Before This Little Doggy came along, I already had Two Bigger Doggies in my life, Willow and Shadow. Two year old Labradors, siblings and litter mates, these two hounds are an absolute joy and have changed my life in many ways. What follows is the story of how they came into my life.
I like to plan. I research every tiny purchase. It’s in my nature, it’s what I do. If you’ve read my story of how I found This Little Doggy, then you’ll have some understanding of this. However, that’s not what happened with Willow and Shadow.
I had never intended to have a dog. I’ve always loved dogs, and we had them in the house growing up, but the amount of commitment they call for just didn’t seem to fit in with my busy life. I work all hours of the day and night. My husband and I like to travel. We live in a ski resort with its sub-zero temperatures. So, we decided to have ferrets. Two lovely little ladies, Fidget and Twitch, who brought laughter into our lives. We could take them out for walks if we chose, but didn’t have to when the weather was bad.
Easy to transport, fully vaccinated and with their own pet passports, we could take them away with us to most places we went, but the fact they spend most of their time asleep means that, when we can’t take them with us, it’s straightforward to find someone to pop in and feed them.
This was our perfect set-up; the joy of pet ownership with little of the hassle. We’d sit inside in the warm on those cold, blustery mornings, smiling down at the people we could see, hunched over in their coats, battling against the elements as they trudged with their dogs on their morning walks. Not a life we were keen to take on for ourselves.
One of the placed we liked to visit on our travels was near Bordeaux, where friends of ours manage a large chateau. One fateful day, we received a phone call to ask if we’d mind staying and keeping an eye on the place – and their animals – whilst they were away at a wedding. Well, a week in the tranquility of sun-drenched vineyards sounded just what we needed, so we packed up and headed off to stay. As soon as the door was opened to us, and we were greeted by their two Labradors, it struck me.
“Hmm, Ruby’s looking a bit plump!”.
“Yes, she’s pregnant. Don’t worry, though, she’s not due until the week after we return!”.
“Thank heavens for that!”.
You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?
In fact, their fateful parting words, as they headed off, were,
“Unless Jake got in there a bit earlier!”.
Jake got in there a bit earlier.
The proud parents, Ruby and Jake:
We were rather oblivious, not having any idea of the gestation cycle of a dog, so we just carried on as usual, letting Ruby sleep in her whelping box at night to get her accustomed to it, but otherwise, carrying on as if nothing was unusual. In the evenings, with Ruby cuddling up to us, we would feel the puppies wriggling and kicking inside her.
The day that our friends were due to return, Ruby started acting a bit peculiarly. She would take herself off to her whelping box and stay there for a while. Again, not having any idea what was normal, we just let her get on with it.
Around lunchtime, our friends returned, to much fanfare from us all. A little while later, the boys headed off to Bordeaux, doing boy things, while us girlies settled down with a glass of rosé in the sunshine. As we sat there, and I was recounting Ruby’s strange behaviour, she started pacing back and forth in front of us. It was then, we realised that her waters had broken.
Well, all hell broke loose.
We were trying to get hold of the boys to get them back, with supplies from a pharmacy. That in itself was a task, as the pharmacies were all closed by this point, and the emergency number which should say where the nearest open one was located, was ringing out. Meanwhile, our friend was staying with Ruby, who was now having contractions, while I was fetching towels, filling hot water bottles and a bucket of warm water.
As I walked out the door with the supplies, I heard a cry, “Fiona! FIONA!!!!”. I dropped everything and ran. There was Ruby, first puppy born, but between her jaws, squalling away as she bit down. Luckily, she is a well-trained girl with the softest temperament, and we managed to pry the pup, still enclosed in its sac, from her mouth. There were a tense few seconds as I broke the sac and cleaned it away from the puppy’s face, but all was well. We were obviously nervous as we gave the pup back to Ruby, but she was then the perfect mum, cleaning the mite tenderly as it latched on for its first feed.
We then had a break of around ninety minutes, which gave me a chance to read a chunk of “the book” to prepare me for what was to come. I read that it was perfectly normal for a mother to get confused with the first puppy and try to eat it, as her instinct is strong to clean away the goo, and she doesn’t realise there’s a puppy inside. All should be well with the second, though.
After what seemed like an eternity, puppy number two appeared – backwards. We let Ruby have a sniff and then, to our horror, she picked it up in her mouth and started to bite again! Again, we leapt to save the puppy (a second yellow), cleaned him up and presented him back, to the same positive reception as the first. We decided then that we would clean all the pups from thereon in.
It was like shelling peas for a while after, as four black pups appeared in quick succession. We broke the sacs, plopped them back in front of Ruby and made sure they were suckling. It was amazing to watch the transformation as time went on, as they visibly expanded from the milk. The first of the black ones, however, was reluctant to feed. She seemed to be weak, and kept appearing to doze off. I sat with her, rubbing her and trying to get her to latch on. I kept telling her off for trying to sleep – “If you sleep, you die!” – and placing her mouth around a teat. It took a long time – the next three pups popped out while I was doing this – but, in the end, she managed to start suckling. Hurrah!
Two more yellows followed, bringing our total up to eight, before we knew she was finished. Six hours it had taken, between the first and the last. We were all exhausted, emotionally and physically.
We were immensely proud of ourselves for being a part of this amazing experience, and for being instrumental in all eight of the pups making it through their first night.
As it turned out, all eight continued to flourish. You can read more about that in part 2!