Welcome aboard Kitaco!
It is not easy breeding Poms, and anybody who tells you differently is not doing it right.
The last few years have been a real struggle, even with the support of other breeders. Part of the problem was that we lost Arkady Poms early in 2021, due to Jenny being treated for Breast Cancer for the 2nd time and then 3 Melanomas on top of that (successfully, I am happy to report!) but she is not yet willing to take on the responsibility of breeding a litter. Chemo and radiation treatment takes a long time to recover from, and while she is there in spirit and fully supportive of our efforts, Jen is not yet ready to jump back into the fray.
It is dire when we lose a potential breeder. And make no mistake, the breed is in real trouble in NZ. There were only 19 Poms registered with Dogs NZ in 2021. Compare that to Long Coat Chihuahuas (90) or French Bulldogs (222) or Labradors (483).
Our informal collective bred 3 litters last year between us for a total of only 4 puppies - 3 girls and a boy (in case you're wondering why we have a never ending waiting list). That's not even enough to replace the girls we have now who are coming to the end of their breeding days, let alone advance or improve the breed in any meaningful way. When you only have one pup in a litter to choose from, that's no choice at all. You can't select away from faults, or choose the best and soundest pup to breed from, when what you see is what you get, like it or not.
The reason for such small litter sizes in Poms are many - it's a small breed and small breeds have small litters, but a leading cause is inbreeding fertility suppression. The NZ gene pool is alarmingly small and we desperately need to introduce some fresh DNA into the mix, something we were able to do with 2 of our puppies born in 2021 to an imported sire, but also something it will take generations to counteract.
For while there, it all seemed too difficult and rather lonely, and I seriously considered giving up breeding Poms completely to concentrate on the Chinese Cresteds which I also adore and breed. I've had more than a few sleepless nights agonising over this decision and really didn't know how I was going to be able to move forward with my beloved Poms.
But then something totally unexpected happened. During one of my many long calls to Jen lamenting my predicament (and lack of sleep), her daughter, who is also a dear friend of mine, overheard us talking and chimed in with "would you like me to help with the Poms?".
When I realised she was serious, I nearly cried. Jen's daughter is none other than Dr Tracey Tonkin BVSc (Hons), both a general and reproductive veterinarian who breeds the most stunning (and in my opinion as a judge, the best) Long Coat Chihuahuas in NZ under the Kitaco prefix. She was the first Dogs NZ Accredited Chihuahua Breeder, does more health testing and temperament work on her pups than any other breeder I have ever encountered and is even taking part in a La Trobe University study in Australia investigating the correlation between breeder practices and puppy development. Her understanding of DNA, profiling, and what it means to a breeding program is mind-blowing. and she has her own TCI! She is also the President of the Dominion Chihuahua Club and the Dogs NZ Chihuahua Breed Health Liaison Officer.
And as if that isn't enough, Kitaco just won the 2021 DogzOnline Long Coat Chihuahua Breeder of the Year award.
Like everyone else, with the recent rule change in the Chihuahuas allowing the breeding of Long to Smooth Coats, I assumed that's where Tracey's interest lay, and where she would be heading with her breeding. She was amused by that, and explained it wasn't about her breeding, it was because in her professional opinion as a vet, it was the best thing for the breed as a whole. At best, it meant she could import a dog with long/smooth parents, something that wasn't possible under the old rules.
Tracey went on to explain that she'd pushed so hard for the rule change because NZ was losing Breed Type in the Long Coats. Allowing Longs to mate with the Smooths (whose Breed Type is much truer as they haven't got a big fluffy coat to mask construction faults) would help address this issue and better yet, open up the Chihuahua gene pool for all NZ breeders. The popularity of Longs over Smooths and their dwindling numbers was also a serious concern for Tracey and with the ability to breed the two varieties together, she hoped some of the Long Coat breeders would help improve the Smooth Coat numbers by adding new Smooth bloodlines to their breeding programs.
To be able to work with a breeder who can take a such a global view of their breed and act on it is exactly what the our Poms need, too.
Tracey has no smooth coats and no plans to breed with them, I discovered. Being around the Poms her mum owns or has campaigned for me over the past few years, however, has worn her down. She admitted (rather reluctantly) that she's slowly been won over by their charms. Her first love will always be her Long Coat Chis, but she is willing to bring her considerable knowledge, expertise and experience to help us improve and better the Poms and I couldn't be happier to welcome her aboard. Tracey has even modified her kennel logo to include Poms!
So, in honour of our new alliance, allow me to introduce the very aptly named Tribble To Helen Back with Kitaco (Helen), from Jen's girl, Emma, (who she sent up to me to breed when her ongoing treatment made it impossible for her to do a litter) and the aforementioned imported stud. Helen will hopefully be the start of a whole new lease of life for Poms in New Zealand and with her sister, Jarrah, who'll be joining Helen in the South Island in a few months, start the laborious, painstaking and sometimes heart-breaking path to improving the breed and the number of pups available so that, a couple of years from now, when someone who desperately wants a Pom for a pet contacts me for a puppy, my answer is not automatically NO.
So now I can sleep again at night. Except I did have one nightmare where I thought it would be cool if we came up with a combined name, like "Bennifer" or "Brangelina".
I woke up in a cold sweat when I realised the most obvious combination of Tribble and Kitaco was "KIBBLE".
I nearly choked. So did Tracey when I told her. Jen, however, thinks it's hysterical. I worry now that we will soon have "Team Kibble" t-shirts. Jen may not be ready to breed just yet but she is always up for having a bit of fun, and neither cancer nor chemo has made a dent in that.