How I Came to Do What I Do
I have been a animal lover since I was born.
My mom tells me stories about how I used to call to our cats as a small baby. As most babies would, I simply mimicked they way I heard her call them. We had animals my whole life. Mostly cats and dogs with the occasional abandoned baby bird or bunny we would rescue and rehabilitate. I was obsessed with them all. I spent countless hours playing with our animals, building them beds, creating hideouts in our woods, reading them books, and making them crafts. I often rode our quad down the road to visit our neighbor's horses and bring them apples. I must have drove my mom nuts with the apples I went through, but she never said if I did. My Mom is where my love of animals comes from. She definitely passed this trait to me.
When I was a teenager I started to think having kittens or puppies would be “fun." Clearly this is not a good reason to breed. I know this... but I was a kid. I often asked my Mom, yet she wisely never cared to go down that path. Now I understand why, but at that time I didn’t.
I grew into an adult. The desire for breeding began to grow and take on a more responsible tone in my head-- slightly more responsible, at least. I knew that I wanted to be in a good place, emotionally and financially. I also knew dogs were my greatest love. Years went by, I got married, had a couple kids, went through some hardships... the time was never right.
Then, finally at 34 I felt ready.
I researched many, many dog breeds and landed on Labradors--maybe boring to some, and certainly the most common breed. My husband even referred to them as “vanilla” one time. The Labrador is just the best fit for me. I have always preferred large breeds. Plus, Labradors are very trainable, they want to please, they are great with kids, they are great with other dogs, they love people, they love to play fetch and they love to swim. I mean, they REALLY love to swim. Anyone that knows me knows that water and the beach are my love language. My favorite thing in the world is to go to the beach with my dogs, play some fetch, and swim, swim, swim. I am very fortunate in that my in-laws have a private home in Grand Haven MI right on the lake. I hope they never move.
So I was ready and now I needed dogs. I had decided that I wanted yellow labs. By no means do I think they are better than chocolate or black, just my personal preference. On Mother’s Day, 2011 I went to see a local breeder. He told me he had one yellow female, a “very dark yellow” he said. I wanted a lighter yellow, but I went to see her anyway. There were 4 puppies left. Three chocolate boys and one “very dark yellow” girl. Boy was she dark, I never saw such a dark yellow--actually red. He let the puppies out, they all came charging at me, the boys in front with the “very dark yellow” taking up the rear. Being rushed by puppies is one of my favorite things in the world, it's impossible not to smile, just like when a baby giggles. So here they came. All three of the boys ran right by me, but the “very dark yellow” ran right to me, landing right up on my lap. This was my Tinket, soon to be Tink. We found each other. My heart soared, I paid, I collected her up, and I went home.
Now we could start our life together. We trained, we walked, we talked, we played, we ate, we loved and I researched... a little. She was one of the sweetest things had I ever met, so well behaved, and so smart. I found out a few weeks after having her that she is a Fox Red lab, and I had never heard of a such a thing. It should have been a red flag that her breeder apparently hadn’t either. But I was still learning and I had much further to go than I ever imagined. I thought that breeding was very organic and natural. I had no idea yet how complicated it really is. Unfortunately I would learn the hard way, but I will get to that later.
I knew I wanted a couple girls for my breeding. 3 or 4 was my dream. After getting Tink I started doing some reading about breeding. I learned that labs can have bad hips as they age, and that one should find a breeder that tests for hips. Other tests would be great too, but hips were the big one. I should have done this research before getting any dogs, I know. This never occurred to me. I thought breeding was natural and would just happen. I always say, “how can you know what you don’t know?" Luckily Tink was the epitome of good health. She was spunky, bright, alert, smart, agile, athletic. I really got lucky.
So I was off to find my next girl. I found a local breeder and FIRST asked about the sire and Dams hips. I knew what I was doing now. He said he doesn’t test hips any longer, he used to, but now knows his dogs lines going back 30 years, so he gave me a verbal guarantee. Good enough for me. This story is not as magical as when I got Tink. I went, saw the puppies, nobody seemed to pick me, they all looked alike, and they were all exactly what I wanted. I spent some time with them, it was a very hard decision. There was one shy one in the corner, she was the biggest and she just pulled me in. She was my Olive. I paid, I collected her up, and we went home.
My two girls were 9 months apart. A good start. I felt complete. I planned to wait about 4 years to get a 3rd Lab. I wanted to space them out a bit after my first 2, because like I said, I knew what I was doing now.
I poured myself into research.
I knew that a dog shouldn’t have puppies until they are at least two years old. I had just a little over a year until Tink would be 2, and I wanted to be ready. I started learning more about health testing. This was very important to me at this point. Titles and trophies are certainly impressive, and they definitely don’t hurt a dogs lines. But, I very much believe that any lab with a good temperament is trainable with a good handler. I knew I wanted to focus on health and temperament in my breeding program. I found that bad hips are not the only problem that commonly affects Labradors, much to my surprise.
I started making calls for appointments for testing, and Tink would be first because she was older. I knew she would be fine, she was just so perfect, I just wanted the certificates to prove it. The more I learned the more I started to get worried about Olive. She was just so big: a big stocky english girl that was comically clunky. But, we would pass that bridge when we got to it.
Tink’s First Appointment was for her hips. Penn Hip was the name of the test I choose. It was in the Fall of 2012 when Tink had her Penn Hip test done. I was so excited! My dreams were coming true! I was being true to myself, going after my goals, and doing right by the breed.
It was a long 3 weeks to wait for the results, I got them on a Tuesday night after getting home from work. I will NEVER forget that moment, I sat down at our kitchen counter with tears in my eyes... I was so happy. I am getting teary eyed thinking about it now...
I opened the envelope. All I can remember is complete and utter CoNfUsIoN. All I could comprehend was the number "20%". What did 20% mean? 20% of what? The medical jargon was beyond me. I just wanted to see what I thought I knew: big letters that said “SHE IS PERFECT! JUST LIKE YOU THOUGHT!" So, I kept reading. I got more confused. I cried, but my tears were no longer happy. How could this be. 20% is bad? This can’t be. I must be reading this wrong. I called my husband over to help decipher the frustratingly accurate doctor talk. He didn’t understand either. But, sadly, I did understand, I just couldn’t face it then. Her hips were bad. But how? She’s so healthy... so agile. The only word to describe what I felt was complete devastation. I never, ever imagined a bad outcome. It genuinely never occurred to me. I had so many dreams wrapped up into this little red ball of love. Now what? I’ll call the Vet in the morning, because certainly I just don’t understand…. Unfortunately that was not the case. I understood too well. It was like a death. Today, Years later, it still hurts.
I didn’t know what to do at that point. Do I write a very worded letter to her breeder and bash him for being irresponsible? I had so much rage towards him! But wasn’t I just as irresponsible for not asking about hips when I got her? I certainly was.
I had so many conflicting emotions at the time. She is so smart, so sweet, has such a wonderful temperament and would be such a good mother. Maybe just one litter? Maybe no one would care and it wouldn't matter? It took a lot of strength but I had to remind myself of my goals as a responsible breeder.
I had her fixed, and it crushed me.
Even thought he idea of "just one litter" haunted me for quite a while, I knew what was truly important to me as a breeder-- responsibility to the breed and the profession in general. I had 2 years to come to terms with this fate for Tink, yet it was still one of the hardest days of my life. I kept it mostly to myself. While my family supports my love of these animals, and my desire to breed, they just don’t understand the passion. It’s odd to most people I think. Very few understand, and I understand that.
I tried very hard to look at the positive and to trust fate, often with success. I thought maybe the universe was saving Tink and I from a different kind of disaster, something that I would never experience now. Maybe she would have lost all her puppies in the birthing process? Maybe I would have lost her in the birthing process? I will never know. But I do believe there is a reason for everything, and that belief has helped me accept the situation. I will always mourn that loss, but I understand.
Many breeders “re-home” their dogs when they no longer can produce for their breeding program. I will never do that. I could never do that. These dogs are family. Tink will just live out the remainder of her years a spoiled Mamma's girl, a great big sister and role model to my other dogs, and an amazing aunt to what I hope is many puppies.
Now I had to focus on big goofy Olive. She was now 2 years old, which is considered the ideal age to have these tests completed. I was terrified! My eggs were ALL in her big, clunky basket. I could not face another devastation like I had with Tink. I began to wonder if maybe I wasn’t cut out for breeding? I questioned everything. I read... I learned...I researched...I pondered. I was becoming as much on of an expert about breeding as one can be without actually having experienced breeding. The desire was stronger than ever. It took me another year before finally going through the testing with Olive. Looking back I think I just needed a minute...
Now it was time to test Olive... she was now a little over 3 years old. I decided to do her eyes first. It is the cheapest test, so if and when that came back bad, I wouldn’t be out as much money, right? Her eyes were clear, which was great. Whew--I breathed a little bit easier after that. Next, I had an appointment at my Vet’s office for EIC blood work, elbow x-rays, and hips. I was so nervous! I definitely had myself very prepared for bad news this time. Last time I was blindsided, this time I was preparing for the worst. Talking with my Vet that day--test day--I almost backed out 4 times. I felt that on one hand I had to follow through with my dreams and goals. On the other hand, pessimism was taking over and I just "KNEW" in my heart I throwing away our hard earned money on these dumb tests.
While the Vet completed testing, I had to leave Olive there for a few hours because the x-rays required anesthesia. When I picked her up I was shaking like a leaf. How was I going to wait weeks for the results-- the results that surely would be horrible yet again? The Vet came out and talked to me. He told me he had no way of knowing how her EIC would come back because that was just a blood draw... BUT! her x-rays both looked good to him, so I should rest easy. Elbows and hips, Both! Do I dare? Could the results be good? My resignation was that he clearly didn't know what he was talking about.
I went about my business, which really now seemed to be a full time job watching the mail box. This was my situation. A couple weeks later I got the elbow and hip results on the same day. I saw her scores... Good and Normal?!!!!???!
I knew what this meant, yet I felt like I was reading another language or some obscure guide for how my barren dog will experience the rest of her time on Earth. Good and normal what? Her spaying will go good and the results will be normal? She will live a good and normal life? Her fetching abilities are good and normal?...
When it sunk in, I couldn’t believe it! I was ecstatic! We got a bottle of campaign that night. We were 3 for 4. I knew we were celebrating prematurely, and I worried about jinxing the whole thing. But I was thrilled, ecstatic, relieved and hopeful. One more test to go… EIC was the final test.
Olive’s EIC results came another week later. ALL CLEAR!
This, obviously, was the best case scenario. I could not believe it! Was I finally ready? YES! I was happier than I had ever been in my life.
Olive's next heat was expected late April to early May. I found a beautiful stud dog a couple hours away, a black lab with an owner that is very kind. Now, we wait…
I started to seriously think about getting that third dog now. Tink was 4 and olive would be 4 at the end of this year. My puppy plan was to get one every 4 years from now on. I couldn’t believe it had been almost 4 years since we got Olive. I decided to start looking in the Fall, when my son went off to college. That would be perfect timing.
In the mean time, April came and went. May, June and July all came and sped by like it was their business. I didn’t know what to think... why was this dog not going into heat? I started reading, reading and reading. The I discovered silent heats and started to wonder if she had one. It basically means a dog has a heat, could still get pregnant, but there is no bloody show; therefore the owner doesn’t realize a heat is happening, so doesn’t bring her to a stud. Times like this make me wish I owned a stud dog, but that's not a path I choose.
The more I read, the more convinced I became that she had had a silent heat. That was so frustrating, but I needed to look to the future. I estimated that her next heat could be around late October of that year. I checked her constantly, always waiting, always watching... yet nothing. I now believe she had another silent heat. Ugh!
Now it was late Fall and I had been seriously thinking about getting a new puppy. I had been looking for a few months, but nothing ever felt right. Then, at the end of November on a Saturday night, I saw a picture of a litter of puppies. I showed my husband because I thought they were the most beautiful puppies I had ever seen... it wasn’t an advertisement, just a picture shared on a Lab Lovers Group I follow on Facebook. This picture stuck with me. A couple of nights later I woke up at 5 am and did a search for that picture. I have no idea why, but I found it and located the person that had posted. I learned they were her puppies. She had 2 litters, 20 pups total with 6 girls and they were all still available. They were the lightest yellow of English labs. Exactly what I wanted. But the issue was medical clearances. This was more important than the right shade of yellow for me. Thankfully both sire and dam had all the clearances I was looking for.
My husband and I talked it over for a few days. He was very supportive, but I had a hard time pulling the trigger. This puppy was more expensive than I ever dreamed I would spend on a dog. Granted she was in my long term plan and this was not a spur of the moment decision, but still i needed to think. I am not a frivolous person. I don’t wear Jewelry except a wedding band and have been to a hair salon maybe 3 times in my life. I don’t care for name brand clothes. I don’t do nail stuff. I kinda loath expensive shoes and purses.
Maybe I deserved this puppy.
Everything felt right, but it was a lot of money. After a couple of days I decided to go for it. We put down a down payment through Paypal and settled in to wait 2 weeks until I could go pick her out and take her home. We didn’t tell our kids since we wanted it to be a surprise.
On Dec 16, 2015 I traveled by myself from Grand Rapids Mi 4 ½ hours to a little town in Ohio. I spent the night in a hotel in preparation of meeting her at 7 AM on Dec 17. I was nervous and excited. I picked at my dinner. I sipped on some wine. I barely slept... flipping through television channels all night, aimlessly. I took 4 baths with calming oils throughout the night. Finally, 6 am rolled around. I got up, got ready, and went to meet me some puppies. What would I do if it didn't work out? I got there at 7 AM exactly and there were 5 girls to choose from. It was not an easy choice. They were all perfect. How can you tell a personality in a few minute's time?
The one I liked the most was quiet and sleepy the whole time. She did not want to wake up which reminded me very much of how Olive was. Another one was enthusiastically all over me, possibly “picking me"-- kinda like Tink did-- but the enthusiasm was almost too much. I thought she might be a hand full. These were the two that stuck out. This was a huge decision for me. I went with my gut and choose the sleepy one, which was also the biggest one.
She would become Mel... Melanie... Mellie Bean.
I paid for her, collected her up and headed for home. It was a long drive and she was absolutely perfect.
Arriving home and surprising my kids, Tink and Olive with her was beyond exciting. She was just in time for Christmas. She fit in immediately and took right to her new sisters with no adjustment time and very little whining in her crate. It’s like she was born and meant to be here. I loved her so much, so fast. She was definitely a Banger... definitely a Mother Pup.
Only a couple of months has gone by since then. Mel is a fun, bright, happy, sweet and smart new addition. I think she will be #2 in the hierarchy of dominance. She is submissive to Tink, but runs the show with Olive. She is almost 5 months old and growing rapidly. She will definitely catch her sisters soon.
Olive is a little over 4. She is my most submissive dog... a silly, big goofy girl, if only she realized her size. I guess that’s how these things go. We are still waiting for her heat. I'm hoping around April 2016. I just need to be ready. At this rate Mel might have a litter first, but I hope not.
Tink is the leader of the group, silently dominant. She will be an amazing aunt to these future puppies. I know she will adore them.
Tink will always be special to me as my first Labrador as an adult.
She may have never had puppies, but in many ways I will always consider her to be the most valuable dog in my breeding program. She is so good, so well behaved, so sweet, and has the best disposition. New puppies always learn from the older dogs in any house. Tink has set this tone. She has established the base line for every puppy that will ever leave this house. Tink is the best role model and its been amazing and surprising to watch Mel learn from her and follow her. We can already leave Mel home alone, un-crated, without her being naughty. She follows her sister’s lead. If Tink and Olive got into the trash every time I turned around, or chewed up shoes, or got on the furniture, I know that Mel would mimic those behaviors. I will always be grateful to Tink for that, and I think the credit is all hers.
Boy a lot has happened since i last added to my story. as is life. There has been heartbreak and great triumphs. I'll start with Olive. Last I wrote, Olive was about 4 years old. I went through what appeared to be a few silent heats with Olive, as I described previously, plus a couple more. So in my situation, those are unbreedable. I now had Dale, and females often sync up their cycles. So I was hoping she would help bring Olive into a regular heat when she started cycling. It Worked! I finally got a regular heat in Olive. She was getting older, but had time for one or two litters still.
Quick side note: I know that word can be shocking for some, bitch, but at this point it has become a rather comfortable word for me to use. so I apologize if it offends you. Just know that 'bitch" is the proper word for a female dog.
So, Olive! She was 4 and finally having a normal heat. She was getting older, but she was in great shape. And my vet agreed she could endure a pregnancy with ease. So I started doing progesterone tests looking for ovulation. It took her longer to ovulate than is typical, but she ovulated. I brought her to a stud a couple hours away to breed. I was beyond excited. It was finally happening for me.
Olives first breeding didn't go as one would hope. When dogs breed, you want to get what is called 'A Tie". I'll spare you the details, but this is when the breeding dogs literally get stuck together for anywhere from a couple minutes to an hour.. The tie is very important in breeding. We got what is called "a slip tie". A pregnancy can result from a slip, but its not desired.
So, I decided to go back the next day. 4 hours round trip, but I didn't care. I had a lot riding on this breeding. Olive was getting older, I had spent more money on testing and various vet bills than I care to admit. But mostly, it meant the world to me. I was invested, emotionally.
We got another slip. Then another 3 more in the following 3 days. 5 Slips in total. 5 trips to the stud. It was not what I hoped for. But I did know the timing was right, and I know pregnancy can result from slips. So with 5 slips, at about a 50% chance, I thought the odds were ok. So now I just had to wait until her ultrasound in about 3 weeks.
Olive was not pregnant. which of course broke my heart.
So now I had to wait until her next heat. I was of course learning to much during all this. the vet I was using was just a regular vet, I liked them, but they didn't seem very versed in breeding. So decided to switch to what is called a Repro Vet. This means a Reproduction Veterinarian, and they specialize in reproductive services. I decided I would use them for anything repro related, and use my other vet for everything else.
Olive came into heat again about 6 months later. The process was basically identical to her first breeding. I progesterone tested, I brought her to the same stud when the timing was right. We got 4 slips. She was not pregnant.
Repeat. Yes, repeat. in another 6 months, Olive Came into heat. the whole thing happened again.
At this point. Mel was old enough to bred. I had completed all her health clearance, which was a bit more extensive than when Olive and Tink were tested. 4 new tests were added to what is recommended for Labradors. But we did them all, and Mel was ready to go. Olive was about 6 1/2 now, and I had basically given up on her. It absolutely broke my heart, but It just didn't seem to be in her cards. Plus, she was begining to show signs of extreme anxiety at the vets, understandably. I just couldn't do it to her again. So now I turned my focus to Mel, as far as breeding goes.
Mel came into heat at the end of August 2018. I knew the process. We progesterone tested, and she ovulated in a typical fashion. I was getting very hopeful and excited, yet I would not allow myself to get too hopeful. I had been through so much heartbreak with breeding and Hadn't even had 1 litter yet.
During this heat of Mel's, I had a predicament arise. Olives heat started again. As I said before, bitches that live together sync up. At first I had NO intention of breeding her again. but as I was going through the motions with Mel, Progesterone testing and etc. I started to wonder about Olive. She was getting older, but my vet felt very sure that she could carry a pregnancy. She was in great shape. My biggest hesitation with Olive was the anxiety she experienced at the vet. Stress and anxiety are mental, but they can cause great physical harm to the body. So I wondered if that could be a small part of why I never had luck getting her pregnant. I wondered if I removed that element altogether, the vet, if maybe she would take. I was thinking hard. watching her close. I knew her body so well that I knew exactly when she ovulated. Fortunately I had taken extensive notes on her past heats. And I documented EVERYTHING about her when she ovulated previously. She always exhibited the same signs. So I knew exactly what to look for. Olive was about 10 days behind Mel I thought, mostly because she ovulates later than Mel. So I was still really focused on Mel. BUT, I was contemplating...
Mel was ready now. Everything was going like the books say with her. I brought her to the same stud I brought Olive to. Well, the same stud owners. But we used a different dog this time. We used Hershey. He was immediately interested in her, as expected. And she stood for him very well for a maiden bitch. I was cautiously hopeful. He tried, and tried, but he just couldn't get that tie. I like to let nature take its course as much as possible. Yet I had so much riding on this,. SO, SO MUCH!!! So, I got in there to help. I won't go into detail. But it worked. THEY TIED!!!! I. could. not. believe. it!!! I had dreamt of these ties for years, literally. And here I was. It was happening. They were tied for about 10 minutes, which is great. and I cried the entire time, the entire 10 min.
So now I'm basically riding a wave of utter euphoria after having a successful, textbook breeding. I had to try one more time with Olive. I had to try with this new theory of mine, of eliminating her stress. After Mel's breedings were done, I brought Olive to the same Kennel. I used Gunner on her, the same stud I tried with her all 3 other times. I got in there to help, as I had with Mel. And HOLY CRAP! We got a tie with Olive. It was only for a minute. But it was something, and more than I ever got before.
I was riding a wave of happiness. I just had to wait for Mel's ultrasound. I had decided I was not going to ultrasound Olive. An ultrasound is done at around 30 days pregnant. the point of an ultrasound is really just to confirm pregnancy. After Pregnancy is confirmed, its fairly standard to due an x-ray about 5 days before they are due. around 56-60 days pregnant. The point of an x-ray is to get a puppy count. The x-ray is rather important in my opinion. it can be life saving for puppies and mom if something goes wrong. So I decided I would skip the ultrasound for Olive. It was not medically necessary. I would just watch for signs and treat her like she was pregnant until the X-ray. The X-ray I would do for her, that was important for several reasons.
30 days, it was time. Mel had ALL the signs of pregnancy. That combined with the10 min tie, I felt good about it. But after all the heartbreak I had been through, I was guarding my heart too, of course. The vet came in with the tech in tow. I was shaking like a leaf. I have no clue what she said to me. I couldn't take my eyes of the ultrasound machine that wasn't even on yet. She finally rolled it over and started. Almost immediately she found a puppy. And almost immediately I was sobbing, tears of joy of course. With every puppy she counted, my tears intensified. She counted 4 for sure, maybe 5. 5 is actually a rather small litter for a lab, but I could not I have cared less. I was going to have puppies. I WAS GOING TO HAVE PUPPIES! My vet and the tech both said they had never seen anyone react the way I did. They said it made their day. I said we made each others day.
I was of course watching Olive like a hawk, both of them really. But since I choose to skip Olives ultrasound, she was the mystery. All the signs were there for her. I didn't let myself get excited. Having a false pregnancy, and even some symptoms of a heat ending, can both mimic pregnancy symptoms. So I would not allow myself to hope or stress until that x-ray. I very much believe dogs pick up our vibes and emotions. I certainly didn't want to stress anyone out.
About another month later, It was time for Mel's x-ray. 5 puppies were in there, without a doubt. everything looked perfect. I was ready. I was set up with 2 whelping boxes, in case olive was in fact pregnant. I'm very type A, very much an over preparer. I had more supplies and equipment that anyone could possible need. I was so ready, on every level.
In my human life, my world was crumbling a little. On the same day Mel had her x-ray, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. this was a huge blow to the whole family. to be completly honest, I didn't even want to mess with puppies at that moment. I was days from their birth, and I felt like I couldn't breath. My world stopped. and I wanted my world to stop. That's the thing with breeding. Your working with live animals. You don't get to quit, or call in sick. You don't get breaks or days off. You don't have a choice. Its both a blessing and a curse. But for me, its more beneficial to have something making me wake up every morning. They needed me, and I needed them I think.
5 days later she went into labor. 5 beautiful babies entered my world. 4 black labs, and 1 yellow. Unfortunately one baby didn't make it. it crushed me. I was thrilled to finally have puppies but I was so sad. I made a conscious effort to focus on what I did have and not on what I had lost. It was a very strange time. I was euphoric to have puppies finally. Yet I was devastated about my Dad. But, the doctors seemed hopeful. So I enjoyed where I was. I achieved a huge, life long goal, and I wanted to soak that up.
Mel was doing excellent. She took to being a first time mom with an ease and dedication that only a Labrador can achieve. I enjoyed Mel and my 4 babies for several days. I wanted to live in the moment, but I also couldn't help but count the days until Olives xray. I was pretty convinced she was in fact pregnant. i didn't think it would be a lot of babies, but I did think she was pregnant. I allowed myself to be hopeful.
The day arrived. Olives X-ray. Olive was trickier than Mel, because I had opted to skip all the early Vet procedure. So her due date was a bit of a guessing game. Timing is really important for X-rays, because puppies don't start to calcify until around 56 days, less than a week before birth. so if your to early, you won't see them. I brought her in, she was stressed as usual, which I hated for her. HATED! But they got it done... Ms. Olive was in fact pregnant. she had 2 little babies in her belly. extremly small litter for a lab. But I was so happy. I could not believe it. I was starting out my career as a breeder with 2 litters at once, like a real nut bag.
A few days later Olives puppies were born. Both yellow, one boy, one girl... They were stillborn. To this day I don't know what went wrong. I guess Olive just wasn't meant to be a mom. But I do know that this, Olive loosing her puppies, was one of the most traumatic things I have ever experienced. I was so incredibly heart broken. But I still had Olive. And I still had 4 puppies. Like I said before, in breeding you don't get breaks. I had to pull myself together. Im very thankful I had those babies. They truly helped us all heal.
Olive was done. she was spayed. She would live out the rest of her life as my best buddy. she's very good at that. Mel's pups were very healthy, I found great families and everything went perfect. I pour my everything into these dogs. I love them so deeply. The question I'm asked the most often as a breeder is some version of "how do you let them go?". the answer is finding good families. I won't say its easy, and I cry when each puppy leaves my home. But finding great homes. and giving these families the gift of a Labrador is actually incredibly rewarding. That's how I do it.
In June of 2019, Mel had another litter, sired by Gunner. Gunner was the same dog Olive was bred to, so it was heartwarming to finally have some Gunner Puppies in the house . She was pregnant with 6. I lost 2 at birth. So I ended up with a litter of 4 again. Every loss is heart wrenching. Breeding is not for everyone. There has been so much heartbreak. Some of the worst heartbreak of my life. But there is also so much reward. I have experienced some of my happiest, and even proudest moments from breeding. You really do have to make a choice which you focus on. These puppies grew fast, I found great homes and everything went smooth.
Nov 2019, I lost Dad to cancer. Hands down the greatest loss of my life. My Dad was an incredible man. I will forever miss him. I was very grateful I did not have puppies at this time, so I could just focus on family.
I was still learning, of course. I really wanted to see if I could increase Mel's litter size. I didn't want anything freakish like 18. I just would have loved a "normal" size litter for a Labrador, which is 8-10. I changed up everything about Mel's regimen based on the countless research I had done. I changed food, supplements, exercise and even lighting in my home. All with the intention to increase her litter size.
Oct 2020, Mel had her third litter. I intended to keep one of her pups this time. I used a stud named Dexter. He was what I considered to be my dream stud. I had been watching him for about 5 years. The only reason I had never used him before, was because he was incredibly expensive, his owners have some hefty demands that were very off putting to me when I was on my first couple litters and he was in another state. So I used him, and all went good. Dexter was aging out, so his count was uncomfortably low. but I didn't have a backup plan. so we went ahead with the breeding.At her ultrasound for this litter i was a bit nervous. She had no signs of pregnancy. She handles it all with such ease, it can be hard to tell. But, my vet said he counted 4 maybe 5. Now I mentioned before that an ultrasound is not intended to get a puppy count, it is only intended to confirm pregnancy. However, my vet tries to count and he was on the nose her first two pregnancies. So while I held out hope that there were a couple stow-aways, I figured that there were likely 5 again.
A month later we had NINE puppies. NINE!!!!!! It was literally double what I was expecting. And I didn't loose any. It was a very healthy litter. 5 Boys and 4 girls. It was one of the happiest days of my life. So it seems that all the changes I had made worked, and I really believe they did. But I also like to think that dad may have had a little something to do with it as well 🙂 I found incredible families, one being myself. It was an incredibly hard decision. like with her previous litters, there truly wasn't a bad pup in the bunch. The hard part is picking who is right for you. they all really do have different personalities, which really start to shine in the last couple weeks. I was torn between 2 pups almost the entire time. I literally decided about 5 min before the first scheduled appointment for puppy pickups when they were 8 weeks old.
I picked the Puppy named Cricket. Who is now 6 months old and named Dale, her full name is Delanie, but we call her Dale. Delanie Is her moms full name, Melanie, with a D for her dad Dexter. Dale is the greatest pup. I'm so proud of everything about her. When she is old enough, she will have her health clearances completed, and if everything comes back aces, she will enter my breeding program. But for now she's just enjoying life as the newest Mother Pupper, and being the sweetest little puppy ever.
Back to Mel...
Its currently late Apr 2021. I bred Mel one week ago to a stud from Texas, Bullet. I will know in about 3 weeks if she is in fact pregnant at her ultrasound. And if it took, she is due June 12 2021. This will be her retirement litter. She has been such a great, caring, attentive yet laid back mom. I'm very proud of her, and I'm looking forward to her golden years, and hopefully becoming a grandma.
Thanks for reading! Now go grab a bumper and play some fetch!