"We believe the best Labrador puppies are produced by healthy happy Labrador adults."
I have been training labs for almost 20 years however I am relatively new to dog breeding. I recently decided to branch out into breeding after I went on the hunt (following the loss of our last chocolate labs Haley Grace and Beau Aron) to find healthy labs to rebuild my training program. What I learned about the dog breeding world can only be described as shocking and heartbreaking.
Here is my story... My precious boy Beau was a 5 year old block head Chocolate Labrador. He had his first Mast Cell Tumor (MCT) surgically removed February 28, 2011. He had his second MCT surgically removed exactly 8 weeks later on April 25, 2011. The second was much more active & grew from the size of a grape to the size of a tennis ball in less than a week. It was diagnosed as a tumor in the lymph node indicating the Cancer had metastasized (spread throughout his vital organs making it fatal). My Vet explained the second tumor was a Grade III & much more aggressive than the first. The prognosis was grim. The Vet gave my Beau only 3-6 months, closer to 3, before the Cancer would take his life.
I prayed so hard for a healing of my little boy's body. I prayed harder than I've ever prayed for anything in my life. I have faced more than my fair share of heartaches & challenges, but this heartache was more than I believed I could bear. To lose Beau at such a young age would have been to weaken the very faith that has led & sustained my life for almost 50 years. I was praying for a miracle although I couldn't see how God could answer my prayer because according to my Vet, it was already too late medically to save Beau. I decided against a biopsy because there didn't seem to be any point in getting this devastating news twice. The thought of hearing those words again was too overwhelming. My husband and I had stopped talking to each other because all we could do when we looked at each other or at Beau was cry. I was beyond heartsick. I was inconsolable. I took time off work because I could not function, I could not seem to stop crying long enough for my red eyes to clear up, and all I could think about was the pain and heartache of decisions we would soon have to make and the reality of facing the first day after my Beau’s time on this earth had come to an end. I know dogs are a gift from God and we have to give them back when their time comes, but I just could not understand why God was taking him from me when he was still so young. My dogs were everything to me and were no different in my heart than human children. I know it was selfish, but I didn’t want to give him back.
After 3 days in a haze of grief & disbelief, I asked my Vet to send Beau's tumor to the lab for a biopsy. Again I was told there was no point as my Vet diagnosis Cancer on almost a daily basis and she was 99.9% sure of her diagnosis/prognosis. I don't know how to explain it, but I needed a second diagnosis before I could start preparing to lay my otherwise seemingly healthy & happy baby boy to rest. I know the odds of beating a 99.9% diagnosis/prognosis, but I couldn't move forward with ensuring quality of life for the time we had left together until the diagnosis/prognosis was 100%.
Everything that could go wrong & right did. Beau's tumor had been thrown in the dumpster at the Vet's office. A tech who knows the love & care I have for my dogs went dumpster diving to try to find the tumor not knowing if it had already been picked up by the trash truck. Luckily the trash truck was running late & the tumor was located close to the top. The tumor went to the lab, but the results were somehow lost & my Vet didn't receive them. Either the results were found or a new biopsy was performed (I'm not sure which) & finally after a couple of weeks the results arrived. My Vet waited until the end of the day to open the envelope because she knew how devastated I was & dreaded giving me the bad news again.
It was 5p.m. when she called me. She was crying so hard she could barely get the words out. All she could say was, "I have never been so happy to be so wrong." The tumor she removed was located on the prepuce muscle. It was not a lymph node, so there was hope. The surgery had not produced clean margins. The tumor was a Grade II, not the terminal Grade III as she had thought, but it was an aggressive Cancer and more testing would be needed. Beau would need staging tests because of the dirty margins & to determine if the Cancer had metastasized.
We made an appointment at Auburn University’s Veterinary Hospital where both of Beau’s tumors had been sent for biopsy. We stayed two whole days after having been told we would only need to be there for 6 hours. After two 10-hour days of worry, anxiety, fear, and dread, I begged for someone to please tell me something. I had already been told I was going to lose my baby to Cancer; there could not be any worse news and all I wanted was to take my baby home and give him the best quality of life I could for whatever time we had left together. When the oncologist came out to talk with me, she had a confused look on her face and my heart sank. I was certain I was about to have my world shattered again. She started out by explaining to me that although medicine has seen many advances in the last decade, there was still no cure, no treatment, and no fixing bad genetics so she had no explanation for what all the test results confirmed. She stated she was 100% certain of the results because she ran all the tests twice. She reasoned that there could have been a mistake in the specimen testing or perhaps there had been a mix up in the chain-of-custody of Beau’s tissue, bone, and draws because Beau’s results were not what she expected given the aggressiveness of Beau’s Cancer and all four sides of dirty margins with massive Cancer cells remaining after surgery. She continued by stating she had no scientific explanation for how it could be possible, but my Beau was as healthy as a puppy. In fact, all the tests came back at healthy levels unseen in patients who have experienced Cancer. There was no sign he had ever been sick and no indication of Cancer anywhere in his body. She suggested I take him home and continue to do whatever I had been doing for him since he had the last tumor removed. The Oncologist recommended chemo & radiation at the surgical sites just to be sure we covered all the precautions modern medicine could offer, however Beau had not done well with the anesthesia & the whole Cancer ordeal had terrified him repeatedly. He was trying in every way he knew to tell me he was not a candidate for chemo or radiation. I love my baby with every ounce of my being and as much as I could not bear the thought of failing him by not exploring all the options, I knew all the medical procedures had taken their toll on him.
It was time I accepted the miracle God had given us and put an end to Beau's unnecessary suffering. I believe God blessed me and my Beau with the miracle healing I prayed for and the staging tests confirmed this was true. I was blessed to enjoy another seven years with my Beau and he was completely healthy until old age began to take its toll on him after he turned 12. Beau’s time on this earth came to an end when he was 13 years and 1 day old. He was very much loved and aside from the Cancer ordeal, he lived a very happy and full life. I was so lonely and the quite in our home after our fur babies returned to heaven was deafening so I knew we needed to fill our home with little paw prints again. I never forgot what Beau’s Oncologist said to me, “There is no cure, no treatment, and no fixing bad genetics.” I set out on a journey to learn all I could about canine genetics and how I could ensure our next fur babies had good genetics.
I spoke with and/or visited more than two hundred Labrador Retriever kennels across the United States and was, to say the least, absolutely appalled at what I saw and what I learned. What I thought was reputable breeders (based on my research and online reviews) turned out to be nothing more than very sad puppy mills. The mantra of the dog breeding world is “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” If the buyer does not know enough to ask if the puppy is a carrier, the breeder is under no obligation to disclose this fact. Carrier dogs are dogs that carry genetic defects (defective genes, also known as bad genetics). Every single one of these kennels is knowingly and intentionally breeding and selling “carrier” dogs. ANYONE willing to spend a few hundred dollars more can buy AKC full registration a.k.a. breeding rights and, with no questions asked, a.new puppy mill is born. The puppy buyers are not told the puppies are carriers much less which defective genes the puppies carry. The most common Labrador Retriever defective genes are:
CMN - Centronuclear Myopathy
DM - Degenerative Myelopathy
EIC - Exercise-Induced Collapse
PRA-PRCD - Progressive Retinal Atrophy
RD/OSD - Retinal Dysplasia/Oculoskeletal Dysplasia 1
Skeletal Dysplasia 2 - Skeletal Dysplasia 2
HNPK - Hereditary Nasal Parakeratosis
Most of the breeders stated they see nothing wrong with breeding carrier dogs because it is only a problem if both dogs being bred carry the same genetic defect or defects. When I asked the breeders how the buyer would know their puppy carries one or more defective genes or which defective gene or genes their puppy carries, the most common responses were, “it is the buyer’s responsibility to know what questions to ask or if the buyer wants to know what defective gene or genes their puppy carries, it is the buyers responsibility to DNA test their puppy before breeding.” I was repeatedly informed that it is not the breeder’s job to educate the buyer; they are dog breeders, not educators.
While it is true that a carrier dog only has one copy of the disease gene or one copy of each of the disease genes that it carries and is therefore not sick (or “affected” as it is called in the breeding world), the fact remains that the dog was born with bad genetics. It is the immune system’s job to keep these bad genetics at bay. As for me, I would prefer my dog’s entire immune system remain 100% available to my dog as my dog ages so the immune system can do what it is meant to do which is to protect my dog’s health from birth instead of being tied up with defective genes or, as my vet oncologist called it, “bad genetics.”
Throughout my journey I was unable to locate one kennel that treated their breeding dogs as companions or pets. I would make appointments to visit the kennels and then show up a couple of hours early so I could view the kennels before they were cleaned up for my visit. I found zero compassion for any of the breeding dogs. Dogs do not like to pee or poop where they sleep, but these breeding dogs had no other choice. Most of the kennels had dozens of breeding dogs. The dogs were all filthy. They were housed 24 hours a day in poorly-constructed outdoor cages or pens barely big enough for the dog to turn around in, and the cages and pens had several days of poop in them, which was being quickly hosed off ahead of my approach. There was electric shock cattle wire ran above the pens so when the dog jumped up as I approached their pen, their poor heads were shocked by the electric fence. Most of the properties smelled like they had chicken houses instead of a dog kennel. It appeared the only time the dogs had been out of their cage or pen was for pictures for the breeder’s website. They remain in their outdoor cages or pens in all weather conditions (rain, sleet, snow, sweltering heat, freezing temps, storms, etc.) They were not socialized; they had no training; they had no recognition of their names; and they were all starved for human attention. It appeared the only human contact they had with a human was when someone brought them food or changed out their water bucket. The food they were being fed was cheap adult food (budget-friendly as the breeders called it). It was not the large breed, high-quality dog food that labs need. Most of the breeders performed their own medical care with poor quality cheap products they bought at feed stores (to eliminate vet costs I was told). It was a sad sight to see and it seemed as though each kennel I visited was even worse than the last which I didn’t think possible. It was sad. It was heartbreaking. It was inexcusable. No dog should live their life in these conditions, but especially not a Labrador Retriever. Labradors are extremely human dependent and they need moderate exercise every day.
The breeders did their best to convince me that these are the realities of dog breeding. They justified the way they run their businesses by explaining that breeding dogs are not companion animals and they aren’t pets. They are business property whose job it is to produce product throughout their “careers” and when they can no longer breed they are “retired” and either given away, moved to an outdoor fenced area where they spend the remainder of their lives alone and all but forgotten, and that some breeders euthanize their "retired" dogs to make room for new breeding bloodlines.
I was informed that buyers don’t care about the adult breeding dogs, buyers are looking for the cheapest purebred lab they can find and they don’t want to know anything about the details of how the puppy was produced. I hope and I pray that not all pet parents feel this way. In fact, I am betting my future on there being other pet parents out there that love their labs the way I love mine.
After my exhausting breeder search, dealing with far too many "professional" puppy mill breeders, a lot of research, and a lot of canine genetics education I became convinced there had to be a better way to buy a lab. I couldn’t find it, so I built it. I decided to expand my Labrador dog-training business to include breeding labs and educating lab puppy parents. If I can save one puppy and his or her puppy parent from the pain and suffering my Beau and I went through, his suffering will not have been in vain. Dugger Mountain Canine Services has now expanded its services by adding Dugger Mountain Labs. We hope you will come see for yourself, there truly is a better way to buy a lab.
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