Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pup Videos from Days 9, 10, & 11

Day 9: Miss Sky Tries Out Her Voice

Day 9: Miss Sky Settles in for a Nap (and takes a LONG time to do so)

Day 10: Mr. Lime Gets Comfy

Day 11 (this morning): Feeding Frenzy

Day 11 (this morning: Feeding Frenzy, Part 2 (Mr. Green Tries Again)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ten Days Old and Gaining!

Gaining weight is a good thing.

Well, for puppies that is. ;o)

Here's the Elsie/Ridge litter gang at 10 days old:

Yup, if you look closely, all nine pups are in there lined up along Elsie's belly (well one is climbing on her front leg)! And they look twice the size of what they were a week ago. That's as it should be.

All have doubled their birth weights by now, some sooner than others, so I think we might be outta the woods! A new-to-me guideline I learned from Momma Teese in AZ this week is that pups should double their birth weights by the time they're 10 days old. That's one she learned from another breeder, and after watching her own litters, realized it was a great gauge for assessing growth.

The only other growth-guideline I knew about came from our vet who said the pups should be gaining anywhere from a half-ounce to an ounce in weight every 12 hours (for the first few days after birth). That's 1-2 ounces a day. That's how I knew we were in trouble, first with Green (who lost weight the first two days after birth, but who grew wonderfully once we put him alone on Elsie's full teats), and then with Red and Black, who not only didn't gain regularly, but had stretches of losing weight, too (White's issue, if you recall was not failure to thrive, but rather diarrhea).

Having this additional guideline (doubling their weights by 10-days-old) is a great resource for me. And it looks like we're doing okay!

Here's the skivvy on their sizes (remember 16 oz. = 1 pound):

Miss Pink (birthweight: 15.2 oz): 2 pounds 6.5 oz.
Mr. Blue (birthweight: 1 pound 0.8 oz): 2 pounds 15 oz.
Mr. Green (birthweight: 14. 5 0z): 2 pounds 6 oz.
Mr. Red (birthweight: 14.8 oz): 2 pounds even
Mr. Yellow (birthweight: 14.9 oz): 2 pounds 9 oz.
Mr. Black (birthweight: 12.8 oz): 1 pound 11 oz.
Miss Sky (birthweight: 14.1 oz): 2 pounds 8.5 oz.
Mr. Lime (birthweight: 14.4 oz): 2 pounds 3.5 oz.
Mr. White (birthweight: 15.6 oz): 2 pounds even

Red, Black, and White are still our little guys, but they're all reaching appropriate milestones and they're all progressively gaining weight.

White, who had diarrhea, is doing wonderfully and gaining rapidly. He has not had a supplemental feeding (bottle feeding) since Friday, and he's competing just fine with the big boys and girls for nummies from Momma Elsie. We're no longer worried about him.

Red, who hasn't gained as quickly as the rest, has increased in weight continuously over the last three days, but seems to be leveling off again. We'll continue to keep an eye on him. But he's developing soundly, doing all of what the other pups are doing. I think he may just be smaller.

Black is still tube feeding, but we're tapering a bit since he's nursing better. He's also just starting (and I mean just) to resist being tube fed (resisting is a good thing -- it means he's strong enough to protest). So we think we may be turning the corner with him. He finally pee'd on his own this morning (all the pups are doing that now in the whelping box)(yay!), and he's barking (yay!), and he's pushing up with his back legs (yay!), and he's finding Elsie's teat on his own (yay!).

But there's no way he can compete with the bigger pups during nursing. He just gets pushed aside.

So we're still giving him alone-time with Elsie for nursing when her teats are full. And we're still supplementing him by tube feeding. I'm not sure how long this will last (it depends on his gains), but we're glad to do it for him (now that I'm over my sheer terror of hurting him). He's going to make one special companion for somebody down the road; he's one special little guy.

With each passing day I'm feeling less anxious and more relaxed, and I'm thoroughly enjoying puppy grunts and puppy breath and puppy squiggles. :o)

Now that I'm more relaxed, I can say that sometimes the pups are just hysterical to watch in the whelping box (I'll post some videos again later today). So I'm smiling, laughing, and enjoying them a whole lot more. The black cloud of worry seems to be passing.

And I'm getting some sleep (had 8.5 hours last night from 8 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.). We even left the pups alone with Elsie from midnight to 4 a.m. -- first time yet (we were still worried about her squishing Mr. Black, but the rest could squiggle out from under her if they had to).

DSD drives back to Maine today (think of her, please, as you will -- it's an 8-hour drive and she'll be alone with Baxter). She's leaving later this afternoon (sleeping in really late this morning and early afternoon if she can so she'll be well rested for the drive). She's literally been a godsend -- what a help it's been to have extra hands and eyes here!

Now I may as well enjoy the next few days of relative calm before the pups get more active and independent. The REAL work begins soon enough (Elsie is already cutting back on cleaning up after her brood, ignoring their pee puddles completely). Instead of twice a day, I'll be cleaning the whelping box four times daily.

But that's okay--it just means we have active, lively, thriving puppies, and that does my soul good to know.

Thanks for hanging in there with us!

'Til next time,

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pinot Wants to be A Mom :o)

Dear Sweet Sarah Girl (as in Dear Sweet Daughter or DSD), our recently married girl-child who drove all the way from Maine to help with the puppies and to keep me from losing my mind, was holding Mr. Blue and handling him for a few seconds as we do all the pups as part of their early socialization.

He, of course, vocalized a bit in protest.

Dear Sweet Elsie Girl (or Momma Elsie) watched carefully, but seemed unconcerned (that's the back of Elsie's head in the front center of the picture). She trusts Sarah and us when it comes to her little ones.

The Pinot Squirt, however, couldn't stand it. She so wanted to come in and be a part of things that she jumped up on the gate, nearly knocking it over, in an attempt to get a good whiff or Mr. Blue in DSD's arms (or maybe to see what all his fuss was about). Take a look:


Pinot and Kenya seem to have very strong mothering instincts, which bodes well for our future litters.

But it makes it a little crazy here now.

Thankfully DH and I were right here to rescue DSD . :o)

And Elsie didn't seem to mind any of it one bit. Talk about a low-key mom!

'Til next time,

Milestones :o)

Hey, it's us, the little squirts from Momma Elsie's litter. Look at how we're changing at just 9 days old!

Our pads are getting darker:

Our noses are starting to darken, too:

We're sleeping a whole lot better for longer periods of time:

Aside from eating, we like the puppy pile best:

When we get hungry we find our voices:

We're starting to find our sea legs, too, but Momma Elsie keeps knocking us over when she licks us to make us pee and poo:

Some of us are trying to stand up and poo on our own, but we're a little unsteady. And it doesn't help when our littermates plow into us while we're concentrating:

We're not all growing quite the same way, but we're all making headway. Here's our biggest guy (Mr. Blue, the Moose) and our littlest guy (Mr. Black, the runt) side-by-side (Blue, at a whopping 2 pounds 13.5 ounces, weighs 1 pound 4 ounces more than Black - Black weights 1 pound 9.5 ounces):

Mr. Black still worries Grandma Joan and Grandpa Don, but he's gaining length and weight everyday and is hitting appropriate milestones. He's still being tube-fed 4x daily, and sometimes nurses, but not very well or for very long. They let him nurse first and alone, but it doesn't seem to make much difference. At least with tube-feeding he's making progress (he puppy grunts now and pushes himself up on his front paws and he tries to "knead" -- all things he didn't do before). He's just a few days behind the rest of us in what he can do, and is closing the gap.

Grandma Joan and Great-Aunt Jeanie, and Grandpa Don, and Aunt Sarah, have all started Early Neurological Stimulation with all of us except Mr. Black. That means, for just a few seconds per day day (3-5 seconds), they ...

  • tickle our toes with q-tips,
  • they hold us perpendicular to the ground,
  • they hold us with our heads pointing downward
  • they put us on our backs in their palms
  • and then they put us on a cool, damp towel.

We're not really sure we like it, but we can put up with just about anything for just a couple seconds. :o)

[Note from Grandma Joan: You can read more about this at Breeding Better Dogs dot com (www.breedingbetterdogs.com). The creator of this program, Dr. Carmen Battaglia, reported on research by the U.S. Military finding that this kind of early stimulation had lasting and beneficial effects on puppies: they had stronger heartbeats, greater resistence to disease, stronger adrenal glands, greater tolerance to stress, improved cardiovascular systems, and overall were calmer and more focused when working. We do this with all our litters, but have refrained this time with Mr. Black, waiting until he's a bit stronger.]

That's it from us for now! Grandma Joan will be back next time,

The Elsie/Ridge puppies: Pink, Blue, Green, Red, Yellow, Black, Sky, Lime, and White

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One Week Old: Puppy Pictures :o)

Can someone please tell me where I put my glasses?

If two heads are better than one, then these guys must be geniuses!

Care to dance?

Happiness is a warm belly and a full tummy:

If we have "power lunches" and can go for "power walks" and can take "power naps," then can pups like Mr. Yellow practice "power nursing"?

Snooze alert: sleeping in the Puppy Pile (and the gang's all here!):

Belly up to the bar, girls (Miss Sky on left, Miss Pink on right)!

Sometimes, putting noses into others' business is okay:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tube Feeding Puppy Neonates

I now have a whopping TWO tube feedings under my belt, and both have gone very well. I was a bit more coordinated in my second efforts (smoother) than in my first, but in both cases, the feedings went quickly and without incident.

For the first time all week, after being tube-fed Mr Black (our runt) went over two hours without fussing (after both tube feedings). Before, even after alone time on Elsie's full teat, he'd start fussing 10 minutes after nursing.

Now he's sleeping soundly, doing normal puppy grunts, twitching away as he should, dreaming, and seems comfy. Phew. It's about time (it's been a really long week), and it warms my puppy-grandmommy heart to see (I can't tell you how relieved I am knowing he's getting the proper nutrition he needs).

FYI, here's the equipment we used to tube feed our little guy (we may have to do the same for Mr. Red later today, but we won't make that decision until we see how our evening weight checks work out). It includes a #8 Fr (2.7 mm) feeding tube/urethral catheter (for veterinary use only), a monoject plunger of the size suited to this feeding tube size, and Esbilac Milk Replacer for puppies (I used the prepared liquid in a can, slightly warmed in the microwave):

Here are what the tube and plunger look like in their packaging:

I thankfully had these things on hand largely because of the counsel of my breeder friend in AZ (Momma Teese) and because of the information provided by this wonderful, wonderful resource written by Myra Savant-Harris, R.N.:

This book (Puppy Intensive Care: A Breeder's Guide to Care of Newborn Puppies) included a DVD that provided actual footage of Savant-Harris tube feeding one of her pups (step-by-step instruction). That coupled with the detailed instruction she provides in the book (along with Momma Teese's encouragement from AZ and our vet walking me through it on the phone) gave me enough confidence to try.

Savant-Harris also has one other book out, that's taken much of the fear out of whelping and helping newborn pups for me. It's called "Canine Reproduction and Whelping: a Dog Breeder' Guide" and it covers virtually everything you need to know from mating through whelping and aftercare of both dam and newborns. I've been referring to both resources throughout our experience with this litter.

And though I'd read a lot before referencing this resources (I've read or referenced over twenty books and countless articles on the subject), I've learned so much more from these two books, especially about helping a pup in trouble.

You've got to understand, I am not a medical professional in any capacity. I've never even seen a feeding tube or catheter (an experience I was graciously spared with my own labor and deliveries). The thought of pushing this rubber tube down my canine grandbaby's throat completely intimidated and terrified me (I was so sure I was going to hurt the pup).

When it became apparent that we either tube feed Mr. Black or watch him die, the choice was made for us. I had to at least try.

Having done it now (twice), I realize that my fears were overblown, BUT the only reason I could attempt the procedure in the first place was because I had good solid resources, mentoring, and encouragement. I could never have done this on my own.

Our experience with this litter continues to remind me of how much I need people, how I'm not meant to be a rock or an island (as Paul Simon once glorified in song), and how okay it is for me to ask for help.

I guess we really are in this together (whether it's raising Labs or living life). It's the human (and canine) condition. And truth be told, I prefer it this way.

Self-sufficiency is a lonely world in which I never want to live again.

Thanks for being part of my needing-people world!

'Til next time,

Puppy Update: The Three About Whom We're Concerned

Here's the update on our three concerning pups: one is really rebounding well; one is doing okay (improving, but not a lot); and one is still really struggling, but holding his own.

Here they are.

1. Mr. White is our guy who developed diarrhea on Wednesday and lost interest in eating. I was really afraid we were going to lose him.

However, Mr. White's diarrhea stopped completely by Thursday (yesterday afternoon), and after one successful supplement with a teeny bit of Pedialyte, two successful bottle feedings of Esbilac, and numerous times alone on a full teat over the past two days, he's becoming much more energetic and vigorous. Take a look (DSD took this clip earlier this morning during a Mr. White solo nursing session):

What you see him doing above is called "rooting" and "kneading" (like you do bread dough). When you see him pushing on Elsie with his front paws and pulling with his head, he's kneading. When he's not attached to a teat and he's sniffing and bobbing his head, he's rooting (same as human infants do when they root before nursing). Rooting helps him find the teat, kneading helps Elsie's milk let down.

And GET THIS: Mr. White passed a real-live, firm turd this morning! Yup, good old fashioned puppy poo! Oh, be still my heart! (It's amazing what things makes us leap for joy, isn't it!)

Here it is: The long-looked-for Wonder Turd. :o) Mr. White's amazing, no-more-diarrhea poo (just what you wanted to see first thing in the morning, but I was so excited to see it, and I'm so exited he's better, I just couldn't resist!):

Since Mr. White seems to be fine now, we returned him to the whelping box to snuggle with his littermates once again (he's on the top right of the puppy pile in the picture below):

2. Mr. Red: This little guy (with the red color rickrack around his neck and a redder coat than the rest of the pups), stopped putting on weight as of Monday, and didn't put on any more weight for the next three days, despite our putting him on Elsie's teats before the rest of the litter by himself to make sure he got his fair share. His lack of gaining has been (and still is) worrisome -- Lab pups should put on 1-2 ounces per day at a minimum). He also has that same heart-rending, weaker, higher-pitched cry like that of Mr. Black (our most worrisome pup). But at least he hasn't declined or lost weight. He held his own for those three days.

I'm delighted to tell you, however, that Mr. Red gained 2 oz yesterday. :o) He did NOT gain over night again (after his 2 oz gain yesterday during the day), but we'll see how today goes. If he still hasn't gained again (or has lost again) by this evening, we may try a round of tube feeding with him.We're not out of the woods with him yet (he's still not nursing the way the others are), but he's doing okay. He's hanging in there.

3. Mr. Black continues to REALLY concern us. He's just not as strong, isn't nursing as well, and will not take a bottle.

So we bit the bullet, girded our loins, steeled ourselves against sheer terror, and (drum roll please) (sorry, I can' come up with anymore cliches!), we tube fed him this morning: as in, we inserted a tube down his throat directly into his stomach, and using an attached syringe, plunged liquid puppy-milk replacer (Ebsilac) through the tube into his stomach.

I'll post more about tube feeding later, but for now, just know that he did fabulously (he yelled his half-hearted cry the whole time, which meant we had the tube in the right place -- NOT in his airway), and he burped well afterward, and is now sleeping more contentedly than I've seen him sleep so far. We only gave him 20 ml (at his weight, he could probably stand 30 ml 4x daily), but I didn't want to overfeed him our first time trying this.

So the worst, and most terrifying, tube feeding is done (the first, I hear, is always hardest). And I think we did okay, though I was terrified doing it.

Now we'll just watch and see.

Here's the rest of the gang in a puppy-pile moment:

The others who momentarily concerned us (Green and Yellow who both dipped in weight over the weekend but have more than made up for it this week) are strong, vigorous, and thriving. They're doing just as well as all the rest of the pups who haven't concerned us at all. They're off our worry radar for good now, we think.

I'll post more pics and video after lunch. I'm on my way OUT (since DSD is here to mind the whelping box). Yay! :o)

All I can say is I'm relieved. But we're not there yet.

Stay tuned,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guess Who's Here!!!!

What a morale booster!

As 6:00 a.m. this morning, five hours into my puppy shift, the rest of the gang (as in Pinot, Ridge, Kenya, and Tuc) started going berserk. I couldn't imagine for the life of me what was going on, especially since the canine crew doesn't usually "get up" until 6:30 a.m. (that's when we let them out for the first time in the morning).

Imagine my surprise when Dear Sweet Daughter Sarah (my newly married girl-child who now lives in Maine) and the Baxter Boos (yup, our Baxter Boy) came sneaking in around the corner. :o)

What a surprise, and what a boost to my morale!

Sarah could tell I was pretty down when we talked on the phone yesterday, and then Daddy Don told her I was a basket case (admittedly I still was) when he talked with her last night. So DSD talked it over with her hubby (the one in med school) after she got off the phone with Don, and her hubby said "go." So in the car she went and got here 8 hours later.

Here's DSD keeping watch over Mr. White, making sure Elsie doesn't step on him, while Mr. White (our diarrhea boy) gets his solo breakfast:

On the puppy front, it had already been a better night than the night before (I'll post about that in a few minutes), but the fact that DSD drove all night and brought Baxter along, too, just to cheer me up and help with pups did more for my heart than probably anything else could have. What a difference it makes to have her here!

Then, because she was here, I got to take a long, relaxing shower!!!!

I feel like a new woman: Quieter stretch with the pups through the night, everyone at least holding their own, DSD home, the Boos Buddy hanging here on the sofa, and a chance to shower without wondering what was going on in the whelping box -- well, I can't even begin to describe how much better it feels.

That doesn't mean we're outta the woods completely yet (again, I'll update you in the next post). It does, however, mean that I have cried yet today and I'm feeling far less stress and I'm calmer and I have a better perspective (I really needed some distance -- just to get out of the room for a while).

What a kid! :o) I knew I missed DSD, but I don't think I realized how much until she walked in the door. :o)

Elsie was funny, too. She was SO SO SO excited to see Baxter (and Sarah) -- she just sprung to life. She and the Boos were (and are) buds the way Kenya, Pino, and Tuc are now. It was really heartwarming to see. The two of them went out and romped a bit, just like old times. :o)

Baxter, the Big Galoot, just made himself at home, like he never left. He's still Mr. Couch Potato (doesn't he look great!):

The rest of the gang just welcomed him back like he'd been gone only a day or two. Tuc was playing Mr Submissive with Baxter, just as he did before Sarah and Chris took Baxter to Maine. It's really funny. They all "know" each other, and they haven't forgotten.

So it's a new day. A better day. And the pups are quieter than they've been since they were born (I'll explain that, too, in the next post).

What a difference a day makes.


'Til next time,

Six Days - The Gang's Still Here :o)

Well, we made it through the night (it's about 4:30 a.m. now). DH was able to bottle feed Mr. White (Don has the magic touch; did with our babies, too!). He got Mr. Black and Mr. Red to take some, too, but they're not at all thrilled with a bottle. They seem to be suckling a little better, so we're trying them back on Elsie's teats on their own.

So far, no tube feeding, but we'll make that call after the 6:30 a.m. weight checks. We're only weighing the little ones 2x daily; the big guys (the one's growing just fine) only get checked 1x daily now. Once we see how Red, Black, and White are doing, we'll decide whether or not to attempt tube feeding. I've watched DVDs on how to do it, have two great books here that walk you through it step-by-step, my vet walked me through it on the phone yesterday, and in a pinch, I'll call my breeder friend Momma Teese out in AZ (she's had to do it with a pup or two before in her Labs' litters).

I'm still scared spitless about trying to tube feed, but if I have to, and if the pups would die if I didn't, I can't really do any harm. I just have to take a deep breath and jump in. As my vet said, I gotta learn sometime.

Mr. White's diarrhea seems to have settled down (none since late yesterday afternoon), so we may not have to do subcutaneous fluids with him (he's nursing just fine, too). And no one else developed diarrhea overnight (yay!).

All three strugglers are sleeping better and longer and crying less (though when they do cry it's pitiful). I had six straight hours of their crying early yesterday morning (was at my wit's end by the time Don got up). But this morning has been much quieter. I even napped for an hour in another room!

Just for your comparison, here's Mr. Black between Mr. Lime (above him in the picture below) and Miss Pink (below him in the picture). Mr. Lime and Miss Pink are thriving, but they are not the biggest in the litter (tank-o Mr. Blue is).

You can see the size difference even better below (just Black with Pink):

He really doesn't look bad; he just looks so much smaller and seems a day or two behind the rest. Otherwise, he looks great!

I do wonder if he, White, and Red were conceived later (at the second mating) so they would have ended up being two days less developed at birth. It's certainly possible. And that would explain them being not quite as refined in their development as the rest (if you want to call the rest "refined" - hehe).

Wow... all three are sleeping soundly (breathing, twitching, etc. as they should). Boy, does that feel good. Yesterday morning they were all screaming at about this time. What a difference 24 hours makes.

But we're not entirely out of the woods yet. We'll do weight checks later this morning and will check in with the vet then. I'll update you when I know more.

Keep sending those thoughts and prayers our way. They've encouraged me more than you know!

I'll post again in a few hours.

'Til next time,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Five Days Old: Watching, Waiting, and Worrying

Here are some clips of a few of the neonates doing what neonates do: sleeping, singing in their sleep, grunting when they eat, and twitching (twitching is a good thing -- it means their neurological systems are developing).

Here's Mr Red, sound asleep on his back, singing and twitching away:

And here are a few of the pups nursing and grunting and ALMOST wagging their tails (not quite yet though):

Mr. Red isn't the only one who likes to sleep on his back. Miss Pink regularly sleeps that way (and yes, she has her moments of singing, too):

Mr. Black, our runt, likes to sleep with his head resting on Elsie. Nowhere else seems to do. In this picture, he's sharing his space with Mr. Red:

I wanted to start this post with some fun, more upbeat images just to assure you that most of the pups are doing just fine.

It has, however, been a really long 18 hours. DH and I are both exhausted.

But, we need to be watching the pups, and here's why:

1. First, there was (and still is) the issue of Elsie sitting on the pups. That's getting better, but she's still done it today again.

2. Second, Mr Black and Mr. Red just aren't putting on weight the way they should. In fact, a few of the pups lost weigh over the past few days, but they've all rebounded except Black and Red (no weight gains at all in 36-48 hours). We think they're just not as strong as the rest and keep getting shoved off of Elsie's teats by the stronger pups. So we're making sure they can eat alone on a full teat with each feeding, and that seems to help. But they both are crying a lot. They almost seem colicky.

3. Mr. White developed diarrhea overnight and has lost 1.5 oz in weight in 12 hours. After several rounds of explosive yuk, things have finally settled down a bit. We removed him from the others right away (in case he's sick), washed all the bedding again (I clean the whelping box 2x daily, and replace the bedding each time), and we're keeping him in the warming box. When he eats, he eats alone on Elsie, too, so as not to transfer germs to the other pups. And we wash Elsie's teats before we let her back in the whelping box with the others. And we wash our hands before we handle any of the other pups after handling him. We're really trying to avoid cross-contamination. But we don't even know for sure that's he sick.

Mr. White does not yet appear dehydrated (his pee is still straw colored and he is still peeing, and his skin rebounds well with the "pinch" test). I was able to get a little pedialyte in him today (though not much). If things don't improve by tomorrow morning, we may have to do subcutaneous fluids (an injection of fluids under his skin) -- something the vet will have to do since we don't have the supplies here to do it ourselves.

In any case, it's looking more like we're going to have to start tube feeding Red and Black (since they aren't gaining eating alone on full teats), and we may have to do the same for White.

It's just so heartbreaking and frustrating to know these pups aren't doing well and not be able to help them (or feel like I can't, even if we are). I did talk to the vet today, and he agreed we needed to start supplementing. And he's concerned about the pup with diarrhea (we may just lose him), but has no real explanation. It can't be toxic milk (a condition in some lactating dams) or all the pups would be in trouble. And it can't be that Elsie doesn't have enough milk, since others in the litter are growing abundantly. And it can't be something like parvo, or again, all the pups would be involved. We just can't figure it out.

I've had so many worst-case scenarios running through my head since the wee hours of this morning (I had a really crummy morning), but for now, everyone is acting fine (including Mr. White, who is very strong suckling still, and who strongly protests when we remove him from Elsie).

I just don't know what to think. On one hand, there's a real chance we could lose three of the pups. On the other, they're all fighting and seem solid (in muscle tone) and are crying vigorously. Their coats look good; their gums and tongues are nice and pink, and they're wiggling and squiggling as they should. (NO ONE is lethargic or unresponsive). They just aren't growing as they should be.

I'm so afraid it might be this awful failure to thrive thing (fading puppy syndrome, which happens but no one can explain). If it is, we'll lose them (again, just the three boys -- the two girls and the other four boys are just fine).

On the other hand, we have to do all we can to help them (some breeders would disagree with me and just let the weaker ones die). I read a that 28% of all puppies die in the first week of life; it's just the reality of survival of the fittest. But I can't just harden myself to that statistic and let the three fade away.

I'll be honest here: though I'm grateful (exceedingly grateful) for the health of our six thriving pups, I'm a basket case about the other three. I cried all night during my puppy shift -- and that can't help Elsie (she needs to be calm and confident for her milk to stay sound). I even posted here this morning at 3:30 a.m., but then pulled the post because I didn't want to drag you all down.

Here's the bottom line: we have six healthy, thriving, wiggling, rotund five-day-olds, all making great gains in weight, coordination, and growth (and I have to keep remembering that). We have two that appear healthy but that have lost weight and have gained nothing in at least 36 hours. We have one pup with diarrhea, which can kill a pup in 24 hours if he gets dehydrated. But he's still nursing strongly and crying vigorously when he's mad. And he seems okay, like he's holding his own.

Yet, the vet was clear; we may lose all three, but he's not willing to give up on them yet, and neither are we. We'll do all we can (as will he).

So as you think to please root for our little guys. And pray for us (or think good thoughts for us, or whatever your belief system includes). I'm really, really tired. And so is Don.

And like I mentioned in a recent post, I have no emotional margin. This is just tough.

I'll keep you updated. And will post again during my puppy-watch-shift (I take 1 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Now I'm off to bed (I sleep from 7-ish to just before 1 a.m., while DH is watching the pups.).

Thanks, as always for your encouragement. And if you have any suggestions, I'm all ears.

'Til next time,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Favorite Picture from Day 4

Here's my favorite picture from today. Despite Elsie's propensity to sit on her pups, she really is a sweet and tender mom.

Here's the Sweet Elsie Girl protecting and warming her little ones:

For just a few moments they rested in peace, contentment, and security.

I could use more moments like that. I suppose we all could. :o)

'Til next time,

3:00 AM at Our House (or Why We're Still on 24/7 Watch)

Well, I was going to do a brief little entry and video clip about the wiggling masses twitching and dreaming and making all kinds of funny noises while they sleep.

I just thought it'd be fun.

So as the litter grew restless, I took my little compact camera in hand and starting filming.

Elsie, by this time, noticed their restlessness and started cleaning the whelping box floor. Most of her pups were to the right of the camera field off screen. I was going to capture little Miss Pink, who was on the left of the camera's view underneath the whelping box rail, as she squiggled over to Elsie for a middle-of-the-night snack.

I aimed the camera at Miss Pink on the left, and you can just barely see Elsie and a pup rump or two on the right.

Well, don't you know, just as I start filming..., well see for yourself (watch what you can see of Elsie and puppy rumps on the right side of the video image -- it happens very quickly, just a few seconds into the clip):

Just seconds into the clip (you can start it over and count 1 thousand 2 thousand, etc. to just about 5) Elsie plumps her full weight down on top of two of the pups, completely burying their heads and front legs (and one whole pup) under her butt.

I just dropped the camera, lifted her butt, and pulled the pups out (she didn't even make an attempt to move off them). You can hear the pups squealing while I do so (I didn't edit the footage at all -- sorry about the blank screen you get for the remainder of the clip).

And that, Dear Readers, is why we're still doing the 24/7 on-call watch of Elsie and her litter.

Last year, we lost a pup who suffocated under Elsie because he just wasn't big enough or strong enough to squiggle his way out from under her. This year we thought we'd try the 24/7 shift thing (Don and I playing tag team) for the first week, just until the pups can maneuver a bit better on their own.

Here we are into the fourth day (I started this post at about 3 a.m.), and if I'd not been sitting here watching, we might have gotten up to two lost pups in the morning.

You can bet I'm awake now, eh? (Elsie's plop-on-the-pups scared the bejeebers out of me.) No wonder they say nearly 20 percent of puppies don't make it through their first week of life.

So here I sit.

And here I will sit for a few more nights (I've been sleeping in the evenings when Don is home from work, then I relieve him at 1:00 or 1:30 a.m.).

What's a few nights anyway, particularly if it can save a pup from suffocating?

Again, sorry for the lack of clarity in the clip, but I think you get the idea. And, don't worry, all the pups are fine.

At least now I don't feel quite so crazy for keeping watch.

'Til next time,

Monday, September 22, 2008

Struggle and Growth: The Squiggle Squirts at 3 Days Old :o)

Just thought you might like to see how the little guys squiggle at this age (3 days):

It's amazing how much they've grown in strength and coordination (believe it or not) in just these couple of days.

But these little guys still look so uncoordinated (they are, neurologically), and movement looks so hard for them. Everything instinct in me wants to swoop in and make it easier (pick them up and place them with Elsie, or put them on her teats instead of allowing them to find the teats themselves).

But I have to resist. I have to reign myself in. It's far better for them if I allow them to work and crawl and tip over and protest, even if their attempts aren't as efficient as they one day will be.

Their struggle makes them stronger. It aids in their development. It produces better neurological connections and improved muscle tone. It prepares them for life later on.

That's not to say we don't help the weaker ones who really do need assistance (we do, like when we make sure the smaller ones who've lost weight get on a full teat first). But the less we interfere (in normal growth and development), the stronger and healthier the pups will be.

Okay...so, I get it (sometimes I just hate life lessons, don't you?). :o) My wanting to "fix" things isn't always what's best. Immediate fixes aren't always the best course of action. Whether it's for my children or my aging mother or my recently-dumped-by-her-husband twin sister or my best friends. Struggle is necessary for their (and my) growth.

Even if it breaks my heart.

In the long run, they (and I) will be better for it.

I just wish it didn't take so long to get there!

'Til next time,

Vet Visit #1: A-OK

The neonate gang had a traumatic day. :o( But it was a good and necessary day. :o)

DTS (Dear Twin Sister) came over early this morning to help me load up the gang to haul them to vet's with Momma Elsie. First, we wanted Elsie looked over to make sure she was doing okay. Then we wanted our Dear Dr. Wagner to look over the pups to make sure all was well with them. Then we wanted to make sure to have the pups' dew claws removed (done anytime during Days 3, 4, or 5 to minimize trauma for the pups).

[Side note: Before you hang me on this, I understand there's some debate in the canine world about removing dew claws in certain breeds. But we've seen the trouble Ridge has had with his (his breeder did not remove dew claws, so he still has them), and we've landed at the conviction (after much research) that dew-claw removal for field and working breeds when the pups are very young (3-5 days old) is the most responsible and most humane way to go (not to mention the best thing for the animals long term: if they tear them later on, and they really do, it's major surgery to remove them). I really don't want to debate this here; please just trust that we love our animals, and that we're very careful about what we do and have sound reasoning behind why we do it.]

So anyway, we loaded the gang into the warming box, and draped the box with snuggly fleece to keep the drafts out. Then we loaded the warming box in the van (with heating pad plugged into the car's cigarette lighter using a power converter), and put Elsie right next to the box, then off we went.

Here's the set up once we got to the vet's:

Not to worry: there's no lid on the box, and the heating pad is still plugged in (you can see a little bit of the white cord for heating pad in the left-center of the image). It's just an open-topped rubbermaid bin draped with fleece paw-print fabric.

Elsie was fine about all this, but very attentive:

Dr. Wagner came in, and we talked a bit about Elsie's whelping and such. He examined Elsie, and she really looks great. She does have some thickening of mammary tissue (precursor to mastitis), so we're watching that and doing warm compresses and massaging those sites a couple of times a day. Since her milk came in, I've been checking Elsie's teats twice a day for any sign of mastitis, and I noticed yesterday that she started developing some solid, lumpy areas in two places. Our vet confirmed that when he examined her, but her temperature is normal, so it's not full-blown mastitis yet. Hopefully we'll nip it in the bud.

The pups look just as they should: round, plump, twitchy, with yoda ears and lizard-like squiggles. ;o) BUT we were growing concerned (I should say "I" as opposed to "we") because a couple of the pups have been fluctuating in weight. We had one lose weight the first day, but after making sure he got on a teat when it was full several times, he put on 3 oz. overnight. In the meantime, however, three other pups lost weight. We're watching it closely, weighing them twice a day.

This scale is SO much easier to use than the sling scale we tried (and didn't like) or the postal scale we went back to when the sling scale didn't work out. It arrived today, and it's wonderful! And my little $1.00 fleece baby blankets from the dollar store work very nicely as a cushion on the scale. :o)

So we'll continue to weigh the pups twice daily for the next couple of days. If we see any weight loss continue for 48 hours straight, then we'll call the vet again. Ups and downs, particularly when we're checking weight every 12 hours, is normal. Steady loss is not. That's when we'll know we have to supplement.

All the pups have good sucking reflexes so if we have to start supplementing them, we can just bottle feed instead of tube feeding (if nursing isn't working, bottle feeding is, by far, the better option if it can be done; tube feeding is more traumatic). So I'm relieved we can supplement with a bottle if we need to (using our puppy nursing kit and Esbilac or Just Born milk replacement for pups). But we may not have to at all. We'll see.

But so far so good.

I'll admit, I was really worried last night, especially after three of the pups lost weight yesterday (I cried like crazy because I thought we might be losing the litter -- it's crazy where our heads go when we're sleep deprived and have no margin). Dr. Wagner assured me that the pups look just fine. He never would have done their dew claws if they didn't. I trust him implicitly, so I'm taking his word for it, and I'm relaxing a bit. I guess I just needed the reassurance of a professional (I didn't get a chance to talk to Momma Teese out in AZ yesterday after three more pups lost weight -- Dr. Wagner is my next best thing!).

So I'm a little saner this afternoon, though still sleep deprived. :o)

And Elsie is still being a terrific mom. She's so much more relaxed and confident this time. I wish I were more like her!

And the little guys are squiggling like crazy even more. And they're ALMOST wagging their tails (thought not quite yet). It's hysterical when they all line up to nurse and all their little tails wag together. I'll put a video clip up when it happens with this litter. It's just too cute.

So that's where we are today. Tired, but sane, and hanging in there. I think Elsie is the sanest of us all!

In the meantime, the pups sleep through it all. :o)

'Til next time,

Pinot's Reaction

Here's a quick video of how Pinot is reacting to Elsie's litter. In the following clip, the whelping box (complete with Elsie and pups) is located off-screen to the right just out of sight of the camera.

Pinot and Kenya are reacting quite similarly, though Pinot is more vocal about it. Both girls stand, pace, or sit by the gate, keeping their eyes on the pups and whining to go in to visit them.

It's a gentle curiosity (nothing aggressive in the least). I think they both may have maternal instincts and just want to be involved. I hope this bodes well for Kenya and Pinot as future moms! Not all dogs are the kinds of mothers to their pups that Elsie is, and I'm hoping Pinot and Kenya will become wonderful moms, too. I suspect Pinot will (she's her mother's daughter!), and with how wonderful Kenya has been with both Pinot and Tuc as pups, I suspect she will be, too.

But, only time will tell, eh?

'Til next time,

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Here they are (in order of birth and with current weight at 2 days old):

Miss Pink (18.7 oz/532 g):

Mr. Blue (20.7 oz/588 g):

Mr. Green (17.1 oz/484 g):

Mr. Red (17.2 oz/486 g):

Mr. Yellow (17.6 oz/500 g):

Mr. Black (13.9 oz/395 g):

Miss Sky (17.0 oz/478 g):

Mr. Lime (17.1 oz/490 g):

Mr. White (16.6 oz/472 g):

As neonates, their eyes and ears are sealed, so they root by scent and touch. When they squiggle in their attempts to "crawl" to Elsie, they look a little like pudgy lizards, bobbing their heads back and forth, pulling themselves along primarily by their front legs. At this point their front legs, neck, and shoulders are quite a bit more developed than their rear legs and hips (by design so they can push and hold their heads up to nurse).

Yes, those little white things you see at the tips of their toes are their toenails. We'll clip them for the first time later next week, when they're more like a week old. For now, they need them for traction.

They have they're 3-day-old check-up with the vet tomorrow morning at which time they'll be examined and have their dew claws removed. Dr. Wagner will also check Elsie over well to make sure she's doing okay.

For now, all is looking good. Mr. Green lost weight the first day (half an ounce), but he more than made up for it over night (gained 3 ounces). Mr. Black (our runt) gained nicely the first day, but lost a little overnight (just 0.2 ounce). So like we did with Mr. Green when he lost a little, we'll just make sure we keep putting Mr. Black on a teat every time we walk by (that sure worked for Mr. Green!).

We'll weigh them twice a day (am and pm) for the first week. Then, as long as things go well, we will cut back to once a day, then once every other day, then twice a week, then weekly. It's amazing how quickly these guys grow and develop.

So, for now, we're enjoying their sweet little happy grunts and squeals. And we're enjoying how (relatively) easy it is while Elsie cleans up after them. She'll do that for three weeks, and then we'll introduce solid foods, after which she won't touch their poo or pee. Then our work really begins. :o)

That's it for now!

'Til next time,

Two Days Old!

Here they are at two days old -- the whole gang --in the warming box (it's lined with a heating pad). We only put them in the warming box now when we clean the whelping box. Otherwise they're with Elsie 24/7.

While we're cleaning and with the pups safe a warm by her side, Elsie grabs a nice big breakfast of her normal food mixed with a little puppy food and covered in "Just Born" (a milk replacement for puppies that is also a great supplement for nursing moms).

And here's the squirming mass getting their own tummies filled and snoozing in contentment (while Momma Elsie carefully oversees):

We'll be weighing them after Don gets up (I took over at 4 a.m.; he's been sleeping since). And I'll report on their growth later today.

And, yes, we're still doing headcounts ever few minutes 24/7 and will for the next few days (until the pups are about a week old and strong enough to wiggle out from underneath Elsie if she lies down on top of them).

In case you're wondering how I'm getting this stuff done, there's really not much else to do when the house is dark and all is quiet in the wee hours of the morning. I don't turn the lights on or make much noise then because the other dogs will think it's time to get up! So while I do the early, early morning shift, and all is dark and quiet, I sit here at the kitchen table with my laptop, counting puppy heads every few minutes (always listening for different kinds of squeals) and updating the blog. :o)

And that's about it for now.

'Til next time,

Whelping Record (Another Informational Post)

What follows is the detailed account (by date and time) of this litter's whelping. I just went through all my notes (yes, we write everything down as it happens, often using single words or our own shorthand) and rewrote the account here (and in my AKC breeder notes manager).

Some of you may find this interesting. Again, I've put it here for future reference as much as anything else. But you'll at least get to see how crazy it got for a while! ;o)

(NOTE: what follows won't be grammatically correct -- it's just notes!).


Elsie whelped 10 pups (8 males, 2 females), but one was stillborn, leaving us with 9 viable puppies (7 males, 2 females). Dr. Paulding (the doc on call) felt the pup probably separated prematurely from its placenta and died in utero (the stillborn pup was fully developed with a full coat and weighing 1 pound). Elsie spent 1.5 hours actively pushing this pup out (after strongly expelling fluids). Once he delivered, two more followed eight minutes later at a minute apart.

Detailed notes from whelping follow:

Sunday and Monday, 9/14-9/15: Elsie's temperature is running between 99 and 100 degrees (F).

Tuesday and Wednesday (9/16 & 9/17): Elsie's temp drops some more and stays consistently between 98 and 99 (F). Once during the day Elsie "nests" rand late Wednesday night she nests twice more. She also begins panting and refusing food.

Thursday, 9/18 (very early a.m.)(Day 61 by our count):

12:30 a.m. Elsie starts active Stage 1.

1:00 a.m.: a few nesting attempts and panting

2:00 a.m.: Elsie is very restless and doing more insistent nesting in the whelping box.

2:30 a.m. :Elsie rests.

2:45 a.m.: She grows restless again, pacing, panting, wanting to go outside, nesting, etc.

From 2:45 to 4:00 a.m.: intermittent contractions (early, not really visible, and no pushing with them) and continued restlessness and panting

4:00 a.m. Everything stops.

7:30 a.m. Elsie starts up again: heavy panting, circling, licking her bottom, digging, nesting, whimpering and desperate to go outside

8:30 a.m. still nesting, panting, etc.

9:30 a.m. through 12:15 p.m.: fast pacing, eating ice cubes like crazy, wanting to go out, panting, etc.

12:15 p.m. Elsie lies down in whelping box.

12:15 p.m. I NOTIFY VET that Elsie is in Stage 1.

12:15 p.m. through 11:30 p.m.; Elsie continues Stage 1 (active nesting, digging in whelping box, panting heavily, wanting to go in and out, pacing, wanting to hide or sneak away, etc.

11:30 p.m.: It appears Elsie's water breaks (sudden violent release of fluids, splatting on brick floor - starting Elsie). Fluids are mostly clear. Elsie continues with more insistent Stage 1

Midnight: Jeanie comes over to help (brings donuts and coffee!).

Friday, September 19th (Day 62), very early a.m.:

2:00 a.m.: Elsie begins visible contractions with pushing.

2:20 a.m.: It's a girl (pink)!

In sac, cord already detached from placenta, NO placenta. I break sac on pup's face, Elsie cleans pup and chews off umbilical cord. Good strong vocalizations, lots of kicking. Strong suck reflex.

Pup hangs out with Elsie starts pushing again.

3:05 a.m.: starts pushing again. We remove pink from Elsie and put in warming box.

3:09 a.m.: It's a boy (blue)!

In sac, cord still attached to its placenta, Elsie eats this placenta while I break sac on pup's face. Vocalizes and moves right away. Strong nurser.

We put Pink back in with Elsie and Blue.

3:33 a.m.: Elsie starts pushing again. We remove pups and put in warming box.

4:49 a.m.: It's a boy (green)!

In sac, but no placenta, cord already detached from placenta. Don tears sac from pup's face while Elsie cleans pup and chews off umbilical cord. He moves and cries right away. But suck reflex seem weaker (can't seem to stay attached to Elsie's teat). We rub him a bit to see if this will "wake him up" -- he protests with nice, strong vocalizations. We put him back on Elsie's teat, where he suckles for twenty or thirty seconds, then falls off again.

We leave green with Elsie and return the other two pups to her.

Then Elsie seems to take a 2-hour break (takes a nap, eats bouillon poured over her normal dry food, potties both pee and poo, spends a long time nursing and nuzzling her three newborns and naps some more)

5:00 a.m. Daniel checks on us, then heads up to sleep.
6:00 a.m. Jeanie leaves to go home and then to work..
6:45 a.m. starts pushing and contracting again (we remove pups to warming box).
7:00 a.m. stops
7:15 a.m. Don leaves for work (I'm on my own now). I put pups back in with Elsie to nurse.
7:30 a.m. more contractions and pushing (I remove pups to warming box).
7:45 a.m. stops (I put pups back in with Elsie).
7:55 a.m. starts pushing. (I remove pups to warming box.)

Elsie passes another BIG, violent gush of fluids (these ones green and black), then continues to be restless, nesting, and pushing off and on. She seems more unsettled. I take her outside again (where she promptly starts to push). I bring her back in and she heads right for the whelping box. She circles in the whelping box, and digs some more. She pauses to check on her neonates in the warming box, then starts straining (this cycles on and off for nearly 30 minutes).

8:30 a.m. delivers stillborn pup (pup #4, a boy)
No sac, pup is gray (gray lips, tongue, nose, and paws) and covered in (and heavily stained by) dark green sac fluid, is completely lifeless, no muscle tone or reflexes (completely limp), no movement (no twitching, no signs of breath, no sounds at all). I let Elsie try to stimulate pup (let her lick and nudge him). No response.

Suctioned fluids out of pups mouth (bulb syringe).

Briskly rubbed pup with towel - no response. Tried again, still no response.

Suctioned probably two more teaspoons worth of fluids out of mouth and throat (using infant bulb syringe), suctioned yellow mustard-like mucus out of nostrils. Tipped pup head down, and more yellow mustard-like fluid oozes out of his mouth and nose. Cleaned out and suctioned this fluid from pups airway. Tried gentle chest compressions (pushes more fluid out -- slowly dribbling out of mouth). Tried carefully "flipping" the puppy (a last resort), and more mustard comes out of pups nostrils.

Suctioned again, Rubbed with dry towel some more, more check compressions. Then tried mouth-to-muzzle resuscitation. Still no response. Tried again. No response. Tried again. No response.

Through all this the pup remained grey and limp (never pinked or responded at all, never even twitched).

Seven minutes into these efforts, I hear Elsie push out another pup.

8:37 a.m. It's a boy (red)!
No sac, no placenta

I continue with stillborn (rubbing aggressively with towel) while watching Elsie tend to this pup (again, no sac, and no placenta). Elsie is doing a great job cleaning him and chewing off his cord, but he still hasn't cried.

I turn to set stillborn pup down on towels in warm oven (door open). (The oven was already warmed to 110 degrees to hold our puppy clean-up towels.)

8:38 a.m. I head a thud. Elsie has dropped another pup (a minute after the previous pup), this time while standing to deliver.

It's a boy (yellow)!
Full sac, no placenta, already detached from placenta at delivery.

I leave the stillborn on the warming towels (door open) to help Elsie with her latest two. I break the sac on yellow's face, then let Elsie tend to him, then pick up red (who still is not breathing) to suction, dry off and rub. He starts vocal protests! I give him back to Elsie and pick up yellow, who is not yet breathing either, to do the same (suction, dry off, and rub). Yellow finally protests. :o)

9:35 a.m. Elsie starts pushing

Jeanie arrives. :o)

9:56 a.m. It a boy (black)!
Full sac, no placenta. VERY strong suckle. Very vocal, came out kicking.

10:35 a.m. Elsie rests

10:40 a.m. Elsie starts pushing

11:01 a.m. It's a GIRL (sky)!
no sac, no placenta,

Came out with a snoot full. Had to aspirate with bulb syringe, got lots of fluid. Also covered in lots of green. Slow to breath and cry. Continue brisk rubbing and drying. Get a small squeak from her.

11:08 a.m. It's a BOY (lime)!
Full sac, attached to placenta (we dispose of this placenta), plus clear (transparent) sac half-filled with thin red watery fluid (about the size of a golf ball) also attached to placenta.

Hand Sky to Jeanie, who continues brisk rubbing (finally gets a good loud protest and strong movement from her).

While Jeanie works on Sky, I break Lime's sac while Elsie works on his cord and cleans him. I let her clean him for a bit more, but he's still not moving.

Pick him up, remove fluids from his mouth (these are clear this time) with bulb syringe, rub briskly, and he finally twitches and opens his mouth. His vocalizations are quieter than the rest, but he starts making them. I keep rubbing with a towel (to warm him up and get his circulation moving). And he seems to wake up.

11:10 Elsie expels another forceful load of green fluid (comes out like projectile vomiting).

We clean that up, then give all the pups back to her to nuzzle and nurse. She and they nestle together for the next 2.5 hours, and Elsie sleeps, but she still looks like there may be a pup or two left in her.

1:45 p.m. Elsie starts circling, contracting, and pushing. We remove pups to warming box.

1:55 p.m. It's a boy (white)!
No sac, no placenta.

He's slow to start, but responds to Elsie's and our efforts. We clean Elsie up and take her out to pee and poo, we give her some solid food covered in beef broth, and while she's eating we clean up the whelping box, then return all the pups there with her. She sleeps for at least the next three hours while they nurse and nuzzle.


Elsie expels two more placentas overnight (between 5:00 pm and 3:00 a.m.the next morning).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some Pictures from the Last 24 Hours

Hey all,

Thanks so much for all your comments and congratulatory words. It's wonderful to know you're there for us no matter how far away we may live from one another. :o)

Just for fun, instead of writing, I've uploaded a few pictures from the last 24 hours (I'll upload videos tomorrow). Enjoy!

The new gang:

Momma Elsie with her new gang:

Momma Elsie stimulating Mr. Lime to pee and poo:

Momma Elsie needs to eat, too!:

Pinot's reaction to Elsie's litter (she stands by the gate and whines - and she won't leave!):

Elsie getting lovin' from Aunt Jeanie during Stage 2 labor:

It's hard to believe Lab pups are ever this small and helpless:

Momma Elsie looks pretty good for just 24 hours after delivery! :

Now I'm off to bed. I've been up since 3 a.m., and will take the early morning shift again in a few hours (Don will stay up late for the late night shift tonight). We're still watching the pups very carefully and doing puppy head-counts every few minutes just to be sure no one ends up smothered beneath Elsie. :o) So far, so good (we've rescued a few). And Elsie is being VERY careful this time.

By the way, Elsie snores like a freight train when she nurses (the only time she snores like this). I mention it only because she's snoring as I write this. :o)

I'll check in again tomorrow, and will upload some videos then, too. Thanks again for your well-wishes and comments. I haven't had time to reply to you all individually but I did want you to know that we (both Don and I) appreciate your words. Your encouragement means more than you know!

'Til next time,