Science, Technology and a little bit of Magic

Ruby woke me up at 5 AM on the morning of her procedure. I’d slept well, thanks to wax earplugs that subdued the neighbouring guests’ party music, and Ruby had too. When she was younger, Ruby alarm barked her way through most of our show travels, but this trip, she settled into our low rent motel life and is being a wonderful travel companion.

Dr. Sophia greets me at the door, her brown eyes friendly and reassuring over her masked face. The defrosting and preparation of the semen is time sensitive, so she has waited for our arrival. I watch and listen as she explains everything as she works. Curling puffs of vapour rise above the storage tank when she opens it. Liquid nitrogen maintains the semen at a storage temperature of -195 Centigrade. Using a clamp, she carefully draws out a a series of 5 inch long ‘straws’ and checks the labels. Defrosting takes very little time, and Sophia places a drop onto a slide, bends over the microscope and says “Oh, yes, I’m a happy camper! Would you like to have a look?”

I turn the focus knob and suddenly they appear, incredibly small and powerful little bundles of Rebus’ genetic material, dancing on the slide. For the first time, the whole project feels real. When I flew to Arkansas to pick up Ruby from Pat Boggs, I had confidence that she had chosen a good quality, healthy schipperke puppy for me but I had no thoughts of breeding her. Her litter mate sister, the lovely Jade, had been selected to be part of Kathy’s breeding program. Even though I showed her in conformation, I did it for the experience and not because I wanted to breed her. Yet here I was, five years later, watching these potential puppy lives, wriggling on a slide.

I lifted Ruby onto the table and we placed a wide strap under her hips to prevent her from sitting down during the procedure, which could injure her. Ruby stood calmly, munching treats, as Sophia inserted a short plastic tube into her vagina, through which the catheter would be guided. In moments, we were watching the screen, following the catheter as it threaded its way through the tube, the vaginal canal to the cervix, and through that doorway into the uterus. All of the tissues looked very strong and healthy. Sophia inserted the semen, withdrew the tube and we were done.

Well, not quite done.

After everything was put away and the Ruby was released from the strap, Dr. Sophia leaned over, placed her hands gently on Ruby’s hindquarters and intoned, “Maaaaake PUPPIES!”

Scratch a scientist and you’ll probably find there’s a little bit of a mystic, underneath.

Test test test!

Test test test! is not only good pandemic policy, it’s essential for a successful canine insemination. We want to time the sperm and egg meet-up as precisely as we can. We test the blood daily or every second day to observe a big hormonal spike upwards that indicates that she has ovulated. I have considerable confidence in Ruby’s reproductive health, but she has never been bred before, so I’m mildly nervous. Test, wait, test, wait..tick tock tick tock…

On Monday her levels were gradually climbing but were still relatively low at 7.3. Tuesday morning she tested at 9.4 and I couldn’t stand it anymore. We could have remained here on the island and continued to test, but I decided to pack up Ruby and catch the ferry to the mainland, where Dr. Sophia could take over. We’d be more settled into our accommodations and Sophia would have a chance to meet Ruby and I.

On Wednesday, Sophia drew the blood and I was the tech! That was quite a change from pandemic procedures at Sidney Animal Hospital, where I’d been handing her over to the staff at the front door and receiving her back after the blood draw! Sophia chose to draw from Ruby’s foreleg and it was my responsibility to hold her steady.

The next day, now that I knew my role, I worked with Ruby, clicking and rewarding her for presenting her foreleg, permitting the tourniquet to be placed on, (I used a poop bag (unused) and tied it tightly around her foreleg) allowing the tension and building duration. It was not ideal to have to train a cooperative care procedure that quickly, but Ruby has a strong history of positive reinforcement training and she learned quickly.

For Friday’s test, I still needed to use some physical restraint to hold her head away from nosing her foreleg but I was pleased at how well she tolerated most of the procedure. That afternoon, Sophia called with the good news that Ruby had indeed ovulated the day before, and we would inseminate on Sunday morning. It was a great relief to hear that!

Saturday, we wandered around Harrison in the rain



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