WHY AM I DOING THIS?!! My Story, history and the process of becoming a certified NAABA breeder.
A "COMPANION" Temperament - The American Alsatian and it's unique personality
From the Breeder's Desk
WHY AM I DOING THIS?!! - My Story, history and the process of becoming a certified NAABA Breeder of American Alsatians
My Story - I will only tell once, here, in it's entirety. I do not like to talk about myself, but will talk about dogs all day long.
My entire elementary school had "Pet Week" sometime in March of my 4th grade year. Police Dog demonstrations, classroom visits from rare breeds, book reports on such classics as Call of the Wild, and Ugly Joe filled the week with my greatest interest and passion...dogs.
My special project was a 20 page composition paper titled "My Ideal Dog". Complete with footnotes, a bibliography and one pie chart. The subject of my paper was the mixing of my favorite breeds and how I would put them together to create My Ideal Dog.
The memory of this report is very clear, like it happened yesterday and I could probably write it all over again. I started by explaining that the Newfoundland was my first choice but I felt they were too big to take with me to school. I loved the flowy look of a Gordon Setter - so my first cross was a Gordon SetterxLandseer Newfoundland. For my second cross, I chose a German Shepherd and a rough Collie ("Lassie"). I was after the brains of these two dogs, as I suspected my GordonxNewf may not be smart enough to tell me if I was in a well or not. I cannot recall the order in which I continued, but I had other breeds like Beagle (Snoopy) - MalamutexSt. Bernard (Buck) and Old English Sheepdog (The shaggy DA). In my tween-minds eye, I wanted My Ideal Dog to resemble "The Littlest Hobo", a popular Canadian-produced TV show of my childhood.
Thirty five years later, I reflect on this proposed new breed of mine and shake my head at the monster I would have created. But...you see, the IDEA was there.
At the age of 16 I became independent and financially responsible for myself. Unwittingly preparing for a life long professional career with dogs, I began walking the neighborhood dogs for pocket money. Immediately, my gifts and talents training and communicating with dogs became apparent. I was professionally grooming/training/boarding/petsitting by the age of 18.
In 1988, the same year the Dire Wolf project was launched, I gained employment with a pet store in Plattsburgh NY that sold purebred puppies. I also apprenticed for a show kennel of Dalmatian show kennel, handling in placement shows all over New England.
I was gathering a collective impression of our purebred dog world that was not so good. I can point to this time in my life as the era of understanding. I was learning that most dogs being given up for rehoming, were dogs that were bred for a working purpose, but had none to perform on a daily basis. Labradors and hound mixes plagued our local shelters. The purebreds I was selling at the pet store had poor vision, balance, crooked legs and teeth. I recall one shih Tzu I sold that had to have corrective surgery because it's nose was too small to pull air into its lungs. It had to sleep standing up. This was a crime against nature.
I began to understand that, the AKC, for all of it's good intent, is only as trustworthy as it's registrar; and the registrar is a fallible human, given to what it feels it needs at the time. The pet store received puppies from a broker, just days before taken from their puppy mills. Every other shipment there would be one or two arriving dead. Commonly, the pet store owner would drive out of state and pick up puppies free from the paper or at a shelter, that more-or-less resembled the deceased puppy's breed. He would then sell the misrepresented mixed breed with the deceased puppies AKC registration. He was eventually caught in this con game, but not before many hopeful Pomeranian owners wound up with a 60 lb lab mix.
These experiences, and a very basic high school understanding of genetics, brought me to the vicious realization that "My Ideal Dog" would be such an injustice to my beloved canine species, that I abandoned the idea for lack of finances and a higher education. Instead, I turned my ambitions to the over-all care of the canine species, finding my niche in grooming and training. Over the past 30 years of my professional canine career, I have met, and cared for, thousands of dogs. Until September of 2009, I had not believed I would ever be able to create My Ideal Dog. Then, one fine day, I found the women who were on their way to doing it this whole time.
I am a HUGE fan of the Grateful Dead. I am...a Dead Head. I've been to more concerts than I care to mention here. The music, the community and the lifestyle are an integral part of my life. Music, in general, rule my life. Wonky as it sounds, I believe God will give me direction through the music I hear on a daily basis.
"HEY! SHAWNA! Come look at this dog!" is what I heard from the den as I was stirring the spaghetti sauce in the kitchen. My husband and I had been cooking together. The subject of discussion was the Grateful Dead song "Dire Wolf", and the lyrics of one verse. Dave had left our coordinated efforts to look the lyrics up online, and resolve the dispute. His search brought up the Dire Wolf Project first in the search results. The link he had found was a Wikipedia article that featured a picture of Canyon (BeamerxAnnie). I rounded the corner to come to his call, with the stir spoon in my hand. When I saw the picture of Canyon on the screen I dropped the spoon on the floor and headed straight for the seat. Spaghetti was going to have to wait......about 8 years.
The song we were discussing, Grateful Dead's Dire Wolf, has the opening line of
"In the Timbers of Fennario, the wolves are running 'round,
The winter was so hard and cold,
Froze ten feet 'neath the ground"
That winter of finding the Dire Wolf Project, our well froze for 10 days.
Even a non-dead head can see the coincidence is a little too strong - Fennario kennels seemed to be the only choice.
The reasoning behind the litter names and litter GROUPS, is my very own person filing system to remember which puppy became which adult that sired another litter - 20 years from now I will not be able to remember their registered litter numbers. However, as most good dead-heads are, I am a vertible treasure trove of Grateful Dead trivia and discography. Facts obscure and popular about the band that I have held in my first access memory for 20 years or more. My first round of litter groups will be the songs of each album. The second will be characters or places named in the songs of each album...so on and so forth until I have covered the entire Dead Base, (as of the last published 1996).
In my adulthood and professional canine career, it has been my great privilege to share my home and life with not only my own dogs, but some that have boarded with me for what equals almost a third of their lives. I have cared for teacup poodles one day and 180 lb Great Pyranees the next. Throughout all this, I still have not found My Ideal Dog. My criteria for the perfect temperament was raised to the first priority. As mentioned previously, I had begun to form the theory that our family dog's largest issue, was that it was not performing the work it was designed and created to do. The type of work we were currently asking of our modern breeds was to get along well in a modern American household. What we could call a "COMPANION TEMPERAMENT". Completely devoid of any breed that fit this bill, I turned my attentions to the opposite end; if I could not create a new breed....could I create a new "Work" for the family dog?
My thought process along these lines also opened a new idea - the possibility of a new "work" for our old world breeds in todays modern lifestyle. I started to realize that some dogs were better than others at applying empathy, compassion and intuition for their human partners. Although some breeds , such as Golden Retreivers and Poodles of all sizes, have a higher incidence of these natural talents, I can find individual dogs and indeed entire lines within many different breeds that show promise in these areas. Equally as confusing, the randomness of the heredity of these talents, seem to be equal among purebreds as it is all star super-mutts.
My original intention was to find a breed that I could be involved with, and work closely with the breeders, selecting the prospects to provide a new "work" for humanity. My vision was to purchase puppies of this breed. I would raise and train them, eventually placing them as adults as Therapy?Service/Phsychiatric Service Dogs. I discovered two points that made it very clear that this would be extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve, without breeding the dogs myself.
1. I quickly discovered a plethora of other people who had already formed organizations dedicated to the "New Work" for companion dogs. Therapy and Service Organizations were currently available to sponsor programs to train rescue dogs, and several bred and trained their own Service Dogs. Rescues, of course, want nothing to do with breeding, and
2. breeders want very little to do with the costly research necessary to maintain a breeding line of service dogs long term
--ENTER Jennifer Stoekl, Vallecito Direwolf Dogs and DIREWOLF GUARDIANS------
Lois Schwarz - the creator of the breed, will be the first to tell you the American Alsatian is NOT a WORKING DOG. Never was intended to be, and will never be - a "working dog" - in the old sense of categorically segregating dogs into a field of specialty. In the past, we have placed categories on dogs according to the specialty they were bred for. Herding dogs, police dogs, hunting dogs even the pit fighters, were created to fulfill a physical labor assistance for human kind. So to THAT end, an American Alsatian is NOT a working dog. They were not created to herd, hunt or provide security as a function to assist in the physical labor of humans.
The American Alsatian is a COMPANION breed. Created to provide companionship in a domestic dog, suited for living in todays modern American society. Within a few weeks of researching Lois' work, I realized I had found the dog breed I had been looking for. A low drive, high intelligence, naturally intuitive and above all healthy with longevity. The Dire Wolf recreation philosophy was just icing on the cake. More on that later.
The best way to explain the next part is to say that I was very persistent. Lois had too much on her plate to concentrate solely on learning a brand new canine training platform, but Jennifer had a little bit more time and a better idea of how to use the American Alsatians temperament and talents to help humanity in a companion relationship that "was" it's work. Over the course of a year, I was relaying my ideas to Jennifer, how the Direwolf Guardians could be brought about. It was at this point that Jennifer (via Lois and Schwarz Kennels) placed "Bonnie-Lee" (VinnyxDingo) with me, to begin training for a Hearing Service Dog. Her placement with me was a co-ownership, and the very beginning of my Internship as a breeder. Within two weeks of Bonnie coming to live with me, I knew that this was indeed the breed I needed. Bonnie was supposed to stay with me until placement with her new owner, but life always has a way of making your plans secondary. I also realized that I needed to clear up some old financial constraints. At this point in my story Dave, my husband, lost his job and began to lose his hearing. (Ironic, no?) We required a temporary lifestyle change that concluded in Bonnie going back to Jennifer early She completed Bonnie's training, and Direwolf Guardians began to take shape.
I took a year or so and really threw myself into straightening out my affairs so I could be completely ready to enter the National American Alsatian Breeder's Association Internship Program. During this year, Lois and Jennifer were readying the NAABA's Internship Program, as I was to be the first one to attempt to gain certification to breed these marvelous dogs. Jennifer placed "MERLIN (HemixLexi) with me as a future stud in co-ownership. Once proven by Vallecito, Merlin could be slated as the cornerstone Foundation of my Lines. The Internship had required a two year residency at a Dire Wolf Project Site. Two years proved too difficult for me to financially support a husband back here in Colorado, and maintain the residency. I ended up working at a groom shop more than I was working on the farm. It just wasn't the right time at Schwarz kennels either, as they were recovering from a house fire. We agreed to continue the internship with a distance learning program, and I came back to Colorado.
As of this writing, it has been 1 year of intense college level study of genetics, canine husbandry, veterinarian technical training, American Alsatian breed standards and Dire Wolf Project Breeding Program Philosophy, as well as setting up the scaffolding for Fennario Kennels; which includes the Direwolf Guardians and the Colorado American Alsatian Club. I've presented it as such because I have motives for each organization to work with my breeding program.
-- Both in number and in focus, the majority of my concentration is to provide healthy, long lived perfect companion dogs for people to share their lives with. I will set up the Colorado American Alsatian Club as a platform for my pups owners to gather and share information. Also, a resource for education and learning about their special dogs and the progress of the Dire Wolf Project. It will function much like any other dog club, except our focus is always on health and temperament. I would like the Club to concentrate on "Giving Back" to the canine community, with charitable programs and functions. The official induction is planned for May 2018, at our first annual "Meet-Up".
-- Secondary in number, but cooperatively of importance is to provide perfect service dogs for those who need solutions for their problems that are currently difficult for them to access. Much of my breeding program will be centered on finding and isolating congenital behavior traits that can be predictably produced to specialize in a particular service. Eventually, I will be able to produce, on demand, a litter of dogs slighted for varying services in which they are bred to specialize. So, say Direwolf Guardians has compiled 8 pre-approved patients in need of service. 2 for diabetic alert, 2 for mobility and physical therapy, 2 for epileptic seizure alert, and 2 for PTSD Therapy/Service. I will be able to match 2 dogs and reliably get pups with appropriate temperaments and talents for these patients. I firmly believe that Lois Schwarz has hit upon the formula for being able to produce this result. Through the years of study with the National American Alsatian Breeders Association, I can achieve this goal.
There's still much ground to cover and so much more to learn that only DOING IT can produce. Since those first days of my deciding to become involved with the American Alsatian, the Dog's genome has been mapped, and more and more information on the genetic heritability and ancestry of the canine becomes available every day. This information will be indispensable to breeders and my program in the years to come, but the key thing to remember is that Lois brought these dogs to their special place in my life without the genetic mapping, fancy lab equipment and American Alsatian Network Community. I hope I can take what she's done and continue to learn from her how to make my Ideal Dog. I pray every day I will be the Breeder she wants me to be, and that I can improve the lives of others with her Philosophy of breeding dogs for the rest of my life.
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is my story and I'm sticking to it.
by Shawna Davies
© 2017 Direwolf Dogs of Fennario