By TIFFANY RONEY
A multibillion-dollar international industry claims Abilene as its world capital. The industry: greyhound racing. Kent Law, veterinarian and co-owner of Symbioun, Inc., keeps greyhound racers running top-notch with frozen surgical insemination, or FS. Law uses FS to extract semen from top dogs around the world and implant it to females from halfway across the globe, or halfway across town.
Gary Guccione, executive director of National Greyhound Association, said FS started in the U.S. in the early 1980s. Since then, it has become the most popular way for breeders to insure their females give birth to winners.
Deon Parsons, co-owner of Symbioun, said FS is now the industry standard because it gives breeders access to more stud dogs without the hassles of travel, mitigates risk of injuries that can occur during natural breedings and offers a higher success rate than alternative methods.
The back-stage side of convenience
While FS has become popular because of the convenience it offers dog owners, the process carries some extra steps for middlemen like Marc Parsons, assistant manager of Symbioun, Inc. The semen must stay at 322 degrees Farenheit below zero, but the containers used to ship the product are not refrigerated, only insulated. That means it must be shipped quickly. To keep the product on the move, Marc times shipments to go out by Fed-Ex in the early part of a week. Left over a weekend, the nitrogen vapor shipping container could get too warm, causing semen to thaw and, therefore, die.
The early-week ship-out specification is for domestic shipments. International shipping is another ballgame.
“Then, it takes a lot of work to get it out of the country because of customs – there’s a lot of requirements when it goes to other countries,” Parsons said. “Like, in Australia, there’s never been a case of rabies, so when they ship anything in that’s animal-related like that, it’s a big deal, and it takes months to get the clearance to get it over there.”
Deon Parsons, co-owner of Symbioun, said semen requested by greyhound owners in Australia must be quarantined long enough to prove the semen is not contaminated. Any semen that may ship to Australia must be stored in a separate facility from regular U.S. semen. Symbioun uses tanks that are not connected to its main facility to store Australia-bound bound semen.
Marc said Symbioun ships semen internationally three to four times a year.
Kim Johnson, veterinary assistant of Symbioun, and Kayla Bogart, veterinary technician of Symbioun, said they agreed greyhounds are enjoyable to work with because they are good-natured animals.
“They are just relaxed and calm and go with the flow,” Bogart said.
After a semen implant, the female is still half-asleep, so Marc carries the dog into an on-site kennel, where the dog can rest and recover.
“The bitches stay here overnight, then go home the next day; they’re bouncing around like nothing happened,” Johnson said.
The day-after departure is not always goodbye. DaLean Barten, veterinarian of Symbioun, said in some cases, the clinic not only extracts the semen and implants it into the female, but also goes a step further and delivers the puppies they bred. Greyhounds welp, or give birth, 61 days after conception.
Barten said the Symbioun team treats pregnant females with fluid containing electrolytes to hydrate and strengthen them.
Barten said the Symbioun team prefers a natural welping process to an anesthetized one. Thus, the team uses IV fluids and electrolytes to help the female start welping on her own or restart the welping process if she stalls. The team views the alternative – anesthesia and a cesarean section delivery – as a last resort.
“We don’t want them to wake up and think, ‘Whose puppies are these?’” Barten said. “They have all these puppies around them, but if they hadn’t had pups before, then they don’t know they’re theirs – worst-case scenario.”
Barten said they counteract this issue by letting the puppies nurse while holding Mom. Sometimes, the team sends the placenta home with the puppies so the owner can smear them with it. The smell of the placenta helps the mother to recognize the puppies as her own so she can treat them with the instinctual care of a mother.