The Breeder Safety Net
Preface: I write this knowing that it will be a highly unpopular piece and may well cost me friendships that have spanned 15 years, and may eventually cost me in the eyes of political powers and AKC. However, I feel honesty is essential.
AKC has initiated a new Breeder Safety Net, in which breeders who are experiencing difficulties with their kennels are contacted, counseled, and assisted with their problems. Not well-known amongst the dog fancy, this pilot program was launched in early September in response to a phone call from a breeder who needed such assistance. There is no need to identify the breeder; this information is readily available on the internet despite AKC’s attempts to ensure privacy for the party involved.
There are a lot of misconceptions about exactly what happened, and as someone who was on the frontlines of this situation, I feel the need to clarify those misunderstandings.
First and foremost, NO dogs were euthanized on site. There were NO feral puppies. NO dogs of any age or sex were distributed to any commercial breeders.
So, what did happen? A fine breeder with 40 years of experience fell onto hard times. Admittedly this breeder has held onto a number of dogs, but when her health fell to the wayside, along with a personal tragedy, things spiraled. An AKC inspection resulted in a fail, and in stepped Stacy Mason, Senior Field Representative for AKC. Ms. Mason was very concerned that an Animal Rights raid was in the works for labor day weekend, and this information appears to have been very credible. Such a raid would have had devastating effects on our breed and the entire AKC dog fancy.
Ms. Mason, a high-powered, high-energy, highly-driven, and highly-personable individual convinced this breeder to request assistance, and then attacked the situation head-on. Starting on the Wednesday before Labor Day of 2015, she enlisted the help of NEINEA members, the Illinois Federation of Dog Clubs members, and members of the Indiana Council of Dog Breeders. A number of NEINEA members responded that very same evening, as well as several IFDCO members and surprisingly, a number of the Amish commercial breeders community, all of whom assisted with transport and initial first response duties. Within just a few short hours, 57 dogs were removed from the premises and transported to three separate boarding kennels in Illinois and Wisconsin, those of Kent Meyers, Marcy Bancus, and Jackie Fogel. By the following Saturday, the entire property had been cleaned, structures repaired and reorganized. Having witnessed the Amish commercial breeders working in this situation, one can only be in awe of the amount of work they accomplished and the absolute workmanship they utilized.
Once the dogs were in place at the boarding kennels, a new task surfaced: the breeder was only going to be allowed to have personal dogs in small numbers, and there were 40+ dogs to be placed. Most needed spay/neuter. Some needed vet care. The boarding kennels needed to be reimbursed. Funding was needed. The kennels charged various rates, and WILL BE REIMBURSED for their efforts. Much conversation ensued, and various alternatives were discussed. At the end, it was determined that KeepYourPets, Inc., administered by Ms. Fogel, would be in charge of accepting donations. These donations were needed and greatly appreciated.
However, at some point, lines of communication were crossed. Ms. Fogel was generally accepted as being in charge of placing these 40+ dogs, and that information is completely inaccurate. The breeder herself placed over a dozen dogs in former puppy homes, with the regional club of a former co-owner or with friends. Ms. Mason, the AKC rep, placed two of these dogs in a veteran’s program. Margaret Williamson, NEAA rescue coordinator, placed two dogs, assisted in coordinating transportation, successfully marketed (yes, “marketed”) these dogs, and has, to date, spent nearly 300 hours in this effort. Amy Peterson interviewed 43 applicants and placed 21 of these dogs, resulting in nearly 1100 volunteer miles personally traveled and over 400 hours of effort in arranging additional transport miles that have, to date, totaled over 10,000 volunteer, unpaid miles. The volunteer effort for this endeavor has not been recognized on the “glossy print” pages of magazines, nor by the AKC, nor by any breed club. In addition to Margaret’s and Amy’s efforts, there are upwards of 40 individuals who have donated time, mileage, overnighting, and adoption, and these efforts have gone largely unrecognized by the dog fancy.
“Marketing” an animal needing to be rehomed involves more than listing a name, age, sex, and microchip number. Potential adopters WANT to see candids of the dog available. When this author approached the person “in charge” of the dogs, she was told that the kennel operators were far too busy to take time to take photos of the dogs for which they “had not yet been paid”, and was further advised to tell potential adoptees to “look up the AKC standard – they are Norwegian Elkhounds – that’s what they look like.”
A massive marketing campaign was undertaken with the entirely volunteer help of the administrators of the Elkhound Rescue & Rehoming Facebook page. These volunteers relentlessly posted and cross-posted these available dogs. Under the guidance of Ms. Williamson and Ms. Peterson, they updated photos and status of each dog. Ms. Williamson campaigned several of them on the Rescueme! page. This marketing resulted in a number of applications, all of which had to be scrutinized, interviewed, and references checked. Skill levels of potential adopters had to be assessed since some of the dogs were undersocialized and needed rehabilitation. Most were not housebroken. Most needed a home possessing skill sets that many potential adopters simply did not have at their disposal, despite willingness of heart. Hundreds of hours were spent on this, and the individual claiming credit for placing these dogs did not review or interview a single applicant, and in fact informed us that she did not care to see the adoption applications. She just wanted to know what dog was leaving on what day.
Two dog’s placements were endangered and potential homes lost when the “person in charge” failed to have them spayed in time to travel on a previously scheduled transport to the Philadelphia area that was graciously provided by Kent Meyer, who was bringing client dogs to the Philadelphia area for Morris and Essex and Montgomery weekend. Additionally, a further dog, under contract by its breeder to be returned to the breeder, was slated to be placed in this “junior” program despite objections of its breeder that its temperament was not suitable, and that there was a contract in place that the dog be returned to the breeder in the event that it could not be kept. Fortunately, this breeder prevailed and the dog, per contract, was returned to her, after much unneeded discussion.
Elkhound Rescue & Rehoming Facebook page further became involved as the vehicle of choice for gathering transport volunteers and coordinating those efforts. Dogs were transported from Northern IL and Wisconsin to final destinations as far as Washington state, Texas, Florida, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Virginia – to name just a few. Volunteers graciously took transport “legs” of various lengths ranging from 4 hours round-trip to 16 hours round-trip. Some volunteers willingly overnighted one or more of these dogs as they were enroute to their new homes. One volunteer donated new leashes and collars for every dog he transported.
No contingencies were implemented in the event that an adoptive home would fail; there were no provisions for return of a dog to any of the boarding facilities nor was there any individual charged with addressing issues that invariably arise with under-socialized dogs. There were no contingencies to follow up with the new owners. Lacking the normal safety net that comes with purchasing a dog from a breeder who stands by for the life of the dogs, this monumental task has fallen on the volunteer individuals who actively placed these dogs. The NEAA Regional Clubs do not have any contingencies in place to deal with these dogs and their issues. Attempts by a regional club to assist the second dog co- owned by a deceased member were thwarted when a senior dog was placed in a junior home, despite the club expressing concerns shared by members who had handled the dog, regarding the appropriateness of the placement in view of the temperament they had experienced in and around the ring. Between the atypical temperaments and health issues there have been myriad issues in these placements and they beg the question of whether an operation of this type, without proper breed specific management, benefits any breed, or does it feed into the AR claims against purebred dogs.
No contingencies were in place to address the health issues that many of these dogs have faced, including dental issues, systemic infections, ear infections, and gastrointestinal issues; further, no funding has been offered to assist these new adoptive owners in financing these issues. The dogs were advertised as being “happy and healthy” but regrettably, do suffer from various health issues. Quite frankly, those who have actually been actively placing these dogs were unaware of these conditions until the adoptive owners made them known.
Those of us involved were pressured to move the dogs as quickly as possible. While those efforts were often thwarted, we did attempt to interview, check references, and arrange transport as quickly as possible. What was lacking was a breed-specific, honest assessment of the dogs that needed to be rehomed. Some were very appropriate to be rehomed. Some would have greatly benefitted from being placed in a breed-specific foster home. This was not an option, as we were told that the goal was permanent homes, and not fosters.
The volunteers who agreed to be point of contact for intake and interview of adopters, and more importantly, the transport volunteers, and MOST importantly, the adopters, are the real heroes that need to be recognized in this effort. The kennel operators were gracious in providing months-long space for these dogs, risking bringing diseases into their own populations due to infestation and parasites, but those efforts are also being reimbursed. While this is a worthwhile program and is needed by the dog fancy as we age, it was far from easy and consumed the efforts of not just Ms. Mason, Ms. Fogel, and the other kennel operators, but also the massive effort put forth by the community of volunteers.
This effort was well-intentioned and, as the dog fancy ages, much needed. Many of us are just an illness or a lost paycheck away from these same circumstances. In this case, the situation became very political and this should not have happened. Most (and I apologize to those of you within the fancy and breed club who donated untold hours) of these volunteers came from outside the AKC or the breed club community. Dollars were donated, and much appreciated, but the nitty-gritty hands-on work came from the relentless efforts of volunteers. If this program is to continue, politics must NOT come into play. Honest assessment of the dogs at hand is essential. Breed-specific evaluation of each dog is essential. An honest assessment of health is required. Rapid, accurate, non-judgmental dissemination of information is essential. And lastly, efforts of that village that was required to move these dogs and get them into homes should be applauded, and not ignored.