Thursday, July 28, 2011

In memory of Thelonious: November 18, 2010 - July 22, 2011

Last fall, a local person here in Ohio who had only gotten into sled dogs about a year and a half beforehand, decided abruptly to sell most of his dogs and move. He had a dog, Tak, who was the half-sister to our beloved Big Brown and Ruffian, and I regretted not obtaining her from Joann Fortier when I got BB and Ruffi. So, I contacted the owner about Tak.

He offered to "throw in" a very young, leggy 10 month old Alaskan husky named Aspen.

The lessons that came with that transaction are multi-faceted.

First: there is no "free dog." Karma has a way of balancing things out. If a dog is free, there's usually a reason.

In this case, I found out shortly after obtaining Aspen that she was pregnant. Having just moved to the new Ranch a few months previously, I didn't have an appropriate place for puppies. But, I accepted my fate and tried to move forward as positively as possible.

Aspen delivered eight seemingly hearty puppies on November 18, 2010 - the "Jazz" litter: Brubeck, Coltrane, Dinah, Etta, Ella, Miles, Parker and Thelonious.

Etta was the first to get sick. At four weeks of age, right before Christmas, she began gasping for air. I drove out at nearly midnight just a few days before Christmas Eve to an emergency vet 45 minutes away. I contacted the person who gave her to me to try to piece together what could possibly be wrong. Turned out, he admitted Aspen was likely bred by her half-brother, and her very own littermate had a condition called megaesophagus. Things were not looking good.

We did all we could, but $1,500 later, Etta died shortly thereafter, on February 15, 2011.  You can read about her here.

Soon after, our friend Audrey, who had adopted Dinah, made the very tough decision to put her down after she spent months gasping for air and showing the same symptoms as Etta.

Brubeck also exibited the same symptoms. I started doing research, and realized these dogs indeed, had megaesophagus, a rare deformity of the esophagus in which the muscle doesn't work to push food down into the stomach like it should. We began feeding Brubeck in a Bailey Chair, sort of like a high chair for dogs, and he finally began gaining weight.

Brubeck in his home made Bailey Chair

Theo was also affected similarly, but not as severely, as Etta, Dinah, and Brubeck.

We thought things had turned around. Brubeck and Theo began thriving with specialized feedings and a little extra care, time and TLC.

The most recent photo I shot of "the boys" with Chris: from left- Theo, Miles, and Brubeck

Last week, I had a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan planned to go pick up some equipment and give a talk at the Tecumseh District Library. It was extraordinarily hot on Thursday, the day I left. Temperatures soared past 100 degrees in most of Ohio. Everything was fine as I loaded up and drove away.

On Friday, however, I received a melancholy phone call from Chris. Through tears, he said he had come home from work to find Theo dead in his kennel.

Just a week beforehand, I had begun doing more research about what could possibly be wrong with Brubeck and Theo. Miles, their brother, and all the dark, brown-eyed dogs from that litter, were healthy. The dogs affected were light-faced, with blue in their eyes.

Throughout this summer, as the temperatures rose, Theo and Brubeck had a more and more difficult time breathing. While we didn't let them run a lot, we exercised them with the rest of the dogs in the evenings, and during that time, Bru and Theo would often stop and cough up a very thick mucus. I began researching their symptoms, piecing together things my vet had said about the results of Etta's necropsy at the time of her death. All of my searches led to a congenital heart defect in addition to the megaesophagus.

These dogs - Etta, Dinah, and Theo - were born with the chips stacked against them. Their mother, whose littermate had a potentially fatal deformity, was allowed to breed at a very young age by her half-brother, who was likely also a recessive carrier of the gene that causes megaesophagus by an irresponsible "backyard breeder," who thought he knew what he was doing and clearly didn't.

And, like usual, the animals suffer for the arrogance and irresponsibility of people.

The second  - and probably most important - lesson I've learned from this experience is that no amount of money or hope or effort can change God's plan.

I had tried unsuccessfully for the past four months to find Theo a pet home. He had stabilized and never needed a Bailey Chair; we knew he could never be a working dog, though, so we tried to find him an appropriate home.

Now I know there was a larger plan at work. I feel sure these dogs - Aspen and her puppies - came to us for a reason, and I have tried hard to "do right" by them.

We have a network of paths carved into our seven acres of mostly timothy fields. They lead from the kennels and circle the outside perimeter of our property; we call these paths the "puppy paths." This is where I free run the dogs nightly.

Theo loved running along the puppy paths, despite his illness. He and his brothers would tackle each other after running, full throttle, toward each other on the puppy paths. They would growl and play fight. The puppy paths are a place of joyful chaos, where dogs gallop daily and sound much like horses trampling the earth.

Chris dug a huge grave for Theo along the puppy paths he loved to run on.

We loved you, Theo, very much, and we tried hard to do the best we could for you despite everything. I hope you run for miles and miles without skipping a beat or missing a breath up there in Heaven, the way you couldn't run in life. I hope your life can stand as a symbol of the importance of spaying/neutering and responsible breeding.

Most of all, I hope you rest in peace, my sweet boy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Tak and Yeti's babies are two weeks old!

More updates soon!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tak delivers six healthy Yeti babies!

Very busy but wanted to post some quick photos of the sweet mama and our beloved Yeti pups!

With love from the puppy room! Shhhh!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tak's babies are coming!

Birth in the age of technology! Wow, we are super excited to be able to share the miracle of birth with you, live from our streaming web cam! Tak is in labor now and we're hoping for healthy babies tonight. Watch now!

Live Video for Mobile from Ustream

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sometimes it's best to let dogs teach other dogs :)

My huskies love water. Seven and a half month old, Miles, was apprehensive of the water, however. Thanks to his older mentor, Kerouac, Miles gets the hang of the water pretty easily.

It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Stay safe! Enjoy summer!