In the heart of Northern Maryland, where pastoral landscapes meet quaint townscapes, a special kind of magic is taking place. Amidst a wholesome family life marked by teaching careers and two young children, Lea LeDuc and her husband Steven foster a unique blend of passion and professionalism at Heart & Soul Bullies, their thriving American Bully breeding kennel. There's more to Lea than meets the eye – a U.S. Air Force veteran with over two decades of experience in dog grooming and training, she's a veritable powerhouse of canine knowledge and affection.
At the helm of Heart & Soul Bullies, Lea and Steven share a deep connection to the American Bully, particularly those of the XL variety. This interest was sparked years ago when they crossed paths with two unforgettable dogs - Sumo, their protective Presa Canario, and Rere, a Catahoula rescue mix. These dogs, each impactful in their own way, helped shape their understanding of the canine companions they wanted to breed.
Sumo, while incredibly protective and a natural family guardian, made them yearn for a breed with a more amicable temperament around other dogs and children. Rere, on the other hand, embodied the perfect balance of temperament and companionship. This set the gold standard for any dogs they would own in the future. Their American Bully, Ladybird, came as a revelation, mirroring the intimidating look and protective nature they admired in Sumo, along with the affable spirit they loved in Rere. This powerful blend of traits became the cornerstone of Heart & Soul Bullies, the foundation upon which Lea and Steven would build their legacy.
Health is at the forefront of their breeding program, a non-negotiable aspect ensuring their puppies are genetically cleared of disorders. While they currently use Embark for genetic screening, future plans include completing OFA and PennHIP assessments, reiterating their commitment to the well-being of their four-legged family members.
Beyond health, socialization and preparation for new homes are key aspects of Heart & Soul's strategy. Puppies are introduced to a myriad of sensory experiences from as early as three weeks old, coupled with Early Neurological Stimulation and Early Scent Introduction. The duo understands the profound impact these formative experiences can have on a puppy's growth, resilience, and problem-solving skills. By encouraging interaction with a variety of individuals and introducing puppies to different environments, they foster confident, adaptable dogs that are ready to integrate into their forever homes.
Despite being enamored with the original look of the Razors Edge bloodline, the impressive mass and shorter muzzle of Gottiline, and the undeniable wow-factor of Muscletone, Lea doesn't subscribe to a favorite bloodline. The goal at Heart & Soul is to synthesize the best aspects of these bloodlines while maintaining a high standard of health and temperament.
Lea is acutely aware of the misconceptions surrounding American Bullies. From the uninitiated believing them to be inherently aggressive and dangerous, to assumptions of breeding for dogfighting purposes, she has encountered a host of misguided beliefs. As a veteran, educator, and avid dog-lover, she utilizes these opportunities to enlighten others about the reality of this loving breed.
The Leducs keep their dogs on a primarily kibble diet, supplementing it with Omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, digestive enzymes, glucosamine, chondroitin, and vitamin E. These additions provide extra support for their dogs' overall health, promoting robust immune systems, improved nutrient absorption, joint health, and skin and coat health.
When asked about their preferred dog food brands, they underline the importance of individualized nutrition. There is no one-size-fits-all diet for dogs, and Heart & Soul Bullies make it a point to stress this. They encourage every dog owner to research and understand their dog's unique dietary needs, which speaks volumes about their commitment to the well-being of their dogs.
Feeding schedules at the kennel are meticulously tailored to suit each dog's age, size, and activity level. Puppies munch on meals three to four times a day until they're about six months old, gradually transitioning to an adult feeding regimen of one meal a day. Interestingly, the dogs also fast once a week, a practice intended to boost overall health, strengthen the immune system, and regulate weight among other benefits.
Their approach to keeping the dogs fit is equally insightful. Wherever they go, the dogs tag along, enjoying the natural exercise that comes with exploration and interaction. Socialization, as they point out, is crucial for a dog's mental and physical health, and they've made it an integral part of their routine. Group walks, or “pack walks,” offer an avenue for training and bonding while activities like flirt pole and spring pole sessions keep the dogs engaged and active.
Purchasing a pup from Heart & Soul Bullies isn't merely a transaction, it's an adoption into a supportive, loving family. It begins with reaching out, via their website or social media channels, and ends with the arrival of a new furry family member, complete with vaccinations, a microchip, and an American Bully Kennel Club (ABKC) registration. But it doesn't stop there. Heart & Soul Bullies guarantees health support, advice, and if needed, intervention to resolve any issues that may arise post-adoption.
Heart & Soul Bullies provides health guarantees for puppies, which include a mandatory initial veterinary examination within three days of pick up. Any health concerns that arise within the dog's first two years that seriously affect its quality of life or render it unsuitable as a companion or performance prospect may qualify for a replacement.
When discussing returns or rehoming, their focus on the well-being of their dogs is resolute. Any issues are approached with the goal of finding a solution, and if rehoming becomes necessary, they take the responsibility upon themselves.
Heart & Soul Bullies are also active participants in dog shows, having seen their dogs place in several American Bully Kennel Club (ABKC) shows and other organizations like the US Bully Registry (USBR), International Canine Breeders' Registry (ICBR), Bully Registry Company (BRC), and American Bully Registry (ABR).
The advice they offer to upcoming breeders underlines their dedication to the integrity of the breed and responsible breeding practices. They stress on researching and finding high-quality breeding stock that has been health tested and evaluated for conformation, and adhering to a clear breeding plan.
Discussing challenges in the bully game, they highlight unethical breeding practices and the tarnished reputation that some breeders have given the breed. However, they believe that by being transparent about their practices, educating others, and promoting a positive image, these challenges can be overcome.
The conversation takes a turn when we bring up influences in the American Bully breeding game. One could assume there's some level of rivalry in this field, but the response from our Heart & Soul Bullies breeder paints a completely different picture.
"I look up to those who prioritize health, temperament, and adherence to the breed standard in their breeding practices," she states, naming a list of breeders who have made a mark in the community. Darryl Thrower of Thrower Bullies, Mark and Tamarah Wagner of Warriors of God Bullies, Heather of Oily Drop Bullies, Danny Cervantes, and Fred Duran of Primoline Bullies - all of them receive a commendation for their dedicated efforts in producing American Bullies that excel in various fields and for their unhesitating willingness to share their knowledge and experiences.
Her admiration for her peers becomes evident in Heart & Soul Bullies' goal for 2023 - to increase visibility for the American Bully breed. And how do they plan to do that? By expanding their messaging to platforms like YouTube and continuing to breed according to the standard.
It's a task that seems easier said than done, but if their reputation and past achievements are anything to go by, this goal is definitely within reach.
As we discuss her hopes for the American Bully community in the next decade, a clear vision emerges: unity, education, health testing, adherence to breed standards, and collaboration. It's about betterment of the breed over personal gain.
"What separates your kennel from the competition?" I ask, curious about the recipe behind Heart & Soul Bullies' success.
The response comes without hesitation, "Transparency." The proof of their claim is all over their social media platforms - documented life stages of each dog, detailed puppy rearing processes, and behind-the-scenes peeks at what really goes into producing a top-quality American Bully.
"We show our dogs from every single angle and hide nothing," she says. "Our transparency in what we do is deeply rooted in the love and respect we have for all living things."
We also learn that this particular breeder has a bit of a playful side outside of her duties. Eating out at fancy restaurants, binging Netflix series, and even playing Super Mario Brothers are her guilty pleasures.
Wrapping up the conversation, we delve into the topic of Bully Girl Magazine. Her approval is clear, "I appreciate how Bully Girl Magazine focuses on the women of the industry and their influence on American Bullies without sexualizing the content." She praises the magazine for its informative approach, from breed history to training tips and health advice.
Our conversation comes to an end, but it's clear that the journey for Heart & Soul Bullies is just beginning. Their commitment to the American Bully breed's health, standard, and overall welfare continues to shine through their transparency, collaborations, and shared knowledge within the community. It's safe to say that with breeders like these, the future of the American Bully is indeed in good hands.