Monday, February 15, 2010

No More Puppies

You may or may not know that for the last 11 years I have bred Yorkshire Terrier Puppies. My decision to breed dogs was about as ignorant as it could be - I didn't know a single thing about it. It was born from the need to put our daughter through college and after trying a paper route for 6 months - in addition to our day jobs - we determined that raising puppies had to be easier.

Well, yes and no.

We did get much more sleep which made us much more pleasant to be around, but dog breeding certainly contained its own challenges. First of all, it requires that you own dogs. We have always had a family pet, usually a sweet non-purebred that fit into our family very well. But in December of 1998 we purchased two Yorkies and set up business. Back then I didn't understand that I should have been looking for as perfect of a specimen of the breed I could find. To be honest I didn't even know what the standards were. Dumb. Really dumb. But I learned as I went, sometimes the hard way, and eventually ended up with a breeding program I have been really proud of.

Birthing puppies was overall a fun experience. A dog's pregnancy lasts only 9 weeks. It seems like puppies are almost always born in the middle of the night. They don't mind keeping you up all night even though you have to be to work in the morning. They also don't mind keeping you home from work because there is one last stubborn puppy that hasn't been born yet. Out of all my years of breeding we only had to go to the emergency vet twice - once for a c-section and once for a shot of pitocin. My vet and I developed such a good relationship over the years that he often gave me syringes and medications to keep on hand which really cut back on office calls. My vet became one of my best referral systems - she loved the puppies we produced. I also learned how to dock tails and cut dew claws by myself which was easier on the puppies not having to be transported to the vet at just a few hours old.

Losing a puppy or two is inevitable and is such a hard part of the job. Usually they would be the tiniest of the litter and at only a couple of ounces in weight - there just wasn't much that could be done much of the time. I would sometimes have to tube feed and it was the most rewarding thing in the world to save a puppy that didn't have the strength to drink milk on its own. It totally made the getting up every two hours at night worth it. Several times I have held a tiny little sweet thing in the palm of my hand as it took its last breath. Those times were never easy. Letting the mama lick a final goodbye always brought tears to my eyes. This tiny one in my hand was one that didn't make it - we discovered it had a severe cleft palate.

I would only use a female for breeding for five years and then I would have to replace her. It soon became apparent that I could not keep every dog I had. A breeder has to look at owning dogs differently than a pet owner. After a few years of good and faithful service I would find a new owner for my females. Usually it would be an older woman who I knew would treat my little friend very, very well. Even though it is hard to give away a dog that has worked so hard for you, I have never regretted any of the homes they have gone to and they are all living lives of luxury now. I see them occasionally and even dog sit for them, and trust me, they hardly even remember me!

The daily care of puppies is a tremendous amount of work. We kept them in a portion of our laundry room and the cleaning and feeding and washing seemed never ending. We kept them for 10 weeks. I had as many as 6 in a litter and as few as 1 with 4 being the average sized litter.

People always think that the hardest part would be when you actually give the puppies away. Surprisingly, for me it never was hard. I think it was a combination of being so relieved to finally be done with all the work involved and seeing the excitement and happiness of the new owners. It was always a happy day.

New owners are a time consuming ordeal. They come to the house to choose a puppy which turns into an hours long process. They play with them all. They watch them. They hold them. They all have their own system of choosing a puppy. No system was ever the same. We would set up visitation hours - so they could come over and spend bonding time with their new little family member. They would bring toys and items of clothing that would hold their scent. Finally the day would come that they would go to their forever home. Like I said, it was always a happy day.

In my last breeding experience I had two litters at once. I had eleven puppies in my laundry room! It nearly did me in. One of the puppies - the smallest and the cutest of the two litters - became very sick. I truly thought she was going to die. She was lethargic, wouldn't eat and spent hours standing with her head pressed against the wall. I had never seen anything like it. The vet pumped her full of medicine and fluids and did several tests on her but never could determine what was wrong. She finally told me that she thought perhaps she had some neurological issues. Of course I couldn't sell her so I resolved to take care of her and love her until she died. Within a couple of weeks she perked right up. By then my heart was already attached and even after I knew she was going to be completely fine, there was no way I could sell her. So I broke my first rule of business - I kept one of my puppies as a pet.

I named her Willow and she is my shadow. If I sit in a chair she is sitting with me. In fact she is sleeping beside me right now. She follows me from room to room. She weighs all of 4 pounds and she is as fiesty as can be. She will never be bred - she is not big enough. She was born into her forever home.

The time has come to end my little dog breeding business. It is time to slow down some and enjoy life more. My heart and extra time is for my grandbabies. I have retired my female dogs and they have gone to their new homes and are very happy. I just got an email this morning from a dear lady that has one of my girls:

Hi Robin. I just wanted you to know that Sunday when I said Maggie was high maintenance I meant it in a good way. She is so alive and human-like. You mention "bye bye" and she's there. When Len puts on his shoes her ears perk up and waits for those words. He takes her every where. She stares at me when it's bedtime and is so cute when she jumps into her own bed. She talks to me now in a very sweet high voice but she talks. She hates baths but she doesn't mind grooming. I just really enjoy her company. She also exhibits many emotions, sadness, happiness, humiliation, anger and bossiness (which is really cute). Anyway, best give I have ever received.

It was a good decision don't you think?

So now I am just a regular pet owner with a sweet little dog who thinks I hung the moon. And I must admit I am rather partial to her as well.


Becky said...

What a great story. And imagine the wonderful dogs you have provided for so many families over the years. Enjoy your retirement :)

Dawn said...

It sounds like such a lot of work! But you definitely had it down to a science. I'm so thankful that little one became such a wonderful pet.

Tara said...

wait - I didn't get my puppy yet!

Karen said...

This was so interesting, Robin. I hadn't thought about all the work that goes into breeding puppies. I mean, I knew it couldn't be easy, but it was interesting hearing all about it. You've given lots of happiness to a lot of people through the years. You must feel really good about that.