Here he is - Bili - my very precious hand-reared pup.
Bili was born in November 2004 in a litter of 12. I very quickly noticed that he wasn't feeding properly from his mother, and seemed to be a little de-hydrated. I checked him over very carefully looking for any defects , which included feeling in his mouth for signs of a cleft pallette. I could find nothing wrong. I tried several times to help him latch on to his mother's teat, but he clearly didn't have the skills required to feed from her. The only course of action was to take on the task of bottle feeding him myself. So, with 15 adult dogs and 20 pups to look after at the time, I set about feeding Bili every 2 hours day and night for the next 6 weeks. To start with Bili's weight was dropping, despite managing the bottle very well. I decided to change to a different milk formula, and well - things just took off! I monitored his weight daily and he just grew so fast it was remarkable. When he got to about 4 weeks, I decided to try him on some baby rice mixed with his milk. I started to feed him this on a plastic baby spoon, and noticed it was coming back down his nose. I found this rather strange as it hadn't happened with his milk. After persevering for a couple of days, I decided a vet visit was in order. The vet examined him very closely and eventually discovered he did indeed have a cleft pallette. It was understandable that I missed it, as it was very narrow, and a long way back into the hard pallette of his mouth. There was a real danger he could ingest food into his lungs and die of pneumonia. I thought about why the milk hadn't come down his nose when he was bottle feeding, and decided it was because of the angle at which I held his head to feed him. I adopted the same angle for feeding his baby rice, and had a good response. Before too much longer I was able to get him onto soaked puppy bicuits which he ate himself, under supervision from me, from his own dish. I looked the defect up in many Golden Retriever books to see what I could do to help him, but every book I read said the same thing - if you have a cleft pallette puppy - cull it. I was disgusted at the idea - presumably this was written because it meant the pup wouldn't be economically viable, but that isn't what matters to me. Bili was alive and fighting to survive - and I had every intention of fighting with him! As Bili grew, I consulted my vet (Rob) again about what could be done to help Bili. He pointed me in the direction of a superb vet in Newmarket (Dick White) who was prepared to try to repair the pallette. Rob explained that Bili would have to be as close to fully grow as I could get him before having this op. as it could stunt the growth in his head. Rob warned me that leaving Bili that long came with a risk of him being vulnerable to pneumonia for a long time though, as he would obviously have to eat during that time, and even one small morsel of food in the lung could be life-threatening. Fortunately I was able to keep him going with constant supervision at feeding time, and when Bili reached 9 months the decision was made to get his op done. I booked in at a B & B near to the clinic, and my husband kindly drove Bili and I all the way to Newmarket. Rob had decided that he would be involved in the operation and flew from Newquay to Stanstead to assist Dick White - his former tutor. This would mean that Rob would feel confident to tackle this operation here in Cornwall, giving other dogs with this defect a chance of survival. The day came for me to take Bili to the clinic for his operation, and my heart was in my stomach. I left him there having talked through the procedure, and all the risks involved, with Dick White, and headed back to the B & B for the long wait. Eventually I received a call to say that he was out of surgery and doing very well. I was told that the vets had found a second cleft pallette further back into his throat in the soft pallette, and that the entire procedure had been very tricky. Bili had to stay in the clinic overnight - which I found very difficult. When I turned up to collect him the next day he came bouncing out with the vet nurse who told me he had been one of the best behaved dogs they had ever had in the clinic! I paid my (rather enormous, but very worthwhile) bill and later that day I brought him home to Cornwall, and we have quite simply never looked back. When he reached about a year old I had him neutered, as the condition is hereditary, and I wasn't prepared to take any chances with my girls having regular seasons around him. He will be 5 years old this year, and is a real character within the group, having regular sing-songs to keep everyone happy, and carrying his favourite thing - a tea-towel around as often as possible!
Bili has now gone to live with some dear friends here in Saltash. He is being spoiled rotten - just as he should be - thanks to them. I do feel very sad that he is not with me now, but so very happy for him and his new owners - who recently lost their much loved Border Collie to cancer. I know he is now getting the one-to-one attention he deserves, and is a great joy and comfort to his new owners. Bili enjoys regular walks around Saltash with Dennis - so look out for him striding along in his red harness, with an ever wagging tail! Thankyou so very much to Sheila and Dennis for giving Bili such a wonderful life and home.
My very happy and much loved boy - Bili