When Herding Met
By Carol Phelps & Patsy Dahlinghaus
Week 1 by Carol Phelps, Szizlin Vizslas
It had been a long day. With eight seven and one-half week old Vizsla puppies in the house, the day had been focused on puppies and families coming in to visit their future puppies. I was finally settling down for the evening, and I turned on my computer to check my e-mails. All of a sudden an IM flashed across my screen from a breeder friend, Ann in Delaware, asking if I knew of anyone with a bitch that could wet-nurse a litter of puppies.
"Demi" - Am.Ch. Cornerstone Visions Denim N Lace
Sadly, a friend of hers, Holly, had lost her beautiful champion Cardigan Welsh Corgi bitch, Demi, and two of her ten puppies during a routine C-Section. This was a very special breeding for Demi, being a long distance breeding from New York to Florida, and the pregnancy had been textbook. However, Demi had grown very large with the pregnancy, and Holly had been worried that the size of the litter would be too much for her girl; a pre-whelp X-ray had shown 9, possibly 10 pups, so Holly had set up a C-Section for that Sunday just to be safe. Demi wagged her way into the vet's office that Sunday morning but went into cardiac arrest while on the operating table.
Of course, losing Demi sent Holly into shock. Holly managed to find some goat colostrum and with the help of a friend, bottle fed the entire litter. Anyone who has ever bottle fed a puppy knows what a difficult task it would be to try and raise eight puppies without a mom. Tube feeding is another option, but that is not without risk. Holly set out to find a foster mom for her babies.
Thoughts raced through my head - the mother of my puppies, Kestrel, had been dried up for 9 days. Kes is an older bitch, and I thought the probability of bringing milk back in was slim. I immediately thought of Patsy's bitch, Nellie who had whelped a small litter of three puppies just a few days earlier. Nellie was used to larger litters, and she had been very whiney, looking for more puppies. This might be a good thing for Nellie and the Corgis.
The biggest risk to this endeavor would be if either litter of puppies was not protected against Herpes virus. In dogs, Herpes virus is a respiratory infection, and most dogs that have done dog shows have been exposed and developed immunity. Once a mom is exposed, she carries a positive titer and she can pass immunity to her newborns - but the unanswered question in my mind was (and still is) whether the failure of the Corgis to have nursed off their mom's colostrum in any way would affect acquisition of such immunity. Because both moms were show champions with lots of dog show exposure, we decided that the likelihood of immunity in both litters was very high, and that the risk was an acceptable one. (Young puppies without immunity who contract Herpes virus during the first three weeks of their lives can die because of their inability to regulate body temperature; one important "treatment" which can save some infected pups is to raise the temperature in the whelping box to an extremely high level).
After giving careful thought to the situation and the risks, Patsy immediately said that she would have Nellie foster the Corgi litter. Nellie lives in Malden, MA, which is north of Boston, and Demi's litter was in the Albany, NY area. It was decided that because Holly was so exhausted and could not make a 5-hour trip to Malden, we would start the integration at my house in Marlborough, CT, which was about 2 hours from Holly and 3 hours from Nellie. I am home most of the time and could monitor the integration for the first week. Leah and Patsy met midway to give Nellie and her 3 pups to Leah to bring to my house in CT, and Holly headed from Albany to CT with the Corgi puppies. My son and I set up the whelping box, the baby monitors and readied the room for newborns. Leah and Holly arrived within seconds of one another, at around 11:30 p.m.
We rubbed the Corgi puppies on the Vizsla puppies so that they would carry their scent, and within minutes, Nellie was feeding the baby Corgis! She was not too sure about cleaning up after them, but she was very willing to let them nurse. Holly slept in the room with Nellie and the pups, and Nellie started to accept them as her own during the night.
What a beautiful sight to behold! The pups loved Nellie and vice versa. The next morning, Monday, Holly had to return home to her other dogs because her husband was out of state. I brought the Corgi pups to my vet to have their dewclaws removed. I was taking my 7 ½ week olds in that morning for exams and shots, and when I called Dr. Mills, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi breeder, and explained the situation, she said she would squeeze in the Cardigans.
When we returned from the vet, Nellie again was a little confused - she nursed, but did not seem keen on cleaning up after the Corgis. By the end of that first full day, though, these puppies were as much Nellie's puppies as the Vizsla puppies - they had become Corglas! Nellie was fully on board with their care and welfare!
Nellie with the 11 puppies
On Tuesday, Holly and her husband Leonard came to see their babies, to take photos and bond with their newborns. It was interesting to listen to them as they noted the different colors and markings - something we Vizsla people don't get a chance to do! The litter is a mix of blacks and merles, with very interesting markings. I became attached to the little black girl with the hourglass on her head, and of course to the little black boy with the diamond on his head who needed a little assistance getting on the nipple for a couple of days.
Leah would visit every day, bringing homemade soups and stews for Nellie. Nellie and her Vizsla babies and the Corglas stayed with me for almost a week, during which the puppies thrived under Nellie's loving care. Interestingly, when Nellie's Vizsla puppies reached the age at which one might expect Nellie to leave the box more frequently and for longer periods of time, she did not - she adjusted her "can't leave the whelping box" phase of lactation to the age of the younger Corgi litter. She was very protective of her entire brood.
Patsy, Bob and Eric came down on Saturday and headed back to Malden, where the Corglas would begin the next chapter of their adventure.
It is a bit ironic that those of us who have helped out in this endeavor have been called angels and praised profusely. Blessings have been showered upon us; friends of Holly who own Vizslas and make gourmet dog cookies have sent us dog cookies; Demi's breeder in Florida has written us tributes thanking us for our help - but truly we are the ones who were blessed. I firmly believe that 95% of "dog people" faced with this same request would have stepped up to the plate - dog people are notorious for helping each other out.
In 1991, my bitch became ill with a uterine infection when her puppies were a week old, and my good friend Karen had her bitch Tessa foster my litter for 2 weeks, along with her own litter of 8 (that was 15 puppies that Tessa raised for two weeks.) Do unto others. Do what has to be done. Pay It Forward. However one looks at it, we are very fortunate to have been able to help.
Nellie has benefited because she truly was worried about her small litter, and her puppies were getting way too fat! The Corgis helped drain the milk bar and get those Vizslas' weights under control. All of us who helped in this endeavor received the most wonderful gift of all - of being able to give to someone else and watch these puppies thrive. We now have a new ring to watch at dog shows! And from now on, my pre-breeding exam will always include a titer for Herpes virus.
Week 2 by Patsy Dahlinghaus, Copper Creek Vizslas
As we left Carol's house with Nellie and the "Corglas", it suddenly hit me - this was a huge responsibility to care for someone else's litter - especially under such tragic circumstances and knowing how important these puppies were to Holly and Leonard. Demi gave her life to have these babies. The whelping box was still set up, and the boys made sure everything was clean and tidy to welcome the puppies and Nellie back home.
Nellie settled right in and started taking care of her eleven puppies. Everyone was doing fine. The Vizslas were 10 days old and they were starting to open their eyes and ears, and the Corgis were now 6 days old and still finding and fighting their way to the nipples for food. What a sight to see - the corgis at that time would get their little tails up and wagging and muscle their way in among my chunky Vizslas. Vola, my other Vizsla, decided that she could help Nellie by running the "pottying department", and Nellie was more than willing to have her help out.
As the puppies grew, Nellie maintained a watchful eye over her brood. Holly would call and we would talk about the differences in the breeds and the different idiosyncrasies that they have. Holly shared some of the folklore of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi and explained some of the coloring of the dogs. The Corgis were more vocal than the Vizslas, and before their eyes opened they would spend a lot of time sleeping on their backs. My family and I were getting attached to all 11. We would weigh, cut nails and take pictures and forward the pictures to Holly so she could see how well her "Dream Litter" was growing. Holly studied the pictures and remarked on the beauty of the puppies; I could feel her smile and her tears.
Thanks to sharing the milk-bar with eight feisty Corgis who had no trouble muscling their way in to eat, the Vizslas continued to trim down and got up on their feet very quickly. The Vizslas were in the 4 pound range, and the corgis were in the 2 pound range. Nellie was starting to get a little tired, but was still very attentive.
The Corgis started to open their eyes at day 14 and got up on their little feet. I noticed that they did not wobble as much as the Vizslas and still were much more vocal. Everyone had teeth in and getting around very well. It was time to start weaning. Surprisingly the Corgis got right down to business, caught on very quickly, perhaps more room by the food dish as opposed to their step mom. I would find them with their tails up heading to the dish, talking away and the Vizslas had to now muscle their way in to the food dish. There was one Corgi that would get in the saucer dish and just walk in the circle and eat.
As they got on their feet, we got everyone into an x-pen area and all the pups got down to serious playing. The neighborhood children all came over to play with the puppies and nicknames started to attach to the puppies! Because of their markings, it is easier to identify puppies in a corgi litter! Vizslas often have to wear collars to tell them apart! What fun everyone had.
At the end of week three, the Corglas were mostly weaned, and it was time for them to go home. We were all getting attached to the pups and felt sad that they were going, but it was time. Nellie saw Erik and I put HER Corgi babies in the crate, she kissed them good-bye, and off we went to meet Holly and Leonard. I cannot express the emotion that we all felt: to finally meet face to face; for Holly and Leonard to see the "Dream Litter" so grown up; and for us, knowing how Nellie had helped these babies get started in their lives - and trust me, Demi is never far from anyone's mind.
Carol, Leah, Erik and I can't wait to visit the Cardigan Welsh Corgi ring and see one of these puppies, knowing that somewhere in the heart of that puppy runs a little bit of Vizsla! Holly said Demi was a Corgi who pointed... maybe that was a sign of things to come! Now I just hope that the Vizslas don't try to herd while hunting, because somewhere in the heart of each of the Vizsla puppies runs a little bit of Corgi!
5 of Demi's puppies at 12 weeks
All of us involved in this experience truly feel blessed - helping one another out is what life is all about - hopefully, the joy of this litter will help ease a bit of the sadness that Holly, Leonard, Demi's breeder Rita and Demi's many fans and friends, feel for her loss. She has left quite a legacy in her beautiful children.
First published in the CWCCA Bulletin, Autumn/Winter 2006