The term 'gypsy' has, in recent years, become known as a derogatory for the Roma people. So, now Bubba (above, named for Jimmy Buffett's nickname) is known as "G in the Palace." Great, Good Boy, Gee Whiz!
I have been to countless Jimmy Buffett concerts in many states. The tailgates are legendary. Like many other Parrotheads, I even have a character, developed through the years- Mermaid Mary.
One of my favorite songs by Jimmy is "Gypsies in the Palace." It was written decades ago, about some roadies Jimmy 'borrowed' from his friend and neighbor, The Eagle's Glenn Frey (who lived a few streets over from me in my childhood neighborhood in Detroit!), so they could watch his house while he was gone.
The party continues throughout the song, so give it a listen!
Jimmy Buffett- Gypsies in the Palace
In America, our kromfohrlander population is still relatively young (10 or under). We have yet to regularly experience the loss and subsequent grief of full-grown kromis: what that experience feels like as it unfolds upon us- psychologically and physically.
Kromi-specific loss is an especially unusual kind of pet loss. It is quite difficult to delineate it to those that have yet to have the experience. It will affect each of us in its profound manner at some point, so it is valuable to be familiar with how it feels from someone who has faced it and started to heal.
Pet loss resources inform us that grief from a pet’s death primarily stems from the fact that we control everything about their lives except for this one thing. They suggest pet loss groups, the Monday night Rainbow Bridge candle lighting ceremony online, making memorials and other such healing measures as ways to heal your grief and get through the process.
I had experienced it many times in my years of pet ownership (and working at a high volume humane society) with other dog breeds and animals. I was one of the tough ones.
However, I began to see, from my first year of owning a Kromi, that the loss of one of these special dogs was different and far more devastating.
Posts on Facebook often had bereaved owners from overseas making tributes on the anniversary of their beloved Kromi’s passing for many years, sometimes longer than the dog itself had lived.
Kromi-specific loss certainly seemed to be surprisingly deeper and more painful than the loss of other kinds of dogs or other pets and I dreaded what it would do to someone like me (like all artists, I have a dark side that is always up for a deep wallow in sadness).
I think the Kromi’s sensitivity, the way they hook up to their human, both heart and soul, seems to be connected to the exceptionally deep, dark and long-lasting grief journey that owners face when it inevitably happens. Even though I had seen so many others experiencing it in other countries, I was not prepared for how it really felt when it happened.
Someone who has not experienced the loss of a loved adult Kromi, may find it difficult to understand how this could be any different than losing any of their pets from years past. Having experienced it 3 times now, I can assuredly say, that it really does hurt more than losing other pets.
The love of a Kromi and its owner is so deep, the pain is just as deep or deeper with its loss.
Kromis are fun loving, fast and active dogs. These are some of the things we love about them.
They are also incredibly accident-prone.
In fact, “freak accidents” seem to be part of the breed’s history. I have heard so many stories over the years that it has made me adamant that as their owners, we watch over these special, fragile dogs and do our best to make sure life remains safe for them.
Still, accidental situations can and do happen, even for those of us that really are confident and careful, with top shelf behavior knowledge and training experience. A solid, respectable reputation, built piece by piece for decades (through hard work, sacrifice, dedication and trying again after each failure) runs the risk of admonition and disrespect from those who would stumble in your footsteps, should they try to walk in your shoes.
Even so, honesty between owners in a rare breed is of utmost importance because we can all can learn together.
Kromi-specific grief can cause a disconnect, where work and communication both suffer. Thought processes are affected, including logic and reason. The tangled forest of grief from Kromi-specific loss, draws you in, to become lost in the journey.
This all does serve to help heal the heart- marinating in the feelings and sadness, as if part of you went with your Kromi into the darkness of the other side. The disruption of reality, the haunting of the place, time, date…shakes you in ways you did not expect.
Their breeder’s grief, especially with the loss of what was once a special puppy to them, is felt in a similar way to the owner’s grief. It is imperative to inform the breeder when it happens. A Kromi’s first human mom is a valuable helper with Kromi-specific loss.
During this process, it is important to allow the bereft feelings to wash over you when they come, for however long it takes. You must care for yourself during this and do not rely on substances to help you.
Creating memorials helps me a lot. A beautiful watercolor or acrylic portrait and a unique frame usually makes me feel like the lost Kromi has now come home to me and I do feel much better.
I also usually designate a special song for each of these lost Kromis that reminds me of them.
I ask them to visit my dreams, to send signs. A blowing of tree branches, the sight of a bunny (I have thought of visiting rabbits as dead relatives checking in on you for a long time). I have talked to the lost Kromi by speaking to one of the other Kromis, many times crying and hugging them. Other Kromis understand the profound nature of this loss and are good at comforting you.
A well known pet communicator believes that a part of our own spirit is already on the other side with our Kromi and so, we are the one who greets them when they get there. She also says that seeing their name is your dog saying ‘hi’ to you.
It helps to have these comforting concepts, even if they seem too hard to believe.
Losing a dog as special as a Kromi can crack your hard shell…but is vitally important to not lose yourself during this journey. Knowing the realities of Kromi-specific grief (and that it takes a very long time to process) is valuable.
Some people will never understand how Kromi-specific grief can so deeply affect you; they lack compassion.
But- the good people will not turn away and they will try to understand, reach out to help you and, best of all, cut you some slack for not being yourself.
Sometime in the process, you will discover that finding comfort in your other Kromis (or getting another Kromi if you just had one) may be just the antidote you needed to help you honor your lost Kromi and heal all the way.
Sure, everyone had a bad first 2 pandemic years.
But these 2 years have been especially difficult to Birkenstrand Kromfohrlanders.
RESCUE/RETURN, part 1 (and 2, same dog)
In January, 2020, I heard from one of my 2018 puppy's homes, who had been showing behavior issues now that he was almost 1.5 years old (and neutered). They returned him in mid-February. He was really good once he was back here, for far longer than the usual rescue dog period wherein you wait for the 'other shoe to drop.' I re-homed him in April 2020 and his previous naughty behavior came back- biting and growling defense mechanisms in his 2nd home.
He was put on tranquilizers and anti-depressants by their vet but those did not seem to do much and eventually he came back again in August 2021. I knew there were pieces of his story missing, in what I was told by his first previous owners. So I started the long, difficult process of detoxing him from the drugs, while putting the mystery back together on my own, with methods I had not used since I did Australian Cattle Dog Rescue.
What I decided was that he had been teased in his crate, his only security zone, and responded by biting somebody (or more than one somebody). He also bit while being groomed or touched in any way that he decided crossed his boundaries. Consequently, he had a lot of mats on him.
It took around 7-8 months, but he completely detoxed and with a lot of my own behavior modification games, training and rehab, he is now a 99.99% wonderful dog that cannot ever live anywhere else but here. I have started showing him in United Kennel Club shows in the Alter Class (neuter) and he enjoys being out in the public very much. He still growls when he goes in his crate but that is always followed by kisses. See Charlie's story, below.
FIGHT DEATH, part 1
In late September 2020, I bred Dahlia and she had one healthy, alive puppy inside her when she had her x-ray a few days before her due date. That day came and went and we took her to get a c-section. The puppy had died in the few days between and inertia prevented her from whelping it. It was extremely sad because Dahlia almost died, too.
About a month later, one of my most temperamentally pleasant Kromis decided to take her out, while we were all out enjoying a nice fall walk in our woods. The other girls joined in on top of her. Nearby, my 3 boys went after each other in a separate fight! It was horrific. I managed to get the 4 girls off of Dahlia and scooped her up to get her back to the house. Dahlia gave me a bite to my thumb tip, which I would have lost if not for my always-thickly polished nails (photo, above). Looking back, I know it was a social move for the usually nice Kromi (who was re-homed not long after and is doing very well there, as was one of the males, after my favorite boy sustained some very serious injuries from being on the bottom of the boy fight). It was most likely serving also to remove a weak pack member (Dahlia). Dahlia died from her injuries after the $8000 mark at the veterinarian.
I slid into such a bad period of dark sadness after this incident and am not too proud to describe it here. The pandemic mood had already colored our world in shades of grey, so a dear fellow artist (and fellow animal behavior specialist) friend of mine moved in with us for the winter, keeping me company (and preventing me from slipping into total despair).
RESCUE/RETURN, part 3 (and 4) & FIGHT DEATH, part 2
In May 2021, two adult female dogs (2016 and 2017) were returned from a home down south that kept them on an enclosed, windowed front porch in their crates a lot of the time, where thunderstorms and other weather terrified them. The owners could not keep them anymore due to life changes.
One of the girls (who had been a happy, confident puppy) had developed a shut-down, mild, non-threatening demeanor, a result of having her temperament broken by neglect. The other had developed insecure, defensive measures and constantly badgered other dogs, inviting fight.
With consistent, positive, gentle experiences, the soft girl took about 2-3 weeks to start relaxing and feeling happy. The other girl was much more difficult.
I had started to get her involved in helping raise that summer's puppies, which she loved doing. She was the best auntie puppies could have. But she kept on triggering other dogs in my home, including my most bottom-rung Kromi. Eventually, this low position girl responded and two of my other dogs (who had been getting along fine with dominant girl) went in to defend her. The veterinarian that treated her told me that situations like this, extreme stress and very bad fighting in dog families, had started to become a syndrome in the veterinary research community during covid. The lack of socialization continuance because of the pandemic restrictions were causing dogs to react in aggressive ways toward each other.
Dominant rescue girl did not survive and once again, I was stricken with deep despair and sadness. Losing a Kromi is unlike losing any other kind of animal. They get into your soul. This being the first of my own puppies born here that had died was a different sort of darkness. Her former owner was not surprised that she had started a fight like this- she had been doing it at her old house, too.
That winter, December 2020 and January 2021, I got almost all of my Kromis spayed and neutered. It was the one thing that I knew would help harmony be restored here (due to my rescue spay/neuter experience). Everyone I fixed was done with breeding, anyway.
RESCUE/RETURN, part 5
In November, 2021, one of my boy puppies that had been born that summer was returned after the new owner neglected to follow my directions of continuing to socialize, socialize, socialize after taking the puppy home at 8.5 weeks. He was left at home with the wife all the time, while husband was out of town, eventually bit both owners and the vet. My suggestion to take a one on one class with a decent, former military trainer (who now did positive reinforcement) in their area fell on cloth ears and next thing I knew, this bratty, little 6.5 month old boy was back here with me. He had developed a nasty little resumé of defense mechanisms so that he could get out of things he deemed unpleasant. But I worked with him every single day until he was ready to go to a new home in February, 2022, across the street from experienced Kromi owners in North Carolina. They promised to help the new people and for no adoption fee, the new owners promised he would not be returned- just worked with. He was young enough that I knew with neutering and consistent training and a bunch of catch-up socialization, he would soon blossom and start to grow up for real. So far, so good!
RESCUE/RETURN, part 6
In July 2022, another of my 2016 females came back to me after she had attacked a smaller dog at her dog-show-exhibitor home across the country. She had earned her Championship with IABCA and was one of the most beautiful Kromfohrlanders in the USA. I considered sending her off on the international show circuit with a handler. But I decided that is not my style and I didn't want that to be part of my experience- making a Kromi go off with someone she didn't know for who knows how long. That is no life for a sensitive Kromi. Show it yourself or do not show it, is how I see it.
She was transported across the country by someone she didn't know and was scared to death. When she realized who she had come back to (us), she was grateful and showed it every day by never causing problems with anyone here. By then, we had the dog shifts all figured out, most everyone was altered and, thus, no conflicts came about. Her mother, Krystal, was thrilled to have her favorite puppy back, even though I had to keep...um...reminding her that she was her favorite! Krystal being spayed definitely helped with her usual spiciness. This girl now lives in a new home with one of my 2017 males and is very happy and secure with her job of taking care of her owner's father, who lives there.
My 80 year old mother died from dementia in May 2022, so seeing one of my dogs as a companion to someone's elder parent warms my heart. Note: I took in my father's very old Shih-tzû dog in April, 2019- 6 months before he died in October 2019. His dog died in December! It was a mighty sad time.
I'll be honest- it has been a struggle to maintain my passion for staying in Kromforhlanders these last few years. Many times I have considered quitting and/or being involved anymore.
I really needed help, emotionally- and very few people in this breed offered it. I am grateful to generous few who have helped me walk through these fires and disappointed with the misguided few who turned away (or became antagonistic) during my obvious distress. Humanity and compassion must be in short supply these days.
Ignoring the fact that the bad stuff happens, too (and can happen to anyone), will assure the failure of this breed in America, once again (previous attempts by non-dog world connected 'pet people' to start the Kromi in America in the 1990's did not go far). Pretending that they are only easy, wonderful dogs who are not capable of any of the above, guarantees a mishap. Be aware of their sensitivity, what can happen and their fragility. They are not such physically tough dogs even though they do have excellent defenses.
These stories are not my failures. Even though any dog will fight (given the circumstance), living with Kromis can give you a certain false confidence that can betray you in a heartbeat- unannounced and catch you unprepared. Even with "nice" dogs! They are very good at starting a fight where you cannot grab your handy fight-breaker-upper tools like the hose, a blanket, pots and pans, shoes or an office chair on wheels.
Kromis being returned, all of these times, were circumstances that were out of my control. I am very good at explaining to my puppy buyers what is expected of them. It is not my socialization in the small window I have with my pups- any failure afterwards (of any of this) is on the owners.
I choose to look upon all of these as top-shelf learning experiences, that expands my already deep knowledge about this breed that nobody else in America can even come close to having.
You should want an honest breeder...and that is what I am.
One of the first projects I tackled in this breed was information-gathering on Kromis that had lived in the USA since the mid-1990's and making contact with their owners. It was NOT easy. Most were gracious to provide photos and information for admitting their Kromis, even if deceased, to AKC's FSS.
Slowly, we added to the AKC FSS numbers each year. We were not in a hurry. I already was familiar with the process of AKC recognition and how much work is required. How much TEAMWORK!
We continued to show at whichever AKC's FSS shows we could get to, especially if they had a Meet the Breed area. We had the very first organized meeting of Kromi owners in Richmond, VA in June, 2018. We determined that this would be a true democracy club, without division and that we all would strive for a "takes a village" attitude.
In December, 2019, on the way back from the big Orlando AKC show and Meet the Breed event, I decided that it would be fun to have 2 litters at the same time. I bred Krystal with Bubba and Jenji with Hazell (Birkenstrand's Life in One Day, 2016). The puppies were both born in the coldest week of the year, around Valentine's Day, 2020.
---Then covid happened!
We couldn't go anywhere, our vet was restricted to emergencies only...but with so many restrictions on all this stuff and how we could socialize the puppies vs. how we had done it before (having a lot of people over, with lots of stimuli and going places with them, etc), we managed quite well, got pretty creative and met new owners at halfway points (welcome road trips, even though they were pretty boring), all masked up each time... and the pups turned out all right.
In fact, during most of that first year, 2020, my dog family here seemed to be doing fine with both of us home all the time, with nowhere to go. A lot of that isn't much different than normal but it was nice to know you could.
But as it went on, I saw more evidence in my Kromis of what actually was a global phenomenon (click for link to study). Our ultra-sensitive dogs KNEW the humans were going through something bad. Family relationship splintering, deaths and near-deaths... It's just been a really tough time. But it has been for everyone in so many ways. Add to that the regular competition for our attention! We ended up having to make some hard decisions about rehoming some of the dogs.
In May, 2022, being fully vaccinated, I was finally confident enough to go to a dog show again, after staying at home (or in the car) 1.5 years, to the UKC Premier show (in the neuter category) in June, 2022.
I entered Charlie, a particular success story...one of several behavior-problem dogs that I had gotten back during that pandemic stress phenomenon (first in February 2020 from his puppy home and then again in August 2021, from his 2nd home). We were his last chance and since he cannot live anywhere else from now on, I had a big project.
I worked with him consistently, gradually getting him off the drugs he'd been put on from the vet of his 2nd former home. I used some similar aggression-reducing behavior training that I used to do in my Australian Cattle Dog rescue days, that I'd learned from various books and experience. I turned his aggressive displays into fun, cued tricks that he now enjoys doing (big smile!).
He did well at the show, got a Group 4 and was happy, relaxed and accepted petting from anyone that asked. He had such a great time and I am so proud of him I might enter him in some more UKC shows some other time!