The apex…

of scenting ability.

DSC_0770-3Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Years ago while involved in Search and Rescue I was introduced to tracking by a man named Jim Marshall. He cultivated in me an appreciation for awareness and personal space and the second nature to be always looking for indicators.

Today, one of my greatest joys is to find signs of animals passing through the wilderness and letting my imagination run wild with the back stories.

The discovery pictured above, along with a huge pile of hair laden scat, was heart rate elevating!

I searched for the perfect track to photograph and my mind raced with thoughts.

As a former bloodhound handler and instructor of scent theory, I’m well versed in the abilities of certain animals because of physiological makeup to be scenting machines.

Here I was in close proximity to one of the animals at the apex of this description…the grizzly bear. An animal purported to be able to scent 300 times more than a bloodhound.

This is the beauty of photography. Each time I look at this photograph I will remember the cold, the heightened awareness, the silence, and the joy that we felt when we saw it.

I had hoped to see elusive bear number TEN  of the year but I’m okay with it not being this particular bear.

Was he watching? Very likely.

Was I? Always.

In a perfect world, getting a dog…

would be a commitment that would last for the lifetime of that dog and not just until it was no longer convenient…or… why I buy from a breeder.

20110813-Bella II-2

The chief ingredients in the composition of those qualities that gain esteem and praise, are good nature, truth, good sense, and good breeding.

Joseph Addison

I can’t tell you how many times I get a look of disgust from people upon finding out that my puppy did not come from the shelter but that I in fact waited over a year for him to be born and that was after I had done my research and chosen a breeder who was breeding the lines that I was looking for and doing the appropriate genetic testing for hereditary conditions. Even more appalling…this is NOT the first time that I have done this nor will it be the last. On each occasion I have received exactly what I was looking for at the time.

Do I not feel guilt when thinking about the dogs already born who are looking for their forever homes? Of course I do.  Perhaps the guilty feelings come from my compassion for all animals and if I walked into a shelter would I be likely to come out empty-handed? No, how could you look into those eyes and not want to make their world better?

I do however have strong feelings about the need to preserve breeds that have been in existence for decades and in some cases, centuries. Breeds that have been developed to serve a myriad of purposes ranging from home and livestock guardian, search and rescue, hunting, companion dog, and like my current breed, all-purpose dog just to name a few.

Take the bloodhound for example. After completing my own personal training and being certified by the National Association of Search and Rescue I was ready to find my partner to work with on our team. We did not have any bloodhounds currently working tracking/trailing so I searched high and low for a conformationally correct bloodhound. They are scenting marvels with every part of them designed to fulfill a specific purpose. The neck must be long enough to comfortably reach the ground, the ears are designed to waft scent towards the nose, the skin must be loose in order to slip through underbrush more easily, the drool helps to rehydrate the scent and that nose! A human’s nasal cavity is about one and a half inches square while the bloodhound’s comes in at roughly twenty-two and a half square inches. Their testimony is admissible with proper training documentation, in a court of law. From clear across the country I bought a puppy from a Chief of Corrections, a breeder who knew from many years experience exactly the dog that I would require to do the job that she would be trained for. She was utterly fabulous and at the age of 10 months was running 24 hour aged tracks at a flat-out run during a law enforcement training seminar.

For me this is just one experience among many and one excellent breeder among many that I have met. Are all breeders good? Certainly not but this is where doing your homework comes in. It’s been my experience that the breeders who are doing it right, are not making money off of their litters. They are testing for genetic inheritable problems and like the breeder above, working towards producing excellent dogs that are a credit to the breed and this does not come about by cutting corners. Does this guarantee that I will not go through the heartbreak of any health-related issue, certainly not, but it gives me a known starting point. I filled out a lengthy questionnaire before I was even “allowed” to make a deposit on my current dog. My buyers contract was several pages long. Am I happy with him? I am thrilled, he is exactly what I was looking for. Will I show him? More than likely but only if he also enjoys the process. Will he be first and foremost a family member? Absolutely. Another wonderful thing are the friendships that have developed with these breeders who actually care about what happens to their dogs and what they accomplish in their lifetimes. They are an endless source of information and insight on the breeds.

These days when confronted by someone who is appalled that I did not go to the shelter for my dog, I ask a question of them.

Do you have children? If the answer is yes, I then ask why they did not adopt a child who needed a home instead of having one or more of their own. More than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the US every year. Not adopting a child who needs a home is readily forgiven but with rescue organizations being very PC, not adopting a dog from the shelter and buying from a good breeder somehow makes you a bad person.

I think that we all should be allowed to choose who we live with without criticism or judgement. When adding to my “family” I owe it to those that are part of it already to choose someone who will be the right fit.  I hope that the small time breeder, who goes that extra mile to produce purebred dogs with not only the traits that we have come to expect from that breed, but also ones sound in body and temperament, will be allowed to continue producing dogs of merit and will not be legislated into the ground.

I think that our efforts would be better served attempting to weed out puppy mills as I believe these to be the source of many shelter dogs. These poor animals are treated very poorly as breeding stock and no thought goes into producing sound dogs. As a contrast to my puppy, their first very formative weeks of life are not filled with excellent care, appropriate socializing and the astute observations of the breeder to match puppy and future owner. The uneducated, perhaps soft-hearted buyer then comes along and finds that he has a nightmare on his hands and the dog is turned into the shelter for aggression, destructive behaviors, and a host of other potentially avoidable traits. Ahead of him then lies a long road to try to “fix” these issues so that he may one day become adoptable.

That’s not the life that I would choose for any dog and when I look into the eyes of my puppy, I think he knows that he’s one of the lucky ones to have come from a good breeder.

Update: There remains a huge difference between puppy mills and responsible breeders. The responsible breeders that I know rarely come out ahead monetarily when having a litter. I will never condone having a litter of puppies for any reason other than a strong belief that a sounder dog can be produced. Going one step further, I believe that my next dog will come from a shelter.