"To their virtues be vigilant and to their faults a little blind."
Heartbreak & Hope - Breeding Toy Dogs
By Kristi Green, Knockout Chihuahuas
Breeding toy dogs possesses a unique field of challenges. For all of the good you see, for every win you see (and for every loss), for all of the ease you see, there is SO much heartbreak behind the scenes. All scenarios outlined in this post are true, all having occurred to myself or my closest friends. If you wonder why toy breeders seem to ‘hoard’ their puppies, perhaps this may help you understand. If prices seem high - trust me, they rarely break even. We want to give you what you want, believe me. It’s just not that simple... 😉
...A year planning. Studying pedigrees. Researching bloodlines. Seeing as many dogs as you can from similar combinations. Your bitch finally has come in season and you travel to the stud for this long awaited breeding. You have hopes of a good size litter...3, maybe 4 puppies...at least 2 bitches. $2000.00 later and your bitch is bred. You wait, holding your breath. 6 weeks later, you discover your bitch is not pregnant. (As an aside...Joe Blow down the street mated their two dogs in their garage underneath their car and just free whelped a litter of 5 bitch puppies...).
You wait for her to come in season again. You return to the stud for service, this time out only $1000.00 for travel expenses, as you already paid the stud fee last time. This time your bitch conceives!
You hold your breath and you pray. Your bitch finally is in labor...of course outside regular business hours. A $3000.00 ER c-section later, you come home with 1 puppy. There were two, but one had a defect irreconcilable with life. Your puppy is a beautiful male puppy. You wanted a girl, but...it's a boy. As he grows, you fall in love with him anyway.
His conformation is beautiful. The dreams of a litter of 4 healthy puppies - a boy and 3 girls - are a thing of the past. Your hope shines bright in your future star. At 7 months, his bite goes off and does not come back. You place him as a pet, and as you do so your heart breaks. You now have a $6000.00 pet (you are not even factoring in showing, health testing, purchasing, raising and conditioning the dam in this...yikes!) you can perhaps sell for $1500.00. Welcome to breeding toy dogs. Heartbreak.
Another year. Another litter...this time, your bitch whelps 4 beautiful girl puppies—9 days early. You stay up to all hours of the night. Sticky. Pink. Hairless. The skin on their faces literally sloughing off if you accidentally apply any pressure. They live and exist in a special oxygen chamber. YOU are their mother. Over 2 weeks, each one dies in your hands. They simply were too early. Heartbreak.
...One week into a text book litter...your bitches calcium drops. She loses her mind due to the calcium drop and your sweet bitch who would never hurt a fly...kills 2 of her 3 puppies. You hand raise the remaining puppy which turns out to be a pet. Heartbreak.
In between – there are normal litters. Well, as ‘normal’ as it can get for toys. Mom’s whelp puppies that grow up strong and healthy. Amidst the adorable faces, you find hope...hope for the future. Your next show stars. Fantastic family companions. Plenty does go as planned...but not all.
You raise and whelp a litter for a friend. 4 beautiful healthy puppies – 2 boys, 2 girls. What you don’t know is she has sent you a bitch harboring some strange illness. 10 days in, one puppy crashes and dies soon after. A second puppy crashes. You keep her alive for 2 weeks, 2 sleepless weeks...incubator, tube feeding, injected antibiotics...only for her to die in your hands and break your heart yet again. You were to get at least one puppy from the litter – but your friend takes both remaining puppies with promises of ‘later’ that are never fulfilled. More heartbreakingly still, your own bitches have contracted the illness from the ‘favor’ you were never paid for, and you lose 3 of your own puppies to the same illness from other bitches before spending thousands at a reproductive vet to diagnose the illness and treat your entire house full of dogs – to finally be rid of it and leave it in the past.
You have a gorgeous litter of 3. Somehow giardia comes home from a dog show with you. You treat the puppies with the vet recommended medication. 2 puppies crash and are unsaveable. Suddenly your litter of 3 is a litter of 1. Heartbreak.
But...the joy that the dogs you produce provide to the lives of yourself and others – keeps you going. Love keeps you going.
Another day, another litter. One puppy lags a bit behind. By 4 weeks, you become aware there are some developing neurological signs. By 5 weeks, she is clearly hydro-cephalic. You try to help her, to keep her comfortable. She dies in your hands by 6 weeks, seizing from the pressure on her brain. It all happened so quickly a vet was not even an option. Heartbreak.
A litter of 3 is born. Beautiful, strong, healthy puppies. Sadly, you brought home Kennel Cough from a dog show. Before you realize what is happening you lose 1 of the puppies. You feel SO defeated. How much heartbreak can one breeder take!? You start the whole system again...but this time you SAVE the remaining two puppies. The girl goes as a beautiful pet, but has some health issues, possibly related to the trauma of being saved, maybe just a bad genetic hand...she never should have lived, so you really do not know. The boy goes on to become an all breed BEST IN SHOW winning chihuahua, but struggles to breathe through his nose because of the damage done as a baby. You remember holding him in your hands, upside down, using a special device to suction draining fluids, every 2 hours, as a combination of fluid and blood dripped out of his tiny nasal passages. You remember poking him every 4 hours with a special antibiotic that had to be injected to prevent him from getting fatal pneumonia in his tiny lungs. You remember watching he and his sister lie limp and gray inside the homemade incubator, their tiny chests struggling to rise and fall...you remember the exhaustion, the sleepless days and nights, running ragged until you feel you are literally going to die—it's better to stay awake than sleep at all—and then you remember with a smile and a huge weight lifted off your heart when those two precious puppies who have preoccupied your life for over 2 weeks -- opened their eyes and finally started to help you in the fight for their lives. You remember their first squeak. Their first attempts to suckle again... You remember your first full 2 hours of sleep.
...You remember watching them finally turn the corner...and finally choosing to LIVE. You remember with a smile holding those fat little balls of fur in your hands and giggling as they howl while you sing to them. You remember all of this every win this little boy gets. You remember this when someone makes a nasty or hateful remark. You smile and you know – they do NOT know – how hard this can be, or all that little dog represents. HOPE.
As breeders, we bear these burdens in the dark, on our own. If you are doing it ‘right’, I promise you – it will not be easy. Even if it starts out easy...the tough times will come. We keep the ‘difficult’ to ourselves, perhaps shared with a few close friends. We fight because we ARE love. Love for our breed. Love for each dog who comes and goes in our lives. We press on. We love our breeds and want to preserve them. In spite of all the challenges – missed breedings, dead puppies, puppies slipping away in our hands, our biggest hopefuls becoming pet puppies for one reason or another,...the sleepless nights...all of the heartbreak.
The 'good' serves to remind you … every time you hold a nearly dead puppy in your hands...that there is always hope. That you HAVE to try, even though defeat almost always is imminent. Where there is life...there IS hope. You can’t kill a dead puppy. You MUST try. Heart and soul...for every dozen failures...you may see a success. You learn to be grateful for even the small things – even the ‘ugliest’ pet puppy...you know this puppy is love. This puppy is hope. Even if it is not what you hoped and dreamed for...