“Don’t they have Schnauzers in London?” asks my husband, when he finds out that the breeder I want to visit is a two-hour drive away.I’m sure they do, but there are quite a few bonkers dog breeders out there and I think I might have found a sane one that I like. And most importantly, who likes me, which is half the battle: breeders vet you (these are their babies) as much as you vet them. It all requires careful negotiation.
I make a list of our plus points that I think may appeal: back yard (tiny, but a space nevertheless), close proximity to Hampstead Heath, always at least one adult working from home, children old enough to play, not bait. Would the fact that we are driving for a couple of hours to see if his current collection of spoken-for pups bring on an allergic reaction in our son, count in our favour?
On the way there we prepare for Schnauzer mania. A good breeder tends to love the breed they’ve chosen to distraction. This breeder shows his dogs, judges other people’s and is a board member of one of the national Schnauzer societies. We prepare for a house that smells deeply doggy, hemorrhaging hair (I carefully don’t wear black). The Schnauzer ornaments, photographs, oil paintings and memorabilia in the front room proudly declare the family interest, but I can’t see any stray hairs and the house doesn’t smell the tiniest bit doggy. Even when eight friendly, be-whiskered females join us, sniffing feet, licking hands and happily jumping into our laps. The vibe changes – and accidents occur – when several jaunty males enter the room and, eager to impress the girls, lift their legs. But after some benevolent chiding, and the liberal use of a magical carpet spray (must buy), the frisky boys are removed, the mood is serene once more and we can talk puppies.
I tell the breeder that we’d like a calm, biddable female. He has other ideas: “With two young boys in the house, I’d give you a bolder pup, one that could cope with having his tale trodden on,” he says. And that makes perfect sense. As he knocks my other questions into touch, I accept that while I may have read every dog book known to Hampstead Waterstones over the last two months, this man is an expert.
After two hours playing with many Miniature Schnauzers in one small front room, putting his face in their fur and their paws on his shoulders, our asthmatic son has not had a hint of wheeze or any allergic wheels. Our youngest – cured of his cat fixation – proudly cradles a puppy that doesn’t want to leave his lap.
On the journey home we agree that one of these surprisingly hefty little pups, all plastic toy noses and curly grey fur, would be the ideal dog for us. Their model mothers, who were calm and friendly even when crowded together with their pups on our laps, convince us.
I call the breeder when we get home (keen, moi?) to find out the next step. He is going to breed two girls in two months, add to that the sixty’ish day cycle of pregnancy and, if we are lucky, the puppy should be ready in the autumn. He tells us rather tantalizingly, “You’ll just have to put your name down and hope.”
I itch to email him when we are on our summer holidays and spend far too much time with a calendar trying to work out when the breeding will take place, and when won’t be considered too pushy to get in touch – we don’t, afterall, want to get nixed from the wait-list. I bite the bullet when we return from our holiday, and am rewarded with the news that the puppies have been born and are doing well. Absurdly sweet photos follow – small dark furry logs of dogs – and I start to plan for a puppy in October.