Traveling the western United States in a motor home for extended periods of time requires you enjoy your companions.
Vie and Bill Day do.
The Rancho El Dorado couple obviously enjoy each other’s company – they have been married for 42 years — but they also love their Coton de Tulear dogs, which they breed and show all over the country.
The Days, Maricopa residents since 2003, have been breeding and showing the breed for 17 years and taken things to a very high level. The couple visits dog shows as far away as Austin, Texas each year, putting thousands of miles on an RV customized to accommodate their 10-pound pets — males Remington and Ouzo, and their female Aspen.
The couple used to breed and show Wheaton Terriers, but found they were having health issues. Vie and another breeder decided to work with a different breed and began researching smaller hypoallergenic dogs. They landed on Coton de Tulears.
“The breed was not recognized by the American Kennel Club at that time,” Vie said. “So, we went to rarity shows looking at breeds and started seeing a lot of Cotons. We chose to work with them because of their personalities.”
And what personalities they have. The Coton de Tulear (COE-Tohn DU Tu-lee-YAHR), also known as the “Royal Dog of Madagascar,” is described by the AKC as a small, immensely charming dog whose “primary job is to provide amusement, comfort and companionship. The bond between Cotons and their people is so tight that owners discuss it in human terms and Coton owners describe them as ‘witty’ companions ‘at times boisterous but never demanding.’”
Their abundant white coat is described as soft as cotton (or, as the French say, “coton”).
Once they decided on the breed, Bill and Vie attended a show in Seattle, where they met a breeder they liked and trusted. In 2004, Vie and another breeder bought dogs to breed.
This was nothing new to the Days. Their first business together — in the ‘70s and ‘80s — was a pet store where they groomed and boarded for 13 years. But the breeding of Cotons was going to be next-level.
COMPETITION BREEDS SHOW DOGS
“We got into this when our kids left the house,” Vie said. “Bill and I looked at each other and said, ‘Now what do we do?’ Your whole life changes.
They are both extremely competitive, she said, and had enjoyed showing dogs in the past.
“So we decided to get into showing dogs again. We do it for fun, and for companionship. It is competitive and a challenge to produce really great puppies.”
Vie said when her dogs produce a litter of puppies, five of the six (the usual size of a litter) are typically show-quality. The couple is very particular about who can buy their puppies. In fact, they have a waiting list of more than a year and prospective owners have to complete a rigorous screening process to get one.
One competitive advantage for the Days’ Cotons is they keep their kennel, which they call Daydreaming Cotons, small. Cotons are very social dogs and need to form a bond with their people, so the couple only has three or four dogs at a time, while other breeders may have dozens of dogs.
Vie and her breeding partner, Tiffany Laitner, who lives in Michigan, decided they would only work with a small group of five breeders around the country to preserve the breed’s standards.
“These dogs were feral and have been domesticated,” Vie said. “They are like wolves — they had never been bred with other breeds when they were in the wild on Madagascar since the 1400s. And since they are a companion dog, they really have to be socialized. We just found that other breeders weren’t doing things the way we wanted to do them, so we put together our own group that we trust.”
ON THE ROAD
Cotons thrive in small places and make excellent dogs for people in big cities or apartments. Or in the Days’ case, an RV.
In anticipation of traveling to many shows, Bill got busy building a comfortable space to accommodate the dogs on their trips. He installed a custom four-plex of crates for the dogs specifically designed to fit in the RV. The crates can be configured to be attached — “like an apartment building,” Bill said — or used individually. Each crate has a rubber mat on top so it can be used as a grooming table.
“We took the kitchen table out of the motor home and anchored the crates to the wall for safety,” said Bill, who is the business manager at Maricopa Wellness Center, which he owns with his daughter, Kristina Donnay, its medical director. “We also designed a trolley that does the same thing, so we can take them out of the RV and into shows.”
The travel isn’t all long-haul stuff. Vie said Arizona is a hotbed of dog shows in November and December, with about 15 shows in that period.
They take them seriously.
Ouzo is currently one of the top 10 dogs in the breed nationally, and in 2013, their female, Peggy, was ranked number No. 1. Those rankings are important because the higher the rank, the greater the fees they can command for their bred puppies.
And as one might imagine with significant money at stake — the Days get $3,000 for each pup — it’s not always fun and games at the shows — though they try to keep it light.
“If you’ve seen the movie ‘Best in Show,’ sometimes it’s really not too far off from that,” Bill said. “We actually bought the DVD of the movie, and we’ll put it on in the RV at a show and match the characters from the movie to the people at the show. It can be hilarious.”
And while the Days undoubtedly love their dogs, theirs is not a lifelong pairing. They re-home the dogs at 5-6 years of age, because they do not want to breed the females after age 6.
“We usually re-home them with an older couple,” Vie said. “They get a health-tested, trained, champion-quality dog for about $2,000 that is great with people and kids or grandkids. Lots of folks don’t want to have to train a puppy, and with these dogs living 15-18 years, they get a nice long life with them.
“It’s a great situation for the owners and for the dogs.”
This story was first published in the October edition of InMaricopa magazine.