The last time I whelped puppies, it didn’t go so well. It’s been over 18 months since that tragedy, but it still crept into the back of my mind when I watched Dixieland in the whelping box.
Fostering a pregnant dog is exciting and amazing, but it is also terrifying. These dogs come with no history, no prenatal care, lots of stress (theirs and yours), and normally no timeline. I was lucky to have a general idea of when Dixie’s pups were due because of the x-ray she had to check out her broken back leg.
As the days ticked past the ‘due date’, I got even more nervous. It began to look like I was going to miss the birth altogether because of travel plans.
A few months ago when we were putting together the book tour, I thought it would be nice to work in a little vacation with Nick, to thank him for the countless dogs he would have to care for (and clean up after) while I was out pushing my book. When I got an invitation to go to a fundraiser for the Floyd County Humane Society at one of our favorite wineries (and possibly the most dog-friendly winery in VA), I jumped at it even though it was six hours from home.
Chateau Morisette is nestled at the bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains and it would be the perfect excuse to drive my little convertible up the Blue Ridge Parkway with my favorite guy. We’d stay in an Air BnB or two, hike in the mountains, drink great wine and escape for a few days after the Floyd County gig.
And then the shelter tour happened.
And then Dixieland came home with me.
And then she didn’t have her puppies.
Two days before the Floyd County event, I realized my little vacation fantasy was not going to pan out, so I prepared my ‘second string’ (who were anything but, since two of them are nurses and Chris mentored me for my first whelping- they were actually much more qualified birthing attendants than me). Chris, Caitlyn, Juanita, and Katie came over to meet Dixie and get the lay of the land. They also checked in with Ian who would be the (reluctant) first responder while we were gone.
I knew Dixie was in good hands, but still, I was relieved when the organizer of the Floyd County event emailed to say I might want to change my plans since there was a 60% chance of rain and no way to move the event indoors.
We’ll get down to Floyd County one day I promised Nick. He was just happy we weren’t leaving our 16-year-old with Dixie—we both hope he’s at least a decade away from participating in a birthing. (I thought it would be a good ‘life experience’ though.)
Now Dixie just had to miss the ten-hour window when I would be gone for Bark, Wag, and Wine on Saturday.
Dixie is nothing if not considerate. Not only did she have her babes before I left, she was kind enough to do it during daylight hours.
Her labor began at 11am on Friday. Actually, it began (in my mind) the night before at 1am when she got up and began making a ‘nest’ of the towels and blankets that lined the box.
I saw the activity on my puppy cam and grabbed a book, pulled on some sweats, and joined her in the puppy room. She wagged her tail at the sight of me and hopped out of the box. We toured the yard in the dark and I reassured her (which was mostly reassuring me since Dixie had this).
I slept on the bench outside the puppy room, jumping up each time she got up for a drink or to rearrange the bedding again. By morning there were no puppies, just one exhausted me.
She gave me mixed messages- eating her breakfast while her temp sunk even lower.
But then just around eleven Dixie began whining. She wanted me near. Our two weeks together had secured our bond. She nudged my hand and lay down beside me when I climbed in the box. I messaged Chris and Juanita to let them know puppies were happening.
Puppy number one arrived quickly – a brown colored baby girl with a white stripe down her nose and white paws. She was perfect and just the right size for Dixie who is a small dog (probably 20-25 pounds sans puppies). I was relieved that instead of a limp noodle as Darlin’s pups had been, this one arrived thrashing and mewing and was suckling as soon as Dixie finished cleaning her up.
The next one arrived a half hour later – a duplicate of the first, only much tinier.
While I watched them nurse, the third one arrived. This one was bigger than the first two and covered in brown and black splotches – simply gorgeous. Another girl.
Juanita arrived and we waited.
It was so great to have Juanita here. We caught up and that distracted me from worrying that the long wait between puppies meant something was wrong. This was not Darlin’, this was Dixie. She was much younger, had at least two weeks of good food and safety and was delivering pups that were fully ready. All things that Darlin’ didn’t have working in her favor.
I fed Dixie some boiled chicken and we waited. It had been well over an hour since the last pup. Just as my internal panic was ramping up, puppy number four – a white girl pup with a big black spot on her back – arrived, butt first. Two more puppies popped out in quick succession – a black male puppy and another brown girl puppy.
We could feel at least one if not two more puppies in the line up, but Dixie seemed exhausted. I fed her more chicken, but no puppies seemed imminent, so Juanita and I decided that maybe Dixie needed a rest. She’d been dozing off between little clusters of contractions. We turned off the lights and went to the kitchen to spend a little time with Flannery and Frankie.
Flannery smooched on Juanita and Frankie showed off a few of the skills he’s picked up in doggie classes. For a few minutes, we forgot about the drama unfolding in the other room, until I glanced at the puppy cam and realized a puppy was arriving. Puppy number seven was a brown male pup with striking white markings on his neck and four white socks.
Checking Dixieland we could feel a large firm lump waiting to come out. It was either a whopper of a puppy or several qued-up. Time dragged on and on. Juanita needed to go to pick up her daughter, but she hung around in anticipation each time Dixie had a series of contractions.
Finally, Juanita had no choice but to leave. I was so grateful to have had her with me all afternoon, but now I sat alone with Dixie in the box, watching and waiting. It was approaching two hours between puppies and I was just about to call Tracy (OPH medical) for some reassurance when Dixie started contracting hard.
Nothing came out. She stood up and changed positions, pushing, but nothing.
I put on a pair of surgical gloves, unsure how I could help but wanting to be ready. Dixie squatted upright and pushed, and then stood again. I lifted her tail and looked. My heart sank when I saw a tail. That meant the sack was broken and this puppy needed to come out. Now.
I waited for Dixie to push and when the puppy’s hips appeared, I grabbed them and as Dixie pushed again, I gently pulled and the puppy finally slipped out. She was enormous—much bigger than the other pups. I’m pretty sure Dixie would have gotten her out without my help, but I was glad I was there and glad I didn’t melt into a sniveling, panicked mess, glad I could do something this time.
(in the picture below, you can see the big final puppy on the right)
Eight puppies. Eight beautiful, healthy puppies. I couldn’t feel anymore, but I didn’t want to say she was done since I’d done that twice with Darlin’ only to have more puppies appear (seven hours later!)
I watched Dixie for two more hours, feeling nothing but fluid in her belly. She was resting but seemed content. She knew she was finished. And eventually, I believed she was too. #lastlitter.
These puppies are adorable. But there will be no more Dixieland pups. Four weeks after she weans these little darlings, I will drive her to the vet to be spayed. And then the life she should have had finally begins.
This sweet little girl, who flinches when you touch her by surprise and cowers at loud noises, who looks away in embarrassment when I have to clean up an unavoidable potty accident, who mutters softly in what seems like gratitude when I rub behind her ears, and leans into me when I run a gentle hand over her sides, who gave birth to eight gorgeous puppies, whose leg is broken and fused back together, but whose heart is healing – this lovely dog. She deserves to have the best life.
Dixie’s first two years were hard, but in about nine weeks, that all changes. I can’t wait for her to go home with her forever family and start the life she was meant to have all along.
Thanks for reading!
I’ve got four book events this week – I’d love to see you at one of them! There will be books available at all events, and adoptable dogs at most.
Thursday Sept 27 – Tyson’s Biergarten, Tysons, VA. I’ll be speaking during the candlelight ceremony for Remember Me Thursday.
Saturday Sept 29 – I’ll be signing books, along with the cover girl and two other pups from the book at Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley, MD from 12-1:30pm.
Also on Saturday Sept 29, I’ll be stopping by the Carroll Street Paws for a Cause from 3-5pm in Frederick, Maryland.
If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, check AnotherGoodDog.org, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, the schedule of signings, and what you can do right now to help shelter animals!
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group. Here’s a recent video I posted on the page of Flannery chasing her tail (one of her favorite activities!):
(p.s. Flannery is still looking for her forever home!)
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available for preorder now: