Estelle arrived early on Saturday morning, a little weeble with a happy wobble. She glued herself to my side and remained there all day, nearly tripping me time and again. I was working on a holiday project in the kitchen and she stuck close periodically circling me and pressing her swollen belly against my side. Here’s the view I had of her for most of the day:
Her sweet attitude endeared all of us to her quickly; her tail wagged nonstop and her appreciation for any affection offered was obvious. I trimmed her long nails and introduced her to the Frank bed. She didn’t seem to have much of an appetite and refused dog food until I fed it to her on the floor.
Edith was very interested in Estelle. Eventually introductions were made and for the remainder of the day Edith stayed on one side of me and Estelle on the other. I walked them together and they engaged in competitive peeing. Gracie gave her usual welcome, snarling from the other side of the gate, before retreating to her crate.
At bedtime I introduced Estelle to her new digs in the puppy room. The whelping box Nick built took up much of the room. I lined it with layers of quilts and towels. With the grow lights and the blooming flowers that share the room, I thought the whole set up looked quite cozy. Estelle not so much. She really didn’t want to be left all alone. It took a little convincing to get her in the box the first time and she continued to hop out of it each time I left, whining at the gate that blocked her escape.
I went to bed imagining I’d find her pressed against the gate in the morning, but was surprised to see that she’d decided the box was hers and insisted on staying in it for most of the morning. She swirled the bedding into a nest and lay in a corner, watching me. The tail wagging had abated. Could she be in labor? But we have two more weeks! I left her in the box and went to get ready to go to Sip for a Cause, an event I’d been looking forward to all week.
At lunchtime, Estelle was still in her box, despite the open doorway. I took her temperature. It was 98.5. Oh no. Everything I’d read online said that when a mama’s temp drops that low, she’ll deliver in the next 24 hours. But when had it dropped? I didn’t take her temperature the day before because I thought I still had time and besides, it seemed rude to shove a thermometer up her butt the first day I met her.
Estelle finally got out of the box and begged to go outside. We trooped up and down the hillside stopping frequently as she attempted unsuccesfully to poop. Up and down the hill we trekked. Then back to the box only to beg to go back outside. Up and down. No poop. Finally, it dawned on me—she doesn’t have to poop; that pressure she’s feeling isn’t poop, it’s a puppy trying to be born. I hurried her back to the box, terrified she was about to have a puppy in the grass.
I texted Chris, another OPH foster who had whelped two litters and lived nearby. “I think this is happening.”
She shot right back, “I’ll be there in ten.”
From our brief time together, I’d already figured out that Estelle had experienced some unkind handling. She jumped at sudden movements and backed away nervously from loud voices. She was clearly housebroken, so my guess was that she knew she wasn’t supposed to poop in the house, so she desperately wanted out so she wouldn’t get in trouble.
By the time Chris arrived, Estelle was having contractions and still trying to get back outside to poop. She was clearly terrified and had no idea what was happening to her. She paced the box with her tail clamped against her legs, looking like a toddler trying to make it to the potty in time.
“I know,” I told her. “I remember when I was in labor and I wanted to leave, too. But ya gotta go through this.”
Chris and her daughter Caitlyn, sat with me and we chatted and took turns holding Estelle’s collar so she wouldn’t jump out of the box and make for the door. In between contractions she sat upright with her tail beneath her looking miserable.
Nearly two hours later, Estelle delivered her first pup – breech. She yelped in pain when she finally pushed it out. Chris showed me how to tie off the umbilical cord and cut it. The pup looked huge to me and it wasn’t until the next day when I weighed the pups that I discovered tiny Estelle’s puppies were all bigger than Edith’s babies had been.
The first was a girl puppy with light brown fur and what looked like tiger stripes.
She began nursing right away and while Estelle’s first thought may have been, that’s the weirdest poop I’ve ever had, she quickly figured out her job. In fact, a few minutes later she was growling at everyone to keep their distance, so we retreated to the hall way. An hour later, she delivered pup number two – a dark brown girl puppy, smaller than the first.
Chris decided that Estelle would do better with a smaller audience, so they took off assuring me I could handle this. I spent the next two hours questioning whether I could handle this. I tried to comfort Estelle as best I could, but every time I tried to leave, she hauled her laboring self out of the box to follow me. Since she wasn’t trusting anyone else near her two pups, this left no other option but for me to remain in or near the box for the duration. (My wonderful husband cooked dinner and served me in the puppy room.)
Two hours passed and I began to wonder if I should call someone. I remembered reading somewhere that if the dog went more than two hours between puppies there could be a problem. Just as I was beginning to triple-guess myself for about the fourth time, out popped a puppy. This one was chocolate brown and humongous. A boy. Twenty minutes later the last puppy arrived. This puppy was cow colored and also a boy.
One of my biggest worries about whelping was knowing when it was over. How could you be sure there wasn’t still a puppy in there? Estelle had a few more contractions, but she seemed different. Her eyes were brighter and she wagged her tail when I touched her for the first time since the ordeal began. When she hopped out of the box and begged to go out, I realized the show was definitely over. Whew. Only four puppies. After surviving Edith’s twelve, four would be a cake walk.
And so far, it has been. These four little pups, who really aren’t so little all things considered, have adorable fat bellies since there are two teats available per pup. Estelle remains devoted to me and suspicious of most everyone else. She is very protective of her pups, always watching me closely when I handle them and growling at anyone else who comes near. I’m glad I got to spend a day with Estelle pre-puppies so I know that under her mama-bear exterior there is a happy, friendly, loving little dog who will make someone an awesome best friend in about two months when she is available for adoption.
Edith left on Tuesday and is reportedly doing really well in her forever home with a family who already love her. We are all missing her greatly. Having my devoted Estelle, who hops up from her nursing pups (leaving them rolling around in the box, abandoned and squalling) to come to me whenever she sees or hears me near, is softening the blow. She senses my sadness and leans in to me or taps me with her front paw, seeking my affection.
This little girl has so much love to share. She’s beginning to soften a little, allowing a few others to pet her. I’m sure it won’t be long before she expands her circle of trust. It hasn’t been an easy road for her, so we all understand if she isn’t inclined to trust just anybody yet. My prediction, though, is that just like my other mama dogs, it won’t be long before she’ll be happy to hand off those pups to anyone who wants them.
So, just in case you’re one of those people, let me introduce you to my little holiday treats in order of appearance.
For more updates on fosters past and present and occasional nursery reports, join the Another Good Dog facebook group.
And if you’d like to purchase puppy notecards ($12 for a set of four) featuring beautiful professional photos of Edith’s pups, send me an email. I have a limited quantity left. All proceeds go to help save more heartworm positive dogs like Edith. You can also donate directly through Edith’s Heart.
I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of our holiday treats: