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Special delivery: Frozen sperm and a litter of rare pups

Posted: April 27, 2014 - 12:05am
Ann Boochever receives a kiss from ZZ, her Stabyhouns, a rare dog breed that originates from the Netherlands, during a walk at Sandy Beach last week.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Ann Boochever receives a kiss from ZZ, her Stabyhouns, a rare dog breed that originates from the Netherlands, during a walk at Sandy Beach last week.

With the delivery of frozen sperm from a stud dog in the Netherlands, Ann Boochever and Scott Miller’s rare Stabyhoun, ZZ, will increase the breed’s population in North America come mid-May. With only about 250 Stabyhouns in the United States and Canada, ZZ’s pups will be a significant addition.

The breed is more plentiful in the Netherlands where it originates (and where ZZ was born). Boochever and Miller fell in love with the breed while doing research after the death of their Bernese Mountain Dog, Rainbow.

“I didn’t want to get another dog, I was really sad,” Boochever said. “I had a hard time with that.”

But her husband started searching dogs on the internet and Boochever, then a librarian and music teacher at Auke Bay Elementary School, began bringing home books on various dog breeds. It was Miller who came across the Stabyhoun, a dog that seemed to meet all their needs.

“They’re quiet indoors and active outdoors. I’m a runner, so I wanted a dog that would run with me, and hike in the summer time,” Boochever said. “And my kids are all grown now, but I’m starting to get grandkids and I teach piano lessons, so I wanted a dog that would be good with kids. And they are very intelligent.”

Boochever and Miller knew it was the dog for them but then discovered there was a two-year wait list.

Always a dog-lover, Boochever said she’s almost always had a canine companion, from a Dachshund named Boochie in her childhood to a lab mix who lived to be 15. There was also Rainbow, the Bernese Mountain Dog, and another the pair adopted before ZZ came into their lives. Their adopted dog had poor health and only lived another year and a half after she was taken in.

Two years after discovering Stabyhouns, Boochever got a call there was a puppy available — in the Netherlands.

Boochever said she and Miller had never been to the Netherlands and decided to go for it; they planned a Dutch vacation and came home with a puppy.

ZZ has been with them for three years and became part of the family easily.

“She’s half human,” Boochever said, laughing. “She just sits on the couch like she’s watching TV with us.”

The Stabyhoun, originally known as the “poor man’s dog” in Friesland, the region of the Netherlands where the breed originated, is known for its versatility. From hunting to herding and pointing to retrieving, they are even know to serve as a guard dog. Despite these traits Stabyhouns are one of the 10 rarest dog breeds around.

When the Ameri-Can Stabyhoun Association asked Boochever and Miller if they’d be interested in breeding ZZ, the couple decided to give puppy parenting another go. They previously had bred Rainbow, their Bernese Mountain Dog, but only once.

Breeding ZZ, though, had a unique set of challenges. Being a rare breed, Boochever said they eventually had to arrange shipping of frozen semen from a stud dog in the Netherlands to the U.S. The semen was stored in an Ohio facility until ZZ was ready.

“We traveled to Portland to a vet who specializes in frozen semen, found a stud in Holland, Tys, and had semen sent from that dog,” Boochever said. “Fortunately, my sister lives in Portland. We were there for almost two weeks. Every day we went to the vet’s office and ZZ had progesterone tests daily.”

She said ZZ was inseminated on two separate days and — good news — she is carrying a litter of Stabyhoun puppies.

Boochever said ZZ’s demeanor has changed with the pregnancy; she has slowed down and doesn’t have her original sense of balance when it comes to getting into the car. She’s also more finicky about food. But she’s healthy, and an ultrasound showed at least three pups with beating hearts, though the vet suggested there are likely more pups that weren’t detected.

Boochever said the average litter size is five or six and occasionally as many as nine or 10. It’s possible to do an X-ray the week before the due date to see the exact number of puppies.

The wait list for Stabyhouns is long, and some dog lovers have already shown interest in the soon-to-be-born puppies. So far, none of the pups will go too far away from mom.

“(The puppies) will spend eight weeks with mom, born right around the 15th of May, and should go in the middle of July to new homes,” Boochever said. “So far only three people for sure, one in Juneau, one in Fairbanks and one in the Seattle area — not very far.”

She said she hopes to find homes for the puppies on the west coast, and would be thrilled if more could stay in Juneau. She thinks people who sign up for the wait list now might be sent her way directly.

“I’m hoping they won’t mind coming to Juneau for a little vacation, then take a puppy home,” she said, though she’d also consider sending a puppy on a plane with a friend as far as Seattle.

The president of the Dutch Staby- and Wetterhoun Association, from whom Boochever and Miller got ZZ, came to Juneau for a visit and got a tour around town from the pair.

Boochever described the Ameri-Can and Dutch parent organization as being very supportive and mindful of breeding practices, with ZZ’s pedigree going back three or four generations.

“They’re very careful,” Boochever said. “(Inbreeding) would never happen. They were very thoughtful.”

Though so far breeding ZZ has been a success, Boochever said she’s not sure she’d do it again. The cost of the process is certainly one reason. She said they’ve invested probably $5,000 already and she is certain it will end up being more.

“I don’t think I would ever have bred her if it hadn’t been for the situation, the breed being so rare in America. I know there are plenty of dogs out there that would make wonderful pets — I’ve had a couple of stray dogs I’ve gotten from the pound myself — but this was sort of an unusual circumstance,” Boochever said.

The going rate for a Stabyhoun puppy is $2,000, a rate set by the association. That would help the pair recoup costs from breeding ZZ, though Boochever said she is hoping to keep one puppy to share with her son.

Boochever, as well as other Stabyhoun owners, she said, have only positive things to say about the versatile breed, which averages a lifespan of 14 to 15 years, almost double that of her Bernese Mountain Dog.

“If you Google the 10 most rare dog breeds,” Boochever said, “She’s right there. Most people look at her and think she’s just a mutt; nobody would ever dream she’s just so rare.”


For more information on Stabyhouns, visit stabyhouns.org.

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