Just A Couple Of Pet Owners
All told, we made six trips to the vet's office in the first eight
days: a taxing drive over snowy country roads. The calcium injection helped Abbie, along with two more through
the coming week, but not enough. The dog never had sufficient milk
for her litter after that episode.
We commenced a round-the-clock regimen of supplemental feeding. Susan stayed up each night until two a.m., then woke me. I handled the graveyard feeding, then caught a nap on a cot by the puppy room door. With nine hungry puppies, each serving took a bit more than two hours, from mixing formula to washing up.
All but two of the surviving puppies took to the bottles fairly well. Jack - we called them by names now- had a mild case of something called mega-esophagus, and made frightful gurgling noises as he sucked the bottle and swallowed; Wallace simply refused to take the nipple. "Mom or nothing," he seemed to say. We arranged private sessions with Abbie for this pair, before the others had a chance to drain the tanks.
Each morning we'd weigh the pups on a kitchen scale, then run a spreadsheet to track their progress. "Pink gained ninety grams!" I'd exult, or lament, "Light Yellow only put on forty." We made sure that any pups who hadn't gained enough weight got first chance at Mom, and special attention at bottle time.
To our great good fortune, we didn't have to do this all alone. Our next-door
neighbor became nearly a full family member, spending hours every
day helping with feeding, and offering a mother's hints on mixing
lump-free formula and choosing nipples that wouldn't clog. After
several days, she managed to convince the most finicky puppy that
formula was worth drinking after all, and we were able to discontinue
his special feedings.
One of Susan's colleagues from work came by several times a week, as well, bringing her middle-school-aged son. The young man hit it off well with the dogs, especially one affectionate and personable little female. Several weeks later, that family would take her home with them.
Other friends and neighbors pitched in, too; even staff from the animal hospital came over on their days
off to lend a hand.
Disappointingly, Abbie seemed indifferent to the puppies most of the time. We tried to encourage her to stay with them by feeding her ice cream whenever she was in the whelping pen. It became a ritual: Abbie would lie down with the crowd and look up expectantly, one of us would guide the puppies into place, the other would feed Mom gobs of Blue Bunny Vanilla with dripping, sticky hands.
We could not blame Abbie for her lack of enthusiasm; she remained a very sick dog. The first antibiotic was not effective against her uterine infection, so Dr. G. tried a stronger drug. This one controlled, but did not cure, the problem.
How long had this infection been growing inside Abbie? we asked. "Hard to say, but certainly quite a while," the vet answered. "It could go back as far as the day she was bred."
"That figures," I muttered to myself. She'd come to us with kennel cough... and pregnant!... why not a uterine infection as well?
Our veterinarian became more and more anxious to take the purulent organ out. Finally, two days before Christmas, the time was right. The puppies were lapping baby cereal from a pan; nursing could end any time. The hysterectomy went smoothly, and Abbie recovered without further problems.
Dr. G. instructed us firmly not to let the puppies suckle anymore; the drugs
she was now giving Abbie would pass into the milk. The pups kept
trying nonetheless, so until their mother dried up completely, she
wore one of my old tee-shirts, cinched at the end to make a puppy-resistant
chest protector. We still had to keep a sharp eye out whenever she
was around the babies; the outfit was by no means "puppy-proof!"
Things got better slowly. The little dogs put on weight day by day; eventually they outgrew the kitchen scale, and morning weigh-ins ceased. That mega-esophagus cleared up on its own, as had been predicted.
Veterinary problems were far from over, though. There were respiratory infections and urinary infections. We learned the pros and cons of various antibiotics, and got skilled at giving injections to a squirming puppy. One little male's heart didn't sound quite right: "Normal-sounding, but muffled," said Dr. G, perplexed. It took an ultrasound exam to confirm he was okay, after all.
And five of the nine puppies developed yeast infections in their ears. How did that happen? "Almost certainly got it from their mother," said the vet.
"Swell," I thought, "Another souvenir from Ohio."
For more than two months, it seemed that our life was a constant blur of puppy formula, paper towels, pills, injections, ear ointments, and veterinary appointments. Still, there was always the nagging worry- is there something we're overlooking? A problem we're not seeing?
Several weeks later came a message that we must have been doing things right. The couple who adopted big brown Sinbad reported that at his first checkup, their veterinarian looked over the stack of medical records that came with him, then commented, "You bought this puppy from a very good breeder. They thought of everything."
They told us he was surprised when they corrected him, "No, just a couple of pet owners."
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