Meet Coda – our 10 year old Berner! Coda is Berner-Garde #73788.
Swiss Silhouette Bernese started with a dream. When Shelly was just a small girl, she imagined her world. Her parents brought some of those dreams into reality when they provided her with multiple opportunities to experience raising, training, and learning about dogs and many other types of animals. Her greatest longing at that time was for a horse, but living in the middle of a city, that dream was put on hold. Being resourceful, she did find horse owners that were willing to trade grooming and horse stall cleaning for riding lessons.
During her growing years she owned and trained Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Australian shepherds. The moment she was old enough, she started working for a veterinarian and quickly progressed to managing a three-clinic chain. The job was a dream job. Not because of what everyone thought though. It was assumed that because she liked animals, she loved her job. A portion of that statement was true, but what she truly loved was the people. Identifying with people that shared her love and passion for animals. Occasionally she was disheartened with those that didn’t care at all, but that was not the norm. The average person coming to the clinics cared deeply for the animals.
During this time of work, Shelly was exposed to professional breeders for the first time. It is sad to say that for the most part, she had a negative experience and really didn’t think too highly of them. She watched them bring in puppies that didn’t make the “grade” to be destroyed. Because of this she ended up adopting and placing Great Danes, Collies, Boxers, Whippets, etc. They would be “off color” or carry a genetic defect that breeders didn’t want public. She watched adult dogs that were finished breeding be brought in early for euthanasia. Again, she would offer to take the dogs home and try to find homes.
During this time, she had a beautiful blue merle Australian shepherd named Meghan. There was also a doctor at the clinic that had a gorgeous blue merle male. They decided it would be a great idea to breed them and have more gorgeous, smart, and loving puppies. Shelly whelped her first litter successfully and was so excited to welcome the 14 beautiful puppies into her home. She was a little disappointed that 6 of the 14 puppies were white, but hey, she wasn’t going to get caught up in the negative “breeder” attitude and discriminate because of color.
Then, the anticipated time came for those puppies to open their eyes. Within two weeks it was obvious that something was a little different about the white pups. She soon figured out that some were blind, some were deaf, some were both. Both the veterinarian and Shelly were devastated at what had happened and found out from a breeder that there was something called a merling gene. She educated them on this and some of the other things they should have looked at before putting two pretty dogs together. This is when Shelly learned a new found respect for a quality breeder that took her responsibility to a breed seriously. This was only the beginning of the “breeder” education.
Many years were taken “off” in pursuing the dream of owning her own kennel. It was time to raise a family. Bill and Shelly had their first two children while living in Southern California. 1989 brought a move to La Grande where they welcomed the next two children into the family. As Shelly had been allowed to grow up with many animals, so did her children! They had dogs, rabbits, goats, cows, guinea pigs, rats, HORSES, cats, parrots…just about anything you could name! It was soon obvious Alicia, her second child, shared the same passion.
The first Australian shepherd that Shelly had (Meghan) was now 14 years of age. The family purchased a quality bred German Shepherd and decided to pursue the dream of breeding with that boy. Alicia had actually wanted a husky, but Shelly was a little hesitant about working with a breed she didn’t know, and as most mothers know, it does not take much to persuade a young girl who simply loves dogs to fall in love with another breed. Alicia and Shelly had a plan! Start off the first couple years with training. Two years was invested in training Donder in Schutzhund and obtaining a level II. This is not a small feat with four young children! He grew into a beautiful example of the breed both in type and in temperament. The pride in this boy was palpable. Then he was taken in for the OFA x-rays. The vet shared his opinion of the quality of his hips and was not hopeful at all. He mentioned that these were some of the worst hips he had ever seen. The disappointment and devastation at yet another road block was real. Two more German shepherds were raised in hopes of better luck, but to no avail. All three were spayed, neutered, and were simply family pets.
Shelly communing with her Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog
During this time a tragedy hit the family. On July 3rd, 1998 two of the four children were lost in an automobile accident. Alicia was one of them. This part of the story is huge, but only minimally touched on here. There really is not a time that a parent “recovers” from this type of loss, but through the deep seeded faith in God, family, and commitment, healing, of a sort, did happen. Out of this tragedy, Shelly pursued her dream of starting a kennel. It gave her a “safe” place to throw her energies and emotions. There is not one of the children that is not important, neither living nor lost, but this was a dream that was shared with Alicia.
At first the kennel was created as a way of keeping “their” dream alive, but years later, it was obvious that this was truly “Shelly’s” dream and it was pursued to help her through grief. Bill was a constant support of Shelly and he was the one that provided the opportunities to begin, and the encouragement to not give up when things got tough. After the last German Shepherd passed away, Shelly found a breeder that had gone through the loss of a child and also found healing in a very special breed…The Bernese Mountain Dog. Shelly had seen one in a parade, heard of them, but didn’t know them. After searching the Internet, finding the breed club, she found a breed steward for Oregon. Ray and Patsy Burgett. Patsy and Shelly visited over the phone several times before she suggested coming and simply spending time with the breed. Shelly eagerly said yes! She would travel wherever was needed to meet them. She was 100% blown away when she found out Eagle Cap Bernese was less than one mile from her. And that is where the journey into Bernese Mountain Dogs started, where a valued friendship was birthed, and fourteen years of Bernese Mountain Dogs happened.
The journey has been intense, joyful, heartbreaking, adventurous, and hard. Every single experience has taught something that makes this passion “real.” The Bernese is a breed that has earned our loyalty. We will never breed a litter without careful planning and taking into consideration our goal for the breed (and collectively with the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America) in general. This is no longer about just breeding a pretty dog. It is about holding onto a heritage that comes with each puppy produced. There are positives and negatives behind each dog. Our goal is to capitalize on the positive and minimalize the negative through careful planning, mentorship of those before us, and participation in club events and educational programs.
As was mentioned earlier, there are different types of breeders and different reasons for breeding. I have learned that most professional breeders share the same passion as myself. They started with a love of an animal, learned to appreciate the predictability of an established breed, and committed their passion to improving and preserving a heritage. All breeders who are dedicated to preserving a breed will have a third party that will “keep an accountability” in an unbiased manner of puppies/dogs produced. The most common venue for this is the conformation and performance events through AKC. Although this is viewed as a sport to many people, it is also a valuable tool. It is not the ONLY tool, but it is the most common. It proves to the breeder, and to those interested in obtaining a dog, that the dogs being bred are good representations of the breed in both physical and mental attributes.
Like all other breeders of integrity, our goal is to preserve this breed and retain all of the qualities it was produced for. When breeding a litter, our checklist looks something like this:
#1 Breed for temperament. This is the core of who the Bernese Mountain Dog is. They need to be trustworthy and intelligent. The breed is known for being intuitive, loyal, and gentle. Each dog is individual and personalities vary, but the basic temperament of the dog should be consistent.
#2 Breed for structure. This dog is meant to WORK. We want dogs that can perform what they were bred to do. Although we appreciate the beautiful dog that can adorn our couches and lawns, they are a working dog. This breed should be able to live a full life without the handicaps of early arthritis, dysplasias, etc. Our goal is to produce dogs that do not live their life in pain.
#3 Breed for health. If we have a dog that connects to our hearts the way they are supposed to, can share our lives both inside the home and outside, then we want to keep them as part of the family as long as we possibly can.
#4 Breed for type. There is no question that the first impression a Bernese Mountain Dog has on anyone is their beauty; Their striking markings, large presence, and glossy coats. If all of the ground work has been laid, then this is the finishing touch…we want our dogs to look like the breed that they are. This is the reason for our kennel name: When you hold any breed into the sun, and can only see their silhouette, and if you are able to indentify the breed…THEN, you have “type.”
So now, I, Shelly am a Breeder. I am dedicated to breeding ethically and responsibly. I am dedicated to every dog I produce, and to some of those I did not produce. I will always be available to help, to take a dog back, to re-home it if needed, to cry with and support the owner who get devastating news, and to laugh at the antics of puppies bringing joy to a new family.
I try to balance the three most important things (God, Family/friends, and my dogs) in my life and don’t always stay balanced, but I try. My faith in God, husband, family, and friends are my support system. It was not mentioned because this story is already too long, but there are two more children in our family now. My two girls, Amanda & Arla, are adults with their own families at this time, but Evan, 20, and Jacob, 17 are still at home with Bill and me. Their support of Swiss Silhouette is not even measurable. They care for the animals when I am unable to do it personally, and they take care of other chores so I can spend more time training, volunteering, supporting new owners, traveling for breeding or shows, and simply caring for our animals and home (yes, we still have more than just dogs). They help make sure each animal is given attention above the necessary food and water…they get family time. There is so much more to who we are, but, as I mentioned, this is long enough.
The best parts of being a breeder are the friendships and relationships that these dogs bring into our lives; we love sharing our stories and hearing theirs. We appreciate each extended Swiss Silhouette family!
We welcome you to come and visit our place any time. Meet us, meet our dogs, and learn more about this breed that has wiggled its way into all of our hearts permanently.
Bill & Shelly Leary