Finally, finally, maybe, we are out of the woods. Knock on wood. Fingers crossed. Prayers sent.
I still wake up every morning and hold my breath until I see all the pups breathing, and pause at the puppy room door numerous times during the day to be certain I see a steady rise and fall of sleeping puppy bellies. I have a feeling, this paranoia may be hard to shake. I’ll probably be poking and prodding sleeping puppies for years to come.
Bogo is still very congested, breathing like a tiny darth vadar, so I put her in the nebulizer treatment center (aka, the cat carrier covered in a quilt) several times a day. She doesn’t last in there long, whining after a few minutes and then going into full-on howl mode after five. I don’t feel too horrible letting her scream a bit ever since a pharmacist friend told me that when she’s screaming she’s actually taking in more of her treatment.
Doodlebug sleeps much more than a normal puppy her age. When I enter the room, Puddin’ hops to his feet and attempts to tackle my toes and Bogo lifts her head and watches the action. Doodlebug simply snores away unless I wake her. Of course, this was reason for me to case the internet in search of some mysterious puppy condition in which 4-week-old puppies sleep nonstop – Sleeping Beauty Syndrome? I’m hoping this excessive slumber is only due to a tiny body trying to grow. The pups seem to be at least a week or two behind developmentally, so Doodlebug sleeping like a two-week-old pup is hopefully normal.
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.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that in the course of fostering dogs and even more times in the course of fostering puppies.
And once again, I am wishing, wishing, wishing that I knew more or was a quicker study when it comes to caring for this litter. Granted, this isn’t an easy litter. In any way. And yet I can’t help but feel responsible, if only for my ignorance.
We lost another puppy yesterday. And whether or not I could have done anything about it, is probably not the point. But that doesn’t stop me from doubting and questioning and sinking into a pit of serious sadness over what feels like my inability to do anything to help them. I go through the same thing with my kids, just now I’m transferring that mama/caretaker guilt to fostering.
I was recounting the story for Nick on the phone yesterday (he is traveling this week) and I said, “I just wish they’d give me another litter – I know so much more now. I could do better.”
And then I thought about that.
How horrible is it that lives depend on me and I’m still learning?
Ever since our little cow puppy emerged, clearly different from the rest, it has been a magical journey.
Not only was his color different, but his hair was longer and softer, his head shaped differently and his body, well, wider is the kind way of putting it. His enormous hind feet sported six toes and he seemed to need to sleep much more than the other pups.
Fruitcake was one of four puppies born to Estelle, a pregnant dog rescued by Operation Paws for Homes from a sad situation in South Carolina. Estelle gave birth the day after she arrived in Pennsylvania at her new foster home.
In just over two weeks, all the other pups are sitting, standing, walking, but not Fruitcake. The vet diagnosis is Swimmer Puppy Syndrome in Fruitcake’s hind legs.
Therapy begins – slings, chutes, and hobbles, plus LOTS of volunteers.
In just two weeks, Fruitcake is sitting and standing on his own. He’s running in his chutes and walking just fine with hobbles. Oh, and he’s stealing lots of hearts!
Fruitcake is well on his way to walking and running like his siblings. Every day his stability, strength, and stamina grow.
What a week it has been for Fruitcake! He is making great progress. A week ago, I took him to the vet because he couldn’t sit, stand, or walk. Whenever he tried, his hind legs did a split and flailed around helplessly like flippers. The vet told me what I’d already guessed(thanks to google) – he most likely had Swimmer Puppy Syndrome. Luckily, he only has it in his hind legs, many pups have it in all four.
She encouraged me to try to make a sling to support his body and allow his legs to get under him. She also said that just moving his legs into the proper position as much as possible would help. We needed to build muscle and reinforce his muscle memory. She told me that we might also consider putting hobbles on his hind legs by tying the legs together so they couldn’t slip out sideways. And then she said, “Because of his deformed feet (he has six toes on each back foot), there might be something else going on in there. We’ll just have to wait and see and maybe take xrays when he’s older.”
I went home with my mind spinning. How could I fix this? I set Fruitcake down in the puppy box with his siblings and watched him flatten out like a pancake, with his hind legs out to the side and his stomach spread across the floor. I don’t think a normal puppy could put their legs in that position even if it wanted to, so maybe there was another way of looking at this. Maybe we could say that Fruitcake is very special – he has six toes on his hind feet and he can do a split! With those big boots and flexible legs, certainly he could learn to walk.
I spent a good portion of Friday night and Saturday morning sitting in his box repositioning his feet underneath him again and again and then holding my hands on either side of him to keep them from slipping sideways. By Saturday evening he was sitting up on his own. I decided this was HUGE progress. But what else could I do?
Here’s a video of Fruitcake after he mastered sitting up.
I wrapped a scarf under his belly as a sling and held him up so that he could get his feet underneath himself. This was awkward and he spent as much time wriggling sideways to chew on the scarf as he did standing up. Again and again he squirmed and then his top heavy front end slid forward and he landed on his nose.
I took to the internet looking for more ideas and posted on the OPH family page to see if anybody else had ever had a swimmer pup. Ideas and sympathy flowed. The hobbles seemed like the best plan, but even with the vet’s instruction and the internet photos, I couldn’t figure out how to make hobbles out of vet rap and put them on my squirming puppy. Each time I attempted, Fruitcake screamed and fussed and Estelle grew frantic.
I texted my neighbors and Chris, who is also my vet, stopped by after work and brought tape and showed me how to make hobbles for Fruitcake.
With the hobbles on, Fruitcake could stand and do a slow wobbly waddle across the box before spending the rest of his time trying to figure out how to get the hobbles off . Now I put hobbles on him in the morning and he is upright and easily able to tackle his siblings or wrestle a toy before successfully getting them off about mid-afternoon. I do think they will be key in his therapy.
The same day that Chris came with the hobbles, another OPH foster, Debbie, sent me a link to an article about bulldog puppies with swimmer syndrome. The breeder had built a chute that was just wide enough that the puppies could brace their legs against the sides and walk! It was amazing. I showed the article to Nick and he built a chute for Fruitcake. The first time we put him in it, Fruitcake was uncertain. He was cranky and complained about the confinement. Finally, he simply lay down and slept.
The next time, I put him in the chute he walked the entire length of it—his tail wagging and a look on his face that said, “Wow! Look at me!” Continue reading “Team Fruitcake”→
I knew Fruitcake was special the moment he was born.
He didn’t look anything like his siblings. He was white with marvelous black patches. My little cow puppy! His eyes were ringed in black like a teenager experimenting with liquid eyeliner. And when I discovered he had six toes on each of his back feet, it seemed to underline his uniqueness.
Even the other puppies thought he was special and he was often employed as pillow or couch.
He grew wide and then wider. Each day it became more evident that he was quite different than his siblings. I thought, “Maybe he had a different dad,” but didn’t really worry until the other puppies began pulling up on all fours and he remained flat like a pancake.