Posted 6 months ago ago
Anyone with a puppy will most likely have met the litter and given a little coo and ‘ooh’ at the idea of delivering their own. And whether you’re planning for your own puppies or not, you might wonder sometimes just what it takes to breed from your dog.
One person who knows all about it is Tim Bloomfield. Tim, who has the rather enviable-sounding role of ‘puppy midwife’ (officially breeding dog adviser) at Guide Dogs UK, says there is lots more to having a litter for the charity than you might expect.
“I’ve been working for Guide Dogs for coming up to 11 years now, and all that time I’ve worked around the national centre, primarily in the work around breeding that creates our fabulous guide dogs.
“In 2007, my parents puppy-walked a black Lab-cross called Jeeves, and that was the first exposure I had of Guide Dogs. The more they went through the process, I thought ‘this is great’.”
Tim was a buyer for an air conditioning company at the time, but he couldn’t shake the idea of working with guide dogs. “The more I talked to some of the staff who would visit mum and dad, I thought ‘this is brilliant’. I sold my house, moved back in with mum and dad, and contacted Guide Dogs.”
The charity gave him some pointers to help with the idea of a career change, and Tim decided to go to agricultural college and got part-time work with dogs. Then a full-time job came up in 2010, and he fell in love with the place, working his way up through the ‘breeding ladder’.
“It’s one of those roles which is very specialised, it’s a small team,” Tim says. “It’s been my dream job ever since.”
So, what does a puppy midwife do? As we’ve mentioned, it’s not the official title, but came about after Tim made an appearance on The One Show. And the role does involve helping with puppy deliveries.
“There’s lots of facets to that role. I help our volunteers, training and supporting them through the process with their dogs,” he says. Tim will place a dog with a volunteer at around a year old, after they’ve been ‘puppy-walked’ with volunteers. “The majority of dogs will be training dogs that will go through the pathway to hopefully become guide dogs. We look and mark them as potential breeding stock for a year, seeing who might be good to come back as a mum or a dad.”
Tim doesn’t deal with the ‘selection’ part but he is key in the arrival of the pups themselves, where the official term for delivering a litter is known as whelping.
Guide Dogs use three main breeds – Labrador, Golden Retriever and German Shepherd. “It’s stressful,” says Tim as he praises the volunteers who look after the pregnant dog and are there with her for the delivery. “Part of our interview process is going through what would be involved. We couldn’t do it without the volunteers. The dog lives with our volunteers and the whelping is done in their home.”
And does he spend every day surrounded by puppies? Well, not every day…
“I deal with dogs from about a year old to around seven years old – their ‘career age range’. I only deal with the girls. At the moment we have around 270 girls on the scheme that we use, compared to 90 stud dogs.”
Dogs have to live within an hour of the national breeding centre in Warwick. “It can be stressful, but it can be a magical time,” he says. “Around when the dogs are about two years old, they might have their first litter with us. I’ll support them through everything. They’re mated by the specialist at the centre – quite a skill in itself! You can’t make the dogs mate – a bit like you can’t make a dog work if they don’t want to, it’s a natural process.”
The big question is, how many puppies has Tim delivered? “In the four years that I’ve been in the role, I’d say 21 litters per year. So in the four years, 580 life-changing pups.”
Holding puppies for a living sounds quite amazing… “For me, it’s different because my role as a breeding dog advisor means I tend to only go to people if there’s a problem because we’ve set them up and trained them.
“Taking Covid out of the equation, there would be so many dogs we couldn’t sit with every one at every whelping. We’re there to advise on everything, even if it’s going well, on the phone or video calls. If things aren’t going well, that’s the time when we would go out. Once the puppies are born, I’d be seeing them every week. There is a lot of that, I have to be honest.”
To find out more about Guide Dogs, go to www.guidedogs.org.uk.