Tag Archives: puppy mill

Cavalier hearts: the difference between what breeders say and what they do

Although this research is about UK breeders, the same problem exists in the US. Between poor breeding practices by “good” breeders and puppy mills, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are going to be, if they aren’t already, a dying breed.

Losing our Cavaliers would be devastating, but it would also be stupid when there are ways to mitigate the potential health issues. This research makes me so sad.

Cavaliers Are Special

Crufts, the dog world’s annual extravaganza, took place in March. On the Friday of the show health campaigners Margaret Carter and Charlotte Mackaness, along with television vet and author Emma Milne, presented the comments from the then 30,000 signature-strong Cavalier health petition to the Kennel Club asking for compulsory testing for Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Syringomyelia (SM). The KC repeated its refusal to make testing mandatory.

petition hand over The Cavaliers Are Special team handing the petition to the KC’s Bill Lambert at Crufts

Under the bright lights a few hours later the Cavalier best of breed was crowned. For the dog’s owners it was a time of great celebration. For health campaigners, it was a sober reminder of just how badly enforcement of breeding guidelines and is needed.

The winning dog turned 2.5 years old just before Crufts. To help reduce the incidence and age of onset of heart disease, cardiologists…

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Nothing Like Normal

I came across a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel listed for adoption the other day. He’s not in a Cavalier specific rescue, but a good one nonetheless. I don’t want to point out too many details.

I could have this all wrong. I don’t know this dog at all, I haven’t spoken with his foster mother or the rescue, all I know is what I read, and it broke my heart. Not only for the dog but also because the lengthy description kept describing this adult puppy mill rescue as nothing like a “normal” Cavalier.

I guess I don’t know “normal” then because my puppy mill rescue has a lot of the same behaviors.

She’s not a big cuddler. She likes to be near you but, for instance, right now she is at the far end of the couch, away from me.

She hates to be picked up, carried, or held in a restraining way. The best thing we ever did for her was getting dog stairs for the couch and the bed. She loves the stairs so much that when my wife tripped over them and broke a piece, Callie had to wait a day for us to fix them and she was depressed all day long. She wasn’t even that excited about treats. That’s right, a Cavalier so depressed she didn’t care about food. Freedom is better.

She shakes and runs if touched from behind, even just brushed accidently. Nobody can reach for her head to pet her at first, always her sides so she can see your hands at all times.

She grumbles all the time, licks her lips, wiggles her nose, and makes this sound that I will do my best to spell phonetically – bhuumph – when she is annoyed or wants something or unknown reasons. She makes the sound so frequently that my daughter started calling her “Bhuuphy” which, of course, turned into “Bhuuphy” the Vampire Slayer.

I am being somewhat facetious here.

These points are all equivalent to ones in the adoption ad. Callie was terrified of everything (working on it), she is still “nothing like a normal Cavalier” apparently, but it’s hard to see that because she’s my Cavalier.

I know she’s not ever going to be the type of dog who runs to the door to greet me, who climbs into my lap or feels totally safe all the time, but she’s here, and I am doing the best I can with my normal.

My point is that most puppy mill rescues exhibit a lot of these same behaviors. A lot of puppy mill rescues are “not normal” for their breed. When I went to meet Callie, there were a couple of Bichon/Poodle mixes from a puppy mill, and they were wholly different than dogs of that breed mix I have met before.

The puppy mill is what makes the dog “not normal,” but to repeatedly point that out is detrimental to the adoption of puppy mill dogs everywhere. I didn’t rescue a Cavalier to get “normal,” I rescued a Cavalier because it mattered to me.

I don’t want individuals adopting puppy mill rescues without understanding the specific issues that come with the dogs, but I also don’t want people walking away just because that rescue dog came from a puppy mill.

I don’t accept the distinction of “normal” and “not normal.” I don’t accept the idea that just because a puppy mill rescue might act differently than dogs of their breed raised from puppies in a home, they are NOT like their breed at all. And, you know what, half the description of the dog sounded just like a Cavalier to me.

A Little Bit of History, Part 1

I’ve had several inquires as to how I found Callie on Petfinder.com. Cavalier rescues are harder to find, and copious amounts of people apply for the available dogs as soon as they pop up. I’m not kidding either when I say copious.

It was a lucky combination of two things – my incessant search for a Cavalier (I’ll get to the why of that in Part 2) and an incredible rescue Champlain Valley Canine Rescue. CVCR has developed a particular relationship with a few Amish puppy mill owners in Holmes County, Ohio which allows them to pull dogs directly from the mills when the owners are “done with them.”

Tammy, the Executive Director of CVCR, makes two trips a year to pick up several dogs and this fall she brought back Callie or “Debbie” as it was. The day she was posted, I searched and found her. ❤

After bringing Callie home and beginning to work with her, I grew curious about how the rescue relationship worked. When we adopted Callie, we got a sound bite of a story. It didn’t seem to matter much then – until I got the idea to write about Callie. As soon as I wanted to write about her, I wanted to know everything I could about her. And not just her, but the rescue too.

The first thing you have to recognize, whether you understand or accept it, is that the Amish do not believe animals have a soul. They are taught from birth that animals were put on this earth for man to use as they see fit.

The second is that some puppy mills ride just above the line and keep their facilities “inspectable.” It’s the laws that have to change.

Tammy started going out to the puppy mill dog auctions about 10 years ago when she was with Green Mountain Pug Rescue. She went both with groups and alone and always bought as many dogs as she could take back. After a few years, some people decided that they could just send their dogs to her/them instead of the dog auction.

She liked the idea of running her own rescue and started CVCR. Tammy receives calls all year long about dogs who need to be pulled from the mills. She almost always pays a “freedom price,” an offer of something to keep the dog alive until she can get to them.

Things that get dogs pulled from puppy mills:

  • Hitting age 5 or 6 and being basically used up as a breeding female
  • Hitting age 2 without getting pregnant
  • Not being sold as a puppy

It’s worst, I think, for the older puppies. The ones around 1. They tend to come out of the mills the most shell-shocked and overwhelmed. Callie, on the other hand, is freaked out by other stuff too but has also dealt with life for some years, so she takes it in stride.

Callie is from an unusual puppy mill. Not that it was particularly nice or anything special, but the owner cared about breeding for conformation at least, which prevented some health problems in most of his dogs. He has for a long time. We ended up with a middle-aged Cavalier who doesn’t have a heart murmur or other major health issues. That’s rare, especially when talking about a puppy mill dog. CVCR pulls a lot of dogs, particularly Cavaliers, from that mill.

Like many rescues, CVCR then relies on foster homes for the dogs. There is a quarantine space for when the dogs first arrive, before they get vetted and, hopefully, sent right out to a home. Some don’t make it to foster homes right away. Callie had no roost yet, though the other Cavalier that also came back on that trip was housed. We had a choice to make that morning – visit Callie, i.e. “Debbie,” at the rescue, or go visit “Shannon” at her foster home. I’d say we made the right selection – although truth be told, if we had enough money at the time, we probably would have adopted both girls. We are suckers like that.

“It’s not a perfect system,” Tammy said, “it’s merely a stop-gap measure to get them into homes that love them.”

No, it’s not a perfect system, but if we strive for perfection would anything ever get done?





The Lives They’ve Lived Before



Callie the Couch Dog

It is the little things that impress-frustrate-embolden me when I am with Callie. Just now I spent 15 minutes convincing her that a. the stool I brought in from the kitchen was not evil, and b. that she could, in fact, climb on it to get up on the couch.

“Why?” You might wonder.

Two reasons again – 1. because she can’t seem to jump up on the couch and is scared of being picked up, yet she wants to be up here all the time, and 2. because she has a lot of trouble transferring skills.

She didn’t get up on the couch, but she got her front paws up on the stool and considered how she might get from there to the sofa. But, then she got overwhelmed and stepped back down. I’m proud of her. Front paws on something new in 15 minutes is pretty impressive.

It’s different than when you are working with a young one. A rescue, especially one who has never seen the outside world, sees everything with far more trepidation than your average puppy.

They’ve already lived lives.

Callie came to us from a puppy mill. She was there for the last five/six years and hasn’t known anything but the inside of a cage, puppies, and the experience of being shoved in another cage for mating. Did I mention she doesn’t like to be picked up? It’s mostly because it freaks her out if anybody touches her rear end. ‘Nuff said.

Her fear drives my desire to find solutions for Callie. I want her to experience the world in a much more positive way, without too many accommodations.

That was the life she lived then, one of fear. I’m responsible for the life she lives from here on out.

nap time early days
Callie and I nap together on the couch in the early days

One cat definitely doesn’t mind that Callie takes the couch!

Pippin the Cat-Dog



WOAH eyes, Cats, and Spilt Kibble

I wish I had saved a copy of her Petfinder photo. Her eyes were bugging out of her head (not that Cavaliers’ are known for having buggy eyes or anything), but you could see the whites the whole way around. She looked terrified.

She still gets that look sometimes; I call it her “WOAH eyes,” when something is overwhelming or momentarily frightening her.callieday1

The amazing thing about Callie is that while she seems scared, most of the time she is just hesitant until she has taken in the new situation. After that, she’s pretty mellow about whatever is new. I can usually tell when she’s scared and remove her from those settings.
Oh my, the cats, though.

When poor, un-cat tested Callie came home to find three cats who, while mostly having pleasant experiences with dogs in recent months, were oh so not amused. All three took turns puffing up sideways and hissing at her. It turns out, our cats are bigger than Callie, at least height wise. Scared the, shall we say, poop right out of her.

For days she tried to sniff them only when they weren’t paying attention, and all three realized she was scared of them. While the female cat couldn’t give a damn, the two males decided to mess with her. Our biggest scaredy-cat and the largest cat would come by when I was petting her and drape his tail back and forth across her face.

And the fact that I brought her to bed during my nap time was the biggest offense of all. There was a fair amount of staring from the cats before they slowly decided to take over the bed again, much to Callie’s anguish.callieandgigiwatchtv

I’m rather certain it was 90% WOAH eyes and 10% calm eyes that first week, the gentle eyes came when my daughter arrived and Callie cuddled with her. Aren’t you supposed to be MY therapy dog?

Ok, several weeks into having Callie, is it acceptable for me to admit that neither of us can keep from laughing when she has a spectacular reaction to something tiny brushing her backside? As in breakfast this morning. Oh, Callie. Jess brought her bowl of food into the living room. Callie prefers her breakfast together while we drink our coffee. I entered the room and went to get something from behind her; my pant leg must have touched her slightly. Suddenly, all four legs went in different directions, and half her breakfast spilled. I was given a very insulted look until Jess and I, on hands and knees, picked up the spilled kibble and put it back in her bowl while she continued to eat.

Wait, did I just say we paused drinking morning coffee to pick up spilled kibble for our dog? Not enough coffee in us to make smart decisions that early. That and Callie still fails to understand the concept of finding food on the floor. What dog forgets to check the floor after the first time they discover it?