Ethical dog breeding? Crystal Lake nonprofit aims to make breeders more accountable, conscientious

Kate Dalman learned from her early mistakes and wants to help dog owners avoid the pitfalls

Kate Dalman plays one of her three German Shepherds, Uta, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, at a relatives home in Lakewood. Dalman is  working to create a registry of ethical dog breeders -  Herzog Conscientious Breeders Alliance -to help prevent dogs from being given up to shelters when it doesn't work out.

When Kate Dalman decided to breed her German shepherd, Herzog, 15 years ago, the Crystal Lake woman admits she knew very little about dog breeding.

To help other breeders avoid the pitfalls she found herself in, Dalman is working to create the Herzog Conscientious Breeders Alliance, named after that first dog.

“The goal ... is to create breeder accountability and transparency which will make it more difficult for unscrupulous breeders to fly under the radar and will prevent dogs from finding themselves in shelters,” Dalman said.

Dalman has also seen pure-breed dogs surrendered to shelters because owners were unprepared for their behavioral traits, or by breeders unable to sell the puppies. That is what led to creating the alliance.

Her journey to being a better breeder started with Herzog. “He was a wonderful family dog,” Dalman said, “who was terrible with strangers.”

The things that made him a great dog for her family did not guarantee that one of his offspring – likely with a similar stranger-response trait – would be appreciated by other families, Dalman realized.

Since that first litter, Dalman said she’s has learned more about selecting the right dogs for breeding. She now breeds dogs under the name Herzog German Shepherds.

German shepherds are a good example of why a dog that wins awards might not be the dog to breed, Dalman said. “Winning a show is supposed to be the determination that the dog is breed worthy, but that doesn’t mean it is suitable for any home.”

“I am trying to build the term conscientious breeder.”

—  Kate Dalman, Herzog Conscientious Breeders Alliance

Herzog Conscientious Breeders Alliance is now a registered nonprofit organization. Mary Lanckhoff of Huntley is its CEO, and Dalman credits her with developing the alliance into its current form.

Lanckhoff’s background is the pharmaceutical industry, where she created processes and followed regulation, she said. At the alliance, she’s helped to identifying gap in the alliance’s documentation process, Dalman said.

Lanckhoff noted that not all breeders are bad, but there is “a whole population of breeders who wouldn’t want (certification) ... who are not doing things in the best ways.”

Those “best ways” includes dog breeders educating buyers about the breed they are considering. Breeders also should have return and rehoming policies when a dog placement does not work out, Dalman said.

If breeders are accountable for their puppies and owners are prepared for puppyhood, it can “facilitate people being able to keep their dogs” rather than turn them over to a rescue, Dalman said.

“There is a whole other community of breeders who ... are frustrated with people out there who are breeding” for the wrong reasons, Lanckhoff said. Those reasons for breeding a dog may be “‘I want to make some money’, or ‘I have a dog, so let’s breed my dog.’ That is about as much thought that goes into it.”

Even the term “ethical breeder” gets pushback from the dog breeder community, Dalman said.

“Ethical ... has turned into a bad word,” partially because there is no general consensus on what that means, she said.

“I am trying to build the term conscientious breeder,” Dalman said.

John Goodwin is senior director of the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States’ Stop Puppy Mills campaign. “We do believe there is such a thing as ethical breeding,” Goodwin said.

The national pet advocacy organization always want families to consider adoption first, Goodwin said. But if families have their hearts set on an 8-week-old purebred puppy, there are things they can do to ensure the puppy comes from a good breeder.

Those tips include meeting the breeder in person, meeting the mother dog and seeing where that dog lives “to ensure you are not supporting a puppy mill by accident,” Goodwin said.

To help families find those non-puppy mill breeders, Dalman and Lanckhoff plan to scrape public information from puppy sale online listings “wherever you can buy a puppy from a website,” Dalman said.

Puppy sales are largely online now – including in states like Illinois – after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law that bans dog and cat sales in commercial pet stores.

The alliance plans to survey online buyers with questions about how breeders’ dogs are kept, how they communicated with the buyer, if genetic testing was supplied and if they were given information on how to care for the dog and after-purchase support.

“Responses to that survey will bump (breeders) up or down in the system to get a transparent view of what the breeder looks like online,” Dalman said.

A corresponding training program would also help teach the breeders to “set up puppy families for success ... to prevent dogs from ending up in shelters and mold them into understanding they have further responsibilities” beyond selling the a dog, Dalman said.

One of the stories Dalman tells about bad dog breeding practices comes from Heidi Weger of Crystal Lake. A former veterinarian technician, Weger said she’s seen what happens when people breed their dogs but are unprepared for the work and cost.

Weger was working in a McHenry County veterinarian office when a woman who bred her Yorkshire terrier dropped off very sick puppies. The woman didn’t vet the mom before breeding her, Weger said. The puppies had distemper.

Then, as the vet tech examined the puppies, she found steel wool wire enmeshed in the dogs’ teeth. The puppies had chewed the steel wool used to block rodent holes in the room where the dogs lived, Weger said.

The puppies did not survive, she said.

A higher expectation of care for the mother and puppies is the difference, Dalman said, between a breeder who charges $600 for a purebred dog and one charging $3,500.

Lanckhoff gets the price difference can cause sticker shock.

“To be honest … there should be a higher price if you are getting a dog from a breeder. There is a lot of expense if you do it the right way. There should be a higher price,” Lanckhoff said.

When a purebred dog is sold at that lower price, the likelihood is that it will have unhealthy dogs with larger vet bills, she added. “Don’t get a $300 dog that you can then not afford to take care of.”

What they want to do with the alliance is keep puppies from being dropped off at the shelters or rescues because of bad breeders, Dalman said. “The goal is to keep dogs successful and happily in their homes.”

There are people in the dog breeding community who are interested in reforming the industry and ethical practices, Goodwin said. “People who are thinking of these issues don’t sell to a pet store. We see them as an ally in the battle against puppy mills.”

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