I stand in the biting November wind cradling a warm lump of curly black fur in my arms. It’s unusually cold, even for late fall in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the sky’s uncharacteristic drab gray makes everything look a bit bleak. Behind us, stands a modest farm house, and behind it, an old barn that has been converted to kennels, from which rises a cacophony of barking and howling from maybe twelve or fifteen dogs. My husband shivers beside me as the breeder, a tall woman with short, salt and pepper hair and a friendly smile, tells us about previous puppies she’s placed.
“We have one in Waco, Texas, and several in Pembroke, from this group of puppies. Daisy is showing in Pennsylvania and Sketch has just gotten his therapy dog papers in Norfolk. Brady is still in Maine taking care of her family and Oscar is in Weisbatten, West Germany doing things at the US Army base there. Plus a slew of others around the east coast that are also being wonderful dogs in their American families.” She beams at us, proud of her dogs, even though she’s confessed that she’s having to give them away now, because of the economy.
The two puppies in the sagging, two-stall shed beyond the house don’t look like future therapy dogs. Muddy, and according to my husband, stinky, they’re busy pawing into the half-full bag of Ol’Roy, ripped open to the food line.
“Do you only have the two?” I ask. I’ve done enough reading about labradoodles to know that unless the pups have labradoodle ancestry going back three generations—the so-called Fn labradoodles– some will favor the Labrador retriever and some the poodle side of the gene pool. We are definitely after the poodle side, but the two puppies in front of me both have straighter coats and broader noses of a Labrador.
“No, we have a few more. They’re down in the gully. There’s an old deer carcass there they like to chew on.” She dispatches her son, thin, silent, shy, maybe around twelve or thirteen, to go retrieve the rest. He gives no indication of whether he’s happy we might take a puppy or resents our presence. While we wait, stomping our feet against the toe-numbing cold, I remember the advice, culled from countless books and websites, on how to get a new puppy. (This is assuming you’re buying from a breeder and not adopting from a shelter. I’m not going to debate the merits of each method here.)
- Only buy a puppy from a reputable breeder, one who has done extensive genetic testing and careful breeding to insure the health of the pups.
- Get a puppy in the late spring or early summer when the weather is mild, because with any new puppy (except the smallest of breeds) you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors.
- Don’t judge a puppy by its coat or color, but by its personality and energy level.
- If possible, meet both the pup’s parents. See what type dispositions they have.
- Pick a relaxed time when you can play with the puppies and watch them interact to find the onewhose energy and dominance levels best fit your lifestyle.
- Take your time. Don’t make a rushed decision as the pup you pick will be with you for a long time.
There are, of course, more things to consider, but you get the idea.
So here I am, at the beginning of winter, looking for a pup that will have the coat of a poodle, from a backyard breeder. How is it possible that I’m pretty much breaking every rule in the book? In every book?