How Can You Give Them Up?

by Joyce Johanson

"How can you do it?" people ask me. And often I ask myself, "Can I do it? Can I give her up?"

What I am talking about of course is giving up for adoption our retired champions. It is not easy. It is not fun. It is necessary.

Nearly every dog in my house was born here. I touched them as they were born; I tore open the sac that held them; I wiped their faces and dried their bodies - sometimes even before their mothers touched them. I fussed and fretted over them as they grew. I watched them with careful eyes to make sure they were eating, that their development was normal, that they were not getting ill. I proudly watched eyes open. "Welcome to the world little one," I always say. I proudly watched first steps, first tail wags, first bites of food, first attempts at playing with toys, first puppy battles. I evaluated as I watched. Which one will it be? Who's going to be the next Joyslyn's show prospect?

I learned very early that "you can't keep them all." You absolutely cannot keep them all, no matter how much you love them, no matter how precious they seem. I've seen what happens to people who try. They become overwhelmed. They cannot care for all the dogs. They feel guilty. The dogs feel ignored. The show prospects that just HAD to be kept end up sitting around in a kennel, clipped down because the breeder is simply out of time and over her head. The numbers grow and grow. You can't keep them all. Because I'd witnessed many of my acquaintances who ended up keeping too many dogs, I determined early in my dog showing/breeding career that I could not be one of them.

So we let them go, starting with the puppies. Many a show prospect has left my home because I can't keep them all. I've met many wonderful people who have come into my home to buy puppies over the years. Some kept in touch for a year or so. Others still do after many, many years. I am so grateful for the stories they write me about their Lhasa, his/her antics and personality. I am so grateful for the "thank you" they write, even after many years.

As hard as it might be to let the puppies go, the heartbreakers are the adults, the champions I have slaved over to train, to groom, to take to shows. I've sat with them as they whelped puppies and calmed them far into the night as they labored to bring me my next champion.

And thus a bond is forged. It's a bond that is different from the bond between pet and owner. Not a better bond, just a different one.

My females generally have two or three litters and then I place them for adoption. That means their ages tend to be 5 or 6 years old. How can I let them go? Do I love them less for letting them go? No! I let them go because I love them. I let them go so they can experience being an only dog or one of two dogs in a home where they will get more attention than they get being one of many at my house. I let them go because after I steeled myself in the early years to give up the first few, and after I saw how well they adjusted and how they continued to flourish in their new home environments, and how much their new owners loved and appreciated them, I knew that, as hard as it was to let them go, it was best for them.

I recently experienced one of those heart-wrenching bittersweet moments when my 2-year old Davy, Ch. Joyslyn's Heartthrob, left our house with his new owner.

Davy and I had an interesting history. My pick of the litter was his sister, Flame, Ch. Joyslyn Winds of Fire. She was what I had hoped for when we did the breeding. I never intended to keep a boy. Davy was purchased by a family when he was about 10 weeks old, but he never saw the inside of their home. I was uncomfortable with letting him go to them. The husband was so nice, as were the two young boys. The wife was a different story - and it's too long a story to tell here. The woman was wacko. But, I let the family take Davy. About an hour after they left, the doorbell rang. The husband handed me the dog with an apology and I handed him his money. His wife just couldn't bring herself to take the dog home. I was so relieved! Saved from being raised by a wacko! No other buyers came along who wanted a male, so Davy stayed. Never happy about having a lead on (Yes, he is related to Belle! She's his niece!!!), Davy nevertheless won frequently. He took a Non-Sporting Puppy Group 1. He even took Best of Breed over a special before he was 11 months old. And then he sort of quit on me.

According to the animal communicator I met at a show in Des Moines, IA in September 2008, when Davy was totally shutting down on me in the ring and I was ready to throw in the towel, Davy "just wanted to be a dog." He saw no reason to go to shows, and he was upset because he knew he was disappointing me. Davy was to the point of just needing his majors, so I promised him if he'd just cooperate and stick with it a while longer I'd find a way to let him be "just a dog!" He finished in December 2008 after my friend Jane took over from me as his handler and put both majors on him. Bless her for that.

Champion or not, I decided Davy did not need to sit around as one of many dogs. I have his sire and his half-brother. I did not need another male. About that time, a man who'd purchased a dog from us 13 years ago, wrote to let us know the dog died. He was lonesome without a Lhasa and wanted to know when we were going to have puppies. We had none available and only had plans for a future breeding, so I mentioned that Davy was available and sent him pictures of Davy. He responded that he wanted to adopt Davy! However, he'd fallen and damaged his rotator cuff. Surgery was a few weeks away and recovery would take months. Yesterday, happy day for him, he came to pick up his Lhasa at last.

As for Davy, he took to the man immediately, wagging his tail, rubbing against him, licking his hand, laying beside him on our sofa within a couple minutes of meeting him. (Davy had not read the standard to know he was supposed to be "chary of strangers.") When the two drove away in the car, I wanted to cry. I'll miss Davy but I know I made the best decision for him.

Later that night, Davy's new owner called to tell me they'd made it home just fine and that Davy was as happy as could be, playing with his toys and investigating his new home. Since then I've received a number of letters describing Davy's antics and his personality, always with the new owner saying, "He's the best Lhasa I've had."

How can I be sad when a dog I love is so happy? I am though. I miss him. But I'm glad his wish to be "just a dog" came true.

For those of you thinking about buying a Lhasa, never be afraid to ask a breeder if she has a retired champion available. Puppies are wonderful of course; no one will deny that. But don't discount one of the older dogs. They have much love to offer - as those who have adopted Tessa, Piper, Paisley, Ahna, and others from us over the past years can confirm. I am grateful to to them for loving and caring so much for our dogs.

That's how I can do it!

Please note: Permission to reproduce and/or circulate information in this article is granted. However, the article must be disseminated in its entirety and credit must be given to Joyce Johanson, Joyslyn's Lhasa Apsos. Thanks!

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