Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rescue Me: A Collie Conundrum

I've always been a proponent of rescue - dog and cat rescue specifically. My 7+ years of volunteering as a dog walker and volunteer trainer at the Seattle Animal Shelter taught me a lot about animals and people. While I was a volunteer there, I also fostered a bit, in our yardless-condo, a few cats, kittens and a few dogs of various breeds. Ultimately, I kept 2 cats (GiGi and RIP George) and 2 dogs (Lucky and Mattie) from the shelter.

I now volunteer for a spay and neuter assistance program in the Snoqualmie Valley - www.valleyanimalpartners.com . Pet overpopulation and abuse is definitely a community problem and small, grass roots organizations like VAP are the key to changing attitudes and "fixing" the problem of unwanted pets and animal neglect, town by town. I am also a breed rep for the purebred English Cocker Spaniel (my childhood breed) within the umbrella of Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue - www.spdrdogs.org . I also assist in home checks and, if asked, dog transport and evaluations with SPDR and the Pacific Northwest Border Collie Rescue www.pnwbcrescue.org .

So, given my background in rescue, shelters, and spay and neuter, as well as having seen some really sad, sad things in the shelter, one may wonder how I could ultimately purchase a purpose-bred Border Collie puppy.

Honestly, I personally did not have too much of an issue with this decision.

I was raised with purebred showdogs, English Cocker Spaniels, and did the dog-show circuits (even doing some handling in the ring as a junior). I formed an appreciation of purebred dogs and responsible breeding of dos for a purpose, whether that purpose is conformation, hunting, tracking, service, herding or sports.

With my Mattie, who was a shelter-stray, we became introduced to the world of agility and sheepdogs. And, with this same shelter-stray, I was also introduced to behavior modification, aggression management and understanding drives, but that is a whole other story! Consider me lucky with Mattie as I have learned a lot about dogs and I've learned how to resolve most, if not all of Mattie's baggage - on year 4 now and there are still some things we are working on.

Although Mattie looks like a purebred Smithfield Sheepdog, her breed and heritage is unknown - tis the joys of stray dogs roaming the city! On sheep, she exhibits a unique mix of behaviors you might see in some Border Collies, Aussies, Cattle Dogs & Bearded Collies. She is a unique gem and I love her, but it's clear that Mattie has limitations with herding - she is definitely a "circus dog" and will excel most at Agility (fast, little, biddable and fearless of equipment!). Now, if it just weren't for her fear of other dogs that inhibits our agility training!

Anyway, Mattie introduced me to sheepdogs and herding. And, as it turned out, I discovered I enjoy herding a lot and became quite interested in pursuing it as a primary hobby and perhaps, possiby a way of life later on.

When I got Scott, he was retiring from big trials on the Open class field (he was 9 years old) and was ready to run shortened courses that I was more suited to for my handling level. He is a dream dog and honestly, he isn't representative of the breed if you think Border Collies are supposed to be hyperactive and always needing something to do. Scott is now 11 years old. He is slowing down on his outruns and doesn't care to put himself into tough situations where stock is fighting back. Dogs his age start making choices of self-preservation and I totally get that. Scott will likely run in ProNovice for another year and then he will retire from open field trials to work with ducks and do light sheep chores around the farm. I'm sure that he'll work stock, or want to work, until he's dead.

With Scott's imminent retirement, Mattie's limitations for big field work and trialing, and my interest in pursuing sheepdog and cowdog trialing, it was time to start thinking about getting another dog. (Clearly, no one has assumed I'll try Lucky, the Shih Tzu / Maltese out on sheep, although he is a good little flyball dog!).

A person in my position may first think about purchasing a started dog, that is, a young-adult dog who hase a baseline of sheep work commands on him or her. My thinking here is that 1) I want to train my own dog from scratch and 2) sometimes started dogs have baggage and after Mattie, I'm not ready for another dog with baggage. Also, good started dogs can cost thousands of dollars.

NOTE: Scott was the ultimate started dog and I am very fortunate to have him in my life to learn from and it's unlikely I will be able to replicate the training on cows and sheep that he was given early on (he worked a cattle ranch daily!). His only baggage is that he was so well trained, I was holding him back and he was pushing my buttons best he could!

Then again, a person in my position who has the background in rescue work may think about a rescue dog or puppy to train up. This is also a possibility. However, again you have the baggage factor. Further, you will likely not know the breeding of the dog thus there is no historical link to working ability or health.

Now, in my opinion, breeding is very important to know when you are talking about using dogs for work or skills that are particular to that breed. Although there is no guarantee for any dog, it's more than likely that a healthy proven dog and healthy proven bitch will produce a litter of healthy pups that will be able to do the intended work. This is what I refer to as "purpose bred" dogs and if you have knowledge of where the dog comes from, you will be better equipped to prepare for what is coming to you at home and on the field!

As you know, I elected to purchase a purpose bred Border Collie puppy for my next dog. Jude is now 17 weeks old and is still much the goober. I will not be putting him on sheep until he's around 8 months old and also has a solid and reliable recall and "lie down" on him. There is no guarantee that Jude will be a totally awesome herding dog; however, given he has three different International Supreme Champions in his background and his dam and sire are accomplished trial dogs who are also healthy, biddable and of sound-mind, it is more than likely he has the genetics for sheepdoggin'. Genetics plus time plus the training I put on him will dictate his destiny with sheep. If it turns out he is not a sheepdog, I am certain I will be able to find other activities he will excel at - perhaps I'll start a new sport called brace agility that Jude can do with Mattie! LOL!

Hence, the conundrum I present - Rescuers who buy purpose-bred puppies.

Some people have problems with this, some do not. Here is my stance on the dilemma:
  • I don't consider myself to be a traitor of rescue because I purchased a puppy from a breeder. I think it is despicable that fellow rescuers will shame people like me for doing so. And yes, recently another handler like me who announced she was getting a puppy was denounced quickly by rescue colleagues so this is defintely occuring out there!
  • I continue to support rescue and spay and neuter initiatives in my community and likely always will. Having a purpose-bred puppy, as well as any future purpose-bred dogs I add to my pack, will not inhibit my passion and time I give for animal welfare in my community.
  • I will not make the claim that I have paid-my-dues by already taking in four rescues to my home thus I finally deserve a non-rescue dog; that's just stupid. Other rescue folks have paid far more dues than I ever have or will and plus, rescue should not be viewed as a competition or a give-and-take type thing. "We're volunteers, not victims" is one of my favorite sayings.
  • Whenever I'm asked about my entourage of pets I will say I have 5 pets; three are from the shelter, one is retiring with me and one I purchased as a puppy.
  • When asked where to get a Shih Tzu, a Beardie, a Border Collie or English Cocker, I will recommend rescue first.
  • When asked about where to get a purpose-bred dog or puppy, I will refer others to reputable breeders or rescue folks who specialize in breeding / rehoming purpose-bred dogs only.
  • I am against back-yard breeders who are breeding their dogs for quick cash (some BYBs have 'papered' dogs), and obviously, I'm against puppy mills / pet shop / newspaper dogs. These types of dog "suppliers" are the primary contributors to our problems of overpopulation and unwanted and neglected dogs and cats.

What is your stance on this Collie Conundrum?


  1. I, too, do rescue, or I should say, I *am* a rescue. I own four Corgis/mixes adopted from other rescues, plus I purchased an older semi-trained / retired BC, and I just bought a new talented BC youngster. Yes, that would be six. I have Corgi fosters and a BC foster in the rescue. The total varies. :) I feel I have a life that includes dog sports and herding, and I am pursuing those goals with my own dogs. And I still see rescue as rewarding after 5 years. I don't feel in the least bit guilty and no one I know in rescue has told me I'm a bad person -- but I'm sure someone will try. So I guess I'm standing up right there with you!

  2. I know the feeling. I did Aussie rescue for 10 years. My 3 cats and 1 of my current dogs (as well as my dog who has passed) are rescues. My other 3 dogs are purebreds purchased from breeders.

    I am subject to the ultimate conundrum, in that I'm a huge proponent of rescues and shelters, yet I intend to breed my BC bitch. I've had some ethical struggles over that.

    There are plenty of very nice, purpose bred BCs out there who spend their lives locked in the kennels 20-24 hours a day and only pulled out for a touch of work or training now and then. I worry I will be adding another life destined for the same end, when I feel SO strongly that dogs are meant to be house pets and companions before all else.

    I understand where you are coming from, and no, you're not a traitor. Nice post.