Dog show ribbons and event titles are major accomplishments that dog owners and breeders proudly acknowledge when talking about their kennels. But for one breeder with many title-decorated dogs, there’s something else that keeps her in the game.
“The single biggest achievement that just makes me happier than happy... is the people who have my dogs,” reflects breeder Teresa Patton, who started Felicity English Springer Spaniels, a kennel responsible for breeding a number of champion show dogs, companion event titleholders, and therapy dogs.
“You realize the impact that these dogs can have on a family or an individual,” she says. “Best In Shows, they come and they go, but these other things truly count.”
Having branded their kennel as offering “multi-purpose” English Springer Spaniels, Teresa and Allen Patton’s Felicity English Springer Spaniels of Amissville, Va., is focused on breeding for both beauty and brains. And one of their biggest stars brought that commitment to life as one of the most memorable Westminster winners in recent years.
Ch. Felicity’s Diamond Jim, CD, RAE, aka James, took his 51st Best In Show victory at the 2007 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. His charisma, which helped him have success outside the ring as a therapy dog, was palpable even to those watching the show at home on TV. Five years after James passed away, and almost 10 years after his win on the dog world’s biggest stage, Teresa Patton still receives phone calls and emails, and most are from those who were enamored of him but never saw him in real life.
“I think the reason [James] was so incredible and such a charmer is because he was really, really loved,” Teresa Patton says of her multi-talented dog who racked up Best In Show wins as quickly as he accumulated hours spent serving as a therapy dog, bringing joy to anyone who happened to meet him. He worked with a number of organizations, including a Ronald McDonald House, Angel on a Leash, Life With Cancer, and the Alzheimer’s Association.
James brought awareness to the public about the debilitating disease of dementia by serving as one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s ambassadors.
Although James passed away at the age of 10 in 2011, his legacy still lives on in Patton’s breeding program, as the gold standard of how a dog should be, both physically and mentally.
Foundations of a Top Program
Felicity English Springer Spaniels has seen success at the highest levels of dog show competition -- many Felicity dogs are finished champions, have Canine Good Citizen certifications, and have agility, rally, or obedience titles, also. And Patton's dedication to the breed is the direct cause of this success.
Over the years, Patton has armed herself with a wealth of knowledge. She studies pedigrees, attends seminars, follows the teachings of respected dog trainers, and went back to school at age 40 to become a veterinary technician to make sure her dog knowledge was well-rounded.
Before making a name for herself as a breeder, Patton cut her teeth on companion events and spent time getting to know other breeders involved with the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association, the breed’s parent club in the United States. This experience helped her learn and appreciate different types of dogs within the breed and helped her develop her own type.
“Over my 40 years in the breed, people can say when they look at one of my dogs, ‘I know where that dog came from,’” Patton says of her Felicity dogs.
“The single most important thing when you breed dogs and show dogs in conformation is their breed type,” she explains. “You need to know your standard, you need to know what you’re breeding to, but you need to decide what breed type it is that appeals to you.”
Patton has perfected her breed type by sticking to a few basic principles: 1. She doesn’t breed to a picture or win record. She meets a dog in person to evaluate temperament before agreeing to breed one of her dogs to another dog. 2. She keeps what she deems to be the best and the soundest dogs in her breeding program. 3. She makes sure her dogs are properly socialized with humans and other dogs from the moment they are born.
Patton describes her socialization process as crucial in the development of the loving disposition that her dogs are known for. Her puppies have constant interaction with people, since they are raised in Patton’s home. From the time their eyes and ears open, she’s making sure they are handled to get used to human touch, and she uses mobiles in the whelping box to train the puppies to look up. Once they’re old enough, the dogs have access to large paddocks since she does not use kennels. Those who have purchased dogs from her say that the constant love and attention makes all the difference for a dog’s personality.
“The way she loves those puppies, and the way she socializes her puppies, it is the greatest gift she gives to the breed,” says Joann Payne, who has become a close friend of Patton's after owning multiple dogs jointly with her. “It is remarkable, it’s absolutely remarkable.”
Patton also limits her program to a couple of litters per year and is prepared and willing to keep all of the puppies if she doesn’t find suitable owners. She asks her owners to give the dogs back, if at any time they are unable to keep them.
“I think she cares deeply about placing the right dog with the right people,” says Catherine Culp, who has purchased two dogs from Patton. “She wants everybody to be happy. She wants the right dog to be with the right person.”
And like many careful breeders, Patton’s process of placing the right dogs with the right people can be rigorous. So much so, that many who own a Felicity dog say that they feel honored Patton gave the go-ahead.
“She wants to make sure she’s entrusting [her dog] to a family or to a person who is going to love the dog as much as she does,” explains Julia Payne, who has owned multiple Felicity dogs with her mother Joann Payne and the Pattons.
“That Terry Patton threshold is high, and it should be,” she continues. “She spends a lot of time on building a relationship before she agrees [to sell a puppy].”
Another part of her high standard of care for her dogs is their diet. “With my family of dogs, if I feed my males a grain-free diet I cannot keep muscle mass on them, they are too lean. And I don’t like that.” She explains that her dog food of choice, Purina® Pro Plan® Performance 30/20, gives a good balance for her line of dogs. “My dogs get a lot of exercise; I find that I have to have carbs in that diet. I do not do a lot of additives to my foods because that can really destroy the balance.”
But her rule of thumb is knowing what makes her dogs shine. “You’ve got to know what’s going to make your dogs flourish, in terms of what you’re feeding them. What they’re doing in terms of activity is going to have a huge impact on that.”
Breeding Beautiful Dogs Inside and Out
Those who know Patton best say that her success goes beyond breeding beautiful dogs for the show ring. As conformation champions, companion event titleholders, and outstanding therapy animals, Felicity's dogs are truly well-rounded.
“People are always saying how beautiful [Ch. Felicity’s Serafina Rose, RN] is, and that’s kind of a given with a Felicity dog,” Julia Payne says of Serafina Rose, the dog she co-owned with her mother, Joann, and the Pattons. “There’s an elegance to them, they’re beautiful from their coat to their eyes... and their hearts are so big, and they have so much capacity for love. It is the inside of a Felicity dog that is more beautiful than the outside, and it’s just extraordinary.”
Since Patton puts an emphasis on temperament when evaluating potential mates for her dogs, it’s not a surprise that Felicity dogs are known for their striking good looks and their good nature.
“[Her dogs] have a temperament that I’ve seen refined over 40-something years,” says Dr. Rob Hooker, Patton’s nephew, who owns Campbell, a Felicity dog who recently earned her therapy dog title (THD). “They have a another sense when they are doing the therapy work; it’s like a switch is thrown and they just know how to act, whether it’s children they are working with or the elderly. And that’s come out of careful breeding over many years.”
Dr. Hooker was introduced to therapy dog work through his aunt and thought that his dog Campbell had the perfect personality and temperament to carry on the kennel’s legacy of outstanding therapy dogs. Campbell just earned her therapy dog title and makes visits to local nursing homes.
“They love to work; they love to please,” Dr. Hooker says of his aunt’s Felicity dogs. “They’re incredible.”
Another one of Patton’s buyers found Felicity English Springer Spaniels because of James’ noted therapy work. Former teacher Billie Rollins was looking specifically for a dog that could do therapy work with children. After conversations back and forth between Patton and Rollins, Rollins spent a couple of days at Patton’s home and ended up returning home with Felicity’s Diamond Angel, who Rollins started doing therapy work with in 2009. Now, she has a second registered therapy dog from Patton, Felicity’s Diamond Legacy. Children in elementary schools read to both dogs, and the dogs also make hospital visits.
“I couldn't be more pleased with these two dogs and the work that we do, and I know a great portion of that is because of Terry’s breeding of them,” Rollins says. For her, finding a breeder who had first-hand therapy dog experience was a must.
“Lots of dogs can be a therapy dog, but they need to have a special affinity to do that kind of therapy work,” she says. “The hospital smells are not what they’re used to, the sounds are not what they’re used to. It just really helps if you get a breeder who knows about therapy work and who breeds to therapy work.”
For Patton, this astonishing human-dog connection that her dogs make so naturally is what she is most proud of. She loves knowing that Felicity dogs are making a difference in the lives of many—whether it’s their owners, beneficiaries of canine therapy work, or dog lovers who light up when they see a Felicity dog.
“The connection that the dogs have with people is the biggest joy and reward I get from doing this,” Patton reflects. “That’s what keeps me in it.”