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The Ranch, Loveland CO

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Are Three Enough, Are Six Too Many?

That question is an old one, dating back several decades to a commercial for, of all things, prunes. Over the years it has been repeated, with some modifications, and applied to a variety of situations. It popped into my head again recently, not about prunes but puppies.

Numbers have been running through my head for four months now, right after the puppies were born. In mid-November Music delivered nine babies and that's when I started counting from one to nine multiple times each day.

Music and her babies took over the kitchen, which is where babies are always raised at my house. It is a wonderful room filled with sunlight and lots of different noises for growing puppies to hear. The only drawback is that I have an open floor plan - living room, dining room and kitchen all flow into each other. That's not a problem until the kids start toddling, and then I've devised a system of barricades that has worked pretty well. When we've had other litters I usually move them out to the "puppy barn" at seven or eight weeks. There is a separate fenced yard there for the puppies and mom. My normal routine is to put a clean carpet remnant inside the barn, making for a great sleeping and play area. By keeping the sliding barn door open a few inches, mom and puppies can go out in the yard and get plenty of sunshine. Mom also goes out to potty and the kids quickly learn to do the same. It is really a great set-up, not fancy but it works.

Except in the middle of winter. At about the same time that I was considering moving the kids to the barn, we got some of the coldest weather we've had all winter. No way were the babies going out to the barn in that! But there were nine not-so-little babies confined in my kitchen, and life was becoming more challenging by the day. So I rearranged the barriers and expanded their area to include half of the dining room, after moving the table and chairs up against the wall.

One of my best investments a couple of years ago was an expandable metal baby gate that I found on Craig's List at about half the original price. It actually has a walk-through gate, making it much easier for me to enter and leave the kitchen. As the puppies continued to grow by leaps and bounds, I would herd them through the gate and out the front door for their daily dose of sunshine and fresh air.

And that's when the counting took over my life. Six black puppies, three black and tans, tumbling out the front door, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine out, the whole thing reversed as they came in. The older they got the more often they went out, and the more I counted to nine. I would watch them with great joy as they tumbled across the lawn or followed one of the older dogs to explore the property. But I was always counting to nine.

We took the puppies on a six-hour drive to visit a friend. It was time to evaluate puppies. From the first time I'd seen one of the kids gaiting across the kitchen floor at about three weeks, I realized we were going to need another set of eyes when it came to picking the keepers. Again count to nine when you load them up, count to nine when you put them in pens at the destination. Let them out to run in the morning, count to nine as they explore this new territory. Count to nine as you round them up again.

Eventually we were able to rank each puppy and decide, at least in general terms, who could go to whom. We decided it was time to split them up, so when we returned some went to Nancie's and the rest came home with me. Oh my how peaceful it seemed with only four puppies in the house. The very next day though, the weatherman warned of temperatures that would drop below zero, so the absent babies came back home where there was room for them to be in the house 24-7. Back to counting to nine.

Fast forward to today. Most of the puppies have gone to their new homes, some are close by and we interact often. One is even in the same Puppy Kindergarten class with us. I am no longer counting to nine. Now I'm counting the number of dogs I have and wondering how many I can keep. Posie and Runner and Callie are permanent residents. That's three. Then there are the two pick puppies from this litter. That's five. Then there's a wonderful youngster sired by an XL son that could be mine just for the asking. That would be six.

And that brings us back to the original question.. Three should be enough, right? But what about these two very special puppies? I at least need to grow them out and see how they develop. Right now they look like stars, but what will they look like at a year? And if they live up to my expectations, well then I have five adults. And oh my goodness that XL grandchild really speaks to me. If he should turn out, that would be six adults. That may be too many.

This is not the first time I've found myself in such a quandary, and I know I'm not the only one who has ever gone through this. The problem is how to strike the right balance between the number of dogs we'd like to keep and the number of dogs for whom we can do the right thing. When the three puppies are two, Posie will be five, Callie four, and Runner three. Do I have enough time to give to six adults? I'm not talking about basic maintenance, I'm talking about the quality of their lives. Will I have enough time and energy to let each of them have their own special time with me? Who gets to live in the house? I imagine that Posie will still be herding; will the others want to join her or will they excel in other areas? And can I afford training and handlers for six adult dogs, whatever the venue?

I don't have the answers yet, but I know that I have to consider the quality of life for each animal. All of these dogs love people and that human interaction is an important part of their day. If I can't be sure that I can spend time with each dog on most days, then don't I owe it to them to let one or more go to a home where they can have that personal connection? I've already spoiled them; they think their day should be filled with cuddles and hugs. They have the right to expect the same for the rest of their lives.