To neuter or not?

Kunga is five and a half years young, full of energy and healthy. Though I occasionally take him out to show, it’s mostly to support a local club, since he has finished his championship already. I’ve been giving some thought to having him neutered. (Our non-show Bloodhound, Lucy, is spayed.)

Neutering him would prevent further showing (until he’s a veteran, at six years), but that’s not a big issue for him. I’ve collected and frozen his semen, so he’d still be available to me for breeding purposes, if I ever decided to do that. So the big issue is whether this procedure is good for his long term health.

There’s a ton of evidence that spaying/neutering a dog before the first heat cycle can lead to lasting health problems. Many vets are re-thinking their advice for early spay, based on studies and long experience. It appears that endocrine, cardiac, and osteopathic problems can follow. See, for example, Dr. Karen Becker’s video on YouTube:

There’s been material written about EARLY spay/neuter, but what about later? Many of my show dog owning friends de-sex in part because there are new, younger show dogs in the home, and they want to avoid hormone-driven battles as well as accidental matings. Others do it because they think it’s the most responsible thing to do, once the dog has finished with its show/breeding career.

But what about health? I consulted with a knowledgeable friend in the veterinary field, who told me that, though it may be heresy to say so, the healthy dog is the intact dog. One of Kunga’s own vets says there may be some risk of prostate problems in an older, intact boy, but at least one (small-scale, preliminary) study suggests that this is not true.  (See

A review of several articles by the Veterinary Information Network showed that late de-sexing may lead to a hugely increased incidence of various types of cancers. (See:

As for the moral question, I’m very responsible about my dog and he lives either indoors or outside behind a 5′ fence which he cannot scale. He has gotten out once in his 5 years–and came directly to the front door to ask to be let inside! (Meanwhile our Bloodhound went to visit her favorite of our neighbors, Dan, who obligingly brought her back.) Of course I can’t absolute guarantee that Kunga will never accidentally mate, but the likelihood of that is pretty low.

On the whole, unless we decide on getting a new pup that would be left intact for show purposes, I think Kunga’s going to remain intact for the time being.

I’d be very interested to hear from other show people what their choices have been and why.

K look


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Naturals at the National

I wasn’t able to get to the Great Dane National this year in Lancaster, PA, but I reveled in all the Facebook posts and pics that people there shared as the action went on. I was one of those eagerly waiting for results to be posted, and cheered on my favorites from afar.

One interesting development this year was the number of natural-eared pups showing in futurity. For those who don’t know about it, futurity is a separate competition for pups nominated during the previous year by their breeders. The breeder pays a fee to nominate a litter, and if the dog shows and wins, they take home a cash prize based on the number of dogs in futurity competition and those nominated. Essentially, the breeders are saying: we think these particular pups represent the best of our lines to date and are most representative of our Great Dane standard.

The futurity puppies are the upcoming best and brightest in our breed. So I was really pleased at the number of breeders and owners, across the color spectrum, who are opting to leave their pups uncropped. They believe those beautiful heads and bodies can compete without the cosmetic surgery. Here’s a photo of a fawn competitor wearing the ears she was born with. (Thanks to Debi Romerosa, photographer.)

natural ear pup

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The little stuff

Every time a friend’s dog has to be put down, they remind me to “hug your dog.” I do that, many times a day, but I realize that I should also be more aware and appreciative of the small but important moments of connection between Kunga and me that happen fleetingly. They mean a lot, and I will miss them terribly when he is gone one day.

I love waking up to a snuffling blue nose in my face and the sight of a wagging tail. I love how Kunga follows me around the house and settles down wherever I am, not for petting but just to be there. His deep, contented groan of happiness when he finds just the right patch of sun or snuggles into his cushy bed always makes me smile. He makes me feel safe when he hears someone at the door and starts barking like mad, but won’t leave me to go to the door unless I get up, too. He makes me laugh when he glares at the vacuum, knowing he’s not supposed to bark at it but unable to believe it might not leap up and injure one of us. It’s amazing to come home and find, every time, a whiskery face huffing at me through the glass on the front door, excited to have me back safely with the pack.

I’m writing it all down to remind myself to spend a moment of appreciation for the love of a good dog.


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How far do you go?

Happily my 5 year old Dane and 5.5 year old Bloodhound are both in good health, and I haven’t been faced with any tough decisions on either of them yet. But when I see articles like the one on Face Book today, I have to wonder to myself, how far would I go to save the life of one of my dogs?

The article announced that a vet hospital has been able to perform brain surgery to remove a tumor from a 12 year old Maltese. Click here to read it on

After the delicate surgery, the top of the skull was replaced by a titanium mesh, then covered with the dog’s original skin. The dog will now have to undergo both radiation and chemo in order to prevent the malignant tumor from regrowing too fast. The post doesn’t indicate how much time the owners bought with this elaborate procedure, but it does say that the dog should have a “good quality of life.”

What does that mean in a 12 year old dog with a fatal disease that will almost certainly kill him at some point? And I shudder to think of the price tag for this.

People are free to spend their money however they want, and far be it from me to tell anyone when the time has come to let go of their precious animal. But I think we have gone too far when we think of putting our dogs through surgery, chemo, and radiation for a relatively short reprieve from death. Just as I think we reject death as humans, we do the same for our pets, and force them through things to give them just that extra year or few months. It’s one thing to treat a younger dog with a decent possibility of full recovery and many years of potential life. And I’m not sure how many those years would have to be in order to be considered “many.” But I hope that if I’m faced with these choices, I can allow my dogs to go with a minimum of pain and suffering on their part, and not fight a desperate rear-guard action for an elderly dog who deserves more dignity than that.

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The Ear Experiment

A Great Dane breeder friend of mine is trying an experiment. In her latest litter, she had two black bitches. The one she has decided is the better quality for show has been left with her natural ears; the other has been cropped.

Irena's girlsShe will show both girls and learn whether the ear cropping makes any difference in finishing order. Since she believes the natural eared girl is of better quality, by default she should win more often.

She’s also going to assess other things, such as frequency of ear infections and approachability when out on walks. Should be an interesting experiment! Watch for updates.

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Hard to believe

No this is not an April Fool’s joke: Kunga will be 5 years old tomorrow! It’s hard for me to believe that this little guy has gray on his lips and doesn’t jump quite as high on the fence any more.

A lot of friends have pups these days, and I like to see their pictures and videos. But I don’t get off on puppies; I must admit to liking the mature dog even more. By now, Kunga (and sister Lucy the Bloodhound) know the rules and the routines, obey the commands (mostly), and don’t chew things up any more. And now that he knows me so well, Kunga is one of the most empathetic dogs I’ve ever owned. He knows immediately when I’m sad or tired, and always tries to comfort me. He feels it when I’m happy, and rejoices with me. What a treasure he is.

calm K


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Alternative registries

The UK has a “dog lover’s registry” (really!) to register your dog even if it doesn’t have papers itself:

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What should the AKC do about irresponsible breeders?

The day before the Westminster show this month, the NY Times ran an article highly critical of the AKC, the registry most of us use for our purebred dogs.  The gist of it was the complaint that the AKC is not doing enough to enforce responsibility among breeders of registered dogs, and that its inspection actions were both ineffective as well as inaccurate.

You can read the article here:

Dennis Sprung, the President of the AKC, responded in a letter to the editor of the Times:

“Since 2000, the A.K.C. has conducted more than 55,000 inspections; as a result, hundreds of substandard breeders no longer register their litters with the club.

Less than 5 percent of the A.K.C.’s total revenue comes from commercial breeders. Choosing to conduct inspections costs $1.5 million annually, and while not in the club’s best financial interest, it’s a crucial safeguard for dogs’ health and well-being.

The A.K.C. is not a law enforcement agency. However, if we discover substandard conditions, we immediately report them to local officials.”

Alan Kalter, Chairman of the Board of AKC, wrote a longer defense which you can read here:

A lot of this controversy is centered around a disagreement over what the AKC mission should be.  The breed standards are supposed to be managed by the parent club of the breed, which the NY Times article didn’t recognize.  AKC began life as a registry which also oversaw dog shows and judge licensing.  However, AKC registration, while still considered necessary for show dogs, is no guarantee of quality.  I imagine that’s what has led to the voluntary kennel inspection program: an attempt to put some credibility behind the words “AKC registered.”

Sadly, the costs of this kind of inspection are so high that it doesn’t seem like an effective program. I think that either (1) AKC should put more money into this effort as well as coordinate with local officials and rescue organizations to be certain that convicted (and I do mean CONVICTED, not simply charged) animal abusers and puppy mills should not be allowed to register dogs, or (2) they should simply give up this effort altogether. A halfway, under-funded enforcement arm doesn’t do anything to improve the standing of the AKC and doesn’t help honest and responsible breeders.

I’d also like to see an end to sniping between AKC and rescue and rights organizations. While HSUS and some others may be too far gone to reconcile with, it’s a shame that AKC finds itself opposing certain animal welfare laws that seem reasonable. Really, why oppose a bill that limits a breeder to no more than 25 sexually mature and intact dogs? If there are problems with proposed legislation being too broad (and there are), AKC should be working to get the language tightened and narrowed, rather than simply outright opposing it.

Meanwhile, I’ll just have to go on explaining to first-time dog buyers that a dog should be AKC registered, but that’s not enough: they should thoroughly investigate the breeder they’re buying from. Caveat emptor.


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The Denver cluster of shows ends today, and our club members turned out in force, together with a lot of people from out of town. There were majors in bitches 3 of the 5 days, and between 8-10 specials each day. It was a nice big turnout and a chance to see some upcoming dogs.

Interestingly, there was a different BOB 4 out of 5 days: Sisco’s Ladies Love Country Boys at Seville (Trace) won twice.  We were all really pleased when 2 of those breed winners were from our club (Loren Bengston’s Breck, a harl, and Celeste Perkins’ Deuce, a black), and I was certainly pleased that color was going up.

But for Winner’s Dog and Winner’s Bitch, the results were pretty consistent.  Maricella Osterman, one of our new club members (she’s from Sweden), stuck her toe into an American show ring as an owner/handler for the first time with her new puppy Voyager’s Return of the Jedi (Stig)–and took Winner’s Dog every single day with him. She got two crossover majors and enough single points to bring her to 14 points with both majors in her first weekend of showing! If this boy can hold together he’s going to be a Grand Champion special in no time.

Fran Lass took Winner’s Bitch 3 of the 5 days with her girl Lagarada’s Forever Amber, an 8 month old pup out of Bogart. She also took Bred-by Best In Show on Thursday; this girl clearly has great things ahead. One of our club members has a male littermate to this bitch, but she she’s waiting to bring him out until he grows into himself a bit. We’re eager to see how he does as well.

I thought it was pretty interesting that the judges were all over the map with their breed picks, with different types and colors and both pro and owner-handlers winning, while with Winner’s Dog they made the same choice all 5 days, and with Winner’s Bitch it was 3 of 5 days. The competition wasn’t bad, there were nice dogs in the ring in both dog and bitches, but the judges kept coming back to the same two.

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At one of the first few shows I attended, I was standing with Kunga when my mentor and friend Carol Volleberg came up to me.  She told me she’d rustled around in my grooming bag and found an extra lead, which she had loaned to someone else in our Dane club whose lead had broken at the last minute.  I must have looked a little startled, because Carol said, hey, that’s how it goes.  We’re all here to have fun, and if we can help each other, we do.  You’ll get your lead back, and maybe some time someone will help you out, too.

One of the surprises of getting involved in showing dogs has been getting to know and enjoy friends in the sport. Our club is pretty civil, and we DO all help each other out if we can. Everyone’s competitive, sure, but we would never turn down a request for assistance. We hear so often about back-biting and nasty gossip–both of which for sure exist in dog showing–but we forget to celebrate the friendships we form, the chances to help another human being, even if it’s to cheer for them when they’ve beaten us.

Sometimes, those friendships leak out of the show world and into the rest of life. I spent a chunk of time yesterday helping Carol move some of her business to a new location, a move that’s taking a lot of time and energy from her.  I hope that this spirit of helping will extend from other members of the club when Carol does the final move on Feb 23 & 24 and will need a lot of hands.

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