There is nothing in the life of a breeder that can generate emotion like a puppy – or better yet – a litter of puppies! Joy when you welcome them into the world; excitement dreaming of what they will become; relief when everything goes well; worry that something might go wrong; heartbreak when it does go wrong.
My experiences as a breeder didn’t start off so great. The first litter consisted of two, and the dam had inertia after the first puppy and required an emergency csection. Both puppies were healthy and hearty, and the dam recovered from her surgery very well and nursed her puppies with a full supply of milk. Unfortunately, one of those was taken by cardio at the age of seven.
The second litter (from a different dam) resulted in a singleton black bitch born naturally, but she succumbed to fading puppy syndrome at about ten days. A repeat of that breeding showed four healthy puppies on ultrasound, but at whelping only one was viable as the others were in varying stages of reabsorption. Again, a singleton black bitch was born, this time by c-section. She went on to be my constant companion for six years when she came down with pyometra, survived the surgery and then died from complications of an incomplete spay a few months later.
Looking back and recalling these events makes me wonder how I pushed on and stood the test of time in the whelping box. I have always been a believer in things equalling out in life. If you ever watched Seinfeld, you can equate it to the “Even, Steven” reference. And, so… for the next 20 years, bitches conceived, whelped healthy litters of 8-12 puppies, had plenty of milk, were good mothers, and so forth. Naturally there were some struggles and challenges but overall we endured very good luck as it relates to the whelping and rearing of puppies.
And now I find things coming full circle with a recent c-section to bring a singleton puppy into the world. Not having much experience with either of these circumstances, you can imagine my anxiety and stress, which was further exacerbated by my go-to vet being on vacation. As I sat in the recovery room immediately next to the surgery suite in the vet clinic, I could hear the entire process. I probably could have watched it all through the glass if I wanted! Every word uttered by the doctor or a technician churned my stomach. What was probably 20 minutes felt like two hours as I sat waiting to hear that the puppy and mom were both OK.
When I heard that little puppy using its lungs and squealing I was so happy. Then I had the long wait to hear whether it was a boy or a girl, was it healthy, was mom a champ with the anesthetic? When the technician informed me that we had a big chunky red girl with a “massive racing stripe down her neck” I pretty much burst into tears (of joy, of course). Mom snapped out of anesthetic and the puppy latched onto a nipple for her first meal, and we headed home.
The hits started coming with milk drying up and the mother’s instincts not kicking in. Here was my previously perfect mother of nine completely ignoring her little singleton. She would rather lay outside of the whelping box than be with her puppy. She would allow the pup to nurse, but refused to clean her or stimulate her. By late afternoon, her teats were completely dried up, and my stress levels began to spike. I have supplemented many puppies over the years, but it was always just to give little ones a bit extra, not as entire meal replacements. The thought of tubing a puppy scares me, and I hadn’t been successful bottle feeding in the past, but by golly, I was bound and determined to get this one to take a bottle. After my second attempt she latched right on, to the point where I had to try and slow her down at some feedings.
Thankfully, after 48 hours on an herbal supplement, the universe corrected itself. The dam’s milk come in again, and with it her maternal instincts returned. Now, we begin the process of making sure this little bundle of joy gets what she needs for the next week, month, year and rest of her life.