In our June 3rd 2020 issue we had a conversation with John and Christine Heartz of Chriscendo Pomeranians.
1) John, you were a well-known Professional Handler who also successfully bred Pembroke Welsh Corgis, how did the two of you meet?
We had mutual friends, I had been showing my first Pom in Obedience and wondered if I could show him in conformation. I asked John if he thought my dog would finish, his advice was “you can finish anything if you show it long enough”. But we both attended the same shows in the Maritimes, I saw him every weekend, ended up working for him, and then married him.
2) John, after you retired from handling, you have the successful “Birchhill” boarding and grooming business, are you still doing the boarding and grooming?
It was always the plan to be able to finally stop traveling, and stay home to run the boarding kennel myself. Lately, as I try to wind down, Covid 19 has happened and enabled me to wrap it up.
3) Chris, you are now retired, what did you do as a career?
I was hired directly from Design School as a Junior Designer for Crossley Carpets, I worked there for almost 38 years and retired as Design Director.
4) How did you become involved in the Pomeranians?
I bought my first Pom in 1977 with my first pay check, but didn’t breed a litter until 7 years later. For several reasons, I was only 18 years old at the time, living at home and I felt that I was not experienced enough to have a litter. I showed and finished several bitches before I bought “the bitch of my dreams” and then moved into the next phase, by breeding our first litter, first puppy, who grew up to be a Canadian and American Champion, and a Multi Best in Show winner.
5) Are the Pomeranians the only breed you have?
Yes, (Chris) but John had bred Corgis, as well as litter or two, of Beagles and Shelties.
6) How many Pomeranians do you usually keep?
We keep the numbers to around 12, which includes, a couple of stud dogs, 6 or so breed-able bitches and we always have a few younger dogs and bitches we are growing up, as well as babies.
7) Any other breeds, or animals at home?
John, has always been interested in Koi, and we built a pond in 2000 and he has a number of very pretty Koi from Japan that we enjoy all summer. Then we keep them in large tanks in the garage in the winter.
We also have converted Chris’s garden shed into a Chicken House and have a dozen Silkie chickens. We don’t breed them (yet) HaHa!
8) How many years have you been breeding the Pomeranian?
The first litter was born in 1977, so this year I have owned Poms for 50 years, and we have bred them for 43 years.
9) How many Champions have you bred?
We have bred 153 Canadian Champions to date, many are also American Champions, as well as Champions in many other countries.
10) How many Best in Show Winners have you bred or co-bred, or co-owned to date?
We have bred more than 25 Best in Show winners whose totals are in excess of 250 All Breed Best in Shows around the world.
11) Describe the Pomeranian in 3 words?
A Miniature Spitz.
12) What to you is the ultimate hallmark of the Pomeranian?
A tiny version of his Spitz ancestors. With a magnificent harsh, stand-off coat, correct, foxy face, with tiny ears, set on top of his head, a short back and high set tail. He will have enough leg to move effortlessly around the ring, head held high, A dog who is as sound, as he is beautiful.
13) What are the “must have” traits, you must have in the breed?
Length of leg, (never “dwarfy”), harsh coat, not cottony or single coated. A soft expression created by a moderate muzzle length, moderate stop, and above all, beautiful, dark, almond shaped eyes. A high flat tail on a short back. And the construction that allows the outline standing to maintain that shape while moving effortlessly.
14) What is the ideal weight you strive for in your dogs and your bitches?
Poms are an anomaly, in that the preference to a smaller male and a slightly larger bitch. This is more for the preservation of the species than anything. Tiny bitches are far more less likely to be able to raise a successful litter. I think my ideal range would be 5 to 6 lbs.
15) Is exaggeration a problem in the Pomeranian?
The early Poms in the 50’s and earlier, were refined and possibly there was a direct contrast to that the overdone “Chowy” became more in vogue. But the search for that look, also contributed to the coat problems we experience in the breed today.
16) What are the acceptable colors?
There are 13 acceptable colors, no DQ’s so any color “can” be shown, and the best Pom should win.
17) Are there, differences in temperament between the colors?
Yes, but it is also how they are raised at home in those first 3 months, that are more important in forming a great show temperament.
18) You have successfully produced a family of dogs, that are known worldwide, people everywhere can recognize the “Chriscendo” type, what do you attribute your success to?
We have always tried to breed with a specific “look” in mind. We saw a few dogs when we started in Poms that were the direction we felt we wanted, going forward.
Always aiming for a tall, short backed Pom, who retains that shape while moving, with an athletic, ground covering gait, and is still what we aim for today.
By working with other breeders who also breed this type, we have established a type which is our interpretation of the standard.
19) You are known throughout the world for having shared certain dogs for a time period with like-minded breeders who have become very successful as well. Why do that, when some breeders never would?
We feel that we will never have enough puppies to share with those breeders interested in the same things as us. As Wendy Paquette likes to say, “Sharing is Caring”.
We try and place our males for a time with like-minded breeders, because down the road the progeny can return home to help our gene pool with new blood, and enable us to breed back into the lines again.
Many breeders also work with us, and lend outstanding dogs to us, which again can be beneficial down the road to all involved.
With all that is happening with the Animal Rights people, everyone is keeping fewer and fewer dogs. We have to work together for the good of the breed and those dedicated to it.
20) Is the genetic pool in the breed strong worldwide?
21) What do you find to be the hardest thing to improve upon in breeding Pomeranians?
We all still have Black Skin Disease (BSD) sitting very clearly in our minds. It is not possible to breed intelligently without a genetic marker, or knowing the mode of inheritance, but we try to make informed choices.
But, by not using “affected” dogs as a start, the breed is healthier, coat wise. Of course, coat loss seems trivial when research is concentrated on “life threatening issues”, but it will be good to be able to see this issue put behind us.
BSD is only one aspect of the health of the breed.
There are bite issues. In Europe for example, Poms are required to have 6/6 and in North America only a scissors bite is required, and there are a great many Poms with 4/6 etc.
Good Patella’s, and closed Fontanelles are also required to show and or breed in Europe. In North America, there is no mention of it in the Breed Standard.
22) What dog of the past, and what bitch, in your breed would you have like to have owned?
The breed is very strong now compared to the past, so the dogs I would love to own are in the present. There are two dogs in China that are amazing. The dog that won the US National this year, Ch HC Poms Aaron and Ch Jinka of Morning Star Kennel, both, are exceptional dogs and both are combinations of Asian and North American lines.
23) Do you often keep more than one female from a litter? One may be the superstar in the show ring and a sister who you do not show. Do you often find the bitch you didn’t show, turns out to be a better producer?
Absolutely! If we are lucky enough to have more than one female in a litter we do often keep both sisters, also if we get an exceptional bitch in a litter, we may repeat the breeding with the intention of keeping another bitch. When you find those “nicks” it is important to keep what works.
24) What genetic testing is required for the breed?
Currently neither the Canadian or American Pomeranian Clubs require health testing. This is vital for the breed to continue into the 21st century and we are actively involved in bringing this forward.
25) Alopecia X, also known as black skin disease or BSD, which is coat loss in a healthy dog, can happen at any time in a dog’s life, has there been any research done to shed light on this which happens in other breeds as well as Pomeranians?
Yes, there is research being done by the American Pomeranian Club, The Canadian Pomeranian Club is a major contributor as well. There are several studies going on, and we have contributed both DNA and blood samples to the ongoing research.
This problem, could have two types for example a Juvenile aspect, where the puppies are very grey and do not exhibit any adult coat growing down the middle of the back at 4-6 months, who exhibit a soft, fluffy grey coat that never changes and at a year they usually go bald.
There is another type who usually go through normal growth phases, from soft puppy coat, an adult stripe then blows that puppy coat and has at 18 months or so a normal, adult coat. But for some reason we sometimes see this thin and not be replaced as in a normal adult.
BSD has been compared to “Coat Funk” and many other names, which crops up in all the Spitz family, Keeshond, Samoyeds, Siberians and Alaskan Malamutes etc. It is in all lines of Pomeranians, some more prevalent than others.
26) If a dog or bitch produces BSD in a certain breeding, is it possible bred another way, there are could be no affected dogs?
Not knowing the mode of inheritance, or having a genetic marker, we are just guessing. But we feel that males should be used on a very limited basis, to at least see if they are going to lose their coat, if they do, they are neutered and put in a pet home.
Our “rule” is to not breed to a dog who has lost his coat. (this eliminates the “affected” dogs) That practice is generally accepted everywhere now.
Over the past 10 years or so we have also added, “Other than proving them, use only older males (3 years up) and pray for a genetic marker”. Females are not as often affected but are probably carriers.
27) Which sex tend to have the most successful careers in the show ring?
We tend to Special males, as often our best bitches are needed in the whelping box. That being said, the 5 bitches we did show, although they were poor producers or mothers, have amassed about 87 BIS.
28) Which do you personally find make the better show dog?
Definitely Males. While we have campaigned the Top Winning Bitch of all time in Canada, (Orange and Black & Tan) (with more than 30 and 10 BIS respectively), Can & Am Ch. Chriscendo Classica (co-owned with Doug and Robert Stratton) and Ch. Chriscendo Colourful) generally speaking keeping a bitch in coat is very difficult, they tend to shed out to almost smooth when they blow coat. Classica, “Cassie” was the exception.
29) The current population of our sport is aging, we have so many successful breeders who are slowly winding down, are you worried about the future of the Pom?
We honestly feel the breed is in good hands. The strides that this breed has improved in our lifetime with Poms is incredible. The breed has advanced from a very unsound, group of dogs to an athletic, far healthier Spitz breed.
There are many younger exceptional, talented, breeders now. Although I will give credit where credit is due. The breed strength tends to move around, presently it appears to be in China and South Korea.
30) Describe the routine of a dog you are actively showing?
Well since Covid controls our lives, and there are no dog shows in the foreseeable future, we have a lovely group of 5 young puppies 6 months old, who are some of the nicest we have ever bred. So, we continue with weekly baths, lead and table work and are able to go to a very small puppy class of 5 people to keep their minds and bodies in condition. It’s not perfect but it is important to be ready when it all starts up again. If we didn’t we would have done these young dogs a serious injustice.
31) What has been your most memorable win to date?
There have been two that come to mind. The American National in February of 1994, I believe, when it was in New York, in conjunction with the Garden. I had been working in California, and our friends Pam Dodsworth and Larry Fox (Foxworth) drove to New York and brought my Black and Tan puppy for me to show.
I flew in on the red eye, the airline lost my luggage, I had a terrible cold, and didn’t sleep all night on the plane and by morning was running a fever. I walked off the plane, got a cab to the hotel and worse yet, John was at home looking after the dogs and couldn’t be there.
I had nothing to wear and no time to shop (no, that wasn’t the worst!)
One of our friends was a Doctor from Hawaii, and he was feeding me ice water and Theraflu to keep me going.
In the end, our Chriscendo Colour Picture, “Lyleth” won Winners Bitch and Best of Winners, under Anne Rogers Clark, one of the only, if not the only, Black and Tan to ever do this. I think I lived on adrenaline!
The other significant win, was in the 90’s, the height of awareness of Black Skin Disease in this breed. Our dog Ch. Chriscendo Calvin Klein, was a beautiful but stubborn show dog, who hated the ring and we just decided it was too difficult to continue to show him, as John was still handling then, and client’s dogs came first.
We finished Calvin very fast in both Canada and the US and put him away. We had some lovely puppies by him, and the rumors were flying that the dog was bald, and that was why we weren’t showing him.
So, at three years of age we went to Ontario for a weekend, and Calvin won 3 Groups and a Best in Show under Emil Klinkheart, just to make a point.
We have had so many memorable wins over the years, but these are two that meant so much, because of the situation at the time.
32) What has been your most memorable loss in the ring?
Showing dogs is a competitive sport, you win some and you lose some. There is always a better dog, a better day, a better judge. I am sure we have had our disappointments in the ring, but we live to fight another day.
For us our greatest loss was losing Connor. (Ch. Chriscendo Connoisseur) His loss was devastating and left us questioning if we could ever recover, mentally, or as a kennel. We were unprepared, it was a total shock.
Connor was young and because our protocol was to not use dogs at stud until they were older, we only had three daughters, and no son. Four years later, those girls stepped up, and we feel that we have some of the nicest puppies we have ever bred. Time will tell the rest.
33) If you could give a new judge to your breed one piece of advice, what would it be?
Remember the Pomeranian is first of all a Spitz breed, as opposed to a toy dog.
34) Both of you are well respected in the purebred dog fancy, why have you both never applied to judge?
For John, he feels it is the same thing as his very long career as a handler, and as they say, the same stuff, just in a different spot in the ring.
He is truly a great dog person and still loves to go to shows when we travel, watch breeds he loves, and always has an opinion. He would make a great judge, but that is not where his interest lies. His health would not allow him to endure long days on his feet, and he would never truly enjoy it the way he should. His love is being able to be home, with the property, the Poms and his retirement.
Chris, enjoys the breed and has been lucky enough to be involved with the Poms in various countries, and has also been able to travel to almost every World Show over the last 10 years, as well as to many other shows around the world since she retired. Chris is also still doing a few Grooming Seminars as well as Judges Education.
She has started the judging process a couple of different times. She has judged Sweepstakes at the American National twice, as well as at Regionals in Denver, Houston, Baltimore and more recently Thailand, but the system here in Canada does not facilitate the judging of a single breed, you need a certain number of entries which cannot be achieved with a single breed entry.
Both of us travel enough to enable us to see the breed develop and advance, and we still get a lot of satisfaction in seeing how our own breeding program stands overall.
35) Besides conformation what else does your breed excel at?
As well as regular Obedience and Rally, I am thrilled to watch Poms excel at all the new dog sports available now.
36) What type of home do you require for your puppies sold as family companions?
Generally, we get a lot of return people for our Pom companions. Children are not out of the question for Poms, but we like to meet the family and see how the children interact with a very small Pom puppy, before we accept them as owners.
37) Have you been receiving more inquiries since the Covid-19 Pandemic began, with so many people being home full time? Yes, it is overwhelming. Luckily, we had a full waiting list before Covid, and have taken a few more names of people who were willing to wait.
38) Besides staying busy with the dogs, what hobbies do both of you enjoy?
Chris; I still enjoy my artwork and am involved in a new Illustrated Pom Standard at the moment, as well as my Needlefelt Sculptures as time allows. But in the summer the garden keeps us both pretty busy.
We seem to be entertaining visitors from all over the world through most of the year, but the summer is far more enjoyable. Dog shows are also a huge part of our lives (and hopefully will be again!)
While John does not like to travel as much as Chris, we still like to visit at least one foreign country a year together, and see some great dogs!