by Sun’s Dragon
Somebody in the family always blubs at our traditional opening of Christmas pressies and last Christmas it was me. As soon as I started to unwrap a rather large gift, I knew instinctively it was a painting and the tears filled my eyes before I’d even seen it. I knew it was a portrait of one or all of my dogs, I just knew it. And I was right! There was Taz in all her glory and my tears and snuffles couldn’t be hidden.
How it started
Taz (my Girlie) isn’t technically my dog, she was one of 6 little puppies rescued from a rubbish bin, still warm and covered in afterbirth. My best friend Debbie had found these little scraps on her way to see me. When I went to greet her in her car, she exclaimed “I’ve got a problem, well, five actually”; she then looked down into the box next to her and cried “Oh, God no, SIX problems!” And there they were; 5 little black blobs and a little brown one, nestled together, new born puppies oblivious of their predicament.
First, we phoned refuges and sanctuaries to see if they had a nursing dog who could take on six puppies; we were sure that a mother doggy would be the best option, proper milk, proper hormones and proper loving dog care. Well, that didn’t work out, talk about no room at the inn.
So, we rushed around getting special puppy formula, bottles, cotton wool and anything else we could think of. We washed them, dried them, fed them, weighed them and washed them again. Then we tucked them up in a laundry basket with fluffy towels, a ticking clock and a hot water bottle and had a cuppa while we planned what to do next.
Obviously, neither of us could take on 6 babies that needed feeding every two hours around the clock! The puppies were huge, two of the boys weighing in at over 500 grams each, closely followed by 470 grams, 450 grams, 375 grams and the runt at 355 grams. Debbie worked as a gardener by day and in a restaurant during the evening. She also had a whole menagerie of rescued animals, dogs, cats, chameleon and birds, as well as rabbits, ducks, chickens and guinea pigs. And to crown it all she had a husband and 3 teenagers to take care of too. I had just me and 4 rather large rescued dogs. What to do?
Another cup of tea and we worked out our plan of action. Debbie would take 3 puppies and so would I. But who would have which? OK, one was brown so that was easy, the runt had a tiny white tip on the end of his tail, the rest, three boys and a girl, were pure black! How would we know which had been fed? Which had peed and pooped? Or even which was which? We ended up taking a Big Boy each and Debbie taking the small boy and the brown girl and me taking the runt and the black girl.
I decided we would NOT give them names, we would NOT get attached and IF we couldn’t find good homes by the time they were six weeks old we would have them put to sleep. Debbie ignored me and my sensible plans and we set about feeding them, washing and weighing them again. I made a chart with the following:
Debs: Big Boy Small Boy Brown Girl
Me: Big Boy Black Girl Runt
By the time Debbie left my place with her 3 little bundles I was a nervous wreck. I showed the “babies” to my big boy dogs, who took one look, one sniff and then all tucked in their tails, laid back their ears and disappeared to find a place to hide! So much for my brilliant idea of dogs washing puppies!
I did the late night feed, weigh and wash routine, carefully marking down their weight before and after each feed, to ensure they were actually getting milk down them and not just on them, and keeping it all up to date on my chart. Then I tucked them up in their cleaned laundry basket on the dresser next to my bed and fell asleep. I woke up at 5am and realised that the “babies” hadn’t woken me for their feed and panicked. They were fine however, but from that time on I set the alarm clock for every two hours.
I soon discovered that prepping formula and bottles takes time, so does cleaning bottoms (and the rest of them) before feeding, so does weighing and marking a chart. Feeding each puppy takes time too and so does the cleaning up and sterilising bottles ready for the next session. Every two hours soon turned into every hour and a half! Then the washing machine broke down and I suddenly had to wash all the “bedding” and “cleaning cloths” by hand, not fun.
Finding the way
I gave up golf, I gave up my social life and I even had to take the puppies with me when I had a lawyer’s appointment! My beautiful long nails all got broken whilst trying to put teats on stupid old fashioned bottles (I soon changed to a modern bottle) and I learned to cat nap between feeds. Meanwhile, Debbie moved out of the marital bed, so as not to disturb her long suffering husband all through the night. She worked every day, taking puppies and formula with her, she took care of all her other animals, shopped and cooked for her family as usual and took it all in her stride.
Oh so sad
A week later, Debbie arrived and told me that her Big Boy had died in her arms that morning. He had been doing so well and gaining weight and was a darling, but now he was suddenly and inexplicably gone. We were both devastated and tried to work out what could have gone wrong, but it was one of life’s mysteries. Disaster struck again after 11 days when my Big Boy began screaming and going into spasms and the vet could find nothing and could do nothing and we had to put our second lovely Big Boy to sleep. Much tea was drunk and many tears shed that morning.
Luckily, despite a few scares with my little girl getting constipated and having problems with suckling and getting her eyes open, and little Runty (who was now much bigger than Girlie) getting a dose of colic, all the puppies were thriving. It was Debbie’s small boy who first went over the kilo mark - we thought the scales were broken!
I break the rules
I nicknamed Debbie’s brown girl “Big Berfa” as she was outstripping all of them in size and what a noise she could make! Yes, this was me, the one who’d said, “No Names, No Getting Attached and No Keeping Them.” Unlike the black dogs, “Big Berfa” had long, silky, golden brown hair and looked like a plump Princess. She was also a consummate escapologist!
One day I was nursing, burping and crooning to a rather colicky Runty and in desperation I put him in the middle of my king size bed while I dashed for a much needed loo break. I returned to find him and Patch (my biggest and most gentle dog) nose to nose checking each other out (left). Runty wasn’t even the size of Patch’s head. Big brave Patch!
It was around this time that my daughter and her husband arrived in Portugal to live, bringing with them their two dogs and two cats. Luckily they had found a house close to Debbie and me, and they had brought a couple of pens for inside the house. We put the puppies in the pens, whilst we all went to work to get the family moved in as well as possible, until their big shipment of furniture and possessions arrived a week later.
One of the furniture delivery chaps was smitten with Runty and asked if he could have him. I nearly died! Runty was only 4 ½ weeks old, how could anybody take him? How could they possibly look after him? He was far too young to leave “Mummy”. Well of course he could leave, along with his bottle, his formula and the weaning food he was on now. We quizzed this man unmercifully about where he lived and what he knew about dogs and how he and his wife would cope; but he was an angel. When he left the house to return to Lisbon with Runty, we gave him a box for the puppy, which he promptly refused – Runty would travel in his arms! It was a very emotional time and Debbie wept and I sobbed whilst my daughter cried. So much for not getting attached.
Girlie and me
So now I just had little Girlie to tend to and this proved to be quite a task. Her eyes had opened eventually, with a lot of help from me, only to be surrounded by puppy mites, which left her with two white patches rather like a reverse panda. I discovered she had a huge over bite which was why she had such problems sucking on her bottle. She also had a problem with getting her weaning food into her mouth, as her nose pushed it away before her lower jaw could get to it! Drinking from a bowl was also difficult and she would get frustrated at mealtimes and growl and snarl as she pushed the bowls around the floor of her pen.
Next came “potty training”, she now slept in her pen in my bathroom near my bed. My 4 big dogs slept on or round my bed, but were still afraid of this little scrap and avoided her like the plague. In the mornings she would scamper through the house as fast as her little legs would carry her, trying to make it outside in time, it took a while but she got there eventually.
Then there was the problem of the figs on the ground in the garden, she was like a truffle pig, rooting them out and scoffing them as fast as she could, which didn’t help with the diarrhoea! Eventually I took her for “walks” round the garden, with her own tiny lead and collar, to stop the gorging of figs, almonds and carobs or anything else she could find to scavenge!
After each feed I would put on my pinny, get clean “nursing cloths” and a warm damp flannel and up-end her onto my lap; I tried to emulate a dogs tongue with the flannel. This was my way of cleaning off the vast amount of food that got stuck all over her fluffy coat. She would lie quite still, close her eyes and enjoy every minute of this ritual. I was actually quite sad when she out grew it!
By the time Girlie was 8 weeks old the mites had spread, despite all the medications, and she was not looking very pretty for a photo to entice someone to give her a good home. My dogs were not at all happy with this inquisitive baby trying to make friends with them and shied away as one!
On the other hand, Debbie’s two adorable puppies had integrated well with her two older dogs and it was unspoken but taken for granted that she would keep them. The name Big Berfa (above) stuck and small boy became Freddy (right). I was at my wits' end for Girlie’s future and dreaded the day that my big boys would turn on my timid and shy little Girlie.
Oh happy day! My daughter and her husband took on Girlie and all her health problems, renaming her Tazzie. Having visited them almost every day, she fitted in well with the two little dogs and two large cats and settled into her new life easily. She still bounds up to me when I go to visit and almost bowls me over with her exuberance at seeing her first Mum. She’s still timid, still growls at her food bowls, enjoys being bossed by the little dogs (she is four times their size) and is as happy as can be.
Do either Debbie or I regret taking on those little waifs? No!
Do either of us regret breaking my “rules”? No!
Are we proud of our achievement? YES!
Would we do it again? YES!
Although I must admit, I have tried to ban Debbie from checking out rubbish bins!
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