Keeping The Focus On Man’s And Woman’s (And Child’s!) Best Friend


  • January 30, 2019
  • by Michael and Cathy Dugan

From the January 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.  Pictured above: "Ladybug" competing for Best In Show at Westminster in 2011.

Now, More than ever – we need our dogs!

We’ve had the great honor to compete many times at big shows like Westminster in New York City. Being on the floor of the Garden watching one of our Portuguese Water Dogs compete for Best In Show is a rush we will never forget. There’s nothing quite like it.

But wait, there’s more!

But there’s lots more to the world of dogs and canine competitions around the world. Not so long ago, it was difficult to find accommodations that would allow our dogs to join us. We became experts about which Motel 6’s were available; they at least would take a dog. Today, the hospitality industry has figured out that there is real money in welcoming dogs, not just to hotels but in many restaurants and attractions as well. Here in California, places like Carmel, Monterey and Mendocino—popular vacation spots—all have embraced people who travel with their dogs. It’s common to visit a store or restaurant and find water dishes out for our canine family members and cookies ready.

Even more than that, we all have noticed the growing use of canines in every form of advertising. I don’t know exactly what a cute dog has to do with selling insurance or tooth paste, but big companies don’t like to waste money on ads that don’t sell their products and appeal to a broad base of consumers. They have figured out that the pooch in that 30 second spot attracts and humanizes the “pitch”. Like everyone, we actually pay more attention to a clever ad with an adorable engaging dog, regardless of whether we could care less about the product being hustled.

In the 30+ years we have been breeding dogs we found that the demographic of the buyers has subtly changed. While we still place dogs with families with relatively young children much of the time, the numbers of families without children or whose children have escaped or been evicted from the home have grown big time. Couples are looking not just for a dog but for a new type of family member to enhance and contribute to their lives.

Families are searching for dogs with “intent”. By that we mean that the days of casually picking up a pup at the mall or pet store are over. As breeders, we are delighted to experience the seriousness and planning that families show us as we talk about placing a puppy with them. When I was a kid, we had many dogs but having a dog was more of a neighborhood assumption—heck, everyone had a dog or cat—than a planned family decision with a clear thought about what we were going to do with the dog.

Now, when we have a family fill out a detailed application form and meet with them in our interview process, they have multiple questions for us based on how and why they think a dog will fit into their lifestyle and family structure. They know this is a big decision, not to be taken lightly. While most of the applicants have had dogs, in almost every case, they are viewing this decision in a new light. By the way, we don’t place dogs with folks who have never had one. PWDs are smart and challenging; not for rookies. Just as breeding 
is not for the faint of heart or the light of wallet.

The Internet, Social Networking and Artificial Intelligence

What do those things have to do with people and pets? Everything. One striking thing we have noticed when families with kids come to our kennel is that the kids put down their devices unless they are taking pictures. No long chats, no apps and games; the parents expect the kids to pay attention to the process. Even the families without children focus on the decision to add a new family member; even the ones who work in tech and are generally chained to their computer or their multiple devices. The internal turmoil for them not to use their iPhone must be brutal.

In the last three decades the world of human interaction and communication has changed forever; no big surprise there. As a lawyer working with a web development company in the early days of the Internet, it was assumed that the World Wide Web would not only broaden the availability of vast information and communication but that it would also help people connect better with each other and humanize us all. The world was also going to paperless —yeah, right, we know how that went. We were very wrong of all counts.

Instead, all of this extraordinary technology has isolated each of us in ways we never expected. The Law of Unintended Consequences remains immutable. When TV became commonplace in this country, psychologists and sociologists predicted the doom of family interaction and empathy as the “screen” became the focus of family life. To the extent that became true, it’s nothing compared to the universe we live in now. Cubicles have replaced the socialization of the water cooler and the break room; computer and device screens have replaced that opportunity or desire to actually converse with someone directly.

Loneliness has become the bane of 21st century in America as well as the developed world. The number of young people, particularly men, who continue to live with their parents well into their twenties is the highest in the last fifty years. As much as we loved our parents, we couldn’t wait to get out into the world. But then, good jobs were a lot easier to find and going to college didn’t produce suffocating debt.

Enter the pooch, stage right.

Cathy is a hospice nurse and often takes one of our canine kids with her to visit a nursing home or facility. The dogs add a sense of normalcy and help dispel the sense of being alone. The use of dogs in therapy work and hospitals continues to expand because they provide something that all that expensive technology cannot: the tactile connection with another living, breathing creature who loves unconditionally and adores without question. In an ultimate irony, many companies, particularly high tech companies, encourage employees to bring their dogs to work to help create more of a “family” and “connected” atmosphere. Wasn’t the Internet supposed to do that?

Dogs in particular and pets in general have become even more of the “medicine for melancholy” made famous by Ray Bradbury in his books and stories. In an age where we yearn for a sense of commonality and community, our canine friends are right there for us, anytime, anyplace. At a time when we sense that something may be missing 
in our lives, the affectionate lick of a loving pooch says it all: we are adored and valued! 

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