I have been thinking lately about the concept of ‘placing’ older dogs. ‘Placing’ is synonymous with ‘retiring’ – it means that we find good, loving, preferably close by homes for our older girls or boys who are no longer active in our breeding program. The theory is sound – dogs who have had to be part of a pack get to be a solo dog, or perhaps one of two dogs. This means increased attention, and perhaps a chance to sleep on the bed. In practical terms, this also leaves room for new puppies to be kept as the future of our breeding program.
All in all, placing older dogs is really the only practical way for a small scale breeder to be able to advance in their breeding program. After all, if you only want to keep six or seven dogs at the most, but five of those are retired dogs or bitches, you aren’t really left with much room to advance. The problem isn’t with the logic of this concept – it’s with the reality of it, and the reality of it is that ‘placing’ is another term for ‘handing your dog over to strangers’.
Oh, of course you do your best. You interview them, do home visits, insist on being kept up to date on how your dogs are doing once they’ve moved on. You make sure, completely sure, that they understand that if they ever, ever, for any reason whatsoever can’t or don’t want to keep your dog, it is to come back to you, and only you. You send Christmas cards and emails, you keep the lines of communication open, and finally, at the end of the day, you cross your fingers. You cross them tightly, because, just like selling puppies, things can go wrong. At the very least, will they be able to understand the special idiosyncrasies which make each one of your dogs special, and unique? Will they be able to understand that Mae gets overexcited when she’s happy, but that you can’t ever yell at her? That Ellie is reserved with people, but loves dogs? That Journey is quiet and contemplative, and never asks for attention, but needs it none the less?
For those of us who have lived with these dogs, each one is an individual. They’re not an amorphous mass of Frenchies, indistinguishable from each other, but unique personalities in their own right. I can tell each one of them just by their bark. Sailor’s is deep and rhythmic, Tula trills like a bird, Penelope has the Frenchie death yodel. Each one is different, each one tells part of who this dog is.
How do you choose which dog to ‘place’? How do you make that decision – that this dog, this one dog who you have shared a home with, raised puppies with, watched grow from a puppy themselves – would be better off with someone else? How do you trust that person to care about your dog as much as you do?
I could place Ellie, I suppose. She’s defective in so many ways that spaying her was never an issue I debated over. She has bad breathing, bad ears, no neck. She’s possessive of her food, and needs lots of extra time to finish it. She’s not overly affectionate with people, even with Sean, who loves her dearly. She hates to be picked up, can hardly stand still to be petted. In spite of all this, when she does come over to me and lean against my side, I truly know I’ve been trusted by a dog who rarely trusts.
How do I just give her away, send her off to people she doesn’t know?
There’s Mae, on her last breeding, and so hopeful about moving up the ranks in our little pack. She’d like to be dominant, but Sailor isn’t ever going to let that happen, so she challenges the puppies, and occasionally eyes up Ellie. She’s the happiest Frenchie I know, but she doesn’t have an ‘off’ switch, and a happy Mae can sometimes be a bit much to take.
Do I hope to find someone who can understand that her happiness, overwhelming as it is, is still one of her most special qualities?
Sailor should likely go to a new home, I suppose. She’d love to sleep on a bed every night, but her mom Tessa isn’t so keen on sharing, and there’s a limit to how much space two people can spare in a queen sized bed. Sailor is far from the perfect Frenchie – in some ways, she’s not even a Frenchie at all. She barks, she jumps, she chases cats and cars and lawnmowers. She has the prey drive of a hunting dog, and the loopiness of a herding breed. Her stomach is sensitive, too, and you can’t switch her food, ever.
Who on earth would be willing to put up with all of that, other than someone who has loved her since the day she was born?
Tessa? Inconceivable. I’d sooner cut out a piece of my heart.
Penelope? Tula? Journey? I can’t even think about placing any of them yet, and for Penelope, no never. She’s here for life.
So, tell me – how do I do it? How do you? How do you choose which one to let go?