Archive for April, 2009

Refrigerator Stories and Other Doings

Between the food and drink supplies, and the medicinal equipment, it feels like we are running a field hospital for golden retrievers. If you were staying in our home overnight, you would have to be very careful about getting up in the middle of the night for milk and cookies. Without the light on, you might have a very unique experience when you tried to make that quiet trip to the refrigerator looking for a light snack.

Of course you wouldn’t be alone, the pack would be out of our bedroom and accompanying you wherever you were headed. But it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the dog supplies almost outnumber our food supplies in the fridges. In the left photo above, we have Barb’s special recipe of rice and ground chicken for Riley’s uneven appetite. Then we have the Lactaid, which we are giving to Riley in her food as a source of extra calcium. That is done to prevent the onset of postpartum toxemia. Next to that we have Trader Joe’s supply of goat milk. Easier to digest than cow’s milk, it is needed to replace Riley’s breast milk. In the right hand photo, we have more goat’s milk sitting below my two little kegs of homemade Abby’s Golden Ale. I can promise you I for one will not make a mistake choosing the right container if I need a sip of something cold after a late feeding.

We have switched places in our sleeping arrangements. Barb now sleeps downstairs with the pups and does the late night (early morning feeding) and I stay in our bedroom with the big dogs. Riley does better sleeping next to me, and gets the rest she needs to get well.

This bottle feeding schedule every three to four hours is grueling. We have put aside our very full lives for these next few weeks, and do mostly dog duty chores. Barb’s sister and her husband stopped by for a visit from their home in Massachusetts this afternoon. They enjoyed trying their hand at feeding, and we finished the puppies late afternoon feeding a little quicker than usual.

We tried to have the pups sup from a bowl last night. It didn’t go well, and the pups ended up with more on them and the rug than in their mouths. So we are back to bottle feeding for a while longer.

It is very comical to see their bellies all swollen after a few ounces of milk…

The pups are very content though, and are starting to hear better and wobble along on their developing leg muscles.

We would expect in another week or two, they will start to resemble the “classic golden retriever puppy” that everyone is familiar with.

We sorely wish we could say that our mom Riley was improving. She still has spiking temps and her breast now looks like something out of a flesh eating zombie movie. She is on two antibiotics, soaks, and topical medication. She is back to the vet tomorrow.   She does not appear to be in pain, and for that we are thankful.

Solo above has made herself Riley’s nurse, and tries to clean her sister’s wound. Not a good idea and another task to keep them apart. Riley has to wear a hood now most of the day so she won’t lick herself either.

That takes care of the two most pressing issues that consume our thoughts. Even with both of our extensive medical backgrounds, this latest setback with Riley is anxiety provoking. I am blessed to have Barbara be such a good mother hen to all our animals. But we got much more than we bargained for with this whole litter experience. There is no question but that Riley will be spayed after she recovers. We will not risk her health again.

Now on to the last two groups of dogs that we must give time and energy to. They still need to be run, and played with, and kept happy if possible. Of course we are talking about Rocky and his never ending energy. Lucy seems to have become his new sidekick and they play together constantly.

You can see by the size of their teeth that I am very careful walking them in a pack. They can do serious damage if they get riled up enough. Rocky is now as big as everyone else except for Riley. He still had way too much energy after our run, so I got out the little pool, and they played while I tried to get some yard chores accomplished.

The rest of our pack needs their personal attention too. Fortunately, it can be spent in more quieter pursuits like watching me garden or sitting with me on the front porch for a rest.

We do have to count the blessings of this beautiful day that added so much to our outdoor experiences. Until Riley’s issues have improved we will not be having visitors other than immediate family. The pups will be three weeks old tomorrow and we still have five weeks to share their cuddly nature with friends and clients. We have scratched another family off the waiting list from a year prior. We have not had much time to contact anyone else, but it will happen when this litter raising business returns to a more normal course.

Lady Misfortune Deals us a Breeding-Ending Card

How silly of me to write of our nice weekend with blue skies and happy goings on here in dogville. My cousin Ron had remarked that it was getting depressing to read the blog events with the never ending litany of misfortunes. So it was satisfying to write on Sunday of life events that were not life threatening. A honey of a weekend to sweeten our taste buds grown bitter with the daily dose of vinegar we have come to expect in our breeding lives.

Monday began innocently enough with everyone feeding and active. Barb went out for an errand and returned to find Riley lethargic and hot in the whelping box. Her temp was near 106 degrees and a check of her nipples revealed a swollen back breast with the less developed nipple. An emergency visit to Dr. Feldman found another mastitis location with a bacteria obviously resistant to the amoxacillin she was already on. An afternoon stay at the vet hospital became a necessity, and after IV fluids and IV antibiotics, we were able to pick her up last evening.

This meant once again, the end of Riley’s breast feeding ability (the same had happened to our Emma last litter but further along from her delivery). We are now watching Riley closely for the possibility of an abscess that might require surgical drainage. So Barb called me, understandably upset yesterday afternoon, with this news as she was on her way to buy preemie nursing bottles and goat’s milk. Our mentor Berna Welch, Mulder’s owner, gave us some sage advice about how to take over Riley’s job. So it was with some trepidation and anxiety that I made my way home after work last evening. We had at least a week of bottle feeding the pups ahead of us, every three to four hours, with no experience in this situation. The task loomed large and forbidding in both our minds.

But lo, something amazing happened… the pups took to their bottle feeding ways with bravado and enthusiasm. What we both thought would be a burdensome task, has now turned into a wonderful experience interacting with mother nature in a new way. I grew up watching  “Wild Kingdom” on our black and white television as a child, where exotic animals were featured each week. I can still vividly recall the park rangers feeding the orphaned tiger and lion cubs out of a bottle. And here we found ourselves, doing the same thing, standing in for their disappointed and frustrated mom. Thus you can see the smile on my face in some of these photos from last night and today.

What you can’t appreciate from these pictures is the amount of goat’s milk you get on yourself doing this task. A different smell to your clothes for sure after each meal also! After the pups have chugged down their milk, we pile them into the little box while we clean the whelping box. They love to cuddle when they are stuffed with milk.

Of course, my smiles above, were for the camera only, for in my heart I know this is a career ending event.

We had lost Solo’s breedability two years ago because of her mild hip dysplasia. Last year we had lost Emma’s ability to have any more puppies secondary to her breast issues. Lucy was disqualified in March with her new eye problem. Now we have just lost our Riley to nature’s ill whim again. So our four breeding females are no longer breedable. We are at our limit of tolerance and zoning for our six that we presently have. So we have now been forced out of the puppy business in spite of all our efforts. While I had hoped that my reliance on science would override the infertility issues and any other medical happenstance, I forgot one very basic rule: In breeding as in life, the House always wins. So while I will try to put a smile on the good fortune that we have had with these six healthy miracle puppies, a tear is forming in my heart, as I know that each day that passes we are coming closer to saying goodbye to all this. So we will live in the moment as Abby taught us so long ago, and enjoy every memory that comes our way. When I was out with our daughter Kristen Sunday, it occurred to me that we have six generations of our Goldens presently under our roof. It looks like this will be the end of Abby’s line. Not the end of her story however, as there is a lot of adventure still to be written in the minds and hearts of her offspring and their families.  But..


As I was writing my final words, Lucy and Rocky came storming up the stairs covered in black mud from the backyard. I had left the backdoor open so the dogs could do their business while Barb was in the basement with the pups, and I was writing this upstairs. Big mistake.

Thank God Isabelle who cleaned our home today won’t see this post.

As I followed the muddy tracks back through the house, I suddenly couldn’t  remember what I was going to miss about this business…

Nature Surprises, Company at the Fields, and Rocky Trains..

The puppies will be two weeks old tomorrow and all are well. Riley’s breast infection has resolved, and she is feeling well also. Barb and I are pleased to report that there are no new crises unfolding here, and that is a blessing in itself for a change.

Of the six puppies, one male has always been very little in comparison to his sibs. Mr. Black is his name by his collar. We have been giving him private time with his mom to get extra feeding time.

Because of the size difference, Mr. Black often gets pushed off the nipples by the much larger puppies.

When compared side by side, the difference was somewhat alarming to us even though all the pups have been pretty much gaining weight day by day.

Last night Barb and I were discussing this again, and I had a thought to check the weights of our prior litters at this two week mark. Amazingly the weights of all the prior pups were in the range of Mr. Black and not the larger ones. Good heavens, that means we have some very large puppies growing here. The other five are each a pound plus heavier than the average puppy at this time of life. We are doing nothing different. They feed when they want off Riley and I don’t think she has supersized milk flowing. So.. the answer must be in Riley’s genetics. She has always been a plus sized dog. Our breeder co owners have nicely said a number of times that she was probably being overfed and a little heavier than she should be. We exercise the dogs all the same and they get the same ration of food. We have always thought she was just big boned, and we may now have the evidence to prove that by her offspring. Especially since our last three litters have used champion Mulder as the father. We have no idea if this will translate into bigger dogs when adults, but I would have to guess they will probably follow in their mother’s path. In fact, look closely at the rolls of skin on the leg of this larger pup.

There is plenty of extra skin to allow the pup to grow to its adulthood size. So here we have been fretting since birth over this “growth restricted” Mr. Black, and instead it turns out his sibs are just goliaths!! Another surprise by mother nature to add to our breeding experiences.

As far as “The List” goes, there has been no change. We have been giving this family who might be away for spring vacation until tomorrow to respond to our inquiries. If there is no reply, then we will move on to find a home for the last two pups. I appreciate the fact that our friends, neighbors, and patients have been extremely nice and not hammered us with the thoughts about their place in line. As you can see, we treat everyone fairly, even folks we do not know. As I was telling someone this week, the unpredictability of this business has given me a better appreciation for farmers and fishermen who do not know until the last part of their season, if their hard work and invested time and money will result in a return that allows them to survive to try again the next year. We will survive despite the financial loss this litter has been for us, but in planning out our future efforts, I am starting to think about a change to a “non profit foundation” for our Golden Retriever work.

The pups are just starting to open their eye slits, but they still cannot hear. By the end of this coming week, they should be more aware of their outside world, and the whelping box will start to become a hub of activity. Right now we have no visitors as their mom is very protective, and there is not much interaction with a puppy that only eats, squeaks, and does its business in the space of a foot or two in the box.

Theresa was over to get her puppy fix, and Kristen our daughter came home for the night from Boston.

The puppies get into some very funny contortions while nursing.

They also have the cutest sleeping poses.

It was a beautiful day today, and the dogs and I got to share our walk with our daughter, Kristen.

The sun was bright, the grass a healthy green, and the air delightful. A stick made everyone playful.

Of course, I am sure you can all guess who came up with the stick..

(Answer at the bottom of this post)*

Riley just was happy to be out of the whelping box and watched the goings on from the sidelines.

Rocky’s training for his sojourn in Italy continues. First there are the daily martial arts classes to be sure he can hold his own in those wild dog parks over there..

With his golden boy looks, I am sure those dark haired Italian beauties will be giving him plenty of attention.

Next he is learning to read and write. In my office today he was right in my face perusing my charts and paperwork. After all, Florence used to be the center of literature and culture civilizations ago.

Of course, we are still working on his other bad habits. There I was today  getting another garden bed doubly fenced in to keep him out, when I looked over and found him inside the fencing, digging up my weedblock.

I see more of his backside than his face as he always has his nose investigating one thing or another.

I was cleaning the ivy away from the pool wiring and he started digging next to me. Before I could interrupt him, he had his treasure, an old tennis ball and low voltage light fixture.. Sheesh.

All this energy after running a few miles on the soccer fields. His older  housemates are all pooped, I wonder where his energy comes from?

Is this because he is still a puppy, or a male which we have never had, or a little of both? Finally two hours later he stretched out on the kitchen floor.

All in all a very nice weekend here. To top it off, I get to move back into our bedroom tonight, and let Riley deal with the puppy squeaks on her own from now on.

*(Answer: Rocky)

Weekend Thoughts, Rocky Moments

It has been quite the week in dogville for all of us here. Like life in general, a smattering of good interspersed with other stuff, and the realization that we are truly not in control of this breeding adventure. The week started promising enough. A visit to Dr. Feldman the day after the whelping. Riley and the puppies checked out healthy.

The following day Riley’s bleeding became heavier than we were used to so that raised some anxiety and another call to the vet. Then we noticed that Riley’s nursing nipples weren’t all protruding to the same degree, and there was some worry that the flattest two would not work properly and therefore be prone to infection. So off Barb went to WalMart for an electric breast pump. I guess there is a first time for everything! However, this device was not helpful. So manual massage became the order of the day with Barb and Theresa doing the lactation chores. Last litter our Emma developed a breast abscess that had to be surgically drained and her nursing stopped prematurely. So we were trying to avoid this at all costs.

The following day Riley had a GI upset that was helped with a chicken and rice diet that Barb specially cooked along with a pepcid tablet. The pups were gaining weight, and things seemed to be clicking. I was sleeping in short snatches in the basement overnight, broken up with checking out the puppy squeaks when a puppy lost track of her mom. (The pups can’t see or hear for the first three weeks). Barb would replace me in the daytime, and we tagteamed it with the chores we both had to do. Fortunately, this birth coincided to the week Barb and I were both off from our real jobs.

Then Riley developed a fever that persisted throughout the day Saturday. Dogs’ temp’s are usually 101 plus, but Riley was up to 103+. The back nipples seemed to be working ok and the pups were feeding from them. We decided to bring her to the Avon animal ER last night. It turned out that she had an early mastitis starting in one of the front normal nipples. She was a good sport while being checked out.

Three hours later, after fluids and antibiotics, we were on our way back home minus a couple more hundreds of dollars in veterinary expenses. Thankfully, Brian and Theresa were home keeping an eye on the sleeping pups. The technology that allows instant photos being sent from phone to phone kept everyone in touch and on top of this latest misadventure.

When we got home though the real work began.. Barb and Theresa had to apply warm soaks to the infected breast gland, and try to keep the breast empty so an abscess wouldn’t develop. The pups can still nurse, but not on that nipple. Sheesh. They came up with a novel solution.. Duct tape. I couldn’t believe it, but it stayed on all night. Kudos to them both.

So this brings us up to this morning, with Barb in the basement doing Riley’s breast care, and myself upstairs typing out this blog. Does anyone out there still envision themselves wanting to become a dog breeder? We just have to hope this antibiotic works. If not and we have to change it to one that the puppies can’t nurse with, then we will have to bottle feed the pups. Yikes!

Now on to the rest of the week’s happenings…

We had our first celebrity sighting. Theresa, our neighbor and dog midwife, was in Stop n Shop the day after the last dog post. She was approached by someone she didn’t know, that recognized her from our last blog photo of Riley’s whelping. Can a Hollywood TV spot be far behind? Hah! It turns out that the “stranger” was another golden friend, Laura, who walks her Daisy in our neighborhood. And thank you Laura for that delightful book that you gave Barb and I to read. It was the story of someone named Gary Paulsen who is an experienced Iditarod sled dog racer. Our problems pale to his adventures of having 70 to 80 dogs who are closer to wolves than huskies, and running hundreds of miles in nowhere land at temps of usually 40 below zero. Just amazing.

As for our anxious clients awaiting news of a puppy, the progress of notification goes slowly. We are still contacting folks who have been on the list over a year. Amazingly, most are still interested. We have two dogs still to be placed. I really feel badly for my patients, friends, and neighbors that were hoping to hear good news, but have been on the list less than a year. A litter of six just does not go very far. I will contact all of you who have filled out applications, once all the pups have been placed, to see if you would like my help in getting a beautiful puppy from one of our close breeding friends.

Rocky, our mischievous male puppy from our last litter continues his chewing ways. Our son Michael will not be ready to accept him back in Italy for a couple more months. So he is learning the pack behavior rules and leaving his teeth marks everywhere. We only have limited energy to keep tabs on him with all the other goings on here and it shows. Despite an abundance of tennis balls, bones and toys of various kinds strewn all about, he has his own ideas of taste. From digging holes to furniture to yard tools, he samples them all.

While the big dogs watch me start the yard work, Rocky is in constant motion.

All was mostly forgiven, when Rocky spied his first butterfly of the year. The look in his eyes was priceless.. I just couldn’t snap the photo fast enough!

He has enjoyed learning to ride in the truck when I go to do office paperwork on weekends.

I am going to miss him mightily when the time comes to say goodbye. However, he has a family to train, with our two little grandsons, who he must teach to enjoy the simple adventures in life while growing up.

So we finish this week, more than a little tired and even more discouraged. Barb has taken to writing down her frustrations so she will be able to remind me of them when we may think of breeding again in a year or so. I was out back trying to start the garden and yard work for the coming summer. Each year it gets harder to begin and the work seems to grow larger in my mind. A sure sign of getting older I think . Then when I came in to do this blog, the screen saver on my computer put it all in perspective. My guardian angel must be reminding me to begin with the end in mind. I went out again, snapped a few photos..

Here is what was on my computer screen saver. Our yard mid summer last year..

And now when I think of the children of all ages who will soon be coming to visit their puppies, my spirits have suddenly lifted into blue skies again.

It Was a Wonderful Day in Dogville Today

Riley has successfully completed her trial by fire and is now a beaming mom of six puppies. The day yesterday had all the drama of a Lifetime Movie Special: Barbara exhausted from standing vigil the prior night with Riley. Myself just coming off hospital call and finding Riley in labor.

Our good friend Kathy, labor and missionary nurse extraordinaire getting to see her childhood dream of a litter being born.

The first three puppies being born breech with the first being a really difficult fit.

Theresa, our good neighbor and dog midwife, throwing out her back from bending over all day in the whelping box.

A hurried ride with Riley to our most excellent Vet, Dr. Steve Feldman, when her labor stalled after three puppies. A shot of pitocin, then a delivery of a puppy by me in the back of the moving suburban on the way home. Our son Brian watching the big girls upstairs who could smell the scent of new life on all of us.

And Brian retreating upstairs after finding Kathy’s instructions to Barb and Theresa about getting a puppy to latch onto a nipple a little too much for his masculine side.

The uncertainty of how many puppies to expect even with an XRay done that afternoon. The delay of about three hours between puppies that had everyone on edge.

The worry over the last placenta that did not deliver with the final puppy. The final shot of pitocin at midnight to get the placenta out, but me falling asleep on the cot, and the only sign of the placenta having delivered was Riley’s dirty bottom when I awoke to puppy squeaks an hour later. She obviously had a late night snack as a finish to her incredible day’s work.

The final tally: two females, and four males, all thriving this morning. Not the size litter we had hoped for, but considering the adversity we had faced trying to get Riley to successfully have a family over the last two years, we are still very thankful. As you can see, it helps to have a village of friends to whelp a litter, and insure that the best start in life can be given to each one of these special puppies.

And hugs to our Riley who did such a tremendous job for her first try at motherhood!

The only sadness to spoil this great day is for the folks that will be disappointed when I start making the calls or emails tomorrow. I have not looked at the client list in the last several months. Barb has just filed away the applications by dates. Some clients will be ecstatic. One family will be the one who was supposed to take Rocky home last litter, but were sorely disappointed when he had his emergency surgery and we couldn’t guarantee his future health. Another will be a family who grieved over the loss of their precious golden and couldn’t decide on when the right time would be to replace her. So they have been our list through the last two litters and then decided this would be the right time to welcome another golden. I tell everyone this as it is important to realize just how patient some of our clients are. We have a lot fewer puppies to offer than we had hoped. So I have to start at the top of the list and see if clients are still interested, and if we have the boy/girl choice to offer them. I expect this process will take several days. For those who we cannot offer a puppy from Riley’s litter, and who choose to wait, Barb and I will make a special effort to see their wishes fulfilled with our breeding partner, Donna’s next litter.

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