This short story is (c) 2000 by Jeannette at Write Purpose
When I set out to tell the story of how Gideon came into the world, I really had no idea that the account of his mother’s prior litter would demand to be told first. I don’t think I had thought of that experience consciously for quite some time. But then all that that might prove is that I tend not to focus on subjects that are tinged with my chagrin. Now that I have shared my memory of that day, I will as promised, and as straightforwardly as possible, tell you about how Gideon made his costly way into the world and our hearts. If you are a person who believes in learning from other’s mistakes, this story could - well, forgive me, you can figure that part out probably better than I can. But in case you are afraid of sad endings, I will tell you, as Ma Ingalls used to tell her girls in the big woods, on the prairie and by the banks of Plum Creek, “All’s well that ends well.”
Well, well, two years after Josie had successfully whelped five healthy pups, my youngest daughter was reviewing the countless photographs we had taken during those happy weeks. “Look, Mom, here’s Josie’s five puppies all lined up and nursing. Oh, look at them peeking out of their box. And here they are the first time we played with them under the apple tree.”
I was able to avoid saying, “And your point is?” I knew it would do no good. Stalling the inevitable would not be a good idea either; if we were going to breed Josie again, it should be at the soonest opportunity. She had just turned five years old.
“It’s probably her last chance to have puppies again,” my daughter said. “ If she got pregnant this fall,” she reasoned, “they would be Christmas puppies.”
So my daughter had already thought about the timing. And I suppose that I should be thinking about timing too, as I did promise to tell you this tale forthwith. So suffice it to say that a very convincing daughter appealed for puppies just one more time and the decision was made. Now I might have to send forth this account into the world without any family proofreading of the same, as it could easily depart from any discussions of my grammar, syntax or spelling and focus at great length on who gets the most attached to the puppies, or whose idea was it to do all this anyway? And so alone, with no support from the real instigators of this project, I submit my account.
On September 9th, 1998, the expensive journey began. In all due consideration to the prospective sire, even though Josie is a very proper stay at home girl, she visited her doctor to be screened for communicable diseases. Her clean bill of health stating she was not a carrier of Canine Brucellosis totaled eighty dollars and twenty-five cents.
We were disappointed to learn that the sire of her first litter had retired. He was a champion fellow and- but wait, if I start thinking about him and all his charms that will take us back again to that first episode and we must press on to the tale of the second litter.
A likely second father was found. I know all the reasons I am supposed to say that we picked him; we had read just enough about line breeding, when to outcross, and how to seek virtues while avoiding or genetically compounding faults to be a bit overwhelmed. Let’s be honest, we liked his looks, he was spunky and he had a pedigree.
Not only was the young fellow sporting a name of a large stock brokerage, and running under the nickname of “Broker,” but his sire also carried the name of a very old and large bank. Was I seeing dollar signs? It was not until we explored back into the previous generation that we found that a Dame named Dark Memory and a sire called The Black Bandit had also contributed their genetic gift to whatever progeny were to be born from the union arranged and paid for with Broker’s groom price of four hundred dollars. I suppose it is only fair to reveal that Josie herself had a bit of infamy in her background having a grandsire who earned the moniker of Tom Foolery.
Alas, Christmas came and went and although Josie gained a wee bit of weight from the treats and goodies pressed upon her to compensate for her supposed condition, she was not pregnant and no puppies were in her Christmas stocking or ours.
When a reputable breeder offers a dog at stud, there is a guarantee that if the mating does not produce two live births, a second mating is offered at her next regular season. So, on April 14, 1999, Josie once again, in consideration of her mate to be, visited her doctor and this time, for a mere one hundred and fourteen dollars, was pronounced both healthy and fertile. Are you prudent accountants, keeping track of this? At the time, the running total did not bother me, because everyone knows for how very much we could sell all the puppies; but I think we are now up to five hundred-ninety- four dollars and twenty-five cents.
This time we were sure the happy day would truly approach. We had noticed some abdominal swelling around five to six weeks after the honeymoon and sure enough her appetite had increased. The normal gestation period for a Shetland sheepdog is nine weeks. We made those little purchases that you hardly think twice about; iodine, surgical soap, straw and shavings for the bed, milk replacer just in case, and a new nail trimmer. Twenty-two dollars and fifty-five cents here, and thirteen dollars and seventeen cents there and five dollars and thirty-four cents later, we were ready for the big day. I think that brings us to a grand total of six hundred fifty-three dollars and thirty-one cents invested in this prospective new little family.
As the time approached, we dutifully took her temperature from the nether end, every morning and evening. When it dropped we knew that labor would come within the next twenty-four hours. We clipped the inner layers of her feathering coat from her hindquarters and washed her tummy with surgical soap. We sterilized our tools; no plastic handles allowed this time.
Josie woke up irritable and anxious. She whined and wouldn’t eat; the day had come.
Whatever appeared in my backyard, skunk, possum, fox, deer, or a fire breathing dragon, you can be sure I wouldn’t be calling the animal control for any help this time.
I just love the books about the birthing of puppies that tell you how you shouldn’t worry or disturb your dog, just speak gently to her and show her the nice clean whelping box you have prepared and she will settle in and begin her labor. My dog was convinced that where she belonged was outside under a bush in a dirt hole she had constructed under the innate guidance and direction bequeathed to her by her creator, but of course we were there to help her and she eventually capitulated probably out of sheer exhaustion.
And then the really long night began. She had roamed around and rested throughout the day. Finally after our dinner her labor appeared to begin in earnest. She panted and moaned and let us hold her quivering sides. One by one, exhaustion struck us all. Everyone had had a full day of work or school, but we vowed to always have one of us stay awake with her.
It seemed strange that she had been through so much and her water had not yet broken. When it did break it should mean that the first puppy was in the birth canal and should emerge within about fifteen minutes. It was now after midnight and if we were to need assistance we would have to go to the emergency animal hospital. Every time she got out of her whelping box to pace around we had to disinfect her feet before she got back in.
I slept for several hours and then my husband shook me awake at 4am and said, “It’s your turn and she insists on sitting outside on the deck.”
I turned two cushioned chaise lounges to face one another and Josie and I began the next watch of the morning together. I had never felt quite so close to her before. Her soft brown eyes were looking at me with such appeal. “I know girl, I see your plight. This is the point of no return; you just have to do it.” I remember thinking that it has been about this point in the delivery of my first child that I wished that I had been a nun in a convent. I pet Josie’s head in sympathy. I had a blanket around my shoulders against the chill of the early summer morning. The stars comforted me. I thanked Josie for getting me out into a time of the morning I usually miss. An owl flew from one great tree to another and I lifted my head just in time to see him float over me. It took my breath away.
Josie’s contractions seemed hard, but nothing that was supposed to happen was happening. My heart sank. Light began to creep up from the east. One of the great white heron that nest in the neighbor’s evergreens flew over the deck. I got the message. We had to get this girl some help. I woke my husband and we mobilized ourselves to be waiting at the veterinarian when he opened. Her water had broken so now things had to proceed rather quickly.
We were asked detailed questions about how long she had been in labor and how far apart her contractions had been, had there been bleeding, had she kept moving. “You should have called me last night,” he said. It’s amazing that she is still alive. How could you let her go so long? We’ll have to take an x-ray,” he said. “Something is wrong.”
I hung my head. When I expressed my fear that an x-ray might not be good for the puppies. “Neither would missing their birthday,” the doctor had replied. My husband and I waited alone in the small room while she was taken off for an x-ray.
“There is just one puppy in there,” the doctor said, as he clipped the x-ray onto the light panel in front of us. “I doubt that it is alive. I will have to deliver her cesarean to save her life. She is getting weak. We’re monitoring her right now.”
I looked at the x-ray. There was the spine of my brave girl and within her womb, as if lying in a hammock on a summer day was slung one very large puppy. You could say that he was both upside down and backwards. He looked so peaceful in there. His front paws were crossed on his chest. I could see his tiny vertebrae and the line of his tail. “Oh, please save them both,” I cried. The veterinarian said he would do what he could at this point in time and asked me to step up front to sign the necessary releases.
We waited, watching others bring in their little friends for shots and removal of foxtail burrs and investigation of ear mites. Oh the ills to which all flesh is heir.
Finally a smiling doctor called us in. “I saved him,” he said proudly. But when I asked if I could name the little fellow after him, perhaps his middle name, he declined stating that no one would want his middle name.
Apparently Josie had developed cysts, so her ovaries were removed with her pup. The vet said that it was amazing she had conceived even one pup. The cysts had blocked the release of hormones that would have moved her labor to complete birthing. She could never have survived without surgical intervention. We ever so gladly took our two doggies home and cheerfully paid the five hundred fifteen dollars and thirty-four cents bill. If you are keeping track, this little guy now represented eleven hundred nine dollars and fifty-nine cents. And when a puppy is that valuable, well, you just have to keep him.
I am happy to report that the two of them are happy and healthy together. The only untoward thing that has happened to either of them of late was that Josie ate one peach pit too many this summer. Gideon is quite a jumper and they had worked out a deal where he would knock them down and then they’d gorge together. I’m not even going to tell you what the bill was for that little episode. But I will tell you this; pedigree puppies do not always pay their own way.