For Calgarian Danielle Travers, dogs have always been a huge part of her life. But with three canine additions to her house and three litters of puppies, she became more than the average enthusiast.
When Travers’ family first picked up a fluffy companion, a Keeshond, she quickly realized the breed would be a significant aspect of her life going forward.
“Twenty years ago, I had two [Keeshonden] as a child,” says Travers. “Once the old guys passed away, I decided that I wanted to get into breeding. I started looking into meeting with different show people. People external to even Canada.
“What I ended up doing was finding a breeder in Texas who was willing to give me a Keeshond that I could breed.”
That was when she adopted Cinder. Now 10-years-old, Cinder is a Canadian champion show dog and mother of Travers’ first litter. Cinder was the first of three female dogs to live with Travers. The other two being six-year-old Canadian champion Belle, and eight-month-old Marley, who is currently showing for her Canadian championship.
A breeders call for buyers to do their research
Now a member of the Canadian Kennel Club, breeding and showing her Keeshonden has, more than anything, been about Travers’ love for her fluffy friends and the breed.
“I’m a hobby breeder,” Travers says. “I don’t do it very often and I certainly don’t make any money.
“If you’re doing everything properly as a breeder, you’re generally not generating a lot of revenue. It’s probably one of the only careers you don’t make money on if you’re doing it properly.”
However, there is a common misconception that breeding dogs can become a lucrative business. This has led some amateur, shady breeders to put profit above the health and well being of the dogs. These types of breeders have been coined “puppy mills” or “backyard breeders.”
During the past 10 years, Travers has not only bred multiple champion puppies, but has taken a public stance, along with other professional and hobby breeders, regarding the issue of backyard breeding in Canada.
“They’re breeding for profit and it’s the same dogs put together every six months,” Travers says. “There’s always litters on Kijiji. It’s pretty horrifying.”
“Some of the genetic health issues coming out of one particular place are very significant. There’s heart issues and severe hip dysplasia, but they’re considered livestock so there’s nothing we can do.”
She urges potential buyers to do their research before picking up just any puppy from an online advertisement or unknown breeders they may find.
LJ Davis is a patient-care supervisor at Crowfoot Animal Hospital, where more than 100 animals can come through on a daily basis.
Since the advent of buy and sell sites, she has noticed a concerning trend of injuries and surgeries correlating with dogs purchased from backyard breeders.
“There are definitely some dogs we see more often than others because they have chronic issues and problems,” Davis says.
“People search all types of places to get pets. Kijiji is a very popular place. Not that all [dogs] that come from there aren’t healthy, but a majority of them are the ones that need more health care or have more things going wrong.”
Travers says the best way to combat these backyard breeders is to convince potential owners to research before picking up a puppy. This includes confirming they’re in contact with a reputable breeder, purebred or not.
“I would start with going to the Canadian Kennel Club, look at the list, go to a dog show and talk to people if you’re specific about a breed,” says Travers. “I would look up things to look for — there are a number of Facebook posts and Google searches you can do to find out what a reputable breeder is compared to a backyard breeder. Call and talk to a breeder.”
Travers also warns against picking up a puppy from a breeder that is posting ads on buy and sell sites, such as Kijiji.
“Sometimes you may buy a puppy from a puppy mill that’s pumping out hundreds of dogs and you have no idea,” Travers says. “You may think they live at a residence and have one litter but no. They’re just the middle man. That often happens when you’re looking on Kijiji for puppies.”
A cautionary tale for potential dog owners
Chantalle Carroll, a fellow Canadian Kennel Club breeder from Devon, Alta, has bred numerous Canadian champion and grand-champion show dogs, including the father of Travers’ third litter.
In 2013, Carroll, along with other breeders across Canada and the United States, formed KeesRescue. The organization was pivotal in helping to close the largest Keeshond puppy mill in North America and helped find caring new homes for the dogs.
“[They] had over 220 Keeshonden when we first stepped in,” Carroll says. “They were kept in eight by 10 foot wire kennels with concrete floors and straw all year round, with upwards of 10 to 20 dogs per kennel. They’re all matted in their own urine and feces and were pretty much just a wild, feral packs of dogs. In the end we were able to save 113.”
Carroll warns that puppies purchased from these mills can have expensive health costs down the line, including hip, patella and elbow surgeries.
While some online ads may appear cheaper, the parents could potentially have severe health problems they may pass on, as most of these dogs have been bred in and purchased from puppy mills themselves.
“The primary issue is they’re breeding unhealthy and poor quality dogs to other poor quality dogs,”Carroll says.
“Then all the puppies they produce tend to be even lesser quality and with more health and behavior issues.”
“When you see a puppy on Kijiji for $950, it looks like the cheaper buy, but within a year or two and certainly for the life of their dogs they’re paying five, six, seven times more than what a quality bred puppy would have cost them.”
Combatting “puppy mills” and “backyard breeders”
In order to fight the possibility of her own puppies ending up with possible backyard breeders, Travers has been cracking down to make sure her pups are headed to a good home. This includes signing a legal contract with her puppies’ new owners before they pick up their new companion.
“In my contracts I have fines,” Travers says. “$10,000 fines if someone were to inadvertently breed one of my dogs. That’s the first deterrent. The second deterrent is through the Canadian Kennel Club, a non-breeding contract that everybody must sign if they’re going to purchase a dog from me. Of 16 pups so far, I haven’t had one have a miss yet.”
Travers hopes that potential owners will take their time to investigate and not make a sudden impulse purchase, leading to a costly and devastating life of health issues for their new dog.
Instead, she encourages families to approach the numerous reputable breeders across Canada and the U.S., who carefully examine their dogs and all variables to support the puppies’ health.
And while Travers may not view herself as a professional breeder, her goal is to bring healthy puppies into the world, so that her litters may provide the same joy and companionship that her three dogs have brought to her family.
“The [puppies] are the family’s favourite, and also all of our friends,” says Travers. “It’s kinda like Disneyland around here when people come in. Teaching them all kinds of things until they’re nine weeks of age so they can go to their new homes well adjusted and socialized. It’s my favourite for sure.”
- By Eric Tanner