Kathy Antoniotti, Beacon Journal staff writer
-- Co-workers helping feed, take care of pups --
SHARON TWP.:Christy Six had gotten exactly 11 hours of sleep from the time her dog woke her Sunday morning to Thursday afternoon.
Although she knew her 145-pound Cane (pronounced Kayna) Corso was about to give birth, neither Six nor the gentle Sweetpea knew she was about to have what could be a record-setting litter of puppies.
It was the first litter for Sweetpea and her mate, Bruno, another of Six's Corsos.
The 2-year-old Sweetpea started labor early Monday morning.
''She saw the first one, then the second and looked at me as if to say, 'What's coming out of me?' '' said Six, a University of Akron student who has experience as a veterinary technician.
The final X-ray prior to the birth, taken Nov. 30, indicated Sweetpea would have as many as 10 puppies, Six said.
''When No. 18 was born, I yelled for my mom. Not really, but I should have,'' the 30-year-old Sharon Township resident said with a laugh. Over the seven hours, Sweetpea would give birth to 20 puppies, vying with a record for the number of live, natural, surviving births.
'' It may be a record for the breed, but in terms of survival, it is amazing. It is truly uncommon to see a litter this size survive,'' said Dr. Carlos Pinto, reproduction specialist at the Ohio
State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
According to various Web sites, the size of Sweetpea's litter is not as large as the 23 puppies reported in the Guinness Book of World Records to several dogs, but many of those puppies did not survive.
By Thursday, each puppy, weighing between one-half pound and one pound at birth, had started showing weight gains.
Eventually, they will weigh as much as 80 to 140 pounds and grow to 28 inches in height. At 8 weeks of age, the time they may be adopted, the puppies will weigh between 20 and 25 pounds each.
Medina Veterinary Clinic doctors will give them their first basic checkup today, Six said.
With four adult Cane Corsos in her home, Six, who hopes to go to vet school following graduation, belongs to the Cane Corso Association of America and the Society in America for Cane Corso Italiano.
The breed recently gained approval for full recognition from the American Kennel Club and will be included in the working group of dogs beginning June 30.
Six, whose dogs have competed in shows, will continue to show in area AKC events, she said.
The births marked the last time Six had seen much sleep because of the puppies' two-hour, round-the-clock feeding schedule. Feedings are noted on a chart for each puppy.
Six is supplementing the puppies' regular feedings with formula served from a bottle. She said without the help of her friends at the Medina PetSmart where she works, she wouldn't have time to shower each day.
''I couldn't go to the Christmas party because she was in labor, so they brought my presents to me,'' Six said.
Six's four Corsos eat 14 cups of dog food a day, so naturally, her Christmas gift was dog food — 150 pounds of it.
But the best gift she received is the help offered by several co-workers who take turns helping with the feedings and keeping an eye on the pups.
She said she bred Sweetpea and Bruno because they both have loving, submissive personalities.
Six said she is well-aware that over population of all dogs is a problem, but she believes it's important to breed good dogs and not breed only for profit.
''There is no money in breeding dogs unless you are a puppy mill,'' she said.
Six doesn't expect more than one or two of the puppies to be show-quality dogs. The rest will be placed in loving homes as family pets.
''This is not a dog for everybody. You need to do your research. They are going to do what they want to do without a bond and a lot of training, she said.
Prospective adopted parents will be screened after submitting an application, and even less than show-quality animals aren't cheap.
Six said she paid $2,400 for each of her Corsos. She expects the male puppies to sell for $800 and the females for slightly more. Only serious inquiries will be considered, she said.
Liz Sawyer-Robles, a founding member of the national Cane Corso Rescue group from Texas, said her organization — the only breed-specific Corso rescue group in the country — recovers dogs from people who have no understanding of the breed.
''The Italian mastiff [Corsos] is a dominant, highly intelligent breed and requires so much socialization. When you do that, you have a phenomenal dog,'' Sawyer-Robles said.
The breed is popular in the Akron area and with celebrities, such as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who owns two, according to a Northeast Ohio Cane Corso breeder's Web site.
Ohio is the No. 1 state for surrendering Cane Corsos for adoption, she said. Pennsylvania and New Jersey come in close for second, Sawyer-Robles said.
Akron, Columbus and the Mahoning Valley area have the highest concentration of surrenders, Sawyer-Robles said.
She agreed that Sweetpea's 20-puppy litter is huge.
''We've had 14 in one litter. The other was 12 and one was nine,'' she said.
Petfinder, a virtual home for adoptable dogs across the country, lists more than 100 Corsos currently up for adoption, the majority held by Cane Corso Rescue.
The agency receives hundreds and hundreds of adoption applications each week, Sawyer-Robles said. After a screening process that includes home, reference and vet checks, only about two are approved.
Sweetpea and her pups are housed in a large, wooden crate in the kitchen. She listens to ''red dirt'' (Texas country) music that seems to keep her calm amid the puppy hysteria.
''She's a great mom,'' Six said, and only seems to get rattled when all the pups start crying at the same time.
''Sometimes, she just wants me to sit in there and pat her head,'' Six said.
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