Finding Betty

In my last post I wrote about how I came to the conclusion that a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was for me. Making that decision, it turned out, was the easy part.  Finding the one for me on the other hand….

Sadly, like all breeds, Cavalier can suffer from a number of inherited diseases.  The Kennel Club has a good (short) summary of the three main diseases: Mitral Valve Disease (MVD), Syringomyelia (SM) and Hereditary Cataract & Multi-focal Retinal Dysplasia (MRD).

Obviously I wanted to minimise the risk of taking on a dog likely to develop any of these.

Unfortunately while The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed society and The Kennel Club are both encouraging breeders to test parents before they breed, neither are in a position to enforce it.  This article explains what the two organisations do and don’t do.

Ultimately it is case of buyer beware.  If you are looking for a puppy ask lots of questions,  see the mother, see the mother interacting with the puppies, expect lots of questions from the breeder about your life, demand to see the health test certificated and expect to have to wait.  If this isn’t the case, be suspicious.

Theadvice is great if you are looking for a puppy, but I wasn’t.  I was trying to find a dog that was at least a year old. And this is normally where a rescues come in.

There are some great charities rehoming Cavaliers as well as Facebook groups sharing posts about Cavaliers in rescues (see Cavaliers In Need, Saving Cavaliers, Cavaliers in UK Rescues to name just three), plus there are local rescues. For me this included The Dogs Trust, Birmingham Dogs Home and the RSPCA.

One advance of the rescue centres is that dogs are assessed by professionals or very experienced dog owners.  They are also seen by a vet, so you’re much more likely to know of any issues before you take the dog on. More often than not, there is also ‘after care’; a support network that can help if any issues arise.

I signed up to all receive notifications of all the Facebook groups and regularly visited the local rescue centers.  I even had a homecheck and met some lovely knowledgeable ladies.  They confirmed that I was being sensible with my wish-list and that I should stick with it.  But after months of searching I hadn’t found a single dog that would suit me and my home.

The majority coming through the rescue centers had severe health and/or behavioural issues. Many are coming from puppy farms and need another dog in the household to show them the ropes.

In desperation I started looking at advertising websites.  There were lots of adverts and many were described as being perfect pets. However, when I started to ask questions, the back stories often quickly unraveled.

Here was my list:

  • Has it been neutered? (If not, why not? Was it used for breeding?If it has been used for breeding is it used to home environment or has it been kept in kennels?)
  • Is it good with other dogs?
  • Is it good with people? How does it react to strangers? Is it good with children?
  • Is it housetrained?
  • What health testing did it’s parents have?
  • Is it crate trained?
  • Is it motivated by food and/or toys?
  • What commands does it know?
  • Can I visit and take it for a walk? (To check that it is indeed good with other dogs and people)
  • Could I take it to a local vet (with the owner present) for a basic healthcheck?
  • Does it travel in a car?

I also found that the sellers didn’t seem particularly interested in me and the home I could offer. This rang alarms bells.  I know if I was in the sorry position of rehoming my dog I would be more than a little curious about its new potential owners.

Out of the hundreds I saw, and dozens that I enquired about, there was only one dog, that, when I spoke to the current owners I felt confident in. Even though I had responded to the advert within 3 hours of it being uploaded I was too late.

After weeks of looking, a friend suggested I asked the Breed Society. Luckily there was a breed show in my area a month or so later and I decided to go.  Everyone was very friendly and while nobody could help directly, someone suggested I contacted the breeders.  “You never know, somebody might be looking for a retirement home for a breeding bitch.  They do occasionally come up”, he said.

So I bought the yearbook and spent the next few weeks calling and emailing the breeders.  Again nobody had one (apparently they are hard to give up!) but lots of them said they’d keep their ears to  the ground and let me know if they heard anything.

And then I got the phone call.  A friend of a friend of a lady I approached had a 5 yo bitch that ‘maybe’ looking for a retirement home. I got her number and called.

Over an hour later I had agreed to met Betty.  During that hour I’d been quizzed.I’d found out all about her parents, siblings and her offspring.  Betty came home with me the same day I met  her and life hasn’t been the same since!



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