Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Private Decisions, Public Choices

As many of you know, Asia (Halo and Zack, 19 months old -- full sister to the F Litter) looks to have a grade 1 elbow, although we won't confirm this until this she is two years old. If the diagnosis is confirmed, it means she has mild elbow dysplasia in one joint -- it is unlikely that she will ever have problems with it but it is elbow dysplasia, none-the-less.

Elbow dysplasia is common in berners -- at least thirty percent of them have it and likely more. Many, many breeders believe it is acceptable to breed a dog with a grade one elbow, and especially an exceptional girl like Asia.

It is easy to make decisions when the actual choice is not up front and personal, and that is why it is so easy to judge others and their choices. But I worry about how easily we are persuaded by our wants to change a previously firmly held, well thought out position -- some call it compromising but I guess I see it as a compromise of integrity.

Asia gives me the opportunity to practice integrity. In my view, integrity has to do with consistency -- does a person do what s/he values/believes/supports? Does s/he walk the walk, or just talk the talk? In other words, can you trust the person? I have always said I would never breed a dog without clearances so Asia is a test of sorts for me -- will I really not breed this beautiful girl if she fails her orthopedics clearances? Hopefully you know me well enough to glean the answer -- Asia will never be bred if she has elbow dysplasia, no matter how mild.

I was explaining that to my Utah vet and she asked, "why keep her?" This is a fair question but I was taken aback, even though I have been asked it before. Why keep her?! Why would I do anything else?! I made the choice to create Asia by breeding her parents (Halo and Zack), and I chose her to be my puppy. And then she chose me to be her best friend. Is her only value as a puppy producer?! No -- her worth is so much more than an elbow or a uterus.

And so Asia stays with me for her whole life and not simply as a "pet" but as an active participant in our working home -- she already has her Tracking Dog title, her championship and she is shaping up to be an exceptional obedience dog. I breed berners, it is true, but first and foremost, I love the berners that I have bred and they are not disposable.

I absolutely love Asia and appreciate her complete and total devotion to me -- just like her mom, Halo, and her grandma Abra. But Asia brings an unassuming sweetness that is surprising in her 98 pound body -- she is a gentle soul, kind and generous. Asia is the best aunt to the puppies, and her tolerant play with them is a big help to me. These two pictures really tell the story -- how many big dogs do you know would peacefully chew a bone with a puppy next to them like that? This is Asia with her little sister Zoey.

And although almost five times her weight, Asia is a sweet playmate for Sydney.

And also from this morning we have Sydney playing with Karma.

I guess Sydney did not like how Karma was playing so she decided to take her down by pulling the rug out from under her, so to speak -- good thing cats land on their feet!

I hope you have a person or a dog who is totally devoted to you, and that you see him or her as an opportunity to practice integrity and kindness. It is sometimes too easy to waste our good intentions on strangers, and forget the the real test of our character comes when only a dog, who cannot tell, or a person who loves us too much to tell -- knows how we act.

I challenge each of us to behave well, even in private and with those who will not tell...


  1. Yes, I'm sure we've all heard that kind of comment: mine is, "Now that you live in such a small space, why do you want...such a big dog, two cats, etc.?"

    Integrity, kindness, and pure love. That's why. And aren't we lucky to have the opportunity!

    Susan and Djinn

  2. Mary-Ann,

    This level of integrity is what draws me to your breeding program. Such dedication to the preservation of the breed is an honorable quest. Unfortunately, so many breeders will take chances with their programs, which may possibly work out fine. However, in many cases, the new owner has a dog with very limited physical abilities and lives with pain and discomfort.

    As for you keeping Asia, I wouldn't have expected anything else!

    Sandy Evans
    Roanoke, VA

  3. What the heck? "Why keep her?"!! Just when you think someone really knows you, huh! I wonder what the expression on your face was...

  4. Do you ever think that perhaps, they choose us? Mabybe being a good breeder is listening to what the puppy says it needs in a home and life. I look at my two Berners, as different from each other as can be, and know that somehow they told the breeder to place them with me. Somehow, Asia's role was never to be in your breeding program, but to be your shadow and working partneer. Kind of like Karma - she picked you, too.

  5. I'm deeply appreciative of your writing and your integrity. As we watch Molly decline because of her elbow dysplasia, a decline that brings her each day closer to the end of her life, I wish more breeders took elbows as seriously as you do.