jeudi 16 septembre 2010

Nerves


Hi. It's me.


I am a ball of nerves and questions.

Like What if my husband doesn't think she's a "real" Labrador when she's grown up?

He often said he suspected that our old breeder had slipped us "une bâtarde" in our ignorance, since she didn't, in his estimation, have all the prized Labrador Retriever characteristics; her muzzle, he charged, was too long, her tail failed to be a true otter tail, and her stop, well her stop was less pronounced that perhaps it ought to have been. This was somewhat true, but I argued that she took after her Mardas lines more than Donalbain McDuff and her mother. I knew I never succeeded in convincing him and that he was always merely letting the matter drop, but whenever he was looking to think ill of acquiring a puppy, simply thinking ill period, or wishing to get me going, he'd return to this favorite theme: Rapide was beautiful, but Baccarat was not "a real" Lab.

I struck defensively last night when he began. He'd come out to meet me, having just returned home from the hospital and hearing my bike pull up near the front gate, and made small talk about the bike starting up after sitting over a month since I had stopped going to the veterinary hospital in July and a car that cut me off on a blind bend in the road near Gilles, sending me very nearly into the grass shoulder and a ditch. I recovered in the loose dirt just before the grass, despite a little BMW Series 1 from Calvados going way too fast behind me, who apparently thought I had headed into the shoulder for the fun of it and decided to pass me. He only just made it past me as I absolutely had to pull up into the road or go down.

We were vamping. He wanted to know where I'd been, but hesitated to question me, a very grown woman, on my comings and goings. It eventually came out.

"Mais, tu étais allée où cet après-midi?" I smiled disarmingly. I rarely smile; that's what helps keep it disarming.

"Je suis allée voir le chiot." He threw his head back and made that "hah" breath sound. What he said next sounded like "Ah-ha! I knew it!", except that he said it in French.

"Ha! Je le savais."

He knew I knew he knew it already. He was merely confirming what he had believed. He knows I know he knows me. He waited until we had sat down to dinner to interrogate me; how old is she? When will she be ready to come home? What time had I left? How long had I spent with her? Had I called the breeder to tell her I was coming?

Oh, c'mon! You know I wouldn't just show up, now! No fair asking.

I answered, providing lots of interesting details about the routes I had taken, the pretty things I had seen on the way back crossing le Perche from Luigny up to Dreux, and then I headed him off.

"Elle est adorable bébé, mais je ne sais pas ce que je pense de sa mère. Elle n'est pas aussi belle que Rapide. C'est un peu autre chose en Labrador. Tu sais," I added judiciously, and to cover myself in the event of future criticism, "on ne peut jamais savoir pour certain ce qu'on aura comme résultat."

"Je sais," he acquiesced. He knows that in breeding one can never guaranty outcomes, even starting with excellent bloodlines and the two beautiful dogs you are mating, but I pointed it out again, anyway.

"Et puis," I went on, "chaque éleveur a ses préférences, et pas tout le monde est d'accord avec les goûts du moments du club Labrador." I let my argument trail off. This is where I start to get befuddled and frustrated, personally.

There are so many breeders out there, breeding confirmed Labrador Retrievers, and yet the results are varied. When a dog is judged for breed standard to obtain his final pedigree, he can receive from "good" to "excellent", and even "insufficient", meaning your dog does not conform to the breed standard, no matter how much you paid. The problem appears to be -- according to some breeders with whom I have been in contact -- who is judging. The word "fashion" comes up when the French Labrador Retriever Club, which recommends breeders and offers list of litters of registered puppies, is mentioned, but how can that be when there are official breed standards? It didn't take many conversations with a great many breeders to begin to conclude that the terrain est miné and breeders make, possibly, as many enemies as they do friends professionally.

That it can, in short, get quite political, not unlike the process for awarding the Pritzger in architecture. I can still remember the day I realized that architects hire "marketing professionals" to get them placed in those prestigious magazines and journals we all revered, and for which we paid high priced subscription fees. To think I thought it was all based on exceptional merit.

Quelle déception!

This left me -- confused.

I wrote to one breeder, who enjoys quite a bit of renown among Labrador Retriever breeders, to ask if she could help me locate a breeder producing dogs of the exceptional beauty (in my opinion) of her own, and she replied:
I don't feel happy with the idea of talking behind their backs about other breeders... I know they all do it in France but I regret this way of behaving and although I am more than sure that after 33 years of breeding, and wiping so many people's eyes in the ring... lots of people are probably keen to find something to say about me... I'm going to stick with "do unto others as you would be done by".

I will say in passing , since I must reply to your demand, that I do find it more than slightly extraordinary that I can go to a show in England or, as this week-end, take nine dogs up to the Paris region for the Retriever Club show on Saturday, then on to Switzerland for the Swiss Retriever Club show yesterday - which is just that: "a show" whereas to find a companion you hope to have as a member of your family for perhaps 16 years or more... you want to find her almost in your own back yard!

You see?

I was humbled by her words. How could I not be, when they were intended, certainly with the very best of intentions, to humble me? Of course, I scolded myself, she is right. This is a companion for which I am searching, not a dog to win top place in the international shows. I wrote to thank her for pointing to what my own heart told me already, adding, "it's just that one hears so much that it can quite turn one's head."

But I was not satisfied. There is something ever so slightly dishonest, or perhaps merely disingenuous, in that reply. Of course one is looking for everything the breed offers, including beauty, otherwise, as the breeder Martine Nathhorst, who referred me to Fia's breeder writes in her site, why would you be buying a registered dog?

Quite so.

Some years ago, Madame Nathhorst's dogs fell out of favor with the French Labrador Retriever Club, who, as she tells the story, went so far as to suggest that she should abandon nearly two decades of work building her bloodlines. She writes at great length to take issue with the club for the power it wields, while catering to the whims of fashion in what is considered beauty in Labradors.

She is joined by other breeders, who make their arguments public, while still others, like Rapide and Baccarat's, will tell you what they think when you come to see their dogs. One begins to sense that there is an inner and an outer world to the love of a breed. There are the websites dedicated to forums and products for Labrador Retriever owners, where people can exchange about their passion for these dogs, and there is the world of those breeding for all the reasons one can choose to do so: the love of the breed, the pleasure of producing winners in trial and beauty, and income, as well as achieve fame and glory in the shows and the competitions that are some breeders' world.

I am the last to criticize anyone for making a living from breeding, whether it be dog, cats or horses. It is a highly specialized profession, requiring knowledge and experience. No one who does not understand it should indulge in producing puppies for the pleasure of it, not when you consider the genetic and health issues, not to mention over-saturation of the market, that irresponsible breeding can cause. Please forgive me this moment on my soapbox, but while everyone can love a mutt from the pound as much as the most expensive of pedigreed dogs -- and should if they consider themselves a dog lover --, if one is going to produce a particular breed, the only way to ensure the integrity of the breed is to thoroughly understand and respect it, and then to conduct one's activity in healthful and appropriate quarters, providing quality nutrition, veterinary care, and proper socialization for the dogs and their puppies.

This is not a full-time job; it is a 24/7 job, year round, and give the breeder her due.

I have heard of puppy mills, but I have yet to see one. Perhaps I am lucky, or maybe it is just that I trouble myself to research the question, but the breeders with whom I have spoken and dealt are far from wealthy from their businesses. They do, on the other hand, love their work and take pride in their results, even though a number of them positively refuse to show their dogs, having seen enough to believe the whole affair tainted by interest and self-interest. They do not, it is true, necessary appreciate one another, one chalking another's dislike up to "misplaced professional jealousy". Very possibly, although it is certainly true that the other one would have his own explanation.

It also, in my mind, goes without saying that anyone with a negative opinion of the judging system who is willing to call the system out for what they believe it to be will most likely be charged as being "sour grapes" by those the system continues to privilege.

This is an insiders' affair, and not for the outsider, faint of heart and making their occasional purchase of a dog, to judge off-handedly. I try to listen to an argument and judge it for the value of the points it makes, comparing it to what else I hear and read. In this case, my inexpert opinion tells me that there is likely reason to be suspicious of those judging and making lists of recommended breeders, and the trouble for the rest of us is to learn enough to know how to judge for ourselves, and to trust our judgment. The issue being pointed out is that 30 years ago, the breed was largely unknown outside of Great Britain in Europe, therefore the shows and competitions were not yet tainted by the commercial interests that exist today, when Labrador Retrievers are a good business in the United States, Canada and in Europe. That commercial success, according to Martine Nathhorst, has transformed "ces manifestations en foires d'empoigne où fusent les insultes quand on n'en vient pas aux mains...", meaning these shows have been transformed into free-for-alls where insults are thrown, when it doesn't come to fisticuffs.

She further writes:
Aussi, dire "je ne veux pas un chien de concours, juste un chien de compagnie" n'a aucun sens. Si l'on souhaite acquérir un labrador, c'est pour toutes ses qualités, et si c'est un labrador, il doit répondre à ses promesses, inutile dans le cas contraire de se tourner vers un chien de race.

Meaning, that to say "I don't want a competition dog, just a pet quality dog" makes no sense. If, she says, we wish to get a Labrador Retriever, it is for all of its qualities, and if it is a Labrador, it must rise to all of its promises, otherwise there is no reason to choose a pedigreed breed. (see my previous remarks above).

Fia comes from the kennel of her friend, Florence Sivadier, who breeds under the name Labradors de la Pellousery, to whom she gave one of her dogs, Fair doos at Trewinnard, who in turn produced Garry de la Pellousery, a dog that this breeder recovered after it was poorly judged and given up by a someone new to showing. Garry was later given a judgment by a British judge sufficient to let her introduce Garry to her bloodlines when she was reestablishing her breeding activity. He is brother of C'Juliette du Valhalla, Championne de France 1991, vice-Championne du Monde 1992, daughter of Jenrae Stargazer of Fair doos at Trewinnard, the dog she ceded to the breeder of Fia, shown here at one day short of 6 weeks:



I never had Baccarat confirmed, and I sincerely doubt that I will have Fia Lux confirmed either, as much as part of me says that it is always good for a breeder to have their dogs confirmed. I might be overly cynical, but I didn't like the idea of one judge determining whether she was an "sufficient", a "good", a "very good" or an "excellent" dog, with anything less than "excellent" being virtually useless for a breeder, which I am not, and so it had no meaning for Baccarat, and would not for Fia, either -- and one can imagine that it is but a small step to judge a dog poorly in order to demote a breeder for any reason of which one can think -- because I didn't feel convinced that that judge would follow the standard to the letter or with impartiality (they know from which kennels the dogs come), nor did I feel it to be perfectly necessary.

One should know, however, that it is possible to appeal a breed confirmation decision for pedigree, and that the dog will be judged again by a panel of three judges, who might or might not, according to Martine Nathorst of Valhalla and Pierre Karmazyn of Elevage du Friche-Menuet, actually ever have bred Labrador Retrievers, or anything at all.

I will chose to trust that the this convergence of opinion, even between breeders who do not always have the very nicest things to say about each other, is a reliable indication that I am on the right track.

Right being a term I feel squeamish to apply, lacking 30 years experience myself.
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