If you have seen my website lately you know my Chocolate Labrador, Harmony, had a litter of beautiful puppies at the end of December. Their birth was a culmination of years of hard work and dedication; following the "rules" of professional breeders and never settling for anything less than the best. While we are still a young kennel, I have been blessed with awesome teachers and mentors and had the ability to start with champion sired females; top notch girls, not someone else's leftovers.
If I had thought I had learned a lot in a foaling stall; I have learned even more standing over a whelping box for 13 hours at a time. I have watched tiny pups come to life in Deena's hands, learned how to quickly and efficiently tie off umbilical cords, dip stumps and take weights before handing over to mom. I have also encountered the puppies that never were. Pups that were born but all the stimulating in the world could not coax them into taking their first breath... what bittersweet moments... and after taking a literal second to ponder life's questions, get back into gear, hoping to make sure the next pup enters the world safely...
Recently, I have done more laundry than the local laundromat. I have spent my midnights with puppies. At first it was for those crucial supplemental feedings for my littlest pup, then it was their late night meal, now it is to take them for a walk to relieve themselves. I am ever so thankful for the mild weather March has brought us so far! I have purchased more Pro Plan Large Breed puppy kibble than I thought humanly possible and I am at our local Tractor Supply Company store a minimum of twice a week. Producing quality puppies takes more than money and time, it takes heart (and quite honestly, a very patient husband, who does not seriously mind finding puppy towels thrown in the dryer with his tee shirts).
I had my first real "a ha!" moment the day the pups from this litter went home... you know that moment when you stumble backwards in the realization of how life and time are so much bigger than all of us. As I put one of my pups into the arms of his new family, my heart sank a little and I worried for him. Would he be terribly frightened tonight, his first night without his siblings? Would his new owners always treat him with love and kindness, even when he made a mistake? Would he have a long and wonderful life? It was then I realized that while I had carefully orchestrated his arrival into this world, made sure he received the best food, care and socialization, I was just a brief moment, eight weeks of time in a life that could span over a decade, and in a week, he would never remember being here.
Then I thought about my own girls, who rode the 7 hours home on my lap, who I kissed and coddled through their puppyhood. Who I lavished with cookies and toys, and proudly displayed to all when I took them to the vet's office for the first time. I remember the compliments I received about them, and how I protected them from other dogs by swooping them up into my arms for safety. I remembered how much joy they have given me through these years with the squinting eyes and wagging tails, so happy to see me whenever I returned home; or their dedication as they followed me around the house. Content to sleep at my feet, wherever I was, even if it meant getting up repeatedly as I moved from place to place.
I realized as I put my puppy in this couple's arms that I was giving them all those happy moments and memories my breeder had given me. I was handing them a living hourglass, a yardstick that someday they would look back and measure a period of time in their life by. It is unfortunate that our dogs cannot live lives as long as ours, that we can only share specific chapters with them; but each dog, each life memorializes a set number of years for us- childhood, adolescence, our first apartment or home, our pregnancy or the birth of our child... for many of us, a dog has been there there through it all. Not the same dog, but they all seem to stand for the same things. Love, dedication, and the passage of time. They are gatekeepers. It was in this moment I saw my dogs for what they really were.
I have had some really amazing complements about my puppies so far. It is my goal to only produce one or two litters a year. Fabulous puppies I have a hard time letting go of. Puppies that people are happy to be on a waiting list for. The day I know I have truly succeeded as a breeder will be ten or fifteen years from now and one of my families call to tell me that their old Labrador, that puppy that had once nestled in my arms, has passed on; and how much he had meant to them, how much they loved him. How much like family he had become. That will be the greatest compliment of all and a success to judge all others by.