Labradoodle breeding qualifications as questionable as COVID-19 accomplishments
WASHINGTON D.C.––“No, the Trump administration did not put a professional dog breeder from Dallas in charge of COVID-19 response,” huffed Todd J. Gillman, Washington Bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, on April 23, 2020, sounding just a bit defensive of Brian Harrison, 37, a fellow Texan.
Contradicting a report published two days earlier by Aram Roston and Marisa Taylor of Reuters, Gilman’s sources represented Harrison and his wife Tara Napier Harrison, head of corporate affairs for BP America, as amateur dog breeders from Dallas by way of Houston, albeit amateur dog breeders who managed to sell their business for $225,000 in April 2018.
Founding the dog breeding operation as Houston Labradoodles in 2012, a year after their marriage, the Harrisons moved it north to Midlothian, a Dallas suburb, and renamed it Dallas Labradoodles in 2014.
A Labradoodle is a large, fluffy cross of Labrador retriever with standard poodle, often identified as the “original designer breed,” meaning a dog breed produced by crossing dogs of specific but differing pedigree to get puppies of more-or-less reliably mixed traits.
“Yes, the chief of staff at the Department of Health & Human Services briefly owned a family business raising Labradoodles,” Gilman conceded, overlooking that six years in the life of a 37-year-old is about a third of his adult lifespan.
Colleagues compared Harrison to “Joe Exotic”?!
“But he’s also served three administrations in high level posts at Health & Human Services, the White House and the Pentagon,” Gilman continued. “Colleagues who hired Harrison and served with him in government were appalled to see him disparaged Thursday as a mere ‘dog breeder,’ as if Joe Exotic had catapulted from tiger king to head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Wrote Reuters reporters Roston and Taylor, “Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him ‘the dog breeder.’”
That was kind compared to some Donald Trump administration critics, who observed that Harrison, unlike the other administration team members addressing COVID-19, actually had credentials for “@#$%ing the dog.”
Appointed by Alex Azar
Opened Roston and Taylor, “On January 21, 2020, the day the first U.S. case of [COVID-19] coronavirus was reported, the secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services appeared on Fox News to report the latest on the disease as it ravaged China. Alex Azar, a 52-year-old lawyer and former drug industry executive, assured Americans the U.S. government was prepared.
“Shortly after his televised comments, Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19. The aide, Brian Harrison, had joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years.”
Harrison, accurately noted Roston and Taylor, had “no formal education in public health, management, or medicine,” having earned a degree in economics at Texas A&M University.
Harrison had, however, previously served in 2006 under Azar, who was then deputy secretary of Health & Human Services, as “confidential assistant.”
Met wife at the White House
Harrison “also had posts working for vice president Dick Cheney, the Department of Defense and a Washington public relations company,” Roston and Taylor mentioned. In addition, Harrison had worked for his father, Ed Harrison, a Dallas-area home builder.
Harrison met his wife “at the White House in 2005,” Gilman said.
According to Tara Napier Harrison’s LinkedIn page, she was then a student at George Washington University, pursuing a degree in political science, also working as a legislative aide for the Defense Department. She was later deputy associate director at the White House for several months in 2007.
“She worked in legislative affairs at the Defense Department throughout the second Bush term,” Gilman wrote, “and in the Pentagon press office for two years of the Obama era before going to work for BP, her current employer.”
Qualifications to breed dogs?
How exactly any of that qualified either Harrison to breed Labradoodles at upscale prices, neither the Reuters team nor Gilman explained.
The Reuters team focused on Harrison’s role––and even more so, on Azar’s role––in the many bungled aspects of the Trump administration response to COVID-19.
“Reached by phone, Harrison declined to answer Reuters’ questions,” reported Roston and Taylor. “In a later statement, he did not address questions about [COVID-19 response], but said he was proud of his work history.”
Said Harrison in a written statement, “Americans would be well served by having more government officials who have started and worked in small family businesses and fewer trying to use that experience to attack them and distort the record.”
Children in cages
Gilman also mentioned that Harrison was involved in the comparably bungled Health & Human Services management of temporary shelters “housing over 15,000 migrant children who had crossed into the United States unaccompanied by an adult.”
For those who have forgotten, many of those shelters were (and remain) cages resembling group housing at dog pounds, except that dogs in group housing often are given real blankets, while the children got sheets of aluminum foil, and at dog pounds the lights are turned out overnight.
“Throughout the summer of 2018 and into 2019,” Gilman recounted, Dallas hospital management consultant Peter Urbanowicz, “or Harrison,” who with Tara Napier Harrison has three young sons, “or both, would convene an early morning meeting with representatives from various agencies in charge of the placement and movement of migrant children.”
Harrison succeeded Urbanowicz as Health & Human Services chief of staff June 2019, “tasked with leading a ‘top-to-bottom’ evaluation of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention,” according to Wikipedia, “which led to the eventual resignation of CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald, who had traded stocks in tobacco companies while at the agency.”
“Rutlands & Tegan lines”
Neither Brian Harrison nor Tara Napier Harrison appears to have brought to their Labradoodle business any significant prior experience in dog breeding, on the dog show circuit, in breeding animals of any sort, or in the pet trade, and certainly not in humane work.
According to the Dallas Labradoodles web site, the Harrisons “were first introduced to the breed [Labradoodles] in 2011, and, after much research, they became set on adopting a multigenerational Australian Labradoodle. They found many labradoodle breeders in Texas but few who bred genuine Multigenerational Australian Labradoodles, which is key to temperament, health, and pure cuteness.
“They desired to share this breed with others and purchased two Multigenerational Australian Labradoodles whose pedigrees are of the highest quality, originating from the Rutlands and Tegan lines in Australia.”
What does that mean?
According to the Catherine Manor Australian Labradoodle Puppies web site, “Rutland Manor and Tegan Park are the founders of the breed, the Australian Labradoodle. The much loved and precious breed, called Australian Labradoodle was developed in Australia, 40 years ago.”
Other web sites detail to tedium a dispute among breeders which apparently brought some of the Australian dogs to Texas circa 2010.
But the claim that Rutland Manor and Tegan Park were first to breed and sell Labradoodles, even in Australia, appears more than just a little bit shaky.
United Kingdom Labradoodle Society representative Mark Hayhurst in March 2007 mentioned in March 2007 to Ed Caesar of The Independent that, as Caesar wrote, “In 1956, Donald Campbell, who raced Bluebird on Coniston Water, had a Labrador/poodle cross that he referred to as a Labradoodle.”
The son of Sir Malcolm Campbell (1885-1948), who set 13 land and water speed records between 1924 and 1939 in cars and boats usually named Blue Bird, Donald Campbell (1921-1967) broke the water speed record seven times in craft he named Bluebird between July 1955 and December 1964. He also broke the land speed record on July 17, 1964, at Lake Eyre, Australia, averaging 403.1 miles per hour for a two-way run, exiting the time trap at a then-unheard of 440 miles per hour.
Donald Campbell died on January 7, 1967 during yet another attempt to break the water speed record.
His legacy includes that his Labradoodle appears to have been the first dog identified as such in both the United Kingdom and Australia. His mother, Lady Dorothy Campbell, had won a Ladies Kennel Association best-in-show award in 1952 with a miniature poodle co-owned with Lady Diana Waugh.
Labradoodles sold in U.S. by 1964
Whether either Donald Campbell’s prominence in motor sports or his mother’s success in breeding miniature poodles helped to popularize Labradoodles is unclear, but U.S. breeders by 1964 were offering Labradoodles in classified ads.
By 1969 a breeder in Van Nuys, California, was producing multiple litters per year of Labradoodles, advertising them alongside ads for Persian kittens.
Forty years later, in January 2009, then-recently inaugurated U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he and his wife Michelle would soon choose between a Labradoodle and a Portuguese water dog as a White House companion for their daughters.
The Portuguese water dog won out, but the surrounding publicity brought Labradoodles unprecedented popularity as well, favored by celebrities including actresses Jennifer Aniston and Christie Brinkley, and golfer Tiger Woods.
That in turn produced the most widely distributed, yet at least partially apocryphal story of Labradoodle origins. Though the rest of the story may be true, Labradoodles had already existed for decades.
Associated Press sportswriter Ben Walker on February 6, 2014 credited Australian breeder Wally Conron, then 85, with producing the first Labradoodle “back in the late 1980s when he first bred a pair of prize canines and called the result a Labradoodle.”
Conron “was working as the puppy breeding manager at the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia,” wrote Walker, “when he tried to fulfill a request from a couple in Hawaii. She had vision problems, her husband was allergic, and they wanted a dog who would satisfy their needs. After a lot of trial-and-error [33 attempts to breed such a dog failed], Conron came up with a solution when he bred a standard poodle with a Labrador retriever. The mix was a personal triumph, yet not a success outside his lab.”
“Nobody wanted Labrador crosses”
Said Conron, “I was very, very careful of what I used, but nobody wanted Labrador crosses. I had a three-to-six-month waiting list, but everyone wanted purebreds, so I had to come up with a gimmick,” specifically the Labradoodle name and the claim that they are––or can be, with the right mix of genes––hypoallergenic.
But Conron, who is also credited with originating the Labradoodle by Rutland Manor and Tegan Park, claimed to have quit breeding Labradoodles by 1994, and was highly critical of breeders who continued to produce them.
“Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in,” Conron told Walker. “For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones.”
Stanley Coren added detail
Followed up Stanley Coren, a professor of canine psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, in his April 1, 2014 Psychology Today blog posting, “I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Wally Conron a few years ago—the very man credited with the creation of the Labradoodle.”
Coren confirmed most of what Walker had reported, adding detail, and amplifying Conron’s warning that “Although all Labradoodles have some common traits, their appearance, working ability, and behavioral characteristics remain somewhat unpredictable. Even in the nature of their coat—the reason why the poodle was originally part of the mix—there is lots of variability. Labradoodles’ coats can vary from wiry to soft, and they may be curly, wavy, or straight. Many Labradoodles do shed, although the coat usually sheds less and has less dog odor than that of a Labrador retriever. In the Labradoodle, there is also no certainty that the dog will be hypoallergenic.”
“Backyard breeders jumped on bandwagon”
“All these backyard breeders have jumped on the bandwagon,” Conron complained “and they’re crossing any kind of dog with a poodle. They’re selling them for more than a purebred is worth, and they’re not going into the backgrounds of the parents of the dogs. There are so many poodle crosses having fits, problems with their eyes, hips and elbows, and a lot have epilepsy. There are a few ethical breeders, but very very few.
“I opened a Pandora’s box, that’s what I did,” Conron told Coren. “I released a Frankenstein. So many people are just breeding for the money. So many of these dogs have physical problems, and a lot of them are just crazy. I’ve done so much harm to pure breeding and made so many charlatans quite rich. I wonder, in my retirement, whether we bred a designer dog—or a disaster!”
Concluded Coren, “I finished my interview with him by asking if he has ever kept a Labradoodle as a pet. ‘No way!’ he told me in a shocked tone of voice. ‘My dogs are Labrador retrievers. I only ever bred 31 Labradoodles. I’m on a pension and live in a little shoebox flat. If I’d gone into breeding Labradoodles for a living, I’d be on easy street. But there was no way I’d do it. My conscience wouldn’t let me.”
No USDA-APHIS records
So what sort of Labradoodle breeders were Brian and Tara Napier Harrison?
Small enough, apparently, that they were able to sell puppies for $2,700 apiece without having to obtain a breeding permit from the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, as required of commercial breeders under the Animal Welfare Act.
ANIMALS 24-7 found no record of anyone named Harrison, nor of either Houston Labradoodles or Dallas Labradoodles on the online List of persons licensed or registered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) posted by USDA-APHIS, which “contains information on dealers, exhibitors, research facilities, carriers, and intermediate handlers who have obtained a license or registration under the AWA.”
Therefore no USDA inspection records for either Houston Labradoodles or Dallas Labradoodles could be located.
Meanwhile, though, the Harrisons sold their “amateur” business to John Toliver and family.
“Because of some life changes,” the Dallas Labradoodles web site states, “the Harrisons had to relocate to the east coast. This created a perfect opportunity for the Toliver family. We had been helping the Harrisons with the puppies for several years, so when they had to move, we were able to pick up where they left off.”
John Toliver, a 1991 graduate of Calvary Bible College, previously worked in Bible translation and religious radio broadcasting, and earlier owned woodworking and maintenance companies.