March 1, 2022

Probably, if you are taking the time to read this column in this publication, you are a breeder, have been a breeder or hope to be a breeder. No doubt, you think of yourself as a responsible “elite” breeder and you’ve studied pedigrees and have health testing recorded for both the sire and dam of your litters. The pedigrees are robust with Champions and rosettes of every color. But have you taken all the steps to be considered a truly responsible breeder? Let’s start with how you screen the myriad of puppy buyer applicants with whom every Havanese breeder is besieged. Applications for your puppy buyers to complete should be very thorough, perhaps even intrusive for some. Dutifully, I respond to every inquiry and my reply asks if they want to complete an application to be put on my waiting list. If they say “yes” and they then return the application, my review work begins. After the initial questions of names, address and contact info, I ask simply “Ages of people in the home.” That’s the one question I want to explore thoroughly in this column. For lack of space here, I will save other puppy questionnaire points for other columns.

“Age” seems like an easy, non-offensive question, right? Wrong. The responses or nonresponses raise big red flags for me. First, if that question goes unanswered, I write back immediately pointing out the apparent “oversight.” Rarely was it an oversight. Usually, it is a question people don’t want to answer. No answer? No puppy.

First, personally, I don’t want to place dogs with families where there are children aged 5 or under, unless the home is very dog experienced or there is already a pet in the household. I always have to meet, in person, with puppy buyers and that includes everyone in the household, young or old. The kids who arrived with their parents to pick up their new puppy, and were using my furniture as trampolines, did NOT work out for the puppy or for me. I learned the hard way that overactive, undisciplined children were not the best companions for my puppies. Granted, another breeder might not have had any issues with those children. (Not surprisingly, the puppy was returned a week later, unharmed. Thank goodness.)

Perhaps even more important than the ages of the children, are the ages of the adults. I can’t stress this enough. Our puppy contract specifies our “lifetime guarantee” of taking back any puppy that can no longer be maintained with the original purchasers. I think very seriously about the issues of what happens if the dog outlives them. I want to know specifically what the contingency plan is for a puppy I sell to seniors. We have now been breeding long enough to have sadly witnessed the passing of several owners. Our contract specifically states that while the puppy MUST come back to us, we won’t withhold permission for a trusted family member or friend to be the successive owner, IF WE APPROVE that person.

We have experienced several different situations regarding aging and dying puppy owners. Here are some:

Mr. Q calls to say that he and his wife were going into an assisted living facility together and the dog (then age 10) could not go with them. No one Mr. Q knew was interested in this beautiful dog. So off we go, picked him up, and within 48 hours he went to live the rest of his healthy and long life with a lovely woman who had recently lost her dog and had been waiting patiently for one of our Havanese. Perfect! Older dog; older person. He is the apple of her eye and has reinvigorated her. If the dog outlives her, he will go to her children who have another Havanese of ours.

This month we received a tougher call but with an equally happy ending. A lady we have known in Havanese for decades had lost both her Havanese to old age. She was pining away for another one. She was a woman in her mid-seventies at the time. She was very frank about being in long term remission from brain cancer but assured us her adult children would love to have a dog if something happened to her.

She fell in love with one of our retired show dogs and after many discussions about her age and health Dizzy entered her very privileged and active life. A year or two passed with many pictures and happy emails. Then the worst phone call came. The cancer had returned and we were put on notice that the “end” would not be too far off. We were prepared to take our Dizzy back, of course. But… enter two angels. Next door neighbors who were devoted to Dizzy’s owner had fallen in love with Dizzy. While Dizzy’s owner had 24/7 home health care and then hospice care, the neighbors were there to take care of Dizzy without extricating her from the home prematurely. We fell in love with them and their concern for Dizzy’s mom and for Dizzy. Last week the call arrived that Dizzy’s mom had passed and Dizzy, now well familiar with the neighbors and their home, was already enroute to her new home. Pictures of my happy baby keep arriving.

Plan for surprises – be clear about the ‘what ifs’ if the worst does happen. Have you looked at your puppy application and contract recently with this in mind?

Written in loving memory of Dibbie Clark

Alice L. Lawrence,