I like interviewing people for my blog that are not just the big name kennels and breeders but also the smaller breeders and exhibitors that have made their own contributions to the breed. Today my interview is with John and Nancy Vaught of Masstana’s kennels in Richfield, Connecticut.
I have been friends with John and Nancy Vaught for many years…..probably going all the way back in the mid-late 70’s. We belonged to the same club (The German Shepherd Dog Club of Greater New Haven), we showed our dogs together often sitting together at the shows. We had supper at one another's homes and had some great times together at “Dog Show” parties. Probably my most fond memories is those times that I spent with Nancy when she and I would get together a few times a week and exercised our dogs by taking them to this huge reservation. It was good for the dogs and it was good for us. Sadly those days are behind as. I’ve moved from their area, but when I think of the time I’ve spent in this breed, these two people will always hold a special spot in my “memory bank” and heart. Thank you John and Nancy for taking the time to do this interview with me.
1) When did you two become involved in the German Shepherd breed and why did you choose this breed to own?
Nancy and I loved Rin Tin and Bullet (Roy Rodgers dog) so when it came time to get a dog, this is the direction we went. We got our first German Shepherd (a 4 month old white male puppy) the same year that we got married in 1964. We did not know anything about whipworm or hookworm so our apartment was quite a mess at the time. Because we both were working, it did not take long to realize that having a young puppy was a big mistake so we placed him on a farm in Pennsylvania. Our real involvement in the breed began in 1968 when we bought our first house. By then we had our first child and Nancy was a stay at home mom so getting a puppy was the first thing we bought when we moved in. We bought Nikroc’s Nikki, a Halmark’s Tanto’s of Cosalta daughter at 8 weeks of age. She turned out to be a beautiful dog and folks would walk up to us and make nice comments about her. We decided to breed her in 1971 and enjoyed the experience so much that we decided to learn more about the breed and the AKC Standard.
Pictured above: BOSM Ch Masstana's Mercede (3rd generation Masstana)
2) How did you discover there was a sport known as showing dogs? Whose idea was it to show dogs?
We discovered the idea of showing because a number of folks would say something like "You should show her" (Nikki). When we looked at puppies in the area we were exposed to many champions and Shepherd enthusiasts so the concept of showing was there early on. We both decided to try it. We entered the Framingham KC show and John showed Nikki. The judge was a nice person who overlooked John's attire (shorts and tee shirt) and placed Nikki 4th out of 7 in the novice bitch class. We were thrilled! That basically "hooked" us.
3) Did you have any mentors that helped you when you first became involved in the breed?
Around 1972 or so we met Edie and Bob Trocki and Edie became our first mentor and best friend. In fact Edie arranged for us to get our first show bitch, Eva of Anton, a Ch Asslan of Robinsway daughter from Alice Zygmont. Eva had already won her futurity class but Alice was keeping her sister, so Eva was available. We bred Eva to a Ch Reno son that Edie had bred and got our first real competitive show dog, Masstana's Ferris of Anton. Ferris never finished his championship but he was always competitive. That is when we met Jimmy Moses who showed Ferris for us in a few shows. Through Jimmy we met Ed Barritt and they both took an interest in mentoring us. After Jim told us that he probably wouldn't be able to finish Ferris we met Lamar and he showed Ferris a couple of times. In fact in the first show Lamar showed Ferris it was a huge 5 pointer and he took him into the open class of 22 dogs and won the class! Everybody was congratulating us, but then we had to go back in and unfortunately we lost to an American Bred dog that Jimmy showed. It was a good dog though, (soon to be GV!) Kismet's Impulse of Bismark. We went reserve that day. The next day the exact same thing happened again. We stopped showing him after that weekend. During those early years we would have to say that Edie, Jim, Ed and Lamar were our mentors.
4) When did you breed your first litter and do you remember what stud
dog you used?
Our first litter was out of Nikki in 1972 and we bred her to an Italian import named Yago Di Casa Gatto. The dog was owned by a fellow named Romie Yagmenis (Sp) in Bridgewater Mass. We got some nice pets but no apparent show dogs.
Pictured above: BOSF Ch Masstana's Brix (5th generation Masstana)
5) Your kennel name is MASSTANA. How did you come up with that name?
John was from Montana and we were living in Massachusetts so it seemed a natural. It was either that or Montachusetts. There were already a number of GSD kennels using John and Nancy in their names so we went with Masstana.
6) When choosing breeding partners for your bitches, what are some of the things you are looking for in the stud dog?
We both like strong backs, good color, harmonious movement and sound temperaments. We both will choose a dog that has proven that he can produce what we need for our bitch. The overall dog is important to both of us. Looks ("type"), temperament, health, show attitude, beautiful correct outline, and balanced extended movement are more important to both of us over extremes at either end. We have no interest in dogs with weak backs, light pigment or faulty rear action no matter how good they might be from the side.
7) What differences (if any) do you see with the breed from the time you first started until now?
We feel that overall; there is better temperament and stronger ligamentation now. Back when we started, hip dysplasia was much more prevalent and heart problems, ear problems and dippy backs were more common. We still have bad backs but not as many as the old days. Unfortunately we (the breed) have lost some of the great male heads we used to see.
8) You've both been involved in The German Shepherd Dog Club of Greater New Haven for many years. What changes are you seeing in the clubs? Many clubs are folding due to lack of membership, funding, participation, etc. Where do you find the problems lie? Any ideas for a solution?
We think the reduction in the number of conformation breeders everywhere has impacted the conformation aspect of many of the regional clubs. It is difficult to get new people involved in conformation and breeding. It seems that, for many, there is just too much time involved to become successful. There are more folks who are interested in Schutzhund work and other performance oriented aspects of showing than there are those interested in breeding the "perfect" dog. So if a club still wants to be a breed club rather than a training club they might be in trouble. We are lucky in that our club still has a number of folks who are still breeding and showing dogs who they hope will meet the AKC or even the German Standard. It is also very apparent that parents of young children today have little time for things that are not related to raising their kids. Also the expense of showing a dog is a major factor to young people. We also feel that PETA has had an effect on the social aspects of breeding/owning pure bred dogs. We have no "silver bullets" to solve these problems.
9) You’re both partners in this sport. Do you work side by side or is one more responsible for something and the other for something else (planning, breeding, conditioning, showing, etc.)? Nancy does everything. I handle some of the pups and help train the dogs. Generally we agree on the breedings.
Pictured above: Ch Masstana's Karli (7th generation Masstana)
10) What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you first started out in the breed?
If we had known that we were going to go into showing to the extent that we have, we probably would have made a more concerted effort to get the best bitch available. But with two growing children and other demands on our time, showing was just something that happened without a lot of planning.
11) What are some of your concerns in the breed right now?
We both believe it is most difficult to breed a male who can move like we want and still have the great head piece and bone to go with it. Also we like a dog (or bitch) who is motivated to move (i.e.: ATTITUDE). A show dog should love to show. We believe that even a "great dog" needs to perform to show his/her structural attributes properly. There are too many dogs that do not "cover the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps" because they simply can't. But they can win under some judges (many of whom have no knowledge of how to judge movement) because of the handlers on the other end of the leash or the owners of the dogs. While we don't condone racing around the ring, we feel the breed loses something if we see a dog plodding around not having any fun and certainly not showing how he/she is built. But the racing around is not a problem with the dog anyhow. It is with the judges who allow flat out racing. We believe that at some point the judge should be able to see the dogs move on a loose leash. That doesn't mean go slow. We believe that those people in the breed who make the most noise about dogs moving with alacrity own dogs with no attitude or showmanship. They would like to see the breed move like their dogs. We sincerely hope that doesn't happen while we are showing. We believe that, while we need to bring some more diversity into the breed now, what we see from Germany is not what we want our dogs to look like. Back in the old days the better German dogs had a lot to offer. Now, other than red and black color and nice head pieces, what are you getting?
12) Do you see more health problems now than when you first started breeding?
It's become very difficult to find a stud dog that does not produce ME and EPI. There's nothing worse than to have to put a sweet little puppy to sleep because he had a bad case of ME. We realize it takes two to tango, but stud dog owners have to be honest about what their stud dogs produce. We will never breed to a dog if we think the owner doesn't want to honestly answer our health questions regarding what his/her dog is producing. We realize that any dog that is bred a lot is eventually going to produce every problem in the book. We simply want to know how often it happens with the dog we are interested in. We have seen fewer heart problems now than in the past and better hips for sure.
13) After all these years of being involved in breeding, raising and showing dogs, what makes you continue?
It is something we do together and we love our doggy friends that we have met over the years. Our dogs are our therapy! We truly enjoy raising puppies and finding loving families for them. Also, through showing dogs, we've made friends all over the country that we would otherwise have never had the good fortune to meet. And we enjoy the challenge of trying to breed the "perfect" dog.
14) You two go to many National Specialty shows. What do you consider are some of the biggest differences in the dogs that you see come from all parts of the United States?
In the old days, it appeared to us that many of the really great movers came from the East. The most beautiful dogs came from the West. Now it appears that the Midwest is producing some of the best moving dogs in the country. Time will tell but we think the rising expense of shipping a bitch to a stud will adversely impact the dispersion of bloodlines throughout the country.
15) Are there any things that you would like to see change in the parent club (The GSD Club of America)?
Probably to recognize that change (i.e.: significantly smaller National entries) is upon us and maybe cut down the number of days (to reduce the expense) of the National. We love the German Shepherd Dog Review so hope that is not where the cuts come from. Also we should consider again a realignment of the Fut/Mat system. We love these shows but find such small entries that one has to wonder if there is a better way.
16) When picking your top puppies, what are some of the things that you are looking for? In you opinion, what makes a puppy a star?
We love a good top line in a young puppy followed by a curvy rear and playful attitude. We like to pick a puppy that is good looking and has good balanced movement with a showy attitude. We recognize that puppies go through stages. Thankfully, most of our good ones grow pretty steadily, but they still go through some changes in top line and angulation. You have to be patient and know what stages to expect at different ages from your bloodlines. A "star" is a puppy who demonstrates effortless movement, that "look at me" attitude and a beautiful outline. It is easy to tell if you have a "star" when you go to a match or show and everyone comes up and asks "who is that?" However, unfortunately, we have learned that not all "stars" turn out.
17) Up to this point, what has been your most proud moment in the breed?
There have been many. We feel very proud when we win a Futurity/Maturity (11 of them so far) or when some of the big "names" in the breed inquire to buy one of our dogs. Our Ch Masstana's Mercedes was probably the best dog we ever produced, but our Ch Masstana's Brix (her grandson) brought about the largest buy offer. Mercedes is behind Ch Oscar so it is nice to see that he is a top producer. She is also behind one of the Fasano's ROM bitches who is the dam of MV Sel Ch. Woody Bearelson. Another of our males was GV Tacoma's grand sire. Our bitch, BIF, Sel Masstana's Vivacious of Farmil, won the 9 to 12 class at one national under Dan Dwier, American Bred at the 2nd National under Helen Gleason and went Select at the 3rd national under David Rinke. She certainly made us proud. The fact that one of our current champion bitches represents 7 generations of our breeding also makes us feel proud.
18) If you had to do it over again, would there be anything that you would change?
Probably not. We consider the mistakes we made along the way were lessons for the future.
19) What would you like to be remembered for in this breed?
We would like to be remembered for producing dogs that are good representatives of the breed in every way. The kind of dog that anyone could be proud to walk downtown and have people come over to pet them, but will be there as a protector if needed. From a show standpoint we would be pleased to be remembered for having dogs that had good balanced movement, good temperaments, strong backs, nice top lines and great show attitude. And of course we would like to be remembered as being nice, honest and reasonably knowledgeable breeders of German Shepherds.
Thanks for letting us tell you about Masstana German Shepherds. John and Nancy Vaught
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