Kit’s first week

Wow things change so quickly with a puppy around!

Kit’s first couple of days with us were enormous - so many new things for a little pup. A big drive, a new family, a new house, his first collar... when we first got home Kit didn’t venture far from my ankles.  If he could have climbed into my lap, he would have, but it was occupied.

IMG_2556.JPG

Our first big, accidental! success was with the crate training - Kit almost immediately decided his crate was a safe place when there weren’t any ankles to shadow. He hasn’t cried overnight and generally accepts that the crate is a good place to hang out when we’re cooking etc.

IMG_2561.JPG

Over the last week his crate has started to accumulate some soft and chew toys, and he loves stretching out in funny positions next  to the bed!

Much to my relief, because carrying him and the baby wasn’t really possible, he’s worked out how to go down the back stairs, as well as up. He’s learnt how to stand up to drink out of the mounted water bowl (I haven’t managed to capture a pic of that yet, I am trying, it’s so cute!) and we’re working on the toilet training. Having to get up overnight to the Small Bunyip makes it easy to make sure we take Kit out at least once during the night.  

And best of all, he’s learning how to get along with the Big Dogs.  

When we introduced them all at the breeder’s place, everyone was more interested in sheep poo and farm smells. Once home, Czar and Frankie were extremely keen to sniff every centimetre of Kit, who was inclined to either sit firmly on his smelliest region to control the situation or to seek help. Gradually, he’s come out of his shell. Czar very quickly asserted his position as pack leader by giving the pup one good nip, and now Kit waits to be invited to play with Czar. Frankie, however, has his crate invaded, his heels nipped, his collar tag nibbled - sometimes we have to separate them when we feel the (just turned!) 13yo is struggling. Both adult dogs have extended Kit “puppy licence” and tolerate him getting in their space in a way they wouldn’t allow another adult - amazing the way that instinct has kicked in, after 10-13 years since being around puppies!

Fortunately for all of us, every so often, Kit just has to nap! 

IMG_2560.JPG

Introducing Kit

Once upon a time, J made me a promise. We’ve actually forgotten exactly when he made this promise, but it was after a conversation with a friend about how nice it was to have one dog in the house, just one! that wasn’t a Siberian husky. Just one dog that would enjoy other dog sports, one dog with reliable recall, who could sit under the table at a cafe without dragging the table down the street. This week that promise came true. 

IMG_2552.JPG

He looks ginormous, doesn’t he? Several friends saw this photo and thought we’d gotten a Burmese mountain dog. He’s actually an Aussie  Shepherd, and he’s only 10 weeks old, so he’s not very big at all.

IMG_2550.JPG

After a LOT of research, I decided that an Aussie would be a good fit for our household. Adult Aussies are a little shorter but a similar weight to the Sibes, also have the double coat and toughness that the Arctic breeds have. An Aussie should be able to cope with the rough and tumble of a yard full of Siberians, be warm at the snow, but give me a different  obedience experience. Once I’d chosen a breed, I started looking for the right breeder.

One of my early dates with J was to an Oscar’s Law rally. Having run the SHCV Rescue for several years, J was passionate about breeding being done ethically and responsibly, and he opened my eyes to the issues behind pet stores and “free to a good home” puppies, ie puppy farms and backyard breeders. J introduced me to breeders who were neither of these things, and I knew I wanted a responsible, ethical breeder for my puppy. (Why not #adoptdontshop? Because trialing  dogs need to be registered with Dogs Vic and this is much easier with a registered breeder. Because why not support breeders who are doing the right thing?)

We went to the Dog Lover’s Show and spoke to some ladies on the Aussie Shepherd Club stand. They recommended a breeder who’s dogs would probably suit our lifestyle - competitive obedience, tough little dogs who would cope with the Siberians. I got in touch with her, explaining what I was looking for and that it might be a few years before we were ready.

IMG_2559.JPG

The response reassured me that she was the responsible, ethical type of breeder I was looking for. She gave me heaps of information and links - she is knowledgeable about the genetic conditions of dogs, performed all the health testing  (and a bit more) to ensure the healthiest parents. She is highly supportive of her puppy owners, offering training on her property, support for the dog’s lifetime via FB and email and visits. She breeds in a humane and caring way - puppy owners regularly return to her property for her training sessions, where the kennels are well kept, the dogs well fed and cared for, and part of the family - most puppy farmers will avoid having prospective buyers see their facilities where no care or resources are “wasted” on the breeding animals beyond the bare minimum, to maximise their profits.

FullSizeRender.jpg

I also noticed that this breeder’s prefix (or kennel name, the first word in a registered dog’s formal name) was appearing everywhere. Her dogs were at all the obedience trials I went to. I started to introduce myself to people with her dogs, and I got nothing but positive responses. One day, I thought, one day...

 ...last week, after some intense discussions about our future direction and puppies and current challenges, we emailed the breeder with an update on our household. I knew she had a litter on the ground but I was pretty certain they’d all be spoken for. 

IMG_2635.JPG

Much to my delight, I heard back from the breeder within 24 hours. The advertised litter were all sold, but there was another puppy... 

...we’re calling him Kit. He’s gorgeous. He’s also ridiculously hard to photograph because he just wants to be right under my feet at all times. Please excuse the crappy images here - don’t worry, there’ll be plenty more. 

IMG_2582.JPG

Children and dogs - how do you explain to little kids when dogs die?

I’m going to start with a disclaimer - the choices we’ve made as parents that are discussed here are heavily influenced by my Catholic background. This is not intended to disrespect other viewpoints of various religious and atheist communities, just to tell the story of our own family.

Also, I’m not an expert in child psychology or parenting - I’m just bumbling along as best I can. 

IMG_0665.JPG

Sleddog households tend to be multi dog households. Some people have large kennels, others have enough dogs to cover the lounge room floor. It’s become normal for J and I to answer the “how many dogs do you have?” with the phrase “only three.” The response is either a nod or a gasp, depending on what’s “normal” for the other person. And sadly, if it’s normal for a family to have multiple dogs, then they will also have to deal with the grief of losing their dogs more frequently than an “average” family, because dogs just don’t live as long as we do.

Last year, we said goodbye to Ishka, very suddenly and unexpectedly. This year, Bolo’s passing was a long time coming. Currently Frankie is about to turn 13, and doing well, despite his bad back, poor eyesight and megaoesophagus. But we know that we will probably have to say goodbye to him too, sometime in the next few years.  And each year, our Wee Monster becomes a bit more aware of what’s going on. We have to adjust our approach each time.

When Ishka was put to sleep, Wee Monster was not yet 2. He had recently started naming the dogs - I don’t remember which one he said first, maybe Bolo, but he could name each of the three boys. He hadn’t said Ishka’s name before she was gone, and we didn’t discuss her death with him directly at the time. We didn’t discuss her much at all over the next few months. When we moved house and set up “only three” crates in the lounge, we put Ishka’s urn up on a high shelf. 

IMG_2395.JPG

(Our thanks to ID for her beautiful urn.) 

But small children are definitely sponges. Somewhere along the way, Wee Monster learnt to say “Ishka.”  He recognized her face in photos. He asked where she was, and we stumbled through a statement that she was “in heaven.”

For a little while, he accepted that. But, in his mind, “heaven” was a place, like “London” or “Hobart.” People go to and come back from London and Hobart, so why not heaven. So he asked when Ishka would come back. We had to explain that her body had stopped working and she’d left it behind to go to heaven. Oh. Ok.

When we knew Bolo’s pain was breaking through his medication, I agonised over whether Wee Monster should say goodbye, whether we should bring him to the vet, what to say. A few wise people pointed out some common problems when speaking to children about death: firstly, that phrases like “put to sleep”, “the big sleep” or “dying in their sleep” are potentially terrifying for kids who are in a very literal phase. No one wants to make a child scared to go to sleep in case they don’t wake up. 

Secondly, what would happen if the Wee Monster learnt to fear the vet or the dogs going to the vet?

In the end, I said goodbye to Bolo at home. He leaned into my hug and then wandered off. I took the kids out, trying not to cry until we were all belted into the car and they couldn’t see me. J took Bolo out for a walk, just the two of them, and then they went to the vet. We didn’t tell Wee Monster anything. J came home and disappeared down the other end of the house.

IMG_1994.JPG

Wee Monster asked why daddy was upset.

”He’s sad” I said.

We watched Lightning McQueen’s quest for the Piston Cup for the umpteenth time. My vision blurred a few times, but I managed to hold back the tears.

It was a strange day.

Eventually, Wee Monster noticed that Bolo was missing. Trying to keep my voice matter of fact, I told him Bolo had gone to heaven.

”Oh! He’s with Ishka? They’re together?”

Yes, sweet boy, that’s it. And, at nearly 3yo, that’s enough.

IMG_1993.JPG