Timeless Spirit Logo    TALES OF A COUNTRY VET

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. Sept. Theme: "Sexuality" Volume 1 Issue 6 ISSN# 1708-3265

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Tales of a Country Vet
with Dr. Bruce Burton DVM

Hogan's Run:

Sexuality is often a balance between perception and deception.

Veterinarians are involved with all aspects of animal reproduction, from conception to delivery. We deal equally with both the desired, and undesired results of animal, shall we say, co-habitation. Whether it be the breeding of pigs for meat production, of dairy cattle and goats for milk production, of horses for racing, cutting, or show; at some point, either directly or indirectly, veterinarians are ultimately involved.

Even pets require veterinary input on occasion. As a rule, dogs and cats are generally capable of procreating without undue assistance from our profession. However, in certain circumstances, we must resort to artificial insemination for those particularly difficult individuals where genetic manipulation has all but eliminated the possibility of a natural process; for example, with English Bulldogs. But, generally, dogs and cats breed pretty successfully without any human intrusion.

People vary in size, shape, personality, temperament and geographic origin. So too does our choice of dog breed. There is a breed, or combination, for virtually every dog lover. Consequently, if an individual does not acquire some 'Heinz-57' and, instead, actively seeks a certain breed of dog; they generally have a relatively clear image of what they want.

Many people select a specific breed based on previous life experiences. They may have met a particularly appealing individual at some point in their past or they might have had one as a kid, or the neighbours had one. Whatever the reason, people have set ideas about what constitutes the perfect breed. They know what they want, and why.

In my case the perfect dog was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. I had always been fond of large, Lab-like dogs. My Uncle Reg raised Chesapeakes for over 20 years. I liked the colour, (sort of a dusky cinnamon), the short, thick coat of hair and the solid, muscular build. The fact that these hardy dogs were developed in the late 1800's and earned their reputation by retrieving ducks for market hunters in the frigid, ice-choked waters of Chesapeake Bay only added to my admiration for these tough, working dogs.

So, after Arusha (our lovable, but insufferably dumb, Irish Wolfhound) succumbed to the middle age scourge of giant-breed dogs, bone cancer, I decided the new family pet would be a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. When I contacted my Uncle and told him of my plan, he was, predictably, overjoyed.

Because of his age, living accommodations and medical infirmities, Uncle Reg was no longer able to own a large dog like a Chesapeake; but he had fostered and maintained strong friendships with any he met on the sidewalks or trails where he walked.

After my call, he immediately set out to scour the countryside in a determined search for the perfect specimen. After three months, he phoned and excitedly reported he had located a litter from what he considered to be two of the finest Chesapeakes he had seen for years.

He had taken the liberty of laying claim to a pup and had put a down payment on it for us. At that time he and my Aunt Phyllis lived in a small community west of Olympia in southern Washington; so Tim, my eldest son, and I drove down early one fine spring day to take delivery of our newest family member, "Hogan".

Every breed has its good points and its bad points. As I said, Chesapeakes are solid, hard-working dogs, bred for strength and endurance. They are not, however, bred for, shall we say, a cooperative nature. I have never encountered any Chesapeake owner who ever described their dog, or dogs, as anything more positive, in the behaviour department, than 'stubborn'.

The first point when considering the behaviour of Chesapeakes is that they tend to be a one-person dog. Not one family, but one person. Since I was the one person in Hogan's life, he and I got along fine. Unfortunately, my wife, Diane and my kids also had to deal with him. From the first day, it was abundantly clear he understood the role he was expected to play. Somewhere there is a book on Chesapeake behaviour and he had the entire text memorized long before we got him. He knew the rules backwards and forwards and they clearly stated - 'no Chesapeake was required to listen to anyone they didn't want to, unless that person was carrying a loaded shotgun and had taken at least two warning shots.'

When he was with me, Hogan would slowly and grudgingly obey repeated commands, but only if they were shouted at full volume. And when I say obey, I mean this in the most loose, generic and generous interpretation of the word. He might listen, and then again, he might not, depending on the cost-benefit analysis he silently applied to each situation.

However, in my absence, he totally disregarded commands from anyone and would sneak off at the first opportunity. I've had more than one facial blood vessel burst during futile, bellowed attempts at getting him to return once he broke free of his invisible escape radius of about thirty feet.

By the time we had invested a year and a half into the training of Hogan we began to hope for some indication of positive results. In all fairness, it should be pointed out that our family has never, I repeat, never, owned a dog who has successfully completed and passed an obedience course.

So our expectations were not terribly high. All we wanted was for him to learn "sit", "stay", "down", and "come". That's it! But Hogan was proving to be a challenge, even for our minimal requirements. His training fell on deaf ears and the situation was becoming desperate.

At about this time I was asked to travel to Alaska to help assess the game-farming program in that State. I landed at the airport and was picked up by a trio of locals who had been dispatched to ferry me from the airport to the University campus. While bouncing around in the back seat of a Ford 4 x 4 extended cab on the outskirts of Anchorage I struck up a conversation with what I gleefully and fortuitously discovered to be a fourth-generation, dyed-in-the-wool, Chesapeake owner. I figured he could give me some quick and easy tips on training Hogan. At the time he owned three of them!

"Yep, they's mighty fine dogs, is Chessies. Once they's tryined that is. But once you get'em tryined, they's the best dern dogs you could ever hope fer!" "Ah!" I thought to myself "A professional! A man after my own heart!"

"Trouble is…" he continued. "…people's just too blessed lazy to teach'm proper! But if yer willin' to put in three, mebbee four, good years, you'll never regret it.

"Course they need's t'be reminded quite a bit after they's tryined…… I alus carry a extra two by four, 'cuz theyze heads is reel solid…… broke this hand twice training old Bob…" He emphasized by holding up his disfigured right hand.

When I got home and reported the good news I knew what to expect. We had been down this road before. Diane decided right then and there what to do with Hogan.

Since by now she was spending more time with him than I was, Hogan and she needed to go to school. So she loaded him into the car, and off they drove in a whirlwind of dust. A palpable aura of determination enshrouded the car and followed her down the road. This time things would be different! I felt sorry for old Hogan and his streak of independence. It was clear he was not going to come out on top of this battle of wills. He was going to graduate obedience school, no matter what!

At obedience school things progressed pretty much as anticipated, for the first few minutes. Hogan got along with everyone, mostly, and would sit on command, occasionally. By the end of the first few classes, Hogan would humour the teacher and Diane by agreeing to their requests about half the time.

They hadn't yet broached all of the commands. He was fair at heeling. Reasonably competent at sitting. Poor at staying. But they were rather innocuous requests, not really infringing on one's status among the other, lesser, dogs in the class.

However, there was one command he absolutely refused to obey. He drew the line at "laying down." It was obviously beneath his dignity to "lay down" on command and he flatly refused to do so. No matter what Diane did. No matter what the instructor did. Hogan would not lay down.

Furthermore, he could not be forced to "lay down," under any circumstance. No threat was vile enough, no treat rewarding enough, to entice him to "lay down." He flatly rejected any and all verbal and physical attempts to acquiesce to this one command.

It turned out that Hogan distinguished himself as the one and only individual in the instructor's life-long history of dog training that could not be made to lay down.

Initially, Jerry, the trainer, accepted the challenge as a pleasant little class example of how he would show this poor naive owner how to make her dog do what she wanted it to do. Then, in stepwise progression, it became an increasingly more serious challenge to his skill and ability as a dog trainer.

Eventually, it became an overt threat to his pride. Jerry was as focused and committed to getting Hogan to lay down as a lion is focused and committed to catching a gazelle. But, in every class, both Diane and the instructor fought to exhaustion with Hogan, in a desperate and futile attempt to wrestle him to the ground; all to no avail.

Hogan and Diane quickly become the class entertainment. Their antics actually increased attendance. Nobody wanted to miss the weekly brawl. Other members of the class would even call people in from the street to check out the fun.

I never got much of the details because after five fun-filled weeks both Hogan and Diane were asked to leave, probably in some last-ditch attempt to save face. As a family, we took this minor setback in stride. Expulsion was nothing new to our family. Tim had been expelled from pre-school around the same time for pouring lemonade over his teacher's head, so Hogan's expulsion came as no great shame. We blamed it on the water and moved on. After the banishment, Diane and Hogan lived in a sort of uneasy peace from that time on.

Getting back to sexuality. Did I mention that Hogan was intact? That is to say, he was not neutered? Like my Uncle, I had always held onto the slightly bemusing idea of breeding Chesapeakes. So the idea of breeding Hogan was left in suspended indecision for the first seven years of his life while we decided whether or not we wanted to perpetuate his line.

During this time Hogan would often do what a lot of other frustrated males do, hump people's legs. But, since he spent most of his day on his own, he began to cast amorous attentions at inanimate objects. In fact his most seductive partner was a ten-gallon white feed bucket.

Diane and the boys always took Hogan up with them to feed the deer (we raise deer). After pouring the grain into the long, open feed bins, they'd leave the empty bucket in the raceway. Hogan had to remain in the long, fenced-in raceway because he and the deer did not get along.

Hogan, always the romantic, would grab his plastic partner and for the next ten to fifteen minutes would remain distracted by amorously waltzing around the raceway with his bucket firmly grasped between his forelegs. The surrogate spouse kept Hogan focused and allowed Diane and the boys to get the deer fed without interference. It seemed to satisfy everyone. For obvious reasons, we kept Hogan's antics as a sort of family secret.

From behind this cloudy history a neighbour emerged who, it turned out, also owned a Chesapeake. A female Chesapeake. In her desperate search for a suitable mate she chanced upon Hogan.

I will keep the identity of this neighbour a secret, to protect her reputation but she is a well-known member of Bradner's upper class. So, for simplicity I will just call her "Pam."

Now this "Pam" had been in to see me at the clinic with her two dogs and their sequential litters of pups over the years. Chesapeakes are not common dogs in our neck of the woods so when you meet a kindred spirit, you naturally commiserate with each other.

It turned out that she had thought of using Hogan as a stud for her bitch, Bailey, for more than a year, but was too shy to ask. When Bailey came into heat, Pam finally worked up the courage to mention her hopes to Diane. She asked Diane if she thought I would mind if she used Hogan as the sire. Sort of flattered, in a paternal sort of way, I said sure.

Being an older male and one that, to my knowledge, had never had the opportunity to, shall we say, enjoy the pleasures of fatherhood, I figured Hogan had earned the right to emerge from his celibate state at least once before I put him under the knife. It seemed fate had intervened in his favour, because just the previous week I had finally decided to neuter him. This decision was arrived at after he became intolerable for the week or so while another neighbour's German Shepherd bitch was in heat. His pathetic, twenty-four hour moaning binge finally led me to the decision to relieve him of the two glands that were causing his frustrated torment.

Since the Spring is a particularly busy time for veterinarians, and since most of the routine farming chores were, by that time, handled by Diane anyhow, I figured that she and Pam could breed the dogs and be done with it. "No problem. Just let us know when Bailey comes into heat." I told Pam. "Hogan will do the rest."

The big day arrived. Pam called to tell us that Bailey was in heat and raring to go. I knew Hogan would be just as eager to finally get his chance to demonstrate his masculine abilities. Unfortunately, the first day Bailey arrived, she didn't show much interest in Hogan.

Diane attached a leash to Hogan's collar and Pam did the same to Bailey. We didn't know how they would react. Better to be safe. They stood in the driveway beside their respective charges, waiting for the inevitable miracle of nature to take over.

Hogan, always the charmer, moved in immediately; tail wagging furiously. He wore a slightly asymmetrical smile, suggesting some minor lack of self-confidence. Clearly knew that he was attracted to this warm and furry, surrogate bucket, but he didn't seem to know why.

He first approached from the front and immediately tried to embrace her by the head. She seemed a little perplexed and extricated her head from his grasp. Obviously, her new boyfriend was eager, but not too adept. She backed off and laid down.

From a safe distance, I could see what was going on. Neither of the two women seemed to know how to help. Both were more concerned that some stranger might drive up and misinterpret what they were trying to do.

So each of them let the ten-foot-long leashes out to their full extent, backing away from the dogs, talking to each other, arms folded, nonchalantly, pretending to be oblivious to the proceedings going on behind them, but regularly, and in mid-sentence, nonchalantly rolling their eyes over their shoulders to see if the deed had been completed, then returning to continue their conversation.

It was obvious that Bailey was not in full oestrous, and, accordingly, was not interested in Hogan for that reason. It was also clear she was very unsure about getting into an intimate relationship with this rather innovative male. Helpfully, I finally interceded and suggested that maybe they wait a day or so and try again.

Glad for an excuse to leave; Pam quickly fled the scene, taking her relieved bitch with her. Two days later Pam and Bailey returned, but they delayed their arrival until late afternoon. It wasn't until well after five o'clock before she arrived.

I supposed Pam figured it might be less intimidating for all concerned, under cover of darkness. In addition, Pam and Diane decided to ensure intimacy and walked both dogs down the raceway, only stopping when they were at least five hundred feet from any prying eyes. From well back, I watched as Hogan approached.

Now Bailey was in full-blown heat and she was presenting her back-end enticingly towards him as he approached. Clearly, Hogan's appearance had improved immeasurably since the last visit. As for Hogan, his intensions remained at least as focused as on the previous visit, but he still seemed unsure as to what he needed to do.

Although his tail was wagging frantically, he retained his furrowed brow and quizzical expression. Poor Bailey was nearly turning inside out in anticipation of having this hot-looking male so close, and yet having nothing happen. This was a turn of events she wasn't used to.

As we watched, it seemed that a new idea suddenly flashed across his face. With his newly acquired confidence, Hogan marched up to Bailey and proceeded to grab, and then methodically hump, her left hind leg. You could read the confusion on her face as she looked first at Hogan, and then up at Pam. "What kind of a blind date did you line me up with?" She seemed to say. Hogan was very pleased with himself. He knew he got it right this time. He just couldn't understand why everyone wasn't telling him what a good boy he was.

They tried for another half hour or so, but, once again, success eluded them. I suggested they try again in a day or two. I was beginning to feel a bit embarrassed for the old guy. By middle age, I would have expected this kind of activity to come naturally.

One more go. Two days hence, they all met at the appointed hour. Both dogs appeared eager, as did the owners. The trick was, we couldn't show our interest, lest our neighbours might call the police. Just as things were getting interesting I was called away to examine a mare with colic. But, as I drove away I could see in the rear-view mirror that everything looked promising. "This time it would work for sure." I thought.

When I returned I was greeted with a satisfied looking dog and the news that, finally, they had bred successfully and everything was fine. Pam was just packing Bailey into the back of her pickup.

After Pam drove off I asked suspiciously. "So, they bred did they?" "Yes, finally, do you know how embarrassing it is to stand out there waiting for these goofy dogs to … well … you know … do it?" asked Diane forcefully. "I can only imagine." I answered compassionately.

"How long did they tie?" I asked, still not quite believing the reported accomplishment. "Tie?, What do you mean, Tie?" Diane looked quizzically at me. "Well, when dogs breed they have to tie…… they are physically stuck together for 10 to 20 minutes, tail to tail. Didn't they tie?"

"What? Tail to Tail?" Diane said, shaking her head. "No, they didn't tie!" She hissed and then focused her rage on Hogan. "What a useless *&^%$ dog! Just castrate him and be done with it!" She yelled as she threw me the end of the leash and stormed off.

Dejected, Diane called Pam and broke the bad news. I could hear the exasperated scream at the other end of the phone. Finally, after two more days, Pam and Bailey returned. This time the breeding was successful. They tied normally. For at least twenty minutes.

And, sixty-three days later, Bailey displayed the same slim trim figure she always had. It turned out that Hogan was a dud. However, Hogan did seem more content, afterwards. But he still won't go to sleep without his bucket.

As for his surgery, maybe I won't neuter him after all. I figure that we can always collect him for artificial insemination. Besides, this dog breeding is a lot more fun than I'd ever imagined.

Dr. Bruce Burton, DVM, B.Sc., M.Sc., works with the animals at The Greater Vancouver Zoo and with 'animal stars' in the local film industry. He has extensive expertise in domestic and wild animal biology, health care and nutrition, as well as fish and game-farming experience. In addition to his busy practice in Bradner, Dr. Burton teaches at The University of British Columbia, and is often called upon by the SPCA to help exotic animals in need.

He chooses to write down his experiences so they are not lost, but rather shared with others. He wants his children and grandchildren to be able to read them first hand. I hope you enjoy your own sneak peek into his daily routine!

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