Saturday, November 03, 2012

Why a Griff?

Trey's Puppies - photo: Supreme Point Kennels
For a few weeks now I've been posting about the forthcoming arrival of a new puppy...the little Wirehaired Pointing Griffon who will join our family in late November. A few people have asked me "Why that breed?" I always have an answer: because Baxter was a Griff.

While we know we'll never have another dog quite like Baxter, getting a dog of the same breed does stack the odds in favor of having a dog that has a similar temperament and a similar -- for lack of a better word -- energy. It's an energy we miss very much. Everyone I've met who has had a Griff in their lives says the same thing. There's just something unique about them. A certain "je ne sais quoi" that I've attempted to describe in many past blog posts about Baxter.

I recently joined a Griffology group on Facebook and it's almost overwhelming, even sobering, to find that so many of the traits we so valued in Baxter are traits every Griff person in that global group says they so love about their dogs. It's a great breed. I'm sure every dog breed group feels the same way. It's just that Jamie and I know it to be true in this case.

Now, as a vocal supporter of pet adoption from shelters and rescues, and as one who proudly shares my home with a mixed-breed dog we adopted from a shelter, I have done some soul searching about whether it's right to get a purebred dog from a breeder when there are so many unwanted dogs needing homes. My answer (which I fully recognize may be the result of some cognitive dissonance) is "it depends."

So here, in the form of unsolicited advice, I will explore that dissonance and how I've come to accept that either way, it's OK, with some notable exceptions...

Shelter puppy: If you want a puppy and you enjoy the wonderful mystery that is a mixed-breed like our Kirby, the shelter is, far and away, the best place to go. I highly recommend it. In fact, if you aren't going to get a well-bred, purebred puppy from a reputable, small-scale dog breeder that pays attention to genetics and careful breeding practices, your best bet is a mixed breed -- hybrid vigor helps ensure that any health or behavioral problems that might be inherent in any contributing breeds is diluted. And it can be fun trying to figure out what breeds are in your dog's ancestry (with Kirby we turned it into a contest among friends -- the winner got a donation to the animal shelter of their choice).

Shelter/rescue adult: Better yet, if you want an adult dog, the shelter or a breed rescue is a great place to find a dog that is already housebroken and comes with a well-formed personality. That can be a very good thing, because if you have time to get to know the dog, you already know how they're going to turn out!  But if you don't have time to get to know the dog, you have to be OK with the fact that these dogs were surrendered to a shelter or rescue for a reason, and you may not know what that is. It may have nothing to do with the dog other than having an owner who can not or will not care for it anymore. But in any case, these dogs come with their own mysteries and you need to be ready and willing to put the time in to help solve them. Too many shelter and rescue dogs end back up in shelters and rescues for the same reasons they were surrendered in the first place.

While Kirby was still a puppy (although older than the shelter thought) when we adopted him, he had come from a feral litter of puppies that had little or no human contact during some critical periods of early development. He came pre-loaded with heartworm, too many teeth and a few socialization issues, and it was our challenge to help him overcome them. It was a challenge we embraced with the love and caring (and large vet bills) our sweet little guy needed and deserved, and we helped him grow into a healthy, friendly, well-adjusted little dog. I wouldn't trade him for any dog. Ever. But Kirby was more than a dog, he was a project.

There are times in one's life that such projects are welcome. There are other times that one has too many projects, and just the effort to housebreak a healthy, well-adjusted puppy is project enough. A well-bred purebred puppy at least gives you a fairly accurate prediction of the kinds of health and behavioral issues you may need to deal with. It also gives you a pretty good idea of how big the dog will be, what the personality will be like, how much care the coat will be and how to approach things like training. For us, at this time in our lives, these were key factors in our decision to get another Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

Not from a puppy mill! I say well-bred purebred because poorly-bred purebred dogs are probably the worst choice you can make. They may look like you expect them to, but they may be riddled with genetically-based health problems, just for starters. And if you get a puppy from a pet store, there's a high chance that your purebred or cross-breed dog (I see a lot of labradoodles and puggles around these days) came from a puppy mill. I think we've all seen the photos of the inhumane treatment of these dog-breeding factories with cage after cage of breeder dogs living in misery and filth, existing only to produce puppies as "products" for some uncaring person's profit. The in-breeding that often takes place can result in dogs that have serious health and mental problems, behavioral issues and short lifespans. It's not the puppy's fault. But if you get one of these dogs, you are supporting an "industry" that should not exist.

There is a HUGE difference between these puppy mills and the small-scale, loving, humane purebred dog breeders who keep their dogs as family companions and put a great deal of effort into ensuring that their puppies' bloodlines and genetics are sound to further the development of the breed. These people are dedicated to their breeds, and their dedication is usually out of love for their own dogs and the desire to continue putting those great dog genes into the world. It's both a passion and a science. And it's not new -- it's something humans have been doing with dogs ever since someone noticed "hey, look at that dog pointing at that bird" or "wow, if only we could get more dogs to round up the sheep like that."

Good dog breeding has been helping humans eat and live more productive lives for millennia. Now it helps people like us find a puppy that we know a little bit about before we bring him or her into our home. It helps us stack the odds in our favor that the little canine who will be a part of our family for the next (hopefully) 12-15+ years will be the kind of companion we have come to know and love through one who shared some of his or her ancestral DNA.

So yeah, it depends. We are getting a purebred Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and we are very happy about it. We've found a great breeder who is also a veterinarian, who raises her puppies in a warm, loving home, around their children and their cat and a little dog. We know, from our experience with Baxter, that Griffs are great around children, but it helps to know that the puppies are being adored by children from day one. We got to see the pictures of mama Trey when she was expecting, the first pictures of the newborn pups (on my birthday!) and we're following their growth and progress through pictures and videos the breeder posts on Facebook. It's an experience unlike one I've ever had in the past when it comes to adopting a dog, but it's fun. And we can hardly wait to bring that little Griff into our home.

I still have my dream of starting a rescue/rest home for senior dogs some day. And we'll probably have more shelter or rescue dogs in the future as well (when we get more space). But there's just something about those Griffs...

1 comment:

Di and Barney said...

I have followed your blog over the years and I'm so happy to see you are getting another Griff. I check in daily for your updates and I'm so happy for you!