Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's foster puppy time!

We've had a foster puppy in the house for the past couple of days. I say "we" because even though I make the decisions on my own about whether to bring foster dogs in, it's really the canine pack that has to live with that decision on a minute-to-minute interactive basis. It's a team effort to manage the transitions involved in bringing a dog in for a while and then let it go successfully.

This foster is a puppy. The owner who relinquished her believed her to be five and a half months old, based on the birth date that she was given when she bought the puppy over a month ago. It's clear, however, that this puppy is only about 3 months old or so, because she has had no break-through of adult teeth. I can just now feel one starting to push through the jaw, and that generally happens at about 3 months or so.

What this means for this puppy is that she was separated from her dam (mother) and littermates at about six weeks of age - way too early for positive development. Between six and ten weeks, puppies usually learn good dog-manners. They learn bite inhibition (not to bite too hard, or for foolish reasons), appropriate submission to older/more dominant dogs, and how to initiate play and play properly. The most effective teachers for these lessons are the pup's dam and its littermates - who teach the lessons organically, in the day-to-day interactions. As humans, we are poor substitute teachers.

Amazingly, this particular puppy is doing really well in her dog interactions. She's been schooled twice by Luna, the pack leader of my dogs. Both times involved a big rush at the puppy by Luna, a LOT of screaming from the puppy, and my quick realization that the adult dogs had never laid so much as a lip on her, let alone a tooth. With the other girls, the puppy has been playing a lot. She's a self-confident little pup, but not brash. She approaches her elders pretty much correctly - although Emmy would like it if she would stop trying to grab onto her side, and has told her so... And the girls are good with the pup - they roll over on their backs so that she can "win" some of their play sessions, and are willing to leap and run and tussle with her pretty much any time she asks.

I don't know how this family managed to raise such a well-adjusted little pup away from her pack, but they did a good job on that front. In her family she lived with six children between the ages of 2 and 14, and apparently was great with the kids. And she's fitting very nicely into the pack life here. I'm grateful to them for that beyond what I can express, because I know the alternative - a dog that cannot be socialized because she missed early socialization, who ends up bouncing from home to home, or in a shelter euthanized because she can't be safely placed. It can happen in any breed. It does, sadly, sometimes happen to Bassets.

On the other hand, they clearly didn't understand the first thing about puppy health. After a single vaccination by her breeder, her family did not follow up with shots of any kind. As a result, I haven't let her feet touch the ground outside the house since she got here, because her risk of infection with parvo or distemper is really high. At her age, puppies don't maintain immunity from shots for more than about 3 weeks or so, so repeated vaccinations are usually given to keep immunity working until the puppy's body can maintain the immune response - usually around 18 weeks. The pup was vaccinated the day after she got here, and in another couple of days, I will feel comfortable with her interacting with the outside environment, but right now, she's still at fairly high risk if she encounters these viruses.

She was also never wormed, which explains why I can see her ribs clearly, and she's ravenous but then had poor digestion. She was wormed yesterday, and is now actively shedding her worm load. Not the most pleasant sight, but I'm still delighted to see it, because it means that soon, she'll be putting on weight and thriving.

I fault the family somewhat for not taking her in to their vet for a well-puppy check - where they would have found out about the need for vaccinations and for worming. But more, I fault the pup's breeder for not educating the family on her continuing care needs. It's the breeder's responsibility to make sure the family buying a puppy they have produced knows what's needed for the puppy to grow up healthy - actually, in the case of vaccinations, even to stay alive! Of course it's hard to do a good job of educating when you meet the buyer in a parking lot to hand over the puppy in exchange for cash. And if you don't follow up after the puppy goes to its new home, it's easy for the new owners to decide not to take the pup to the vet, because after all, you said it had had a set of shots...

But this little girl has dodged the bullet and ended up in a safe haven full of big dog beds and routine (which puppies love) and big dogs who play with her - at least if she remembers to approach the right ones! Tomorrow, she'll be visited by a couple that hopes to adopt her. They've had Bassets for over 50 years, and their vet was delighted when I called for their reference. Their last Basset lived over 14 years, and passed peacefully in her sleep. I'm hoping the same for this little pup.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A FABULOUS weekend working myself to a nub....

Let me start by saying that I'm exhausted! Working at a dog show is, if nothing else, somewhat of a marathon. But what a joyous exertion!

The kennel club that I belong to, Timberland Valley Dog Fanciers' Association in Chehalis, Washington, held its annual all-breed dog show this weekend. The show features conformation (where judges assess the extent to which dogs meet "the standard" which describes each breed's ideal form and qualities), obedience, and rally (sometimes referred to as 'obedience lite'). On another weekend in October, we offer an agility trial.

We had a lovely entry of nearly 1,600 dogs - we were fortunate that we did not see a lot of drop-off in our entries. Other clubs are not so fortunate, as costs for entry, travel and hotel are starting to weigh heavily on many exhibitors.

I love dog shows, because I love dogs. I'm in heaven on a weekend when I can hang out with over 100 different breeds of dogs, can socialize and love on puppies, and can learn about breeds' history, function and aptitudes from the breeders and owners who know them best.

Working at a show is very different than attending the show as an exhibitor. For one thing, it's a LOT more exercise. We started the weekend by moving our supplies from the storage unit to the fairground on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, club members and volunteers were on site all day (I snuck in really late because I was swamped in the morning with incoming rescue dogs), setting up the hospitality area, laying out a "rummage sale" of used equipment like crates and fencing and dog beds, and getting signage and rings up and prepared.

Saturday morning, the rings are ready for judging to begin by 8 AM, which means the hospitality and grounds crew gets in about 6 AM, and various others arrive usually about 7 AM. That's when I arrived, and from then until group competition and Best in Show was determined at 6:45 PM, I was on my feet and moving nearly all day. Sunday, we did it again - finally going home about 7 PM.

I'm know I'm beat - but I'm aware that others in the club are probably more tired - the hospitality chair immediately comes to mind, as she was on-site at 6 AM and probably shopping and organizing for a week before the event! A mother/daughter team manage the grooming areas, checking people in, patrolling and making sure the space is cleaned out. They have extremely long days and nights! Family members pitch in - the grandson of one of our members works - and brings friends to work - on parking, restocking supplies, set up and tear down. All in all, it's a huge group effort! And our club has a lot of members who do not, themselves, show their dogs. It's such a gift that they participate for this very long weekend to organize and pull off a show that they don't "benefit" from directly - the partnership and common purpose in the club is really fun!

We offered a "Dog Show Tour" for visitors each day - on Sunday, we had a group of six or so on. It's a lot of fun to offer - and a good reminder that, as in any hobby, much of the language and routines we take for granted are completely foreign to newcomers - and can leave them feeling a bit put off or rebuffed if we don't remember to slow down and explain things that were new to use just a few years ago.... Having a welcoming atmosphere in which folks can ask questions and get them answered is really important. I particularly appreciated exhibitors who were good sports about answering questions about their breeds and what they were doing in the grooming area and ringside!

I think one of the real gifts of working in a dog show is the opportunity to talk with judges about dogs. Conversation between exhibitors and judges is limited normally. In one's own breed, limiting this contact prevents the appearance of undue influence or relationship. And in other breeds, we often just don't know that many people, including judges.

In an all-breed show, it's possible for those working in the show to talk with judges casually in the lunch room, at dinner, and on breaks. Since we're not showing to those judges, it's possible to have real conversations, and listen to what they have to say about their dogs, and their lives in dogs....What a wealth of knowledge they represent! I learned about a "new to the US" breed from Hungary, the Pumi (related to, but different from, the Puli). I heard about the history of Saint Bernards and compared some thoughts on the differences between breeds here and in Europe.

This week, it's back to (my regular) work. And while I admit to being a bit relieved today that it will be another 360 days or so until I need to work that hard again, I know I'm also looking forward to next April, already.