Pound Puppy or Purebred?
Let me start by saying that I have rescued two beautiful pound puppies, Bandit (picture below, left) a German Shepherd/Collie mix who lived to be 15 years old; and Smokey (picture below, right) a Samoyed/Husky mix who was the doggie love of my life! I lost Bandit six years ago and Smokey last June; however, they will live in my heart forever. With that being said let me explain the difference between my pound puppies and my purebred golden retrievers; I believe that everyone should own/rescue at least one pound puppy. They are amazing and so very grateful for everything you give them; in no way do I mean to criticize pound puppies or purebreds. I am simply pointing out what you can expect from both because I’m in a unique position to shed some light on this subject, having lived with wonderful animals at both ends of the spectrum. Here’s the story of four dogs: Bandit and Smokey, my beautiful pound puppies, Brady and Sophie, my purebred golden retrievers.
Bandit chose me as much as I chose him, during one of my visits to our local Humane Society I dropped off some supplies and did my usual walk through to say hello to the animals. Bandit was two years old and very unhappy in the dog run at the shelter, I stopped in front of him and spoke to him as I did each of the others, but when I stepped away Bandit cried so loud that I thought the windows might shatter! I went back and talked to him some more but each time I left he reacted the same way; long story short, I took him home with me that day. I don’t remember any problems getting him into the car but when we got home he cowered at the front door; after much encouragement he crawled across the threshold on his belly. Clearly someone had punished him severally for entering a house and he was afraid it was going to happen again. Bandit was very intelligent, easy to train, in no time he was housebroken and part of the family. When Bandit was five years old he developed SARDS – Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome, although we took him to a specialist he was blind in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do. (For the next ten years Smokey would be Bandit’s Seeing Eye Dog.)
We had Bandit for almost two years when I brought Smokey home. The day I brought Smokey home I wasn’t looking for a dog; I had gone to the Humane Society to take dog food & toy donations when I spotted a gorgeous puppy; I commented on how beautiful he was and that I was sure he would find a home in no time. The shelter worker told me that he was scheduled to be euthanized on Monday; it was Friday afternoon. I asked if I could foster him and spent the next hour filling out the paperwork. When my husband came home that afternoon I was walking the puppy that I was “only fostering until we can find him a home.” My husband laughed, shook his head and said “yeah, right.” Two weeks later, in the middle of the night, on Labor Day Weekend, I awoke to the sound of whining. I got up and when I turned on the light I saw Smokey laying in the hallway about ten feet from me; I said “Smokey what’s the matter.” When I spoke to him he got up and tried to walk to me; he took two steps and fell over on his right side. I knew that something was seriously wrong; I called the emergency clinic and we rushed him there immediately. They tested for Parvo, Distemper, and all of the other hideous things that he might have (even though the shelter had given him his first round of puppy shots) He was placed on an IV and at 2:00 AM they told us to go home and that they would call us if they felt euthanasia was necessary. I cried like a baby over this “foster dog.” In the morning I called to check on him and they said he was weak but he was doing better. We went to visit him and the Veterinarian told us that after much testing they had determined what the problem was; he had a dead parasite lodged in an artery in his head. Evidently when he was given medicine through the IV it dislodged and he managed to survive. They felt it was a result of the worm medicine he was given when he was vaccinated; basically the medicine did what it was meant to do and his system had several dead worms moving through it. When he was ready to go home they told us that the only side effect was that he would circle to the right when he walked, every once in a while, and that he might always do that; but if that was the worst of it than we were thankful! One week (and $1000) later I stopped trying to fool my husband and myself and we officially adopted him. By the way, he stopped circling to the right after only a few days.
So started the 16 year emotional roller coaster of loving this dog; when he was six years old he was diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia and placed on the anti-inflammatory pain medicine, “Rimadyl” and the glucosamine supplement “Cosequin” for the rest of his life. One day, when he was ten years old, I called him in from outside, he walked two steps and sat down; he just looked at me like he wanted to come but he couldn’t. Once again I feared I was going to have to say goodbye, and I wasn’t ready to do that. I was in tears as I asked my Vet what we could do and overjoyed to find out that there were three different types of surgery available. My Veterinarian suggested a surgery that was age appropriate (for example, if he were three years old, a full hip replacement might be recommended; but since he was ten years old, we were going with a less invasive surgery.) After his surgery I was told I could expect to have about two more years, and I was thankful for every minute. When he was twelve he developed a Thyroid problem, he was lethargic and started to lose his hair; he was placed on the Thyroid medicine “Thyroxine” which helped some but his coat never fully came back. Somehow I was blessed with four more years; Smokey lived to be sixteen years old. We had many good times with our Pound Puppies, we made many memories and everywhere we went people couldn’t believe that I got these absolutely gorgeous dogs from a shelter.
As our pound puppies started to age I promised my husband that I would not rescue another dog until we got the Purebred Golden Retriever that he had dreamed of all of his life. Although I knew better, (I grew up showing Arabian Horses, my Mom was a professional breeder, so I learned about bloodlines and pedigrees at a very young age) I didn’t research the breeder. I surprised my husband one day when a day trip ended at the breeder’s house. This was going to be his dog so I tried not to influence his decision; as it turned out he wanted the one dog that was not for sale. I was determined that he was going to have a dog he wanted and not settle for another, I told him that we could reserve a puppy from another litter or another breeder. Meanwhile the puppy that he wanted was doing everything she could to make my husband wish that she was available; while the others ignored him; she climbed in his lap and licked his face. It must have been fate, because in the end I was able to convince them to sell us the puppy. The wife had wanted to keep her, but her Husband had wanted to keep another puppy, and the wife finally agreed to the sale. We were taking “Brady” home! My husband had named her before he knew if she would be a he or a she, in fact he had named her years before. I asked to see her pedigree, although not impressive, the lady told me that she had some agility champions in her background. I asked about health issues for the breed in general and was told by the breeder that her dogs were healthy. (It really didn’t matter, at that point it was too late; my husband was in love with her.) When I received her AKC registration I searched her background but never found any titles. This, however was a turning point for me, I began my research on the breed. I used my years of experience with horses and applied it to dogs. I learned more about Golden Retriever bloodlines and genetics and I knew what questions to ask regarding Hips, Eyes, Heart, and Elbows. I also learned where to verify the answers.
I had no idea that I would fall hopelessly in love with the breed, we got this dog because my husband had always wanted a Golden Retriever. What I learned was it is truly one of the best breeds out there! I understood why Golden Retrievers are always on the top 10 list of the most popular dogs in the U.S. While I knew in hindsight that I had done everything wrong when we purchased Brady; I had learned that I really wanted to raise and show this breed. During my research and just after Brady turned a year old she started having seizures; I was more determined than ever to select dogs with excellent health records. When Brady was two years, 10 months, and one day old she had a seizure and died on Christmas morning 2010; it was totally unexpected and a shock to all of us. I will not go into the pain and anguish that comes from getting a dog from a backyard breeder; what I will tell you is that not all animals are equal. They are all loveable and worth every moment you spend with them, but if someone were to ask my advice I would say, ask questions about health records and pedigrees, if the breeder is vague or gives excuses, or you see any other red flags, look for another breeder.
When I purchased Sophie I was well informed. After years of research I had selected a breeder who was worthy of my standards and I traveled a great distance to bring Sophie home. This little bundle of energy had huge shoes to fill; although she has ten champions in her four generation pedigree with OFA Excellent and Good hips, Normal CERF eyes, Normal OFA Elbows, and Normal Heart certificates, she would inevitably be compared to our first Golden Retriever, the one who made me fall in love with the breed, the perfect Golden Retriever. Did she pass? With flying colors! After all she is a Golden. Sophie learns effortlessly, she was awarded the “Most Obedient” award in her obedience class and she is training for her CGC – Canine Good Citizens Certificate. Like Brady, she prefers to sleep on the bed but she will sleep next to the bed if you insist. Also like Brady she hovers over our children somewhat like “Nana” in Disney’s Peter Pan. Her registered name is “Heaven Sent Sophie’s Promise” and she lives up to that name every day. She is almost 2 years old now and she has already lived up to our expectations and I am certain she has many great things still to come in her future.
So, back to the question at hand, Pound Puppy or Purebred? There’s a great feeling that comes from rescuing a dog like Smokey or Bandit (or both) from a shelter. But it also comes with a life-long commitment to all that is wonderful, and not-so-wonderful, about that dog; genetically, socially, and otherwise. With Sophie, we knew what we wanted, what we needed, and in finding a reputable breeder we knew exactly what we were getting when compared to her ancestry. Genetically she is heart, eye, hip, and elbow sound; and she should live approximately 12 years based on her ancestry. Socially, she was handled and subjected to all kinds of things in the home from her first week of life; something we continued from the day we brought her home at eight weeks old. Our breeder gave us her history and so much more! Whether you choose to rescue a Pound Puppy or to purchase a Purebred be sure that you are able to commit to caring for your dog for life.
Please look for my next two posts coming soon; I plan to write about the definition of, and differences between, Reputable Breeders, Backyard Breeders, and Puppy Mills. I will cover questions to ask and what to expect from a Responsible Breeder. Followed by a Post about health, health testing, bloodlines, genetics, and why it is important that your breeder is familar with all of the above.