Little Dude's Story -

When you choose to breed, you choose to roll the dice – you do your research, study your pedigrees, stare at spreadsheets until your eyes cross, make the best decision possible…and roll the dice. You can only plan for so much – I did all the reading, questioning and researching that I could – but nothing prepared me for Little Dude.

Little Dude was dead. He was born dead and wouldn’t breathe. He was beyond tiny at 3.5oz and he had a deformed left rear leg and an open fontanel. He was gray and limp. He was the 5th puppy, after 4 big, screaming healthy puppies. It was 12:31am, we were tired and delusional, but I just could not admit that this puppy was dead. After what felt like an eternity of rubbing, sucking fluid out of his  tiny lungs and airways and praying – he screamed. I couldn’t believe it, but I was elated. 

I spent the next 2 hours watching them, and realized that this tiny puppy couldn’t nurse. He tried, but he was fading fast and I had to fix it. I’d saved him once, and the stubborn-ass side of me couldn’t let him die. So, I re-learned to tube feed really really quickly (THANK YOU to Barbara Zahn!). 

Then came the second bombshell. Little Dude had a cleft palate. I knew I had two choices – commit to making sure he could live, or euthanize him. I just couldn’t get in the car to take him to the vet to put him down. I tried. 

Instead, I hit the internet  - and by some small miracle, found the support of two fellow breeder-friends on Facebook. Without the help and support of Betta Breuhaus and Valerie Sails, I could never have held it together. I had 4 healthy, adorable puppies…and a whole lot of work ahead of me.

Cleft palate (CP) puppies have the ability to live totally functional lives, if they can survive puppy-hood and begin to eat solid food. Little Dude’s additional hurdle was his size – no one else that I know of has had a 3.5oz Vizsla puppy that lived. 

So – here we are. Dan. Me. Cali. Four big puppies. And Little Dude. We committed – and by “we”, I mean that my incredible husband was right beside me the whole way. “Committing” meant tube feeding this tiny puppy every 2-3 hours… for 4-5 WEEKS. Sleep didn’t happen. I had one week off, Dan took the second week off and my employer and co-workers were more than supportive of me making it work for the next 2 weeks. 

Tube feeding doesn’t come without it’s own issues- too much, and the puppy will aspirate and die. Too little and the puppy will starve. If the puppy regurgitates after a feeding, it can aspirate and die. Get the idea? We didn’t have a choice –either we didn’t tube feed and he definitely died…or we did our best and prayed.

I can’t tell you the feelings of exhaustion, worry, fear and anger that I felt. Why this puppy? What if I killed him? What if this was the wrong choice? Each night, when I would get up at 2 am to feed him, I would be sure he was dead – until he proved me wrong, each and every time.

All we hoped for, during the first 2 weeks, was that he didn’t lose too much weight. We weighed him in grams, since he was so tiny. Some days, we would only see a miniscule increase – but we never saw him lose any weight. He was strong, he was tough and he was stubborn from day one!

By about 3 weeks old – with his eyes just beginning to open - I started to introduce tiny pieces of kibble. This was the next big hurdle. Teaching him to take, and swallow, hard food was a challenge. CP puppies cannot eat soft/mushy food, because it will get caught in the cleft and cause an infection. I would spent an hour, putting tiny pieces of Royal Canin Starter Puppy food (the smallest kibble I could find) in his mouth, and helping him swallow it. After 3 or 4 days, he reached out and took a piece from me! I could have cried, I was so happy.

From then on, he started eating on his own. He loves dry food and has become quite the pig. LD has never once given me cause to regret my decision. He is FULL of life and loves people and the world around him. Is he different? Absolutely. His structure is different – although his deformed rear leg corrected the deformity, he is still bow-legged in the rear. He has a deformity in his sternum, that causes a “bump” at the bottom of his chest. He will always be different.  LD has the biggest, most tenacious personality that I’ve ever seen and is the sweetest puppy (when he’s tired!) and should go on to live a life like any other dog. There are still some uncertainties, due to his extremely small size at birth, although early bloodwork and x-rays show that everything is currently in good working order. 

We have already battled one cleft infection, because of the  very small size of his cleft. But, it is my hope that with age, the cleft with become “functional” – which means that he will be able to flush it out when he drinks, to avoid future infections. There is the possibility of closing the cleft, but due to the high rate of failure with that surgery I’m hoping to avoid it. CP dogs can live totally normal lives, as long as they have a dry dog food diet and constant access to clean water.

LD has taught me more than I could ever imagine. He’s taught me a lot about raising a tiny, premature, CP puppy – but it’s more than that. LD has taught me about stubbornness, love, commitment and how to take a chance, when not everyone would. He’s my boy, and if I had to make this decision again today, I would not change a 

I got five incredible puppies out of this breeding – I love everyone and can’t wait to see what they accomplish. This wasn’t the easiest first litter – but they’re mine and I’m proud of every single one of them – even Little Dude.


***This is not about whether it is right or wrong to raise a puppy with a defect. It's no secret that many litters cause heartbreak - breeding isn't easy and there are not always clear answers. I knew that going into this. This isn't the first story about a survivor puppy. This is just about one puppy, with an incredible will to live and a really cute face (and about educating people  who want to learn).