After a year and a half with stressful responsibilities that precluded the time and attention that a litter takes, and a kennel full of bitches who have all learned to come into season at the same time, I decided to breed THREE. I was planning a hysterectomy, and since that requires not lifting anything heavy for 6 weeks, I thought that this was the PERFECT time to sit home and play with moms and babies. We all know that Labs are easy whelpers, and they take care of the feeding and cleaning for the first three weeks or so. Besides, I needed a dose of the joy 'puppy breath' brings.
The timing was awfully close. It looked like they would whelp a day or so apart. I have only one whelping box, so I bought the wood, and made two more. An entire room was emptied, and the boxes set up in separate corners, with ex-pens enclosing them, the washing machine at the ready, and the three girls sleeping in their boxes at night to get used to the place, and the routine. I spent most of my time in there with them the last week, and contentment just dripped off the walls, we were such a happy group of 'ladies in waiting'.
Then my husband had to go out of town. The first bitch went into labor, and for the first time, the thought occurred to me that nature is not totally predictable.... what if I had to make a rush to the vet with one of them, while another started to whelp? We live way out in the country. There are no neighbors. What began as a great idea for some quality time with my dogs started to crumble.
The first bitch did the first stage heavy breathing (dilating) for about 8 hours, and then settled down to business. This would be her final litter, as she was 7 years old (and our dearly loved favorite). Both the vet and I had agreed that she was fit and healthy and should do fine, prior to breeding her, and her two prior litters had been a piece of cake. An hour of contractions produced the yellow girl I had hoped for. Things were going well. An hour of hard labor to the second whelp. Mom is looking a little tired. She has a long way to go... it's not a good time to 'look a little tired'... but the pups are strong, and their size is an easy to whelp 14 ounces. Nearly an hour and half of contractions produced another fine son. Mom is visibly tired, but the contractions continue. They continued right on to the fifth whelp... and quit. It's one am. I KNOW there are perhaps two more there. It's not unusual for the bitch to rest in between, but I know her...she's exhausted. She rests for an hour and a half... she's snoring, actually. Nothing. Walks produce some weak contractions. 'Feathering' her produces a few more weak contractions, then nothing. A shot of oxytocin (with a call to the vet first) produces nothing more at all. That's scary. It's now three am. The oxytocin usually starts strong contractions very quickly, but since it can cause the remaining whelps to detach from the uterus (ready to be born), it limits the amount of time that they have to be born before they suffocate. Waiting is really tough. Do you wake the vet up again, or not? I have a good one, and he's given me his home number, but you hate to call him until you really need him. More walking, more 'feathering'. Nothing. I let an hour and a half go between the oxytocin and last contractions, and begin the drive to town (a half an hour). I'm hoping that the drive will do it. Nope. The first mom has 'packed it in'. She's too tired to go on (secondary inertia). I'm leaving the other two alone, and one of them has just begun some heavy breathing of her own... but that stage can take 24 hours or more, so I haven't hit the panic button (yet). An x-ray confirms two more whelps. More oxytocin, combined with some I.V. calcium. Nothing at all. My vet looks a little concerned, it's now been 5 hours and no more tricks in the bag; my bitch looks trashed and weak. We decide a c-section is a good idea, and it goes quickly and easily, keeping the bitch just barely under, so that the whelps will be affected as little as possible. Both whelps (yellow girls) are dead... no amount of dopram under the tongue, shake-downs, vigorous rubbing, etc, etc, etc, bring them back, although I try. I opt to spay her at the same time. It's obvious that she doesn't need to ever do this again, and we hadn't intended to even had it gone well. I stay with her until she has woken up enough to go safely home, and decide to slip across the street to the market for a minute first. I've only been gone for 20 minutes, but when I get back to her, her tongue is gray, her eyes are barely responsive, and she is going down FAST. The vet did what he could to keep her out of another surgery stress, but that is what finally had to happen. The sutures had held, but the tissue itself was so bruised and worn from contractions that it had simply begun to 'ooze' blood into her abdomen. If no one had been watching her, she would have been found dead. As it was, she required TWO blood transfusions, and touchingly, the donor was a two-year-old daughter of the same bitch, that I had given to my vet as a pup! The stress effect on her heart was nasty, and she required an EKG telephone transmitted to the university. The actual tones are read on the spot, and the heart specialists there can diagnose and prescribe instantly. Poor girl spent two days in the hospital, and whether or not she would live was unsure for over a week.
Her pups? Home with the second bitch, who had gone from the heavy breathing first stage labor very quickly into hard contractions as soon as I had gotten back home. She labored HARD for an hour and a half with absolutely no result before I called the vet to say that I thought that I had another one for him. This is a BIG bitch, young, healthy, and VERY athletic. Another trip to town. The x-ray showed only three whelps, but two were enormous, and could not get past the pelvic bone. Another section. Two yellow sons who weighed over two pounds apiece... and I have to tell you, they were amazing. Bone; heads that looked typey even as the sack was removed from them; coats so long and thick that they looked rippled. The third was 7 ounces, and not a strong 7 ounces. He died quietly the second day. Some are meant to live; some are not. This was a first litter for the second bitch (a litter sister to the one who had donated the blood for her mom), and often a first-time mom who wakes up from a section with squirmy, whimpering children she has never seen before, doesn't WANT them. She was, thank God, what you call a 'super mom', though, and took hers immediately, AND the five from the first bitch, too! She nursed them for the two days the first mom was in the hospital, and was terribly worried about their welfare long after!
The third mom? Well, she was a first time mom, too, and whelped easily. Once the contractions started (the very next day), she popped out seven healthy babies, one every 15 to 30 minutes. AND she loved them. This is how it's SUPPOSED to go. I thought the jinx was over. By day three (from the very beginning), I had three litters, three contented moms... although the first was terribly weak, and 14 new children. Life was good. I went to bed. That was the first sleep I'd had in 72 hours, except for when I Fell asleep standing up at the vet's!
When I woke up, the 14 pups were down to 12. The third bitch had rolled over on two of hers, and suffocated them. At least, that's what I thought then. They were whiny babies. That should have been a clue to me, but they were gaining weight, and looked solid and healthy, and their mom adored them. The next day, one more dead. By then, I'm sitting next to her 24 hours a day. While I was watching the remaining four whine and crawl around the box (newborns ought to be quiet and content), one more began that 'kitten mewing' sound. I have to repeat that they were GAINING WEIGHT well, and had that firm, solid feel to them, so I really thought the mortality was the bitch's clumsiness. I scooped him up, and he was chilling rapidly. I warmed him, and carried him next to my skin for a long time... then he died. I apologized to the bitch for thinking SHE had killed the first three, expressed some milk from each nipple to see how it looked. It was normal: thin and milk colored, not thick, off-color, or smelly. The bitch had no temperature. The remaining pups did not, either. I couldn't imagine what was wrong, and vets usually don't know all that much more about this than breeders do... but I was loosing a pup a day. An otherwise healthy, weight gaining pup a day. At a loss for a reason, I took them off her, and gave them to the second bitch (who now had only her two). She was delighted. They stopped whining, so it HAD to have something to do with the milk. I took their temps one last time... and they were running a fever! They got Clavamox for 10 days, and the last three became big, strong 8 week olds just a day or so ago. God only knows what the trouble was. An infection, of course, but from where? If I'd known that, I might not have put them with the healthy litter, but it didn't seems to matter.
Down from 17 to 10... but I've got the moms. The first one took about 10 days to recover fully... and then threw a tiny blood clot to her eye. She's fine, but looks like she's had a stroke. It doesn't matter... her TAIL works well!
Add the costs of whelping these three to their normal upkeep costs, x-rays, eye checks, shipping, stud fees, AI kits (and shows to look at breeding stock)... and anyone who complains about the cost of a well-bred pup ought to get a copy of this letter! Breeders aren't making money at this, folks! This has got to be a love thing.
Another interesting thing to remember: what happens if the phone doesn't ring, and those incredibly precious 8 week olds turn into a thundering herd of rangy teen-agers who seem more than able to poop twice the volume that they eat? This happens, don't think it doesn't.
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