Another Dog Seminar

Last weekend I attended a two day seminar sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Kennel Club. The presenter was world famous canine structure expert Pat Hastings. I’ve been to a number of her seminars in the past. This time was the third time I have served as part of the seminar commenting on veterinary issues caused by structural problems.

Canine structure interests me not only as a breeder and competitor in dog sports, but as a veterinarian. Incorrect structure leaves a dog susceptible to injury , arthritis, and pain. It is important for every breeder to consider structure when breeding as the goal is (or should be) to produce puppies that are as healthy as possible. As a veterinarian, it is my job to recognize weaknesses in a pet that could cause a decrease in the animal’s quality of life. The average pet owner does not recognize early signs of pain.

As an example, when doing a routine examination on the table, I may find “slipped hocks”. It is not a serious issue for a pet dog, but can be a hindrance if the dog is to jog alongside its owner for exercise, compete in a sport like agility or even be expected to go on long hikes on the weekend. At this point I need to explain to my client the limitations this flaw in structure means for their dog. Yes, the dog would likely be able to compensate short term and perform as the owner wishes, but long term, the compensation would lead to break down and pain.

Another part of the animal that can cause chronic pain and is often overlooked is the mouth. When a dog’s dentition is not what it should be, meaning an overbite, underbite or even crooked teeth, it will likely develop more decay. Teeth may even push into the opposing palate causing pain and infection. As a veterinarian, I want to be proactive and manage a problem as soon as it is recognized. As a breeder, I want to do the best I can to prevent dental issues through genetics.

 

One of the questions I have been asked is why do I go back to the same seminar again and again.  It’s a simple answer. I learn something new every time. Different dogs are evaluated and I get to handle some excellent examples of various breeds. Even outstanding dogs have flaws. In a breeding program, their owners must endeavor to find mates that will improve on the next generation.

 

I love all dogs. My goal as a breeder and a veterinarian is for every dog to live  an active, pain free life.

 

Oh, Well…….

My nineteen month old Labrador has been a stellar retriever since birth. Bling has an intense way of watching for the throw and then a major drive to get to the object and bring it back to me. With training, she has developed patience to wait until I tell her to “fetch”; once said, she gets in turbo gear to complete the retrieve. We have practiced enough so that she will sit, stay, and wait for me to walk out and toss the bumper or bird. I then walk back to give her the command and she can do what she was bred to do. Using this method, she can practice far longer retrieves than I could ever throw.

Her targeting was on track, the desire was there, I was pretty certain she was ready for her Working Certificate test that was being offered by my club, the Keystone Labrador Retriever Club. On the day of the test, we got up early and made the trip to the very nice location.

When it was our turn, Bling walked quietly to the line. The gun went off, the bird went down and the judge told me to send my dog. So, I did. Bling ran out hard and straight to get to her mark. And then, it happened. Instead of picking up the bird and running right back to me as she had done so well in the past, she ……she……she….. dropped and rolled on the bird. Enthusiastically, I might add. At that point I also wanted to drop on the ground and roll, but for a different reason.

I mentally begged her to stop and just bring the bird back. But, nope, when, she finally finished, I called her and she happily returned, sans desired object. We were done competing for the day. The judge graciously allowed her to be the demo dog for the water series……we were pretty sure she couldn’t roll in the water (unless she morphed into an alligator). Bling performed well for that. We also were tapped to be the pickup dog in the water should any dogs fail to retrieve. We were not needed.

At the end of the day, we went home with Bling happy to have had fun and me with a slice of humble pie. It is always good to see dogs do what they were intended to do. I got to cheer for the other dogs and handlers. We didn’t get a ribbon, but there is always next time.

photo at top by Rick Parisi

Cat Yard

 

 

Some say I am a crazy cat lady. They might be right.  Prior to my involvement in purebred cats, I had and still have a number of rescue cats. Years ago, I would let my cats be indoor/outdoor cats. I live in a rural area and I had a number of cats disappear, so started keeping all but the barn cat in the house full time. They adjusted, but I always felt something was missing for them. Cat towers, windows and toys were great, but especially since there were more than a couple of cats, I felt there was stress in the clowder. So, I got the idea of building a cat yard.

If you google cat yard, you will find a lot of options. I decided I wanted a yard that incorporated trees, shrubs and room for them to play. I picked the area outside of my sun room to fence in. It is a large area with a small lawn, a large garden filled with various plants including cat nip, several trees from large to moderate like a dog wood and a Korean lilac.

It was a challenge to find someone to do the job. Fence builders did not call me back. If they did, they failed to show up at the appointed time. A friend of mine volunteered her handy husband who had installed a number of fences. He agreed and we followed up with a plan. PVC and deer fencing were the main staples. The key is at the top where there is an 18 inch fence piece that comes off the vertical into a horizontal on the inside of the fence to prevent the cats from climbing over.

To put it mildly, the cats love it. It has had its challenges. I guarantee if there is a weak spot, a cat will find it before I do. I gave up keeping one of the rescues contained. Jigsaw is a tremendous athlete. Despite wrapping the large ash trees with metal, she can still scale up the one tree, head out the branch I had cut back and launch herself through the air to a twelve foot drop onto the roof of the house and jump off the roof to freedom. If there are any doubters, I got her on video once. Unfortunately for her, the ash trees will be cut down next year due to disease.

The rest of the cats spend time napping in the hosta, chewing on the nip, and climbing the dogwood. Yes, there is the occasional vermin hunt, and, yes, they have carried their trophy into the house via the cat door. The fall is a favorite time as leaf chasing is a popular pastime. Snow is often tolerated in the winter, much more than I would have expected. There are times that snow is a paws down. Of course, summer is special due to sunbathing. I have a wicker chair and a concrete garden bench in the garden for perches. I also have plastic children’s toys on the lawn they can climb on.

When in my sun room, a friend once exclaimed that I have an aquarium, but with cats that I can watch!

 

It Takes a Village

Recently, I got an unusual email with the subject line “Lab purchased from you?” It was from a woman named Maryann in New Jersey explaining that she had tracked me down as the possible breeder of a dog whose original owner had died and the current owner was critically ill. When she went on to state the original owner and dog’s names, I knew it was one of my puppies from three years ago. I don’t breed very often and I take it to heart where my puppies go.

Maryann is the hero of this story. She stepped in to help the four dogs left in the house when the owner was hospitalized. She went to all the trouble to find me and look for other breeders. She warned me that the dogs were not in good condition. I responded to her immediately that I would get my puppy (now adult) and bring him home to care for him. I contacted a friend of mine, Georgann Syphard of Loveladies Labradors to see if she could go and pick up the dog. Without a second’s hesitation, she agreed to do so and then I drove to get the dog from her.

The original emailer was right. The dog, Shinook, is very thin. Apparently the man had no food for himself or the dogs. Such a sad situation. My contract for a puppy states that the dog is to be returned to me for ANY reason it can no longer stay in its home. I guess when people are dying, the last thing they think about is the puppy contract. While the original owner did make arrangements for his dog, the next owner developed health problems. I am just grateful I have this dog back in my care.

Shinook’s future is bright. He is eating well, gaining strength and has a terrific attitude. He will stay here with me during his recovery. And one day, will go to a forever home to be loved and cared for.

Rainbow Bridge

It’s always hard. Really hard. And sometimes it is harder than that. It is difficult to explain to those who do not have pets what a struggle it is when a beloved animal “goes over the rainbow bridge.”

A couple of days ago, I lost my dog Visa. Three months ago, I lost my cat Bon Bon. Neither was at the end of their expected life span. But, none the less, both are gone. Both were humanely euthanized to prevent suffering. The phrase is so clinical. The actual process is not. The decision to let my pets go was agonizing. It tore my heart out.

In all honesty, I needed help both times to make the decision. I needed affirmation that I was doing the right thing. Despite the fact that Bon Bon was in a septic coma and Visa was in an endless seizure, I simply felt paralyzed. I knew letting them go was the right thing to do, but making the final decision was indescribable.

I took down the crate in my bedroom where Visa preferred to sleep at night. It was also where Bon Bon often napped during the day. It’s part of closure, I guess. I miss them terribly. I remind myself how fortunate I was to have them share my life. I know with time, the grief I feel now will subside and the good memories will dominate.

Thank you Bon Bon and Visa for being part of my journey. I love you both more than words can express.

 

New Babies in the House

I blogged about Orchid not all that long ago. She earned her AKC championship as well as completed another performance title. She passed her health clearances for hip, elbow, heart and eyes and her genetic testing was done. So, Orchid was bred for a litter of chocolate babies to a champion in Virginia. My baby was going to have babies.

As the weeks went by, I thought she was pregnant, but she didn’t seem to be getting very big. Prenatal testing revealed two puppies. So the date she was due came and went. No big deal, sometimes they need an extra day or two. Last Sunday morning she finally started her labor.

The first stage of labor went on much of the day until she final started the contractions. It took her a while until she had her first baby, a chocolate female. She knew immediately that it was her baby. For a first time mom, she was amazing. The second baby was still in there.

Several hours went by. Nothing was happening. I grew more concerned each minute. She needed a C-section. So Sunday night, Orchid, the new baby and I packed up and headed for surgery. All went well, another baby girl was produced and we all went home for a long night. Orchid recovered well and continued to love and care for her babies.

Every day, bedding is changed regularly, the puppies are weighed and checked, mom is supported with lots of quality food and fresh water. The babies start a procedure called Early Neurological Stimulation on day three. They are a very active pair, getting around the whelping box easily.

The fourth night was challenging. While neonatal puppies do cry and can make an amazing amount of noise, in the middle of the night one of the puppies was screaming and clearly distressed. Orchid was very upset. I intervened to check the puppy. Her belly was distended, she was clearly in a lot of pain. I massaged her to stimulate defecation and urination. It worked, but she was still in pain. I tried warming her up and then cooling her down, nothing was helping. After three hours, I knew she had not nursed, so rubbed her gums with Karo syrup to make sure her blood sugar did not drop too low. After four hours, she settled down a bit; I’m not sure if her belly pain was subsiding or whether she was just exhausted.

In the morning, all seemed well and content, thank goodness. It was a rough night. Orchid was tired, I was tired, but the puppies were warm and comfy. I am keeping my fingers crossed it doesn’t happen again.

 

Changing Direction

Photo by RoxAnne Franklin

All things come to an end. I’ve been showing dogs in conformation for over twenty years. I have made a lot of friends, learned a lot, and had some good times. I enjoyed taking my dogs in the ring. I took pride in their training as well as their beauty. I’ve held the leash of my share of champion Labradors. I bred a few of them and had the privilege of owning several I got from other breeders.

My first show dog was Ruby. She was the first of many things for me. She earned her championship as well as a number of titles in performance. I am closing out my career in the show ring with Orchid. Orchid was my third generation chocolate Labrador to become a champion. In my opinion, she is the best dog I have ever bred. I have had a small breeding program for years. My goal has been to put it all together: close to perfect structure, health, temperament, and trainability. Orchid does just that.

When I started showing, it was for something fun to do with my dog. It was and still is a social event for me. Spending time with other dog lovers is my idea of a good time. Over time, the nature of competition changed in the conformation ring. I found I was often the only non-pro in the ring. Labradors developed into a competition for professional handlers. While I still handled my own dogs at smaller shows, I needed to hire a handler to be competitive in the big leagues. Honestly, while I worked with amazing professionals, it took some of the fun out of the activity.

Thus, at this point in time, I am changing direction. My future competition will be primarily in performance events that the dogs and I enjoy, such as rally obedience and field work. Hey, there may be even more time these days to develop our canine agility skills or try a new venue like Nosework! The goal is to enjoy the time I spend with my dogs and do things that develop our relationship.

Champion Orchid

Every dog show person wants to grab the brass ring. In AKC conformation classes, that is the title of Champion. I’ve been competing with Labrador Retrievers for over twenty years. Every time one of my dogs completed a championship, it was a big event. It is a title that is not easily earned. This weekend my Orchid finished that title with two major wins in three days. I know people that are not involved in the show world may not understand how much this means to somebody like me. My non-dog friends humor me, not understanding why, but know this is really a big deal to me.

I have to admit, I got very discouraged at times along the journey. From birth, Orchid was all I want in a Lab. Her structure was as close to my idea of perfect as I think I could ever expect. From her tight feet to her straight off the back tail set, her balanced body with her dense coat, she was what I look for in a quality Labrador. Add to that her easy to live with temperament and her outstanding trainability, she is simply a great dog.

Friend and retired professional dog show handler, Kitty Burke, has always been in Orchid’s corner. Kitty took Orchid out early for her first outing with a pro and nearly won Best Puppy in Show with her! But, hey, being in the top three wasn’t bad! I knew Orchid was good. I really thought she was THAT good. But, as luck has it, she took her time accumulating the points she needed. After Kitty’s retirement, I continued to show Orchid and also put her with professional handlers Heather Bremmer and Kevin Bednar.

Orchid never seemed to mind going on the road; I was always glad to have her back home. I am pretty sure she missed her spot on the couch when she was away. But, those days are over. She will attend shows in the performance events with me from now on. No more beauty pageants. Champion Canterbury’s Pink Orchid Diamond CGC RE WC is on to the next phase of her life.

Big Mistake

The first of every month, my dogs get their heartworm preventive medication along with flea and tick treatment. The cats also get their monthly treatments. The other day I lined up the dog’s ParaStar Plus. I like that product. It is made in America, has the same ingredient as Frontline, plus an added ingredient that provides a faster kill. It is labeled for dogs only because of the second ingredient. One of the reasons I chose this product is for safety. While the second ingredient is effective, it is a low percentage and therefore low toxic potential compared to many other products. I also got ready to treat the cats with EasySpot, also made in America, safe and made with the primary ingredient in Frontline.

So, as many pet owners do, I got a bit distracted and decided to start on the cats first. I picked up a tube and picked up Buttons, my sweet calico RagaMuffin that was sitting nearby. I applied the liquid in the tube to the back of Buttons neck. I realized immediately due to that larger volume of liquid that I had made an error and applied the dog product! I was horrified, running to the sink with Buttons and immediately putting her under running water and soaping the area up. I scrubbed the area several times, rinsing thoroughly. I could still feel a residue. The veterinarian in me knew the product and knew the treatment I had done was adequate. The pet owner in me was not sure. So, I called Pet Poison Hotline.

For $49, I got a veterinarian that was trained in toxicology on the phone. I was asked about Buttons’ species, sex, breed and weight. I described the mistake I made and what my treatment had been to that point. After a brief pause, I was told that Buttons would be fine. The doctor added that I could bathe her all over as an added precaution and to watch her for the next three hours. Having someone reassure me that my kitty was going to be fine was what I wanted to hear. Buttons went back to the sink for a complete bath.

The next day, Buttons looked wonderfully clean. I vowed to NEVER treat both species at the same time again.

Grooming Red Alert!

a non-pink Fudgie

Last weekend, Fudgie and I went to the Black Diamond cat show. Prior to the show, he had his usually primping routine. The never ending bath and blow dry was accomplished on Friday. Saturday morning at the show while sitting at the bench, I noticed his tail looked a bit oily. My brilliant idea was to reach in my grooming bag to come out with a new brown powder I had gotten. I put some on his tail to absorb the oil….and right away realized I had made a major error. It was a mess. Then I started trying to clean him up and quickly realized I was making more of a mess, getting it on his white as well. Neighboring friends came to help, offering me products and combs, extra paper towels. I struggled through the panic, with my formerly spotless show cat looking, well, horrible.

By the time his first judging ring was called, Fudgie seemed to look better. While not thrilled with all the hysterical grooming, he was a good sport about it. I knew he was not looking his best, but took him to the ring anyway. When it was his turn the judge took him out and placed him under the lights on the judging table. Immediately, I could see that he was still a mess. The shadows of the powder on his white coat were highlighted under the light. The judge said…..”he’s pink!” and he was. Now anybody who knows me, knows I LOVE pink. But, not on my cat. Not in this case anyway. I was absolutely horrified. Bless that judge, she still finaled him despite the odd color.

By the third ring of the day, he was looking much better. Not perfect, but better. By then, I was more laughing about the situation than hyperventilating. It was a hard day for the poor beast. Getting worked on for hours is exhausting. I decided to pull him from the show the next day, despite having washed him back at the hotel. I figured he could use a break. I could too.