Being a breeder is hard.
Yes, there is great joy. Usually all those things you worry about - the health of the dam, her comfort and happiness, the health of the puppies, their strength and vigour, all the freak accidents that can befall them when you're unable to sit with eyes on them 24 hours a day - never come to pass.
Usually the tragedy doesn't happen. Usually the dam gives birth with no complications, is a happy and dedicated mama. Usually the puppies are all born safely and are strong and vigorous and grow through their first, delicate week.
Usually there is a period of weeks in which you work hard to raise a family of outgoing, confident and healthy puppies and deliver them into the eager arms of their new families. Usually those families love and care for those puppies and dogs through their whole lives.
And sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes you find yourself driving to the vet in freezing temperatures in the middle of the night with a dam who is struggling to give birth. Sometimes one of your beloved puppies grows up to develop a debilitating illness or condition. And sometimes puppies die. Sometimes for a good reason, and sometimes not.
I've been mostly lucky, I know. I have had some heart-stopping moments during whelping and especially in a litter’s first fragile week of life. I’ve had a bitch who was unable to deliver naturally and had to have a caesarean section who then struggled to care for her litter properly. I’ve had to hand-feed 2 puppies in 2 separate litters for the first 2 weeks of their life. In one litter I had one puppy who died just a few hours after birth. I had no idea anything was wrong with him, but his dam did, and she kept pushing him away from her.
That's sad. It's hard. But you can console yourself with the knowledge that you cannot argue with nature, that for some reason you don’t know, the puppy wasn’t viable and that it never had a chance anyway. But the absolute worst is to lose a puppy a few days after birth. To lose her to a terrible accident. A puppy who is strong and healthy and beautiful.
Last night we lost our precious tiny Loveny. Yes, she was small, but not dangerously so, and she was growing at a good pace. There was no reason whatever to think she wouldn't continue to develop and thrive. But somehow she died.
I wasn't there when it happened, but I did arrive shortly after, and the only thing I can think happened was that Anni either landed on her when she jumped into the box after having her after-dinner wee, or that she sat on her and accidentally suffocated her.
Both of those things happen often. Some mothers are more careful and aware than others, but frequently dams will sit on the puppies seemingly deliberately. I don’t know if it’s nature’s way of toughening up the puppies by giving them a bit of a fright and a way of ensuring only those strong enough to wiggle out of the way survive. Normally, when a dam accidentally hurts a puppy as she jumps into the box, they cry out, she comforts them, and everything is fine. When she accidentally, or deliberately, lays on a puppy, they cry out and either she shifts her weight so they can squeeze out, or the humans go running to the rescue before she has a chance to do so.
Whelping boxes have rails on the side for this reason – somewhere for the puppies to go to avoid getting squashed against the side by a tired and heavy dam. I no longer use the rails because of a couple of bad experiences in the past, but this tragedy has made me re-think that maybe I should. Although, I don’t think they would have saved this puppy because she wasn’t up against the side.
Anni had just had her dinner and short walk to do her nighttime stuff before returning to settle with the puppies. I was out with the rest of the big dogs for their after-dinner wees. When I returned I went to check on Anni and the babies as I do many, many times throughout the day and night. Loveny was lying behind Anni and slightly underneath her hip. I wasn’t worried straight away – this, too, is not unusual. I pulled her out to place her back at the milkbar but she was already gone. Heartbreakingly, we lost one of our beautiful puppies.
I showed her to Anni who sniffed and licked and prodded her a few times. But nature is very prosaic; she turned her attention to her other puppies and barely looked as I took the little lost one away.