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Memoirs of a Dog Breeder, by Laura Kathryn

Updated: May 12, 2023

(written in 2014)

Below is a sampling of some of my stories.

My Love for Dogs I’ve always loved dogs. When I was a child, my parents moved my family, which consisted of my parents, my older brother and younger brother and myself, from the city to a lake community in the country. It was at the start of summer and I had just finished kindergarten and had no friends in this new neighborhood. There were a bunch of kids in the neighborhood and they all knew one another. There were also a bunch of dogs in the neighborhood. Back then, dogs roamed free, there were no leash laws. In about two weeks time, each morning that I would awaken, there would be 10 to 15 dogs waiting outside my door. My first summer at the lake consisted of running through the meadows and the woods with this pack of dogs. They were not all nice dogs, but they were great with me. I showed my younger brother how Lucky would kiss my face and told my brother to put his face up to Lucky and Lucky bit him. The rest of my childhood I always had a pack of dogs following me everywhere I went. When I would get off the bus from school, they would be waiting for me at the bus stop. It seems that I always had a dog in my life, with the exception of the time I spent at college. Growing up I had a Lab/GSD mix and as an adult I also had Lab/GSD mixes. I used to like to run and trail running was my favorite thing to do with my dogs. It was about twenty years ago and I was running on the Appalachian Trail with Smith, that I had to stop yet another run. I had to call him back after he raced after after some scent and that’s when I had this realization. I was going to research a breed of dog that had a herding instinct, because if I were to continue enjoying runs and hikes, I needed a dog that instinctively wanted to be near me. It took me about 3 years of looking through Puppies, USA and Dogs, USA, cutting out the breed descriptions and photos of all the herding breeds that I thought I could enjoy as a companion dog. I think I had about 12 breeds and each year I would whittle it down further. Finally, it was hands down, the Shiloh Shepherd. My decision to get a Shiloh was made in 2000. My First Shilohs That summer I ended up putting a deposit down with Danica Kennels for a litter that was to be placed with families in February. In November I got a call from my breeder and she said that she had one spot open for a male pup out of a litter that would be ready for homes in December. So on December 5, 2001, I picked up my first Shiloh, a pet quality male, who I named Kody. I was moving to Washington State and I took Kody with me everywhere I went in a soft carrier. At night, I kept Kody in the kitchen with a baby gate barricading him in. I slept in the upstairs bedroom and in the morning I would find Kody asleep on the floor next to my bed, with a little piddle in the middle of the room. I attempted to see how much work it was to pull the baby gate out of position and I could barely do it. I watched Kody, as an 8 week old puppy do it and he had quite the determination.

I became so enamored with the breed that I called my breeder and asked if I could get a breed quality female from the litter I was slotted for, that was due for families in February. She said that was possible and Bear was shipped to me in Washington State.

Bear could not be part of the breeding program because she ended up with elbow dysplasia and severe hip dysplasia, so she was spayed. I put her on glucosamine/chondroitin for the first two years of her life and she never showed clinical signs.

In May of 2002, Tina Barber was coming to Washington State to conduct the Libby/Udo litter evaluation. And, she was going to conduct a Shiloh Training Method seminar as well. I was elated that I could meet and talk with and learn from the Breed Founder and I had no idea what to expect. I shadowed Tina and was one of her helpers during the litter evaluation. I remember Tina sharing colorful stories about her life and her dogs. Tina’s personality was one that filled the space and then some. She had a gravely voice that carried far. She was open and loved to share. I remember being so impressed with the LER process and what it said about the pup’s temperament. My breeder called me and asked if I were interested in adopting an adult breed quality female from an owner that lived in Connecticut. Apparently, this dog named Nieko had fear aggression as she was attacked by a Trainer’s two yellow labs when she was four months old. And, the owner ran a dog daycare business and when another dog showed any insecurities, Nieko would go on the offense and go after the dog. So Nieko flew cross country and became part of my small pack. Unfortunately, Kody and Bear did not accept this interloper so well and were not very friendly to Nieko. In a year’s time, Kody, Nieko and Bear were my pack and Nieko ended up getting over her fear aggression and became the first dog in the Therapy Dog Evaluator’s history of getting a perfect score on her Therapy Dog evaluation, the first time out.

The Licensed Breeder in Training Program I remember at one point in my Licensed Breeder in Training program, where I was only a few hours from actually dropping out of the program, and it was when Tina gave us a homework assignment that kicked my behind. I wish I could find it, but it is lost somewhere in the laptop I used 12 years ago. I don’t think there has ever been a homework assignment like that since. The questions were about the foundations dogs, genetics, diseases and health issues, scenarios and what would you do sort of questions. I spent about 20 hours researching the answers and feeling so inadequate that I was not capable of coming up with the correct information, that I felt compelled to send in a resignation letter. Of course, I never did that, although there were many times along the way, when things would go awry that I wonder what my life would have turned out like, had I sent in that letter. My First Attempt at Breeding We tried to breed Nieko over a couple year’s time, but it was just not meant to be apparently. So, I bought SaberII from New Zion and Cleo from Strauss Haus. SaberII and Cleo were bred to Tigertoes’ Phoenix and had successful litters. At that time I was whelping inside my home. SaberII’s first litter was a bit of a scare for me. I had never whelped a litter previously and did not know many of the breeders in the ISSR at the time, so I didn’t have a network to rely on. I had spoken with Tina a few times over the phone and I was following the Yahoo group (the forum that preceded the Shiloh Shepherd Friends forum). I remember Tina saying “go boil some water and get a glass of wine and relax.” She said that in jest, meaning that if you are relaxed, then the bitch would be more relaxed and things would not be as tense. Saber started bleeding and I had to put her on equine progesterone to hold the litter in, as her progesterone was dropping too low and when the progesterone drops, that signals the body to start moving the pups out. Saber held her litter almost till the due date, but a few days prior, she started bleeding again and quite a bit came out, so she went in for an emergency c-section. Two pups were stillborn, but there were several other viable pups. One pup was not suckling adequately and when he would suckle he would aspirate. So, Orange boy went to the emergency and spent two days there. He came back and I tube fed him, which at the time, I was not very proficient or comfortable doing. It was an exhausting time and at 2 weeks of age, I gave Orange boy to a critical care nurse who had just lost her son, broke her back and lost her dog. She needed something to care for and she brought Orange boy around and he survived about six years. I saw them seven years later and the poor lady had dementia or Alzheimer's, but still remembered Trooper.

Developing My Breeding Program I listened to Tina quite a bit along the way and tried to institute the things she said were important to do, in my breeding program. The three things that you should strive to breed for are health, temperament and type (conformation and structure, our breed standard). The other thing that she shared was to not breed yourself into a corner, to have a four to five year breeding program plan, that was dynamic or flexible. Given that Washington state is a fair distance from the east coast, where many of the other breeders are located, I decided to try to get a nice genetic variation of stud dogs for use in my program. Every few years, I would import another line to compliment my program. All the while I was breeding, I was also working full time, so convenience was important to me. I could not take time off work to transport or travel for the breeding business. I needed everything in my back yard. So, having local studs to breed back to was a nice convenience. I was fortunate that I had a friend and neighbor who was also a builder, house two of my studs at a time for me. I had prepaid for two dogs from Tina and Lisa and this was back when Tina was working with Gaby over in Europe. Things did not pan out with Gaby as Tina had planned, so I called Tina and inquired if she had anything available that could work for my program. She sent me two siblings who were one year old - Hanna and Gunny. Gunny had been returned to New Zion for some reason and he was available for a time that I needed a stud dog in my program. Gunny was my first stud and he became my neighbor Roy’s dog for companionship and my dog for breeding. Gunny was an awesome boy and was incredibly confident. My neighbor was building a second story above his garage and on the second floor there was a stairs landing without railings, which I had expressed grave concern for, thinking that a dog could fall or jump from it. One day I came in and saw that the railings were installed and stopped my worrying over it. Two weeks later my neighbor told that Gunny ran from one end of the apartment, off the landing and onto the concrete floor below, continuing his pursuit after a rabbit that he saw in the yard. Gunny had no damage to any joint or ligament, and broke no bones, but he did receive railings on the landing to keep him from ever doing that again. My studs along the way were: Gunny Mastro Zeke Aslan Sluggo Scirocco Lomax Guard Rock

I found that the bitches that were good moms to their puppies would produce good breeding bitches. Kind of like a child that is raised in a functional family learns how to be a good parent from his/her parents and also is a good parent to his/her children. So, I was able to keep my own picks of my own litters for the bitches and for studs, I would get on a list for the genetics that would work in my breeding program for my bitches. And, I would get on the list early and prepay so that I could get pick of the litter. I also have had frozen semen on 10 different dogs and a total of 80 breeding units. Building My Facility I bought this house and piece of property because of its potential. It was all flat and fully fenced, with a ranch style house. It was only 3.7 miles from my office and 4.0 miles from 2 major expressways. I think I already mentioned how important convenience was to me. I had whelped several litters inside my home and was finding that it was not ideal, especially when whelping two litters at once. I had used the rec room and the large bathroom, which was okay, but not during the summer months when ventilation becomes an issue. So, over the next several years, I built my whelping building/dog kennel. I asked Tina for guidance and she actually sent me a design that a trusted breeder friend of hers shared with her. It was more of a circular design and since I had to work with the configuration of my property, I never used it. Somewhere in my paper archives I have a copy of it. I had to build my whelping/kennel building according to county zoning code, which meant where dogs are housed, they must be no less than 30 feet from the property lines. This is the reason that my dog building is 82 feet long and 16 feet wide. The space I had available for the kennel was in a space on my property that was overgrown with scrub trees and bushes and was really of no use. The long building worked in many ways though, because I could see all the dogs from standing in front of the building and if anyone is acting up, I could call them out. I also was able to be very instrumental in making the amenities work for me, such as 90 pounds of pressure which to spray down runs, without having to go outside. This was done by standing atop the indoor runs (climbing atop using a pool ladder) and sticking my torso and hose through a window to spray the outdoor run waste into the troughs at the end of the runs, which then went underground into the septic tank, to the pump tank and out into one of my two drain fields (summer and winter drain fields). One of a breeder’s nemesis’ is dog poop. And, having an easily cleanable waste management system is critical to lessening the work surrounding the waste. Three Hats I found I was wearing three hats; a full time government employee, a dog breeder and a mother. It was a challenge trying to do it all and do any of it well. I didn’t want to be one of those parents that when you get 60 years old, you reflect back and say I wish I had spent more time with my son. You never hear of anyone reflecting back on their life saying that they wished they had spent more time working. So, knowing that I had to put efforts into the government job as that really paid the mortgage and provided health insurance, and since I couldn’t include my son in that effort, I decided to make the dogs part of his world too. Kai felt empowered by the dogs, as he had control of them early on, with me standing behind him, being the reinforcer. I created an atmosphere at my home and facility that was fun and conducive to Kai being able to play with the dogs. I set up play pens for the puppies and Kai would climb in with them. One day a neighbor passed by and exclaimed with a tentativeness to her voice: “How cute, your child in a play pen like that?” She didn’t see the pups apparently. It was at the end of a long day at an IABCA show and I stayed on as one of my pups won group and was going up for the Best in Show class. Most of the judges were gone and Kai and I were eating all the chewy candies left over at the judges tables. As a result of his sugar high, Kai was dancing and running around me in circles, with his index fingers pointing up in the air, yelling “Woo hoo, woo hoo”. I didn’t win the mother of the year award, but I sure had fun with my son.

There were several reasons I decided to become a breeder of Shilohs. One, it gave me an excuse to have lots of these wonderful creatures surrounding me and two, it allowed me to have connections and relationships with some awesome and amazing people. My favorite boss once told me that “Life is not about transactions, it is about relationships” and that has been my M.O. since I’ve bred dogs. The relationships I’ve developed over the years both with other breeders and many of my clients is invaluable. I treasure these friendships and will continue to foster them over my lifetime. Heartaches of Breeding I’ve had many successful whelpings over the years, but I’ve also had some crash and burn years. The year that I whelped three litters at a time was probably one of the worst years I have ever had in my entire life. I am one of those breeders that feel like the world is crashing down on me when things go awry. I worry like crazy and want to fix the issues and when things can’t be fixed, I get very depressed. Any year a breeder can have something or some things go wrong, but this one year, it seemed like I was being tested as to what I can or cannot handle. Never say it can’t get any worse, because each time one thinks it can’t get any worse, it does. Here I’ve cut and pasted a posting I made on SSF: Zora had an open pyometra. I'll post more later, but right now I have 10 orphan pups and am feeding every 3 hours. Zora had to have emergency surgery and the sad thing is, is that the e clinic I went to in the first place, twice missed it. I went there on two occasions for the same issue, high temp, plus I thought a pup was stuck. Last night, Zora's temp here was 105.1 and there they only read it as 100, twice and they told me my thermometer was wrong because they used two thermometers. They sent her home. When I got home last night, she went outside and layed down after horrible vomiting and would not get up, she was unresponsive and she was so bad. I am so sad over all this. What ended up happening is that the Vet at the e clinic was a traveling Vet that really didn’t have an established practice and would pick up some extra money on Sunday nights at this clinic. When Zora was unresponsive, I called the e clinic that sent her home and let her know that Zora was unresponsive, the Vet told me that I was probably stressing her out. This Vet said I could bring Zora back in and when I asked what they would do for her, she said they would probably put her on fluids and monitor her overnight. She said Zora didn’t have a pungent odor and since her temp was only 100, she didn’t think there was any real issue. Seeing that Zora was giving up on life, I rushed her to a Veterinary Speciality Center and as soon as they got her they said that she had a very pungent odor and that her temp was 106 and they could not wait to stabilize her, that they had to do an emergency c-section or they would lose her. Zora ended up having a dead pup that was swollen and decomposed inside her and her uterus ruptured, putting all the bacterial contents of the decomposed, dead puppy inside her body cavity.

I had 10 Zora/Gunny orphan pups and Zora was in critical condition. A client’s daughter drove over to help out and I had also hired another person to come so that we could all three bottle feed the pups. At that time, I was not ready or comfortable with tube feeding. In hind sight, I wish I had taken it on because in 2 minutes you can tube one pup and it took 15 minutes per pup to bottle feed a pup. It took us approximately 2.5 hours to bottle feed the 10 pups. We were continuously bottle feeding pups! Hanna had her and Zeke’s pups within 24 hours of Zora almost dying and Hanna being a new mom, she was not sure of herself. She would just lay and allow the pups to nurse. She would not clean the pups, so guess who had to do that for the pups, all the while trying to get Hanna to take over - that’s right - me! In addition to Hanna just laying there, not providing care otherwise for her pups, she herself would not eat or drink. She was getting dehydrated so I gave her sub-q ringers and did some syringe feeding of gruel.

Three weeks later, Pica whelped her and Zeke’s litter. It all went fine, except she needed to have a c-section, due to too much time between pups being born. She had a different Vet perform the c-section than Zora had do hers and the stitches were not buried and were very loose and open. Three weeks to the day, into her litter, in a period of four to five hours, Pica had developed mastitis and her teat was as big as a softball. I took her back to the e clinic that performed the c-section and they did a fine needle biopsy on her and tried to draw out the infection through the teat. It was red and you could tell how sore it was to Pica. They put her on a high dose of antibiotics and sent her home and told me to follow up with Pica’s Vet. Pica’s Vet researched mastitis and told me about using raw cabbage leaves and wet, warm compresses on her teats, three times a day for 15 minutes each time and to be patient, that the abscess would eventually erupt. Her temp was still at 105 and I asked if we could perhaps put her on Meticam (NSAID). My Vet said sure and it helped to bring her temperature down. Since Pica’s pups were now 3 weeks of age, they could potentially be ready for solid food. They had no choice as Pica was not going to be nursing them anymore. They transitioned just fine, thank goodness! Several days later, Pica’s teat blew open and a ton of gooey and smelly stuff came out and went everywhere. There was about an eight inch open section of under belly and the second to the end teat was gone. The flesh looked like the undermining of the stomach that I watched on a plastic surgery show doing a tummy tuck. I irrigated it twice a day with warm, gentle water sprays in the shower station inside my house. Pica did great and I think she liked the care and love that was bestowed upon her.

Hanna had eventually picked up on how to clean her own pups and she was a fabulous mom and had so much fun raising those pups. She went on to have two more litters, the second with Aslan and the third with frozen semen with Nisga’a. She was a wonderful and seasoned mom with the next two litters and she did all her own raising of them. Hanna was adopted by a local family, who later adopted an Opal/Scirocco boy. Zora eventually healed up and her pups were 3.5 weeks when they were transitioned from bottle feeding to solid food. Zora found a home with a local couple and keeps them safe and happy as the husband is a diabetic and Zora helps alert him. And, Pica healed up eventually from her c-section, after popping open a few of the loose stitches and having to have them repaired. Come to find out that the bacteria cultured was in fact E.coli. Go figure, loose and open stitches and puppy poop? Since then, I’ve been my bitches’ advocate and ask for buried stitches. Pica went on to have one more litter with Aslan and found a home with a wonderful couple that live somewhat local to Washington. I used to get email that showed Pica in various tourist spots around the country with the couple. Each would be in the photo with Pica while the other was taking the picture. Pica was like the traveling gnome. According to my Vet, who has had his own practice for 30 years, I’ve had relatively good luck in my whelpings and litters. About 99 percent of the time, once one of my pups make it out of the birth canal, they continue to thrive. I’ve always thought the milestones were from the birth canal to three days. For the first three days, it seems that they are the most fragile and if they take a bit to figure out the suckling, they have it down pat by three days and can wiggle and crawl to where the feeding station is. Three weeks is the next milestone in my mind, because by that time, they are able physically to eat solid food if necessary and by then they are self regulating their own temperature. A pup under 2.5 weeks cannot shiver to keep warm, so if they are too cold they will die - a.k.a. - fading puppy syndrome. The pups G.I. tracts cannot digest the milk if their body temperature falls below a certain temperature. I set up my whelping rooms such that I have radiant floor heat and thermometers have been placed everywhere that the pups are, so that I can make sure that they are not too cold (or too hot). Favorite Shilohs? If someone were to ask me who my favorite Shilohs were, I doubt I could answer that. All of my dogs had special spots in my heart for various and memorable reasons. Bear was supposed to be the first breeding bitch I had, but unfortunately Bear ended up with elbow and hip dysplasia and also bloated one evening. Thank goodness I stayed up later than usual that night and was able to rush her to the e clinic. She only had some mild irritation of the gut lining, no spleen, no heart or no other necrosis or involvement! Bear was my far side, wild and nutty girl. She developed snapping fly syndrome which lasted with her for about three years. She would snap at the air, as if she were trying to snap a fly in flight. She was not bothered by this, nor did I think she was aware it occurred. One day, the snapping fly syndrome disappeared as suddenly as it came on. After the bloat surgery, was on Tramadol for pain and the Vets say that sometimes Tramadol can affect the central nervous system in odd ways. I also take Tramadol occasionally, but I haven’t noticed any CNS effects (please let me know if you see it in me, maybe like Bear, I am unaware). So Bear would attack Nieko about once or twice a year and poor Nieko, who was as sweet and gentle of a spirit as could be, would be taken down. My strength training helped me pry Bear off Nieko, as on a few occasions I think Bear would have killed Nieko. Bear was not wired right and at any other time, she was fine with Nieko, but there were those times, when things would snap inside her. Nonetheless my Bear was shadow, my best buddy and the one that stayed right by my side when it seemed that my life was falling apart. There was Pica, my broad, solid and confident bi-colored, plush coated girl that I got from Guardian who produced some gorgeous pups with awesome temperaments. One of those pups I kept, her name was Kila. Kila, whom I call my Punky Brewster girl, just loved to be loved on and was as sweet and submissive as they get. Kila had one litter with Sluggo and three with Scirocco. I was so impressed with the first Scirocco breeding, that I repeated it and kept Pi, an all black female and then repeated it a third and final time and kept Rock, an all black male. I had sent Kila, six weeks pregnant to Missouri, to a client who had lost his Sabre’, Kila’s younger brother to dysautonomia (they believe dysautonomia is caused by a Clostridium bacteria). Kila’s litter was whelped by this client, who had become a good friend and Rock came back home with me to live here.

Lolly was out of Nieko and Gryphyn. Nieko was able to conceive and have one litter of four pups. She was surgically implanted with semen from Gryphyn. Gryphyn was out of SaberII and Phoenix’s first litter. Lolly had five litters. Normally, we end up with four litters out of our bitches, but the timing worked out such that she had five litters. And, out of all the pups born from Lolly/Gunny, Lolly/Mastro, and Lolly/Aslan, all are healthy and vigorous and doing great. Having that number of pups out of one bitch and not having any health issues is pretty awesome, I think.

Mastro was a Vlcak son. I was honored that Tina trusted me with this son of an outcross to weave into the gene pool. Masto was a character and had somewhat of a different look than my Shilohs as well as more drive. He was heavily built in the front and was not very big. In his progeny though, even with SaberII who was also small, he produced some 31 and 32 inch males, with nice bone. He had a sense of humor such that when I was having the kennel built, he was in the yard with one of the workman, but he left him alone. Whenever the workman put down a tool and went to work on something, Mastro would grab the tool and carry it and place it under the large evergreen tree. He would then lay in front of the tree watching the workman work and when a tool was left unattended, Mastro would grab it. Within a few hours, there were no more tools available, because they were all under the large tree that Mastro was sitting in front of. The guy left and went home. Mastro produced four females and one male that went on to contribute to the gene pool. Kappy and her sister SaberIII and their brother Danzig, who are SaberII/Mastro progeny and Kyra and Cyran, who are Lolly/Mastro progeny. Mastro now lives in Texas with Cleo and a nice couple who live on a timber farm.

I got Aslan from Dayspring, who no longer breeds, and Aslan’s half brother Sluggo. Aslan brought some nice heads and small ears to his progeny and beautiful top lines and great bone. Sluggo was only bred a few times, but his size is incredible and his broadness also really nice and I’ve seen that come through in his pups. Aslan was used quite a bit and the temperaments on his pups is really super nice and the health issues seen from his progeny is really low compared to the number of pups he has produced.

Next steps I have decided to not whelp litters at my facility. I love these dogs, their majesty, their intelligence, their connection with you, as their family. They have been my life's work, my pride and best accomplishment. Because of this, I've decided to join Jessica Strauss in a breeding partnership, whereby I conduct client communications, develop our website, facilitate breeding strategies and help mentor new breeders. Jessica houses the dogs, whelps the litters, and raises the puppies in the North East. I still have 75 breeding units, frozen, at the International Canine Semen Bank in Oregon, so my lines will carry on. Because of long time breeders, like Jessica and I, continuing to breed and share of our knowledge, experience and expertise with new breeders, young people like my son Kai will continue to have Shiloh Shepherds in their lives.

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