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Memory Lane

Just when I think I have finished the website revamp, I change something.  I had settled on a template I liked, then, at the last moment, I found the one I settled on, and am very happy with it.  I hope you’ll give me feedback to assist me in knowing what works best for the general public.

In the rebuilding of this website, I took a trip through memory lane.  I revisited Cher, our first Labrador, who was an awful example of the breed, but taught me so much.  Most important, it was due to her, that I met Winnie Limbourne (Wingmaster), Donna Smith (Donally) and Barbara Davis (Boldcrest).  …and the greatest of them all, Champion Bold Aaron CD WC!  Aaron changed my life.  Aaron was the greatest of all Labradors (in my newbie mind), and today, with far more education in the breed still stands out as one of the most influential Labradors in Labrador history.   The day Barbara handed me his leash and asked me to hold him is fixed in my mind.  Had she had me grasp the hand of the most famous person in the world, it would not have had more impact on me.  Every dog at Blue Knight goes back to that dog.  So many generations ago, that I don’t know who has had the most influence on my dogs, him, or my increasing knowledge.  Probably both.

Many of my first mentors in Labradors have now passed on.  I miss them terribly.  It’s probably the typical lamenting that all people do as time passes, but they all represent better days gone by – a more innocent time in Labs.  Those were the days when everyone laughed, everyone smiled, everyone cheered, everyone imparted knowledge freely, and they were generous with it.  I don’t recall any of them referencing a dog in the ring in anything but positive ways.  My friend and mentor, Winnie, told me “Never fault judge a Labrador [looking for the negative].   Always find the best features on the dog.  Anyone can fault Judge, it’s cheap and easy.  If you want to be a good judge of the dogs, find the positive, and the one with the most positives is the dog that should take the ribbon.”   I will never forget those words.  Every generation has “the greats” in the breed … people who have had an immeasurable impact on the breed.  Just over a week ago, we lost another of the ‘old’ guard.  I pray there are always those sorts in the breed.  I suppose their will be, but like every aging person, I sense the best are gone.   I pray the influence of each of them can be found on these pages.  I tried.

I revisited in my mind, Sugar – our first Champion.  I never got a puppy from her, and her only daughter (a singleton) was owed to a breeder for finishing her for me.  The sale of that girl to another country nearly killed me, I’d have sold my house to get her back, but the choice was not given to me.  That wound is well healed, and there are no bad feelings, but I guess there is a lingering lament.   Sugar taught me so much, and was such a wonderful girl.  When we lost her to cancer, her Veterinarian cried harder than I did.  So loved was our Sug!

Adam!  Ch. Blue Knight Classic Genesis.  When I think about him, I can still feel the coarse waves in his coat.  He was a silly, sometimes unruly, always sweet and tender with my grandkids.  Always.

Casey, the love bug.  His was the best temperament of any Lab I knew, and he passed it on to his many children.  He was a clone of his father, Ben (Wingmaster’s Just Another Fella), and best friend to our grandson, Aaron.  The relationship between those two was something quite special.

There were dogs we shared our lives with who did nothing in the ring, except shared our lives with us.  I can still sense what running my hands through their coats felt like and remember the sad last moments with them.   I could go through them all here on paper, or just lump them all together as memories of wagging tails, big-muddy feet, lots of shedding, silliness and love.  I do not regret a single moment of my time with them, except that their lives are never long enough, and each takes a piece of me with them, and each that comes into our lives, fills the void left by their predecessor.

I look at these pages, and I can smell newborn puppies.  That’s often how I remember each dog here.  I know them from their first breath.  Many go off to homes, and their families become family.  I just spoke to one today.  His family has had three of our dogs.  His first when he was single, the next to he and his wife, and now, with two children, he has his third Lab.   Another family, was a young Marine and his wife.  I get photos of their children, one who has been to her prom now.  They have had three of our dogs as well.  Another couple has also had three of our dogs.  I hear from them often.   Not long ago, I received a email from a couple who included photos of their still living 15 year old dog and their young children, thanking me for a lifetime of love.  Those emails make my heart jump for joy.  We have sold puppies to famous people, and just normal folks, and each of them bring memories of first kisses and ‘going home’.

Labrador Retrievers have filled the lives of my children, and their children.  Every one of our eight grandchildren have had a Labrador in their lives.    The impact of the Labrador on my family is immense.  Our family memories have, and always will, include Labradors.

I hope that you find, within these pages, a feel for the impact of these dogs on our lives, and that we have imparted some of the knowledge these dogs have given us, but mostly the love they freely give.   If I have missed the mark, and you don’t find those things in these pages, I want to know.

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Our Canine Cradle

I wrote this article in 2004.  Nothing has changed since its writing.  The box has more tooth marks, stains, and new memories.  It continues to cradle new life, expectant mothers, hopes, and dreams that span 36 years now.

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When I was new at breeding, I read an article in the AKC Gazette that I believe was called “The Family Cradle”. It was written by a breeder following a sad outcome of her litter. She spoke of sitting on the edge of her whelping box, wishing for what might have been, rubbing her hands across the edge of the box, and feeling the multitude of tooth marks and nail marks from litters past. She spoke of the delight of feeling those marks from past litters, and that the rough, unfinished, unsightly box was a family treasure — the family cradle for her dogs.

I can no longer find that article, which I kept for many years, but I don’t need it anymore. I have a family cradle of my own, in fact, two of them. They’re rough, unfinished, full of tooth and toenail marks. Some would find them ugly. To me, they are beautiful, and carry the memories, hopes, and dreams that I’ve had for 20+ years.

Of the two whelping boxes I have, one is my favorite, and if I only have one litter, it is the box that is in use. I was given one of my whelping boxs, by a friend of mine, Barbara Davis, owner of Champion Bold Aaron CD, WC (*The* dog who inspired me to get into the breed — the dog who was, in my opinion, the best Labrador on four legs). When Barbara got out of dogs, she gave me the box. It had been used by her for almost ten years and one can only imagine how many of Aaron’s own puppies were born in that box. When she gave me the box, every yellow dog in my kennel, and most of the blacks, had Aaron behind them. It was fitting that the grand, great-grand, and great-great-grandpups of Aaron should continue to be born in that box and each of them leave their mark (quite literally) on the walls of the box.

    

Those little tooth marks, each of them, represent a life that was either a show hopeful, or the life-long pet of a puppy buyer that spans more than 20 years now. Those tooth marks are precious to me. The rough texture of the box is comforting and beautiful.

The box is simple. Just a 6X4 space with a removable divider somewhere around 1/3 of the way across. The smaller side for bitch resting, the larger side being the puppy side. It has no “pig rail” because I am among a few who believes that addition actually contributes to neonatal injury or death. It isn’t fancy, it’s easy to clean, and it serves a purpose, and it’s far more practical than its simplicity would indicate.

As I rub the edges of the box today, I remember large healthy trouble-free litters, and also the sadness that occurred in the box. But during the sadness, the box served its purpose as a cradle for hope, dreams and prayers given up for small lives that sometimes, were never meant to be.

Sometimes the box is a place of comfort for my girls when their labor has gone very wrong, and they suffer the pain of c-section. I wonder if somewhere in their memories, they remember the comfort of the box when they were newborns and growing puppies. Is it possible that the box gives them a sense of home, security and comfort? I will never know. But I do know that sometimes, a bit of magical healing happenes in the box.

I remember Wish when she had an infection, and she permitted the lactating female of a friend to nurse her puppies, while both of these bitches laid in the box and tended their charges. I remember Abby, who came so close to dying after a ruptured uterus, and raised her litter in that box. I remember when I had had two litters, and one mother was exhausted after a c-section, and the other mother jumped in the box to tend the babies until she gained her strength. And I remember a single puppy who only felt the comfort of the box for the short 24 hours of his life, and how his distraught mother slept alone in the box following his death.

   

There have been so many litters born in that box, that I hardly recall them all, but I have memories of wet, firm bodies, and first breaths. Of the anticipation of each delivery. The Joy of looking at healthy litters nursing quietly in front of contented mothers.

When you visit my home when a litter is present, please come rub the rough spots on the whelping box. They are the marks of the past, and the dreams of the future. Each one represents a life that started in this rough, but precious and miraculous family cradle.

 

I anticipate that one day I too will pass a family cradle on to some upcoming wide-eyed new Labrador enthusiast/breeder. It will go to someone who will appreciate its imperfections, its rough texture, its mauled edges–Its promise.

copyright 2004 – D. Welle

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Ashes to Ashes

The pain is still new.  We just spoke in his ear for the last time “Good boy… you’re a good boy”, as the Veterinarian performed the ultimate act of comfort.  The body of this loved creature relaxes and we feel them go, and our hearts go with them.  Then days later the call comes “We have Tank’s remains here for you to pick up”.    The box of cremains is heaver than the small box would indicate.  I pet the outside of the box, as I once did soft fur.  I always look inside the box, and I’m not sure why.  The ashes are white.  Tank was black.  The silly thought goes through my head “the ashes should be black”.   The pain continues to rip through me.  It’s just too soon.

I have five similar boxes here, that contain the ashes of loved dogs.

When we lived in California, we at first buried our dogs on our 2.5 acre property, but as we got older, digging in the granite rock that was our property was just too difficult, and we opted for cremation.  We scattered the ashes on the hilltop that was our front yard, where every litter, and therefore that dog had played on.  That seemed fitting.  Now that we’re in Idaho, digging is easier, and we could bury them, but we had decided to cremate and wait to see where we believed they should go.  We finally decided.  We have a courtyard area, and we plan to pour cement pads within that courtyard.  We’ll add a pad for each dog, which will make a great patio area filled with memories.  I will put a stamped name for each dog on the pad.  It will be our memorial courtyard, where I will grow flowers and vegetables, and be able to reflect on the lives of each of them.  I will remember the day I delivered them from their mother, and the day I delivered them into the hands of God.  It will be a beautiful place to sit and remember, and maybe smile at the memories that flooded my mind in the last moments we held them.

These are a very few of those last moments:

 

  

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Tender Paws

12/30/16
After the devastating loss of Tank (BISS CH. Blue Knight INXS) this week,  I have found a need to write.  We’ve lost many dogs since 1980, and each of them has brought heartache, but this one seems to have hit harder.  We’re getting older.  Our breeding/showing days are numbered.  Time is not on our side.  His loss is a major dose of reality – an era has come to an end.  Handling rambunctious big boys is harder now with many orthopedic surgeries behind me.   The loss of this one has brought a nostalgic flood of memories and emotion that I want to write down.  It’ll take time to tell all the stories, and document the memories of nearly a lifetime in dogs, but it is winter in North Idaho, I have nothing but time, and nothing but affection for these wonderful, silly dogs. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.   What better time to start something, than the beginning of a new year?

These paws racked up a lot of miles, and it is unlikely that any dog will ever fill his paw prints (literally, he had the largest paws of any Lab I have ever owned).  Never was a dog so gentle and tender in nature.  He would walk among the tiniest puppies with great care.  I will miss holding his paws in my hand.

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Hallmark Of The Breed

The Standard of the breed says that “true Labrador Retriever temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the ‘otter’ tail.”.  This couldn’t be more true.  The Labrador is known as a friendly, happy dog.  It is not prone to being aggressive, territorial, insecure, nervous , hypersensitive, possessive, or any of the many temperament traits seen in other breeds.  Temperament is the very reason we selected the Labrador as the dog for our family.  We looked at several breeds, and realized that the Labrador was bred for two purposes; to be companions and to retrieve for their owners.  Their entire reason to exist is to serve and love their owners.  They have a reputation for being excellent with children of all ages and other animals.  They’re very people-oriented, and do not do well without a vibrant social life.

This is why Labradors are suited for, and used as Service and Therapy dogs.  Aggressive behavior is a serious temperament fault in a Labrador.  They have a kind, outgoing nature, and are eager to please (sometimes too eager).   What more can you ask of a dog?  We knew this breed was perfect for us.

When we started in the breed, we had four young, energetic children, who could keep our dogs happy, healthy, and social.  While these traits are inborn in the Labrador, we know that socialization is an important need for the Labrador.  With our children grown and gone, the importance of socialization is all the more important, and we found that nature provided grandchildren for more than spoiling by grandparents.  Grandchildren make perfect puppy/dog socialization tools.  We have seven of them.  That provides us with a never-ending source of puppy socializers. Our newest grandchild, born in April, already had a Labrador in place when she was born, waiting to teach her to enjoy licks, body-slams, and big furry bodies close by.   As her mother and father teach her to be gentle with the dog, he will teach her that a Labrador will tolerate any amount of poking and pulling from a young child.   She will become the center of his world, and he will likely become her best friend.