1) The Curtain Opens: Cora and Cascha Arrive

Vanda was my teaching assistant in dog training classes. Solid, stable and lovely!

The summer of 1991:

I had been monitoring Vanda’s temperature for days and when the significant drop in her temperature occurred, she and I traveled to the veterinarian for her final c-section. Two female pups were delivered, one weighing 14 ounces and the other, a diminutive 8 ounces. The vet advised me that he would prefer the pups stay at the hospital a few hours to be sure they were nursing well.

As I drove into the city that evening to pick them up, I was eager to see these last of the Vanda and Falk off-spring while filled with some trepidation. Trepidation because of the fragility of life in the first several days of puppies’ lives and with Vanda unable to have more pups, these two little girls were precious.

Falk was the father of Cora and Cascha. He was a German import of high quality!

The first hours with a litter are usually spent reveling in the beauty of newborns as they greedily seize life. Tiny personalities emerge even though eating and sleeping are all they do. As we watch them, their appearances inspire names to match their emerging personalities.

Regrettably, the technical staff had not put the pups on to nurse. We raced home and settled Vanda and her small family with fresh blankets in their box. Five hours after their arrival into this world, I began to rouse these sluggish pups to nurse. One would begin to suckle only to fall back to sleep in moments. Hours went by as I worked with them, coaxing them to grasp onto life. A certain terror was overtaking me when they, unlike our usual pups, were too lethargic to feed.

I was too worried about their listlessness to appreciate their sleek bodies, wrinkly muzzles and that wonderful smell of puppy. Names were out of the question. I could only think, “Nurse! Just nurse, please!” The stimulation during birth spurs newborns to search and grab onto their mother’s nipples. It is a natural process. That fine line between life and death can so easily be crossed during and just after birth. Since these pups had had no feeding for more than 5 hours, they were in even more jeopardy.

Hours into this struggle, the bigger of the two girls was discovering the joy of nursing. She became more determined as she nursed. Celebration! We were making progress.

The surgeon had expressed concern about the smallest girl. Was she properly formed? Could there be an unseen problem? Her vital signs had checked out properly, but he was worried about her size. She must eat and eat well, he counseled me. I massaged her, stroked her head, waking her frequently reminding her to suckle. Vanda, the quintessential mother, worked just as hard. Licking and cleaning to wake this little ‘mole’ up.

‘Little Mole’ was soon named Cora – after her impressive grandmother.

As the milk flowed, ‘Little Mole’, as I was beginning to call her, suckled with increasing persistence. Well after midnight, I stole into the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea. Exhaustion is not an unusual experience for the breeder with worry following along in the shadows. The beauty of these two perfect little girls began to unfold to me and the terror eased somewhat. The bigger of the two would be called ‘Cascha’ but what would I call the little mole? I delved deep into her illustrious pedigree to choose a dog I admired as much as my dear Vanda. She would be the namesake of her maternal grandmother, Cora, after Cora vom Haus Jacobs. Cora was perhaps the strongest, most solid bitch I had met in German Shepherd Dogs and a major reason I purchased Vanda. I prayed that this indomitable spirit would help this tiny mite to survive, no – thrive. Survive was not enough for these girls, they would thrive!

Cora developed into an Imp of the First Order!

Mornings come early in June. I awoke from my brief night’s sleep to the rhythmical suckling of our pups. That is a sound sweeter than any music but this morning, a complete orchestra would not have sounded as glorious! Cascha and Cora were winning in the toughest competition of all: Life!

Cascha had a huge personality and was very opinionated! All toys belonged to her!

Each day they gained weight. They vigorously crawled about their whelping nest. Cora was more vocal and agile than Cascha. In fact, Cascha’ s favorite past-time was fast becoming ‘eating’. With only two pups, it was like having a twenty-four-hour banquet. Cascha ambled her way up and down the awaiting faucets, taste-testing from each. Cascha looked like she was becoming a ‘swimmer’ where a pup eats so much that laying on their stomach with feet splayed out is the norm. This flattens the rib cage and extreme cases can be very dangerous. I rolled towels to cradle her and keep her on her side as she slept. Ever adamant, she would refuse to sleep on her side. She would roll back onto her tummy and fall to sleep. I learned to sneak in when she was fast asleep, shift her gently onto her side and ease the rolled towels around her. She slept!

After a week of steadily gaining weight, Cora was nursing well but one day went by without weight gain. When the second day proceeded with no weight gain, I prepared a formula for her to nurse from a bottle. Nothing doing for her! One would think I was forcing bitter-apple into her mouth. My folks had read about a litter of Rottweiler pups that had come several times a day to our neighbor’s goat farm and nursed from their goats. The mother had been lost while the pups were young. The pups had thrived on fresh goat’s milk. I called and heard the unhappy news that the goats were past milking. The farmer did have some milk frozen and would be happy to let me have this.

I held my breath as I offered a bottle of warmed goat’s milk to Cora. Initial annoyance at having a baby bottle pressed into her mouth gave way to noisy sucking when she tasted the milk. This was good stuff! Another week of supplementation with goat’s milk while her weight increased and her appetite for her mother’s milk re-established.

Because this was Vanda’s last litter, she had been spayed during this c-section and her milk supply dwindled as weeks went by. The girls suckled for the social interaction, but nutrition was increasingly supplied by their formula. Cascha was always the first in the bowl (and ‘in’ is not a misprint!) and the last to leave when every molecule was lapped up.

Vanda was talented in work and did well in showing.
Cascha knew no limits!

Puppy-hood for these girls included a lot of competitive games. Fortunately, we had wonderful adult dogs that patrolled and diverted their focus from each other. They each had such strong characters, that both refused to compromise in their contests. Most pups learn to win and lose in games and tussles. Important lessons that serve them well later in life. With just two in the litter and both being dominant, resourceful and persistent, it was clear that these girls needed to spend quality time away from each other by the time they were just a few months old. I would not part with either of them, so we, the dogs and I, built our days around these precocious girls.

They accompanied me everywhere possible, going to training clubs, shows and trials as well as visits to friends and family.

Cascha and ‘friend’!

Cascha was indomitable and commanding with a strong personal presence. She never doubted herself or her prerogative. Cascha expressed her strong opinions quite freely. Everything was a competition to Cascha – to be won, never tied, certainly never lost. She assumed that victory was her birthright. Her adolescence showed her to be highly talented, motivated and single-minded. That single-mindedness could be daunting. She would become one of my greatest teachers as well as one of my most trying students.

Cora was always studying ways to be slightly outrageous!
Cora: You may recognize this photo from Cat Warren’s book: What the Dog Knows (Young Reader’s Edition)

Cora was the more tractable of the two. She was also cunning and lightning fast figuring out how to influence others. Cora learned at a very young age to size people up and have fun with teasing. Her sense of humor showed itself early on. She thought it very funny when visitors would squeal with surprise if she goosed them. When they turned to look at the offending pup, Cora twinkled her eyes triumphantly with not the least amount of remorse. Perhaps when your only sister is the controlling type, one learns other ways to have fun – and influence people.

Alas, we are getting ahead of ourselves. There is much living to do before I discover the full import of these girls’ personalities. Stay tuned to learn more of Cora and her sister, Cascha!

Falk was born in 1982 and lived into his 13th year. He, too, had a huge presence about him.
Vanda as a young pup. I was younger, too!