The Search for a Breed and Breeder

September 21, 2001

Tonight my husband and I told a Curly-Coated Retriever breeder that we were definitely interested in buying a puppy from her upcoming litter. After all the researching I've done, I can't believe we finally settled on a breed -- and then found a perfect breeder.

We are a two-dog family. Satch, my Great Pyr, turned eleven in June. I've had him since he was a puppy -- seven years longer than I've known my husband. Rain, our Newf, is three. He was born exactly five days before Jay and I got married. We don't have human children. Our family is now -- and is going to remain -- strictly canine. Were it up to me, I'd have a hundred dogs. Jay, however, is the sensible one, so he keeps me to a two-dog limit.

Though the two-dog limit isn't negotiable, Jay and I both know that Satch is quite old. Eleven is a distinguished age for a Pyr, nothing to be ashamed of. But it is... old. Sometimes it seems he gets visibly older each day. I'm grateful for every day we have together, and I spoil him shamelessly. Still, I know I'll be lucky if he makes it through another winter.

With that in mind, Jay and I decided to begin searching for the next dog to join our household. First task: pick a suitable breed.

Jay loves our Newf and wanted another one, but I don't like getting the same breed twice in a row. I like a little variety. I really liked having both a Great Pyr and a Newf, so I strongly considered getting another Pyr. There were other breeds I adored as well -- Bloodhounds, Akitas, Afghan Hounds... Clearly, this wasn't going to be an easy search.

I have a lot of different interests -- conformation, obedience, agility, field work, water work, canine freestyle, service dogs, search and rescue... Actually, if it's related to dogs, I like it. As much as I love giant breeds, I decided I wanted a slightly smaller animal with more physical versatility. I also knew I wanted a dog that was considered "dominant" or stubborn and hard to train. I like a challenge.

I joined Internet mailing lists for several of my favorite breeds. Jay and I attended many dog shows, talking to exhibitors and breeders. I did a lot of Web research. Still, I couldn't settle on a breed, because my criteria had changed since my last dog. Finally, I decided to try a good breed selector in order to identify breeds that fit my new criteria. My favorite breed selector is at

I've found this breed selector to be terrificly accurate if you check every box in Step One and then rank the options according to your preferences. If there's a category you don't care about, check it, but leave the options at the default setting.

The breed selector was quite accurate, ranking my favorite breeds quite high. I asked my husband to take the quiz, so we could compare our results and find a breed that suited us both. Fully, 75% of our respective top 20 results were the same. We looked at the breeds we had in common and marked off the ones we didn't want for whatever reason. For example, we both love Irish Wolfhounds, but we don't want a dog with such a short lifespan. On the list that was left were a few breeds we hadn't considered before, including the Curly-Coated Retriever.

I had seen Curlies at shows, but I didn't know much about them. So I immediately did a Web search. The more we read, the more intrigued we were. This breed sounded exactly like what we were looking for. So I joined as many Curly-related mailing lists as I could, and I searched for breeders, hoping to find someone nearby I could talk to. Unfortunately, there aren't any Curly breeders -- and few Curly owners -- in Western Washington. However, in my Web search, I lucked out. I stumbled onto SoftMaple and Cathy Lew:

The more I read in her site, the more excited I became. Buying from a reputable breeder is extrememly important to me. I won't buy from a pet shop or from a newspaper. Why? Because I want to set myself up for success! By choosing a dog whose parents (and grandparents and great-grandparents) have been screened for genetic diseases, a dog whose breeder selects for temperament as well as performance and structure, a dog who spent an optimum amount of time with his dam and siblings learning the basics of dog communication, and a dog who received proper early stimulation, socialization, and training from his breeder, I have the best chance of ending up with a healthy dog of excellent temperament who is able to do anything and everything I ask of it -- from performing in a competition venue to being a well-behaved member of my family.

Cathy Lew definitely met my criteria for an excellent breeder:

  • She breeds just a single litter each year.
  • She takes time off work when she whelps a litter in order to give the pups the individual attention they need until they are ready to be sold.
  • She uses the Bio Sensor method of neurological stimulation and a program of early socialization and enrichment to raise confident, well-adjusted pups.
  • Each litter is carefully planned not just "champion" to "champion" but with the goal of improving structure, temperament, and versatility.
  • Pups she has whelped have an impressive number of titles.
  • Her own dogs are multiply titled in conformation, obedience, agility, and field.
  • She is honest about the health problems in the breed and in her line.
  • She is selective about potential owners and has an excellent contract.
  • She knows the breed inside and out and can discuss the breed not only nationally, but internationally.
  • She is well-respected by others in the breed and is active in the Curly's national breed club.
  • She will take back any pup she has bred for any reason throughout its lifetime.

Impressed by her program, I e-mailed Cathy, told her about myself and my husband and asked her some questions about Curlies. She responded that night with a long, thoughtful, knowledgable reply. Although I had been honest that my husband and I hadn't made a final choice (in breed, much less breeder), Cathy mentioned that the litter she has planned for this fall would be exactly the temperament I was looking for. Unfortunately, the litter she has planned for next year is going to be a more mellow dog, so it would be at least two years before we had another shot at a puppy from this kennel.

Although I was rapidly becoming sold on Curlies and SoftMaple, I knew there were very real issues of money and my two-dog limit. But I finally told my husband I wanted one of Cathy's pups. And to my surprise, he said yes. His only concern was potential changes in airline shipping regulations.

(Obviously aliens had visited and replaced my husband with a clone. He claims he just didn't think we ought to wait two years for a puppy. I still cling to the alien theory.)

I called Cathy, and we chatted for an hour. Then I spoke to my husband again. He agreed: we wanted this pup. I e-mailed Cathy and asked her to put us down for a confident, pushy male.

The bitch is due to whelp October 5. I like to leave a pup with its litter for a full eight weeks, so I could have a puppy on November 30. I'm so excited, I can't stand it!

September 22, 2001

Last night I watched the Tribute To Heroes on TV. With all that has been happening in the US since the tragic September 11 terrorist attack, I began to think that perhaps I should name this pup something patriotic -- or at least something somehow appropriate. So I started listing words...

  • Patriot
  • Hero
  • Banner (as in Star Spangled)
  • Anthem

Then I started widening my thoughts a bit...

  • Wisdom (Good word, but not a good dog name. "Whiz" and "dumb" just aren't good nicknames.)
  • Justice

Then I thought of one I think is going to stick. I'm going to name my puppy...


I hope we see it in his lifetime.

September 23, 2001

I received a package from Dogwise today. I had forgotten I'd even ordered anything. When I opened the package, I had to laugh. A week or so ago I ordered two new books by Dr. Ian Dunbar: Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy.

What great timing!!

Ian knows more about dog behavior than anyone I've ever met, and he is absolutely passionate about puppies getting the best start possible with their new owners. He starts Before You Get Your Puppy with this sobering thought:

"Sadly, the majority of puppies fail to live long enough to enjoy their second birthday. Their terminal illness is being unwanted -- failure to live up to the promise and expection of the Lassie-Benji-Eddie dream. Instead they develop a number of utterly predictable behavior, training, and temperament problems and are surrendered to animal shelters to play the lotto of life. Many people like to shift the blame and cite irresponsible ownership. I would cite lack of know-how."

I highly recommend all new owners and potential new owners buy these books and commit every word to memory.

September 29, 2001

I'm strongly considering training Peace for field work. I know next to nothing about hunting retrievers, so I've been reading about it. It sounds like terrific fun; however, you can't train for the field by yourself. You have to have, at the minimum, someone else to shoot the gun and toss the bumper/bird. So I started looking into retriever clubs up here. One of the people I contacted turned out to be someone I "knew" from the dog discussion board (online threaded discussion) at Microsoft.

Amy was attempting to get a Working Certificate on her young Golden bitch this morning, so she invited me out to the test grounds. A Working Certificate is a (national) breed-club title. Most, if not all, of the retriever breeds have a Working Certificate (and Working Certificate Excellent) title. Although the certificate is offered by an individual breed club, most clubs have made their requirements similar so any retriever breed can enter any club's test. (Labs are different. Their WC is easier than everyone else because only show-bred Labs get the WC. Field-bred Labs are expected to go straight into hunt tests and field trials.)

I met Amy at the test, and she was nice enough to answer my newbie questions about what was happening, how she got into the sport, how to get started training, etc. She said it's not clubs that train together (as I had thought). Instead, she explained, informal groups of 3-6 people get together and train on a regular basis. (Or you can pay a professional to train with you, but that gets expensive fast.) She invited me to join her group -- excellent! -- and happily, it meets during the mornings twice a week.

I can see how people get hooked on the sport. It was really fun there this morning. I'm ashamed to admit that I was surprised by the gunfire the first time they shot. Hello. Hunting. There will be guns. Duh.

I also didn't expect that one toss of each retrieve -- most retrieves are doubles or triples, meaning the dog has to remember where two or three birds are -- was a live flyer. In this test they used pigeons, but in some they use ducks or pheasants. I thought that would bother me, but it didn't. Maybe because I didn't have to handle the warm body. Or maybe it was just because all but one shot was a completely clean kill. The bird fell like a proverbial stone -- it never felt a thing. I can't say I'll be out shooting them myself, but I don't think it will bother me to participate in the sport.

Now I *really* want to read up on retriever training. As a clicker trainer, I know I won't be able to follow any established field training program. Peace isn't going to be force-fetched or trained with an e-collar. However, if I can find out what behaviors I need to train, I can figure out how to train them using clicker training. I asked around (mailing lists and such) about good resources, and products by a man named Mike Lardy were really highly recommended. Unfortunately, the first package costs $140. Grrrr. Okay, there's a downside to having just one household income.

October 4, 2001

Look at this picture of Gabby, my pup's mom-to-be. She looks like she's about to burst!

Tomorrow is the due date, and everything appears to be going along smoothly. His breeder is keeping everyone up-to-date with all developments.

October 9, 2001

The pups are here!! They were born last night. Here is the information Cathy put on her Web site:


  • 6pm, Gabby becomes restless. Starts to pant and dig in the papers.
  • 8:05 pm after just a few contractions a black female is born.
  • 8:18 pm a liver female is born. Here Gabby takes a break with the two pups. She is still quite large, and the others are kicking hard. I take the pups long enough to make a mark on their bellies and jot down the birth weight.
  • 9:26 pm the count so far is 1 liver girl, 3 black girls.
  • 9:40 pm the first black boy is born.
  • 10:50 pm count so far is 2 liver girls, 4 black girls and a black boy. She still looks pretty big!
  • 11:20 a liver boy
  • 11:42 another black boy
  • Well, I think she is finished. Its 3:12 am, and there haven't been any more pups in over an hr. Gabby has had a bowl of pedialyte and broth. She is busy nursing and cleaning her new family. Final count 4 black girls, 3 liver girls, 2 liver boys 2 black boys. All appear to be doing well. On one of the potty breaks, I managed to tip over my nice new digital scale and now the screen won't display! So back to the old one that wouldn't balance.


  • All the pups are nursing fine. The pups now wear the colorful litter collars. The temporary marks on I put on the bellies when they are born don't last long with Gabby's constant attention. Not much to do today except make sure they are all nursing and keep Gabby comfortable.

  • Taken later in the day. (5 pm 10/9/2001) Gabby is recovering and more rested. I have to keep the whelping area warm. Newborn puppies can not regulate their own body temperatures. The whelping room is about 90 degrees. Gabby is starting to shed curly hairs everywhere!


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