NRBA: How long have you been raising your dogs “naturally”?
Roberta: I started raw feeding in February 1987 after buying a copy of Juliet de Barclay Levy’s book, the complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat. It actually took me until 1994 to get off of the vaccine merry-go-round. A Catherine O’Driscoll seminar put that last nail in the coffin for the 5 way shots. It took until 2000 to stop the big R. Doing that last final step was a HUGE eye opener.
NRBA: How did you get into breeding dogs and have you always raised them naturally?
Roberta: I’ve always had dogs and cats. Purebreds and mixes. In my late 20s I adopted a lurcher (greyhound x) and she opened my eyes to the sighthounds. Within 3 years I purchased my first borzoi and a greyhound. I competed in lure coursing where I met my husband, who owned whippets since 1975. He had bred one litter. I was completely smitten with the Whippets. I also purchased my first Italian Greyhound in 1990, as well as getting my borzoi brood bitch. Having been a farmer in my 20s, I had raised horses and bred dairy goats. I was very interested in breeding both borzoi and whippets. We were married in early 1990, had an emergency c-section singleton litter whippet in 1991, moved to our present farm in Jan 1992 where our first borzoi litter was whelped in February.
NRBA: Tell us about your journey into natural rearing:
Roberta: It was interesting. I was NR with myself for many years. I was a competitive long distance runner and a member of the natural hygiene society (they are the human version of NR founded on Dr. Herbert M. Shelton’s principles of living an optimally healthy long life by eating raw foods, getting lots of fresh air, sunshine, fasting, utilizing naturopathic medicine and homeopathy, etc). https://www.healthscience.org/heritage/natural-hygiene-movement/dr-herbert-shelton
His fasting ideas were however in my opinion, draconian. I think a 3 day fast is as much as one should ever do in one go. He however was a proponent of long term fasting. The NHS would have symposiums every so often, and I liked attending. During one of these, I had a chance to come across a book vendor in the foyer. As I perused through the books, I found a copy of Juliette’s book. A friend and fellow NH member who apparently already had the book, told me to buy it. She point blank asked me if I fed my dogs and cats raw food. I looked at her as if she had two heads. What? No! I thought we did not know how to feed other species so that’s why we had pet food manufacturers! All she said was, if you feed yourself a raw unprocessed diet, then why can’t you do that for your animals? The light bulb flickered on. She said to read that book and it would tell me everything I needed to know. That was February 1987. I still have THAT book…it is a bible quite literally.
NRBA: What breed(s) do you have now?
Roberta: I still have 7 whippets ranging in age from 9 months to 14 years. I have an elderly GSD, an almost 2 year old Malenois, a 7 year old Rat Terrier, and a 5 year old Pin/Pom.
NRBA: What health problems are said to be inherent in your breed?
Roberta: Mainly hereditary mitral valve disease (often seaways into congestive heart failure), a couple of eye problems like hereditary cataracts, and PRA. There is mono & bi-cryptorchidism as well. To a much lesser extent, hypo-thyroidism and Addison’s disease.
NRBA: Do you think they are influenced by nutrition and environment?
Roberta: Some of them, yes. I actually think some are epigenetic. Especially cryptorchidism, thyroid, Addison’s. PRA may be also. I also think it would take over 6 generations of NR to reverse the epigene shut offs. Maybe closer to 10 generations. I think in today’s world most of the health problems in dogs is multigenerational vaccine damage topped off by poor nutrition due to feeding heavily processed foods.
NRBA: Is there anything special or unique you feed your breeding dogs or that you do with your litters?
Roberta: Not really. My mantra is variety and moderation in all things. I do give all my dogs a herbal mix that I make myself. They get that added to a tripe/offal mix. I add it 3 or 4 times per week usually. They also get a smoothie in the morning on most days that basically is bovine colostrum powder, kefir, raw goat milk (when I have it), and pastured eggs. It all told is about 1.5 litres that they all share. I make a special habit of doing that for pups starting at 3 weeks of age. They will get more bovine colostrum (BC) as their mother weans them. Usually around 6 weeks I start giving it twice per day, and continue this until the are about 4-5 months old, when I drop it back to once per day. As adults, they continue getting it almost daily. The odd time (maybe once or twice a week), I will not make a smoothie for the adults. Depends on my time constraints.
NRBA: Has your faith in NR ever been shaken?
Roberta: Not shaken completely, but partially. The first bad parvo incident here killed half of my borzoi litter but none of my whippet litter. Several months later, I had an accidental breeding (two whippets) and I was worried out of my mind about parvo. I did a stupid thing and vaccinated them with a parvo only that within a couple of hours sickened all of them and killed one. That was a HUGE eye opener. I realized immediately that the vaccine can do the same as the disease. What I further realized over the following months was that the vaccine did more than just sicken them….it actually caused long term chronic damage. They all had personality disorders, some worse than others. The sickest had the mildest and those who were less sick had the worst. These pups were aberrations from any litter we had ever had. After that heartbreaking incident I heard from a couple of other breeders who had used the same vaccine but had lost their entire litters. I gave an affidavit to the one who decided to sue the vaccine manufacturer. She won, but only the revenue loss of the cost of the vaccine, vet, and puppy revenue. Nothing for pain and suffering (dogs are property and treated as such by the courts). So, if anything my faith in NR was strengthened. I only wish I had known then, what I know now about parvo and treating it, and about BC and using it. I wish I had listened to my gut which was screaming at me to NOT use that vaccine.
NRBA: What kind of screening do you do with potential puppy buyers?
Roberta: I ask them if they have read my web site, particularly the about NR page. 99 times out of 100, they have not. I tell them that they need to read it and that I only place my dogs in holistic, like-minded homes. Only rarely do I hear back from people who are still interested (it helps that I give them contact names of conventional Breeders so if NR is not what interests them, they have allopathic contact names to fall back on). Those who email or call me back I can then assume are interested by NR, and then have to fill out my vaguely worded questionnaire. It will find issues if there are any. Speaking over the phone or face to face is also helpful. People like to talk and if you listen, they will tell you what you want or don’t want to hear.
NRBA: What are your goals for the future?
Roberta: I am at a crossroads right now. Not sure that I want to breed anymore. I find it more difficult to find the right homes. I have been doing more and more rescue over the last 4 years. People are willing to give up elderly dogs. This bothers me immensely. I only managed to home 2 out of 4 elderly rescues. The two I couldn’t home lived out their days here. I am considering taking in rescues over age 10, as long as they have stable temperament especially with other dogs.
NRBA: What advice would you give breeders who are just starting with NR?
Roberta: Develop a strong backbone and a strong intuition. You are swimming against the current. This is especially important when dealing with vets and owners who often are bullied by their vets. The most important thing is to listen to your gut. Your intuition will always tell you what you need to know, however you need to LISTEN. I guarantee, when you don’t listen, you will be sorry that you did not.
NRBA: Anything else you would like to share?
Roberta: You will never stop learning, and you will know things that others do not. Don’t let hubris or the sense that you know everything already, take over. You always need to keep an open mind and keep learning. Always observe nature, your dogs, everything that presents itself. You will learn from watching. Read as much as you can. Familiarize yourself with as much as you can. Join NR groups on the internet.
There are always alternatives. Some things will work, some won’t. Some things you will have a personal affinity for, and some you won’t. Try not to stay in a comfort zone all the time. It’s hard to learn or try new things from that position. I don’t experiment lightly with my dogs, but in a serious situation, I will try anything that my gut calls me to try. And never be afraid to ask the universe (or your higher power), to help guide you in a crisis. Help comes where help is needed.