The Roller Coaster Quest to Save These Pups

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Up and down. Up and down. Every day in that puppy pen, it is up and down. I’m getting better at riding the roller coaster. Not sure if that’s a good thing. Maybe I’m just becoming numb.

In the beginning, when my pups began to fail, I was frantic, teary, desperate. Now, I’m resigned and accepting and grateful. We are doing everything we can. They will survive or they won’t, but it won’t be because we didn’t try.

My husband reminds me again and again not to think past today. I don’t want to ponder difficult decisions down the road if these pups don’t begin to thrive. Spending so much intense time with them has given me opportunity to know them well and the thought of any of them dying feels unbearable. And yet, I’ve witnessed the death of five puppies now, so I know that if I have to, I will bear it.

Following that thought too far, is painful so I’m trying very hard not to think ahead. Focus on now. What’s in front of me. Three adorable, precious puppies.

Puddin’ Head is doing the best. A week ago, he was the one I worried about most. He is about the same size as Schnookie Putz, the pup that passed. Talking it through with a vet, our best guess is that Schnookie Putz died from congestive heart failure. He was nearly three weeks old and could still not stand, so his full weight was pressing down on his chest all the time. It happened very quickly, as if his weight reached a tipping point at which his heart and lungs could no longer handle the pressure of his body pressing down on them.

I thought of my former neighbor Eddie who raised a flock of “meat birds”- chickens bred to have larger breasts. He told me that they had to be slaughtered exactly at a certain age or they would no longer be able to support their overly large breasts and they would die of congestive heart failure. He also told me on one slaughter day, he couldn’t find two of his hens. They turned up later and sure enough, a few days later died of congestive heart failure before he could get to slaughtering them.

The memory of Eddie’s birds sent me into overdrive to get Puddin’ Head’s weight off his chest. Lots of volunteers assisted me in monitoring the pups, even when asleep, to keep them on their sides and not flat out on their chests. We re-positioned their hind feet again and again and again to train them to stay underneath their bodies instead of stretched out straight behind or stuck out to the side like puppy splits, folding their flattened stretched out bodies into ‘dog shapes’ time and again. My husband built another chute like the one we had for Fruitcake and the pups all took tentative steps and quickly tired. We fashioned little tank tops and stuffed the front with batting to give them a lift and try to relieve some of the pressure on their chests. (I call them their superhero suits.)

For Puddin’ Head, at least, it seems to be working. It’s almost as if he was asleep and has woken up. He barks and whines and howls to communicate with Darlin’, his siblings, and with me. He is determined to walk and that determination is paying off. He is wobbly, but on his feet. He plays with toys, chews on his siblings, his mother and the volunteers, and has even begun sitting up. When he sleeps, he lies on his side without our assistance or he sleeps like a sphinx, up on his elbows with his hind legs beneath. Both positions keep pressure off his heart and lungs.

The girls are much smaller and lighter and seemed more active when this all began. They were soon both ‘swimming’ around their box. But swimming is something pups that are 1-2 weeks old do in preparation for walking, and now we are approaching 4 weeks and they are still only swimming. Bogo has had a congested, snotty nose all week. She finished a course of antibiotics, but obviously that wasn’t the answer. She does better after nebulizer treatments, but soon enough she is back to snotty nose and congested breathing.

Both girl pups are moving less instead of more. They are exhausted and want to sleep if they are not nursing. Doodlebug, who had been more active, now seems to be struggling for breath and her heart rate races, her little sides heaving in and out at an alarming speed. Bogo seems dopey and I’m not certain yet whether she can see or hear. Are their hearts’ tiring out? How much should we push them, how much should they rest?

All of this is cause for worry. Constant worry. And that, more than the physical care of these pups, is the hard part.

So, now you get to worry with me. Sorry about that. I decided at the beginning of this heartbreaking situation that I would share it with you – all of it, not just the happy parts. It’s all a part of the reality of dog rescue.

Here’s hoping there are more happy parts to come.

Thanks to the many, many OPHers and local friends who are giving up hours of their days to sit in the puppy pen and help these pups. I couldn’t do this without you.

If you’d like daily updates of the pups’ journey, please join the Another Good Dog facebook group.

I’ll finish with an adorable video of Puddin’ Head playing with his ever patient mama, Darlin’.

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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.

7 thoughts on “The Roller Coaster Quest to Save These Pups”

  1. Praying for you and the puppies. Will they have permanent problems if they make it, or is this something they will eventually outgrow?

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    1. There’s really no way to know at this point. So we keep doing all we can and hope for the best. I feel pretty sure Puddin’ Head will continue to progress and be able to walk on a regular surface soon. He’s strong and motivated. The girls seem to have stalled and Bogo is fading, but we’re doing all we can. Thanks for the prayers – much needed.

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