by Patricia Gail Burnham
At Four Months
By the time they were four months old all their shots had been completed and we had made it through the dangerous time when parvo strikes down whole litters. They were a heart-warmingly healthy bunch except for Kira who promptly got sick and threw up when everyone was wormed for the first time. Nobody else minded, but poor Kira was so sick for a couple of hours I felt incredibly guilty for having in effect poisoned her. Her system was not strong enough to withstand even a mild worm medication.
Kira’s difficult early start had no effect on her speed or stamina. Since she loved to run, I began to wonder if she would like lure coursing when she grew up. And she could fly. It was joyous to watch her racing-red body circle the yard in the lead, with her sisters and brothers struggling to keep up.
Gradually the weight difference between her and her sisters closed. She was born half their size. By the time her sisters weighed twenty-five pounds, Kira was three-quarters of their size at eighteen pounds. By the time Jirel weighed fifty-one pounds, Kira weighed forty-seven pounds. She might always be a few pounds lighter than her sisters might be, but she won’t be two-thirds their size as had looked possible in the beginning. When it came to “Survival of the fittest” Kira was plainly not the fittest. It was a large litter. Sheena was not interested in feeding her. Kira could easily have been pushed aside, chilled, and died. Keeping her alive was more work than the rest of the litter put together.
Was she worth the effort it took to keep her alive? Absolutely! Just winning the fight against death was worth the effort it took. We don’t get that many chances to beat death. It is a fight that we lose often enough. To take a puppy that is plainly slated to get pushed aside and die, and help it to win its struggle for life, is one of life’s basic triumphs.
But also she was individually worth it. She is graceful and deer-like, spoiled and hot headed. She is absolutely fearless, and constantly affectionate. She has been picked up and hugged all her life. In return she loves to hang her head over my shoulder and pull her chin in toward her chest, hugging me with her neck. When we go for a drive she sits in the back seat and lays her head and neck across my shoulders in the space between my neck and the headrest. It is very companionable.
Time To Walk On a Lead
It was time for the remaining puppies to learn to walk on a lead and begin to see the outside world, so I sewed up a set of puppy leads which are a wide nylon collar attached to a narrower leash. I would take them to a nearby park in pairs with Sheena. First Kira and Starfleet, then Braveheart and Jirel, and finally Ringo. This way there was a brave puppy in each pair. Kira and Braveheart were the bold ones, while Starfleet, Jirel and Ringo were timid. The Thursday morning group of dog trainers was thrilled to see the puppies. The puppies were not equally thrilled to see them. Their initial reaction was to plant their feet and refuse to move on lead. But I took a pocket full of lamb liver cut into tiny treats and between tugs and treats they gradually learned to walk on leashes.
At first they just walked up and down the parking lot following Sheena’s lead. We gradually worked up to a circuit of the park with a stop to investigate the ground squirrel holes. Starfleet discovered that there were ground squirrels living in the storm drain system. He became the first dog I have known that would drag me to every storm drain grating he passed to stare into it in the hopes of spotting small furry rodents.
My sister visited us again and was taken with Braveheart’s boldness. She urged me to allow him to go to her twenty-seven- year old daughter Christine.
Braveheart at Six Months
Braveheart was quite a grown up boy at six months. He was a very masculine puppy, fearless, and friendly. The best male greyhounds are gentlemanly and chivalrous. In fact they are better examples of masculinity than a fair number of men. Christine was twenty-seven years old, the same age I had been when my first Greyhound came to live with me. And I thought she could use a good masculine presence in her life. So Braveheart went to Christine.
One June day we drove to San Francisco and he and I flew to Phoenix. He walked into the pandemonium of the San Francisco airport as cool as could be and hung out with me while we waited for our plane. He had truly deserved the name Braveheart as he encountered crowds, noise, traffic, elevators, and new places all without turning a hair. I hadn’t seen a dog this calm since my very first Greyhound, who had come to me middle-aged, calm and incredibly wise twenty-five years earlier.
I had arrived with bags full of power tools and had shipped ahead a doggy care package with a bean bag bed and a dog hammock. I installed a dog door and Christine drove me back to the airport to catch the return flight. When I got out of the car I expected Braveheart to try to follow me, but my last view of him showed him lying in the back of the car waiting to drive home with Christine.
There is a little pang that occurs when a puppy leaves with its new owner. After all, I have raised them from baby puppies and I have mothered them and am attached to them. But if I have done my job correctly, if I have first bred a dog with good temperament to a bitch with good temperament and then raised the puppies with a lot of human contact, then they will go away to their new homes without a backward glance at me. Fonzi left the same way, without a backward glance. He greeted me enthusiastically whenever I went to visit him later, but he was perfectly content in his new home. I was the one suffering from the separations.
I took the remaining puppies to their first obedience practice. Kira and Starfleet thought it was great fun, happily heeling and sitting for treats. Starfleet reminded me so much of Star Traveler that I caught myself calling him Traveler during the training. Ringo was nervous about the dozens of new people at the training sessions, but once I got him into the ring he was happy to learn for treats. Jirel flat out wouldn’t go near the practice rings. The parking lot was as far as she was planning on going. So I trained her out there for several weeks until she got over her fear of the strange people and dogs. And get over it she did. Now she sits in the car and complains while I am training Starfleet or Ringo because she wants to be the one with me in the ring.
I thought that the puppy adventure was over and that we would just settle down into raising and training the remaining kids. I also thought that I cared as much for Kira as I ever would. I was wrong on both counts.
CG Winter 98
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