Skye, Duncan and the Miracle Litter

Although there were many complications 'Skye', a Champion German Shorthaired Pointer, was able to give birth to six healthy puppies.

When I bred my German Shorthaired Pointer bitch ‘Skye’ (BIS/SBIS Ch. Cheza’s Stelor in Disguise) in the summer of 2003, many people awaited this litter with high expectations, considering Skye was a Best in Show bitch that had started her show career by winning Best in Futurity in 2000 at the National Specialty. Subsequently, Skye had been campaigned to Top 5 rankings handled by me and Michael Scott in 2001 and 2002. All breeders know that special one — the puppy that is born seemingly knowing how to do everything. As puppies they free stack with little or no training; never put a foot down wrong; carry themselves with incredible confidence — as if they own the show ring; and in the field, instinctively point and retrieve to hand. Skye was that puppy, that kind of bitch. Everything about her was and is special.

When it was time to breed Skye, I flew to California with her where she was bred naturally; pregnancy was confirmed a few weeks thereafter and ultrasound and X-rays later in her pregnancy revealed a large litter soon to come. Although I was nervous about Skye’s first litter, I felt prepared. Tragically, however, Skye experienced complications after going into labor — due to a combination of factors including some terrible advice from veterinarians who eventually performed a C-section, albeit much too late so that only one puppy survived.   

Knowing that Skye had come through the surgery successfully (or so I had thought), allowed me to feel the devastation of losing the other puppies. As the days passed, Skye proved to be a great mother, and the puppy thrived. However, a vaginal discharge persisted, way past the time her uterus should have been completely healed. I started to realize that this special bitch might never produce more than the one puppy we were raising.

The time had come to get more information. Discussions with several top dog breeders in my area led me to a veterinary reproduction specialist, Dr. Melissa Goodman, in suburban Philadelphia. A review of Skye’s history suggested a probable diagnosis of uterine inertia, possibly caused by one large pup that had plugged up the works. Although Skye’s ovaries and uterus looked normal on ultrasound, she had developed a strong inflammatory response around the artificial suture material that had been used to close the incision in the uterus.

This suture granuloma was causing damage to the smooth tissue of the uterus, and responsible for the nasty discharge that remained. The suture material, not the type that would quickly dissolve, would need to be removed to allow the uterus to heal.

Dr. Goodman enlisted the help of Dr. Ken Sadanaga, a well-respected dog surgeon who worked in the same veterinary specialty practice. They explained that Skye’s uterus at this stage was quite small, so the procedure to remove the suture material would be tricky. Dr. Sadanaga would also remove any uterine tissue that he felt was too damaged to survive. So, just a few months after I was expecting a big healthy litter of puppies, Skye was facing her second surgical procedure which was humbling to say the least, although I was confident that I was getting the best possible veterinary advice. Dr. Goodman, herself a breeder of top-winning Golden Retrievers, understood how important it was to try to breed Skye again, but even more importantly understood that Skye’s health and well-being should never be compromised. The procedure was completed and Skye’s symptoms soon disappeared. Now we had to hope that Skye’s damaged uterus would be healthy enough to withstand the changes that a hormonal cycle and pregnancy would cause, and be able to carry puppies to term.

In March of 2004, Skye was bred again. With Dr. Goodman’s assistance, we used chilled semen via surgical implant. Skye’s uterus looked great and we were all confident that things were going well. Three weeks after the breeding, however, Skye was not herself: she was lethargic, suddenly stopped eating and had a fever. Trying not to panic, but with fear evident in my voice, I called Dr. Goodman who told me to bring Skye in immediately. When I arrived we went to see the ultrasound specialist at the same practice. Dr. Schelling said, “She’s got five viable fetuses in the left uterine horn and a pyometra in the right horn.” I could tell that this was definitely not good and it was soon explained to me that the pyometra had originated in the area where the uterine tissue had suffered the damage caused by the suture granuloma.

With more than five weeks to go and a sick bitch, my dreams of a healthy German Shorthaired Pointer litter again rapidly dissolved, although now I was worried only about Skye. Dr. Goodman explained that we could spay Skye and avoid any future problems. She also explained that we could treat the pyometra medically and at the same time abort the healthy pups in the other healthy horn. While this would bring Skye through this episode, it was likely that the damaged horn would continue to be a problem, so she recommended that this horn be removed before we bred Skye again. She then gave me another option — to remove the infected section of Skye’s right uterine horn the next day and hope that the remaining puppies in the healthy uterine horn would survive the trauma and anesthesia.

Together with Drs. Sadanaga and Schelling, Dr. Goodman put together a plan to perform the surgery the next day. Skye was stabilized overnight with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. She was prepared for surgery and I spent the rest of the day at work waiting to hear from Dr. Goodman. Although I was nervous, Dr. Goodman reassured me that Skye was in good hands and indeed I had been impressed thus far with how they handled everything.

Still, I worried all day at work until later that afternoon I received a phone call that I will never forget — Dr. Goodman informed me that Skye and her puppies had made it through the surgery. She was doing fine and there were strong fetal heartbeats!

Although Skye was with the best veterinarians possible, to me it was a miracle as this may very well have been the first time such a procedure was ever successfully performed. Through some tears I wrote down the next instructions which were going to be critical for Skye’s health and for her to carry the puppies through the remainder of the pregnancy.

Skye was given terbutaline, a drug after surgery to block uterine contractions that might have been triggered by the trauma of the infection and surgery. In addition, I was to continue monitoring Skye for premature contractions using the WhelpWise monitor at home, and give terbutaline as needed per Dr. Goodman’s instructions. Skye was also put on an antibiotic that would be safe for the developing puppies. When I picked up Skye the next day from the vet practice, I was amazed; she looked like a completely different dog — her energy was back and true to form, she seemed to be wondering what all the fuss was about!

The rest of the pregnancy went smoothly. There were no premature contractions and it was incredible to see how normal and healthy Skye appeared. For the five remaining weeks my routine was to take recordings of Skye’s uterus every morning and evening — always fearing the worst after all that I had been through.

If anything, Skye’s strength and attitude helped take care of me as much as I was taking care of her. As the time approached for Skye’s delivery, an elective C-section was scheduled with Dr. Goodman.

Finally, the day arrived: May 29, 2004. I dropped Skye off and was told to call or come back in about an hour to pick up Skye and the puppies. Of course I was nervous considering this was yet another surgery. Eventually, it was time to pick up Skye and hopefully, a healthy litter of five puppies, but … I would soon find out, there was one more unexpected surprise, although this time, it was the most wonderful surprise. Instead of five healthy puppies there were six! I was thrilled to be greeted by a healthy bitch and her three boys and three girls!

Dr. Goodman explained that one of the girls had implanted in the small section of the right uterine horn that was left after the surgery, and there had been just enough remaining tissue to sustain the puppy throughout the pregnancy. Although this puppy had been difficult to revive, a diligent veterinary technician named Ann refused to give up on her, and ‘Annie’ became the sixth unexpected puppy to join this incredible litter.

I have often thought about how fortunate I was for the opportunity I was given. I know that many veterinarians and dog breeders would have chosen an immediate spay. Dr. Goodman, however, was able to recognize my goals, formulate a plan using the top specialists to help achieve the desired results and effectively communicate my options, with all the pros and cons discussed.

Instead of following the textbook, she was able to think outside the box, and had the experience to know not only what needed to be done, but what could safely be done without risking Skye. As a breeder and exhibitor of Golden Retrievers, Dr. Goodman also understood very well the contribution Skye’s offspring could potentially make to the breed, and the importance of saving Skye and her puppies. Dr. Goodman has managed the breedings of quite a few Best in Show and Group winners from the Westminster Kennel Club Dg Show.

When I tell this story many ask, “So then what happened, what became of the litter?”

Well … perhaps this is the awesome footnote to the story, in that all six puppies became American Kennel Club champion show dogs and all but one earned field titles including one Master Hunter, one Senior Hunter and three Junior Hunters. Three of the six puppies are now multiple Group winners, two are multiple Best in Specialty winners and one is a Best in Show winner who also finished 2006 as the No. 1 GSP in Canada. I learned later that with this litter, Skye became the only BIS bitch in the history of the breed to have produced a Group-winning, AKC Master Hunter (SBIS Silver Am./Intl. GCh. Bulkley Sharpmtn’s Blu Skyes, MH) and a Group-winning AKC Senior Hunter — and both were from this same amazing, miracle litter.

The puppy I kept is the Group-winning Senior Hunter, SBIS Am./Can. Ch. Bulkley NecTemere NecTimide, SH, NRD, C-ROM or ‘Duncan’ as we call him. Duncan earned his AKC championship from the Bred-By-Exhibitor class in 2005 and was nationally ranked in the Top 20 in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, Duncan won Best of Breed at Westminster, the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship and the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Canada National Specialty — making Duncan the first GSP to win Westminster, Eukanuba and a national specialty all in the same calendar year. Having already achieved so much in the show ring, we decided it was time for Duncan to prove himself in the field — which he did, earning his AKC Senior Hunter title.

In 2011, Duncan was top sire with 15 offspring earning their American Kennel Club championships. To date, Duncan is the sire of more than 30 champions including Group and Best in Show winners in the United States, Canada, Australia and Croatia.

All of Duncan’s great achievements and those of his offspring, however, are even more special considering that he really shouldn’t even be here today and it goes without saying how thankful I am for the incredible piece of veterinary work that saved Duncan and his littermates and Skye in 2004.


From the July 2012 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the July 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.

Article Categories:
Dogs · Lifestyle