August 17, 2011

Checking out our Tamaskan Dog breeder

Posted in dog ownership, dogs, pets, Tamaskan Dog tagged , , at 3:27 pm by Angie Hilbert

Wayne and I are not buying a Tamaskan puppy. We are working with an ethical, responsible breeder to find surrogate parents for Paka, our little fur-baby.

When you look at it like that, it is a game changer. I’m not interested in a good shopping experience. I’m investing in a deeply personal experience that comes with life-long commitments and attachments.

Judy at J&J has a vested interest in our Paka. She welcomes on-going interaction, she is there when I have questions, has asked for updates and pictures after we take Paka home to reassure her she made the right decision in letting us take her. If Wayne and I were to have a life-altering event resulting in the need to re-home our fur-baby, Judy wants “first response.” That is, she wants to be able to take Paka back herself rather than leave her to an unknown individual or (Buddha forbid!) an animal shelter. Responsible breeders keep track of their dogs to be sure that no dog they put on the ground EVER ends up in a shelter or puppy mill.

My visit to  J&J kennels of Virginia was beautiful. The first thing I noticed when pulling up to J&J was the gathering of horses in the well kept pasture. In addition to breeding a litter of Tamaskans every year, Jim and Judy have also been stalwart supporters of the Nokota Horse conservancy. The goal of this organization is to preserve the small, closed population of Nokota horses. These are descended from the herd of Lakota Indian ponies confiscated from Sitting Bull when he turned himself in at Fort Buford. They are living history in blue roan. Like the Tamaskan Dog, there are limited numbers of horses, a breeder of a closed population must look ahead to ensure a future with genetically appropriate crosses for future generations. It’s not enough to just look back to be confident of the health of the cross you are making now.

Jim walked me through the dog-friendly home to the lower level. The room was cool even in the Virginia summer heat but full windows flooded the room with natural light. He had crated the dogs in anticipation of our visit. Each crate had room for it’s occupant to turn around and lay down. The floors of each crate were padded with thick carpet samples and no wire or bare floors. The seven dogs (six Tamaskans and a friendly pit bull) were all clean and well groomed, ready to be presented for introductions.  I’m not comfortable with a breeder keeping more than 10 dogs or having more than 2 or 3 litters a year. Once you get that big, It’s hard to imagine the dogs getting much of a family life with humans. (A possible exception might be the Monks of New Skete. They run a larger operation but each dog is assigned to a single brother who lives with and cares for his one individual dog.) It is personally important to me that my Paka’s parents come from a happy family with lots of human contact and not a “breeding operation” “puppy farm” or “backyard breeder.” A happy, healthy dog makes a confident, successful mother. A lonely, stressed or sick dog, is compromised in her puppy-rearing. Since Paka will learn much about behavior, boundaries and discipline from her mother. I want that mother to be a happy, stable, family dog.

After the initial, excited ruckus, Jim said, “now, you’ll all get to say hello, but not until you’re quiet.” And he crossed his arms across his chest. The dogs looked at one another and settled down. So Jim started letting them out one by one. Each dog greeted Jim as it emerged from their crate. Not lunging or rushing the door, but politely stepping through as it opened. Then they came to investigate me. I offered my hand to each dog. Some pressed into it. Others just sniffed at it. Only Sybil, prefered not to approach. None jumped up on me. After I repeated each name, to be sure I learned it, they trotted to the door and Jim let them out into the kennel yard.

It was wide, spacious and surrounded on three sides with a wooden privacy fence. The fourth side shared a plank fence with the pasture. It had been lined with a wire fence so the dogs could see and interact with the horses without trespassing into the horse pasture.

The ladies, Ruby and Woulfe were the first dogs to approach me. Ruby held back for Woulfe to go first. Woulfe is the matriarch of the pack. The first Tamaskan Dog in all the Americas, she was also the first to greet me. It pleased me that she kept her feet on the ground and did not jump up. But when I squatted down to her level, she did take the liberty of putting her paws up on me and licking my face. Once she took my measure and was satisfied that I was a good egg, she moved oblique to me and Ruby approached.

Ruby is to be my puppy’s mother. I very much wanted to get to know her and learn about her temperament and bearing. She was as gentle as a lamb in wolf’s clothing. Not at all shy, she pressed into my hands almost more like a cat than a dog. I stroked her fur and she touched her nose to my face giving my chin a little lick. She had no objection when I put my arms around her for a hug and she let me, a stranger, touch her feet, ears, head and face without complaint or evasive movements. What a tender and affectionate lady! I could absolutely see why Judy calls Ruby her a “softie-dog.”

Now they all started milling around me. None of them jumped up on me though one or two did raise a foreleg, reaching for me. I was more than happy to reach back. Now, Jethro was to dog to meet! His is a magnificent, wolf-grey dog the color of pewter with amber eyes and a flowing, lupine gait. I watched his movements very carefully. Jethro inherited borderline hips scores indicating canine hip dysplasia from Lobo. In some cases, this results in arthritis ranging from mild to severe. Since Jethro was going to be the father of my Paka, I wanted to look for any sign his hips caused him any sort of pain or limited his movement. Toys were tossed and Jethro leaped. A ball thrown across the paddock which sent all seven dogs galloping full tilt after it. Jethro outmaneuvered and out ran them all to win the prize over and over.

They all galloped the length of the yard, past the outdoor kennels with doors wide open. The kennels are built on a raised concrete platform, covered by a shade net and each unit holds two dog houses and a bucket of water.

I carefully watched Lobo as well. It seemed wise to observe how he managed since his CHD was more pronounced than His son’s. Lobo was running with the pack after the ball. He is an easy-going and relaxed dog. After everyone was tired out, Lobo and Jethro were laying down in the cool damp mulch. Tamaskans love to dig so Jim and Judy provide the pack with an area of soft natural mulch so they can enjoy digging without exposing mud and getting filthy. I thought that would be a good time to examine their hips. The let me handle their legs, back, hips and rear-feet without complaint or evasion.

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a complicated disease. There is a genetic component to the disease but also a strong environmental influence. Careful attention to diet and exercise can go a long way to preventing CHD even in a dog genetically pre-disposed to the condition. CHD is also variable in it’s presentation. Some dogs, only mildly displaced, are afflicted with arthritis pain and limited mobility. Other dogs, severely displaced show no ill effects at all. Since none of the dogs in Jethro’s bloodline display any limitations or symptoms associated with CHD, Judy is hopeful she can continue to develop her kennel’s bloodline with crosses to dogs with excellent hip scores breeding the condition out of her line entirely.

Jethro’s hips are being studied further in compliance with the TDR breeders regulations but she plans on pursuing her goals for her dogs. She is dedicated to preserving the relaxed temperament, amber eyes, gentleness and adaptability of the original Tamaskan bloodline in the USA while crossing always to excellent hip scores to improve the line. Judy will proceed with the breeding while awaiting the results of Jethro’s second hip screening, this one from the British veterinary Association, which is now the only scheme accepted by the Tamaskan Dog Register.

Judy’s decision to breed Ruby’s litter with Jethro is a controversial decision. Members of the TDR committee insist Judy should never breed Jethro and use a stud with passing hip scores or be expelled from the TDR. Committee members recommended “Wave.”

Wave is a young and unproven stud but he has excellent hips. He is also a shining example of everything the Tamaskan Dog is bred to be. Friendly, he plays nicely with others. Intelligent, he loves computers and completed his obedience training at the top of his class. Gentle, he is a therapy dog at Carolina East Medical Center. Helpful, he displays a working-breed eagerness to be useful. Unfortunately… he also happens to be Ruby’s nephew.

Though line-breeding of close relatives is not unheard of in the dog world, it  can have very serious and untreatable consequences. CHD, on the other hand, even when symptomatic, is entirely manageable and treatable. Moreover, Much of Wave’s exemplary temperament, intelligence and gentleness comes from the same pedigree as Jethro’s. In addition to being Ruby’s nephew on his father’s side, Wave is also Jethro’s nephew on his mother’s side. Although the predisposition for CHD is genetically present in in that line, it was not expressed in Wave. This is PRECISELY the kind of breed improvement that Judy is working toward in her carefully considered and planned litter between Jethro and Ruby.

Wave is the example of what happens when you cross the pedigrees Judy is crossing! One parent, with excellent hips from the Scottish Odin line from Alba and the other parent with borderline hip scores from the Woulfe/Lobo line from Prestigious Blustag.

(At the time of writing, another candidate for stud in the USA has hip scores pending but it is unlikely results will be in before Ruby comes into season. Therefore he is not being considered for this litter.)

To confirm my impression, I consulted another of Judy’s references. Due diligence is appropriately my burden, after all. Were the traits of Jethro’s line really so great and valuable that it was worth working with the borderline hip scores to try to improve them? Or was the TDR right and Jethro should be nutered as having nothing valuable to justify working to improve his line’s hips? Another Tamaskan breeder, with experience with Judy’s dogs, was willing to talk with me. I was encouraged to hear that the dog Tarheel Tamaskans got from J&J was the one they considered “top of the line” compared to any other Tamaskan Dog they have known. That dog, Tundra, was full sister to Jethro. Just like Jethro, she did inherit Lobo’s CHD. Like Jethro, she was asymptomatic of hip problems and was an exemplary and beloved model of the breed. She produced a litter with Ruby’s brother, Blaze. That was litter included  Wave, the paragon of Tamaskan dog health and virtue. Clearly, a confirmation that Judy was not alone in valuing the unique and individual traits of Jethro’s particular Tamaskan Dog family. It is worth keeping. With Wave as an example of success in reducing the risk of CHD through breed development, why does the TDR committee not sanction Judy’s decision?

The TDR committee consists of five international Tamaskan breeders. Only two of them are experienced (The developer of the Tamaskan breed and her daughter.) but they have never personally met Judy, Jethro nor Wave. There are also three inexperienced breeders on the committee with only two litters produced between them. Both of those litters were accidental and now, would violate the TDR breeders code (one due to immaturity of the dam, the other due to monorchidism in the sire. though at the time, monorchid studs were permitted by the TDR.) The puppies resulting from both litters were registered though some were registered only after hip scoring as the immature dam also failed her hip testing. Judy’s thoughtfully considered litter, will not be registered. It is not in compliance with the TDR breeding scheme due to Jethro’s hips. In order to achieve registration for future litters, Jethro’s BVA hip scores will have to pass and Judy would have to petition for reinstatement to the TDR and await their decision.

All things very carefully considered, I am confident in Judy’s decision. Her experience, her careful calculation of the risk/benefit analysis of of each cross and her careful consideration of the goals she has for her kennel speak volumes. She is willing to sacrifice her registration for the improvement of her breeding lines.

Though breed club politics is beyond my scope, I am simply grateful that our Paka’s noble pedigree will have no repeated names in the family tree.

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July 4, 2011

Protecting Paka

Posted in dog ownership, dogs, pets, Tamaskan Dog tagged , , , at 10:56 am by Angie Hilbert

It may come as a shock to devoted pet-parents that pet insurance is not a form of health insurance at all. It is a form of property insurance.

Since I think of myself as a pet-parent and not a pet owner, that is a difficult idea to grasp. Legally speaking, my precious girl will be nothing more than chattel. Fortunately, though the law fails to protect or even recognize the “rights” of a pet, there are still legally binding ways of protecting our darling.

The cost of insuring precious property starts with the monetary value of the property. Then it considers the risks to that property. This cold-blooded calculation completely ignores how precious our dogs are to us personally but the protection against difficult financial choices and legal support if the “property” is threatened can be invaluable!

Much is made of the fact that pet insurance for pedigree dogs is more expensive than that of mixed breed dogs. The usual conclusion drawn from this fact, is that mixed breed dogs are so much healthier than pedigreed dogs. Actually, it’s not that simple.

Mixed breed dogs do incur far fewer vet bills. But it is not because their health is so much better. What makes the difference is that owners of pedigreed dogs are statistically more proactive in addressing the health of their pets  than the owners of mixed breed dogs.

This is not to say pedigreed are loved more or that owners of pedigreed dogs are better caretakers. That is clearly not the case. Instead it is a socioeconomic issue. Owners of pedigree dogs tend to have more discretionary income than owners of non-pedigreed dogs. Pedigreed pet-parents also tend to view vet care as “protecting their financial investment.” (back to that “property/chattel” thing again.) Indeed, many pet insurance companies also insure the dog for burial expenses, recovery expenses and even cover claims against a canceled vacation due to a dog’s needs! Pet insurance is not simply “health” insurance at all.

Seeking out and obtaining a pedigreed dog requires more time and money than visiting your local pet shelter for an adoption. Pedigree breeders usually strongly recommend (and a few may actually require) that prospective owners of their pups insure their dogs. Breeder sales contracts also often stipulate that certain health care and tests must be done to contribute to the breed health databases or else the sale is voided. It can be an intensive and expensive thing getting a pedigreed dog from a reputable breeder.

All this means that the pet-parents of mixed breed dogs are, statistically speaking, more likely to be in a lower income range than pedigreed pet-parents. The costs of more expensive treatments for canine illnesses tend to be farther out of their reach.

One of the biggest differences is in the risk of owning an “intact” dog. Sadly, the pet-parents of pedigreed dogs are statistically far less likely to have their dogs “fixed.” There is a rationalization that since the dog was so expensive and comes from such valuable blood-line, they should keep the dog intact “just in case” his/her genes are “needed” in a breeding program. There is also the lure of earning a quick stud fee or always being able to sell a few papered-puppies for a little extra cash if needed. There is little to tempt the owners of mixed breed dogs to keep their pets intact.

Shelter pets and mixed breeds are far more likely to be spayed or neutered. This not only dramatically reduces the risk of developing canine cancer, it makes a dog of either sex far less likely to escape, roam, get into fights or be involved in a car accident. (Why did the doggie cross the road? To get to the mating opportunity on the other side!)

And since pet insurance will limit or exclude coverage for genetic or inherited conditions any way (unless you pay a substantial additional fee, of course) there is little argument for the price difference in pet insurance premiums being because of the genetic superiority of the beloved mutt.  Add to that how pet insurance often covers claims for expenses involved in the recovery of a lost or stolen pet you can see how recovery is far more protracted and difficult for pedigree holders. Pedigreed dogs are far more likely to be reported lost while mixed breeds are more likely to be reported found. (Another good argument for microchiping your pet!)

The final, and darkest reason for an increase in pet insurance costs for pedigreed dogs is: puppy mills. The severe and unhealthy and stressful practices involved in milling dogs with the appropriate papers but without the appropriate health screenings are well known to cause most of the health problems attributed to pedigreed dogs. It’s not genetics. It’s unhealthy breeding practices.

Unlike a reputable breeder who participates in strict genetic testing and health screening before producing a single litter, the for-profit enterprises will invest nothing in health testing. The indiscriminate mating between untested dogs in squalid conditions are responsible for the reputation for unhealthy pedigreed dogs.

Sadly, many people seek a pedigreed dog based on price and convenience. The puppy-mills and turn-a-buck backyard breeders are happy to supply them to individuals and pet stores. This means a great many pedigreed dogs are actually imunosupressed, unsocialized, neurotic, relatively cheep and readily available. There is no way for a pet insurance company to discern between a pedigreed dog from a puppy mill and one from a reputable breeder so it drives up the cost of treating dogs that should never have been bred.

When it comes to our pedigreed Tamaskan Dog from J&J Kennels, Wayne and I are very lucky! We know the diverse blood lines of our pup’s parents, the results of the health testing, and the conditions our little Paka will be born into. So we are assured of her health and stability. But even though she will be a pedigreed dog, the Tamaskan is not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club. This means we can enjoy the mixed breed price break on her insurance while the Tamaskan breeding program in the USA becomes more firmly established. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

May 22, 2011

We found our breeder!

Posted in dog breed selection, dog ownership, dogs, pets, Tamaskan Dog tagged , , , , at 12:16 pm by Angie Hilbert

The most beautiful email arrived in my in box! Judy of Double J Kennels invited me to call her about a Tamaskan breeding she is planning late this summer. Several phone calls and emails and a letter later, she is willing to accept us as a home for one of the pups. We are not, of course, the only interested candidates. She fields many inquires through email, her facebook page, and face-to-face.

If mother nature follows her expected schedule, our prospective mother, Ruby will come into season mid to late August, Whelp in October and Pups will be ready to go home in late December.

How do we know we can trust this breeder? Judy, her husband Jim and their kennel “J&J” has the unique distinction of being the home of the first breeding pair of Tamaskans in the USA as well as the home of the first Tamaskan litter born on the American continent.

In 2005, a pair of litter mates from Lynn at Blustag Kennels in the UK   arrived in the USA as the first Tamaskans imported to America. One, Blustag Menominee Owl, called Woulf,  went to live with Jim and Judy at J&J. The following year, Blustag River Rising, called Lobo, arrived from Finland to complete America’s first breeding pair.

It was June of 2007 when Woulf and Lobo produced the first Tamaskan litter born on American soil.  The following year, Woulfe and Lobo produced another litter but both had to been delivered cesarean section. Judy made one final effort to breed Woulfe for the specific purpose of reducing her uterine scar tissue in an attempt to preserve her line. It was a controversial decision, and Judy decided it was not worth it. Woulfe was spayed immediately upon cesarian birth of that final litter. All the puppies were spoken for and Judy was under contract to give them to their new owners. Fortunately, one pup from that litter was reclaimed, Jethro.

After being sold, Jethro’s new family experienced some personal hardship. To cope, they would run and exhaust the puppy so he would be too tired to get into any antics at home. Unfortunately, Tamaskans, like most large-breed athletic dogs, need carefully moderated exercise as puppies to prevent hip damage. Hip dysplasia has a strong genetic factor that determines predisposition for the disease, but also a lifestyle factor that can often determine how or even if symptoms ever develop. Like people and heart disease, genetics and lifestyle intertwine in complex and sometimes unpredictable ways. When damage was discovered, the family returned the pup to Judy.

“That’s how we came to keep Jethro, once he came back, I said ‘that’s it. He’s not for sale.”

Under Judy’s care, Jethro made a full and vet-documented recovery from juvinile arthritis and grew into an exceptional dog. He has the tolerant, easy-going temperament Judy can claim as the pride of her kennel.

“My dogs handle people and commotion really well. I can put them out with anyone, they love people and get along with other animals. I’m breeding for temperament more than anything else.”

But Jethro also has the unusual light amber eyes so coveted by Tamaskan breed enthusiasts. He also has the full, straight bushy tail and a true wolf-gray coat the color of pewter. He became a handsome dog. Upon maturity, he took over stud duties at J+J. This would ensure the continuation of his honorable pedigree as the original Tamaskan bloodline in the USA.

But there was a risk. Unlike older, more traditional dog breeds, Tamaskan breed development started during the scientific age of genetic testing, x-ray and hip score science. Thanks to seamless international communications and electronic data exchange, the Tamaskan Dog Register coordinates an aggressive initiative to actively prevent the Tamaskan breed from suffering the fate of many pedigreed dog breeds. What if hip dysplasia, a common but potentially crippling disease, could be bred out of the Tamaskan? Why not do the same for  seizures, degenerative myelopathy and other genetic health risks? This is the goal of the TDR health database.

In their efforts to prevent health problems in the Tamaskan breed, all registered Tamaskan breeders have to send genetic health screenings and hip x-rays of their breeding dogs for official OFA scoring. Any dog with even one hip scoring higher than 18 for hip dysplasia would not qualify to have his or her litter registered at birth, discouraging breeding of high scoring dogs. No matter how pure the pedigree or how perfect the confirmation to breed standard or how ideal the temperament. Pups from these dogs would have to wait until they reached maturity and would only be registered after they presented good hip development. Jethro’s x-rays scored his right hip at 19, one point outside of the accepted range.

“When I sent the x-rays in, I was feeling pretty good. My vet said they looked ok and should pass. When they came back and one hip was no good, I was not happy. I really thought he was going to make it. Now instead of having a registered litter, anyone who wants to register one of his pups, has to have the pup  x-rayed at 1 year.”

(edit 7-31-11) Debby Stainforth of Sylvaen Tamsakans  and the TDR committee confirms that there is a precedent where pups born to a dog with a failing hip score were accepted for registration following TDR committee deliberations pending acceptable hip scores at 1 year. But if the dogs involved are to be considered for breeding, official hip scores must be submitted to the TDR when the dog is two years old. She also informs me that the OFA hip scoring system is no longer recognized by the TDR for registration or for sanctioning breeding. Instead. All Tamaskans breeding stock around the world mustr have x-rays submited directly form their local veterinary radiologist to the British Veterinary Association for evaluation according to their hip scheme. This is a second chance for Jethro! Judy is making arrangements for him to be re-scored by the BVA.

Now Jim and Judy had a serious dilemma. The TDR committee does have a history of sanctioning exceptions under special circumstances, but the stakes were high. Crossing Jethro to a dog with strong hip scores could preserve his line for future generations while breeding out the tendency toward borderline hip scores. With Canine Hip Displasia being a multifactorial trait (controlled by many genes, not a single gene.) controlling CHD through selective breeding has come into question among many breeders and breed clubs.

Judy, considered carefully; Jethro carries many highly prized traits and characteristics. His blood line includes the YouTube celebrity “Loo-loo” uncommonly graceful, tolerant quick and intelligent, the startling “Gracie” with her uncanny wolf-like resemblance, yellow eyes and problem-solving intelligence , and “Tundra” who is famous among Tamaskan enthusiasts for her conformity to breed standard.

Moreover,  Judy’s work with the Nokota Horse Conservancy, preserving the genetic viability of a closed population of Nokota horses in the US, taught her much about the importance of looking ahead, as well as behind, in breed planning. It is the breeder’s duty to insure that future generations of Tamaskan Dogs did not become a homogenous population and that genetically appropriate lines of unrelated dogs were preserved intact for future breeding crosses.

There was only one solution to find a mate for Jethro. Judy turned to her friends across the Atlantic and imported Ruby from Liz at the Alba kennels in Scotland, This bonnie lass represented a new blood line on this continent. Wrapped in the distinctive, almost regal, red-gray coat inherited from her father, Ruby developed into a remarkable dog. She does have a tail that tends to curl a bit when she gets excited. This is no concern to a family wanting a pet, but it is considered a flaw according the Tamaskan breed standard. But to Judy, a breeder,whose primary interest is first temperament, second breed integrity and health, with appearance last, Ruby was a precious gem!

“She has nice, graceful movement, a stunning red-gray coat and I call her my ‘softie-dog.’ She likes to cuddle up and press against you instead of jump up into your lap.”

And – she had excellent hips! No dog is perfect in all characteristics. This is why careful breeding is so important.

“We’re trying to correct faults through our breeding not strengthen them.” Says Judy.

In considering a Ruby-Jethro cross Both dogs have some remarkable contributions to make to future generations. Jethro has light eyes, high intelligence, and a straight tail. Ruby has her stunning coat, grace and gentleness and her fine strong hips. Would their strengths balance out one another’s weaknesses? These are the tense decisions ethical breeders struggle with over each litter they plan, balancing their fears with their  hopes. At stake, is the very future of the breed.

In October or 2010, a Jethro-Ruby litter was born. The gentle Ruby proved herself an excellent mother.

“I woke up when I heard this squeak.  And when I went out into the kitchen, there were a couple of puppies born already. She did everything herself, I just kind of sat there and dried off puppies.”

The Ruby-Jethro cross was highly successful producing beautiful puppies with exemplary temperament and beautiful features.

Judy was thrilled with the pups. She is even keeping one as a future potential mother “ a lot of the pups got the light eyes.”

But it will still be a few months before any of the pups are old enough to have any preliminary x-rays done for hip screening. Now Judy is planning Ruby’s next litter. She loved the pups she produced with Jethro. But there are other potential stud dogs to consider. Each with his own set of risks and advantages to weigh.

At publication, Judy has not decided on the sire for Ruby’s litter this fall. But after talking with her and witnessing her mindful contemplation and hearing her frank, sincere and down-to-earth analysis of each dog’s strengths and weaknesses, I am confident I can trust her decisions and instincts. I respect her honesty and disclosure.

If your breeder is reluctant to talk about their breeding program, or can’t identify any weaknesses in her dogs, I recommend finding a different breeder.

Wayne and I have sent our deposit on a female of Ruby’s next litter. We now have first pick of Ruby’s female pups this fall.

I am planning a trip to North Carolina and Virginia next month for the National Tamaskan Club of America’s Round up and visiting J&J kennels personally. I will meet Judy, Ruby, Jethro and even see other candidates for our pup’s father.

Our baby girl Tamaskan isn’t even a twinkle in her daddy’s eye yet. We don’t even know in which daddy’s eye to look for a twinkle. But she already has a place in our hearts. And regardless of her parentage, one thing is for certain. We will be very careful of her developing hips!

Is it too early to buy her THIS? (just kidding)

*** UPDATE*** August 7, 2011

Judy has decided Jethro will be the stud for Ruby’s fall litter. Details surrounding her decision will be discussed in an upcoming post.