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Breeding Ava in the midst of COVID 19

We are here in western Washington, patiently waiting the first few weeks after Ava was bred, and will find out if she is pregnant in the next few weeks. I have had alot of questions from friends and future puppy families about the process. I must say, breeding responsibly comes with plenty of stressors in general, but COVID restrictions definitely made artificial insemination more challenging.

We had our eye on a stud three heats ago, and he is a perfect match for Ava. They compliment each other perfectly. Each has the strengths of the other's less than ideal qualities (which is what you look for in a mating because no dog is perfect). For example, Ava's back is a bit long. This beautiful guy is a square! So, first heat we waited because he was getting his AKC championship and UKC grand championship. The second heat was last fall, and Ava was apparently stressed more than she showed when we left her at home with a family house sitter while we explored Western Canada. Our reproduction specialist said she likely "blew through" her heat when we got home and she was comfortable again.

Fast forward to this heat, and Ava's heat cycle began just as COVID 19 restrictions were being initiated for Washington state. I did not anticipate our reproduction specialist would take this time off, and we scrambled to find another one in Washington who could meet our needs. What if I couldn't find anyone for testing and insemination?! What if the stud owner couldn't?! I have a long wait list, and those families and I have waited for our next puppy for almost two years! (We are hoping to keep a hopeful from this litter.) After dozens of calls to veterinarians who were open across Washington but not seeing anything but emergencies, we found one who was a quite a long drive from us, but had 24 hour emergency services which I feel is important at this time (just in case). Meanwhile, my own veterinarian was calling from here to bordering states trying to find a connection, and my mentor was brainstorming as well. Reproductive specialists are not common, and many were limiting their services. I know many wonderful veterinarians in my area, but none are training in this specialty.

So now with a specialist secured, after work and weekends, we drove a total of 6 long round trips for progesterone and luteinizing hormone testing, awaited each results with angst, and finally returned for insemination. Meanwhile, the stud's owner is in Minnesota, and there is the lingering stress in the back of my mind, "What if something happens to that repro clinic? What if something happens during shipping?" Fortunately, everything ended up going smoothly on that end!

On the day of insemination, I'm seeing patients all day, and planning to drive down to the repro clinic after work. Just after noon, I get an email from our repro specialist, "The semen has arrived. Let's make some babies!" A cooky and very relieving message. We drove down that evening, and- although they had been doing curbside services only at their clinic- they let me come in a private room to assist with the process. It was very quick and simple, which is a bit dismaying after all the labs and cost that comes before that moment. He used a long pipette type tube with a syringe on the end to inject the semen deep into her vagina, and then I was instructed to hold her cartwheel style for 15 minutes. During that long 15 minutes, she of course waited patiently in quite the awkward position across my knee. I noticed there was a puddle on the floor towards the end, and my heart sank. When the veterinarian returned to the room, I'm sure he saw it on my face. He did not look concerned at all, "oh that's just urine!" and I realized I had been pushing on her bladder with my knee! Doh! And, thinking back it was clear and yellow.

Since that day, we have been hunkered back at home waiting for COVID 19 restrictions to be lifted and waiting for signs of pregnancy. This litter has definitely been a long time, tons of stress, and hard work in the making! This was a quick flash of a few weeks, and the past five years have been countless worries, testing, brushing, bathing, showing, learning, searching, and planning.

I bought a young hen from a farmer nearby yesterday. We met at a parking lot for the exchange. Somehow we got on the subject of poodles. He said, "Oh I'll keep your number then! We have a Bernese Mountain Dog at home." I replied, "Oh I love those!" and he continued, "And my wife has always wanted to breed one to a poodle." (sigh) "Gosh, I'm sorry. I don't sell any poodles for breeding." And we said our goodbyes. I get messages all the time from doodle breeders and less respected poodle breeders asking if they can use one of my dogs. It is so hard not to reply as directly as I wish. When I see not so old dogs that can't walk without pain, hear of dogs suffering from congenital heart conditions, see pure bred dogs in shelters, and hear of pure bred dogs that bite or "can't be around guests", I have to bite my tongue. I know my poodle breeder friends can relate. The work we do to produce darling, healthy, sound, friendly, and intelligent standard poodles, and ensure they have a happy home FOR LIFE often goes unnoticed by those that don't understand the difference.

I thought maybe sharing a bit of our COVID 19 adventure might shed some light on that part of being a responsible, purposeful breeder. Hopefully, we will be seeing signs of pregnancy in the next few days and weeks! Fingers crossed!

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