Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pooch paradise, where champion beagles run free

Anti-puppy mill home to best of breed

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NEAR ST. LAURENT -- Had enough of puppy-mill stories?

Meet the anti-puppy mill. These dogs are so happy it's almost criminal.

Male and female beagles are split up and each gender gets their own 258 hectares of fenced-off bush and pasture. They run around chasing rabbits all day, which happens to be a beagle's biggest joy in life. You can almost hear Born Free playing in the background.

"These dogs are bred for the field. We breed for intelligence and physical ability, and for that they need to run. They need a good engine," said Branko Krpan, who runs Branko's Beagles with wife, Frieda, on more than 1,000 hectares near St. Laurent, 80 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Their dogs are world-famous. The Branko beagles didn't just take first prize at the American Kennel Club field event in New York last year -- North America's biggest dog competition -- they made it a Manitoba sweep: first, second and third prize in their class.

"I don't think there's anyone out there better than them," said criminal lawyer Marty Minuk, who purchased his beagle, Max, from the Krpans. Max runs eight to 11 kilometres a day with Minuk and his wife, Stephanie, who placed fourth among women in the Manitoba Marathon, on daily jogs.

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"I've seen a lot of beagles. Nothing compares to theirs," Minuk said.

Branko and Frieda have sold dogs in every state in the United States but Hawaii. They've had customers purchasing their dogs for 35 years. Many of their dogs have gone to Europe, and three people recently visited from Cypress and purchased five dogs.

Their dogs have also been sold to airports in Toronto and the U.S. as sniffing dogs. They are also employed in the prison system in Georgia to track down escapees.

But the couple won't sell to just anyone. They even checked Minuk out first. Physical and mental exercise is a requisite for Branko beagles. Most are purchased as hunting or competition dogs. Only about 10 per cent are sold as regular pets. If you show up and your kids aren't well-behaved, chances are you won't get a dog. If you can't manage your kids, the Krpans figure you can't manage a dog. Their beagles sell for $500.

Another example: A breeder in France wanted to purchase Branko beagles for their bloodlines. The couple travelled to Europe to check out the facilities. No way. "If he'd been operating in Manitoba, he would have been shut down," said Branko.

And they don't think much of the Fluffies and Foo-Foos of the dog world. "We hate show dogs. They only test for looks and beauty, and looks and beauty don't get you anywhere in life," said Branko.

Look up Croatia and you'll probably see a picture of Branko. He looks the stereotypical Croation male: bushy moustache, gruff, raspy-voiced, barrel-chested and a deep bass laugh. He was a judo champion in Croatia when it was under Communist rule and defected during a competition in Vienna.

He landed in Winnipeg at the Empire Hotel and began work in construction. "I didn't have a friend, relative, nobody. I didn't speak any English," he recalled. He bought a rifle with his first paycheque to go hunting and used it to shoot a jackrabbit along the floodway. That was in 1968.

He met and married Frieda Brandes, a Dutch immigrant. "It was love at first sight," she said. "We're proof it happens." They've been together 44 years. Neither came from a farm but they loved the idea of farming. The Interlake, because of low land prices, is just about the only place in Manitoba where people from non-farm backgrounds can actually break into farming.

So that's what they did. They kept sheep and dairy herds and performed the first embryo transfer with dairy cows in Manitoba, even flying to China to perform demonstrations. They eventually went into beef cattle while indulging their love of beagles. The beagles turned into a hobby that eventually covered its costs and then into a business that brought in a second income.

They fell in love with beagles, one of the five most popular breeds in North America, for many reasons, including intelligence. Not all beagles type out stories that begin, "It was a dark and stormy night... " like cartoon beagle Snoopy, but they are very teachable. One Winnipeg woman has taught her Branko beagle to close its eyes and pray with her. "If you stimulate their intelligence, you will have a happy dog," said Frieda.

They are also short-haired, which means you don't have to deal with shedding. They can be stubborn, however. Branko has to rotate beagles in the 258-hectare pens because they will run themselves ragged chasing rabbits, including skipping meals and losing weight. It must be where the term "dogged in pursuit" comes from. For more information, see brankosbeagles.com .

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2012 A4

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Updated on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 9:12 AM CDT: Adds video

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