04/6/14

How to find a good dog breeder

Purchasing a Dog or Puppy: What to look for in a breeder

 

So you have made a decision to add a dog or puppy to your family. Congratulations!

But how do you make sure you’re getting a puppy from an ethical source?

It’s not a ‘black or white’ matter. There is no definitive issue that makes a breeder ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Instead, here’s a guide which talks about necessities, niceties, and red flags.

 

Necessities

If your breeder doesn’t do this then walk away…

  • Breeder shows concern and regard to the health of dogs and puppies – either in health testing or in the studs used (e.g. choosing old studs that show they’re healthy, using DNA testing, using x-rays, and other relvant tests)
     
  • Breeder shows concern and regard to the psychological well being of their dogs and puppies – either in providing enrichment on site, by frequently taking their dogs ‘out and about’, by using Dunbar’s methods of raising puppies (with toilet area, kongs, socialisation), and preferably a combination of these methods.
     
  • The breeder has a clear purpose in their breeding program that goes beyond ‘breeding pet puppies’ – they may enter their dogs in dog shows, participate in agility or obedience with their dogs, or have dogs that compete in working dog trials
     
  • The breeder’s dogs approach you in a friendly and sociable way. You are able to interact with and handle all dogs on the property. The mother should be available and should show exceptionable sociable behaviour.
     
  • The breeder is willing to provide life-long support to you as a puppy buyer – including taking back the dog at any point things ‘don’t work out’
     
  • The breeder happily shows you all the dogs in their care
     

 

Niceties

It’s nice for the breeder to do any of these things, but don’t be concerned if it doesn’t happen.

  • The stud dog is on site
     
  • The breeder asks you lots of questions about your household and what you’re looking for
     
  • There is a sales contract that goes beyond simple money exchange
     
  • The breeder can show registration or affiliation to an organisation with a code of conduct/ethics
     
  • The breeder can recite pedigrees and seems to be oozing with knowledge about the breed
     

 

Red Flags

If any of these items take place, you may want to reconsider purchasing an animal from this breeder.

  • The puppies are not vaccinated
     
  • The breeder seems overly concerned about the purchase price
     
  • Not all adult dogs are sociable and friendly
     
  • Part of the breeder’s sales pitch is ‘lots of colours available’ or ‘will grow up big’ or ‘will stay tiny’ or ‘rare!’
     
  • The breeder asks for deposits before a bitch is mated
     
  • The breeder sells puppies together to the same pet family
     
  • The puppies are crossbreeds which seem to have no real purpose (ask, how do they fit into the clear purpose of their breeding program?)
     
  • The puppies are crossbreeds and are given a fancy name like ‘labradoodle’ or ‘spanador’.
     
  • The breeder does seem to be putting the hard sell on you – they’re saying “if you put a deposit down today, I’ll take $100 off the asking price” or “If you don’t buy him now, I have someone coming at 2 o’clock who will buy him”.
     
  • The breeder breeds more than 3 different breeds of dogs
     

stop sign

 

Do Not Buys!

If a breeder performs any of the following points, then do not purchase a puppy and look elsewhere.

  • You cannot meet the mother or father in any circumstances (e.g. ethical breeders, even if the stud dog owner is interstate that should be able to say ‘you can meet them if you really want to go interstate’)
     
  • Puppies are not microchipped – in most states of Australia, this is a legal requirement
     
  • The dogs or puppies seem unhealthy or in poor condition (dirty, matted, skinny, fat)
     
  • The adult dogs are not sociable and friendly, especially if many of the adult dogs are not friendly
     
  • The breeder is unwilling to show you all the dogs at their home
     

 

Is there anything you would add to this list?

 

Further reading:

Red Flags: Warning signs when dealing with a breeder

How to tell if your dog breeder is responsible

A puppy ‘with papers’ from a ‘registered breeder’

Select, select, select

Dog Breeders: Don’t produce lemon puppies

11/19/13

Dog Aggression in a Breeding Program

Should you breed from a dog that is dog-aggressive?

"Deez" was surrendered into rescue having almost-exclusively lived in a backyard for 2 years. Despite this, he was friendly with other dogs. While his breeder wasn't what would be regarded as highly ethical, they obviously were producing dogs with good temperaments.

“Deez” was surrendered into rescue having almost-exclusively lived in a backyard for 2 years, with minimal interaction with other dogs. Despite this lack of socialisation, he was friendly with other dogs. While his breeder wasn’t what would be regarded as highly ethical, they obviously were producing dogs with good temperaments. His sociability with other dogs was the reason we were able to so easily place him into a new home – he now has another dog for company.

There’s four questions concerning that particular dog’s aggression that I would consider when elevating a dog’s suitability for a breeding program.

Firstly, if the dog is biting/attacking other dogs, is it illustrating bite inhibition by not actually doing damage to other dogs? If a dog is ‘attacking’ at a lot of dogs, but never doing damage, then this is a good sign that the dog is not intending to physically harm other dogs.

Then, how common is this type of aggression in this breed? Very common, uncommon, rare? In some breeds, all you can do is pick ‘the best of a bad bunch’. Complimentary temperaments in proposed matings are important, too (you wouldn’t put a ‘bad dog’ to another ‘bad dog’, for conformation or temperament).

Is the dog so aggressive to other dogs that you can’t achieve a natural mating? If the dog is not psychologically sound enough to have sex then it shouldn’t be bred from. Consider that many solitary species, like tigers, bears, rhinos, are generally territorial and aggressive to one another – yet, they still able to reproduce naturally. That is, the instincts associated with reproduction are strong enough to override a natural dislike to their own kind. Dogs, who are naturally social animals, should at the very least have a temperament conductive to natural matings.

Finally, a question to ask yourself as a breeder: Would you be satisfied if your puppy buyers ended up with a dog of similar temperament?  That is, would you be proud to produce a dog with similar dog-aggression? Are you puppy buyers able to manage or train against dog-aggression? Dog owners want dogs to be ‘friendly’, and producing dogs with dog-aggression are likely to fall short of the owners’ expectations.

 

What do you think? Should a dog that has dog aggression be bred from? Under what circumstances?

11/16/13

Rescue vs Breeders

There are a lot of people who love dogs. They may express this love in many different ways: some people own many dogs, some people make donations to important dog causes, young children may adorn their lockers with images of dogs, others may find their joy in training dogs for specialised tasks. While this expression of love is wildly different, there is no denying the central thread: a love of dogs.  This love makes up the dog world.

But there’s division in the dog world.

There is a perpetuated myth that dog lovers who engage in dog rescue are some how more experienced, or compassionate, or just better than people who breed dogs.

There is a theme: the dog rescuer versus the dog breeder.

Sometimes the expression of this phenomena is not even subtle:

574696_424635367615092_1369832126_n

During Facebook discussions, I see people describe themselves as a ‘rescuer’ or as a ‘breeder’, and therefore differentiate themselves from others in a conversation. Like this:

Picture 4

As you can imagine, the term ‘breeder’ is sometimes used interchangeably with offensive terms like ‘greeder’, or ‘producer’, and then these are also used to delegitimise the experiences of the breeder in hand.

Like the rescue group below (another screen shot from Facebook, in regard to ‘Desex the bad ones!‘):

Picture 3

It’s frustrating when I criticise proposals like the Select Committee Recommendations in SA, or the Breeding and Rearing Code in Victoria, to be told that my biased because, as a breeder, the recommendations would influence my ability to make a profit.  Anyone reading my blog would find that I object to many government recommendations for a variety of reasons –  not one of them is “because it’ll be harder and more expensive for me to breed puppies”.

This divide in the dog world is not just seen online and on Facebook.  I have blogged before on The Sin of Breeding Dogs and the judgement I receive for being a breeder when out and about.

Let me share a secret: No one wants to see dogs euthanised in shelters.

When talking about ‘rescue vs breeders’ on Facebook, Allie, from Maggie’s Farm, said:

I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to talk about “breeders” and “rescuers” because it kind of presupposes two homogenous groups, which isn’t the case. Among some breeders, “rescuers” are “animal rights” people, which to them is like a dirty word. And to some people in rescue, breeders are terrible, selfish people who make more dogs, when they are already dogs needing homes. And implying that there’s some zero sum game here, where a breeder bred and bought dog means a shelter dog dies. It’s not that simple. I think people who fall into both groups can be guilty of alienating the other, because it’s easy to have someone to blame and dislike.

Allie is of course right. There’s not just two groups in the dog world – the dog world is an amazing assortment of people with differing interests and passions. It is this very stuff that unites us.

 

What unites the dog world?

Comments and images, like those used above, are made like there is no glue in the dog world – and no potential for cohesion. It builds up a divide and splits the dog world into different sides. Our compassion and passion for dogs and their welfare unites the dog world, and this similarity should be embraced, not diminished.

The fact is, there are many in the dog world that bridge both sides. For example, I worked at a shelter for 3 years, have fostered about 45 animals in the last 5 years, and yet I also breed dogs. These roles aren’t in contradiction. I actually really like dogs, in all forms, and so fill up my life with them.

But, in conversations like that above, the dog world is polarised – between rescue problems, morals, and ethics and those of breeders. Between ‘the rescuers’ and ‘the breeders’.  As Allie pointed out, it’s not as simple as that – the groups aren’t homogenous.

This terminology stops rescues and breeders being united and does nothing for animal welfare.

 

The divide impacts upon animal welfare

Rescuers and breeders have different skills and expertise. They have a lot to offer one another. I think it is important for us to recognise how animal welfare could be improved if we were to work more tightly together.

  • Rescues are often key in finding purebred dogs in rescues and returning them to their recognised breeder. Sometimes, without ethical rescues, ethical breeders would never have the chance to get their dog back. This is a win for rescue, too: one less dog in the rescue system as ethical breeders will take back dogs in need.
     
  • Breeders are an excellent knowledge base for rescues, especially when it comes to matters concerning newborn puppies, or when it comes to breed specific knowledge.  As a personal example, when my bitch Clover whelped a singleton litter, she then fostered 9 day old rescue puppies as well. My knowledge as a breeder was important to these puppies as they arrived emaciated, dehydrated, and practically dead. On the flip side, because rescue entrusted me with these puppies, I learnt a lot that I didn’t already know.
     
  • Breeders often have a list of people interested in dogs, and receive puppy and adult dog enquiries on an ongoing basis.  Letting breeders know about dogs locally who are somewhat ‘like’ their breed (in looks or temperament) may mean that breeders can refer enquiries to rescues.

Currently, breeders criticise rescue and rescuers criticise breeders. This is not good for anyone. Having a reciprocal relationship is, obviously, much more desirable.  Quite simply, by not tapping into shared passions and shared resources there is a risk of opportunities being lost.

Be Responsible - Save a Pet!
Celebrate those uniting factors

Guess what?

Both rescuers and breeders love dogs.

Both rescuers and breeders want to see animal welfare improved.

Neither breeders or rescues want to see shelter euthanasia at its current level.

Both want to keep dogs out of pounds and rescues to start off with.

There is a lot in common that we can use to our advantage, moving forward.

 

How can breeders work with rescue?

If you’re a breeder, you can:

  • Contact your local rescue group and see what areas they need help.
     
  • Provide breed-specific advice to rescue groups or adoptive families.
     
  • Foster or kennel dogs in need.
     
  • Donate information that you’ve designed for your puppy packs.
     
  • Make a monetary donation.
     
  • Offer to groom rescue dogs.
     
  • Offer to transport rescue dogs (especially if you’re travelling interstate to dog show events or for servicing a bitch).
     
  • Share your local rescue group’s dog for adoption, including with those that enquire wanting a purebred – their perfect dog may just be in the local shelter.
     
  • Make efforts to stay in touch with your puppy buyers to ensure that your puppies stay out of the rescue system.
     
  • Educate yourself on the rescue and sheltering system.
     
  • Congratulate and support those who choose to adopt a dog.
     
  • Do not take a ‘breeder’s side’ by default – recognise the diversity among breeders and feel free to criticse unethical breeders, as well as celebrating ethical rescues.

 

How can rescues work with breeders?

Responsible BreederIf you’re a rescue, you can:

  • Contact breeders to see if they can help with boarding or fostering rescue dogs.
     
  • Ask breeders to share rescue dog’s availability with puppy enquirers.
     
  • Avoid posting breeder-slamming content (like that on the right) on social media (or anywhere else).
     
  • If you can identify the breeder of a dog in care, please contact the breeder – it’s their baby, too.
     
  • Utilise breeders as a resource – especially when it comes to rearing baby puppies or breed-specific advice.
     
  • Becomes informed on what ethical breeding practices look like, and support ethical breeders.
     
  • Support those who choose to purchase a dog from an ethical breeder.
     
  • Don’t take the side of ‘rescue’ by default – criticise unethical rescues as well as celebrating ethical breeders and other ethical rescues.

 

Moving Forward

When I asked about this topic on Facebook, one of my friends said,

There are ethical and unethical people on both sides, reasonable and unreasonable. I believe the ethical and reasonable can effectively work together in the best interest of dogs, the other side there isn’t much you can do about it.

Only those who are ‘reasonable’ and ethical will understand what this post is getting at.

Overall, we need both rescue and breeders to promote ethical places to acquire dogs from:

  • From a registered breeder
  • From a private rehoming
  • From an ethical rescue

We are all passionate about dogs and their welfare. So; Let’s focus on the dogs, and not each other.

 

Further reading:

Our dogs are our beloved companions 98% of the time (written by a breeder)

I love dog breeders.

Patricia McConnell on Breeders Versus Rescues (Responsible breeding – an oxymoron?).

It’s become fashionable to hate dog breeders.

I hate dog breeders.

09/22/13

Public Misconceptions

I was struck while reading the Companion Animal Taskforce report and that of the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA (click ‘Final Report’) on the feedback that was provided by the public. Submissions to both of these committees were making the same uninformed recommendations, and the similarities between public opinions expressed are extensive.

I thought it was time to address some of these misconceptions held by the general public concerning animal welfare.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Desexing everything!

The public seems to believe that there is an overpopulation of animals, and that desexed animals are healthier, and therefore argue for mandatory desexing.

In reality, there is no ‘overpopulation problem‘ and it is debatable whether desexing is in the best interest of animal health.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Ban pet sales in pet shops!

Most puppies in pet shops come from puppy mills. I like puppy mills as little as the next person, and in no way want to support the practices of puppy farmers.

However, the problem here is puppy mills. Not pet shops.

Pet shops are on public display, and have a pretty strict codes of conduct which are often better/higher than your average backyard breeder. Are they really who we should be targeting?

Furthermore, many pet shops routinely work with rescues to sell/market animals. Do we really want to ban that?

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Get breeders registered!

There seems to be a logic that if breeders had to be registered there would be less unscrupulous breeding.

As most of these schemes require breeders to pay in order to be registered, what breeder registration effectively does is limit (legal) breeding to those who are making money from the practice. What I mean is: breeders who don’t make money are are probably the ‘ethical ones’, and are probably less likely to be able to afford registration. Are these the individuals we want to perturb from breeding?

Meanwhile, individuals making profits from dog breeding (i.e. the puppy farms) easily purchase their registrations. Some argue that registering breeders would mean that there would be ‘policing’ of legislation surrounding their care. It is already illegal to be cruel to and not ensure the welfare of dogs. If this legislation isn’t being policed, then that’s the matter for the police.  Furthermore, is it truly likely that the bad guys are going to sign up to such legislation? “Well, my animals have lived in faeces for years, but now that I have to be registered, I really want to undergo the scrutiny of a policing body.” Yeah, nah.

 

This is Dulcie's litter - a bitch that was rescued from a pound when she was 8 weeks pregnant. As a rescue, we whelped and raised this litter. If breeders had to be registered, would rescues have to be registered as breeders, too?

This is Dulcie’s litter – a bitch that was rescued from a pound when she was 8 weeks pregnant. As a rescue, we whelped and raised this litter. If breeders had to be registered, would rescues have to be registered as breeders, too?

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Mandatory cooling off periods are cool.

There seems to be a belief that animals are surrendered to rescue because owners ‘didn’t think about their purchase’, or otherwise acquired their pet impulsively. In reality, relinquishment statistics don’t support this, and there is evidence that impulsive adoptions are as successful as planned ones. In this way, there is not evidence that supports mandatory cooling off periods as desirable.

However, there are obvious implications for other animal-selling institutions regarding a mandatory cooling off period. Do we really want to see animals held in pounds even longer? Do we really want to see puppies held in pet shops longer? We know both of these scenarios have negative welfare implications on dogs, so why would we mandate compulsory confinement under the guise of a cooling off period with unsubstantiated positive benefits?

Mandatory cooling off periods restrict adoptions! Bad!

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Puppy mills should be banned. Backyard breeders should be banned.

While I would also like to see puppy mills and backyard breeders cease to exist, it’s unlikely that a legislative ‘ban’ would be effective. Those who are unscrupulously producing puppies are unlikely to heed new legislation.  Furthermore, I am concerned that a ban on backyard breeders or puppy mills may see ethical registered breeders disadvantaged.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Online puppy sales should be banned.

Presumably, puppy millers use the internet to make sales of their puppies and avoid scrutiny of their premises. While this is likely the case, many ethical puppy sales are made online too – such as DogzOnline (for purebred breeders) and PetResuce (for rescue pets). It seems folly to restrict sales of all animals online due to the malpractice of a few.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Animals should be desexed before sale.

This is a mandatory desexing claim. The Saving Pets blog does a good job of describing how mandatory desexing has never worked. Furthermore, I’ve blogged before about how mandatory desexing is hard to define (unless we desex everything and eradicate the species). Mandatory desexing is also often associated with early age desexing, which has its own welfare implications. And there’s evidence that making desexing mandatory increases surrenders, as people aren’t able to pay for the surgery and so are left with no other choice. And, on top of that, desexing is a medical procedure, which should be implemented by medical professionals based on the individual animal at hand – not policy makers.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Bitches should only have a particular number of litters in her life. Bitches should wait a certain time in between litters.

There seems to be a belief that bitches will ‘wear out’ if bred every season, or allowed to have ‘too many’ litters.  However, there is little evidence to substantiate this claim.  It seems surprising, but there is really no evidence on when it becomes a welfare issue for a bitch to have so many litters or a time between litters.  (Despite what the Victorian code tried to suggest.)

You may be surprised to hear that when bitches don’t fall pregnant after estrus, they are more likely to develop the sometimes-lethal condition pyometra. In that way, there is actually evidence to the contrary - not breeding a bitch every season could be detrimental to their welfare.

Basically, though, it is up to breeders to determine how many litters a bitch may have, and over what time period, if any at all. They may have good reason for allowing a bitch to have several litters – perhaps the bitch is a Supreme Show Champion, or maybe she is an exceptional free-whelping bitch in a breed that often has whelping difficulty. There might also be good reason to have several back to back litters – maybe there is a stud visiting the country for a ‘limited time only’, or maybe the bitch has a pet home to go to so the breeder wants her to finish her breeding career sooner. These are all individualistic things for the breeder to address.

Basically, there is no evidence confirming this avowal, and it seems like a limit to puppies bred (probably on the basis of the overpopulation myth) is based on good intentions instead of good science.  Meanwhile, until we have more evidence, breeders are in the best position to use their own discretion in determining their own breeding practices based on their specific conditions.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Breeders should only have n dogs on their property (where n is a certain number of dogs).

Often, the public seems to believe that at a certain point – be it 10, 20, 30, 50, or more – breeders suddenly become ‘unethical’.  In reality, numbers has nothing to do with ethics.  Through my rescue work, I have seen plenty of dogs who have lived singularly that have been treated poorly, and seen litters of puppies surrendered by people with just ‘a dog and a bitch’ who happen to breed.  People can be unethical with just 1 or 2 dogs, but they can also be highly ethical with 50 or more dogs.  So far, I haven’t been to a facility with 30 or more dogs that didn’t have good welfare standards.

While it may be easy to apply a blanket limit on dog numbers, again, there is no evidence that this truly matters. If animals on the property are being treated in ethical ways, then it’s folly to deny owners the privilege of having that many dogs.  Likewise, if individuals only have a small number of dogs, but are handling them in ways that are inappropriate, then this should not be permitted, either.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: When advertising, breeders should have to provide a microchip or breeder number.

The logic here is that this would mean that only legitimate breeders would be able to advertise.

While this suggestion is not as detrimental as some of the other proposals here, it still is not a gold star suggestion.  Chiefly, this proposal is only as good as the policing that is implemented.  Considering the failure to police the Animal Welfare Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, what faith do we have that advertising controls would be enforced?

Recently, the microchip number in advertisement rule was introduced in Victoria. What the dodgy breeders did is copy and paste the microchip numbers for legitimate ads onto their own, to avoid detection. Without adequate policing, policies like this will never work.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Anyone with an entire animal should be considered a breeder.

Presumably, activists believe that if an animal is entire, it will breed. They don’t believe in legitimate reasons that people keep animals entire.

For the last few years, I have had 3 ‘permanent resident’ entire dogs, of different sexes, living in my house, plus almost always one rescue dog (adding up to about 30 dogs in all) come through my house, most entire when they enter (and all desexed when they leave). I have never had an accidental mating or litter.

In reality, it is very possible to own entire animals without breeding. It is just a simple matter of management.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Support for codes of practice/restrictions on breeders is the way to better animal welfare.

There seems to be a logic that if breeders and their practices are restricted, the welfare of breeding animals will be improved.  In reality, we already have a pretty good legislation, like the Animal Welfare Act.

If breeders are choosing to disregard current legislation, then it’s very likely they’ll continue to disregard new legislation. Legislation is only effective when it goes along with enforcement.

 

ACTIVIST AVOWAL: We could have a pet license scheme.

At least this idea leaves the poor breeders alone! This one concentrates on pet owning public and goes with the logic: ‘If someone had to get a license before adopting a pet, then they wouldn’t impulsively purchase a pet and they’d be better owners who don’t dump their pets at shelters’.

Firstly, how wildly expensive and impractical is this proposal? There’s about 3.4 million dogs in Australia.  Introducing a retrospective ownership scheme will be hard work!  And expensive!  And impossible!

We’ve already addressed the impulsivity thing with the mandatory cooling off period segment. Most people aren’t impulsive in their pet choices. (And even if they are impulsive, that doesn’t make them bad pet owners.)

And there are a range of reasons for people to relinquish pets, most of them to do with accommodation issues.

And, I’m willing to bet, if you made pet licenses compulsory, there would be one more reason to relinquish a pet.  (That is, “I can’t afford or find time to acquire my pet license, therefore I am surrendering this pet because I am not legally able to own it.”)

 

So what should we do, then?

I’ve been a bit of a negative nancy all through this post, so it’s important to note that I try to come up with workable suggestions for improving animal welfare.

Firstly, I’d like to see microchips as compulsory (and policed!) and then I’d like to see these microchips linked to the breeder’s details, and have the breeder required to provide some level of care to their pups for life.  I wrote more about this in my post ‘What is the Answer (to Puppy Mills)?‘.

Also, I made a bunch of recommendations to the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA. At the beginning of this post, they’re summarised as ‘key points’.  Click through to read all the recommendations I made, with the primary purpose of reducing euthanasia in shelters.

09/16/13

The hidden disorder in staffies

Have you heard of the neurometabolic in stafforshire bull terriers, commonly called L2-Hga (L-2-Hydroxyglutaric aciduria)?

I didn’t either, until I read Jazz’s story.  This disorder sees elevated levels of hydroxyglutaric acid in urine, plasma, and cerbrospinal fluid.  L2-Hga has affects on the central nervous system, and symptoms ususally occur 6-12 months old.  The symptoms normally include uncoordinated movement and epilepsy like behaviours.

This disease is found on one gene that is autosomal recessive, so easy to breed out if breeders DNA test and breed only carriers to clear dogs, and aim to produce clear dogs long term. Unfortunately, not all breeders are committed to this cause.

Wildbunch Knight in Amor ("Joker") is not L2-Hga affected - but boy is he cute!

Wildbunch Knight in Amor (“Joker”) is not L2-Hga affected – but boy is he cute!

This is Jazz’s story, written by a staffy owner in South Australia.

My husband, John, had always wanted a female, brindle staffy.  In December 2008, John drove a distance and returned to surprise our boys with our staffy puppy who was born in October, 2008.  We named her Jazz.  Staffies hadn’t excited me greatly – I had never known a staffy and I already had my beautiful cocker spaniel, Merlin who was three at the time.

Before John bought Jazz, I did some research about Staffies and understood that they should be L2HGA and HC clear by parentage.  I explored this a bit further and advised John.  John enquired about the condition with our local vet (also a staffy lover) and with the registered breeder who sold us our puppy.  Neither the vet nor the breeder was aware of L2HGA.  Our boys, Flynn and Archie, fell in love with Jazz immediately.  She became their best friend.  We had lots of fun times with two boys and two dogs in our large backyard.  Merlin and Jazz became great friends and Jazz soon learnt that Merlin was a great play mate.

One morning, at the end of January, Jazz freaked out and we couldn’t understand why.  She was racing around, barking and panicking and seemed quite disturbed about something.  It was like she was trying to get away from herself.  We didn’t know what the problem was.  We took Jazz to the vet; he described her as lethargic with possible abdominal pain.  She was admitted for observation and remained lethargic.  We brought her home in the afternoon and she seemed like her normal self.

Jazz seemed to have a problem with one of her legs.  Sometimes she didn’t put her weight on it.  She also seemed to run a bit strange – she’d run forwards and in a wonky kind of way.

In the middle of March, Jazz had another episode similar to what had occurred at the end of January.  We took her to the vet again and he recorded that she had “sudden onset of barking and apprehension which continued for about 20 minutes, all systems normal on examination, no apparent cause”.

I took both dogs on a walk on 11th April, 2009.  Jazz was five and a half months old.  It was a brisk walk and, despite some short walks around the block this was Jazz’ first real brisk walk.  Jazz seemed very excited when she was on the walk.  So much so that someone commented “the dogs love their walk don’t they?”.  This was Jazz’ first and last ‘normal dog walk’.  We had been walking for 15 minutes and Jazz, while still on her lead, looked around and then ran off the footpath into a shaded area under trees.  Jazz raced around in circles on her lead, she wet herself, was panting and barking and had diahorrea.  It took me 15 minutes to move both dogs around the corner into a quieter area where there was a tap.  Jazz continued to race around on her lead in a circle in a mad panic, diahorrea was shooting out, she lay down and then stretched out, she was yelping and wouldn’t move.  As a mother of two young children, this was a rare occasion that I had gone out without my mobile phone.  Jazz wouldn’t move on, I thought she was at risk of a heart attack or something and that she may die.  I tied her to a gate and raced to a nearby shop with Merlin.  I tied Merlin to a heavy chair and raced into the TAB (John liked to have a bet or two).  I raced to the counter, quickly explained I was John’s wife (John who likes to have a bet), advised that John’s dog was in trouble and asked if I could use the phone.  The TAB owner was more than happy to help.  John turned up in the car shortly after and picked Jazz up and drove her home.  John spent some time calming Jazz down and she eventually seemed fine.

On 14th April relatives called past with a small fluffy dog.  Proudly, we brought Jazz out the front to show them how much she had grown.  Jazz lost balance a couple of times and fell over.  It was at this time that my mind wandered back to L2HGA as I had remembered the reference to ‘wobbly gait’.  I checked the internet, read the description of L2GHA and I remember that night suggesting to John that Jazz may have L2HGA.

The husband of a friend is a vet and I mentioned Jazz, our experience and my thoughts, to him.  He wasn’t aware of L2HGA and he advised that it could be any of a number of things.  I agreed with him, his response was appropriate, I wasn’t qualified to make a diagnosis and he had not met or assessed Jazz.

There were further incidents in May, June and July, (an open fire, a loud noise outside and another open fire) all resulting in arching of the back, wobbly gait, constant barking and panic usually later followed by further wobbly gait.

Our family and friends were concerned about Jazz’s behaviour – generally they commented that something is not right.  Flynn and Archie understood that Jazz had special needs and that her immediate family needed to provide her with extra help at times to make her feel OK.

I had a lengthy conversation with a vet whose name was on the internet on the L2HGA page and a member of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club. He explained that there is no treatment or cure for L2HGA, of all the dogs tested he had only had one ‘affected’ result.

Jazz was tested for L2HGA in September 2009 with the results confirming that she was “affected”.  We expected this would be the test result and it provided some explanation of the occasional behaviour that we found difficult to observe but had come to expect.

This diagnosis gave us an opportunity to accept that Jazz had a genetic disorder.  We understood that positive or negative excitement often caused Jazz a problem.  This had never stopped her racing around the back yard with so much energy and having so much fun with Merlin.  They raced around and played until Jazz was too exhausted to play any more.  Merlin had always tired earlier but seemed to enjoy the energy of his heavy set young friend.

John advised the breeder of Jazz’ condition.  The breeder was apologetic and offered to provide us with another puppy.  We felt the breeder needed to accept responsibility for selling a L2HGA puppy.  John drove the distance again and collected what we briefly owned and knew as ‘Little Jazz’.  We sold Little Jazz to a lovely home.  We had not intended to replace Jazz.  Jazz was still our special dog.  We were lucky to spend the time we had with Jazz and we were also glad that, despite seeking an adventurous, go anywhere pet, we had a very gentle, loyal pet and we were prepared to assist her with her special needs.  We were pleased that she hadn’t been bought by someone seeking a show dog because, despite her willingness to please, Jazz would not have been able to deliver.

Jazz was happy, always loving, a great play mate for Merlin, Flynn and Archie and she was quite normal at least 95% of the time.

As a family, we had learnt how to calm her down after one of her episodes and how to help her recover.  That was our objective and, from our observation, we think that is what we achieved.  Flynn and Archie learnt how to help Jazz recover.   She would sometimes have a little barking episode around my bedtime or just before I was due to wake up in the morning.  I would heat some milk for her and reassure her and she was generally OK.

We were somewhat proud of our ability to ‘manage’ Jazz’ condition.  One day we took Jazz and Merlin to the local dog park for a play.  They were the only two dogs there the whole time and they had a great time.  We were happy that we had taken Jazz out and it seemed to have been a success.  A few hours later, Jazz stood still in the back yard and then did back flips like an uncontrolled wind up dog.  We have a great, large backyard that is enjoyed by the whole family.  Jazz no longer left her backyard.

We had many more random episodes and we dealt with them as they arose.  Jazz recovered and life went on as normal.

We booked a dog friendly holiday in January 2011.  At the last minute we decided to leave the dogs at home so that they were in a familiar environment.  This was our only holiday for the year and we decided that there was too great a risk in taking Jazz with us.  We knew she was most comfortable in her own familiar backyard.

Flynn, Archie and I had given John a hammock for Christmas.  When John was lying there, Jazz decided that this was a good place to be and she decided that a rest alongside John in the hammock was a good way to end the day.  When I saw Jazz do this I thought about taking a photo.  As an obsessive hobby photographer, it was a bit unusual that, on this occasion, I decided not to race in and grab the camera. I’d do it next time.  There was no next time.  Jazz had an episode in the morning on 14 January, she couldn’t stand up.  She couldn’t stand up that evening and she couldn’t stand up the next morning.  John took Jazz to the vet and Jazz went to Heaven on 15 January 2011 – aged 2 years and 2.5 months.

We hope that by telling Jazz’ story, this will help to eliminate L2HGA.  We also hope that the owners of every staffy puppy will not have the worry associated with living with a dog with such a significant genetic disorder.  The opportunity to share a lifetime with a staffy should not be cut dramatically short by the effects of L2HGA.

Read more about L2-Hga from the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Western Australia or the Swansea SBT Ring Craft Club.