Archive for April 12, 2022

Navigating uncharted waters with only a compass

12 April 2022

Proud mummy dog. Bellie with her puppies on their birthday, 22 September 2018.

Breeding animals of any kind is not for the faint of heart.  Let’s start there.

Situations present themselves and require one’s immediate and complete attention.  This can happen, both in the whelping pen or in a pet owner’s environment.  One of the things most important to me, when reviewing an application for a Kensington Tibetan Terrier puppy is to ensure that folks have the resources to get to a vet and afford the quality care that every Kensington kid deserves for the duration of its life.  I remember one application where the person didn’t have a car and I wasn’t comfortable placing a Kensington kid in a home where the person had to figure out how to get to the vet.  Never did I ever think about that – but – I need my peeps to have at least one car, if they’re going to care for one of my kids!

My first outcross: Michael winning BEST IN SHOW at Tunbridge, VT on Friday, July 12, 2013.

Now, sometimes, there can be an accident in a pet owner’s life that requires fast thinking.  Breeding dogs requires fast thinking, too.  Sometimes?  You need to switch gears, because you have a semen sample of questionable quality.  Don’t want to use questionable semen with a beautiful bitch, if there’s a chance the breeding won’t take.  Better have a back up plan!  Other times?  An anticipated whelping isn’t exactly going according to plan and you need to be ready for a C-section.  Sometimes, a newborn arrives dead.  Or a newborn can arrive weak and not thrive, with the inevitable happening a few days later.  Breeders have tools and they include a variety of foods, milk replacer, nursing bottles, hemastats, thermometers, hot water bottles, coolers, whelping pen(s) – I designed my own and have four of them in active use.  Not all breeders make the investment in an incubator – but I have and I also bought an oxygen concentration unit that works in collaboration with the incubator to give every neonate an immediately & appropriately warm, dry and oxygenated environment to help it thrive, right out of the gate.  The equipment also serves as a ‘second set of hands’, when I am whelping a litter alone.  I also have designed a humidification chamber that I use religiously, for the first two weeks.  Since the prototype, I’ve made a number of materials and design changes and am currently using version three, built with corrugated polypropylene, corner moldings, observation windows, holes for electrical cords, a door for the mum and a door for me through which I can lean into the chamber and attend to whatever has caught my eye.

WB in the kitchen with her girls. 6 August 2017.

At this point?  I have been feeling pretty damned proud of myself and then?  I get a curve ball like I’ve never gotten before.

Dear Allegra had a C-section on March 25th, as she was carrying seven puppies, had been eating only minimally during her third trimester and had been in the first stage of labor for close to 36 hours.  Her tummy was as tight as a drum and I knew things had to be crammed inside her uterus.  I took her to my Vermont repro vet and we did a progesterone.  While the test was running?  Her contractions began and Dr. Cindy and I agreed that with all of the contributing factors including low blood sugar mid-whelp, because she hadn’t been eating hardly anything?  A C-section made a lot of sense.

I had not been planning on a C-section but I made the call, as it was for the health of Allegra and her babies.  Their health always comes first and I cannot be in the position of having to worry about what things cost, as good health is invaluable and has no price.

First minutes of life, out of the sac. Look at that head! 18 March 2019.

$3400 later, I was asked whether I wanted to see the puppies.  Of course, I wanted to see the puppies.  What an odd question.  And on the way down the hall, Dr. Cindy explained that one of the puppies had a problem in utero and I was prepared to lose one to death, as it was a really big litter for a 14″ bitch who weighed 21 pounds pre-pregnancy.  But I wasn’t ready for what she told me.

She said that one of the two sable males was born with only three legs.  Apparently, an umbilical cord had wrapped around one foreleg during late stage gestation and severed the leg, just below the elbow – otherwise?  He was vigorous and appeared to be beautifully formed.  But with an umbilical cord connecting two puppies coming down the birth cannal?  This could have created a very difficult and life threatening situation in a natural whelping.  Two puppies were somehow entangled together and it wasn’t clear exactly how.  When the puppies were removed from the uterus during surgery, the surgeon and assistants were able to untangle the situation and both puppies and the mother survived.  But I’m going to tell you something:

I have absolutely no experience with three legged dogs, nevermind a three legged neonate with six much larger littermates.

He was named Marco, in honor of the ONLY three legged dog I’ve ever met.  The first Marco was brought in a box to Sequist Animal Hospital some years ago, having been hit by two cars.  He was a pit bull mix and needed emergency surgery, rehabilitation and a special home.  The second Marco, our Marco, was of beautiful conformation, gorgeous coat color (sable with classic white marks) and vigorous, even with his little stump of a foreleg.  While I had considered euthanizing him in the beginning, I couldn’t justify terminating his life because he had only three legs and was otherwise healthy.  But I did think about it because I am committed to exploring all options and the thought crossed my mind.  And it was extremely clear that I’d be venturing into uncharted waters, especially given my mission of bringing only puppies into this world that meet the breed standard and appear to be in line with my personal standards for vigor & apparent health.

Judi Fisher suggested that he join Indiannabel Jones’ posse and become the fourth member of her Barkaeology team.  She even came up with a name for him – but at the time, I was clear that I wanted him to be a solo dog in a home with one or two humans.  And we had plenty of time, from where I sat.  And I was ready for options to present themselves, as I have no experience with such things.  Maybe there are people out there in the Kensington community who do have experience and might have had some really great ideas regarding what to do.

Oliver in Charlestown, enjoying the breeze. 2017.

If you have thoughts to share on this subject, please reach out to me by email.  I have learned the importance of being prepared and ready to turn on a dime.  Dr. William Truesdale, DVM and DDS taught me this in 2010.  My second stud dog and first Grand Champion presented with symptomatic Lyme disease and the fever fried his little gonads.  His sperm count went down so low that he was unable to sire any litters.  It was a tragedy for me and my first.  Doc said, ‘Listen to me.  You need at least two back up plans for everything, if you’re going to be a serious breeder.’  And that is how it came to be that I have multiple stud dogs living with wonderful folks who want to support my breeding program.  And I have each of them frozen, too – just in case I get a curve ball during a collection.  You cannot do what I do, with only one stud dog and it is challenging to live with more than one intact male at a time.  That is how I started: with father James and son Oliver Twist.  All was well, until I added a third intact boy and that was Oskar, the Imposter.  With daddy dog the alpha and son dog the subservient, the third didn’t know his place and needed to establish where he fit on the totem pole.  That created problems and Oskar was ultimately placed with a wonderful retired couple who have kept him in perfect condition, for the last ten years!  I’ve used Oskar to sire eight Kensington litters, Nina Wagner used him five times and I’ve allowed another breeder to use him as a stud dog once.  What a terrific career he has had!  And he is Allegra’s great grandfather, to boot.

Allegra with her seven babies. 28 March 2022.

While there was no reason to euthanize dear little Marco in the beginning, Mother Nature stepped in and invited him to join her in puppy heaven on Day Five.  The situation was doomed from the beginning; I knew it.  He was born at 5 1/2 ounces, while his six littermates were all born at 8 and 9 ounces.  He could not maintain his hold on mummy’s nipple with his unbalanced front end and while I advocated for him by cupping him with both hands to protect his hold, I couldn’t do that both day and night.  As it was, I wasn’t sleeping more than three or four hours a night, with all of the interruptions.  And I am grateful to Mother Nature for having taken him peacefully and gently.

And so, my peeps, as I was navigating uncharted territory, Mother Nature stepped in and changed my situation.  The six puppies we are raising now are all vigorous, have terrific body fat and their eyes have opened!  Today is Day 18 of their young lives.  Each has a wonderful home to which to look forward and I now have more experience than I did before.  I guess you could say it’s another notch in my belt.

The first hundred years are definitely the hardest.

Yours truly,