The Ups and Downs of Breeding
Life itself has a lot of
ups and downs, but when you add animals
to the picture, the trips in both directions, come more often, and
can sometimes seem to be permanently on the lower end of
the scale. From being on top of the world one show, you can be in
the depths of despair, only a few days later. That was my breeder’s
life in 1998.
The year started off with
a separation from my breeding partner
over personal differences. Regrettable as that was, I found that I was
more than prepared to work at things alone, and had spent a lot
of time investigating what directions I wanted, and could manage
to take with my breeding program.
However, in late Spring
I was devastated to find out that a breeder
whom I had trusted with two of my cats, had sold them two months
after receiving them, for more than they paid. The next day my
father died. Three weeks later, I found that an oddity in the
scoring rules for the association I was showing in, would rob my
best cat of the year, of 8 placings in the regional standings, placing
her behind cats who had been in one show and achieved fewer
finals, against fewer cats than she had competed with.
That same cat, my favourite,
was due for her first litter in July.
She was a few days late and was taken to the vet for a check up.
As it turned out, she acquired a URI from that visit. Two days
later, she required a C section to deliver a pair of lovely bluepoint
girls and a lilac boy. The vet inadvertently left in a partially
detached placenta, which caused her to haemorrhage, and
dropped her PBC to 22. Unable to give the babies colostrum, or
enough milk, she became ill, and I had to start feeding them round
The lilac male caught the
URI a few days after birth. And whenever
I would lay down for a few minutes on the bed, the queen would
take him from the box, and tuck him under my chin or my ear.
Sometimes she would lay with us, and sometimes she would return to
the girls, and try to feed them, even though she wasn’t eating herself.
I named the little guy Ned, and became very attached to him. It was as
if she was saying “here, you fix him”, since he was the only one
showing obvious signs of illness. More bad luck was around the
corner, when at 10 and 11 days, we lost both girls to pneumonia
within a few hours of the onset. Two days later, we lost Ned also.
As I was nursing the last
kitten, my foundation queen, mother
of the sectioned girl, delivered a two kitten litter. Agitated, she
turned and turned when one kitten would not emerge from the
vulva, and I could not get at the cord to remove or separate him.
The next day I found him dead, right after the last of the first litter
had died. She was left with one lilac boy.
This is the point where
you wonder why you are doing this. Two
weeks with virtually no sleep, your entire life revolving around
feedings and nursing, mother and kittens alike, and your best efforts
for naught. Out of all of it, I had one kitten left. At two weeks,
he too caught the URI, despite segregation from the other cats,
changes of clothes and constant washing of hands. So the cycle
of no sleep/decongestant steaming a baby, started all over. The
kitty gods were kinder this time, and he pulled through.
One more litter was due
six weeks after the birth of the first.
They arrived, all five of them, about five days early. Three weighed
two ounces, and two weighed an ounce and a half. The mother
retained two placentas she could not seem to let go of, despite
oxytocin. But she did have plenty of milk due to that, making it
much easier for the very small, and weak babies to nurse. With
a heat lamp to make up for their lack of body fat, We made it
through the first couple of weeks. They fattened, and grew, and
opened their eyes. And they were all saved.
Every cloud may have a silver
lining, but when you’re drowning
under a run of bad luck as I was, it’s hard to believe in them.
But sure enough, there were little glimmers that as they came into
their own, shone very brightly.
That year taught me a lot
about trust, and having confidence in
others and myself. I learned that vets are fallible, and that they will
admit to making errors. And that I am human too. The rule oddity
was highlighted for others, so that nobody else will ever lose by it.
And then there were the kittens.
Of the two cats that had
been sold, and which I had to re-place with
the new owners on new contracts, the male went on to achieve the
highest title available to him in the show ring.
Our litter of five midgets,
became big cats..every last one. A two
ounce female was the Best Allbreed Kitten in ACFA’s Eastern
Canada region, last year. The female who lost her litter, had
another in March of this year, and once more had a lilac male.
And yes, I kept him. He is a wonderful, sweet ,huge cat. Not
the most perfect front gloves, but he has everything else you could
ask for. The morning I woke up with him tucking himself under my
chin, brought back a lot of memories.
The lilac male from my foundation
queen, the lone survivor
from her and her daughter’s litters, ...well, he turned out to be
pretty special. But as nice as he was, the memory of Ned was too
strong, and I let him go to a breeder in the U.S. In January of
2000, Carraig’s Vinne The Pooh of Noazark, became the first
CFA grand champion lilacpoint Birman bred in Canada, and
made us one of only a handful of catteries in North America to
produce a dilute grand champion.
Is it all worth it?
This is my mother in law’s favourite question. I love her dearly, but
she hasn’t a clue why anyone would want to do all this, just for...cats!
Yes, it is worth it. The
letters and pictures from pet owners are
worth it. The awards and titles are gratifying, but they aren’t the
reason I put as much of myself into breeding as I do. Some people
can’t imagine why we do this. I can’t imagine myself not doing this.
Copyright Carraig Birmans, 2000