What defines a dog breeder? Having puppies? Heart? Or the dog that lives in the heart. All breeders have them but this Shetland Sheepdog puppy filled her heart…
Karen B. Evans - June 2014
It was February 8, 1994. Patti had finished having her puppies. There were five - all fat and healthy. Within a minute of being cleaned up by their Mother each puppy had scrambled over to the lunch bar and plugged in, refreshing themselves after the harrowing trip through the birth canal.
There were three blue merles and two tricolors (I hadn't checked sexes yet. That could wait while they were getting used to the big bright world.) They were all nursing contentedly.
I got the wet papers out of the whelping box, replaced them with clean, dry ones and covered them with a soft blanket. Patti was stretched out on her side, with the babies nursing. Although they had been disturbed briefly (and a couple had let me know about it), all were now "plugged in" again. Five was a nice sized litter - plenty of room for all to eat and enough for a nice selection. I was hoping one would be a special show puppy.
All of a sudden Patti had a small contraction and out popped another puppy. He was tiny, only about half the size of his big brothers and sisters. Patti quickly cleaned him up and he tried to get to the food bar. The big ones kept pushing him away in their rush for "more, more, more." Carefully holding them back from one teat I held the tiny baby up to it. Would he have the strength to nurse? Oh yes, he latched on and got started on his first meal.
I got up several times that night to check on him and make sure he was getting his "place at the table". A couple of times he was behind the bigger puppies but was making a concerted effort to get to the milk. I carefully pushed a couple of big ones away and got him nursing. By this time I had checked. He was a boy - a tiny blue boy. He immediately became "Baby Joey" (where the name came from I don't know, but it popped into my mind and fit him).
I was off work the next day, so was able to keep close track of him. Despite being so small, he seemed to be doing well. I had had tiny puppies before. Most had made it. Some remained small when they were grown; others, like Wee Sarah who still fit in one hand at eight weeks, grew to regular size. When Wee Sarah finally decided to grow she reached 15 1/2" at the withers and a solid 25 pounds. Occasionally, even with all the extra care you lost one, like Cara who seemed to be doing well and suddenly died at 12 days. Those are the heartbreakers. Some people just let the small and/or weak puppies sink or swim. I've never been able to do that. Many times, with a day or two of supplementing them with goats milk, they do fine on their own.
Joey kept holding his own and even growing a tiny bit. I snuck him into work for about a week and a half, keeping him in a small box with a towel covered heating pad and a snuggly toy (okay I'm a sucker for these wee ones) under my desk. About every three hours, I'd take a break and warm some goats milk for him and sneak him into a bathroom stall where I'd feed him with a small syringe. He traveled to and from work tucked securely into my shirt, against my skin for warmth.
The second weekend I watched him closely. I was still checking him a couple of times during the night, but he was either nursing or curled up against his Mother Patti, sound asleep. He liked to snuggle under one of her front legs to sleep.
At three weeks I start weaning my babies. They are not taken away from their mother, but are fed a little baby oatmeal mixed with goats milk a couple of times a day. Typical of this line, they all, including Baby Joey, dug into their first meal, cleaning the two saucers in a matter of moments. By this time they had eyes and ears open and were toddling around. This is an extremely adorable age, as they are "all baby". Joey was right there in the middle of all of them, having a wonderful time.
When I picked him up he would give kisses and then squirm to be let back down into the melee. He still was only half the size of the other babies.
At four weeks they were starting to play rough. The other five acted like Baby Joey was their playtoy and would drag him around. He would yell; I would rescue him, cuddle him for a moment, then he would want back in with the others. He was determined he could hold his own. Unfortunately, their size and strength overwhelmed him. There was now a smaller girl among the group who was fairly gentle and a lot of times I would put them by themselves. This gave him someone to play with without five piling onto him. She still was somewhat rough at times, but he needed to be with the others some. At times he would sit or lay on my lap when I worked on the computer.
I was afraid to leave him in with the other hooligans when I went to work. I didn't want him to get hurt. I fixed him up a special place in a very large crate, putting papers to potty on in one end, his bed in the other and toys and his food and water in the middle. He was so good. He kept the rest of the crate clean, only going on his potty papers. The moment I came in the door he would start barking, "Me, Me, Me! Me first! Me first!" Of course he always was. After lots of kisses he wanted to get down with his brothers and sisters. I would put them all together in his crate while I cleaned out the expen the others were in. Then they would all go back in the expen. When they started to get too rough, I would take Baby Joey around with me while I got the adults out and back in.
When they were a little over five weeks the puppies got to go outside and play. It was early spring with the temperature in the low 70s - a perfect time for them to go outside. Of course, although they were in a secure pen, I had to be out with them the whole time - had to watch out for hawks I told myself - an excuse to let me enjoy watching them run and play and to play with them. They would run madly from one end of the pen to the other, Baby Joey running with all his might behind them. He seemed to be saying, "I CAN keep up with them if I just try a Little Harder". He never gave up being firmly convinced that he COULD do it. He had grown, but was still so much smaller than the rest.
By this time I had had him checked out by my vet. "I really don't see anything especially wrong with him, Karen. He's quite small for his age compared to the other puppies, but seems to be healthy." Listening to his heart, he said, "Every once in a while there seems to be a slight murmur, but they usually grow out of that."
At eight weeks the others started going to their new homes. Somehow, Baby Joey never seemed to be shown when people came to look at the babies. First, I wanted to be sure he was perfectly ok before I let him go to a new home, but second, he WAS home. I didn't want to think about him not being there. He had become too entrenched in my heart.
At eleven weeks the other five were gone. Baby Joey was still with me. I knew at that point that I had another "forever" dog. He was going nowhere.
On May 26th, after an enthusiastic greeting when I got home from work, I put Baby Joey outside for a few moments to potty. The adults had been left out in pens while I was gone, as it was a lovely cool day. When I came out a few moments later Joey was curled up on the top step, apparently sound asleep. "Joey," I called. "Baby Joey". He didn't stir. I reached down to pick him up and awaken him. He was gone. I had had a mere three and a half months with him, much too short a time, but I could not have had him at all.
I can see him at the Bridge, still much smaller than the rest, but KEEPING UP WITH THEM as they stream across the meadow. "I KNEW I could do it", he's saying to himself.
Karen B. Evans
Karashome Shelties (1974)
ASSA member (1978)
AKC Breeder of Merit
"Sendto" has been through 8 weeks training and loves his job
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