Our Tragic Weekend

If it’s painful, you become willing not just to endure it but also to let it awaken your heart and soften you. You learn to embrace it.
– Pema Chodron

The heavy sadness that followed me everywhere this weekend despite the sunshine, seems to have let up a bit. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve had my first real sleep in three nights or that the tide has truly turned in my puppy pen.

If you’ve been following on the Facebook Another Good Dog group, you know that it has been a tragic few days here.

After three nights of nearly no sleep, it’s hard to remember the order of events, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I mix up a detail or two.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Darlin’s temperature dropped soon after she arrived here Thursday afternoon which meant that labor was imminent.

It started out well with Darlin’ beginning serious labor around 4am on Friday morning. She panted and worried and we took many strolls around the yard. She grew anxious whenever I left the room, so I got a book and hunkered down to wait. Finally, around 8:30am she began seriously pushing and I called Deb, another foster, who had agreed to come help me.

At 9:35 we had our first pup- a brown male. He looked tiny to me- easily half the size of Estelle’s newborns and considering Estelle weighed less than half of what Darlin’ weighed that was my first cause for worry. Darlin’s belly was huge and if all the pups were this size, there were going to be a lot of puppies. The pup was pretty lifeless, but Darlin’ licked him to life, and I tried to help him find a teat.

As labor continued, Darlin’ became restless and tried to dig up the bedding to bury the pup.  We wondered if it was Deb’s presence, so she backed out of sight and remained in the hallway. Deb called several other OPH people for me to get their advice. The puppy seemed weak and mom seemed panicked. The other dogs could hear what was happening and they whined at the gate where they were confined in the living room. Both Vera and Estelle have been mamas, and their interest and concern was evident.

The second pup, a black and white girl, arrive 40 minutes later. She was even tinier, but she came out screaming and thrashing and easily latched on to her mom. Okay, I thought, this litter is going to be huge but maybe they’ll be okay.

Darlin’ remained panicky and began trying to pick up the pups to take them outside. It occurred to me that she may have had all her other litters outside and she felt a need to hide the puppies. Tracy, another puppy foster, said Darlin’ must not feel safe yet and suggested we do something to muffle the noise of the house and the other dogs, so I found a fan and Deb placed it outside the room on high. I turned off the lights in the room, except the warm glow of the grow lights over my flowers. Darlin’ calmed down.

She delivered pups 3, 4, and 5 in fairly quick succession. Each pup was small – somewhere between the size of the first born and the tiny spitfire girl pup who was still nursing strongly. All three were nearly lifeless upon arrival, but perked up and nursed once Darlin’ attended to them. I tried to help them find a teat and get the milk started. Edith and Estelle’s pups hadn’t needed so much assistance. Was I doing too much? Not enough?

By 1pm, Darlin’s belly still looked large, but deflated. Maybe she is just fat, I thought, as I took her outside and she pottied. She didn’t want the food I offered, but gobbled up chicken jerky treats and drank plenty of water. She was still uneasy and kept trying to pick up several of the pups and carry them out of the room. I had to redirect her back each time and I worried that she would hurt a pup in the rough way she carried them—they squalled each time. I remember Edith gently picking up her pups and moving them into a pile so she could watch or warm them. This was nothing like that. This was more like Darlin’ grabbing a bag of groceries and hauling it out.

My son Ian walked the other dogs and I was able to get a few breaks, even prepping dinner and getting it in the crock pot thanks to Deb, who sat in the doorway and kept an eye on Darlin’, calling me when she began trying to remove pups.

By the middle of the afternoon, Darlin’ was resting, all five pups were nursing. I breathed a sigh of relief and Deb took off.

My biggest concern was that Darlin’ was still not eating anything but chicken jerky treats. Other than that, though, she seemed normal except for her occasional efforts to remove several of the pups. She seemed to always pick up the same two, but I didn’t think anything of that until later. I stayed close, though, because whenever I left, she attempted to bury the pups in the towels lining the box or tried to carry them to the door to take them outside.

My husband arrived home from picking up my oldest son from college and we all sat down for a late dinner and a much needed glass of wine. I was out of the puppy pen, maybe an hour, but when I returned there was a sixth puppy. It was cold and barely moving and Darlin’ was ignoring it and nursing the other pups. I rubbed it and warmed it; it was definitely alive. She was a little black girl puppy. I helped her find a teat and she suckled weakly.

Were there more? Darlin’ seemed calm as long as I stayed in the room. I kept remembering the advice I’d been given about not letting too much time go between pups – no more than two, maybe three hours, before you should call the vet. It had been seven. I called my neighbor and vet, Chris, and he came right over.

He said Darlin’ looked good and she stood up and wagged her tail for him. Her gums were pink, she was drinking and peeing, she didn’t seem uncomfortable, she had no fever. He checked to make sure there were no more pups in the birth canal and palpated her. He hesitated and said, he was fairly sure it was just uterus he was feeling, but we wouldn’t know unless we did an xray. We decided that since Darlin’ seemed fine, we’d wait. If she was in distress later, we’d get an xray. It seemed too risky to take her and her fragile pups to the clinic for an xray unless it was an emergency. Darlin’ was acting fine. As long as I didn’t leave the room, she didn’t attempt to take the pups out or bury them anymore. I snapped pictures and posted them on Instagram and Facebook. New puppies!

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I stayed up watching Darlin’ until I began falling asleep upright next to the puppy box. I needed sleep, so at midnight, I barricaded the door to the room (there is no actual door on our puppy room) and went to bed. At about 3am, I heard the other dogs whining and raced to the puppy room to discover that Darlin’ had delivered another puppy. This one was long and skinny and black—a boy. He was weak and I stayed up the rest of the night making sure he nursed. It was only a half-hearted effort, but he did latch on.

By morning, I was exhausted and didn’t trust my judgment. I called others who knew more and everyone agreed it was odd, but miraculous that the two late puppies had survived. I stayed in the box with the puppies until late morning, making sure everyone was nursing at least every two hours. Two of the original five had me worried. They were nursing, but weren’t getting the little plump bellies that my other puppies had all had. I checked that Darlin’ had milk and it easily came out. The ‘late puppies’ seemed to be doing well, too, nursing on their own now. Still, I was uneasy and so was Darlin’.

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At lunchtime, I needed a break. Nick suggested we take a walk. It was a gorgeous day. We ran into neighbors who were out for the same reasons and walked together. Estelle and Vera were thrilled at the outing. When we came back, Darlin’ had twirled the towels into a nest and buried almost all the puppies inside it. Terrified, I unwrapped the puppies, who were fine. I got everyone settled in and nursing. The two puppies, I’d worried about were still looking thin, but when I helped them find a teat, they suckled. The afternoon went by and Darlin’ continued to try to remove those two puppies. It was a little dance we did. She picked one up and took a step towards the door. I said, “No!” firmly and she put it back down.

I left the pups to make dinner and when I came back the two puppies were beginning to feel cold to me. I don’t know if it was because of all the carrying or the fact that she left them alone so much. I had tried to keep them on the heating pad as much as possible or up against their mama, but Darlin’ kept picking them up and trying to take them out of the box.

As the evening wore on, I repeatedly tried to put them to her teats, but they only suckled half-heartedly and fell off if I didn’t hold them in place. Again and again, I tried to get them to nurse, squirting out some milk and wiping it on their lips and in their mouths. They faded so fast. There was no time to call anyone, do anything. They passed silently, quietly lying against their mama’s side while the other pups were nursing.

This made me desperate to make sure everyone else was nursing. Pup #7 had the same long, skinny look the two that died had, but he seemed to be strong and when I put him on a teat, he latched on. Still, every chance she got Darlin’ carried him around, trying to take him out of the box, out of the room. What did she know? I wondered. Would we lose him, too?

I stayed up the whole night, sitting in the box so that Darlin’ wouldn’t take pup #7 out. She ignored him, but allowed me to try to get him to nurse. Towards morning, he began to grow cold and wouldn’t latch on, so I put him under my shirt and tried to warm him up. It was becoming clear he wasn’t going to make it. I watched the others, wondering if I would lose every one of them one by one.

Only one pup aggressively looked for a teat—pup #2, the tiny little girl I’d been calling Doodlebug. The others would nurse, once I got them started. I watched the clock and followed Doodlebug’s lead. When she began trying to nurse, I lined up everyone else. Pup #7 was too weak to nurse now and I laid him against his mama for warmth.

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Watching him pass was beyond painful. I don’t know if it was my tears or her own sadness, but Darlin’ picked up the pup and carried him around the box, whining. I know she wanted to take him out. She knew he was dying. Is it instinct that makes a dog do this? I had a pony once who was 39 years old and dying of old age. She grew weaker day by day, but every morning she would labor her way up to the far corner of the field, away from the other horses and remain there all day until I brought her back down each night. I’ve heard that dogs and cats will disappear when it is their time. Why do they leave? One person told me it’s a herd thing—they know they’re dying and don’t want to draw predators. That seems awfully selfless, perhaps it’s only our human desire to give it an altruistic spin. Whatever the reason, when Darlin’ pulled a towel and pawed it into a nest in the corner, away from the others, I didn’t stop her. She lay puppy #7 down in the nest and then lay alongside it and waited while the pup passed.

That was the lowest moment of the entire weekend. I still can’t get that tiny pup’s little face and silent cries out of my head. I felt so helpless. When my tears finally stopped, I still felt helpless, but I was also angry. The people responsible for this tragedy will never know it. Whoever fed this dog and called her their own, didn’t care enough to have her spayed. This was not Darlin’s first litter. This was nothing like watching Estelle’s bewilderment delivering her first puppies. Darlin’ knew what was happening. Twice, when a puppy wasn’t emerging quickly enough, she reached around and pulled the pup the rest of the way out with gentle teeth.

This dog should have been spayed years ago. Even if she came from a poor family, most shelters and rescues will spay for free. In fact, World Spay Day is coming up in another week. OPH is partnering with many vet clinics, including the one right here in York County, to pay for spay operations for anyone who can’t afford it. I was planning to go to the clinic that day so that I could write about it. I’m certain there were opportunities like this where Darlin’ came from, and yet, no one could be bothered.

How many puppies has Darlin’ already produced? If she is six-years-old, as the health certificate states, a conservative estimate is 70 pups. I’m willing to bet anyone who Darlin’s owner gave or sold a pup to, wasn’t the kind of person to spay their dog. There could be hundreds, if not thousands of more puppies out there because of Darlin’.

Whoever allowed this dog to get pregnant again, and then tossed her to a shelter where she could be euthanized – that person has never watched a puppy die. She or he has never sat in the near dark, cradling a cold puppy to her chest, sobbing, hoping, praying, wishing that this world was different, that people were better, and feeling completely hopeless to change any of it. If they had, this never would have happened.

The rest of Sunday was a fog of desperately trying to get the remaining four puppies to nurse. Darlin’ had begun trying to carry pup #1, a brown male pup I’d been calling Puddin’ Head, out of the box. I called everyone frantically—what can I do? What can I do?

Laurie, the current director of OPH, whom I’d met at the airport when I picked up Darlin’ suggested I try wiping Karo syrup on their gums. She said their sugars were probably low and this might give them energy to nurse.

She also told me that OPH would support any decision I made. If I wanted to haul all the pups to the Pet ER and get them hydrated with IV’s and put in intensive care and start them on bottle feeding, then do it. If I wanted to take Darlin’ in and get another xray to be sure there was nothing there, that would be fine. All I had to do was contact the OPH medical coordinator and get that ball rolling.

I told Laurie I didn’t want to do these things. I didn’t say this because I’m a heartless person. My heart was breaking over these pups, minute by minute. I said this because as I sat in that box and watched my pups struggling, I knew that much of this is out of our hands. We could do everything and spend thousands trying to save these pups, and ultimately they might not make it. And then we have thousands of dollars less to save dogs that will make it. How many were dying by euthanasia in a shelter as I sat and scrambled to keep my pups alive?

No, I told Laurie, I would do what I could here, but I didn’t think we should spend the resources. Dogs have been doing this for ages without any help from us. If these four pups are strong enough to survive, they’d make it and if they didn’t, then lets use that money to go rescue fifty in their place.

After applying the syrup, three of the pups did perk up and two even latched on without my assistance, but the brown pup wasn’t interested and Darlin’ kept carrying him away. I stayed in the box all day. I was afraid to leave. It seemed like every time I did, the situation got worse.

Slowly, as I watched, three of the pups perked up. Doodlebug had always been the strongest—ironic, because she is clearly the runt, tiny and half as long as the others. But now the other two pups, pup #6 (who we’d been calling BOGO, ever since she surprised us with her late appearance) and pup# 5, Schnookie Putz, a larger male version of Doodlebug, with Boston Terrier coloring, were nursing vigorously.

Only the brown pup, Puddin’ Head, remained lethargic. I wiped more Karo syrup on his gums. I needed some sleep, the world was looking pretty foggy after three nights with nearly no sleep. I worried that Darlin’ would carry Puddin’ Head out of the room if I wasn’t there, so Nick got out one of the puppy pens and secured it around the box and a small area outside the box to put food and water, a blanket, and some puppy pads for Darlin’s use. He hung a curtain over the doorway so that the heater and humidifier would be more effective (Darlin’ was congested as she’s been recovering from Kennel Cough). There was nothing more I could do, so I went to sleep and prayed we’d eek out a miracle.

Now it’s Monday, and all four puppies are still with us. They are small and still look incredibly fragile, but Darlin’ has settled. The remaining pups have little bellies and mewl when they’re hungry. Most importantly they can latch on to their mother’s teat without my assistance. She is not picking anyone up. I’m not certain they are out of the woods, but I can see some light now.

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Thanks for all the positive messages and suggestions. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond to all of them – but when I was trapped in that tiny room, waiting and hoping, it was great to see your support pop up on my phone. I’ll continue to post updates on the Another Good Dog facebook page throughout the week and please keep your prayers and positive thoughts coming.

If you know of anyone who has a pet that needs to be spayed or neutered and they are hesitating because of costs (or any other reason), please tell them that February 28th is World Spay Day, many clinics are offering free or discounted surgeries. And if they can’t find one, put them in touch with me and I’ll make sure they get the resources to have their dog spayed or neutered.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to know more about me and my writing, I’d be honored if you stopped by website, CaraWrites.com.

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Published by

Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

10 thoughts on “Our Tragic Weekend”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear this. I’m guessing she’s just old, didn’t have good nutrition. Poor thing. Poor pups. My heart is with you. Praying for the remaining babies.

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    1. I think you’re right – her age and poor nutrition were probably the basic issue. She doesn’t eat dog food (or puppy food or chicken breast or good hamburger) so obviously she wasn’t eating well. I’m still trying to figure out what she will eat.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Cara, I cried and cried – I can’t even imagine – you care so much and it’s so difficult when you lose some of these babies. Like you, there are so many people that care, but just as many that don’t. So very sad!

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    1. Thanks Jenni – I think the takeaway from this is that we MUST spread the word about spaying and neutering your pets. It’s exciting to have puppies when it goes well, but when you consider where they’ve come from and why they are here, it is so very sad. This whelp was a reminder of that.

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  3. I am reading this and crying but thank goodness for people like you Cara that care so much to save these little guys lives. Also to your husband and your kids for all they do to support your effort in taking care of these dogs and their puppies. God Bless you and your family for all that you do for them!

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  4. I am so glad to have someone with your good judgement and obvious caring be there for these dogs and their pups. Whatever the world has dealt them, at least they have had the experience of true caring. Thanks for bring there for them! And for allowing us to share the struggle. A burden shared is a burden halved.

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