Good Things to Those Who Wait

Hello all. It has been several days since I’ve posted. I wanted to talk to all the wonderful families on my waiting list personally before I posted the news publicly. Since it is the holidays not everyone was readily accessible.

I took little miss Rosie into the veterinarian Wednesday, a day early (went to a different vet since the other insisted I wait) and saw a veterinarian that worked under our canine cardiologist for many years previously so I felt confident he would be knowledgeable.

Immediately the vet said that Rosie looked and felt to be in-whelp (pregnant) and ready to deliver, though it must be a small litter. But he said that he didn’t trust himself since pups can be very hard to feel (very hard) and so he wanted to get concrete proof before we started finding out why the pups were over-due.

We had an x-ray done. Yes, I hate x-rays but in this case we really didn’t have a choice and we needed to be sure that emergency action wasn’t needed. When it comes down to these kinds of situations we all make the best choices available to us and an x-ray was the right way to go.

Rosie x-ray 002

We received good news and bad news. The good news is that there weren’t any poor little dead puppies, Rosie did not require a cesarean section and Rosie is in excellent health. The bad news is that we were having a phantom pregnancy and there were no puppies to be had.

The vet felt that due to her enlarged teats (which contain milk) and all the pregnancy signs she could potentially be less than 43 days pregnant (since pups don’t show up on x-ray until after day 43) but I am 100% positive about her season dates and know that it simply isn’t a case of a bizarre cycle. So it is a phantom pregnancy.

The vet told me multiple times that it happens very frequently, but it was still disappointing that it happened to us. We were sad for the families waiting for a baby and sad for Rosie, who was ready to whelp babies but had none to whelp and I was also sad for not getting to see another beautiful litter of canine miracles.

The veterinarian told me that the way to “cure” the problem is to cut Rosie’s food and water in half for several days and she’d be back to normal. He said he has no idea why but it works every time. I really need to look it up and find out why that works.

Rosie was already not eating or drinking hardly anything at all since her body was insistent that she was in early labor and about to whelp imaginary puppies. So I didn’t need to do much there. Because of her water refusal, however, she was a little dehydrated so the vet gave her some fluids (under the skin) before we left and we hoped that would make poor, sad mama Rosie a little more comfortable.

My post title is “Good Things to Those Who Wait”…

I say that all the time. I’m constantly chiming “patience is a virtue” to my children though in my head I always finish the sentence with “…one that I don’t posses”.

Getting a healthy, high quality dog in any form; crossbred or purebred; working or pageant; companion or champion is always going to take a great deal of patience. Any time I decide to have a late night click-through of my favorite breeders’ pages (it is one way to pass the time while rocking a colicky baby at 4 am) I see the same time frame in print: you must be willing to wait 6-9 months for a high-quality dog. And don’t I know it! I have always waited so long for my dogs and many times I had to skip out on a litter and wait for another until the little sweetie that I was looking for was born. Of course I’m going to have a far more critical eye and stringent standards than your average family looking for a companion will.

But still, I say “all good things to those who wait” and know it to be true. But sometimes it is so hard to be patient. And that is something my children frequently point out.

And now it seems that I am going to have to accept that sometimes I need to be patient and set a good example for those wonderful people who receive my puppies and a good model for my children.

But I don’t wanna. I wanna sit down on the floor with Rosie in my lap and sulk. And that is what I did (when the kids were in bed-I do have some standards) for the last couple of nights.

Since Wednesday’s trip to the vet she has been confused. She continues to go to the whelping box and look into the nest. She does this quite frequently when she has a non-imaginary litter. If she isn’t in the nest with them then she likes to watch them sleep by sitting outside the whelping box and resting her chin on the wall and peering in. In many ways doggie mamas are not much different from people-mamas.

Rosie where her missing babies should be piled up asleep, then comes to me and paws at me and nudges me and whines a little. Then she returns to the whelping box, looks in, then looks back to me. Her sweet doggie eyes look sad and I can practically hear her saying “Mama, were are my babies? I can’t find them. Please help me” and it makes me feel terrible because I cannot help her.

I removed the whelping box while she was out playing a good invigorating game of fetch and taking a walk with my husband. That helped significantly by the second day (Thursday) and by today (Saturday) she is practically back to normal. Her coat is starting to return to its normal color and texture (female dogs “blow their coats” when they have puppies) and she has stopped looking for her puppies almost entirely (except for once or twice today).

I have been trying to keep her busy playing with the other dogs and going for trips, visits and just getting out of the house in general. She seems to be coping well. Dogs are so resilient. I’m not quite as flexible and I know I’m just a tiny bit sad still, even though I know it happens and that it isn’t my fault and there will be other litters.

It has been a rough doggie month for me, since I decided not to breed one of my beautiful girls again (Fern) since a couple of her puppies had submissive tendencies (she had her first litter a couple of months ago). Fern will make an amazing pet and she is such a sweet and pretty dog and her first litter was a handsome bunch but these are the hard decisions breeders must face. It is important for breeders not to become “kennel blind” and keep breeding dogs that ought not to be bred. It is easy to love all of them and allow yourself to fail to see the faults.

But it doesn’t make it any easier when you must spay a bitch you’ve invested thousands of dollars in and 2 years of time and work (and oh, the endless hours of training). The emotional side of it is harder for me, as I love her and she was such a devoted and tender mommy. It is so easy to see all the points you cherish in your pet, but much harder to force yourself to view her with the critical eye of a working-dog handler and a breeder.

Sometimes breeding is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding but other times it can be frustrating, disappointing and downright sad.

We can’t control nature we can only help encourage it in a certain direction. I cannot control the creation and timing of my puppies any more than I can control a creeping vine I train on a trellis. I can encourage its growth, nurture it and guide it along the shape and path I prefer and I can do everything in my power to keep it healthy but ultimately I cannot have any genuine control over the life and growth of the vine.

And I won’t pretend it isn’t a little maddening sometimes.

Thankfully my disappointed families did not make me feel any worse, they were all so gracious (I always have the most wonderful people on my list) and that is always something to feel grateful for. (And if any of you are reading this I thank you a million times over for not making me feel worse). So there is some good in there, good people, good dogs and we’ll have another good litter in just a few months’ time. Hopefully I will be posting soon that Rosie has come back into season!

Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me. I’m excited to try again soon… and now… we wait. (Arg. There’s that word again. Eventually I’ll master this patience stuff…. I hope.)

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Trying Hard to Wait and Not Worry

December 17, 2013

Rosie giving me a welcome home from the hospital

Rosie giving me a welcome home from the hospital

Small litter or phantom pregnancy? I think I’m starting to lose my mind. I’ve never had to wait for a litter before. I’ve always known the date and my girls tend to go the day of or the day after the date I have recorded.

Still, I could be wrong and then Rosie’s date would have been yesterday. But that should mean puppies no later than today.

So what is going on? Rosie feels much smaller than usual so I keep thinking that maybe it is really just a phantom pregnancy… of course that would mean that I’m going crazy because Rosie has palpable somethings in her abdomen…

See? I’m losing my mind.

A phantom pregnancy is an odd thing to occur and one of the reasons my husband likes to shake his head and say “dogs are weird”. Of course humans can have phantom pregnancies too, but my husband just rolls his eyes when I point that out.

Just Take A Pregnancy Test

Pregnancy tests for dogs are another “weird” thing. When bitches come into season they begin to produce hormones to prepare the womb for the reception of fertilized embryos. Whether or not the womb receives any little lives the female continues to produce these hormones for the next 9 weeks (the same amount of time a female dog gestates)

This makes testing dogs for pregnancy rather tricky. Dogs don’t make hCG like humans do (human chorionic gonadotropin) which is the hormone detected in human home pregnancy tests. In order to test for pregnancy in a bitch the breeder must bring her to the veterinarian about half way through her pregnancy (3-4 weeks left in the pregnancy) and have a blood test run.

Of course by this time it is obvious to the experienced breeder whether or not the bitch is in-whelp. Little bitty puppy bodies can be felt (palpated) and, of course, as good companion animal breeders live with their breeding dogs they will know whether the bitch is acting the way a pregnant bitch acts.

(I say companion animals because I see no reason to say anything negative about reputable hunting dog and field dog breeders whose dogs live in lovely and appropriate outdoor facilities. These dogs are not dependent upon human contact for their well-being and they live wonderful lives in their runs with their team-mate dogs. These breeders also spend an inordinate amount of time working their dogs, much to their dogs’ delight. Cockapoos and other companion dogs should never be raised and kept in this manner. It would be psychologically cruel.)

Ok, so why go into the vet’s office and pay a hundred dollars (and often more) to have a blood test confirm what you already know is (or isn’t) going on? (That is, except in the case of a phantom pregnancy, which could be mistaken for a small litter.)

Besides the cost (which then has to be passed on to the puppy buyers) I have a particular problem with bringing my dogs into a vet clinic. This is something we avoid whenever possible. We go only if an animal is sick or injured, there is a complication (which pretty much has never happened… knock on wood) and in the case of coming in to see specialists at clinics (ophthalmology, cardiology, joints, blood panels, etc). And that is yearly and done with great precaution (and I mean great).

A vet’s office is where sick animals go. Sick animals mean inviting disease or parasite to hitch a ride home and hurt your animals. So going to a vet just for a blood test to help ease the waiting is just not worth the risk or the investment, in my opinion.

Of course it takes the guess work out and every now and then breeders run into the “phantom” pregnancy. Even skilled breeders can be mistaken. Swollen and enlarged uterine horns can be caused by lots of things, especially a phantom pregnancy. Although it hasn’t happened to me…. Yet.

X-Ray Scan

The other most common way to determine a pregnancy is to have an x-ray performed. Despite the cost (another couple hundred dollars) and the bringing of the dog into the vet hospital (can’t have a vet visit the house and bring an x-ray machine with him, can I) there is the very real concern of exposing little developing babies to unnecessary radiation. And it isn’t a little teeny bit of radiation, either. No sir, x-rays are not for my babies. I can wait it out, even if it makes my knuckles white.

Ultrasound

The final option is an ultrasound. It is safe and it provides a clear picture of what is going on inside our Mommy dog. I’d absolutely love to be able to have regular ultrasounds half-way through all pregnancies. Unfortunately they cost between $400-500, sometimes more (in my state, anyway).

There is no benefit to the ultrasound apart from pregnancy confirmation and a guess at how many puppies are in the litter (they can hide behind each other and so the count is not always accurate) and if a problem is seen in a puppy or even the whole litter nothing can really be done to help. It is not anything like a human pregnancy. The scan is only done for convenience and is not a health necessity for the bitch or the litter.

The only place that has the equipment is well over an hour away (the place we take our dogs for heart ultrasounds and their cardiology clinics) and boy, are they ever expensive and always full of sick dogs since they’re a very large and well-equipped hospital.

Apart from the exposure of the dam to the dangers of the hospital this cost means I have to charge about $100 more per puppy. Could I do that? Yes. I’d have no problem selling my puppies for several hundred dollars more than I do. So I can do that… But should I do that?

I’m not convinced. I know I charge well below market value for my dogs (several hundred dollars, actually) but that is on purpose. I want people to actually be able to afford a good dog. People should have access to healthy, well-bred animals and the ability to support ethical breeders.

The economic climate isn’t the greatest in this country. Many families cannot afford to spend $1500-2000 on a puppy and do not have the experience or the money for a behaviorist in the event they select a mill-bred shelter dog (and 99% of shelter and rescue dogs are from mills or backyard breeders. That is a guarantee).

So I make an effort to charge just enough money to be able to put in the money and time necessary to care for my dogs appropriately. They need DNA tests for disease; proper, nutritious food; yearly visits with specialists for health clearances; the pups require tons of stuff for training and proper socialization. Raising a litter is way more expensive than you think. And so on and so forth.

I cut out the extra unnecessary things. I go to health clinics and have the CERF and OFA forms filled out by specialists and the tests performed but I don’t pay the extra amount to have them registered with these governing bodies (I have the forms, it is an unnecessary extra though a nice one to have).

I don’t have the girls blood tested for ovulation to ensure proper timing of breeding. I avoid those hospital visits and painful needle sticks and watch my girls’ body and behavior. But it would cut out time and work and take all guesswork out of it. It would be convenient.

I don’t have the girls’ ultrasound-scanned to confirm pregnancy. Another lovely convenience.

I think that’s about it. Those are the little luxuries that I’d be able to afford if I charged full price for my dogs. And honestly sometimes I think about how wonderful that would be. But it is more wonderful to see regular, every-day people hugging one of our sound, healthy and beautiful puppies.

But that still leaves us in a bind with Rosie, now, doesn’t it?

What About the Vet?

A veterinarian can affirm my dam’s good health with blood panels and tests and looking and feeling her.

He can tell me if she is “in-condition” to breed. He can feel her and tell me his opinion on whether or not she is in-whelp about a month after she’s been bred.

However the vast majority of veterinarians have absolutely no dog breeding experience whatsoever. I’ve never met one that has actually attended a natural delivery (only C-sections) and I’ve never met one that really knew all that much about breeding at all. They have an educated opinion, they know what they’ve read in books and learned in school, but they do not have an informed opinion to give in this case.

So while my vet and I might agree that a bitch is in-whelp with what must be a small litter, my guess is as good as his (and probably better) so this doesn’t give us any accuracy, does it?

Bottom Line?

It comes down to a lot of educated guessing. And now I’m second guessing my second and third guesses… and making myself a little nuts.

She appears to be pregnant, she feels like she is pregnant, she is acting like she is pregnant and she is acting like she is ready to whelp…. But no puppies have come. And I’m starting to lose my mind a little bit, I think.

The ultrasound is set for Thursday if she hasn’t whelped by then but I’m not sure I can wait that long! Maybe I should just take her in tomorrow… but the vet tells me to “relax”. How can I do that?

*sigh*

Well, I hope she has those babies tonight and I doubly hope that she doesn’t have invisible puppies in there, because that would be so upsetting. It would be even worse if something was wrong and we have lost the puppies. That would break my heart.

And I would be devastated to let down the people hoping for a litter.

And not everyone will be willing to wait another 6 months for a litter. Will they be able to find a reputable breeder with available puppies? None that I know currently have any. It makes me worry for those families (since they are all lovely people).

Let’s all cross our fingers that we have a lovely, healthy litter born tonight.

Sharing a cupcake

In the meantime I have baked cupcakes to distract myself (root-beer-float cupcakes. I invented them and they taste amazing. Email and I’ll give you the recipe if you want). My middle daughter decided to try to share her still-too-hot-to-frost cupcake with Rosie, who seemed interested but then declined (a sign of impending delivery).

I love seeing my kids share, though. But dogs really shouldn’t have cupcakes, even somewhat wholesome ones made from scratch. I suppose I can make an exception for pregnant dogs. Or possibly phantom-pregnant dogs.

*head down, on keyboard*

Rosie to Deliver Soon

We’re waiting for Rosie to whelp her puppies. It is really such a hard thing to do and it makes me think of the Tom Petty song about waiting being the hardest part (what is that song actually about, anyway?) Rosie feels like she is carrying a small litter, but it is hard to say for sure. I can feel her little babies kicking around in there and they don’t feel too large for her to free whelp easily. I seem to remember that December 13th would be her 63rd day in-whelp (pregnant) and that she’d deliver that day or the next,  but now I question my memory seriously and after going back through the calendar and wracking my brain (and my husband’s) I think I am mistaken. I believe her is on day 63 today (the 16th of December) and therefore should whelp today or tomorrow.

I do not suspect she will whelp today or tonight. She has eaten, however small amounts. Rosie will refuse food in any amount the day she whelps her puppies. She has been eating very little in the last few days, as is always the way it is with a female about to deliver her puppies. She has her nursery all set up and to her satisfaction and now we’re waiting on Mother Nature to bring those little furry bundles of joy into the outside world for us to meet.

I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. I’m always thrilled to meet new babies but I worry for Rosie too, since there is inherent risk in whelping puppies. Breeding is not for the faint of heart. Even great breeders sometimes lose good bitches from whelping and puppies (sometimes entire litters). It would be heart-breaking and devastating to have that happen. Again, breeding is not for the faint of heart or something to consider lightly.

Rosie, however, free whelps with ease and is in fantastic condition. She gained a little more weight than I’d like, but since it was on a high quality diet I’m not going to fuss too much over that. Besides, she is carrying all those puppies for me, the least I can do is offer her a bit of bacon and a little more chicken when she asks, right?

Here’s to good dogs. Hopefully I’ll be posting again soon with pictures of newborn, squirming puppies. Newborn pups look like little blind bears. They’re so cute but they don’t look much like dogs. I can’t wait!

Here she is, heavy with pups and stealing my couch-pillow. She doesn't look thrilled about me pestering her with the camera's flash, does she. :-)

Here she is, heavy with pups and stealing my couch-pillow. She doesn’t look thrilled about me pestering her with the camera’s flash, does she. 🙂