"There's A Puppy!"
The puppies came into the world on Thanksgiving evening.
Susan and I had just finished dinner, and taken our two dogs for a walk. Abbie, the young mother-to-be, kept up well enough with our four-year-old male, Nelson. We made the walk a short one, however; though the morning's temperature check did not suggest that labor was imminent, we didn't want to stress her unduly.
Soon after we returned home, it all started to happen. Abbie began panting and circling; then suddenly she arched her back and seemed to strain. "This has to be it," we realized, and led her to the plastic kiddie pool set up as a whelping bed. I ran upstairs to change out of my good shirt, but before I'd even undone the buttons, my wife yelled, "Bob, there's a puppy!"
I flew down the stairs to find Susan cradling a tiny, wet creature; mostly
black with a bit of white here and there. The thought flashed that
I'd missed our first-born, but there was little time for regret;
everything was happening so much faster than we'd expected. We began
the drill we'd been rehearsing for the past week.
First Of Eleven
A week... just seven days since we got the shattering news.
"She's pregnant, no doubt about it," said our new vet, Dr. Gretchen Gerber. "Pretty far along, too."
She pointed to the x-ray. "These are puppy skulls that you're seeing here, and here, and here..." She counted off eleven of them.
How could this be? We'd only owned the dog a month, and we'd had her vaccinated and examined right after we brought her home. She'd started behaving strangely soon after that, so we brought her back to the animal hospital again two weeks later.
How could our old vet have missed the diagnosis both times? We asked him specifically! We described her odd behavior!
"It can be pretty hard to tell for sure," Dr. G. replied diplomatically. We did not push the issue.
Instead, we embarked on a crash course in canine midwifery, reading everything
we could find and talking to everyone in town who'd been through
the process. Most importantly, we made contact with the state Newfoundland
Rescue coordinator. Not only did she promise to help find good homes
for the puppies, relieving us of our greatest worry, but she also
put us in touch with the nearest experienced Newf breeder. Our new
guru lived too far away to assist us in person, but her advice and
reassurance over the phone proved invaluable.
The puppy was breathing strongly; her air passages were clear. Our hands still trembled as we held her, but it seemed that all was well.
When we placed the tiny pup to her mother's breast, we began to worry, though. Abbie massaged the little girl with her tongue, just as we'd been told she would, but the puppy simply could not seem to latch onto a teat. We picked her up and set her back at different angles, but no luck. A nervous phone call to our guru brought the reassuring answer, "Calm down. She'll get it sooner or later."
And so she did. Time to catch our breath, take some photos, and interrupt Dr. G.'s dinner with a progress report. We called our wonderful new veterinarian many times before the night was over; she was always gracious and enthusiastic in response. When one delivery seemed to stall, she explained that most likely the placenta had not completely detached from Abbie's uterine wall, and she talked us through the process of drawing it out.
As puppy followed puppy, we began to get the hang of it all. Cradle the emerging pup, slit the sac with a fingernail. Surprising how hot the fluid felt as it gushed into our hands. Check the airway and towel the puppy down. That's when they started wiggling; amazing how full of life they seemed so quickly!
Do our best to hold the critter still and tie off the cord with dental floss. That was hard; should have used unwaxed. Make a miniature collar from a strand of colored yarn, to tell the puppies apart. Give the baby to Mom for a while and try to clean things up for the next go-round. The fluids came in every color of the rainbow; thank God our mentor had warned us, or we would have been horrified as Abbie pumped out red and green and turquoise...
Here comes another one!
Move the last puppy to the Rubbermaid box where brothers and sisters huddle
together on a towel-wrapped heating pad, then here we go again.
Pups In A Box
Abbie seemed completely calm throughout her labor, carefully examining each newborn puppy as we presented it to her, and tonguing the wet little squirmers in a way that somehow seemed both vigorous and tender. Such remarkable skill in a dog barely removed from puppyhood herself: Abbie's second birthday was still weeks away.
Nelson came down the stairs just once to see whatever was happening in the house that so recently was his alone. With a look that clearly announced, "I do not belong here!" he retreated to the top floor, to pass the long evening contemplating the Packers' chances for the Superbowl- not good, he decided- and other matters of manly import.
Finally, a little before midnight, it was all over. We arranged the puppies close to their mother and washed our hands for the hundredth time. Filthy with birthing fluids, several noisome placentas in a bucket nearby, I poured two glasses of wine to toast our success.
Eleven puppies in four-and-a-half hours. That wasn't all that difficult, was it? Great work, Abbie... fantastic job for such a young mom!
That's the last time anything about this process seemed easy.
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