Specifically bred as companion dogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels arrived in the United States from Britain in 1952, capturing hearts with their soft brown eyes and sweet nature.
“These dogs are known as the ‘comforter spaniel,’ says Patty Kanan, who has been breeding CKCS for 22 years. “They are very perceptive and attuned to humans. They’re more sensitive than most dogs and are very people-oriented.”
Specifically bred as companion dogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels arrived in the United States from Britain in 1952, capturing hearts with their soft brown eyes and sweet nature. Over the last 10 years, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (CKCS) have posted a 400% increase in American Kennel Club (AKC) registrations and currently rate as the club’s 25th most popular dog, out of a total of 157 breeds. They lift the spirits of hospital patients as therapy dogs, have been known to detect seizures before they happen and make superb family pets. “These dogs are known as the ‘comforter spaniel,’ says Patty Kanan, who has been breeding CKCS for 22 years. “They are very perceptive and attuned to humans. They’re more sensitive than most dogs and are very people-oriented.” Once owned solely by English nobility, these spaniels served as varmint catchers and bed warmers, and as Kanan notes, “They were even put under the skirts of the noble ladies to keep them warm in their coaches.” Kanan and her dog world partner, Cindy Huggins, run a small hobby kennel in Santa Ynez, and welcome just one or two litters of the cuddly pups a year. “We don’t mainly breed for pets and we don’t sell a lot of dogs,” Kanan says. “We mostly breed for ourselves and other breeders who work within our own lines, so we’re breeding as healthy as we can, as typey as we can and as sound as we can.” To address some of the physical challenges that can beset CKCS, due in part to operators breeding for beauty, rather than health, Kanan raises funds and promotes extensive research. “I really believe in what I do,” she says. “I’m president of the national parent club and chairman of the club’s charitable trust. We raise money every year for health research in this breed.” Kanan and her fellow CKCS lovers also rescue the spaniels from pounds and, occasionally, from unscrupulous breeders. While out of town recently, Kanan learned that six such dogs were headed to the Valley. “It was an emergency,” she remembers. “Our own beloved Dr. Bob Dean—he has one of my Cavaliers—stepped in and took care of them while we were away. He spayed and neutered them, helped us with teeth and health care. In fact, one of those rescues is now with his in-laws!” Before bringing any dog into the family, Kanan recommends visiting the AKC website and taking the online test to determine the most suitable breed. For specific information about CKCS, she suggests tours of the breed’s national and Southern California sites. “Most importantly,” Kanan declares, “people getting a dog should treat it more like adopting a child and less like buying a can of soup. “Look for breeders who adhere to the code of ethics set out for them,” she continues. “Be careful who you buy from and make sure the dogs come with all the appropriate health testing, done by a board-certified specialist, not just a local vet.” Kanan insists that a worthy breeder should stand behind the dog and if something goes wrong, either replace it or refund the purchase price. “All of us, no matter how hard we try,” she admits, “can breed a problem. What sets us apart from the puppymill or pet store is that you can come back to us. “At the very least,” she continues, “we’ll help you through what can be a very emotional experience. That’s what a competent, good breeder does.” In 2009, one of Kanan’s dogs won Best of Breed at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show. “When Jack won,” Kanan smiles, “we had a lot of support from the community. I think it was nice for them to have a local dog win.” Kanan, whose grandfather founded the city of Agoura Hills, moved to the Valley five years ago. Though she only visited his ranch on weekends, she came to love the rural life. “I wanted the space and I loved it here,” she says. “The people are very open and will jump in to help anyone who needs it. It’s the way you wish the world was, in many ways, and I loved becoming a part of the community and participating.” Always a CKCS booster, Kanan invites anyone interested in the breed to call or come by her five-acre facility. “We’re always here to help people and introduce them to the breed,” she says. “People are welcome to visit, so they can see and touch and feel the dogs. Because once you’ve lived with a Cavalier, you won’t live with anything else.”