Thursday, November 1, 2012

Steel Magnolias

I remember when Rifka was born of course, who could forget that day? Christmas Eve 2007. It was my second Ridgeback litter and Halo was making quick work of whelping many more puppies than I expected. I thought they'd arrive on Wednesday but instead they came Monday - I missed Christmas dinner as a result but I certainly don't regret that. Everyone was duly ribboned except the two lightest, and Miss Yellow was, for several weeks, just one of a dozen. There she is in the middle at 1 day old plump and shiny, just as she should be.

I wish I could say that I remember each puppy as individuals and therefore am able to point out significant things about Rifka while I had her, but the truth is I can't. Thankfully I have the blog to jog my memory. I specifically started this blog for the Christmas 2007 litter so I could not only keep track of development but also so the new homes could follow along as the puppies grew. It also serves as a 'baby book' for the puppies in the litters, no matter where they are their owners can skim through their dog's 'baby years' whenever they want. It's hard to keep track of a dozen puppies, as you can imagine. There are Rifka and Zero ... going against the grain.
In many ways, for me, that is my most significant litter. From it came Zero who is now a multiple Best in Specialty winner, Best of Breed winner at some pretty significant shows in the USA and a top Ridgeback for 3 years in a row. Also making the news is his sister (name redacted) who's litter record is now infamous. Rifka also came from this litter as Love Actually - one of my very favourite movies and I make sure to watch it every year at Christmas. Rifka had some nice wins in her youth but her true purpose in life was to be 'The Boy' for Taryn. She made a good start with moves like this ...

I remember meeting Taryn at a dog show in Red Deer where she was introduced to Halo for the first time and also met The Boy who was still but a gangly puppy. She said she wanted a foundation bitch like Halo, but improved, and I thought I could do that based on the puppies from Halo's first litter. I remember Taryn being quite specific about where she got her foundation bitch - she wanted to breed, looked around, did some research and knew where she wanted to start. She was determined, focused and I felt would be a great home to one naughty puppy.

(Rifka at 5 weeks playbowing - I do not know what Zero is doing)

As Halo got fatter and fatter I contacted homes to confirm interest and to be honest I wasn't sure Taryn was still interested as I hadn't heard much from her in the weeks leading up to the due date. However after I contacted her she emailed back an adamant interest and I confirmed her as a home. I came to learn that is Taryn: undemanding with quiet but firm resolve.

(Rikfa at 5 weeks eating my hand)

When the puppies started to mature I was looking at them with interest but hadn't chosen who was going where. With 12 to evaluate it was no easy task. Taryn expressed a preference for Miss Yellow and I kept that in mind for my final decisions. Of course Miss Yellow became Rifka and Taryn lost her heart. Rifka was the first puppy to go on a Friday evening when Taryn arrived from Edmonton to pick her up and from that moment the two were inseparable. Rifka is named to honour the memory of a horse owned by one of Taryn's friends. He had to be put down at age 35 just the week before Taryn picked up her new puppy. Her friend had owned the horse for 26 years ... quite a friendship and it bode well for Taryn and Rifka's future.

(Rifka at 7 weeks eating a sheet)

It's hard describe to anyone who hasn't had a Boy or a Rifka what it's like to have a dog, from the moment you meet it, connect to your soul. I imagine something of the sort occurs when people meet their 'soul mate', fall in love, get married and carry on through life together. The difference is that The Boy is almost infallible and people, no matter how much you love them, always are fallible. Even when The Boy gets in trouble he is almost instantly forgiven - my cries of "You NAUGHTY Boy!!" are never accompanied by real fury, usually it's just extreme exasperation. I may say I want to throttle him sometimes but the truth is that just below the surface is a strength of love I cannot explain. I don't know why it's there, or why it's him, whether its normal (and I don't care), and what people think when I tell them some of my greatest joy in life comes from looking at his great bulk, into his lovely, round innocent eyes, and knowing, no matter what happens, he will adore me and I him for as long as we each are on earth - and beyond. He will never break my heart, even when it's time for him to leave me, because it won't be his fault. I don't write about The Boy to detract from the story of Rifka, but rather to attempt to explain the connection between her and Taryn. The best I can do is compare my relationship with The Boy - Rifka is Taryn's Boy. The only thing greater than her love for Rifka, is Rifka's love for her.

(Rifka 5 Weeks)

Rifka and Taryn took to the shows together, Taryn never pressing Rifka for more than time spent together, simply enjoying the company of other show exhibitors and never demanding from her dog more than she could give. I met her at a show in Calgary to compete against her sister and brother and Rifka was just as I expected, a gangly baby with an adoring Mom. Taryn was always detracting from her own handling skills but in the end they finished with some nice wins at a Specialty and lots of memories of the journey.

(Taryn with Rifka at her firt show - 6 months)
Rifka spent the early part of her life in Edmonton, poor thing, but eventually Taryn moved to BC to make her fortune. Things happen in life as they do, and through anything and everything Taryn experienced, Rifka was there to see her through.

Over the years I have come to know Taryn as a person with a huge heart. It's pretty easy to say how nice someone is and whenever I read or hear that about someone I don't know, I often wonder if the praise was simply lip service. (I know, I'm a cynic.) However, although I haven't seen Taryn in years, and our main source of contact is through the internet, when I say that she is a person with true generosity of spirit, it is not praise given lightly. Taryn selflessly takes in rescued dogs through an organization in BC. She takes in all breeds, integrates them into her pack of terriers, cocker spaniel and Ridgebacks - allows them to learn how to be dogs again - if that's what they need - and then sends them to homes to start life anew.

(Rifka taking a break from 'policing')

I will never forget Taryn telling me Rifka's role in the rehabilitation of the rescued dogs. She said that Rifka was like the temperature gauge for the newly arrived rescue. I have heard of dogs like this from behaviour specialists. Not all dogs can manage that kind of stress but the ones that can are worth their weight in gold to rescue organizations. I have seen this trait in action - some dogs have the ability to tell when another dog is unstable, insecure, or aggressive - often even without direct contact. In Taryn's words "She just was the calm balanced dog that always knew what the other dog needed in order to find their balance. Sometimes it was to just hang out and be there, sometimes it was to get them to play and sometimes it was simply that they needed correction. She would retrieve dogs for me too when teaching them to be off leash." Only people who are tuned into their dogs and are very learned about dog behaviour can read the signals and Taryn is one of those people. She says that Rifka did all the work and she got all the credit. She and Rifka developed such a trusting relationship, with Rifka knowing Taryn would never put her in danger, and the dogs that came through Taryn's house - from dachschunds to pit bulls to Ridgebacks - all had the benefit of Rifka's calm authority to carry them through. It's part of the reason she made such a great mother to her puppies.

(Rifka - far left - with 3 of her puppies from her first litter)

Rifka, in good time, started her own family in 2011 when she was 3. She, like her mother Halo, found being pregnant a hassle but the duties of raising a litter was something she excelled at. It's so great to see the future of the breed, and of the dogs I helped bring into this world, carry on the generations just as life intended. There is always so much potential in a litter and Rifka was bearing out all the hopes that I and Taryn had expected. All ridged and lovely puppies to watch grow. Just as all of Halo and Leeloo's puppies do, these are little pieces of Rifka to walk the earth.

Raising puppies is no walk in the park, they are certainly demanding on the people and even more so on their mothers but Rifka, like any good mom, tolerated the tugging, teething, barking, pooping, peeing and wrestling with good spirits. Although I don't think she very was sad to see them go!

Rifka's next litter wasn't planned for some time, if at all, but once the first litter was mature and Taryn could see the quality in it, she decided to go ahead with one more breeding to get a nice show bitch. Taryn, like me, prefers the girls to the boys. Don't get me wrong, The Boy has my heart, but having more than one boy in the house can get a bit tiresome. A person can take only so much adoration and although the girls do adore me, and I them, they are not so ... clingy about it. So Taryn bred Rifka to a lovely boy named Manny (of Coso Ridgebacks in BC) and we all eagerly anticipated a litter.

(Rifka pregnant with her second litter)

Rifka got more and more round, and more and more uncomfortable, as puppies are wont to do to a dog, and after ultrasounds it was decided that Rifka had 11 puppies. It would be a nice send off for her career as a broodbitch - lots of puppies to choose from and hopefully a good balance of the sexes. Rifka looks an awful lot like her mother Halo did when she was pregnant with Rifka!

She was due at the end of October, right when I was going to be in Barbados, but I knew I'd be able to check in via wi-fi at the hotel. Just before I left on Thursday night Rifka had the inevitable temperature drop and we knew the puppies were on their way. I flew out of Canada on Friday morning and was not able to check in again until Saturday evening. Good news! 10 puppies born and they were all doing great. I hadn't heard from Taryn yet but I knew she must be busy with 10 babies to care for, then on Monday morning I opened my email at the hotel and my heart stopped. Rifka had died.
(Rifka with that all too familiar 'secret smile')
She gave birth Friday night to one puppy and then the second puppy gave her trouble. Taryn rushed her to the vet and they decided on a c-section with a spay to save Rifka. It is suspected there was an infection as the puppies had begun to separate from the uterus far too soon. Rifka never properly came out of the anesthetic and died a few hours later in Taryn's arms. Sitting on the vet clinic floor with the familiar weight of Rifka's beloved head in her lap, Taryn was forced to say a premature farewell.
(Rifka and the only puppy she saw)
It's a hollow victory to have 10 beautiful puppies and no mother to raise them. I don't know any responsible breeder who would sacrifice their bitch for puppies and I know Taryn would trade the litter in a heartbeat to have Rifka back. As it is Taryn now has 10 puppies to raise. The best thing to do in this situation is to have a surrogate  mother but they are hard to find and not all bitches will allow strange puppies to nurse from them. So in the hours after a shocking loss Taryn had a mad scramble to find a bitch who had just whelped a litter and who might accept 10 strange puppies into her whelping box. Time is of the essence. Often in these situations litters are split up, especially with such a large number, but in this case there was a miracle on Vancouver Island.
(Lola and one of Rifka's puppies)
Enter Lance and Deb of Coso Ridgebacks and their amazing dog Lola. She had literally just weaned her own puppies and so Rifka's last litter was given their first real chance of survival which hinged on the acceptance of their biological aunt - Lola is Manny's sister. I am awed at Taryn's fortitude and determination in the wee hours of that morning- telling Lance and Deb what happened, asking for their help, planning logistics of travel from the mainland to Vancouver Island with puppies just hours old, leaving Rifka behind, talking to strangers to book passage, making plans, setting up contingencies, trying to ensure no one else dies - all while suppressing an overwhelming sorrow that would have filled, and still fills, her entire soul. We all know this sorrow; the one that bubbles up from your heart, closes your throat, fills your eyes, hitches your breath and leaves you exhausted.
(Lola and Rifka's litter - 1 week)
It is safe to say Taryn is living my absolute worst breeding nightmare. There is nothing I fear more than losing a bitch to a litter. It happens, not often, but it does happen and you are almost always counting on other people, usually who have a different breed and are often complete strangers, to raise your puppies for you. If you are very lucky your puppies will have had a chance, as Rifka's did, to nurse from their mother in those first few hours and ingest some of that all important colostrum to boost their immune systems. Rifka's last gift to her puppies was her immunity to things that will quietly take a puppy's life. I look at these photos of Lola with Rifka's babies and am very happy they are doing so well and that she is such an awesome dog ... and then the tears well up as I think of how it should be Rifka in there with them.
(Lola and one of Rifka's puppies - 1 week)
There is injustice here. Taryn is not about breeding. She is about the dogs. She doesn't breed for money or fame or ribbons - she breeds because she likes the breed and loves dogs. Since she didn't keep a puppy from Rifka's last litter, she decided one last time to try and get a nice bitch to show. It bothers me a lot that there are people out there breeding their girls over and over and over like puppy factories - I can't help but think it's only about the money for them. That someone as good and kind and well-intended as Taryn loses her heart is an incredible injustice. Why do those irresponsible breeders get to keep their bitches and Taryn does not? I don't wish for the death of any dog - and certainly no dog born in my house - but I do wish backyard breeders had more consideration for the life they are putting at risk. The dogs that create these puppies are not machines and they can die as a result of what we do with them - whatever the purpose. The unjust death of a dog like Rifka is exactly that - unjust. It happens, this I know, but it shouldn't happen to people like Taryn and dogs like Rifka.

(Deb of Coso RR supplementing one of Rifka's puppies)

This is only the second dog I have lost from the litters I have produced. Both are Halo's daughters, both shuffled off this mortal coil years before they were supposed to. Geddie died in 2010 at only 3 years old from an attack of bloat, or gastric torsion - she was Raimi's littermate and it hit home how fragile their lives are. It's simply a coincidence that Rifka and Geddie were Miss Yellow in their litters and both are gone at an early age, but all the same I will be retiring the yellow ribbon. Taryn is not using yellow in her own litter as she didn't want it to bias her choice, but personally I think it's time to let that color fade away.

(Rifka this past summer gazing with the expression of love I know so well)

I wish there was some way for Taryn to parcel off her sorrow so that other people can carry it for her, if only for a little while. She is strong, and must be strong, to raise the litter and make sure each puppy is prepared for a new home so that the very best of Rifka is represented. Rifka left our company much too soon and the hole that remains will never be filled though the grief will wane and the pain will fade. Ten puppies are Rifka's last contribution to this Earth and all the hope and promise that comes with any litter lies with them. One last kiss Rifka, time to walk away and care for the babies you left behind. You are greatly, sadly and immeasurably missed every day.

For Taryn & Rifka 
Peace of an angel
This much we know
Flight without wings
But born of a Halo.

Piece of the future
A blueprint called pure
The one with the Yellow
Of that you were sure.

Peace to your heart
No words can express
How deep was your love
No one can guess.
Piece that is missing
Love Actually gone
She's all around us
'de Lint' her last song.

Peace waits with Rifka
The Bridge calls her name
But until you're beside her,
There she will remain. 


Deborah Adams said...

I am crying tears for Rifka, her babies - and her people :( Sadness and joy all at once. RIP Rifka, your babies are in good hands ...

Unknown said...

Peace to both Taryn and Rifka. Rifka is the mother of my dog, she will be missed.

The Calgary McLeans said...

So sad,Mungo sends his love.

The Calgary McLeans said...

So sad,Mungo sends his love.