Economy Tips For Breeder-Exibitors


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A lady told me that she had spent thousands so far in raising a small litter (six pups to four months old) and the costs had not yet finished mounting, even though she paid no stud fee or shipping, since she owned the sire, too. This was her first attempt at breeding and will probably be her last, mostly because of the unforeseen expense.

Many there are who have been told by experienced breeders that there is no money in puppies if they intend to be honest, conscientious, careful, and maintain respect for the breed. But exactly how expensive breeding can be, just isn’t generally spelled out. It is my purpose here to help the reader to come up with an estimate of his own, in order to help decide whether or not to breed.

I frequently ask prospective buyers of brood bitches or users of my stud dogs why they want to breed, and if the answer is, “To get a nice puppy to keep,” I try to persuade them that buying a puppy is cheaper and easier. A second purpose of this piece is to help one defend his puppy prices to shocked potential buyers, and it should be helpful in choosing alternative care methods for one’s own dogs. With the tips that follow, and your own ideas that will be generated thereby, you can save a good deal of money.

It might be a lot more accurate to say that your losses may be considerably reduced, for the only “breeders” who make money on pups are at one or the other extreme of the spectrum. On one end are the big-name producers of Champions, although even in their case, expenses in shows and advertising may eat up all they make; at the other end are the puppy mills. Owners of top stud dogs often are the only ones who make money in the quality breeding game. A really reprehensible puppy farm operator may keep a lot of dogs in minimum subsistence conditions, maybe throw some meaty bones over the fence occasionally, while feeding the cheapest low-energy dry food he can find, and perhaps slightly fatten up and clean puppies just before packing them off to pet stores (the worst possible place to shop for a dog). Generally, if such an operation can get rid of puppies right after weaning, the costs are low; I’ve seen many five-week-old pups in pet stores in past years, full of worms and poorly vaccinated, although recently some states have passed legislation requiring pups to be older at time of shipment. This is an almost unenforceable requirement, however, as it is the supplier who says how old the pups are, and sometimes the blue paper doesn’t come along right away or the pet store people overlook the date of birth.

Most breeders are in that vast middle ground in which the actual costs, both obvious and hidden, surpass whatever payment the sale of puppies could bring, even if you ignore your time spent and consider it a labor of love. When I was breeding on a much larger scale (one or two litters every year), I was a professional handler and sold dog food on the side. Some years this put my business into the black, other years the dog-ledger bottom-line figures were in red ink. For a while, after becoming well-known in the breed, I relied principally on co-owners to raise my litters for me, and share the costs while they gain a brood bitch and expertise. Later, after I started judging and could no longer charge to handle for others (AKC rule), I had to rely principally on royalties to help me break even or better. (I wrote the definitive book on hip dysplasia and other orthopedic problems, in addition to the big breed book on the German Shepherd, both of which went into multiple editions.) Without such other income-producing activities, it’s almost 100% sure the quality show or pet breeder will go into the hole. You may want to save and reread this next time you contemplate rearing a litter, or give a copy to the next puppy-bitch buyer who is considering doing the same.

Having made your decision to be either a regular or one-time-only breeder, how can you cut costs without adversely affecting your dogs’ health? During my heaviest exhibiting (handling my own and clients’ dogs), and breeding years, my biggest regular dog-business expenses were transportation, dog food, dog purchases/stud fees, miscellany including entry fees, advertising, and veterinary care and supplies. The only reason vet bills were not near the top of this list is that I did most of my own medical and preventive procedures. Folks with no scientific background or training in canine medical care can lose their shirts paying the vet for things they should learn to do themselves.
In first preparing this article, I looked in my old records covering the time period I was doing most of my handling and breeding. Prior to 1975, my vet bills had run around $500 a year (in 1970s dollars)—most of that for things I could not legally or conveniently do for myself, such as X-raying and palpating—at breeder/researcher “discount” fee levels. Every year I was doing more and more of my own veterinary work, which was most dramatically illustrated by cutting even that expense in half while the cost of feeding a greater number of mouths with annually higher-priced food more than doubled in one year.

Transportation cost reflects the maximum cents-per-mile the government allowed in those days, and if I had paid an accountant, he may have been able to get a little closer to the real cost, but not much. “Actual” costs are not truly actual. Transportation’s “3R’s” (running, repairing, and replacing the dog vehicle) have costs which are partly hidden even with the best accounting methods. You can’t use a van or larger vehicle for years and just figure the gasoline bill. The new van price five years hence should be estimated and divided over that time, and such things as insurance, licenses, etc., are also often overlooked by the dog owner. One should always check and use the current IRS figures on cost-per-mile. The argument that inflation is reflected in higher income is not valid, either, as witness some figures we came across at the time of my most intense handling business. In 1946, a typical median-income family spent 2% of the budget on all utilities, and in 1982 a typical upper-middle-class family spent 12% just to heat a modest sized home in the mid-south. Basic necessities, in terms of real dollars, were getting dearer every year in the `80s, but fantastically so in the 2011 time-frame.

In my busiest handling years in the mid-1970s, I customarily entered my clients’ dogs in shows myself. Entry fees, which then averaged $7, amounted to 50% and 60% of the “miscellaneous-costs” figures for those years; the rest in that category was spread over shipping, phone, postage, registration fees, supplies, etc. Fencing and housing had been bought in previous and following years, so I did not factor in their costs. And I was getting more orders for puppies than I could fill, so I cut back on advertising. Dog purchases included buying out co-breeders’ shares of parts of litters in order to fill orders that buyers wanted to place with me. I did this because I always guaranteed full satisfaction, which some of my bitches’ co-owners did not want to do. In those days I was selling a good portion of my litters on co-ownership because of my business travel schedule and (being out of town so often at whelping time) my inability to give newborn puppies the care I insist they have.

Let’s look at each item and see where the average breeder or other dog fancier can save money. Some of these examples will not pertain to you for one reason or another. Much of these comments will apply to folks who aren’t into show competition. Owners of one or a few non-breeding adult pets will not benefit as much. The first item, transportation to and from shows, veterinarian’s office and feed stores (if you still make it a special trip instead of on your way from non-dog driving), will be negligible if you’re not into showing. Motel bills can be lumped into this or the miscellaneous entry; I camped out much of the time and saved some money thereby, using a sleeping bag in my van or tent.
Packing food from home saves a little compared to restaurants and concession stands. You can car-pool to some shows if there’s enough room for all the dogs as well as people. This could conceivably cut the transportation bill in half, more if you show Toys or small Terriers, because a Shepherd in a crate can take up room that a human and his small dog could utilize. You can concentrate on cluster shows to keep mileage down.

Dog food expense is one big-ticket item wherein most fanciers might be able to reduce costs considerably without detriment to their dogs’ nutrition. The best-known brands of dry dog food in a supermarket can cost almost twice as much as some local feed mill or co-op brands, yet may have less meat, protein, and fat because they are designed for the “middle” of the dog spectrum—the average. A little educated and careful reading of the labels can help your pocketbook and your dog’s well-being, but it’s possible that the big-name brands might be more likely to remain unchanged in batch-to-batch uniformity and ingredients than the small local company’s product. Look at the package’s ingredients list and consider buying the locally-made food if meat is one of the first two ingredients. Don’t assume that the foods with the wildest claims or most advertising are superior to all others.

I’ve had generally good success shopping this way, though I also ran into one instance in which the ingredients list on a certain cheap brand did not change but the actual ingredients did: more chaff started appearing in the food and more undigested pieces of corn were seen in the stool. Corn must be finely ground and/or cooked (kibbled) to make it digestible for dogs. Pork fat, corn oil, discounted liver and ground meat will usually be cheaper than canned meat, in case you want to supplement, and will usually be a better approach. The “protein” listed on the labels in the worst, cheapest canned foods could be anything from feathers and beaks to eyelids and hooves. The word “fat” could theoretically include something as non-nutritious as crankcase oil, though it is highly unlikely any food processor would stretch your imagination and his that far. Both the ingredients list and the analysis should be studied carefully, as should the food itself under a magnifying glass. As you have heard, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, in the dog. If his condition is not satisfactory and other reasons (worms, illness, etc.) are ruled out, the diet may be less than ideal.

Many breeders feel the need to supplement in order to improve condition beyond that achieved from commercial rations, and find that the supermarket’s weekend special bargains in meats and fats are cheap and reliable. We used to find sources of free or very cheap chicken hearts, cottage cheese, eggs, etc., back in Toledo. I made regular trips to Detroit, to processing and wholesale distribution plants where there were cracked eggs and outdated cottage cheese they were happy to sell cheap. That may be impossible these days because of “consumer protection” laws and fears of lawsuits. These are among the most digestible additives you can put in your dog’s diet, and are found in the very best commercial dog foods.

Which to choose? [Note: these prices are outdated, having been current many years ago, and repeated here only for comparison.] If your dog does better on the local brand at $15.65 per bag, why pay $25-$35? The retailer of dog food makes very little on it regardless of brand, relying on his food stock to bring customers in to see his other, higher profit wares. But if the results from the local brand or the big, well-advertised national ones are not good enough, you may have better luck with the $35/bag (or whatever) special ration rich in those highly digestible quality ingredients mentioned earlier. I prefer to supplement with meat, fish, etc., and rely on the economical but quality basic dry food to give the trace elements and balance. A couple eggs a week and a frozen drumstick or chicken back will give gloss to the coat and keep tartar off the teeth.

Economy may be a matter of being able to feed your dogs less of that type to get the same nutrition (and less stool volume) as they claim. It’s your decision; just be sure to remove the variables, such as worms, and give any new food at least six weeks to prove itself before you switch. Too often feeders change brands when their dogs’ coats and weights actually reflect conditions other than food quality. Such as normal seasonal changes.

Advertising expense and efficacy will vary. Just remember that advertising demands a long term commitment to be cost-effective. The chances of selling dogs are much greater if the public repeatedly sees your name than if you advertise only sporadically. I placed many dogs with people who told me they had read my ads for many years before buying a pup or adult from me. Repetition is the key to getting your advertising dollar back, even though there will always be the rarer instance of a one-time ad selling several dogs. However, magazine advertising on a regular basis is only suitable for people who have a near-constant supply of pups or stud service. Newspaper advertising is quick, but one of the least effective and therefore most expensive because:

(1.) The paper is thrown away after being perused; (2.) It covers a small geographical area and most readers are non-buyers of dogs, and (3.) You are competing with the cheap backyard “accidentals” as well as the lower quality dogs in your breed. People have not learned to go to the newspapers when they decide to buy a dog of quality. If they do, part of Murphy’s Law states that it’s bound to be a week after your ad has expired.

Competition in the specialty breed magazines, most of whose dogs probably have similar bloodlines, often is too stiff. And, these days, print advertising is still waning so fast that most dogs and services are now sold on the Internet. The similarity to regularly-running magazine ads of the past is that you need constant exposure, an eye-catching look that quickly catches the attention, and other things that I, not being a computer nerd, have little or no expertise in.

Doing some or nearly all of your own vet work saves bundles of money, and advice is often sought from experienced breeders. It can be a touchy subject, though, because States have laws against “practicing medicine without a license” and veterinarians can become very jealous and upset if they think someone is a threat to their considerable income or their professional pride. So, remember when you read this, that I am not suggesting what you should do, nor am I offering treatment or specific advice regarding your dog. I am merely telling you my personal experiences, relating what experienced breeders have learned, and sharing some available information from vet journals and websites. If you are in doubt or lack either experience or a science background, by all means, use the vet who has more experience and knowledge than you do. Remember, the veterinary profession arose out of the experience of farmers and ranchers who raised livestock and dogs. The animal owner in muck boots came before the specialist in the white coat. In the earlier part of this article, we looked at some typical dog expense breakdowns and gave some hints toward reducing cost in a few areas. Veterinary care is possibly the biggest area where you can save money. But be careful: a little learning is a dangerous thing—“Do-it-yourself” is risky here. Remember, any time I mention any medicine in this or any other article, do not take it as a prescription, but as a reference to experience, to be verified with your veterinarian before using. What I or my vet approves may not be what yours does.

Further examples can help illustrate exactly where the money can go. At times, I personally administer drugs purchased from veterinarians or from vet supply houses. Sometimes it is possible to get more reasonable medical services by “shopping around.” Clinics in smaller towns and rural areas may be as good as, or better than, some in large cities, and charge considerably less. However, remember—if you are unsure or inexperienced, the more you try to do yourself, the greater the risk of error will be. Visits to the veterinary clinic and the prices of the medicines the doctor stocks can be expensive, especially when you multiply everything by eight, or whatever your litter size is.

But you can learn to do many of the routines yourself. Start with worming. It’s almost a sure thing that puppies will have roundworms at three to five weeks of age, so many of the best breeders buy some pyrantel pamoate (Strongid or Nemex) and find out how much to administer. Squirting this pleasant-tasting wormer into the mouth with a hypodermic syringe (no needle!) is very easy. Other worms tend to be acquired at somewhat older ages than the ten and twenty-four days of age schedule that I use for this wormer.

As Dr. Rachel Peeples says, in part, “Please realize that each geographical area may have parasites of concern not common in the USA, so please do not consider this a definitive list. Pyrantel pamoate is the best medication for hookworms in the very young puppy, it also gets roundworms, and it is very safe—very hard to overdose pups. Praziquantel and epsiprantel are very effective and safe.” She then comments on ivermectin as well.

Many years ago I found that starting pups on 1% ivermectin straight out of the bottle keeps my dogs worm-free except when they might get tapeworm from eating a mouse, chipmunk, or rabbit, or get another variety from fleas. Most experienced breeders use about a quarter of a milliliter (or cc) for every 100 pounds of dog. A “maintenance” level of one-tenth ml every month or six weeks for my adult German Shepherds may contain a considerably different amount of ivermectin than the amount that the makers of Heartgard recommend, but it still is both safe and effective, in my experience. For several decades, I have had great success and safety with the dosages I’ve used. Only if we have a very bad “tick summer” will I increase the amount by ten times, once or twice during the spring-to-fall season. Ivermectin has a very broad “margin of error” or safety margin.

Table 1:
RELATIVE EFFICACY OF THE MORE COMMON ANTHELMINTICS (WORMERS)


              Product

Hook , Round       

Whip

Tape

Heartworm

Ivermectin *

  +++

  +++

  —

  +++

Pyrantel pamoate (Nemex, Strongid)       

  +++

   —

  —

   —

Praziquantel (Droncit)           

   —

   —

 +++

   —

Drontal-Plus (prazi, Febantel, pyr. pam.)  

  +++

  +++

 +++

   —

*(bought from a feed store or on-line; same ingredient as, but cheaper than Heartgard)

The brood bitch can be rid of hook and whipworms by dosing her in the months before breeding. I’ve never had any bad effects in my kennel when worming during gestation, because when I have (seldom) done so, it was very carefully at low doses. But pregnancy is a precarious time in regard to most medications, pesticides, and anthelmintics, so the less harsh things you give a bitch “in whelp,” the safer.

If you have a microscope and run stool checks yourself, fine, but a negative result on one or two samples doesn’t mean the dog is worm-free; the worms may simply not be laying eggs at the time the dog’s stools were being passed from the intestines. Most breeders have routinely given worm medicine to pups at likely-to-be-affected times. If the dam has been previously treated (such as before or in the first days after mating) with a broad-spectrum wormer, or has been on regular preventive-maintenance doses of ivermectin, the pups probably won’t have hookworms before they are weaned, and it will be safe to wait until they are a month or two old before putting them on their own anthelmintics.

There is some wisdom in the commonly-held caution that many long-term experienced breeders give—that of staying away from the animal clinic because such places are likely to be full of germs. A dog that walks into the waiting room can pick up hookworm larvae on the way; even puppies carried in a box can breathe air that contains virus particles and thus contract kennel cough or parvo. If you keep them at home, isolated from visiting dogs or human carriers of parvo until they are old enough to develop immunity through the vaccines, they have less risk of picking up something like that. And certainly keep away from “dog parks”!

If you’ve run a titer on the bitch’s blood, you’ll have a better idea of when her antibodies are wearing off in the pups’ systems and when to vaccinate against parvo. The other way is expensive: shots every two weeks, and prayers that they don’t wear off in between and the pups get exposed to parvovirus at that time. If you have any doubts, keep in touch with your veterinarian, as the loss of a litter is far more expensive than any alternative. The safest way is to keep the pups from being exposed if parvo has been anywhere that you might bring the babies.

I mentioned the higher susceptibility to chemicals during pregnancy and before weaning. As illustration of this fact, I tell you of a friend of mine who had catastrophic results when he overdid his flea-control on a bitch that was ready to whelp. He liberally used 10% carbaryl, a chemical sold at high prices in cardboard shaker-top cans, on her and the whelping box. It is exactly the same stuff as in that can or bag of garden dust labeled “5% Sevin” but he had the seldom-seen double concentration. It killed not only fleas, but also the pups and the bitch, a valuable GSD of excellent bloodlines.

If your litter picks up fleas from momma or by association with cats—those notorious flea transmitters—you can save on insecticide by purchasing it from a garden shop or the feed-and-seed store. An old but still (in educated hands) relatively safe and effective flea powder—one which will kill or sicken and discourage fleas—is carbaryl, one brand name being Sevin. (But remember the caveat above!) I occasionally use carbaryl if fleas have been carried into my premises by a visitor and I want a quick knock-down paracide. There are several other paracides that are safer and effective to varying degrees, some on the adult, some on larvae, and some on both. Pet Armor and Frontline are brands of fipronil, and the “Plus” version contains methoprene, which prevents flea eggs from hatching and the larvae from growing up, so eggs and larvae can't turn into fleas and lay more eggs.

Advantage (imidacloprid) and Frontline both contain neurotoxins that prevent transmission of nerve impulses in the flea, but they differ in their toxicity to mammals. Program (brand of lufenuron) is an insect development inhibitor vs. insect growth inhibitor); the active ingredient interferes with the production of chitin which is the protective exoskeleton of fleas and many other arthropods, insects, and animals. Capstar, Promeris, Advantix, Hartz, Exspot, Sentinel, Advocate, and Revolution are additional flea-control agents with various effectiveness and modes of action. Keep an eye open for the latest information, by surfing the websites.

If you want to avoid or minimize the chemical approach, you can quite successfully prevent fleas most of the time by remembering the “4-C” maxim: Fleas abound most often if you have cats, carpets, contacts, and close quarters. Dogs that live part of their time in the house that has vinyl or wood flooring, and part of their days in a large enough yard, and are kept from contact with cats (notorious for carrying fleas to dogs) seldom have to be treated for fleas. Dogs that have much contact with other dogs, whether it be at shows or play parks or having dog visitors, are at much higher risk.

Learn to “give shots.” It is easy, and you can either do your own shopping for vaccines and syringes from mail-order houses or buy those supplies from the vet. I have used veterinarians who were willing to meet any price in my catalogues, and your dog’s doctor may be willing to do the same for you. Some brands may not be carried right away by these companies who offer such catalogues, and some medicines by law cannot be sold this way, but those are rare, and there are sometimes a way around these monopolies.
Most puppy vaccines are for subcutaneous (under the skin) administration, and puppies have plenty of loose skin to pick up and get a needle beneath. Some things are best given to adults in the muscles, with such recommendations being on the package or the insert flyer, but there again, there’s plenty of room in the thighs. It would be preferable to have your veterinarian show you. If you are not both confident and competent, don’t take the risk; pay the extra money and have a professional handle your dog’s medication needs. As you watch and gain confidence, you’ll do it yourself.

A few words about other tips for economy and good health: Shampooing, nail cutting, coat clipping, and other grooming services should be done at home at a big savings. Pay a breeder for a couple of lessons if you have a breed that requires careful trimming, then do it yourself. There’s no reason that you can’t train your dog to lie still while you pare his nails or scrape the tartar from his teeth. But start early so the puppy can be more controllable while it learns to lie still. I have written dog-magazine and Internet articles on do-it-yourself methods of coat, nails, and teeth care that are effective as well as at nearly zero cost; look for them. Daily vitamins (if you think you need them) bought at the discount drug store are OK, but remember that nowadays almost everything is made in China, where quality control is abominable, even dangerous or occasionally fatal. It would be nice if everyone could afford six-foot chain link fencing around the dog yard (their own free-access exercise area) but that is an expense which can be considerably reduced. We use “hog wire,” which is fairly heavy-gauge 4 x 4-in wire. Near the top of this four-foot-high fencing runs a single wire on insulators attached to each post, the wire leading to an electric fence charger. About eight inches from the ground (for wee puppies and would-be diggers), a second strand completes the escape-resistant security system. The only place we use chain-link is on the concrete pads extending some 24 feet from the kennel building. The electric fence is a safe, effective, and economical deterrent even when it’s turned off (the memory is still there), and only fails to give second thoughts to an AWOL-prone dog when it’s shorted out by weeds or a heavy rain which conducts the charge over the surface of the insulators to the nails holding them to the posts.

Finally, a sure way to reduce expenses—but one that will be resisted by a lot of readers—is to dispose of all dogs that are not performing some needed function. Time after time I run across families who’ve let their enthusiasm and love for dogs run away with their common sense. Many of these become “half-families” because the friction over changed life styles frequently leads to divorce. An owner of a male dog buys a breeding female, has a litter or two, finds it hard to sell all the pups, and becomes mired to his knees in the physical and emotional mess. That point may be four or five dogs with some folks, 25 with others, but whenever it is reached the owners wake up (hopefully) to find they are spending most of their time cleaning kennels and feeding puppies, and spending most of their money on the dog activity, too. One or two brood bitches should be enough for most breeders, and it’s cheaper to lease a brood bitch or “rent” the services of a stud dog than to buy either one. Besides, you can change the bloodlines easier that way, too.
The ideal setup is to have deposits on pups even before the breeding takes place, so you’re not swamped by hungry adolescent pups that have not sold for some reason. Having a co-owner for your brood bitch (such as someone you bought her from on a share basis) can save you a little money and move puppies thanks to his reputation and advertising. When the costs start to mount fast is around two to four months, when the pups eat a whole lot more and need a bunch of vaccinations. About that time, you may want to lower the sale price to cut your losses, but don’t go too low or your buyer will not value the dog.

Culling defective pups at or soon after birth and “putting them down” (it should not happen in good stock and planned breeding, but it could) will remove some costs before they amount to anything. Destroying badly dysplastic pups or young dogs, if you can not find a home for them after surgery, will save future food and vet bills. That’s assuming you’ve already made the wrong breeding decision without requiring a low PennHIP DI score, and are now learning the hard way. If any grown dog in your kennel serves no purpose (breeding, guard, children’s playmate, obedience or show dog, etc.), or is not living out its last retirement years with respect and honor, sell it. If you’re losing money, more dogs will help you lose it faster.

Economizing in dogs is possible, if you put your mind to it. Just don’t go to extremes like the farmer who kept adding higher percentages of sawdust to his chickens’ feed. One day a nest of eggs hatched, and out came ten peg-legged chicks and a woodpecker!

Fred Lanting The Total German Shepherd Dog Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems Conflict: Life, Love and War

Fred Lanting Fred Lanting is an internationally respected show judge, approved by many registries as an all-breed judge, has judged numerous countries’ Sieger Shows and Landesgruppen events, and has many years experience as one of only two SV breed judges in the US. He presents seminars and consults worldwide on such topics as Gait-&-Structure, HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders, and The GSD. He conducts annual non-profit sightseeing tours of Europe, centered on the Sieger Show (biggest breed show in the world) and BSP.

All Things Canine  consulting division, Willow Wood Services. Tel.: 256-498-3319  Mr.GSD[at]netscape.com
Also use this address for inquiries regarding judging or lecturing schedule and availability.

Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems
It covers all joints plus many bone disorders and includes genetics, diagnostic methods, treatment options, and the role that environment plays. This highly-acclaimed book is a comprehensive (nearly 600 pages!), amply illustrated, annotated, monumental work that is suitable as a coffee-table book, reference work for breeders and vets, as well as a study adjunct for veterinary students, for the dog trainer and the general dog owner of any breed.

The Total German Shepherd Dog
This is the expanded and enlarged second edition, a “must” for every true GSD lover. It is an excellent alternative to the “genetic history” by Willis, but less technical and therefore suitable for the novice, yet very detailed to be indispensable for the reputable GSD breeder. Chapters include not only such topics as: History and Origins, Modern Bloodlines, The Standard, etc., but also topics of great value to owners of any other breed, such as Anatomy, Nutrition, Health and First Aid, Parasites and Immunity, Basics of Genetics, Reproduction, Whelping, The First Three Weeks, Four to Twelve Weeks, and a Trouble-shooting Guide.

Conflict: Life, Love and War Volume I – a “War and Peace”-size novel of love, war, joy, suffering, and the meaning of life. Ask about it.

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