: (laughter) Yeah, when I was in veterinary school we were terrified of them. And really the only bite that drew blood that I actually saw in clinics was delivered by a dachshund.
MP: Yeah, yeah.
JH: Um, all right. So then, of course, the reason I asked you here, and we are going to talk about your lovely dogs as well. But what I wanted… the reason I wanted to bring you on was to talk about the ABC. So that is the ADI breeding cooperative, and I love it because it’s this nested… It’s an acronym within an acronym.
MP: Yes (laughter)
JH: (laughter) So, ADI is Assistance Dogs International. So, maybe we should start with you telling us what Assistance Dogs International is before we get on to what the breeding cooperative is.
MP: Okay, good point, because that’s right. That would be the good place to start. So, Assistance Dogs International is a worldwide accreditation program. And through that accreditation program they provide a quality control for persons with disabilities who are looking to get a dog to assist them. And they provide education to their members. It’s kind of like your licensing or regulation board. And then within that ADI, there are three chapters. There’s ADI North America, and then there’s ADI Europe, and ADI Oceania. And ADI in North America is what the ABC… So ABC is actually ADI North America Breeding Cooperative. And we…
JH: That was too many letters, though, huh?
MP: Way too many letters. And it is a program. It’s a membership-based program that’s offered to ADI North American members.
JH: Perfect. So why was it that there was a need for a breeding cooperative?
MP: Well, that’s…
JH: Maybe that’s the way to start rather than defining a breeding cooperative, because I suspect that if you talk about what the need was for it, then we can slide into what it actually does.
MP: Yeah, I think either way is fine. I will say that over decades, really, within ADI both in the North American chapter and then internationally, when people got together at conferences and workshops there was just this conversation kind of over and over again. “Boy, if we could pool our resources… What if we did this together? How could we help improve the type of dog that we’re looking for in the assistance dog field and the quantity and get them to everybody?”
And I would kind of think over the years, people would get so inspired with these great ideas, but then whether it was politics, or egos, or just the logistics that got in the way, it would kind of fizzle out. And in addition maybe the bigger schools who had more resources and more experience, you know, maybe their voices were louder? And so then how did the smaller schools, maybe even smaller schools who didn’t even have breeding programs, like how did they get a seat at the table? You know, they wanted to see improvement. They wanted to contribute. So how did they…
JH: When you say see improvement… By the way improvement is a bit of assistance dog jargon, I think.
JH: Not sure how much other people understand that, but you’re specifically talking about improving the lines of dogs in the direction that you want to go?
MP: Yeah. Kind of. You could kind of break it down probably into like three facets. Like one, predictability and numbers. It’s just that, you know, how do you get the number of trainees you need on a predictable schedule? And then you have improvement in the percent of dogs who qualify to go on to this type of work. And then within that subset of the dogs who do qualify, how do you even improve the quality of those dogs even further?
JH: And the percent of dogs who qualify, we covered this when I talked to Jane Russenberger, but I’m guessing not everyone listening to you listened to that episode. So, the percent of dogs who qualify is lower than some people think.
MP: It is. I tend to not qualify as very good. I tend to not use success so much, because I really have had some great experience and come from a background where you’re not really aiming for how many qualified, you’re aiming for the quality that qualifies. And so, there’s a quality control, which I think is really positive, to not putting a huge number… Not qualifying a huge number. So, we probably see in the industry, I’d say anywhere from about 35 to about 55%.
JH: Percent that qualify, and get placed?
MP: Yeah. Dogs who were puppies, who were nurtured through a purpose driven upbringing, to then be reviewed to go on to be matched with a person with a disability.
JH: Yeah, perfect. So, which is, which means that is basically a very, very challenging job for a dog to do.
MP: It is.
JH: Which I think we all know, but it’s just important… And so then we have the… You’re saying we have the larger schools and the smaller schools, and the smaller schools want to see improvement, and they want to have a seat at the table talking to the larger schools. So, do you remember where you were before I interrupted you?
MP: Let’s hope so. (laughter) So, I think then… You know how life is all those clichés like your grandmother taught you? And then when you get middle aged, you realize, “Oh, they’re actually true.” It’s not always how much you know, but it’s who you know. So, I think it just kind of came together in the right place in the sense that my partner had retired from a leadership role. And so he knew people. You know, he was on a first name basis with the leaders of the guide and the service dog schools. Not only internationally, but in North America where we were working with ADI. So, he could give us a seat at the table to say, “Hey, you know, this idea has been batted around for decades. Would you like to really do something? Let’s do it. We’re willing to do it.”
So, we fleshed out the foundation, the fundamentals, the governance. We fleshed all that out. Slideshow after slideshow, meeting after meeting, and then the board at ADI said, “Yeah, we… This is something our members can benefit from.” And that’s their charter: to support the accredited assistance dog schools. So, they said, “Let’s do it.” And so it was 2013 that the rubber actually hit the road.
JH: So, what did that look like?
MP: Oh, what did that look like? (laughter) That looked like an operating guideline document that is really big. I don’t know. I’m gonna say 37 pages, but that might… I don’t know. It’s pretty big.
That looked like ironing out the governance. Having a steering committee of elected representatives so that each member school had a representative that they could connect with for their concerns, for their ideas, for any grievances. That looked like having a member from the Assistance Dog International board having a seat at the table so that there was oversight and transparency. That looked like developing the finance guidelines. And then really setting, spelling out the foundation, the purpose, the vision, the values. And then it looked like the logistics, which is kind of the part that I like. I’m real micro and my partner’s real macro, which makes for some lively debates but also pretty good outcomes. And so then that was outlining literally the logistics of how to enroll dogs, how to review dogs, how to do mate pairings, how to distribute dogs, what guidelines to use when selecting replacement breeders, and just having those systems all available to the members so they knew what they were committing to and they knew what to expect.
JH: And I’m realizing as you said micro versus macro and logistics that we never actually said what the purpose of the ABC is, and people can probably figure it out from the conversation. But it might be useful to take a step back for a minute and say, “What is the actual purpose of this cooperative that got put together?”
MP: Ah, it’s a good question. This is where it gets a little wordy. And this is where I definitely lose people at cocktail parties. Not that, you know, I’m going to many cocktail parties, frankly… But if I were…
JH: Well, and I imagine that they’re not cocktail parties full of dog people.
MP: That’s true! (laughter)
JH: So, imagine that right now you’re at a cocktail party with dog people.
MP: Okay, right. Because why else would you go to a cocktail party?
JH: I don’t go to cocktail parties unless it’s dog people!
MP: Right! Agreed!
So, there’s a couple kind of bullet points. It’s going to sound a little, I don’t know, a little wordy and dull. But I would say to help try to put some flesh on the bones… One of the primary purposes is to increase members’ access to purpose bred dogs. Right there. Flat out. To give ABC members literal access to puppies – bringing puppies into their program. A second kind of factor for the purpose is to employ data-driven estimated breeding values and to apply systematic, selective breeding techniques, both to meet the population goals and to improve the actual dog type. And then further, the key factor of the purpose is to manage the colony diversity to maintain sustainability. I mean, we really have our eye on being able to partner using the human/dog partnership to benefit persons with disabilities for what? Two hundred, three hundred, five hundred, eight hundred, a thousand years going forward. You know, God willing we’re all still around then. So, maintaining sustainability is really important.
Also, one of the key factors in the purpose is to balance the ebb and flow of the production via a distribution scheme so that a program isn’t getting 20 puppies in one month, and then no puppies for eight months. And we can go into further detail about that with matings, which is important with managing the broods. And also then to provide a really transparent, enriching community for the members where they have access to education and coaching on the real details like repro, husbandry, ovulation timing, managing stud dogs, neonatal care and enrichment. They have a safe, open place to access support.
JH: That is all very… I think that’s all very juicy, personally. So if you were at a cocktail party with me, I would be like, “Let’s talk more about each of those things.” So, the first one was access to stock, which is a really big deal for a lot of the people on the Facebook group, which I know that you know because you are there.
MP: Oh, I like that group.
JH: Yeah. Me too. So, what are the problems with access to stock that you were, that the cooperative was trying to solve? That ABC was trying to solve?
MP: That a little bit goes back to doing what we could to give more people a seat at the table. And in my opinion… And of course I carry bias like every human. As I had the opportunity to travel around and work with guide and service dog programs around the world, there’s a lot of really, really quality working assistance dogs out there. And those dogs are mostly the product of very intense, selective breeding programs that take… In order to have such an intense, selective breeding program, you need to have quantity. And you need to have the resources to support that quantity and be able to have the systems to select replacement breeders accordingly. And not everybody could do that. So again, through this system we’re able to bring in stock and then offer, through a puppy distribution scheme, individual puppies here and there to all members. So that’s how they’re accessing…
A lot of assistance dog programs (and I don’t mean this with any disregard. It’s sometimes hard to find the language to talk about it without sounding condescending) do use shelter dogs, and/or purchase dogs from private breeders, and/or receive donations from private breeders. And the percent of those dogs who have the traits that work for an assistance dog is pretty low. And in the event… You can still get some marvelous individuals, but you’re not really accessing a population. So, when you get a marvelous individual, there isn’t a way to go back and find, “Well, what about that individual’s littermates? And what about the other pups that the dam produced? And how can I dive back into the pedigree and focus on these other lines?”
So, it’s a little more “catch as catch can” to get the type of dog that the programs need. And so by having a cooperative where everyone has a seat at the table, or you know, an investment in the crop, people can then have access to dogs with known, purpose-bred lineage.
JH: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And I think one of the things that hopefully is obvious, but I’m just gonna call it out clearly, is that the larger schools have the resources to maintain larger breeding populations. But there are smaller schools that don’t have the resources to maintain the larger breeding populations. And how are they going to maintain, to continue to improve their lines if they have such a small number of dogs, and therefore such a small amount of variations to select on?
MP: And that it… You’re right. It’s the small number and the small variation that is limiting. It’s limiting. And so, by being able to pool our resources… A lot of times I think of it as, like a food co-op. And you know that old game you used to play in elementary school about making soup? And, you know, alone, if you’re a potato farmer, you just have potato soup. And if you’re a corn farmer, you just have corn soup. But if you each bring chicken, and onions, and etc., and herbs, then you can make a full, rich soup. And so that’s what I kind of liken it to in my mind a lot. That everyone has something to contribute. And when we pool those ingredients, we just get a much hardier product.
JH: That makes very good sense to me. All right, so then the second point. I think this actually segues beautifully, because I think that the second point that you made was about EBVs. The second part of the goal?
MP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JH: Yeah. And so again, I will refer listeners to Jane Russenberger’s episode, but can you tell us a little bit more about what an estimated breeding value is and why it’s important?
MP: Oh, I’ll try Jessica. But I will… Even though I’ve worked with them for 20 plus years, I still kind of would butcher it.
JH: Well. So I mean, one thing that you said (I’m thinking of it in terms of text) a couple paragraphs ago… You were talking about if you get a really marvelous dog from a private breeder, then you don’t have the ability to go look at that dog’s pedigree. Now, of course, you can technically look at the pedigree, right? Like the private breeder will have all of the names, but what’s missing from that that’s important to you?
MP: What’s missing from that is the width of the information. So as you know, and as dog breeders know, what we would maybe refer to as the “horizontal” information versus the “vertical” information. So not just the sire and the dam, but the littermates of the sire and the dam, and all the half siblings of the sire and the dam. And in order to be able to do that you need to have a database, right? We all reach a limit in our gray matter where we can only hold so many pedigrees and relations in our heads. So, we need a database that tracks the relationships – the links between all those animals. And then a database that the information on the dog’s phenotype and genotype can be recorded. And then the links between those types can be computed, right? Statistically computed in estimated breeding values, and give you a number. And as Jane explained, the number in and of itself isn’t the significant piece of information. It’s the relationship between the numbers. You know, a higher number or a lower number, to help you build a picture of which lines and family relations are going to produce a qualified dog, and then ultimately, a superior qualified dog. And you need to have a computer system to crunch that all down. Our little brains can’t do it. And…
JH: You can’t just keep it all in Google Sheets?
MP: No. (laughter)
JH: I’m… That’s joking. (laughter)
MP: I do. I do keep the puppy distribution on Google Sheets. And if Google ever decided to pull that sheet, we would be in a world of hurt. (laughter)
So, we were really fortunate, and is a key component of the success of the ADI Breeding Cooperative, is that we do subscribe to the International Working Dog Breeding Association database, and that is the database that we have elected to use. And the founders of the database have, are working on the EBVs. We do have accessible EBVs right now for PennHIP that I employ on a regular basis. And we will be getting actual, tangible EBVs for other behavior and medical traits as time goes on.
JH: So just to tie that up for people… Basically what that means, what Marina is saying, is that you put a dog into the database. You have to test its behavior. Which is part of the problem is that dogs coming from private breeders aren’t going to have the formal behavior tests to tell us exactly… The things that you’d like to test about that will be predictive of whether it’s going to do a good job in its job or not. So, you put that information and medical information into the database, and then it comes back out with a number for each trait. And then you can use that number in your mate selection in order to push your population in the direction that you want to go.
JH: Is that a good summary?
MP: That is. And then that kind of touches on the commitment from the members.
One of the factors that’s really important to that is that ABC members are required, or they make a commitment, to enter medical diagnosis on all of the puppies that they receive through ABC and to do a behavior assessment. And similar… It’s really fun to link back to Jane Russenberger’s podcast. Similar to what she talked about we have elected through the Steering Committee to use the Behavior Checklist system. And so, through various support groups and work groups, each member is educated about how to use it. And then it is required, again, that each puppy… So not just the puppies who are going on to be placed to assist a person with a disability, and not just the ones who are being selected into breeding, but each puppy is getting Behavior Checklists completed and entered into the database as they go through the different stages of their development.
JH: Yeah, and which is exactly what you meant by the width, or breadth, of information.
JH: Yeah. Databases are great. I like databases. Alright, so then your third… The third part of the goals. Am I remembering it? Was it about community?
MP: It was. You’re really good for remembering these, by the way.
JH: I was like rehearsing the first three. As you were saying them, I was rehearsing them in my mind, and then you kept going and I was like, “I’m done at three. So the next one I’m going to have to ask you.” (laughter)
MP: She’s still talking!”
JH: Yes, I was like, “There’s more than three?!”
MP: The third, and I can’t really say that they’re in any particular order, although they certainly are weighted. But I think the third one I talked about was diversity.
JH: Oh, that’s right. That’s right. Yeah.
MP: For sustainability.
JH: Yes. Genetic diversity in this case, right? And talking about sustainability. Right. And so that’s… And I think an important thing to think about is that, I mean, that’s obviously a problem for the small schools, right? Because if you have ten, or twenty, breeding animals, if that…
MP: If that!
JH: There’s no way, right? Like, some of them have like, five. So, there’s no way that you can maintain within that, as a closed population, for even one or two gen, you know, a couple generations…
MP: You can’t. No, you can’t.
JH: But the large schools have issues with that as well, right? And so they still need to be… Even if you have five hundred or eight hundred breeding dogs, you still need to bring in periodically.
MP: Yeah! There you go, Jessica. And that’s the beauty of it. That’s what interests the large programs.
MP: You know, the large programs, and I’m generalizing here, may be like, “Well, I’ve got my production down pat. You know? I know I need X number of puppies each year coming in, at so many per month, and I’ve got it nailed. So I don’t need a breeding co-op. But the diversity. Hmm, I do need to introduce some new lines.”
And also it helps a program with a larger breeding population to have their dogs in use elsewhere because they’re going to see how those dogs perform in different environments, under different circumstances, and get the data on their dogs to feed back into their own estimated breeding values and population statistics. So, that is a big, a big factor. And the ABC was super fortunate when we first developed it. We were seeded, for lack of a better word (again, I kind of go back to that farm co-op and the seed exchange.) We were seeded by some very lovely donations by some guide programs, both here and abroad. And so that brought over some novel stock into North America that certainly pricked up the ears of some of the larger programs.
JH: Oh, so that’s how you pulled some in? Okay, well, I’m gonna… I’m gonna have to get distracted here, because I really wanted to go through these one by one. But so does the ABC itself own the dogs? Or do the programs own the dogs, and they swap them around through the ABC? How does that work?
MP: Ah! I love your questions, because you get it! Back to the hypothetical cocktail party.
JH: Well, as I told you before we started, I have the ulterior motive of trying to figure out how all this works.
MP: Right. (laughter)
JH: So that I can help other people set them up.
MP: Let me touch back on one quick point that I think will kind of help listeners get a picture in their mind. Within the ABC cooperative there’s three categories of membership. There’s a foundation member, host member, and a general member. And as with anything in life that’s always evolving. Maybe there’ll be more categories or less categories in the future, but this works really well right now.
And a foundation member is one who does commit to making a donation. That foundation member does not pay annual dues, and does not participate in puppy distribution. And they were instrumental, those members, to getting the co-op seeded, like we’re talking about.
And then host members are those who can commit to hosting breeding stock. Literally doing matings, whelping, and rearing litters.
And then the general members are those that are raising the puppies for the rest of the cooperative. But at this time they are not hosting any breeding stock. They either don’t yet have the experience and the resources to do that, or up to this point don’t have a need to do that.
And one thing back into the education that’s really lovely is that those categories are fluid. So one thing that ABC has provided that’s really lovely is schools who were general members and then say, “We’re ready. We’re ready to do this.” We will support them transitioning to host and teaching them what they need to be able to whelp and rear puppies. Back to your original question, the co-op doesn’t own any dogs. All of the dogs are owned by the member schools.
JH: So when you received these seed dogs, you placed them directly with schools.
MP: Correct. Yeah, and sometimes dogs are enrolled (we use the term enrolled). Sometimes dogs are enrolled for just a period of time. So, for example, a stud dog maybe is enrolled for three months but he does not join the ABC program permanently. And same with a bitch. We had a couple schools who enrolled their bitches… Like we had one service school, really lovely, when the co-op started, they said, “You know what? We’re gonna take this leap of faith, like, we’re all in.” And they had six broods, so that gives you an example. I would say that’s a medium to small sized school. That was all six of theirs, they enrolled. They said, “That’s it. They’re all in. We’ll breed them collectively. All their puppies will be distributed.” And…
JH: So that’s the definition of being enrolled.
JH: Does it mean that the ABC is going to tell you how to breed the dog?
MP: That would be one way of putting it. The ABC is going to guide you. (laughter)
JH: Guide you. Right. Yeah, that was probably not the best way of phrasing it.
MP: Guide you through the process. Yes.
JH: But they’re going to help you with mate selection, and they’re gonna help you with puppy placement.
MP: Yes. Yes.
JH: And then versus… If the dog isn’t enrolled permanently, but it’s enrolled for, do you say enrolled for a few years? Is that what you said?
MP: So, this is what…
JH: I’m getting the terminology wrong.
MP: It’s fine because it’s just semantics, right? But, that’s kind of the beauty, probably why the operating guidelines are so long is because, you know, you have terms and a glossary of terms so people can understand what we’re referring to. We call the dogs who are life-long members of ABC, we call them allocated.
MP: They’re allocated, and then the enrolled dogs are just enrolled for a period of time.
JH: I see. Okay. All right. And so if I am a small school and I have six dogs and I enroll them for a year, then what is that gonna, or three years. What’s that going to look like for me? How am I going to interact with the ABC around those dogs?
MP: Okay, I’ll tell you. I’ll give you a specific… And you can see what you think of that. I got one just this morning before we connected, Jessica. I was doing an enrolled mate planning table for a bitch named Maggie, literally. And Maggie is owned by an assistance dog school on the west coast. And Maggie is particularly noteworthy because she was imported. So, she was imported from a long line of guide and service dogs. So that school, bless their heart, they paid all the money to buy and import that bitch. And they pay all the money to support her, you know, to raise her and provide for her care. But they’re small. They don’t have any studs on program. So, it’s a beautiful win-win.
So, they contact ABC and they want to enroll her, and which they’ve done. There’s a little place in the database, “click.” She’s enrolled, and then we will plan her mating together. And by enrolling a brood into ABC then the school who owns that brood then gets access to all the ABC stud dogs. So that’s a boon right there. And they get access to the network of people that I can work with to help find an appropriate stud dog. And they also get the oversight and the coaching about ovulation timing, reproductive husbandry, whelping, neonatal care, etc. And then they also get a credit for enrolling, so they’ll get a puppy, another puppy coming their way.
And then when the litter is born… As we’ve talked about that you’ve touched on, sometimes a smaller program having eight from one litter at one time doesn’t quite behoove them. Maybe that’s going to be too much of a particular type. Maybe too much of a particular breed. Maybe they don’t have the resources to find those homes right at that moment. So, this way they’re shared within the population and the puppies that go out then seed the population within the other members. And that’s how that enrolling school will get puppies coming back to them in the future.
JH: At a time when perhaps they need a few more labrador retrievers, but they don’t have any breedings planned right now.
JH: So you’re shipping around puppies, and I’m guessing semen?
MP: Mhm, semen and broods. Broods move, too. And that’s another really awesome thing. Because it’s a program within the Assistance Dogs International, we know we’re working with accredited members. So we know that these members have already proven themselves in their care and welfare of the dogs. So we know that. ABC is not a regulating body in that way. That’s what we rely on the ADI accreditation. So that there’s the confidence with the members if they enroll a brood, you know, because each dog has a family, is loved and cared for and snuggled by a person, a real person or a family. So it’s not lightly that we just move dogs around. But they have that confidence to know that their quality control with their volunteers, their puppy raisers, those families who love those dogs is all on par with each other. So a school may enroll a brood and opt to allow her to travel to another school to either mate, or to whelp her litter. So they do. We do move broods probably about eight, eight to ten, maybe a year. Stud dogs, we do put on rotation as well, maybe about four to six a year. And then we do ship a lot of chilled semen.
JH: And when you… Just because you gave me some numbers, how many dogs is the cooperative managing in a given year usually?
MP: Oh, that’s a good one. I think we’ve got 48 to 50 broods right now and maybe 10 studs. And then there’s probably about 300 active puppies being raised right now.
JH: So it’s not itself really a sustainable, diverse population. But because it’s being moved between other populations it maintains diversity that way.
MP: Yeah. So we can dip into other programs.
JH: Right. So it’s very much not a closed…
MP: Here’s an example. Oh, you might love this one. So, there is a stud dog named Prague, which is really kind of fun that he’s named Prague, and he is now in Europe. So there’s a stud dog named Prague, yellow labrador stud dog. And what’s really cool about this is Prague is enrolled in ABC. His owner, a service dog school on the East Coast, they enrolled him out of the goodness of their heart and the long term vision. And we have loaned him to a fellow ADI member in Europe. And he is there now. He is there, quite frankly, much longer than expected due to COVID. He went late last fall. And he was going to come back probably about March 30th. So he has not come back because of COVID. Because his custodian… So again, real person, real family loves this dog. He is their pet on behalf of being a stud dog for a service dog school. They want to go over and get him and they can’t because of COVID. Anyway, so while he’s there we’re gonna make hay. See, I don’t even know that old cliché. Make hay while the sun shines? Make lemons out of lemonade? Something like this.
JH: (laughter) I think it’s… Yeah.
MP: And he’s going to service additional broods from additional service dog schools in Europe. And, a select puppy from each of those litters will come back to North America.
JH: Very cool.
MP: So that’s, that’s where you go here. Where you’re getting the diversity.
JH: So why did you send him rather than just his genetic material?
MP: So good question, too. The school that we partnered with in Europe prefers to have the live dog. And I have found over the years of doing this work, as long as it’s safe and everyone is emotionally invested, the impact of sending a live dog is so paramount. You know, chilled semen just does not make a good photo op. And…
JH: Well, it depends on who you are. (laughter)
MP: That’s true. (laughter) That’s true. But something about having the live dog and building those connections between the custodial family, the school who enrolled the dog, the school who’s hosting the dog, really goes a long way for nurturing people to get excited and committed.
And so that’s why we opted… They also… The school who was interested in receiving him they wanted to make the investment and send a trainer and a breeding manager over here to North America and visit the school and develop, again, those personal connections before they walked on the plane with him and took him back over to Europe. So that’s why… It’s sometimes, you know, more expensive to do shipped matings. You know, it’s very… It doesn’t cost anything to do a live mating and the little wear and tear on your knees. But other than that doesn’t really cost anything. So that’s a factor. Also while he’s there, on behalf of the ADI, he will have semen frozen and stored.
JH: So talking about making those connections should be a beautiful segue into one of your other goals. But before we get there, I got so curious when you’re talking about people making… Getting credits, and getting you know, “Oh, will they get a brood later? Will they get a puppy later?” So how does that work? If I, again in the six dog school, and I wanted a dog. I need another dog and I want to go to the ABC to get it. Can I buy one? Do I need to do this trade where I have to have one and breed it first? What does a credit mean?
MP: Okay, okay, this is good. This is good. A little rough, but good.
JH: Am I too detailed?
MP: No! Oh, see, I love the detail. It will just be interesting what the listeners think. No, you cannot buy a dog from ABC. Once again, because ABC doesn’t own any dogs.
JH: Right, right.
MP: So that that’s one. And two, because it’s really about partnership and mutual collaboration. As the neutral facilitator, the role that I play… I, with collaboration in mind, I wouldn’t want to sell you a dog even if I could because that would be the end of our relationship. We would want a way that we were then partners together, long term. So the way to work with this population of dogs would be that you would join ABC as a member. In which, again, we talked about you, and you would be a school who was already accredited by ADI and that would make you eligible for membership. Membership is renewed annually. So that’s a beautiful thing. Because if it doesn’t work for you, you don’t renew. So that’s a really… That’s a good system, I think.
JH: So, back to this idea of building community, which again, you came to. So it sounds like building community is a really important part. Having relationships between people is a really important part of what the ABC does.
MP: It’s huge. I think it’s huge. Because, you know, as great as any idea is on paper, if you don’t have trust and you don’t have literally warm fuzzies, why do it? And to be able to connect with people who are passionate and driven in working with dogs in the same capacity, and be able to be vulnerable with other people about what your risks are, what your downfalls are, etc., carries a lot of emotional currency. And we are certainly seeing that during this time of the pandemic. Because, as with everyone’s life, nothing is going as planned since first week of March. So we have literally dogs stranded everywhere across North America. Now when I say stranded, they’re stranded in a loving, enriching home with families, but they’re not with the family they were supposed to be with come May, June, July, etc. So people have really had to flex and bend and hold on to puppies, make alternative travel, have dogs be stranded places. And because there’s that emotional currency, they’re able to work through that. I incentivize when I can.
For example, let’s just use a school in the Midwest with pretty good population size, pretty good volunteer resources, so they’re getting leaned on pretty hard to hold puppies right now. So they’re growing out these puppies and putting all this time and money into training these puppies, the bond that they’re having with their families, only to know that once the borders open more, these puppies are going to transfer to schools in Canada. But what I’ll do is, after those puppies transfer if they mature to breeding stock, for example, we’ll make sure that they get, say, two puppies from every litter back. We’ll work something out.
And then of course social media is really positive for us. And I’ve seen some amazing, heartwarming things where volunteers from around North America connect through social media via the puppies that they fostered, and maybe even literally have get-togethers and be like, “Well, I raised that puppy in Colorado. But then I fostered that puppy in Maryland. And now I’m training that puppy in Florida.” And they come together, and they share a real mutual pride and heartwarming satisfaction of all contributing to that puppy’s potential.
JH: Oh, that’s lovely. I just had a moment of, “Oh, there’s something good about social media after all.” (laughter)
MP: Right. (laughter) So far…
JH: There’s lots of problems with it.
MP: There is.
JH: But that’s a really nice use of it. That’s lovely. All right. So, I think we may have covered all of the goals that you listed. We talked, you know, there’s education. So there’s supporting, and I am big on education. So another part of that community, I think you were saying, is providing the educational support. So if I’m that small, six dog school, and I don’t know what to do with the semen that you sent me, or when to do it. Or maybe I’m not up on the latest on puppy socialization. So how do you provide that support? Do you have, you know, resources, webinars, written things? Do you just… People ask? How does it work?
MP: We do have a private Facebook group where ABC members are connected with other ABC members. And I try to facilitate it, again, because ABC as a breeding cooperative is not a regulatory body. And it’s not our job to set industry standards. Those are already set by ADI. I’m not writing any instruction manual, but I’m facilitating for people. Connecting people directly. You know, it just… There was a bitch recently who had a C-section, and she was not taking to her puppies. And she was going on, issues just in her first 24 hours. But she was really struggling. And when I was contacted, rather than me walking through my particular way that I would handle that I said, “Hey, how about you call this person at this school, and this person at this school, and ask about nasal oxytocin? And they will help guide you.” And then what’s really great is one of the gals shared about retaining placental tissue, and rubbing on the puppies. And I was like, “See? I didn’t think of that!” So they get connected by posting questions, or me, if I’m not helping them directly, referring them to other people and making those connections.
JH: So it’s really a mentorship thing.
MP: Yeah. And in a really safe environment.
JH: So important. All right. So, and what is your position at the ABC? Which is probably something I should have asked at the beginning.
MP: It’s okay that you didn’t.
JH: Tell us about that.
MP: Because I don’t really have a job title. My business partner, who is again more on the governance/finance type of platform, calls me the “breeding expert.” And I say, “Oh, no, no, no, no. That ship has sailed.” I may have been a breeding expert 25 years ago, but there’s a whole lot of up and coming folks who know way more than I do now.
So I think when ABC was developed I was called the Neutral Facilitator. I’ll tend to call myself the Breeding Administrator. Sounds a little more definitive than the Neutral Facilitator. But basically I am the Neutral Facilitator. I am the one that educates members and orients members about the commitment to ABC, about the benefits of ABC, what needs to be done, and then does the literal nitty gritty. Are we going to breed to this dog? How we’re going to move the semen here and there. How many puppies are we going to assign to which member and when.
And then we have, as we’ve developed, some really super workgroups that facilitate also. Like we have a breeding evaluation workgroup that’s probably four or five people now, because that’s how many that’s needed to gather the information about all the dogs moving through the program and synthesize it. So we can access it for review, and then a data audit group of folks that literally make sure the data is getting in there, and that it’s accurate.
JH: That’s important.
MP: And coaching members through that. Mmhm. And then some PR guidance, if we need any assistance with keeping Facebook that friendly place you talked about, right?
MP: So that’s my role.
JH: That is a very cool job, and you actually get paid to do it. So, the ABC has finances to manage all of this stuff.
JH: I don’t know how much you would feel comfortable talking about that. But I feel like it’s a question that people who are thinking about setting up their own cooperatives may struggle with.
MP: Sure. I’m happy to talk about it.
JH: Yeah, like, what are the costs? And so, we’re gonna be talking probably smaller cooperatives theoretically, so they may not have a paid person to manage it. But what are some of the costs? And how do you manage those?
MP: I do get paid. My business partner calculated I get about $2 an hour.
JH: Oh, good deal.
MP: Yeah. But this, as we touched on you know, this is an industry that fuels my soul. So that balance works for me. That is… ABC is membership driven. And they do pay. The members pay a membership fee. It’s $1500 a year. And the membership fee is voted on by the steering committee annually. And then from that fee, as the managing partners, my partner and I draw a percent of that fee. And the rest of it is used for what’s called “operating reserves” that may be necessary.
I’ll give you a quick example without boring you to tears. You, in your profession, are familiar with copper toxicosis in the labrador. And for an example when the copper toxicosis genotype tests became available to your average consumer, about what, I don’t know, four or five years ago, it was decided that it would behoove ABC that we go back and test the colony. So we used operating reserves to go back and test. Moving forward, each member is required to test the dogs, but we were able to use those operating reserves. We’ve had some travel snafus that we’ve needed to use the operating reserves, and then we’ve had some semen freezing partnerships overseas and we’ve used those operating reserves to collect and freeze the semen in preparation for its export.
JH: I see. But for the most part you would expect the member schools to do the various health testing for their dogs and to pay for the semen freezing and all of that.
MP: They do. So they do make a significant financial contribution, as well as just your general husbandry and care for all the dogs. Yes, each member is paying for that.
JH: Yeah. I mean theoretically they would be doing that anyway.
MP: Right. Right. Exactly.
JH: Alright. Cool. So awkward segue into talking about your own breeding situation which is… Because I know that you have custodian homes. Was there anything else that you wanted to say about the ABC before we transition to talking about custodian homes? Maybe you could tell people where they could go if they wanted to learn more about it? Is there a website?
MP: No! Oh!
JH: You don’t want people to know about it.
MP: (laughter) Since it’s limited to members of Assistance Dogs International, I don’t think there would be a big draw for the public other than using it maybe to generate and brainstorm for ideas and how they could use something similar to be applicable to their circles and their breeding motives.
And I think one of the things to kind of wrap it up is, it’s remained responsive and flexible. And I think that that’s a key to the success. And non-judgmental. I really think having neutral oversight is key. You know, I don’t have any particular skin in the game for particular lines of dogs. So I’m not trying to promote or demote any. Just looking at the data that’s presented. And recognizing that everyone is an expert in their field. So sometimes people get bogged down, like, “How can one person, a breeding administrator, be selecting replacement stock?” Am I traveling all over looking at all these dogs? No, because I don’t need to. Because I am working with people who are experts in their own right. So how they describe the dog is all that we need to make informed breeding decisions. And then again, we do use the Behavior Checklist system that Jane talked about in her podcast in much more detail.
JH: And back to the use of the database as well.
MP: Mm hmm. And we do also keep an eye on conformation. So, we are using photos. So that would probably be the most, oh I don’t know the right word, kind of narrow minded? In most cases that’s me looking, reviewing the photos, but they’ve already gone through several sets of eyes to even get to me.
JH: Right. So you have the data at your disposal. And you’re able to analyze that and pull together and make breeding recommendations based on that without having to be hands on with the dogs.
MP: Be hands on. Yeah. Even though everyone who adores structure and conformation knows that putting your hand… There’s nothing that beats putting your hands on the dog. But you can only be so many places at once.
JH: You can, and you can contact the people who have had their hands on the dogs, as you said, and talk to them about it through the wonders of social media.
MP: Mm hmm.
JH: All right. So tell us about your own breeding program.
MP: Oh, well, that pales in comparison, let me tell you.
JH: Sure. It’s a very different thing.
MP: So I breed as a hobby because I love rearing puppies and neonatal enrichment. So I have a very small scale breeding program, and I donate as many puppies as I can afford, which is usually 20-25% of a litter. Like it’s not much. As you all know it costs a lot of money to raise dogs. I do use custodial homes, I wouldn’t quite yet call it a cooperative. I mean, I do work really closely with a mentor of mine in Australia. But as you know, moving dogs into Australia is extremely expensive and very time consuming. For me, lucky me, it’s easy to receive them into North America. And then I do partner with acquaintances to place puppies into their homes so they can raise and love and have a pet dog that then I will look at down the road for breeding potential, and either bring back home to my place to whelp a litter, or partner with them to have them raise the litter, if that’s something that they’re motivated and interested in and have the ability to do.
JH: So then I presume you’d be providing them with support for all of the information that one needs to absorb to properly whelp, raise, and socialize?
MP: I do, I do. I do that by either maintaining ownership of the individual dogs myself, or I have very, very selective co-ownership relationships.
JH: So you have dogs who you consider yourself the sole owner of, but they’re spending their whole lives in somebody else’s house, basically, unless they maybe come back to you for whelping?
MP: I do.
JH: That’s interesting. So how do you manage expenses for that dog? So there’s two kinds of expenses, right? There’s the sort of the normal everyday feeding. Then there’s, let’s say three kinds. Then there’s surprise veterinary issues, and then there’s all that health testing.
MP: Yeah. Well, it’s, um, it’s not a science, I’ll tell you that. I don’t know. Don’t have a 37-page operating guidelines for this! First off, I’m very selective about who I do this with. The custodial home pays for all the routine care, because they, that’s their pet. They have that pet at no cost to them. So, they pay for that care. They would pay for the out of the ordinary veterinary expenses as well, as a pet custodian, unless they were breeding related. Like, we did have a sticky one recently where we had a bitch that was… Had a spay complication. You know, not something you really see that often in modern medicine, but she did. And so, I paid for those expenses. The custodian family is also extremely generous, and I think we split them. I think I paid for her spay and then we split the cost of the follow-up and emergency aftercare when she was bleeding out. And then I pay for all the breeding, like all the breeding clearances, and anything related to actual mating.
JH: But the home I imagine has to do the work of taking the dog to the veterinarian to get the clearances, the x-rays, or whatever.
MP: It depends. Yeah, it depends where they live and what they want to do. I’m happy to go and get the dog and do it, or have her come to me. And really, I work on each one on an individual case. You know, for me, it works on a small scale because I want every dog to have a family. And I’m just a regular gal. You know, I live in the woods. So I’m able to have an amazing recreational lifestyle with my dogs. But they’re all my pet dogs. I don’t have any kennels. I don’t have any outbuildings, or anything like that. They’re just regular family dogs. And I want every dog to have that family. And so this is the way that I can kind of look at the options within a litter, and make sure that, by my standards, I’m selecting the best representative from that litter to consider breeding. And then also, if I get a great opportunity through a different partnership or mentorship to receive a puppy that really I should look at for future breeding, but I can’t afford to bring her into my home right now, that I might plan sort of in a custodial relationship. And then I also… When I donate puppies to assistance dog schools I do that with a breeding agreement. So I’m really fortunate that way. So I donate the dog to them, but I do hold on to her kennel club registration. And I do hold on to her breeding rights, so that if she, or he, becomes breeding quality down the road, we breed in partnership. And then I do have the option of retaining one or two, depending on litter size, puppies back into my program.
JH: So they could place the dog in a working home, in which case you would lose the chance to breed that dog. But if they judge if the dog is a breeder for them, then you get to work with them on…
JH: You would work with them to select the mate as well? Or would you only have access to some of the puppies?
MP: To select the mate as well.
JH: Yeah, cool.
MP: Yeah, yeah. So that works out really well.
JH: Something I imagine people trust you to do because of who you are, and maybe not an option for any breeder.
MP: Right. And because we have again, going back, to relationships and I try to do that by being, you know, open minded. Like, I’ll tell you real quick a story of a female who I donated to a program on the east coast and matured to be breeding quality. And we were all set. And I mean, all set. There was a dog who was an import who I’d had my eye on for years! And we were all set. We got semen from this dog, and I was so stoked. And the gal who manages the little bitch called me up and said, “The semen’s crap. It’s crap.” And we’re day five, or we might have been day six, post-Lh rise. So, we both agreed. Well, she’s got to get semen in her, poor little filly. So I asked, “Well, what works best for you? What is the best thing for you?” And they said, “Well, the semen’s really bad. And we really don’t want to invest in dual sire testing. And we really would like to see… Kick it up a few notches on initiative in this bitch so we’d really like to place a working labrador over her.” And I said, “Absolutely. That’s what’s gonna benefit your program best. Let’s do it.”
JH: Just to remind people, this would be a golden retriever bitch.
MP: Right. As a purebred golden breeder I’m like, “Oop. There goes that. But I think those kinds of relationships are what makes it work. And interestingly, we didn’t talk about crossbreeding and all that. That’s a whole other thing within the breeding co-op.
JH: Oh, that happens within the ABC?
MP: Yeah, yeah. We love our cross breeds.
JH: Yeah, tell us about it.
MP: Well, I think it’s not as glamorous, you know, as so many of the crossbreeds that I see and some of the really great ideas that people are doing for breed preservation and breed enrichment. We mostly work with a labrador/golden crossbreed. So again, not glamorous, but boy, I’ll tell you, tried and true. There’s nothing like those labrador/golden crossbreeds.
JH: What do you like about them?
MP: Oh, they just… It’s not me. It’s not me, Jessica! (laughter)
JH: What do other people like about them? (laughter)
MP: Yeah no, I mean, I like them too. But I’m saying, it’s not my bias. It’s… Those dogs work. They just numerically… Numerically you’re usually looking at about 60 to 68% of those dogs end up working. And because you get that beautiful stoicism that comes with a service-bred labrador. That resiliency. And then you just put in a little bit of that sensitivity of the golden and you get a little more emotional engagement and a little more physical compliance, and it just makes for a lovely cross. And then of course the coat is super, super easy care. People who love goldens love a golden coat, but it requires quite a bit more care than a labrador coat.
JH: Yes. And for those who don’t know, a golden/lab cross would have the labrador coat.
MP: Correct. The short coat is dominant.
JH: Yes, they are. Although, I knew one once and it was, I mean, he looked just like a lab. It was funny, but um, he was just a little bit blurred around the edges.
MP: Blurred. He’s blurred. That’s an excellent…
JH: So in that he clearly had a short coat, and you’d think he was a lab but knowing that there was golden in there, you could see a little “tufty-ness.”
MP: Yeah, a softness and they’re also… Their features are a little rounded, their ears are longer, more like a Golden. And of course then there gets into the whole segue of the crossbreeding. We do multiple generations, the crossbreeding, and breed back into each of the breeds for different benefits. And the overall that the golden does tend to have greater fecundity. She’s pretty consistent with that. You know, she’ll carry larger litter sizes. Very good mothering, very good. Usually very easy whelpers. Good lactation, so she helps the labrador out with that. And then we’ll, depending on the direction we want to go, either breed back into the golden lines or to labrador lines, and then you can get your coat back, if you desire that of the golden, pretty quickly.
JH: Yeah, in the next generation, I would think, if you bred back to a golden.
JH: Nice. Alright, so for your… There’s a couple questions I wanted to ask about your, the homes that you put your puppies in. How many puppies do you have out in custodial homes right now?
MP: For myself?
MP: Oh, oh, oh…
JH: Well, tell me on the order of magnitudes. Is it like 20?
MP: 12. Yeah.
JH: So like around that?
MP: Yeah, yeah.
JH: Okay. And how many of those do you think you’re likely to end up breeding to?
JH: I ask really hard questions…
MP: Two. Maybe two? Yeah, maybe three?
JH: Yeah. So that makes a lot of sense to me, right? That it’s really useful to have the larger number of dogs out there with the knowledge that you may not use all of them. But it’s really hard to know at eight weeks.
MP: Yeah, so then I can be more selective. Because it’s not right there under my feet, I can be more selective. And when I’m driving home, just as a hypothetical, after visiting with the puppy and the family, I can really turn the screws. And just like, is this really what I want to breed and want to continue with? And I also… And this may be a weakness or strength. You know, that beautiful complexity of the human condition. I don’t know if I could ever raise a dog and move him or her on. Personally. I haven’t been able to yet. So this helps me in that situation, you know? That I’m not raising a dog and looking at him or her eight, nine, ten, twelve months down the road going, “You know what? It’s not really breeding potential. Now what do I do with her?” By doing it this way she has her own family, and then the dogs who I am raising myself, if they turn out to not be breeding potential, that’s okay. They get to stay.
JH: Yeah. And it means you can have just your happy household of three, if that’s what you want. One person on the podcast had 15. And I think, you know, more power to her if that’s what you want. But if you want three, which is… Three is my number as well. I say with my husband around the corner.
JH: He overheard me at one point talking to someone and I forget if I was recording or not, but he yelled from the other room, “No more dogs.” So, three is our number. So…
MP: Isn’t that… That’s a real factor. That’s a real factor with a partner. It’s a real factor. And, wouldn’t it be interesting if your partner was dog crazy? And I do see those partnerships.
JH: It’s crazy, right? (laughter)
MP: And I’m like, “Wow. What would that be like?
MP: Yeah. We… I am looking at bringing a puppy in in the near future. And I keep checking in with my partner and he keeps just going, “Yeah. I’m okay. I’m okay.” So we’re okay. (laughter)
JH: I felt very lucky that it was okay for me to bring in the third, but I’m pretty sure a fourth would not be okay. But yeah, I think the dual dog families, from what I can tell mostly, they each have their own number. So it’s like one will have three and one will have five. But then there’s eight.
MP: I think you’re right.
JH: So how do you assess these puppies. You say you go visit them, and you talk to the owners?
MP: Mm hmm. Yeah. And then if it gets to the point where I would start to do pre-breeding clearances… So I start to gather that data also. But the… You know, behavior to me is everything. I don’t have background in shelter medicine. I do have background in training non-assistance dogs. So I feel real fortunate with that. I used to work for a business called Canine Corrections. And these… The primary clients were the dogs from the county who had a dangerous dog citation, and then we would work with those dogs and then need to go back. I was… I was a lowly apprentice. So I didn’t go to court on behalf of these dogs, but the owner would then go to court and present about our recommendation for the dog continuing in society.
So I have some experience training a wide variety of types of dogs. And so a dog that you can live with, and want to live with, and can safely be a member of society is so key to me. So that’s certainly the first criteria in any case whether I would continue to look at a dog as a potential breeder, and I’m doing the test right there. The test by the fact that these pups are being raised by pet homes. They’re not trainers. They’re not behaviorists. They’ve got kids. They’ve got jobs. They’ve got people leaving gates open. They’re dropping sandwiches on the ground. They’re going to Little League games. Right there is the behavior assessment for me.
JH: So you basically talk to the owners and see if they’re happy.
MP: Yeah, and I talk to them, you know, frequently. They’re part of my posse.
JH: Yeah, well, it comes down to as well, being selective of who you place the dogs with. And it sounds like you’re often preferring to place them with people that are either friends or that you would want to be friends with.
MP: Yeah. Super small scale, Jessica. I breed a litter a year. So super small scale.
JH: Yeah, but I think that there’s a lot of people out there who breed a litter a year that this approach might be useful for.
MP: You have to… You have to be willing to walk away. And I told myself… The very first puppy I ever placed I flew over to France. Bought a puppy. Big deal! A lot of time and money, a lot of emotional investment, and handed her over to someone. And I told myself, “You have to, in order for this to work and to maintain relationships and to honor the integrity of each person you’re working with, you have to be able to walk away.” And that that puppy is… The relationship is first and the puppy is secondary.
JH: Interesting, and that’s worked out well for you.
MP: It has, and I’ve had to walk away from a few. And I think it’s worth it.
JH: And what, what caused it? You mean that you have to walk away because the puppy is not right? Or because it’s not right for the puppy to be bred in that home?
MP: It’s not well… If the puppy is not right, that’s not so bad, right? That working… Although that’s crushing for families. I mean, they go into this because they want to be a part of something else, something bigger. They want to see that dog be able to produce puppies that can be donated to service dog programs. That’s what they want to see. So when that doesn’t happen, it’s really disappointing and it’s sad, but we’re all in it together, right? We’re all hugging and crying together. What cannot work is if you have a person that for whatever reason, usually intense sensitivities that somehow crosses a threshold, that thinks that dog shouldn’t be bred for their own well-being, or the time away or… You know, I made the mistake once of having… I like to involve people and I really like to partner and I had someone come to help me for a breeding, literally, and in the act of the breeding, you know, the bitch kind of squealed. Darted away a little bit, and she just went, “Oh, oh my God!” And almost crumpled on the ground. And it’s like, “Oh, okay. This is, this is too much for a pet family to kind of, to kind of see that.” And I had one young, lovely young female who had some excessive mammary development whenever she was in season. And that just… It pushed the family custodian over the edge. So I let that bitch… Well she wasn’t a bitch yet, she hadn’t reproduced. I let that female go. This pet.
JH: Those are great stories. I think that’s things that I wouldn’t have thought of. But it makes a lot of sense that those are things that are going to come up if you’re placing puppies with custodial families. I was also interested to hear that you were saying that one of the incentives for the families is that they want to help produce dogs to be donated to assistance dog programs. And a lot of the people that I talked to on the Facebook group are people who are breeding for, for other things. But often… Like one of the large groups that we talked to are people who are just breeding dogs for pets. And so I, it makes me wonder if it would be challenging them, for them, to find potential custodial homes without that incentive of, “You’re going to be doing this great thing to help someone who really needs a dog to help them get through life.” As opposed to, “You’re going to help produce more great pets for people.” But maybe that’s just a messaging thing that we need to figure out how to tackle. That there’s multiple jobs that dogs do, and they’re all important jobs.
MP: Yeah, I’m not sure. I don’t have experience with that. I would think maybe with your working homes, or performance homes, you would have fellow like-minded acquaintances who wanted to really contribute to having more dogs with that, those working abilities and might be motivated to do that. And then the pet part. Yeah, that’s a tough one. Certainly an altruistic motivation just to see more nice pets out there.
And then… And then I think it does… You do have folks who are entering into the dog world and want to learn about conformation, structure, movement, what makes different grades of dogs, and might really be motivated to be like, “Hey, I got the, you know, first pick puppy from a litter that the one who looked at eight weeks like he or she had this special, all-rounded qualities to be selected as a replacement breeder.” I don’t know that’s a… That’s one to ponder.
JH: It is. It’s maybe something that not so many people have grappled with yet. So maybe a question for the future.
MP: And it’s certainly, I think, one of the things we all recognize is, while reproduction/pregnancy is not a disease by any stretch of the imagination, it does come with risk. So, that’s a factor, too. And for me, that’s a factor. If I’m whelping out one of my own girls, that’s something that I’ve put that girl in position, just me, myself and I. And if I’m whelping out a girl who’s in custodial relationship, oh yeah, that’s weighing on me. Oh, yeah, that’s weighing on me. Like, oh, just let this go well. Let this go well.
JH: I feel like the theme in this whole conversation has been about relationships. And that’s… And respecting the other person’s buy-in to the relationship and what they bring to the relationship. And then it’s not all about the breeder, but it’s also about the other home or the other member of the co-op, the other breeder. That we’re all in this together, working together. We have to really think about what the other person’s experiencing.
MP: Yeah. And enjoying it. I mean, we know that it is so fraught. You take the emotionality of dogs. It’s so fraught with pitfalls. And so you’ve got to have a foundation of mutual respect and honesty to weather those pitfalls.
JH: Yeah, I think for sure. All right. This has been amazing. I really appreciate your time. I feel like I’ve sucked a lot out of your brain. And we’ve run long as a result, but I couldn’t help myself because it was all so interesting. So, thank you so much.
MP: I really appreciate what you’re doing. It’s amazing. So, you’re very welcome.
JH: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I hope we get to where I want us to get to. We’ll see. It’s a long road. All right, thanks Marina.
MP: Thank you.
Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out www.functionalbreeding.org. Enjoy your dogs.
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