The True Story of Abby, the Maremma Sheepdog Puppy Whose Owner Calls Her a Failure, But Whose Breeder Calls Her Wonderful
My name is Kim Crawmer and I am a MSCA Code of Ethics breeder of Maremma Sheepdogs in California. They say if you do something long enough and do it well enough there will be those that go after you for it. It could be a competitor, a disgruntled customer or any number of other people wishing to take you down. No matter how hard you try to do things right, treat people respectfully and professionally and be the best you can be in your field, there will be those out there that are determined to tear you down. This is my story of such a person, or group of people, actually. But really, it's the story of a beautiful 9 month old Maremma Sheepdog puppy I bred and lovingly placed in what I thought was a fantastic new home on a farm owned by a famous social media star in Vermont. Sadly it didn't take long for things to go terribly, terribly wrong, for both me and my sweet puppy. I have been wanting to write this story for a long time, to advocate for Abby and others like her, but I was afraid to put the whole, ugly mess out there, to expose myself. I hoped things would get better for Abby and me. They have not and I have finally come to the point where I know that Abby is more important than my squeamishness and I am not afraid to speak up any more. I want only to protect this innocent puppy that I lovingly bred and raised and all the puppies like her who will come to harm because of her continued exploitation. If you read Abby's story and care about her, please speak up. And please read this blog post about the responsibility of social media figures and consumers, but for now please remember that words matter, and actions do, too
In late September of 2021 I was contacted by a man who was looking for a female Maremma puppy. He told me he had a male Maremma and that he made videos about his dog on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram that I should check out. I had never heard of him or his farm or show. He also sent me a pedigree on his dog, which I immediately knew looked off. My Maremmas are MSCA registered and this was not a MSCA pedigree, and some of the entries looked incomplete. I said as much to him and he said he would send me a better copy. He did, though it was still not an official MSCA pedigree and still looked off. I had a suspicion that his male dog was not registered, but was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and explore further.
I did eventually watch some of his videos and was immediately impressed. They were fairly entertaining, while also having a slight educational element to them. There was a lot he was getting wrong, especially in relation to Maremmas, such as calling his Maremma his "guard dog", when Maremmas are, in fact, Livestock Guardian Dogs. Big difference, but at the time I thought his mistakes were harmless, if a bit eccentric. I do not think that any more, not at all.
I was more impressed by his lovely male Maremma than anything, and who wouldn't be? He is a beautiful dog and obviously a great LGD, there's no denying that. I did feel very sorry that he had spent the first three years of his life with no LGD companion and thought he looked lonely and sad. I strongly believe that all LGD's should have a partner and I decided that I would like to help both the man and his dog, by sending one of my California puppies to Vermont. I'll confess that I also thought I could get some good publicity from working with this man, though I certainly felt that would work both ways. He does have a huge fan base of over a half a million subscribers but a lot of his fans seem to be city folk living vicariously through him. I have more professional connections with real farmers, dog breeders and trainers and much more experience and expertise with the breed, so I was happy to promote him to my clients and connections. It seemed like a match made in heaven! What could go wrong? A lot, apparently.
Right off the bat I had many, many people telling me to be wary of this man and advising me not to sell him a puppy. My husband told be "it could go very badly". A friend of mine on the BOD of the MSCA said almost the exact same thing. He said that "the man has a bully pulpit if he wanted to use it and that was dangerous". Another very good friend of mine, a highly respected professional dog trainer and knowledgeable expert in the breed, "couldn't stand his videos for their misinformation" as well as the style that didn't appeal to her. A former high ranking BOD member of the MSCA told me that "the MSCA, not ________, should be the experts on the breed".
And most telling of all, the head of a very large, national Maremma rescue organization told me this "This dude is an unknown with an unregistered dog and half a million followers.... This is a time bomb to me after all of these years of educating folks on the rescue page. I had 70 people ask to join the rescue today. (After his first video of Abby came out.) Also remember - this is his first Maremma." and then she added, "And the information he disseminates can really help us or mislead people - you know how vital experience and knowledge is. These dogs are not for everyone."
Oh how I wish I had listened to her. Oh how I wish I had listened to all of them. Sadly, I did not.
I did, in fact, agree to sell him a puppy. The puppies were born in early October and he started making videos about the puppies and me at that time, calling me a very ethical breeder and pointing out all the things that proved what he said was true. Practices that I am still implementing in my program today. Nothing at all has changed about me except this man's opinion and story. So either he was wrong then or he is wrong now. I invite you to do some poking around on my website and social media accounts, ask me any questions you wish and you be the judge.
But back then things continued to go well overall. The puppies grew, he continued to make glowing videos about me and my farm and his puppy and to make plans to come get her. Communication with him was often difficult, as he always took a long time to respond to my emails and usually didn't answer half of my questions. I excused it as him being "famous and busy" but really, it should have been a sign and I should not have been willing to overlook something in a famous customer that I wouldn't overlook in any other customer. And that lack of attention to detail (demonstrated again below) and communication deficit is probably partially to blame for the issues that arose later.
The puppies were ready to leave in late January but he wanted to wait until the weather was better so I agreed to hold his puppy longer, at no additional charge. He called in late February to discuss picking up the puppy. He told me his plan was to fly out, stay in a hotel, drive to my farm and get her and fly back home. When he began describing how he had a carry on soft sided dog carrier for her I knew there was some confusion. I told him that the puppy weighed at least 50 lbs and could not be taken as carry on. Oops! I was shocked that someone who has raised one Maremma already wouldn't realize that a 4+ month old Maremma would not fit under the airplane seat, but he didn't. Change of plans. He sent a courier to pick the puppy up, paying three times what it would have cost to send her any other way, and off they went.
The puppy, whom was soon named Abby, arrived at his farm in Vermont and he began making videos of her, still glowing and wonderful. We communicated back and forth a couple of times but again, he didn't spend much time replying or communicating. But I he's a busy guy and I don't like to crowd my customers so I left him to enjoy his new puppy. I did get a phone call and text from another Maremma breeder and former high ranking BOD member with the MSCA the day the first video of Abby arriving in Vermont came out, asking me to "reach out to him on the club's behalf". Then she went ahead and reached out to him herself. And that was the beginning of all the troubles. But that's a whole 'nother soap opera for another day.
Fast forward just a couple of weeks after that conversation with that other breeder and only a couple days after another, much more heated conversation that happened later and which will remain a secret due to legal reasons, and my formerly happy celebrity client began making derogatory videos about me and my puppy. Now I have a farm to run and I don't sit around watching videos all day, so I didn't see these videos until the first one had been out a few weeks. As soon as I watched the first two videos I immediately contacted Abby's owner to see what was going on. To say I received a hostile (though civil) reply would be an understatement. To say I smelled a rat in the form of the aforementioned competitor would be 100% accurate and I told him as much. At the time I was under the impression that he was just a poor, innocent guy being duped by this other person who wanted his "half a million fans" (her words) for herself and I held that belief for quite a while. But at this point I no longer believe that.
So now it’s no secret that Abby’s owner is very unhappy with me. He has been making derogatory videos of me for a few months now, and they are getting worse every time. Whereas his first videos of me were glowing with praise and calling me an ethical breeder, his latest videos have devolved into calling me a puppy mill. This man truly needs to spend some time studying what a puppy mill really is. The amount of puppies a breeder produces does not make them a puppy mill; it’s the quality of those dogs and the quality of life they live that does. Puppy mill dogs are of low quality and live in filthy, dank cages, not in big open areas with other dogs and livestock, receiving daily love, attention and training. Puppy mills don’t buy their dogs from the best breeders in the country and Europe, ensuring their breeding stock is well bred, with correct conformation, sound bodies and proper temperaments. They don’t spend thousands of dollars on health testing their breeding dogs to ensure they aren’t passing health problems to their puppies. They don’t take professional courses in dog training, health and breeding so that they can be better equipped to give their puppies what they need. They don’t train their puppies with positive reinforcement training methods. They don’t invest thousands of dollars a year in the best food, supplements, equipment and veterinary care money can buy in order to have healthy, happy dogs. They don't have a licensed veterinarian willing to write a glowing Letter of Recommendation for them.
But I digress….
The fact is that Abby's owner is telling a tale about me and Abby, the beautiful puppy I bred, that’s not entirely true, by leaving out some key facts. I will add in more posts, with supporting documents, later, to flesh the story out, but for now, here are the key facts readers need to know:
The Key Facts About The Purchase of Abby
So I reached out to him with a VERY generous offer. Here is what I offered him:
I told him that sending Abby back didn't mean he didn't love her, quite the contrary. I added that he could use this as a teaching moment for his followers, explaining that not every dog is suited for every farm situation. And then he could use the money he was getting back to buy a puppy that was more suited to his needs and would be easier for him to train. It was a win-win for everyone, in my mind, even though it was going to cost me around $10,000. But it was worth it to me for everyone to be happy.
He replied, telling me he wanted to keep Abby and for me to pay him $4000.
Of course I said no, because, he had gotten exactly what he paid for, the same as every other customer who bought a puppy from that litter. A wonderful Livestock Guardian Dog puppy. And because how was me paying him $4000 going to help Abby, or even him?! And what was I getting for my $4000? His silence?
He told me my reply was "so disappointing" and that's the last I have heard from him, other than these lovely videos where he says I “look like a puppy mill" to him and where he calls my beautiful, wonderful puppy a failure, a disapointment and a bad dog. (His viewers really get stuck on this. Yes, I have watched the videos several times and yes, I know he says she’s really not these things in the videos, but by putting these words next to her photo IN MY OPINION he’s calling her these things. I know his viewers have excused that as clickbait just being a part of YouTube. But I’m sorry, in my opinion using Abby in that way is wrong. I have a right to my opinion and I will stand by it. Obviously others have a right to their opinions, too.)
Which begs the question. Why would anyone want to keep a puppy they deem a failure, a disapointment and a bad dog? I'd like to believe it's because he loves her so much but since I can't fathom making videos of any of my dogs that paint them in such a negative light I have my own theories on why he’s keeping her.
Slandering me is one thing, but making a puppy I lovingly bred and raised the brunt of these ongoing failure videos just to get clicks and money is not ok. Abby is NOT a failure. She is a normal, healthy, 9 month old LGD puppy who, IN MY OPINION is being treated like a PRISONER. She spent nearly the first 5 months of her life living 24/7 with other Maremmas, goats, horses, chickens, ducks and geese. She was never alone, not for 5 minutes, and she was never locked alone in a kennel of any size. Since going to Vermont she has been kept locked up by herself in a small kennel a lot of the time. How much I can’t say but even one hour of solitary confinement a day is too much for a LGD, IN MY OPINION, as a breeder and trainer.
Of course she's going to be hyperactive when she gets out. That's like locking a 3 year old in a 4x4 cell all day. It's cruel. Dogs are pack animals, social creatures. They're not meant to live in solitary confinement. What’s more Abby specifically was not raised to live that way. She would have been very confused and traumatized to go from being with all the dogs, goats and other animals to a kennel by herself. Of course dogs are very forgiving creatures and will make the best of any situation, but that doesn’t mean it’s not causing them harm just because they are wagging their tail at the gate when you go to let them out. Usually the ill effects are more subtle and not obviously noticeable at first. Often the effects of stress won’t be seen in a dog until it’s too late. I hope that’s not the case with Abby but it is my legitimate concern.
I advised Abby's owner to put her in with his cows before she ever left my farm. (I didn’t say to put her in the moment she arrived in an unsafe manner, but instead I meant for her to be introduced to them properly and safely.) He told me "that won't work for me" and said he had his own plan. I never in a million years thought that plan would include over 4 months of solitary confinement. If I had I never, ever would have let her go. I would have refunded his deposit on the spot. Unfortunately my contract with Abby's owner addressed chaining or tethering dogs as not allowed but didn't mention kenneling them indefinitely. I never thought I would have to ban such a thing because I never imagined anyone would keep a dog in such conditions. But you can bet it's in my contract now. I call it the Abby Clause. It won't help poor Abby but never will another puppy of mine be locked up like a prisoner again without me being able to take legal action against the owner.
So here we are, at the end of the story. There's a media campaign to ruin my reputation and there's also one to ruin poor, sweet Abby's reputation. I know I am a moral and ethical breeder and business person and my reputation stands for itself in the puppies and goats I produce. But Abby has no one to defend her but me, and those who are willing to stand with me, for her. I truly fear for her future. I fear that this mismanagement of her will truly ruin her as a LGD and she will meet a sad end. Luckily it's in the contract the owner signed that he can't sell or give her away without my permission so I hope that will prevent her from being surrendered to a rescue if her situation doesn't improve. But I do fear that things will still go badly for her. That she will develop longterm problems because of the isolation and the way she's being managed. I will state that I don't think her owner is intentionally being cruel to her, he just doesn't understand the impact this kind of life is having on her. But not understanding won't prevent damage from occurring.
And finally, another very important thing Abby's owner doesn't understand, and a topic I plan to explore further in a future post, is the impact his videos about Abby will have - are already having - on other puppies like Abby. Because words matter. And when a man who is held up as a "Maremma expert” by over a half a million people tells the world that his NINE MONTH OLD PUPPY is a "disappointment", a "bad dog", and a "failure", despite the fact that everyone knows LGD's aren't fully mature until age 2 or more, that is a tragedy. There are over a half a million people who watch this man's videos and a large percentage of them think he is a god. And when their god says that his 9 month old puppy is a failure they are going to look at their perfectly normal, rambunctious, teenaged LGD's and decide that their dogs are failures, too. And not everyone can afford to keep a failed LGD as a pet. These dogs will be dumped off at the dog pound, abandoned in the street, sold to the lowest bidder on Craigslist. Left to a miserable fate. If these Abby the Failure videos don't stop then I promise you innocent dogs, innocent puppies will die, directly because of these videos of poor, sweet, normal puppy Abby. All for clicks and money.
NOTE: I am no longer taking comments on this post or defending my position. Since the “Spilling the Tea” video Abby’s owner put out I have been inundated with hundreds of comments to my blog and social media as well as by phone and email. Many were kind and supportive but many most definitely were not. I have been called every name in the book and even been told to kill myself. I have been threatened and harassed relentlessly. I have also had countless people try to argue with me and convince me that I am wrong or must not have watched the videos. In fact I did watch them several times, and I know a lot of background information that the viewers don’t know and I can’t share for legal reasons or because I’m protecting the privacy of certain people.
I also know perfectly well how to use quotation marks but was trying to put emphasis on certain important points. More like “air quotes”. But since that bothered a lot of you I fixed that. The ones I left are actual quotes.
Another thing the fans keep insisting is that I started all this. That is 100% false. This was started by Abby’s owner with the “Our Puppy Had Surgery” and it progressed from there. Go read the comments in that video if you don’t believe me. The fans had some really choice things to say about me and their leader let them do it. That was the point of the video and with each video after that he continued to push his narrative that I had somehow cheated him and that Abby was badly bred. (An insult to any breeder.) I truly tried to ignore it and wait for things to settle down but there came a point when I could no longer do that. That point was the video in which Abby’s owner called me a puppy mill and placed “Failure” next to her photo. I know it was clickbait, but it was not ok with me for him to do that, and I spoke up.
The fans keep insisting that Abby’s owner has a right to his opinion and a right to share his opinion, while simultaneously saying I do not have the same right. That double standard is ridiculous. I have the same right to free speech that Abby’s owner does. Just because some people don’t like what I have to say that doesn’t mean I should not say what I feel needs to be said.
I have spent a lot of time defending myself to his fans, trying to explain my position to the people who disagree with me and want to defend their star. Obviously I’m not going to change anyone’s mind and I am done trying to do so. People just keep asking me questions I’ve already answered and arguing the same arguments over and over. It’s not helping anyone: not me, not Abby, not her owner and not her fans. It’s pointless and we all have better things to do with our time. At least I do. So as of now we will just have to agree to disagree. If you have kind or constructive things to say you’re welcome to contact me privately. I’ll be happy to discuss the matter with polite people. But if you just want to argue or be nasty I will delete your comments and block you. I’m done letting hateful people ruin things for everyone else.
*****Update: 8/30/22 Abby’s owner continues to make videos about me and I continue to get viciously attacked and bullied by his fans. Why a man with a couple of million followers feels “threatened” by a breeder with very few followers makes no sense, other than the fact that bashing breeders is “cool” and it gains him clicks and money. But is profiting off of bullying someone ethical? I don’t think so, but to each their own.
But even though his attacks on me have continued what he’s NOT doing is using Abby as clickbait in “failure” videos. And THAT was my real goal in writing this blog post, so I feel I fulfilled my responsibility as a breeder. I advocated for the puppy I bred, and in doing so I affected a change that helped her and other puppies like her. And that was worth the hundreds of attacks I have endured because of the videos of Abby’s owner.
I believe that social media should be used to help people and animals, never to harm them or to profit at others’ expense. If Abby’s owner wants to continue to profit off of attacking me and calling Abby “badly bred” (better than calling her a failure but still untrue) then I can’t stop him. Instead I’ll continue to try to make the world a better place for people and animals by breeding great dogs (and goats) that do important work for people and bring so much joy to their families. And I will also continue to educate people about the breed, support owners of Maremmas even if they didn’t get their dogs from me, and always, always advocate for the dogs.*****
Below are some videos of Abby and her family during her happy first 5 months at my farm. You’ll notice that Abby was never alone when she was here. Never. She was always with other dogs, goats, chickens, horses and other animals. Always. Abby was never prepared for a life of isolation. This is why she struggles in her new home. She’s not a “failure”. She’s a normal puppy who was meant to be snuggling with other animals, not sleeping alone.
Abby and her Family, 1-4 Weeks
Notice the orange navel dip all over the puppies and Marcella. It stayed on their fur for weeks.
Abby and her Family, 5-12 Weeks
Abby and her Family, 3-5 Months
Author Hi I'm Kim. I love all animals but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding miniature dairy goats and Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowelege of these amazing creatures with others.