Love in the time of Corona
Kathrin and I eagerly committed to the idea of breeding Shikokus less than a year ago. We were certain of little at that time other than our female Shikoku, Rumi, was a supreme specimen and had much to offer. The concept of breeding was, and is, extremely exciting, as it allows for the opportunity to help expand this rare breed and be part of a great tradition. We then quickly came to realize that the process of getting your dog approved by the German governing body, as well as your kennel, to say nothing of successfully having a litter, was about as easy as mixing cement with your eyelashes. Rumi's approval to be fit for breeding included multiple attendance of dog shows, x-rays, blood tests and physical inspections by the German authorities. Getting your kennel approved is dependent on the authorities inspecting your home, purchasing an acceptable whelping box and taking a written exam. After several months of following the strict German guidelines, and submitting the numerous applications, we were approved. This was the easy part.
What I failed to appreciate at the time of deciding to become a breeder was... the amount of research, travel, expense, timing and luck that is required to have a successful litter. As for luck, we were lucky to attend a dog show with Rumi where she met her Polish Prince Charming, OshiKun. I don't know if it was love at first sight for Rumi, but for me it was. Oshi is a two year old male Shikoku with a kind demeanor, a great pedigree and the graceful movements of Baryshnikov. He reminded me in some ways of our Sugu, but with a superior orthodontist and less attitude. We love you Sugu!
Our intentions were quickly communicated that we would like for Oshi to be Rumi's baby daddy. Oshi's owner, Karolina, was thankfully accepting of the notion and a complete pleasure to get to know. But this of course was just the beginning. A statement in the obvious: your female dog must be in the proper hormonal state of being to accept a male suitor, much less to be fertile for reproduction. This happens only twice a year, so as in life, timing is everything.
Rumi is by nature mercurial, a condition of being highly intelligent perhaps. She can shower you with affection on one day with the energy of a puppy and on the next, she seems inconvenienced by your presence (mostly the former though). Thus, it is hard to be sure if she is in heat and managing her hormones or if, rather, she is just taking an off day from the human world. However, nature eventually discloses all... such as when she starts to bleed and her brother eyes her like a second cousin from West Virginia who resembles Claudia Schiffer.
Knowing a few weeks ago that Rumi was in heat and that we had found the perfect mate, albeit in Poland, our excitement was growing. But even then, it took three trips to the veterinarian to precisely measure her optimal hormonal level for conception. So Kathrin arrived home in the early afternoon after the third vet visit and informed me that we were leaving for Poland, NOW. After a few grumpy comments from me, I quickly packed a bag and we were on the road for a 700KM drive to the East. There was a time when I thought driving from Miami to Fort Lauderdale was an epic journey and one to be avoided at all costs. However, since living in Europe and doing our fair share of road trips, 700KM was nothing unusual.
The sum of my knowledge of The Republic of Poland (Polska) could easily fit on the back of a napkin. But the beauty part of meeting good people like Karolina and finding a necessity to expand your horizons is that you dive in head first and become curious. Side note, I assumed my polyglot wife spoke or understood Polish given the Geographic propinquity of the two countries. My ignorance is on full display here, as the slavic Polish language is completely different and Kathrin had never crossed into Poland before. Suffice to say, our drive to Poland was brilliant. Soon after we crossed the border the traffic became incredibly light and the Eastern engineered highways begged you to drive no fewer than 200 KM per hour (unfortunately there are speed limits in Poland). Interesting factoid, Poland is roughly the geographic size of Germany but with less than half the population. After a swift 8 hour drive, we entered a small town outside of the nearest city, Poznań.
Our approach to Karolina's was straight out of a Stephen King novel. We turned off the main highway to a dark, and I mean DARK, forest. The fog was impenetrable and we reduced our speed to a crawl to manage the narrow flat roads. How this trip would have been possible before GPS and Google maps I have no idea. As we made our final turn to our destination, the only landmark for 30 minutes was a large pet cemetery (a la Stephen King).
Karolina graciously greeted us late in the evening and we revelled in her fortress-like compound of Hajimari. Within her walled off residence we discovered a well cared for and designed dog kennel that was a canine sanctuary. Out of respect for privacy, I'll refrain from many details of the evening, but our experience was 100% positive. I will say, however, that Karolina is truly a selfless and thoughtful dog breeder and owner. In addition to having a stable of dogs for breeding, Karolina somehow found (or rather "made") the time to serve as a sanctuary for dispossessed Akitas. To say she is charitable would be an understatement, her kennel is currently home to more than 20 Akitas of various ages and sizes (though most exceed 40 Kilos). I have a nice scar on my lip as a friendly reminder of my first introduction to one of her larger males, albeit it was an incredibly playful and well intentioned encounter... just his way of saying hello there as we met eye to eye. With the addition of a busted lip, my hands and arms bore the recent cracks and cuts of clearing trees on our family's property giving some on-lookers the clear impression that my bar fight didn't go well for me.
In breeding I learned that a conjugal visit between two star crossed lovers like Rumi and Oshi is referred to in business parlance as a "Meeting." On this first night, the Meeting did not go as planned. Rumi was perhaps not up for sexy time after a long drive and aggressively countered any advance from virile Oshi. After a 2 hour effort we gave up and drove (exhausted) to our hotel that was one of only two in the area and again, in the midst of a forest. To be fair, the hotel was exceptionally nice and exceptionally vacant. We were literally the only guests. It was a proclaimed Medical Spa hotel which my wife surmised to be an affordable recovery center for Germans who recently had plastic surgery. I thought this was an absurd conjecture but turns out (as usual) she is likely correct. It is also correct to say that Stanley Kubrick could easily have scouted this hotel for the filming of The Shining.
Having survived the night, Rumi had a Meeting with Oshi each of the next two days, and each was successful. I could not be present to see my little Rumi be deflowered but Kathrin respectfully observed that each of the Meetings were a love connection. And a literal connection at that, the dogs are stuck together for up to 20 minutes after they have finished. Perhaps too much information. Returning to some of the elements that contribute to successful breeding, luck and timing must go at the top of the list. We learned as we arrived in Poland that in the next 3 days, it would enact a much stricter lockdown due to the Corona Virus and increasing infection rate. For us this meant that had we not arrived in Poland on the day we did, our plans to breed would have likely been delayed by another 6 months (the time for Rumi to be in heat again).
In summary, it takes a lot to successfully breed a dog, particularly one as rare as a Shikoku. We really hope that Rumi is on the way to motherhood, but won't know for another week. It is difficult to even discuss publicly that your dog "may" be pregnant because of the disappointment if she is not. But that is life and that is honesty. Breeding is far more complicated than I imagined, but also super rewarding. We hope to have a litter in over a month, but if not, we shall try again. But if nothing else, we got to see a little bit of Poland and make a new friend... one we will be sure to see in the near future.