Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why am I a breeder?

I was recently asked why did I begin breeding Mastiffs.  The story is simple.  Like many others, I met and owned a Mastiff that taught me the value of this breed.  He stole my family and my hearts, gave us unconditional love and devotion, and was the most intelligent dog I have ever met. I felt this was a breed worthy of my time, money,and devotion.  That was almost 30 years ago.

Mastiffs are not an easy dog breed to own and raise.  The size and cost of just feeding can be too much for some owners.  Rescue is full of Mastiffs whom their owners could not provide for them.  Veterinary care is expensive--big dog equal big bills. Proper socialization  and training takes time and owner involvement; without this "sweat equity" by the owner you end up with a rather large, uncouth, untrained dog that may develop behavior problems--and once again, rescue takes up the slack.

Mastiff Breeders often invest large amounts of money and time into raising,  health testing, showing, and training  a dog before it is ever bred.  Some OFA exams can't be done until a dog is 2 years old.  Some genetic disorders  don't manifest until Mastiffs are older than 2-3 years of age (Cystinuria and epilepsy).  Often a prudent breeder will wait until 3-4 years of age before doing the first breeding, and it may be the only breeding done with that female.  In my experience, the average cost of health testing can run between $1500.00 and $2500.00 per dog varying on how many tests need to be done.  Brucollosis testing must be done on the dam and sire to be bred to insure neither have this disease.

Speaking of sires--let's don't forget the stud fee cost which may vary from 1 or 2 puppies (often the 1st pick  and 3rd puppies) to a fee ranging from $1800.00 to $3,500.00. I recently saw a listing for a Mastiff stud for $6000.00.  I don't think I will be breeding to him anytime soon.

Infertility is a huge problem for Mastiff breeders--many Mastiff litters consist of only 1 or 2 puppies. Breeders often need to do progesterone testing to know when the timing is right to breed--and the breeding window may only be 12-24 hours.  The breed is essentially "man-made"--the males are often 70-100+ lbs larger than the females making natural breeding difficult or impossible. Thus, the services of a Reproductive Veterinarian is required for an artificial insemination or a surgical implant--with cost varying from $1200.00 to 3000.00 per dog.  I once went for over 7 years without a successful breeding.  I have had 3 females-- of which two were  AKC champions and  health tested --NEVER sucessfully be bred .  I have also had males who at 3 years of age were sterile.  It happens.

 Getting your girl bred is just the first step.  Keeping her pregnant is the next.  So many factors can affect a bred female  and contribute to her successfully carrying a litter to term--from age, stress, heat/cold temapatures, diet, thyroid issues, to general overall health.  Females who have ultrasounds at 5 weeks and are shown to be pregnant often fail to produce  but only one , two, or no  any living puppies at 9 weeks.   Pregnant females have been know to develop pyrometria after 5 weeks--and loose the entire litter and require a spay in order to save their life.

Next, it's the safe delivery of the puppies.  Often Dams can't whelp naturally due to the large size of the puppies, or they develop uterine inertia and their labor stops. The female can have a severely hard labor trying to deliver large puppies-- tear her uterus and bleed to death.  Many of us breeders schedule a c-section to prevent these issues--and this can add $2000.00-3000.00 to your costs.

Finally, you have the raising of the puppies.  Hopefully, your female will be able to nurse and have milk--if not you will be required to bottle fed for 3 weeks or more--that will add $300.00 to 500.00 per puppy of labor and costs to your breeding budget.  I have a breeder friend who recent paid over $5000.00  to someone to raise her litter to 8 weeks.  Mastiff mother are notorious for stepping, laying, and crushing their puppies--so they require 24 hr a day supervision when with the puppies.These puppies will require worming medications , vaccinations, special food, registration costs, Vet exams, and micro chipping.  Let's don't even go there on how much that could cost the breeder.

 A vet once told me a 30% mortality in any litter was average. A fellow mastiff breeder once told me mMastiff puppies are born with an inadept desire to die.  In other words, thay can be very difficult to raise. Many a first time breeder has lost their entire litter in the first few weeks.

So, before the first dollar is paid to the breeder--a sustainable investment of labor, time and money has been made.  No wonder we are so  choosy who gets our puppies!!  Breeding Mastiffs is not for the faint of heart!!  In the past couple of years, we have learned of  a couple of breeders who went bust simply because they did not have any puppies to sell after accepting payemts for puppies--and ended up oweing lots of money to lots of people.  One is currently serving a jail sentance.  I never accept a deposit until I have puppies on the ground and they are at least 4 weeks old.  I just can't understand how you can sell a product (a puppy) until you have one to sell!!

Often there is not a price for a given puppy.  I have made it my custom to place puppies without cost as therapy dogs and emotional recovery dogs with Veteran with PTSD.  I have placed companion therapy dogs with individual with physical disabilities. No fee paid.  I have placed my puppies with other breeders without a fee.  Why?  It's not about the money--it's about putting the right dog where it needs to be.  If I can make enough money to pay my breeding costs--I'm happy--If I don't then I am fine with it. If dog breeding is suppose to be a "business"--then I am often a poor business women because I often don't make a profit.  Ask any ethical  Mastiff breeder who tries to breed health tested, champion dogs--it's a money pit.

Then there is the Code of Ethics most ethical  Mastiff breeders follow as published by the Mastiff Club of America.  There are yearly litter limits (no more than 8 in 2 years), a minimum and maximum age at which a female may be bred, how many times a year a female may be bred, and to whom and how a puppy may be sold.  Thus, many of us are what is refereed to as a "Hobby  or Show Breeder"--we do not mass produce puppies and are not considered a "commerical breeder".  Many of us simply breed enough to maintain the bloodlines of our dogs.

Sometimes the ill advised begin breeding Mastiffs thinking their is a huge profit to be made.  They see the big sale tags on pet store puppies and think there is a fortune to be made in breeding and selling puppies.  A few get lucky; they buy two dogs who breed naturally, the dam whelps her first litter unassisted, and raises the puppies without much owner involvement.  They sell most of  these puppies and make a tidy profit--which fuels the fire to repeat the process.  They may even keep a few Female puppies to raise to also breed in the future (hey, we made this much money on one litter, what if we could do 2 or 3?)-and usually they begin breeding these females when they are way too young.

Often it's not that first litter--it's the second or third litter--when all hell breaks loose.  The dam can't deliver the puppies on her own--the owner waits 24-48 hours  while she labors and can't deliver her puppies, and finally takes her to a vet.  An Emergency c-section is done--and dead puppies are removed--if the dam is lucky.  She may lay around in labor for 2-3 days till finally the owner takes her in to a vet to be examined.  Oh, he's not sure when she got bred--he just keeps them together when she's in heat.   The puppies are dead in side of her--and she is septic and dies on the operating table.   It happens.  A few unlucky expensive breeding episodes--and these dogs get dumped at the local animal shelter, or given or sold to some one else.  Once again rescue steps in to help place these dogs in loving homes.

Having said all this--now I will answer the question, "Why am I a breeder?".  I am a breeder because I love this breed.  I get great joy in seeing my puppies grow up and become beloved family members,  I derive great pride in seeing them work as therapy dogs bringing love and comfort to others.  I feel a sense of accomplishment when the tiny little puppy that I so carefully selected his parents, grand-parents, and great-grand-parents grows up to become a beautiful loving animal. I also see chararistics of all the dogs I have loved in the puppies that I breed, the love and devotion of those dogs reborn, and that gives me great comfort.  That's why I breed.

Catie C. Arney   Hickory, NC