October 21, 2020 12:00 AM
By AMY QUINLIVAN Mineral Independent The saying goes, happy cows come from California. Then Happy Labs must come from Montana. There’s nothing quite like the smell of puppy breath in the morning; well, that and coffee. For Fred and Linda Reineke, the owners of Happy Labs Kennel in St. Regis they are partial to both. Their days are full of puppy care and short breaks outdoors. In retirement they’ve found that breeding English Labradors is a labor of love and each litter is a new adventure. Before becoming schooled in dog rearing Linda was a teacher in Spokane, Washington. In 1999 she met her husband Fred who had a career in the forest industry in Idaho. They married in 2005 after Linda’s last child went off to college. Linda noted, “Fred never had kids, just dogs.” Fred grew up in Missoula with his brother and sister, he spent a lot of time fishing and up around Flathead Lake. Linda was raised in Orient, WA on a big farm with eleven brothers and sisters and many animals. She said, “Fred and I both have had dogs since we were kids. Of course, on the farm ours were never inside and were there for a purpose of protecting livestock. Fred had more of the sport dogs for hunting.” Shortly before the couple got married Fred and Linda were out fishing one day when they had a memorable encounter with very endearing Labrador retriever. They learned that is was an English Labrador. “Soon after that we bought our first English Labrador Abie short for Abraham Lincoln. Abie was a sweet boy and one day my son said he would like to have a dog like Abie. I then googled English Labs to find out that they were hard to find. That was the spark that started Happy Labs Kennel,” Linda recalled. So, the search began to locate their first breeder. They found Shadow in Prunesville, California in 2013. That same year they picked out their first female Belle Starr, and flew to Eugene Oregon to bring her home. Linda noted, “She came out of Midnight Sky’s Labrador’s the same kennel we got Abie from. Shadow was bred with service therapy lines and Belle Starr and my other girls come from hunting and conformation lines.” Linda detailed, “Our labs are what they determine as English with the blocky head and calm temperament. But they can also be great hunters.” In 2017 Linda and Fred hit a major setback, they lost Belle Starr due to liver damage from very rare copper toxicosis. Linda admitted, “It was a hard time and we almost stopped breeding.” But moving forward they added Cassiopeia, Phoebe, and Solar Eclipse to their kennel home, all from Midnight Sky’s Labradors in Oregon. An important aspect of breeding is checking the pedigrees of each dog to ensure they come from different blood lines. Genetic testing is completed, evaluations are done on their eyes and hearts. Even the dog’s elbows and hips are certified through OFA (The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals). Blood panels are needed for each of the girls to check for overall health. As for the breeding process Linda described, “Females come in season every seven months or so and after breeding the babies are due around 63 days later. Then it is 8 weeks of 24-hour puppy care.” Whelping time at Happy Labs Kennel is the most challenging and can be a marathon process. Linda explained, “To start with the female usually goes into pre-labor up to 24 hours before whelping and we monitor closely. Once they go into labor, we are already sleep deprived.” Normally once the first puppy is born things go smoothly from there. It can be a very emotional situation Linda said, “We have had difficult labors where we have had to rush in for C-sections. Losing a puppy is part of nature and the only real downfall of breeding.” During labor the puppy room looks more like an emergency room with numerous supplies to help with the birthing process. Linda detailed, “As each puppy is born, we break open the sack and let mom lick the puppy, then we cut the umbilical cord, weigh, and put puppy on mom to eat. We also have oxygen to help the pups who may have had a difficult birth and it has saved lives.” Aside from the health and wellbeing of the mother and puppies the Reineke’s have seen other whelping day surprises. Linda exclaimed, “Like when you believe that you are finished and two hours later you look and there is another puppy or you have a chocolate when you thought you could only have black and yellows. Or you end up with 9 boys and only 1 girl.” After the initial excitement wears off from having a new liter duties remain and routines are established. During the first two weeks Fred and Linda take turns monitoring the pups and checking on the mother throughout each day. The puppies get weighed daily for two weeks. Linda said, “With big litters we trade off pups so they each get plenty to eat and mommy time. After two weeks we take turns sleeping close by.” At three weeks old the puppies start on puppy formula with rice baby cereal to help mom with the demand. Once they reach four weeks, soaked puppy food is on the menu. This is also when they begin learning how to walk around, use the doggy door, to play, and potty training starts. The last four weeks are spent socializing, crate training, and going outside to potty. “We have neighbors that come and help with feedings when the pups are on solid food or sit with the puppies if we need to be gone. Our neighbor kids Alida, Solvey, and Soren along with their mom Susanna are a big part of socialization or being there for us if we need help,” said Linda. With larger litters they also perform a Volhard test on each pup. This is a temperament test done on day 49. The test determines if they have the dispositions of being a hunter, companion, therapy, or even nose work dog. This helps to make sure the pups are placed with the right families. “After 5 years of breeding Labradors the litters are usually spoken for before I even breed. Through our Happy Labs website, word of mouth, Facebook, Google, and AKC plus the high demand for Labradors the litters sell out quickly,” noted Linda. On the Happy Labs Kennel website people can check to see what is available or if they have open spots for certain litters. Then there is a puppy reserve form that is filled out and returned. Linda and Fred’s labs have found loving homes all around the country. Linda shared, “We now have 73 pups located all around the USA. From Juneau, Alaska, to California, Nevada, Florida, Iowa, and some states in between. We have placed 32 pups here in Montana and 3 of our current litter of 10 are staying here in Montana as well. Idaho also has quite a few of Happy Lab Kennel pups.” “Each puppy goes home with a blanket that I make and a stuffed toy that have been with mom and siblings so they have a familiar smell to help them adjust to their new homes,” said Linda. Shadow their male breeder has sired 8 litters with 2 more expectant moms, and just recently bred with Sophia, so they are hoping for a Christmas liter this year. Storm Trooper is from the kennels very first litter and is a certified therapy dog but isn’t a breeder. Then there is Cassiopeia who has won many ribbons, but after two litters with difficult births she has retired and acts as the kennel greeter. Happy Labs active breeding females right now are Phoebe, Sophia, and Solar Eclipse. Solar doesn’t stay in St. Regis full time she lives in Kettle Falls, Washington with Linda’s granddaughter Stefanie when not in season or with pups. Linda stated, “Eventually our plans are for Stephanie to take over Happy Labs Kennel as we slowly faze out over the next several years.” Happy Labs Kennel had its first litter in 2015. Since then they have welcomed into the world 9 more. The most recent litter of 10 puppies was born just three weeks ago to Phoebe. So now Fred and Linda are in the throes of “toddlerhood” with the pups. They waddle along, play with one another, bark, whimper, give lots of licks, and eat and sleep most of the day. “As with life not all comes easy, so we celebrate the positives, and work through the difficulties. We love our pups and dogs at Happy Labs,” remarked Linda.