At four weeks old the three puppies are aware of each other and are starting to play and wrestle. Today we trimmed their tiny pin-pointed nails and stood them up and brushed them. Holding each puppy and spending time with it away from the littermates allowed us to see them as individuals instead of part of the whole. There is still no one puppy that stands out as better than the others, but there is one bolder, one less sure and one that, for now, loves to be held. Four weeks from now we will have a better idea whether any of these puppies will be representative of how we view the Kerry Blue Terrier. If in this breeding we achieved our goals, and would be proud to see any one of these in a show ring, we will offer a long time breeder in the East her pick and consider keeping one of them with us.
This is our hope: to produce a puppy we consider worthy of herself producing puppies for us in a few years’ time. But what if there are no puppies in this litter that posses the qualities we want to perpetuate? We will re-breed Eva, of course. We hope for a litter with more puppies and therefore, more choices. Logically, this would be expected, if you breed your bitch on back to back seasons. But if we do, Eva will be nearing six years old, the age where a bitch may naturally produce fewer puppies in each litter. If we try again for a third litter, hoping for that mythical perfect puppy to further our line and we fail, where do we go? Eva is our only bitch. She doesn’t just carry our name, she carries our only hope for continuing the line my parents started over forty years ago.
Eva is a direct descendent of Ch. Townshend’s Fair Chance, Casey, our foundation dog. She is a grandfather to grand-daughter breeding. But if she cannot produce any suitable puppies we are at a dead-end. There is one other intact bitch from our line. Less close to our foundation than Eva, but related nonetheless. This bitch lives in Oklahoma. Barely over a year old and from what we have been told is very finishable, show-wise. But we chose not to keep this bitch for ourselves last year. Should we now look to her as our salvation?
My parents built our line by making hard choices and breeding very judiciously. They kept dogs they honestly believed were not mediocre, no matter if they were not every judge’s pick, and bred only a few of those. Being exhibitors first, breeders second, they chose dogs they could win with. Mindful that in those days, in ours and many breeds, the males did more winning, but the strength of the line was found in the brood bitches, they carefully kept two to three girls to perpetuate the line. This “pair and a spare” philosophy ensured they would always have a choice bitch to go on with.
Age and illness, the children of death, visited my parents in 2000 and left with my father. During his illness, breeding ceased and the cache of breedable bitches fell off. Two single pup litters, from two littermate sisters, followed with neither puppy being something we wanted to add to the line. My mom had a new partner: me. I have scrambled to learn what I can to be an assistant to her in our doggie life. I do not have the insight, or instinct of my mother or father, nor am I likely to acquire it in my lifetime. So we have stumbled on, she and I, strengthening our ties and doing what we like with our dogs. Enjoying the process and each other. But, now that we are ready to add to our line, by breeding the very nice bitch, Eva, we are also teetering on the brink of losing our last link to our beginnings. We have only one bitch. If she fails to produce a bitch successor, our line dies.
We are not the only ones at this juncture. Sometimes a line dies out due to the age of the breeders. They fail to mentor or pass on their knowledge to those newer to the breed. Maybe they feel nobody could build their line as well as they have done, or they just grow tired of the effort it takes to produce quality dogs litter after litter. Some lines don’t so much die as slip into mediocrity. The dogs are not terribly faulty, but not terribly virtuous either. This happens most often as breeders continually breed themselves to themselves in the mistaken belief that there are no better dogs out there than the ones they own. Faults become endemic in the line and so strongly rooted that to make changes would take a lifetime. As these dogs become less and less competitive, the breeder is faced with producing only loving pets or getting out. They often opt for the latter.
The choice every breeder faces at one time or another is whether to let their line end. What does it mean to you, and to the breed in general, if you stop producing dogs, or at least the kinds of dogs, you put into the ring year after year? Do you truly start over with a bitch who was not to your liking originally just because you bred her? Or do you purchase a bitch of the same type as you used to produce from another breeder? The genius in breeding may lie just as much in choosing dogs from other breeders to bring into your line, as breeding the dogs you go forward with yourself. Using bitches you deemed not quite good enough to keep when they were 12 weeks old, won’t yield a favorable outcome just because she carries your kennel name. Knowing when to say when may be as good a plan in breeding as it is in drinking. If you have seen your breeding stock diminish in number is this because you recognize the dogs you have held back for breeding are not really what you have hoped? Setting goals and falling short is difficult to accept. But staring down into the litter box at puppies clearly not as special as those you used to produce is even harder to face.
It takes tenacity to keep working year after year to create the vision you hold in your head of your chosen breed. Evaluating which dogs to keep, and which to place with families, is agonizing. Facing scrutiny from judges and peers is never easy or comfortable. Having the courage not to keep mediocre puppies, especially bitches, from what may be the last litter with a direct link to your past successful breedings may be the hardest choice of all. There is some degree of failure certainly if you lose this link. How did it happen? What could have been done differently? So many questions with really no clear answers.
It is obvious, standing ringside observing a large entry, that many breeders lack the courage to do what is right for their futures in regard to selecting quality dogs. It seems at least one puppy must be kept from every litter. To do otherwise would be to admit failure. As a result, many of the dogs in the ring suffer from the same litany of faults. Regardless of the line, the dogs exhibit the same poor front movement, the same short upper arms, the same narrow rears, and shoulders found up in the neck. These are not virtues described in the standard.
A lightning strike in the forest creates the fire needed for regeneration. Coming to the last of the line may force the return to the strength and quality the breeder originally intended. How can that ever be viewed as failure.