April 20, 2005

"Hello Everyone,

I have been a cafe member for about half a year now, and have been researching immensely on which breeder to go to when I get my Giant Schnauzer next year. I pre-selected several reputable breeders, based on their reputation and also feedback I get from owners. This email posting is about my personal story when I visited Skansen Kennel last week. I will do my best to be as objective as I possibly can, and post the facts of what I witnessed and experienced.

For those of you out there, who are also looking to own a Giant Schnauzer in future, please read my story because I believe it will directly impact your decision of who you go to, or NOT go to when you finally decide to bring a new life into your home.

I had received many forms of feedback regarding Skansen. I read the good and the bad, but I'm the sort of person who won't believe what has been said unless I see it with my own eyes. To be fair, I feel seeing and experiencing first hand would show me the real deal. Anyway, I had really wanted a Salt and Pepper and since Skansen was well known for the color, I hoped that the kennel would not let me down.

I flew in from Seattle to San Francisco last Thursday 14th April 2005.

The Beginning

I'd like to say that I was very disappointed (and maybe even disillusioned) with what I saw, smelled and experienced at Skansen. Sylvia was not there to bring me around, but instead a kennel-hand, @@@ (who will remain anonymous for this email) was there to answer my queries. On my way there, I got lost in San Francisco, but managed to get there at 1pm. (Note, the kennel closes at 2pm and @@@ made that known to me I had to leave then). I had started flying at 6am, and was driving for 4 hours just to get there, but they did not offer me a drink, and did not even think to let me spend a bit more time with the dogs. After all, I had come all the way from Seattle, but I did not feel very welcomed. I think the kennel hands are just jaded from the numerous visitors, and just have no more feeling.

1) Surroundings

When I stepped out of the car, the first thing that hit me was the smell. There was a strong smell, I wouldn't say it was foul, but it was certainly not pleasant. Then it was the noise, the barking was immense, and I could tell there were MANY dogs, not just those I could see in the front. I could hear many dogs in the back kennels. I wanted to go there to see, since it was also where the puppies were whelped. I wanted to know what kind of environment they were whelped in. @@@ said those places were out of bounds, and in fact, many parts of Skansen were "out of bounds". I could only see the dogs at the front, they were in steel kennel dog runs. Some kennels were bigger (about half an acre) some were very small (size of a room).

The problem was that some of these kennels were double-fenced. What this meant was that, no visitor could touch the dogs, because there was a gap between the first steel kennel, and the 2nd kennel fencing the dog in. I have included a picture to show you what I mean. Some kennels had this double fencing, and @@@ said I could not go in to ANY kennel to interact with the dogs. I could not go into the double fenced area either, although the dogs would not be able to come out. What this means is that the dogs hardly have any visitor human interaction.


I try to reason why there was this double fencing, and I realize perhaps Skansen doesn't want to be liable for any injury, should the dogs attempt to bite. But I counter-reasoned in my head that if the dogs were of good temperament, they wouldn't bite human visitors, so why the need for double fencing?

2) Lack of Human Touch/

I walked up to several kennels and the dogs were very excited and they came up to me. The only way we could interact was for me to squeeze my hands through the gaps in the steel. The dogs smelled my hands, licked my hands and I could see they were hungry for human interaction. My heart started to ache.

The worst were the dogs in the double fencing, because they were so far out of reach, nobody could touch them. I could tell by the way they vocalized, that they wanted for me to be able to touch them, but I just couldn't. There were also other kennels that were built behind other kennels, so they were completely blocked out. No visitors could touch them at all.

My thought is, Giants need human interaction, and socialization with as many people as possible, they need love, but these dogs were quite deprived. The only ones that got to go near them are the kennel-hands. I couldn't even go in to the back to see the puppies, and the only people the puppies saw were probably the kennel hands and Sylvia. That can't be good right?

3) Pails of Water

I also felt sick, when I saw, not one, but many water pails in the dog runs, that had green slimy gooey and moldy water. I saw the dogs drinking from these yucky pails. I felt so sad for the dogs. We all know the dogs need clean fresh water everyday. Someone needs to change those pails of water. But the fact that they were SO green means that someone has not been doing their job. I approached @@@, (She had left me to walk around on my own) and another kennel lady. I told them about the green water. @@@ responded, "Oh, the girl who was supposed to change their water has been sick for a week". I looked at them awe-struck, and speechless. Then in my heart, I thought, "What? You mean just because that girl has been absent, the water hasn't been changed a week? Shouldn't it be someone's job to do that task?" Soon after, the other lady was going around changing the pails of water. You could see the dogs immediately going to the pails and slapping that water up. However, not all the kennels had their waters changed. When I was leaving, I could still see many pails with green water.

4) Skin Conditions

Then, I told @@@ to take out one Salt and Pepper for me to touch and interact with. She agreed. Some of the dogs out in the kennels were ungroomed. They had mats in their fur and were quite dirty. This female I touched was very friendly, but @@@ couldn't tell me who she was. There were so many dogs in the kennels, that their names were written on a piece of paper attached to the front of the kennels. That was the only way to tell the dogs apart. But some of these kennels had more than 1 dog. Later on, we found out from the kennel manager that her name was Seraphina. Seraphina was very gentle with me, friendly too, but since I was a stranger, she was aloof (typical Giant character). I understood this well. I touched her skin, and found dried-up scabs, her fur was not clean and the eye-goo was also unremoved. Hopefully, her turn for grooming was coming soon...

5) Breeding

Soon after, Seraphina was returned to her kennel. I proceeded to ask @@@ some questions. How soon were the dogs bred? Females start at 2, bred consecutively for 4 times, and by 4 years of age, they are spayed and put up for adoption to a home. I know that bitches are known to skip one heat after breeding once, this is so that she can recuperate before she breeds again. @@@ told me this was Sylvia's decision to breed them 4 times back-to-back. I didn't ask further, because it didn't make sense to me. And Sylvia wasn't there, and couldn't answer for herself. I know for a fact, that it takes out a lot from the mother (dam) in terms of her nutrition, her health pays whenever she breeds. Her bones, her teeth, her overall general health deteriorates if she isn't allowed to rest in between breeding. Breeding 4 times straight through must be very hard on her. I was told by @@@ that all pregnant females get supplements. But this implied that the other dogs were not given supplements, unless they were pregnant. I was also told they ship about 5 pups out every week. Do the numbers and you'll know how many puppies they produce each year.

My Conclusion

I began to piece it all together. And the view wasn't good. I felt that the females were used as a means to get the puppies out. Some puppies would be champions, most of them pets. Champions would be charged higher and of course, they would be campaigned to get their championships. Some could return and become breeding stock, but once they've served their roles as breeding stock, they would be put up for adoption. To me, it was as if, Sylvia would use them to breed and get her champions, and then give them up for adoption.

There were too many dogs, Sylvia would be spread out thin, and the kennel hands were already too overwhelmed with duties taking care of so many dogs. @@@ told me they groom about 5 dogs every day from Mon-Fri. I can just think it is so hard to catch up with the grooming of so many dogs, and they must be spread out so thinly amongst so many dogs there. How is Sylvia able to divide her attention and love amongst more than 50 dogs? Does she get to spend individual time with each one every day? I seriously doubt so.

@@@ told me that the dogs are rotated around, with different kennel mates every few months. Sylvia also works 7 days a week but mostly at night. She's with the puppies at the back of the kennels all the time, and she also does all the cropping of the ears by herself.

I still love the Giant Schnauzer breed. Make no mistake about that, but going to Skansen and seeing everything with my own eyes has taught me a lot. I feel very sad for the dogs, and I was at a loss, how do I reconcile the good reputation with the actual bad condition the dogs are left in? Skansen has the most number of champion Giants in the world. I hear how she provides good post-sales service, but how come her dogs are in such a sad state?

There is no way she is oblivious to this, since she works 7 days a week at the kennels, she can see how her dogs are. How do I piece these 2 together, wonderful reputation and champion breeder VS bad living conditions for her dogs? I was so utterly sad. Its almost as if, it is a complete contradiction.

No doubt, the standards of conformation are there in Skansen, but the quality of life for dogs there is definitely lacking. I begin to wonder about the ethics of the breeding. The great number of champions produced there does not justify how the dogs are kept. I feel this deep sense of pity for all the dogs in Skansen, behind those steel metal dog runs. They don't get much human touch, drink green slimy water, and don't have much toys to play with. Most of the kennels are dirt runs, and don't look nice at all. I couldn't imagine my dog living out there all his/her life.

I don't feel good about this Skansen adventure. I had such hope, such expectations, and I have to say that I was utterly disappointed with how Sylvia treats the animals under her nose. They help her get her champions, so surely she can give a better quality of life to them.

As for my future Giant Schnauzer puppy, I think I'll just have to wait and look for it somewhere else. I think I also prefer to get a puppy from a loving environment, rather than a kennel environment. The parents (sire and dam) living in the breeders' home would be better loved, and the puppy will certainly get more love and attention, living right with the family. That loving environment would be more nourishing for my puppy. So I'll keep my eyes open and try another breeder.

If there are people who would listen, I would share my experience. You may not be able to go to Skansen like me, but at least I have been your eyes. I have been there, and if you want to email me privately, feel free to do so at sheila.tay@gmail.com

The best part of my trip to Skansen is that I hear firsthand from the very people at the bottom who have to serve and work in the kennels. They know exactly what is going on, because they are the ones to feed, groom, tend to, and ship the animals. They are not in charge of who breeds with who, and who kennels with who. These higher decisions are made by Sylvia herself.

I'm lucky I got to question @@@ (She's been at Skansen for a year) because I think she's very young and maybe too honest for Skansen's own good. I don't think she realizes the 'bad' that she's revealing to me. I also don't think she understands the severity of the situation because its just work to her. When I told her and the other lady about the dirty water, they didn't immediately change them, but took their time, going round.

I'm not writing this email because I want to slam Skansen. Goodness knows that is purely not my intention. I only want the truth of what I saw to be shared with others who are contemplating buying from them. I had fondness for Skansen before my trip, but what I saw really hurt me. I wept tears of sadness as I drove away from Skansen that day. I wish I could do something to help the dogs but of course, I am a nobody.

That's all I have to say about that.