Go hunting on the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean and you’re likely to find an unexpected sight: a beagle bred in Manitoba.
Branko’s Beagles has, over the past half-century, built a reputation for breeding the best pure-bred dogs for hunting and competing in the world. Branko’s has shipped beagles to countries as diverse as Spain, France, Italy, Greece and every single state in America except Hawaii.
So why do people from around the world look to St. Laurent, Manitoba (population: a little over 1,000) when looking for a competitor or hunting companion?
The husband and wife team who co-own Branko’s Beagles can recite the answer in unison.
“The long and the short of it is they want the best,” said Frieda and Branko Krpan with a laugh.
But, breeding great dogs is one thing. Building a dog-breeding business that stretches all the way around the world is another.
The Krpans’ journey, which started when they exported their first dog in 1978, holds important lessons for exporters.
Exporting a product that’s a live animal – rather than a food item or a computer chip – creates a unique set of challenges.
Getting all the health checks, microchipping and vaccinations alone can be daunting. For example, a Canadian breeder hoping to export this January to Australia – a government that the Brankos say has particularly strict regulations – would have had to start getting the necessary vet visits and other paperwork together last June.
After that, the dogs would have to stay in a quarantine facility in Australia for at least 10 days, says the Australian government’s website.
Frieda and Branko say in their experience, dogs exported to Australia will need to stay in quarantine for six months, which is one of the reasons they don’t export there.
One of the current challenges they are facing is vaccinating dogs bound for the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spurred on by concerns about rabies, now require dogs to be vaccinated some time after three months of age.
This has forced Branko’s to increase prices for dogs exported to the United States, as they have to keep them longer and pay to vaccinate them.
Branko’s is also no longer able to pack their dogs on planes and send them into the United States. The airline they relied on stopped taking dogs from the closest airport in Winnipeg.
Frieda says the paperwork – which can include everything from vet checks to health certificates – is extensive, but nothing that can’t be overcome with a little diligence.
This is an area where exporting to the European Union is a little easier, they say, since all EU member countries basically have the same regulations.
Branko’s also had another advantage in getting into the export game: Frieda worked as an importer/exporter prior to getting into the dog-breeding business.
The most important advice they offer for potential exporters is all about the quality of the “product.”
“You have to have superior dogs to do it,” Frieda said. “That’s the one caveat that there is. Because it’s so easy to make an enemy and a bad reputation.”
Word-of-mouth can be a big marketer overseas, Frieda explained. She cited Spain, one of Branko’s chief export markets, as an example. On a recent visit, they saw beagles they bred (or descended from dogs they bred) hunting in all kinds of regions, from forested areas that look like northern Ontario to mountainous regions with lots of hogs.
“By having sold to a few people there, others see how much better our dogs are, then they want the same kind of dogs,” Frieda said. “This is how it kind of snowballs.”
That’s where Branko’s record with its customers is so important, the duo said.
“It takes years to build a good reputation,” Branko said. “Sight unseen, they trust what we tell them about the do, and they’ll send $5,000 for a dog that they’ve never seen.”