Taking Risks in Small Things

IMG_4014Last night I went to The Banff Mountain Film Festival that was brought to Portland, for 3 days of viewing.  It showcases spectacular risk takers, creative athletes, old knowledge, new ideas, beautiful scenery. It’s sponsored by The North Face, Deuter, MSR, National Geographic to name a few. So that should give you the idea of what you will see if you ever get a chance to go.  As I sat there watching the young, extremely fit people, living courageously  in the film “The Burn”  (check it out if you like to ski, or like good music or just an adrenaline pumping short film),  the lyrics pouring out, ” we can’t live if we are too afraid to die…”

I started to feel like, “Damn it, the only thing I’m really good at is collecting semen! I want to be able to ski like that, to climb a mountain and to courageously take risks that might potentially kill me and feel like the risk is worth it!”  But no, that extreme life was not to be for me, and as I sat and thought about my life, and the lives of all the people I work with, clients, veterinarians, dog show people, rescue dog people, breeders and on and on. I began to see how each community has it’s own little superstars taking their own little risks.

Walking in to a ring, is a risk, that takes some courage. You’re on display and are actually being judged.  Hopefully it isn’t really possibly for you to die by doing some crazy thing in the show ring, but it’s a personal risk to you.

When I go to collect a dog, I take a small risk, that I will get bit, or the dog won’t give and then the owner will assume, I’m not good enough or there is something wrong with their dog.

The woman who came in and watched me do an AI and cancelled her next appointment and bought an insemination kit to “do it herself” is taking a risk. Weighing the loss against the potential gain.

Each clinic that decides to do reproduction work takes a risk, as they do as veterinarians, there is the unknown, the fact that nature takes and gives as it pleases.

I’m often stumped by the fact that people will at times ask me…”We did everything! The timing was right. The bitch was proven. The semen was good. Why didn’t it take?”  Completely disregarding that we don’t rule nature, or genetics. Not completely anyway, not yet.  There are still the variables involved that we know nothing about or even that they exist.

The risk.

We either choose to find beauty in the risk and the journey or we stay home and do nothing.

I like to think I morphed that whole concept to make me feel better about my fairly “risk-free” life.  Somehow I guess I hoped  just putting that into perspective in relation to my own life would make me feel more adequate when watching these people hurl themselves off cliffs in wing-suits. I guess in the end I choose to curl up next to my little dog most nights and snuggle in to know I won’t wake up with frostbite at some base camp on Everest.

I guess I’m okay, with my little risks.

Is Your Little “Humper” the Life of the Party?

IMG_17681. Let’s say “HULK” is “humping” every thing in sight.  He’s the dog that all the little kids love and scream out…”LOOK MOMMY! Hulk loves me! He’s giving me BIG HUGS!”  Much to the mortification of the party host, she drops her red plastic cupped cocktail, to find a quarantined area for the ever-loving Hulk.

The next day we may get a walk-up at the show or a phone call to ask if we would please help “relieve” Hulk of his needs. “Maybe just calm him down a little…?”  So here’s my advice… That will help you for about an hour.  Then the raging Hulk will be back and ready to share the love.  You will need to seek obedience for an intact male over temporary relief.   Once in a while this will work for an agitated dog that is getting ready to go into a ring of in-season bitches…but even then it won’t make all of his instincts fade.

2.  “I want to teach him what he needs to do!”  Alright,  getting him collected is a good start, however, consider bringing a bitch in with you so he at least associates breeding with a female.  Once in a while we will run across “the lazy bulldog” that has indignantly decided…”Why would you make me do that, when I can go somewhere and someone will do it for me? “

Owners of dogs that consistently have their dog collected, often say that a few of their dogs will not breed naturally after that, without a lot of help.  This isn’t always the case, but something to think about.

3. “I know he’s young yet, but I just want to see what he’s got going on in there!”

Happily, the little lab gets collected and now becomes the Casanova of your kennel. Sometimes when you teach a new dog a new trick…he gets very fixated on that! So keep in mind, you might end up with your own party fouling “Hulk.”

 

Shipping Semen Overseas

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Dogs on the beach in Gijon, Spain.

This is a big deal. But not insurmountable. When you make the choice to do this…be ready to cry a little, be beaten a little  and expect to do a lot of things over. But first and foremost!!!!!!! Always give yourself plenty of time. Plan 6 months to 1 year in advance making arrangements.

At one point when shipping semen overseas to Spain, as the semen was in mid-air the government changed the regulations and the semen was denied at the moment it reached customs and returned home…never to be a litter in Spain.

The problem a lot of times is the US has been storing semen for years, without much thought to shipping it into foreign countries with changing regulations.  What your grandma stored in the 70′s, sadly doesn’t always meet the requirements needed to be exported to a foreign country.  The US is not as difficult to get semen into.  Your best bet is to contact a company in the country you are in that knows the regulations, ( if you message me) I can point you in the right direction if you are in the US, to who exports for us here.  Often if you know someone in Tanzania that wants semen they can find out what is required to get the semen in better than we can here in the States.  Often there are requirements around the time that the semen is collected, such as: (but not limited to)…bruccella testing, rabies vaccinations and boosters, well dog exams, microchips…etc.  It’s best if you think the semen might be used for export someday to contact the center I know of to give you a basis of what general tests and guilde-lines you would be smart to just have done…just in case!

I am no expert on this…WHY?

Back when I first started here, we had one person that worked on the import/export part of the business, every shipment seemed like a new challenge. I at first being young and fresh,  thought…”I can do this, no problem. Why is everyone making such a big deal about it?”

Until I started to do it.

Every country wanted something different. There was no standard protocol. Each shipment had it’s individual problems and required vast amounts of time and management.  Group shipments would be lined up so that, maybe 3 different people would be able to send 3 different dogs to 1 country and save on shipping. Someone would always fall short of a test and there would be a hold up down to the wire, while one person pulled their hair out yelling at us because their dog needed to be bred in Australia with that semen in 2 days!

And so…our office, made a decision.

Who would be really great at this? Hmmmmm, tag you’re it!

We extended the offer to another center within our group of centers the opportunity to become our expert export department. THANK GOD!!! How these people handle everything is beyond what normal people have to do. They make it look easy and you get to thank them for saving you time and money, by getting it right the first time! Mostly. Sometimes it happens that it is just not possible, but that is mostly not the case. Shipping semen overseas offers breeders an amazing opportunity to diversify their breeding program and allows amazing genetics to continue within the breeds.  Initially I had requested to have a guest blogger come on here and write about this, but I’m assuming she is EXTREMELY busy and half crazy from it all. It’s a 24-7 commitment to help people complete this task and the ones I know doing it, deserve all the kudos I have.

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Me, at the oldest Roman building in Oviedo, when visiting for training to open a center in Spain.

What’s Up With Those Testes?

IMG_0152True story…I never do an epididymal harvest with my face too close to the testis I’m cutting into anymore. The picture on the left was from a few years ago. I like to get close to my work…actually I have no idea why I’m squatted down here…I just like the picture because of the big pile of testicles in front of me while I’m laughing away… What a sicko! (I also have no idea why I have a huge pile of testes in front of me… I think I was doing a project, normally,  you only have 2 at a time you are working on.)

(Quick reminder…an epididymal harvest is a way to take semen directly from the neutered testicle.)

On a few occasions, people have sent in testes from their dogs where the testes were clearly swollen and holding fluid.  When I first started, I didn’t really consider the pressure behind that and cut into a tightly swollen testis…………………sigh…unforgettable and truly disgusting when you are unprepared or unprotected for projectile fluids.  Thankfully I have quickly reacting eyelids, (superhero-like, really)  and skin washes.  YUCK.

So today, if that wasn’t too disgusting and you are still reading, I wanted to just give you a little list of reasons, outside of just a genetic reason or bad collection, for ending up with some poor testes that are either looking strange or are giving poor samples.

  • Drugs-  Is the male on any steroids? They have been known to cause problems with the semen production.  The other question about drugs isn’t always WHAT he is on but, WHY he is on it.  That drug fighting his infection or fever, probably isn’t as big a deal as the fever.
  • Excessive sexual activity -Has the boy been breeding a lot lately?  That can deplete his cell count.  Also, if he is around a bitch in season that he isn’t breeding he may be ejaculating himself, causing the depletion.
  • Sexual Abstinence- If he hasn’t been collected or used in a long time or ever, the cells can look a bit rough sometimes. You will tend to see a lot more abnormal cells in a dog that has never been used or has not for a period of time.  Sometimes it helps to have them collected a few weeks before you plan to use him. Sometimes it makes no difference at all, honestly.
  • Could there be an infection?  The reproductive tract can present quite a few little problems that can affect the quality and quantity of the semen. It can also be transferred through the semen to the bitch and has been known to infect puppies that may die AFTER being born from the infection.  Some of the infections that we hear about are:
  1. Prostatitis ( a bacterial infection)
  2. Epididymitis (where the ducts through which the sperm travels are inflamed.)
  3. Brucellosis (which is infectious and is caused by bacteria known as Brucella Melitensis.)
  4. Orchitis (which is an inflammation of the testis)
  5. Mycoplasma (sometimes categorized as a bacterial infection and sometimes like a fungus of sorts)
  6. Streptacoccus (bacterial infection)
  7. Staphylococcus   (bacterial infection)

This is by no means all inclusive, I am just covering some of the major ones that we see and hear talked about.  (Don’t worry, I had to look up how to spell a couple of these too!) As I said, I am not a veterinarian, so when these subjects come up it is time to seek a specialist in reproduction. Other issues that are not infection related you might think about are as follows:

  • Trauma that can be a direct force to the testes or the reproductive area. Any swelling can cause heat and change the temperature that the sperm cells are generating and resting in.
  • Any time the body temperature is extremely high it can affect the testes.
  • Obesity- I’m glad it doesn’t seem to be very common in the dogs I have dealt with.  Seems like most people who are breeding dogs don’t let their stud get too heavy, but for the ones that do, increased scrotal fat can increase insulation and cause problems.
  • Heavy Training-If you have your dog out training and doing field course or are campaigning them heavily, you will most likely see a larger amount of abnormalities. So in the off-training season give him about a month and them get him checked again.
  • Don’t forget about the heat in general.  Anytime they are having trouble regulating their temperature, it will have an effect. Large dogs, many with long coats have a harder time cooling down and their semen can be compromised in those warm summer months. Best to catch them in another season if they are showing poor quality semen. It might just make the difference!
  • Notice a trend here?  Keep those testes cool, but not freezing. If for some reason you ever have to ship testes in for extraction, make sure they are kept cool…but NOT frozen or directly on ice or on icepack or in the freezer!!!

So the idea here is when you go get a collection, you have a little information. A little lightbulb might go on that says.”Oh yeah!! He’s been doing field trials for a few weeks !” That way you don’t get too worried when you see the unhappy abnormals floating around. It helps you become the sleuth. You know what your dog has been doing better than I do.  So often I will collect a dog and only after we see a low cell count do they remember that he has been breeding all week.

One more thing that I hesitate to bring up, because I haven’t seen it proven in canines, but I’ve been speculating on it lately. I don’t mean to jump on the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)  bandwagon, but after reading many studies that show it has had an effect on hamster fertility and genetically passed reproductivity issues, I began to wonder…what’s in our dog food? Where did that food come from and what kind of binding agents are being used? If the protein source in the food is another animal, what were they being fed? If we are feeding raw…what kind of foods was that animal being fed?  Just a thought! How far does that worm hole go that ends right back as a little sperm cell…?

10 Things You Should Know When Shipping Fresh Chilled Semen

IMG_1289So you want to ship semen to Canada and you live in Texas?  It’s a loooong holiday weekend? Bad weather months? A stalling bitch?  Maybe it’s time to test that semen out.

10 helpful hints and  things to consider doing before you do your fresh chilled shipment.

1. If you are doing a vaginal or transcervical breeding you will need 2 shipping kits.  A surgical insemination just requires one shipment. If you are about to hit a weekend or holiday you might consider collecting twice in the same day, once the night before the shipment and once the morning of the shipment or you may consider splitting the collection.

2. Make sure any media that you have (which sustains the life of the semen in transit), has been checked to insure that it has not expired. Some media’s are egg based and can last only 6 months in the freezer.

3. If you are the bitch owner, have a local back-up plan. (Such as another living, local stud dog you would be willing to breed your bitch with.)  If local isn’t possible, make sure you have your accounts current so you can call for frozen semen to be shipped in minutes.

4. Have at least $500-$1000 to devote to this breeding.  This will allow for progesterone testing, shipping and handling and collecting if you aren’t doing it yourself, the cost of the kits, and the ability to make changes and have other semen shipped in case of an emergency. (Like if it arrives dead.) Shipping should be overnight and that can be over a hundred dollars. That may just be the cost to get the kit to you and doesn’t include shipping it to the bitch after you collect, which needs to go overnight too!

5. A few weeks to a month, before the breeding, consider doing a sperm survival test. This is a test where the stud dog you will be using is collected and his semen is held in the media that it will be shipped in. The test is carried out until the semen dies. The motility will be monitored on an hourly bases, so that you know how long his semen is good for in media when in proper temperatures. Keep in mind, the test is done in a controlled laboratory. The kit should mimic the temperature of a refrigerator, but can not completely shelter the semen from extreme temperatures or mishandling.

6. If you chose to not do the survival test, you should make sure the stud dog is familiar with being collected and has at least had his sample viewed under a microscope to make sure the sperm cells are existent, motile and healthy. I can’t tell you how many times the bitch is ready to be bred tomorrow and someone comes in to have a dog collected that has never been collected before and he has little or no sperm cells.  The other is when a dog over the age of 10 is being collected, and he no longer has enough cells for an optimal breeding. Yet another common issue is, the semen revealing a possible infection that could be transferred to the bitch and the semen is mostly abnormal.

7. Make sure you have all your paperwork, including:  addresses and phone numbers, registration numbers if you plan to include that with the shipment. Make sure there is someone to receive the package on the other end. Often someone is needed to sign for delivery, and some vet clinics are closed on holiday and weekends and don’t take deliveries. NO PO Boxes!

8. If you end up having to ship on a holiday, you may need to send it on an airplane, which requires a known shipper.  Make sure the company you are working with is a known shipper with the airlines, or your package will not go.

9. Make sure that a small amount of semen mixed with the media is held back, EVERY TIME! Less than 1/2 a cc is more than enough. You need the ability to check the sample on your end, if they receive it and say it isn’t motile. If the semen is motile on your end, you know it is something that has happened in transit or at the time of insemination. It is a good protection for you if you have gone through a lot of expense and someone is telling you that you sent bad semen. You start to question yourself and this will give you peace of mind.

10.  After all of that.  Just relax.  This process happens all the time with great success. 95% of the time shipping fresh chilled semen goes off without a problem.  If you are working with a good facility, you will be taken care of and they will do most of the worrying, so let them.  If you are doing it for the first time without any help, just remember, it can be very simple if you just read the directions.

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This is a photo of Journey nose modeling what a vial of shipping media usually looks like. This will come in your Fresh Chilled Shipping Kit that you add your semen to.

PS…I’m running out of pictures of my dogs…if you are sick of seeing my dog and wouldn’t mind seeing yours on here,  send me a photo and something amazing about your dog and where you are from.  I promise if the information I am writing about is in any way controversial or talking about bad semen I won’t portray your dog negatively! I’d love some photos from some of my readers over in other parts of the world too!

The Disgruntled Journey

Alex getting ready for backpack trip 025Before getting my golden, the image passed through my head of me running gleefully on a beach with my amazing running dog next to me. She would dip in and out of the surf as, she chased her ball.  I would reach down to pick it up, to toss it forward to her. Laughing, so free,  all fresh with the mist of the surf.

Whaaaaaa?

Ok,  so, my golden retriever( Journey) hates getting in water above her ankles, generally shrinks away from a tumbling plastic bag, let alone the surf. The vision of her running for any length of time,  is a leash tied around my waist while I run ahead coersing her to keep it up, all the way giving her the extra tug that keeps her from sitting down.  The actual fact that by the time she gets to the ball she forgets why she is there, replaces any fantasy of exercising her while I sit on my butt, drinking a beer.

When I take Journey with me for a run or even a long walk,  I find myself turning off my music, checking in with her, giving her little nose/muzzle high fives. I try to be encouraging to make it more fun and exciting.  In the end I usually end up with a panting smile, but I think there’s a tinge of resentment in the eyes… She’s not too overweight- maybe  a little, she just isn’t much of a runner, unlike the balls-out doberman I run with sometimes, that drags me up hills and has a very serious opinion about the fact that you might consider a run without her. She’ll throw on 12 miles and still be sassy. But not Journey, she just trudges on resentfully getting it done and isn’t up for much over 2 miles. IMG_2666

Taking Journey on runs reminds me of myself on the inside.  Mostly, I’m fighting it at first, feeling disgruntled and questioning why the F”@! people run, (I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and I still question myself sometimes.) I’d love it if someone would drag me a little sometimes. She reminds me to slow down, stop looking at my watch and tuning out the world to music.  It feels nice to focus my attentions on her, as if I’m her  personal trainer.  For once someone needs the encouragement from the slower runner in the group. She reminds me that she won’t be put in a “box.” She’s her own damn self.  She shows me how to keep trying even when giving up would be so much easier and that when you get done working hard, to enjoy relaxing and don’t feel too guilty about laying on the floor, naked belly down with your tongue hanging out against the hard, cold floor.

I’d be interested to know what people feel like their dogs have shown them or changed in them? Or what personality traits do you share with your dog?  Journey and I like to be lazy if you let us!

Alex getting ready for backpack trip 015The top and bottom picture where taken at Alpine Lakes in Washington. The middle photo was taken at the base of Mount Hood on Tickle Creek Trail in Sandy, Oregon.

Turning 1 Packaged Vial into 2

 

IMG_0843When I was a kid, I used to eat my “Cheerios” down to the last few in the bowl. I would watch them floating together and I would purposefully separate them and then eat one and act out the emotions of the other remaining “O.” “Don’t leave me…!” “What will I do without you?”  “Nooooooooooo…..!” Sometimes when I look through the microscope at a slide full of wiggling little sperm cells, that little kid starts to pop up, wondering if they are all friends and if they say excuse me or if they even notice each other. There is a whole bunch of life going on in there, we know a lot, but we don’t know everything. Which brings me to the topic of splitting up your dogs semen.

Let’s say you just got the news that your dog, that you just collected, that will ship to Romania in the morning, just gave you only 1 breeding unit. This dog is a Mastiff. Let’s say we packaged that vial with 200-250 million live normal motile sperm cells.  You had a plan of breeding the ultimate bitch, and creating your dream litter. But what if it fails…there is not another chance? 

The question is…”Could I split 1 breeding dose and make 2 out of it?

This is what I know, and my opinion.

To be plain and simple. Yes. It is possible. It is possible to get your timing right by doing progesterone testing. Hedging your bets with a proven bitch.  It is possible. ( By the way, the world record for the most puppies goes to a Neopolitan Mastiff with 24 puppies.) That would be highly unlikely (and a terrifying adventure for most breeders), so as far as I can come up with the average litter size of a Mastiff is from 5-10 puppies.  Now you must imagine that she releases those 5-10 eggs and they have been given the proper amount of maturation time and are ready to meet their special sperm cell. Let’s introduce, say 100 million live normal motile sperm cells ( this is 1/2 of the normal packaging) to these 5-10 eggs.  Is it possible? Hmmmm….Yes, yes it is.get-attachment.aspx

So that’s the question I was asked. That’s how I would answer it.  This may not get the love of the Theriogenology world and the reproduction specialists that often will ask for 2-3 vials, which in this case equates to approximately 600 million sperm cells being basically laid upon the top of 5-10 eggs.  But logically it makes sense, scientifically it is possible, probable and has been done.   Do I recommend it?  Not if you don’t have to.  If you have done everything you can to insure that your timing is right, and this bitch is proven, you should probably use it the way it was packaged. There is always the chance the bitch won’t conceive no matter how much you put in her, but after years of watching successful breedings with the standard packaging that is out there it is probably a good bet to stick with the amount packaged into your original breeding dose.

There are certain abnormalities that can not standardly be checked. One of these being the integrity of the acrosome (or the head of the sperm),  there is an enzyme that must be present in order for it to penetrate the egg. If the acrosome is damaged or the enzyme is not present the cells are incapable of penetrating the egg. (An acrosome integrity test can be performed if necessary and is at times on semen that has consistently not taken.) This can not be seen through a standard analysis.

…And those damaged cells will just be left, hanging out with their friends,  until they die. Unwanted impotent sperm cells, having cocktails in the corner banging their head against an (egg)wall that will never budge…sadly ,watching “that perfect sperm cell” with all the luck,  get the egg…(there’s that little kid with the cheerios again.)

If on the other hand you just did an epididymal harvest (an extraction from the neutered testicle), on your dog that just passed and you got only, say,  50 million live motile normal cells, and the dog you want to breed is a Corgi that would normally be packaged at about 100-125 million live motile normal cells, and that is all you have and your only option. DO IT! You definitely have a shot. Especially if you know the timing has been done properly and you are doing a surgical insemination on a proven bitch.

Nobody wants to breed with less than they need…but sometimes there isn’t an option. In the end reproduction clinics,semen banks, veterinarians, will all give you their opinion and the research and experience they have with it. It’s notable and important to use the advice of who you are working with.  Just keep in mind, this…100 to 200 million live motile normal sperm cells, during a surgical breeding, being basically laid upon 5-10 eggs. I repeat 5-10 eggs…you do the math. Just because you plug a cell phone into the wall for 3 days doesn’t mean it will charge for longer than when it reached 100% after 5 hours.

(Please note…I am not saying it is a good idea for a TCI (transcervial insemination) or a vaginal insemination.) I would also like to add that I believe…notice I said “I”…that if you make a decision to sell or enter into a contract with someone and chose to split a breeding insemination that they should be in on that decision and prepared to do the work and pay the cost of making sure the procedure is done in a top-notch manner. This is not something you want to EVER hide from someone you are selling semen to. That’s my personal, ethical opinion.

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I loved these Basenji puppies I saw at the Albany, Oregon show this weekend.  Sooooo adorable! The owner Alison let me take their pictures for my blog, and said they were still looking for homes, but sadly never came by to give me any more information, so we are just left with totally adorable pictures of puppies and no more information to give you. Thanks Alison whoever you are.

Straws or Pellets? That is the question!

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Pellets on dry ice-prior to their submersion in liquid nitrogen. The pink color indicates that there had been some blood in the ejaculate. (Still perfectly freezable!)

Canine semen can be frozen in a few ways. The oldest way that canine semen first started to be frozen was in glass ampules over dry ice. This procedure was first done with cattle semen in the 1950′s. Up until the time of liquid nitrogen use which was funded by non other than, John Rockefeller Prentice. The liquid nitrogen refrigerator was invented by Union Carbide.

NOTE: COMMON QUESTION ANSWERED:  Liquid Nitrogen is…320 degrees below zero!

In the 1960′s plastic straws made from PVC pipe material, were used, a larger version of what we see in canine straws today. There is a cotton plug on one end with powder and then another cotton plug on the other side of the powder. The semen is stored in the straw as a liquid and then frozen. Sometimes it is left open on the one end, sometimes it is sealed off and sometimes you will find a plug or a small bb (a small metal pellet)…( you must be careful of those…they are from old school European freezing and if they reach the right temperature, make sure you direct them away from your face as I have had a bb pop out and graze my cheek bone…I was very lucky it didn’t hit my eye!) .

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Straws, note the plug on one end and none on the other.

Using this cattle method delivered many repeated failures in canines until 1969 when the pelleting system was used which was modified from the methods of  Nagase and Niwa.  The pelleting system took a step before freezing in nitrogen and froze it on dry ice first.  This pelleting system allowed for a quick freeze and a quick thaw which is what allows for the high recoveries in pellets as opposed to straws. The question at first had been if they were freezing semen that would bare infertile puppies. At first that seemed to be the problem, but has since been disproven.

In 1971 AKC, or the American Kennel Club, began providing support for more research in this field and began controlling and testing the standards for freezing canine semen. After 8 years of testing the results proved that recovery rates on the pellets were 20%-60% higher than those found in semen stored in straws, ampules or the “Magic Wand”(which was just a larger version of the straw.)

In a later study ran by the National Institutes of Health Animal Research and at the National Zoological Gardens they were able to modify the freezing in the straw system so that it could be an effective way to freeze. However, the results consistently showed the straw semen had a  less than 15% conception rate. The results from 1979 indicated that conception rates with pellets resulted in an 82.9% conception rate. This study was done depositing semen into the anterior vaginal canal .  Newer studies show a higher conception rate when using surgical methods and progesterone timing procedures.

So there you have a little history of it all. Here’s my take on it. I freeze in pellets, but I often have to at least train centers in how a straw works and we also have straws shipped in to us that we store and inseminate with.  I’m a pellet lover, for the ease of it, and higher recovery rate and here is why.

A straw has done these things while I have seen them stored and handled over the years:

  • The straw can be cracked and broken in storage.
  • The end bb has shot out nearly killing my eye.
  • At times I have had breeding that have required me to thaw and inseminate with as many as 30 straws (that means clipping every straw and hoping they all thaw in an equal manner.
  • I have had a straw leak into a water bath when thawing, now I only thaw in a bag to insure the sample isn’t compromised
  • If you need to run a test or do DNA on your semen, there is a good chance you will compromise your collection, as you can’t take just a little, you will need a whole straw to send in.  Some breedings only require 2 straws..so that is 50% of your breeding gone,  just for testing.
  • Lower recovery at times

A pellet offers this advantage:

  • They freeze and thaw rapidly which creates better preservation and post thaw recoveries
  • They are easy to handle. Take vial of pellets, dump into thaw bag with thaw media, agitate…done. No cutting, no looking for bubbles in the straws, no plugs getting pushed into the semen
  • Recovery rate appears much better than straws immediately.
  • You may pull 1-4 pellets out of your sample without compromising your collection.
  • Vials of pellets can be stored in smaller spaces.
  • Most Important! Pellets are cute and look like dipping dots…don’t eat them.pellets2Ok, so the last one is just my opinion.  Now that most of that has been said. I will say that I thaw straws quite a bit and honestly it seems like I get pretty good recoveries most of the time. So if your semen is stored in straws or that is your only choice, I’m sure it will be fine! Don’t panic. However, if eventually you get an opportunity to freeze in pellets, give it a try. They were specifically designed for canine semen and have proven themselves over and over again in researched studies to be more successful.

The Politics of Semen

IMG_6048Mostly I try to stay light and not delve too much into the actual politics of the reproduction world. Today I changed my mind. A couple of years ago, I collected, analyzed and froze some semen. The post thaw recovery was noted on the paperwork as 70%.  That means that 70%  of the semen was viable and considered motile semen to be calculated in as usable.

About a month ago a woman decided she wanted to use it. It was packaged and shipped to her vet.  At the time of the breeding the semen was thawed and the veterinarian said the semen was all dead. The client called us and drove to our clinic to pick up another vial.  At the time she arrived, the next vial was prepared and ready for her to take it to her vet clinic.  I met her at the door and asked her, if she would mind if we could thaw a pellet together, and I could show her what she should expect to see when she took it to the clinic that had previously said it was dead. I placed the thaw media into a small tube, dropped a pellet in and agitated it. I had a warm slide placed on a slide warmer. I drew up a small amount of the thawed semen with a glass pipette, placed a drop on the warm slide. I placed a cover slip upon that and moved the slide over to the microscope. Our microscope has a camera attached to it, so that we may show the client their semen on a monitor above our microscope. (If you have ever been to my office you know that we are very basic and do not have a lot of high tech monitors or technology. There is literally a monitor cord that you plug in to the top of the microscope so that it feeds the image to the screen. ) The semen woke up well. Not as expected. BETTER. At least 75%, the client was thrilled.  She agreed to not mention that she had seen the thaw, and just let her vet do the thaw and see what she said.  She proceeded to take it to her veterinarian.

THE EXACT SAME SEMEN, identical to what I had just pulled a pellet from,  the vet thawed it out and announced that the semen was less than 20%, not worth using.  The client then asked how that could be? They had just seen it thawed right before their eyes…the answer enrages me.  She was told by, who is touted as being one of the best, “Reproduction Specialist” in Oregon, that I lied. She said I was filtering it in somewhere remotely from another microscope to appear on the monitor. That that was not the same semen. I was lying.

I am telling this story for a few reasons. This well known reproduction specialist in Oregon has chronically been telling others that the semen we ship is poor. We have even known the clinic to breed with the semen that we froze on days that would be too early based on progesterone readings and then breeding with other semen on the right days and of course the semen we froze did not take. This has not happened only once. Our clients have come back to tell us a few times about that, as well as all the usually bad mouthing of our facility.

Why? All we can figure is this. We work about 1 hour from the clinic she works at and charge about a quarter of what they do.  Our success rate is 93% at the clinic we do surgical inseminations at and in the 80th percentile for vaginal inseminations success. We are competition. With a professor directing our facility with over 40 years of experience,who pioneered the research of freezing canine semen and set the standards in the canine frozen semen industry for the world,  me with 10 years of collecting and freezing and training centers worldwide,  another employee with almost 20 years of experience in the management of semen in this industry, we offer ALOT more experience than what we could learned in an extra few years of veterinary school. We have nothing to gain, by freezing poor quality semen. This is ALL that we do, we don’t look at teeth, or anal glands or do amazing life saving procedures for all sorts of animals…WE JUST DO CANINE REPRODUCTION…that’s it. Once the semen is in the bitch, she is no longer our follow up.  Semen is our life.

This time it was personal to me. This isn’t an easy job and it requires a lot of hand work, patience, experience and down right dedication to making sure everything is done meticulously right. There is so much pride taken to insure that what I freeze and store is looked at in high regard, that I will often actually record a very conservative recovery rate, (as that semen showed).  I will package it as if it is 70% even if it is at 75% or 80%.  If I think the semen looks poor, I’ll tell someone not to freeze it. We lose money, but we don’t care, that has never been the point. You can’t hide bad semen. I consistently teach this to EVERY center that opens under our name. I am picky about how it is done. I don’t get anything for doing it right or better than right. It’s about pride and that is what has been instilled in the quality of the place where I work.  I thrive on that kind of environment. I’m not the kind of person that can represent what I don’t believe in. Beings I have done and still do about 75% of the last 8 years of collections and freezes. It matters to me.

So I share this, because I just want everyone to be aware that a title can not always define experience. A degree on the wall, while I am the first to respect it, does not mean that years of research and experience just breeding dogs, freezing and handling semen should not be valued just as much. Everyone at our company holds a degree of some sort, by the way,  just not a veterinary degree. The professor actually used to teach veterinarians. (Most veterinary programs do not cover the canine reproduction as in depth as we teach veterinarians when they open a center.)  That degree however does not always represent ones character or integrity though or experience for that matter.  Maybe this reproduction specialist did get 20%…but, did she read the directions? Was she willing to read the directions? Was it thawed exactly as I did it, with the thaw media provided…which is in the directions? Must not have. What was to gain by reporting the semen to be useless. Hard to say.

That client just threw away the last vial of semen on her dead dog and paid that veterinarian $1000 to do it.

This particular veterinarian has proven to be a nasty competitor and has received some high regards by placing herself in Theriogenology  forums and groups.  Even going so far as to tell people that semen typically never thaws back at how it is written down.  I say…

“YOU AREN’T THAWING IT PROPERLY!   THE COMPANY YOU FREEZE FOR ISN’T FREEZING WITH OUR METHODS or YOU AREN’T THAWING WHAT I OR MY COMPANY FROZE THEN!”

If I sound prideful, I am.  I am proud of the people I train, and they deserve the decency of the community that is receiving the semen to not be called liars in order to protect their reputations if the receiver  can’t hedge their bets. Those who chose to use us have often done a lot of research and came to us, because of our long standing good reputation. When I receive semen to do an insemination that may look a little low on the recovery…after reading the directions and thawing it, WITH THE THAW MEDIA INCLUDED, NOT WITH SOMETHING I THINK WILL WORK BETTER.   I will assume that the company that was  hired to freeze the semen packaged the semen to compensate for any loss that would occur at thawing.  It is not my place to judge or ridicule the semen or where it came from. Know who you are freezing semen with and if you trust them enough to save your irreplaceable semen for decades, then give them the benefit of the doubt.  THE THAWING PROCESS IS THE MOST CRITICAL TIME IN FROZEN SEMENS LIFE!

Ok, there I’m done.  If you find a place consistently smack talking a business that has 40 almost 50 years of consistent honors in the business, you might think about what you are doing there. Reproduction Specialist or not, if they lack the experience, or collecting, freezing and inseminating thousands of dogs every year, then they  probably need to assess if their procedures are consistently in line with the directions.  This isn’t an add on class or degree for us, this is all we do! Sometimes semen might not come back well, but I would say 99 out of 100 times, the semen I have  seen questioned,   is checked and thaws perfectly to the recovery rate that is listed.

Please just know these politics are happening out there and it’s your money that is being used in the game. Most the time it isn’t, and there are 10 times as many amazing, competent veterinarians out there as there are not,  just be aware that this is not the ONLY situation like this we have dealt with, and we hear about it throughout the industry from Spain to Japan to Oregon. It isn’t always just about the semen.

Dogist Remarks and Dogism

get-attachment.aspxDogist: noun 1.a person who believes that a particular breed or size of dog is superior to another.

Dogism: noun 1. the belief that all members of each breed possess characteristics or abilities specific to that breed, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another breed.

OKAY! OKAY! I know… I made that up. But I still think it’s true!

The segregation that occurs between big dogs and little dogs is very much real. When I was at the big dog park, everyone stood around like they had just been hiking, carrying big bags of poop around, sipping their coffee and commenting on each others dogs speed or agility. Watching from afar as the big dogs tangled themselves in play. The “big dog people” would look over at the sparsely filled little dog area  with one person on a bench holding their dog and another walking around with the little one trying to get him to stop staring at the squirrel that had just climbed the tree and chase a ball. “I’m a big dog person…” “Oh God, that’s not a real dog…” Out walking around, with Journey, the golden retriever, or Saber, the doberman,  I get the sweet smiles of…”Oh, isn’t she sweet?” and “Right on! Cool dog.”

I would actually run Journey home and grab Oskar, my brussels griffon,  and take him back to play in the little dog park, because I couldn’t have the big dog in the little dog area. Upon walking into the double gated entrance, I see the woman sitting on the bench holding her small dog and the other man hovering over the top of his dog under the tree looking for the tiniest poop that was left behind in what is a ground covered in large shavings that look like poop. IMPOSSIBLE! Oskar tentatively running in smelling everything and headed over to engage the other little dog. Automatically, I go over to make sure it’s OK for them to interact. “Oh, yes it’s fine..he’s tired of chasing squirrels anyway…”  I walk over and sit down on the bench…(like a big dog person)…to watch from afar. Oskar tears around looking for trouble. The woman next to me holds a puffy jacket for her dog and a bedazzled lead, the man tries to keep his dog away from the fence where the big dogs are sniffing around. “Oh, he is so cute, what kind of dog is he?” Asks the bedazzled leash holder. It’s a much quieter more reserved group over here, happy to sit with a dog on the lap that just wants to watch the action.  “Boy, that one big dog over there is just causing all kinds of problems.” There really isn’t anyone saying…”Wow, big dogs are soooo annoying…” like big dog owners say about little dogs. When I walk around with Oskar, who is a midget at 5 lbs,  people either light up or look at me with a little bit of distaste on their lips. Most the time, they actually look away and pretend I don’t have a dog.

If I walk all of them together, one of them gets ignored. It’s very rare that people will acknowledge all the dogs…they pick their team. TEAM JOURNEY or TEAM OSKAR or TEAM SABER. I even have some couples argue a little about it in front of me. “He’s soooo cute.”  “WHAT?! He’s ridiculous..now this, this is my kind of dog!”  Smooching up to Journey or vice versa.

I like having both. It makes me get to see both worlds and understand how there really can be a prejudice. What is the most funny thing about it all is, my little dog loves the water and is a retriever. My big retriever, she hates the water, doesn’t retrieve and would rather lay around and be petted than bother playing. I guess what I’m saying is everyone has their preference, but don’t be a bully to the little dogs or the big dogs, and don’t judge a dog by it’s size.  My dogs have taught me that! The biggest baby in our house is our doberman named Saber! Besides…when you talk about not liking one breed or size they might hear you and it might hurt their feelings, because after all they are a dog too.

By the way…in case you are wondering. Collecting a little dog can be more difficult than a larger dog, but not always. Little dogs tend to be very attached to their owners and have a little more fear of being handled by a stranger. Maybe it only shows more with the little ones because big dogs often don’t get allowed to be “afraid” of things while little dogs often get held and comforted. When collecting a small dog I often do feel it’s a little easier if you have smaller hands, but other than that I will offer my arm for them to wrap their front paws around, or sometimes I will cradle them in my arms as I collect them. First and foremost with a little dog is to establish trust and make them feel safe. Don’t baby them, but understand they may be more tentative so help them relax a little before the collection.

(Photo at top by Alex Gauthier Photography @ http://www.alexgauthier.com)