We love responsible breeders! And we want to support their good work and the wonderful companions they provide for so many people. In this Breeder Spotlight, we talk to Cindy of Fidelity Farm Labradors in Spokane, WA, about her amazing breeding program. April shares a lot of super interesting information with us about health testing, puppy selections and her family’s selfless Air Force service.
1. Of all the breeds out there, why did you decide to breed Labrador Retrievers?
Though perhaps a bit biased, we think they are simply THE BEST!☺ Growing up in the country, I was introduced to these wonderful companions at a very early age and they have been stuck to my heart ever since. Blain also had great exposure to them during his childhood, and once married, they were our first “children”. Labradors are incredibly versatile dogs and are always ready to take on (literally) any “grand adventure” with their people! Whether chasing an occasional pheasant, helping with chores, babysitting the kids, running errands, helping facilitate therapy or search & rescue, acting as personal fur-therapist, participating in show and other eventing, or just being a weekend couch-potato buddy, there are so many reasons to love a Labrador! They are phenomenal, easy-going family members with hearts of gold and an “I’m ALWAYS here for you” attitude! Once you’ve had a Lab, it’s hard to be without one!
2. How long have you been breeding?
Over the 33 years of our marriage, and while Blain was a rated officer in the Air Force, we had carefully-planned litters from time to time. However, given the type of commitment required as a career military officer with moving and having Blain frequently TDY/OCONUS (duty and deployments outside the continental USA), we had to wait till his AF retirement to fully engage as we wanted to for so long. We’ve been operating under Fidelity Farm Labradors since 2016 and are excited about the direction we’re headed with our Minions!
3. What sets you apart from other breeders?
I’m sure we speak on behalf of many other reputable breeders in that, first and foremost, we take what we do very seriously and have the true wellbeing and best interests of our Minions as individuals and as a breed as our primary focus. In everything we do, our goal is to be faithful to the rich heritage of Labradors as a breed and to always be working toward both maintaining the true Labrador standard as well as the betterment of the breed as a whole. My background is biochemistry / (human) clinical nutrition / education, and the science behind all aspects of a proper, quality breeding program has always been of great interest – health/genetics, nutrition, conformation, training, etc..
According to the American Kennel Club, Labradors have been the most popular breed for 30 straight years as of 2020! https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/labrador-retriever-popular-dog-breed-30th-straight-year/. This popularity has also led to a significant level of incorrect breeding. We work hard to educate those who inquire about our program as to what they should be looking for in a good breeding program, as well as a breeder that will be around long-term for support, if needed. It is super important to us that there is a good fit between any puppy we would release and the individual/family they would be going to. If after discussion with prospective puppy customers it is apparent that a Lab would not be a good fit (both for them as well as the puppy), we are honest in sharing the reasons for that. We believe in honesty and integrity and in treating others the way we hope to be treated.
Our job is not finished when puppies go to their new homes! We feel one of the most important things for our puppies’ wellbeing is to maintain an open channel of honest communication, so our families know they can always share both their triumphs as well as challenges in raising their new charges. The relationships that have developed have been a true blessing! We love what we do and believe that also contributes to a program of quality.
4. Besides the obvious (color), what are the biggest differences between Yellow, Black and Chocolate Labradors?
There are anecdotally-cited differences; however, we believe the qualities that make Labradors such a wonderful breed are found in all three sanctioned colors! Overall Lab temperament tends to be consistent, and all more-or-less require the same level of care. Truly, it comes down to individual preference, but all are wonderful! In very hot, sunny climates we would not recommend a Black or dark Chocolate, as they will potentially be very uncomfortable (that is unless their new owners have a nice pool ☺!).
Any substantive differences in quality-bred Labradors tend to be more related to the two general types of Lab (i.e. American/Field Trial type and English/Conformation type). Those in the American-type category tend toward a more performance (hunting, field work, etc.) background with tendency toward a higher energy level and lighter/lankier build. English/Conformation types generally exhibit an overall lower energy level and blockier build. There are certainly exceptions within each category; however, the two types are generally bred toward different job descriptions.
5. Why did you decide to focus on Yellow (particularly cream to ultra-white)?
Again, for us it has been overall preference. We have seen and loved Labs in all colors, but have always been drawn to Yellow. Growing up in sunny Eastern Oregon, we did not want to subject a Black Lab to the heat associated with having a dark coat. We were and continue to be very active during the summer months, and though we had a wonderful creek to swim in, for us it was about the comfort level for our dogs. There too, for us we cannot deny there is just something wonderful about a sweet Yellow Lab face!
6. What are your thoughts on “Silver” Labs?
We understand there is a draw for some for “boutique” colors (silver, charcoal, etc.); however, genetically, these “color skews” are a result of the introduction of non-Labrador DNA at some point (usually Weimaraner). Though Silvers can be AKC registered at this point, most “Lab folks” dedicated to the integrity of the breed do not agree with these introductions and their billing as (purebred) Labradors. Sanctioned colors include Yellow, Black and Chocolate. Because we are committed to maintaining the integrity of what is truly a purebred Labrador, we genetically test for the dilute gene that allows variations of this type, and do not allow any with Dilute status in our program.
7. Why is health testing important? Which health tests do you do?
Health testing is critical in all breeds of dogs, as each has its own inherent breed challenges that responsible breeders must breed away from! As a breeder our main focus is on bettering the breed as a whole. To do so, it is important to understand how to weigh both the positive as well as the negatives that can impact future generations. Some testing is very objective (i.e. genetic testing). There are recessively-carried issues with every breed of dog, and thankfully, this testing is very easy to do to identify potential issues.
In Spokane, we have access to a phenomenal resource in Paw Print Genetics. https://www.pawprintgenetics.com/. Testing can be done by supplying either saliva swabs or blood samples to get definitive results. A dog receives one genetic component from each parent (clear, carrier, or affected) for each trait. The combination of the two determines the results that will be shown (or not) in any puppies that result. A reputable breeder should never allow a dog of “affected” status in their breeding program, as (statistically) at least half their puppies will also be affected, and some of the issues are real heart-breakers! It is perfectly fine to breed a “carrier” to a “clear”, as a “carrier” is not affected by the issue they carry. However, if two “carriers” are bred, there is also a 50% chance for “affected puppies. Two carriers should not be bred. Some of the best show and breeding animals available are also “carriers” for certain issues, and the predominant thought is that they are completely fine in the careful hands of breeders who understand how to evaluate the soundness of breeding pairs. To eliminate “carriers” from breeding programs further limits the collective gene pool, which could very well lead to other potentially more serious issues due to limited genetic diversity.
It is also very important that hips and elbows are evaluated by OFA for soundness. PennHip is another measure we’ve used from time to time, as it is a very accurate assessment of long-term integrity of the hip joint. The measurement, called a “Distraction Index”, measures the laxity of the joint. The smaller the degree of laxity, the better the prognosis for long term health (i.e. reduced incidence of dysplasia, future arthritis, etc.). It is also very important that eyes are checked for heritable issues. Only a CERF-qualified veterinarian can do that examination. We are very fortunate to have wonderful veterinary specialists at Animal Eye Clinic of Spokane who can do this. https://www.animaleyeclinicspokane.com/. We also evaluate things like cardiac status and even dentition! There is considerable cost with health testing; however when committed to doing the right thing, it must be done!
8. What are some of the top questions you ask potential puppy buyers to ensure they’ll be a good fit for your puppies?
We ask a lot of questions both in any conversation as well as on our Puppy Application. While it is an assessment tool for us as breeders, it in many ways is an even more important tool for those interested in our puppies to honestly self-assess specific issues and conditions that will either make our puppies a great fit, or lead to realization that it will not. We ask questions about the owner’s lifestyle and whether that lifestyle works for the needs of a Labrador.
Does the potential owner’s home space lend itself to the needed outdoor exercise a Labrador requires to be happily adjusted?
Does the potential owner’s employment situation allow for adequate time at home to interact with their puppy?
Does the owner have a fenced yard or fairly immediate access to a dedicated and safe outdoor space?
Dog parks are not necessarily safe for a young puppy; especially prior to full immunization since you cannot know with 100% certainty the vacc status of other dogs. We made certain potential puppy owners understand how important it is to limit the level of high intensity activity until growth plates fully calcify, which is at approximately 18 months. We also help folks understand it is important NOT to spay or neuter too early, as this has been shown to have negative effects on the overall health of the puppy/dog.
Nutrition is also very important, and we emphasize the importance of feeding foods formulated for Large Breed Puppies, which assist in slowing the rate of growth to an acceptable level, which in turn lowers predisposition to dysplasia and other joint issues. We believe a well-informed potential customer will be better able to make the determination if a Labrador puppy would be a good fit for their lifestyle. If we hear or see “red flags”, we make certain there is a level of understanding to work through them.
9. How many litters do you have per year?
This year we will have four to five at the most. We believe in quality over quantity and will only have what we know we have the investment of time to properly commit to. Even with 4-5 litters, doing things right in caring for the dogs is a huge responsibility that many do not completely understand. Done properly, this business is a lot of work!
10. How long is your wait list?
We currently have just over 30 on our active waitlist. For the past month I’ve been sharing with those that inquire that it may even be next season before we would have a puppy available. We already have a number of 2022-specific reservations.
11. Do you pair puppies with their forever home or do you allow puppy buyers to choose their puppies? Why?
Part of our Puppy application is a questionnaire that asks about specific qualities people are wanting in their puppy/dog. Are there children, and if so, what ages? The planned activity level the individual or family has is a factor. We have had folks who want a puppy more suited to potential service training, etc. When puppies arrive and begin to show their personalities, we keep track of any significant traits that may lend themselves to certain activities or lifestyles. As a whole, our puppies are relatively consistent in overall temperament, and Labs, as a breed, tend to be more flexible in type than some other breeds.
When electronic Puppy Applications are submitted through our website, they are automatically date-stamped, and that is our overall determiner of “pick order”. Based upon each applicant’s stated preferences, we generally highlight any noted individuals who we think may be a good fit. We schedule one-hour blocks of time for each family to come in pick order, so they have a nice amount of time to spend with the puppies for comparison. We do offer our recommendations; however, leave the final choice up to them as to who steals their hearts! To date we have yet to hear of any regrets due to choices made!
12. Your business is veteran-owned and operated. Tell us more about your military service.
Blain is a 26-year career Air Force Officer veteran having served on both the B-52 (Fairchild AFB), and RC-135 (Offutt AFB) Reconnaissance aircrafts. We (along with our Lab Molly) then spent a number of wonderful years at Ramstein Air Base (Germany), where Blain worked in Information Operations/Intel. Through years of deployments and TDY, we raised 3 wonderful kids and continue to be blessed by their presence in our lives.
While in Germany I had the privilege of working with the Wounded Warrior Program at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center as Volunteer Coordinator of the Wounded Warrior Ministry Center/Chaplain’s Closet. Those specific years were during the hot times of Operation Iraqi Freedom, etc., and we served the injured and ill that came from downrange for treatment. We are thankful for the incredible family that is the collective military and the sacrifices that have been so willingly made on behalf of so many.
The United States is truly the Land of the Free because of the Brave!
13. Is there anything else you’d like to share about Fidelity Farm Labradors?
Thank you Amy for the opportunity to share and thank you for the great work you all do at Valor K9! You are such an incredible help in assisting dog owners to bring out the best in their special canine family members!
Thank you so much, Cindy! For more information about Fidelity Farm Labradors in Spokane WA, go to their website at http://www.fidelityfarmlabradors.com/. You can also find them (and lots of super cute puppy photos) on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FidelityFarmLabs.