When I adopted my first Hovawart and named him Hamlet, one of my friends wanted to know if I remembered that Hamlet was, in fact, a tragedy. This story is a cautionary tale, but, for us and for our Hovawart, it ends with “happily ever after. “
I have wanted a Hovawart since I spotted the rare breed in a “What’s the Right Breed For You and Your Family?” sort of book back in the late 1990’s. An early irony in this story is that I felt conflicted about paying for a pure bred dog when there are so many in need of homes or that have been victims of puppy mills. However, I loved the description of Hovis as intensely loyal, protective, yet good with the family.
I contacted the closest breeder to me, a gentleman from Canada, and he and his very kind wife allowed my then fiancé and I to visit them and to pick out a blonde male Hovawart puppy. The puppies were too small to leave their mother, so we returned home to wait for them to grow a bit; this was during 2002-2003. Meanwhile, I was traveling to school, taking many classes to complete my degree while teaching full time, and I developed mononucleosis with complications—after much heartache and debate, we decided against collecting the puppy.
The Canadian breeders were especially kind to us in the circumstances. From this experience, I developed the romantic notion that Hovawart owners, like their dogs, were a special breed: kindred spirits, if you will. I am still saddened to think of that lovely blonde puppy and those kind neighbors to the north.
I waited the eight or nine years until my husband and I had purchased a home of our own, near the school where we worked. I saved money, about $1500, and then I tried to contact the gentleman from Canada, but I didn’t hear back. I was never sure if it was because his contact numbers were different, or if my earlier situation had made them feel as though they could not do business with us, but I never heard back from them. It wasn’t easy to save that money; we have four kids, three in college and I am also in college, working on my doctorate in education.
So, I began to search for a different breeder. I saw Hovawarts from Great Britain, and Hovawarts from many other countries. I emailed a couple of the contacts listed on the sites that were in English and did not hear back. I knew that the Canadians had brought Hovawarts from Europe—was it possible that I had been somehow “blacklisted” after my involvement with the Canadian puppy? Then a different site, www.hovawart-puppies.com caught my attention. It was in English, and it invited email or telephone contact. I emailed sometime in the third week of April, and received an immediate response. A litter had been born April 8, just a week or two prior to my inquiry and there was a little black and tan boy available.
"Helle" [note Kenzo: pseudonym], whom I understood to be the owner of the mother of my puppy, but not the breeder, was a very prolific emailer. I sought clarification on Hamlet’s parentage, and I should have realized that something was amiss, for the responses to those inquiries were somewhat vague, but I was so excited to be in contact with another Hovawart owner. We talked on the phone, finally, and she assured me that these were purebred Hovawart puppies. I was foolishly satisfied, for she sent me many emails about the litter and the particulars of the breed. She appeared to be a very responsible owner who cared deeply for these dogs. I do not know now, exactly, what her connection was to what appears to have been a puppy mill. After what had happened with the Canadians, which I disclosed to her, I offered to send her references, but she also seemed ready to trust me. I realize now that I was so worried that I might have been “blacklisted” in what I thought was the small Hovawart community, that I was not as direct as I should have been about Hamlet’s parents and situation. I was just grateful that "Helle" would trust me with a puppy from this lovely breed.
Leo’s blog, looking rather more decrepit than it did on Google Earth. I ran the cursor on street view past that house many times, imagining myself visiting Hamlet and picturing him curled up on their floor or couch. Little did I know that he was probably living with his siblings and mother in a very different kind of situation.
On the telephone, "Helle" promised that Hamlet’s papers would be with his shot records and the other papers necessary for him to enter the US. On the appointed day, I traveled to Newark, NJ. I was so excited. "Helle" emailed and phoned me, and I emailed and called her each step of the way, from my cell phone.
My name is Hamlet, and I am going on my very first trip out of Copenhagen to my final destination Newark/USA. I am traveling with SAS on flight SK909. Please handle me with lots of careness (sic) and please take me out for bathroom when needed. Tell Mister Pilot that he have a very special Hovawart puppy onboard his flight who is loved by many people.
I have this card next to me right now, and I wonder how so much effort could have been put into this one puppy if this, was, as it seems now, somewhat of a hoax and he was just one more puppy from an active puppy mill. Taped to Hamlet’s crate, there was a doggie “passport,” a very official looking booklet with his shot records and worming records, and I did get a laminated book called “Owner’s Certificate and Book of Health.” Beneath it read, “Hovawart Hamlet.” On the back, it read: “ Continental Kennel Club, CKC International Official Seal. “.
I was so enamored of my puppy that I only glanced quickly at the paperwork. When I went to the vet, however, to have Hamlet checked over, he indicated that there wasn’t a lot of information about Hamlet’s genealogy, and that I would need a lot more documentation. He also agreed that Hamlet had some skin issues, but he prescribed a careful diet, special shampoo and fish oil to help him. To this day, that is how we maintain Hamlet’s itching, although he always has some issues with his skin and an extremely sensitive tummy.
What I realize now is that there were no such papers. I called, I emailed, and I felt as though I kind of alienated "Helle" with my persistence regarding the “papers” and Hamlet’s parents. She seemed surprised that I wanted more than the little book and she didn’t seem to understand that I wanted some sort of proof of registration with the Danish “Hovawart people.”
As soon as Hamlet arrived, "Helle" used me as a reference for a caller from South America, either Brazil or Columbia and for someone from Japan, each inquiring about her puppies. However, after I asked again for registration papers, there were no more referrals. I did wonder how there were more puppies already, but I chose not to think about that.
Hamlet is an integral part of our family now. On Facebook, again due to having become friends with "Helle" and then reaching out myself, I realized how many countries have happy Hovawart owners. When I saw Leo’s posts and I realized that we had a part in supporting what appears to be a puppy mill, I was devastated. The skin problem, we dealt with. The concern regarding registration papers, I had decided to put behind me.
My heart breaks, because the "Helle" I know loved Hamlet. She told me she cried when she sent him to me. He did come to me a well-behaved, socialized little fellow. He did immediately seem to understand that he was to love and obey me, and I felt that he had transferred his affections from one lady to another lady who was now his owner. My heart breaks because now I feel as though I might be betraying "Helle", and I am truly saddened by that.
I saw "Helle" in my mind’s eye as an extension of that home that we visited in Canada, so clean, with the responsible owners who shared our excitement for this breed. This, unfortunately, seems not to have been the case with Hamlet, and that’s why I am writing this letter. It’s hard for me to accept that I contributed to the support of a puppy mill. I didn’t do enough “homework,” despite the calls, the emails, the questions and the references. I hope my story helps others to be more careful, and I offer my apologies to the Hovawart community for being careless. I am so sorry for that, and my heart breaks for the dogs who were euthanized and for the dogs who were traumatized—I’m a part of that, like it or not, by virtue of purchasing Hamlet. My husband and I would like to do what we can to make amends; perhaps sharing our story (not as a tragedy, for we love our amazing dog) but as a cautionary tale is a good first step.
Before I finish, however, I want to emphasize that Hamlet is a beautiful, even tempered, well-behaved dog. He is loyal to a fault, protective, absolutely everything that I dreamed a Hovawart would be. He’s definitely my dog and sees me as the top dog in the house, which makes my husband laugh. He’s smart and gets along well with our cat. He isn’t just attached to me, however; he watches our youngest son like a hawk and snuggles at night with whomever will allow him onto their bed. He’s not perfect; he does not always come when he’s called, and he hates busses. When the school bus comes, we must be careful that he is inside or he will stand in its way! He is a character and beloved by our neighbors as well for his beauty and his friendly nature. We are lucky and thankful to have him, and I hope that it makes up a little for the decision we made more blindly than we should have.
I can't thank you enough, Elizabeth and Hamlet, for sharing your cautionary tale. I have nothing to add, other than that you are very much part of the Hovawart family. We are sorry too, we couldn't have helped you earlier. We all rejoice, that Hamlet is loved and cared for, no matter where he comes from.
For the latest and how you can help, visit the page Stop Danish Hovawart Puppy Mill.