When Joan Scott bought a Doberman Pinscher 60 years ago to protect her family, she didn’t realize her life would to go to the dogs—literally.
“There was a robbery in our neighborhood, and my husband (Col. James P. Scott II) traveled frequently, so I bought the Doberman as a guard dog for $500,” the 81-year-old Wilmington resident recalls.
A native of Bonita Springs, Fla., Scott comes from a dog-breeding family. Her father raised American Cocker Spaniels and hunting dogs. Still, “I never thought I’d have dogs,” she says.
During the next few years, Scott started breeding Dobermans “to make up the $500, which my husband thought was awfully expensive for a dog. Unfortunately, the dogs were too protective and started biting every friend we had,” Scott says. “A friend of mine had a toy poodle and that was it—I got hooked.”
So hooked, in fact, that she began breeding and showing poodles, along with Chihuahuas and, for a time, Yorkshire Terriers. Her breeding stock has resulted in more than 100 champion poodles, 30
Chihuaha prizewinners, and one miniature Yorkie champion. After years of doing 15 to 20 shows a year, Scott acknowledges that she has “slowed down” a bit. She now employs two handlers to show the dogs. “They don’t mind getting up at dawn or trudging through the snow to get to a show, but now I do,” says Scott, adding that it’s better for the dogs to have younger handlers. “The dogs need
someone who can show them off to their best advantage.”
Along the way, Scott opened an informal grooming business that wound up lasting more than 50 years. She also took courses offered by the American Kennel Club to become a licensed dog show judge, becoming qualified to judge in three groups: toy dogs, non-sporting dogs, and working dogs (there are 90 breeds in those three groups alone). Through the years, her judging has taken her across the country and as far away as Japan, China, Taiwan and Australia.
Scott owns about 35 toy poodles (she’s not currently breeding Chihuahuas), most of whom are housed in a three-room kennel that has a redwood deck and kennel runs for the workers to exercise the breeding stock. Fortunately for their human neighbors, the Scotts live on a three-acre property bordered by a main road, a side road, a creek and the woods. “We have no neighbors within yelling distance if the dogs are barking,” she says.
In February and March, the Scotts pack up all the dogs and move to Florida, where dogs and humans alike enjoy the warmer temperatures. She breeds eight to nine litters a year. The poodle pups sell for $1,600- $2,500 each, depending on gender, size and color. “For years, white poodles were what everyone wanted,” says Scott. “Now the blacks have taken top spot.”
Delivered by Scott herself, the pups stay with her until they’re 10-12 weeks old. “At only a pound and a half in weight, if something goes wrong, it can go wrong in a hurry,” says Scott. “I need to know they’re ready to be out in the world before I let them go.”
Most of Scott’s puppies are going to good homes as family pets, not show dogs. Just as Scott makes sure her pups are ready for their new homes, she makes sure the new owners are prepared as well. That means providing a booklet of information on how to care for the pup—from what to feed it to making sure it stays warm and is not mishandled, whether by accident or by children’s playful hands.
In fact, Scott won’t sell a pup to a family with small children. She says the risk is too high that the two-legged young ones will get too rambunctious with their four-legged friends. Or they could turn their backs on them for a moment, only to find the pup trying to jump off a chair before its legs can handle the leap.
“Some small breeds can have issues with their legs,” says Scott, noting that poodles were once used in circuses because of their ability to do tricks. “You can’t take your hands off a poodle pup unless it is safely secured.”
Scott also makes sure that new owners have adequate time to devote to their new charges. If you spend all day every day out of the house, a poodle is not for you, Scott believes. “Poodles hate being left alone,” she says, adding that it also takes dedicated time to train a puppy.
The breed consists of the Standard Poodle (the largest), Miniature Poodle (mid-sized) and Toy Poodle (the tiniest, as its name indicates). The origins of the breed are still debated, with many— including Scott—believing that the poodle originally hails from Germany, where they were used to retrieve waterfowl because of their curly, water-resistant coat. Others believe poodles are descended from the old French Barbet breed. It was their popularity in France—including the court of Louis XVI—that led to their being known as French poodles.
Poodles sometimes get a bad rap for their “gussied up” show haircuts, but fans know there’s much to love. For starters, they’re the second smartest breed. Top honors in that category go to border collies, says Scott. Poodles don’t shed, and they don’t smell. They’re easy to train and good-natured, getting along with humans and other pets. And perhaps most important for dog owners: “They want you to love them,” says Scott. “Some dogs are happy enough to have their humans around as long as they’re being fed. Otherwise, they don’t particularly care who’s there. Poodles, on the other hand, love to give and receive affection.”
Perhaps a bit too much, Scott adds. “Poodles can become very needy if they’re too spoiled, and then are hard to place with other families,” she says. “Like a child, they need a lot of love but also a lot of discipline. I always say, if you can raise a 3-year-old, you can raise a poodle.”
That doesn’t mean your poodle will show you undying love. “They’re a very opportunistic breed,” Scott laughs. “They’ll love the next lap best.”
Scott’s kennel is called Wissfire—though her husband has been known to jokingly refer to it as “misfire.” She’s known for the quality of dogs she breeds and has even been featured among “the fanciest dog breeders across the country” in Town & Country magazine. And it’s clear that she takes her dog-caring seriously. “You’re responsible for what you put on this earth,” she says. “Like baking a pie, you only get out what you put in. I only breed dogs that are happy, healthy and that anyone would be happy to have in their home.”
Trained as a registered nurse, Scott is as surprised as anyone at how these creatures have taken over her life for more than a half-century. “Who would’ve thought it?” she asks. “But I’ve loved it all.”
For information on adopting a poodle from Joan Scott, call (302) 540-5432 or visit marketplace. akc.org/joan-scott-32224.