I was just finishing up with my last surgical case for the day when the clinic phone rang.
The caller had heard whining coming from within a boarded up shed in a yard in Lake Cowichan and on investigation had discovered a momma dog with a litter of newborn puppies inside. Not normally any cause for concern; newborns are resilient and have all their needs met by a healthy mom, and big dogs rarely have difficulties post whelping.
This situation was different. This dog’s family had moved out of town seven days prior and had left her behind. If someone was supposed to have picked her up from the shed, they hadn’t showed. This momma dog had spent her last week of gestation locked up, with no food and no water. I prepared for the worst — warmed IV fluids, heated blankets and hot water bottles, set out injectable glucose and calcium and rolled out the crash cart.
The car pulled into the clinic parking lot and I watched as a young, medium sized German Shepherd cross dog was led out. She was very thin, missing most of her coat but her tail was wagging and she was able to walk slowly in to the exam room with her rescuer. She greeted me, tail still wagging, friendly eyes and then turned to receive the big box full of wriggling puppies carried along behind. A look into the box revealed seven fat, healthy puppies.
No concerns there, they had pulled all the nutrients they required out of their momma’s body. Returning my attention to their momma I was amazed that her mammary glands were stretched tight with a huge load of milk. How had she managed to pull that off and still be on her feet after a week with no water?
As she eagerly drank the first small bowl of water I noticed the slightest muscle tremor along her flank, then her ear twitched. Her body had given itself fully to the mission of whelping and lactating, even as it was stripping her blood supply of calcium. Postpartum hypocalcemia is an emergency condition; she arrived just in the nick of time!
Intravenous calcium restored her blood levels and she finished her second small bowl of water in a large kennel as her puppies settled in for a nap beside her on a warmed blanket.
As I poured a bowl of dog kibble for her, I noticed I had her complete and undivided attention and saw the lengthening string of drool from the mouth that hadn’t had sustenance for so long. Opening the kennel door that held her and her young family, I set the bowl of food before her. As she began to rise, to meet the offering, a puppy awoke and with a whimper or two began to suckle. She froze half-way up and looked around at the puppy suckling and then she looked forward at the bowl of food that lay before her. She paused, and then, as Life gives itself to Life, she lay back down for the puppy to nurse, postponing feeding her own starving body.
Tears spilled down my cheeks — I reached for the kibbles in the bowl.
“I’ll hand feed you Momma!”
She gently accepted my offering, one handful at a time, until she was satisfied. So ended our first day of the next 10 years together.