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Reputable Breeders?

Daniela & Friends
Daniela & Friends

by Daniela Rosenstreich
Palmerston North
New Zealand

Do other Boxer club secretaries get phone calls like this: "My Boxer just died at the age of 3 years. We want another one but want to get one that won't have heart problems. Can you give us the names of some good breeders?"

Do you also find it impossible to resist asking who they got their last Boxer from?

Do you shrink in horror when you find it is someone highly regarded in the dog show world? And does that shrinking become more pronounced when you find that over time you get other identical phone calls and learn that some well known breeders produce more short-lived dogs than should be acceptable?

As secretary of a Boxer Club, I'm expected to recommend that puppy buyers go to reputable breeders. But reputable can be an empty word. Breeding experience, fame, and show success can have little relationship to ethical breeding practices.

We have breeders of "good repute" merrily breeding Boxers with severe heart problems, and abdicating responsibility by telling the owners of the doomed animal that "every line has heart problems." Is this true? Perhaps. Certainly it can be said that every line potentially has heart problems, but if I didn't believe it were possible to breed Boxers with a good life expectancy, I wouldn't want to persevere. How can these "reputable" breeders justify continuing to breed if they truly accept that a Boxer dropping dead at 3 years of age is just a fact of life?

The sad truth is that these breeders, though reputable, are not responsible. They may know the current Boxer Standard backwards and forwards, but their ignorance about the breed could literally kill it off.

We here on the underbelly of the world have breeders who have never heard of cardiomyopathy, yet it's here. We have vets who think they can check a Boxer’s heart with a stethoscope and pronounce it safe for breeding. We don't have a grading scheme despite vets stating that murmurs are common enough to be the norm for Boxers! Most breeders don't even screen for hip dysplasia. We have no "Standard" for the health of our dogs. How can we claim to be any better than the backyard breeders we're so quick to condemn? How does it help that we know our dog's pedigree and know how those relatives looked and behaved in their lifetimes if we don't also take notice of the fact that some of those lifetimes weren't nearly long enough?

I imagine it's very easy for those of you on the other side of the world to sit smugly and say you're being responsible breeders. And yes, it is true that in the USA and Canada more and more breeders are monitoring hearts for cardiomyopathy. And in the UK, having heart murmurs graded is the "done thing." Does this mean that cardiomyopathy doesn't exist in the UK, and that heart murmurs are of no concern in the USA? I am certain that the answer to that is a resounding NO.

So what do we do? How about a new Boxer Standard - one that states clearly the degree of physical fitness required by the breed and the means of assessing it. Let the Standard state how many VPCs are acceptable during a 24 hour heart monitor, have it mention the desirable murmur gradings, and include the optimal hip scores. Then perhaps a breeder who breeds to the Standard would be producing a Boxer we can all be proud of.

Yes, I know I'm dreaming. Of course a health element in the Standard would have no effect. If Boxers are shown and advertised proudly as being over the Standard height, who is going to care if the dogs don't live up to the Standard in other ways.

So, what about the Kennel Clubs? Could they start poking their noses into health issues and refuse to register breeders who don't put health ahead of all else? Fat chance that the Kennel Club would want to get into a scheme like that!

So who cares enough about the breed to do something to help ensure that a registered breeder, breeding to the Standard, is producing Boxers that have every chance to have a long and healthy life. It should be us Boxer enthusiasts. All of us, everywhere.

We all need to pull our heads out of the sand. All the serious hereditary health problems in Boxers exist all around the world! In one country or another, a particular problems may be occurring more frequently because of the way the "deck" of genes has been dealt there, but without vigilance, those problems will become more common elsewhere too - shuffle and deal a deck of cards over and over and eventually you might deal something surprising.

The purpose of all our Boxer clubs is surely to preserve and promote the breed. Health has to be the most important consideration in all our breeding programs. Our clubs should be focussing energy on education, and then regulation to ensure that the people who become reputable breeders are not destroying our breed.

Maybe one day I'll be able to get those phone calls asking about a breeder and breathe easy, knowing that I can safely pass on details of all club members' litters as a source of a Boxer with a good life expectancy.

Then all I need worry about is what the temperament of those puppies will be....

Arrrgghhhh - why did I ever agree to be secretary??!

Daniela Rosenstreich
Apex Boxers
Palmerston North


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