Kathy Antoniotti

So you think purebred, AKC-registered dogs are only those elite canines that prance around the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show?

You doubt that those of us who love a common cocker or a lovable Labrador can relate to the aristocracy of dogdom?

You couldn’t be more wrong, said Bath Township resident Rhonda Hovan, who breeds champion golden retrievers and believes other American Kennel Club breeders of registered animals are the watchdogs for all breeds.

“People who say they are just looking for a pet do care that the dog they buy has the characteristics they buy the breed for,” Hovan said.

So you and your pet Pekinese can and should relate, she said.

Breeders of AKC-quality dogs will go to great lengths to make sure their dogs are good-tempered and healthy — the very things pet owners want in their pets, she said.

“These are the things that set the dedicated breeder apart from your neighbors,” she said.

Hovan lives with pet golden retrievers Pi, 5, and Pivot, 2, who are true champions. The dogs have won more than the necessary number of points at AKC-member dog shows to qualify for the title.

They have earned their pedigrees through good breeding practices and carefully guided genetics.

“In the old days, I had one of the top sires in history. Thunder sired more than 120 champions. That’s ‘rare air’ for dogs,” Hovan said. Only three goldens in recorded history can make that claim, she said.

And although Thunder died in 2000, his legacy lives on.

“Pi and Pivot are his kids,” she said, bred with Thunder’s frozen sperm, which has been used to sire puppies as far away at Thailand and Brazil.

Aside from being a breeder and an AKC-registered judge, Hovan has devoted her life to helping establish the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, a nonprofit health registry that provides screening tests to produce dogs without aliments common to their breeds.

Hovan currently holds the title of emeritus director of the registry located in Columbia, Mo.

The registry website (www.offa.org) may be used by anyone who wants to make sure a breeding animal (over the age of 2) doesn’t have a genetic disposition for problems inherent to specific breeds.

Hovan is also a research facilitator for Golden Retriever Club of America, helping provide research materials for the breed.

Hovan got interested in the breed when she was still in high school and her parents told her she could get a pet of her choosing.

“I was the youngest of four sisters and knew from family history that it would have to be well trained. Goldens have the reputation of being easily trained,” she said.

Three years later, Hovan entered her first dog show in 1973.

Considering the years she has devoted to the breed since then, it seems strange she still considers her life’s work a hobby.

“Hobby breeders don’t try to make money on their dogs. We do it because we have a passion for the breed. I see us as the true guardians of the breed,” she said.

A guardian tries to maintain the integrity of the breed for health, temperament, structure and aptitude.

“Almost every breed has a purpose whether it is a hunting dog, a retriever of things or meant to be a lap dog,” she said.

Hovan, who has bred more than 60 champion show dogs in her career, is a member of the President’s Club of the AKC Canine Health Foundation, the world’s largest research organization dedicated to funding sound scientific research to prevent, treat, and cure canine disease. The group has raised more than $30 million in research funds in the past 17 years.

She has been a volunteer since 1997.

It’s only puppy mills and large-scale backyard breeders that can make a profit breeding dogs.

“If it’s done right, you just can’t make any money doing this,” she said.

Other pet news

Cabin Fever Reliever — The Akron Zoo will host a cure for the winter blues from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturdays starting Jan. 5. Each Saturday, the zoo will have a free craft station for kids and free hot chocolate for all. The events will be themed around the construction of the Mike and Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge exhibit, opening in late summer 2013. All activities will be indoors at the Barnhardt Family Welcome Center. Winter hours for the zoo are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $6, free for children under 2. Parking fee is $2.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind — The internationally accredited guide dog school that provides greater independence for people with limited sight is accepting area volunteers who want to help raise puppies used in the program. Orientation classes will begin Jan. 5 in Broadway Heights followed by classes on Jan. 12, 19 and 25. All training, support, and veterinary expenses are paid for by Guiding Eyes. Reserve a place in the class by completing the application at www.guidingeyes.org or calling Teresa Camloh at 440-382-9848.

Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.