I had a hole in my heart when I emailed Solo’s breeder, Joan Andreasen-Webb, back in May of 2003. David and I had put our wonderful German shepherd Zev to sleep the week before: lost to an obscure disease at too young an age. I had decided I wasn’t going to mope for a year before I got on a waiting list and waited for another year to get a pup. I had a German shepherd lover’s version of a biological clock, though perhaps not quite as dramatically as Marisa Tomei’s. Tears were still pouring as I emailed Joan. I had researched to her dogs via a number of people. I’d been on the web, on the phone, on email almost non-stop. Framheim German Shepherds and Joan kept popping up. Joan wrote back, warmly and candidly. Thus began a relationship that is more than a decade old and has changed my and David’s life. One year later, in May 2004, Solo arrived in our home like a small freight train. He comprised the Y litter, the 25th litter Joan had bred. She whelped one final litter after Solo, and temporarily retired from shepherd breeding, having completed the alphabet.
Joan wrote this back in May 2013 after I had finished the book. I read it and got a lump in my throat. I asked Joan if I could post it on this blog not because Joan chose me to become Solo’s owner (although I am forever grateful and fortunate), but because to me, her succinct essay epitomizes responsible breeding.
Letter from Joan
Hobby breeders can be an odd lot. Match-making runs through our veins.
When we plan litters, every available source is searched, scratching out details on ancestors. How did relatives perform in Schutzhund? Were they confident, easily trained, over-aggressive, out of control, nervous or fearful? We watch them performing in trials and observe their every expression to evaluate their mental soundness. We study their anatomy for structural correctness. Have they passed their strengths onto their progeny?
When a breeder has bred generations of her own dogs, we have a handle on who they are and what they produce. We can be our dogs’ strictest critics even with the emotional bonds we have with them. We recognize glimpses of ancestors gazing back at us in every litter. Each pup is a vessel of its family history and a reckoning of our matchmaking abilities.
You might think we fulfill our matchmaking drives via our dogs. No – the obsession given to assessing the character and worthiness of dogs, we now turn to the prospective adopter. We study what you say, how you say it and even what you do not say. We evaluate your history of dog care, the issues you had with other dogs; how those problems were managed; how long your past dogs lived; what they died of and were you with them when they died? We study your every reaction to determine if you are worthy of our prized puppies.
The German Shepherd Dog is not a breed for everyone. One can say that about most breeds, but it especially relates to the German Shepherd Dog. The origins of the breed as a tending dog imparted a broad and complex range of duties that formed its eventual genetic temperament. The tending dog has a sense of defense to protect its flock; a sense of territory that maintains the flock in the graze area; with prey drive – enough to ensure herding but not too much so the dog insists on sheep for dinner; to be self-reliant as well as devoted to its human. Ultimately, the breed is an intelligent dog with a sense of responsibility and an honest character. Not a small goal to aspire to! These qualities – in balance – make it the consummate service dog but not always an easy dog to live with.
That sense of responsibility that makes for sheep-tending and service dogs can be unruly, even belligerent, without wise leadership or, on the opposite spectrum, with uncompromising harshness – a cringing or over-aggressive menace. An intelligent dog trained for a duty is a wonder to behold. When left to its own devices, resourcefulness can reach new heights of destruction!
This brings us to the question: Why Cat Warren?
The unique qualities of the breed so useful when bred thoughtfully, and reared and trained wisely make for an ideal partner. Solo demonstrated these admirable qualities as a pup. He was full of himself, slightly arrogant; indulged by everyone – dog and human – in his little world, confident that one and all would adore him. As a singleton, he also missed out learning to negotiate dog-to-dog relationships. Adult dogs have no need to negotiate with impertinent pups. Their reactions range from permissiveness to no-nonsense scolding. Choosing a future human for Solo was a significant task.
As I got to know Cat, her personal history made her a natural for one of our pups. It was her commitment, striving for knowledge and the ability to be flexible yet determined that ultimately confirmed my belief that she would bring out the best in our only child, Solo. From this matchmaker’s perspective, Cat and Solo have brought out the best in each other. We readers of What the Dog Knows are now the beneficiaries of their successful relationship.