Things to Have on Hand and to Know

When we adopted Molly from a very small shelter with no on-staff vet, they told us that they thought she might be pregnant. They warned us to be sure to get her seen by our vet within a few days, both for her shots and to make an estimate of how pregnant she really was, with an eye towards getting her spayed if she were not too far along.

Our vet, Dr. Meltzer, took one long look at her, and without anything other than examining her belly, told us she was not only pregnant, but VERY pregnant. What we were mistaking for her jolly-roly-poly muttiness, was something else.

Dr. Meltzer told us before spaying her, she needed an ultrasound to confirm how far along and how many puppies she was carrying. If she were TOO close to her due date, spaying her was probably out of the question, requiring a willingness to euthanize her unborn puppies, something that Dr. Meltzer and her staff were not comfortable with doing.

Neither were we. So we left our pudgy girl and went home to await the news.

Just as we walked in the door, the phone was ringing. “I have good news, and bad news”, said the vet. “The good news is that the ultrasound confirmed she’s pregnant. The bad news is that she’s VERY pregnant, and the other news is that we got up to six puppies and we stopped counting.”

My jaw dropped. Not only had I just taken this total stranger into my home with my kids, but that I was about to have to cope with a house full of puppies to boot.

I had some experience with the birthing process for dogs, fortunately, when a neighbor had asked me to watch her pregnant Irish Setter over a Thanksgiving weekend, and the dog had surprised all of us by giving birth to a total of 11 puppies, starting within a half hour of the neighbor’s leaving their home to travel.

I’d sat there, playing midwife, in those cell-phoneless days, for four hours until they arrived at their destination, got the news, and came back home. At least, with Molly, I’d have some idea of what to expect.

So I started researching online to figure out what we would need to have on hand, and what to look for when birth became immediate. Molly, of course, paid no attention to any of that, except to park her ample butt on my bed and sleep a lot, only getting up to urinate at more and more frequent intervals a the next week and then ten days passed.

Having two kids myself, I sympathized as she struggled to jump on and off the bed – and then took her out in the yard where she astonished me by leaping on to the hood of my husband’s prized car to take a nap in the sun.

And again when we ate Chinese food in the dining room. One moment, she was begging on the floor next to someone’s chair. The next, she had jumped up and planted herself in the middle of dinner, all 48-plus pounds of her.

While all this was going on, I had three elderly cats who had always had the run of the house. Molly was not nasty to them, but she did not want them in any place she was claiming as “hers” at the moment.

It was also the middle of July, and the most comfortable place in the house was in the air-conditioned living and dining room. The kitchen, with linoleum, was too small. The basement was comfortable, but too remote to tend to puppies.

I went back into the air conditioning, took one look at the wood floor, and knew nothing was going to be the same in about a week. I’d better plan this out completely.

Puppies, like our own offspring, can enter this world perfectly, without any intervention from anyone. That’s how Mother Nature has been doing it for thousands of years. Unfortunately, she sometimes throws us a curve, and we have to be prepared for it.

So, with the advice of our vet, and with a lot of online reading, I put together the basic equipment.

First off, Molly would need a place to have the puppies, and to nurse them for the first two weeks or so, before they started to become mobile. Even with their eyes still closed, puppies move around but need to stay close to Mom, while Mom needs to leave them to eat, drink and relieve herself.

Birthing is a messy process, and each puppy come into the world with an afterbirth and a amniotic sack, and Mom will have bleeding immediately afterward and for as much as four weeks after giving birth.

Since I was planning on getting her fixed as soon as possible, I was not planing on spending the money needed for an elaborate whelping bed that I would never use again.

So, after looking online, we settled on a simple solution that several breeders mentioned – a hard-walled plastic kiddy pool with sides high enough to contain everything including the puppies for a while, that we could not only transport easily, but could clean with a hose in the yard or even in the bathroom.

We lined it with large sheets of brown paper – saving old brown grocery bags that we cut up and flattened – and then with a layer of newspapers, topped off with old sheets and towels we could just wash and hang to dry on the clothes line to dry, and then dispose of when the puppies were weaned and gone (hopefully) to new homes.

We put together a box of supplies to keep on hand as Molly gave birth:

  • One pair of small, sharp scissors to cut the cord if Molly didn’t clean up after the puppy was born. 

  • Soft, unwaxed floss to tie off the cord at both ends before cutting it, as the vet directed us. 

  • A styptic pencil if any of the umbilical stumps bled. 

  • A small infant nasal syringe or bulb, to clear the puppies noses and throats if they had trouble breathing. 

  • Several hand towels, to use to dry and rough up any puppies that did not want to start breathing on their own or that Molly failed to tend to. 

  • A transport crate large enough for Molly and any puppies if Molly ran into trouble or seemed unable to deliver a puppy on her own, for the emergency ride to the vet.

To that we added puppy food for Mom to eat to help her nurse the puppies before and after giving birth, plus a vitamin supplement the vet gave us.

And, thinking ahead, we also added a plastic baby gate that completely blocked the living room door, although we quickly learned that Molly was insistent that she would and could remove any gate we put that blocked her, and them, in.

Finally, we had a flash that we should have had right along – we bought a large crate that contained everyone after the puppies became mobile, around three and a half to four weeks.

The birth itself was an all day affair, starting in early morning, and ending, nine puppies later, only after she had delivered eight, and seemed to be done.

We cleaned up, changed clothes, and went out to dinner, and came back and quickly tried to put the newborns in a towel lined basket fast enough to just remove the bedding from the whelping bed. I counted them, trying to keep them in the basket faster than

Molly could take them out and put them back in the place where they had been born – thinking I had EIGHT puppies, but counting to NINE several times before we realized she’d had number nine while we were out having dinner!

Fortunately, only three of the puppies needed any help from us, because they seemed to be a bit slow to get started breathing after birth after a longer than usual pause between births.

One of them, the runt, didn’t want to start until I picked him up, rubbed him all over, and Molly started licking him at the same time, fortunately, he was, and is, fine.

Three things you will also need: patience and a willingness to surrender to a bit of chaos – and a good mop and cleaner. This is not a chore for the lazy or to be taken on too lightly.

Ultimately, we spent hundreds of dollars on vaccinations and vet care – the runt ended up at the vet’s when he was fifteen days old because he was slowly failing to thrive, and all the puppies needed their starter shots before we found them homes, just for their own protection.

Although Mom takes care of their elimination for the first few days, you can’t have enough newspaper and brown bags after that point. Changing their bedding became a regular process several times a day before they were old enough to begin their potty training outside.

We found ourselves asking neighbors to save their recycling of newspapers for us to use as bedding.

The brown paper bags were not a quick choice, but came from reading about the experiences of others. Placing layers of material in the puppies bed is one way to make cleaning a bit easier.

The top layer needs to be absorbent and to be able to be changed quickly, and for this we used plain old newspaper after the first few days, in tabloid size whenever we had it, because it was small enough to overlap in the bed, able to be rolled and crumpled with little mess, and was quickly cleaned.

Underneath, the old fabric/rags we had collected absorbed any liquid mess in a way that meant we could launder them as needed but made things softer and warner for the babies resting on them.

Finally, we lined the entire bed with flattened sheets of brown bags that could be rolled up and would not get soaked through, making it faster to clean up the bed, one half at a time, without having to remove Molly or all the puppies at once to clean down to the plastic bottom.

The rolled brown paper made the trash less bulky, too, and when you are cleaning up after ten dogs, that makes a huge difference in the work of keeping them clean.

All plans go astray at some point, and in this case, it was the day that Molly chewed her kids out of the old playpen that we were using as the next step after the initial wading pool/whelping bed.

We had gone out for an hour. When we came home, nine puppies and Molly had also been out for about an hour. It took me almost two hours to clean up the mess – the puppies had piddled and pooped inside of closets, on rugs, on bathtowels they’d managed to pull out of a shelf in the bathroom, and on every floor on the entire first floor.

One of them took two hours to find, sound asleep on top of shirts on a shelf in the closet in my bedroom – a place we initially thought was too high to be reached. Only Molly’s frantic pawing at the closet door got her son out of the space we’d overlooked.

That was the point when we realized that nothing that could be chewed was ever going to contain a litter of puppies old enough to be interested in investigating the boundries of their world, and we reluctantly added a big black wire crate to the decor in the living room – and stocked up on the ever essential cleaner, Nature’s Miracle.

Early on, identifying who was who in a litter of nearly identical puppies was solved with various colors of ribbons, and assisted with a bit of nail polish on the repeat offenders who figured out how to remove their ribbons almost as fast as I could install them.

Taped to a wall was a list of names. genders, and colors, although the names changed almost daily and at the whims of my children. When the puppies were five weeks old, they graduated to a shared set of three puppy collars and baby leads, for their first attempts at potty training and walking and coming when called by whatever name they happened to have decided to answer by that time.

By the time they were eight weeks old, they had names they knew, and they started leaving for their new homes, although one of them, Grendel, who was the runt of the litter, stayed with us – and he’s still here. As a matter of fact, he thinks he owns the place, and he’s probably part right at this point, too.

Sadly, his mother, Molly, is no longer with us. She died from lymphoma nearly two years ago. But her daughter, one of the original litter, Ginger, was returned to us at eight months, when her owners could no longer care for her due to a family struggle.

That was the part, I think, I both feared the most, and worried the most about – someday coming home to find one of the puppies tied to our front steps.

No matter what, part of the obligation of bringing them into this world will remain with us for all of their natural lives – and that was probably the hardest part of thinking about raising them.

Wondering where they all ended up, and if they are happy, healthy and loved, as Molly, and Grendel and Ginger were/are. With all the unwanted animals that end up in shelters, it’s a burden to be considered carefully, and FIRST, before all the rest of the plans, and long before the puppies are a reality.

If only Molly’s original owners had spayed her and taken care of their end of the bargain, first, all the rest would have been moot.

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