Wednesday, January 4, 2012


My topics have bee-bopped back and forth in time, but such is the nature of my mind...I'll dive back into the linear version of Ella's and my "walkabout" journey soon enough (especially now that winter prompts me to escape in imagination to warmer days). My previous blog recounted my manner of celebrating that journey by capping it off with my first marathon. Ella needed her own recognition of accomplishment. Since they wouldn't allow me to take her on the marathon, she took a decidedly different approach when on December 6th, 2011, she welcomed a new litter of pups. OK, so it wasn't something she chose as celebration, but she was so radiantly healthy and fit after our two months of free-range rambling that when she came into heat shortly after our return (around the time of my marathon) I thought, what better way to memorialize this accomplishment than a legacy for Ella? And yeah, she did thoroughly enjoy the process...she and Ieuan were allowed the fun and games of natural conception in the back yard...none of that hold 'em still and slam/bam/thank you ma'am that constitutes the norm for arranged breedings.

Flash forward to early December and Ella was glowing. She had a magnificent belly, lustrous coat, and energy to spare. That, as it turns out, is where the trouble started. Her energy is innate (she demanded six mile daily walks from the time she was six months old) but enhanced by her new level of fitness. Sadly, being back here with all the other dogs means my walking time is split among many...she being pregnant, I'd begun letting her take her exercise in the large paddocks, while my walk time was given to Caron, Zeva and Ember, among others.

But that freedom in the paddock spelled trouble for a soon-to-be-mama with a big belly. When Ella refused food about five days prior to her due date, I knew what an ominous sign that was from a dog who will eat anything, anytime, anywhere. With ironic premonition, my own stomach did flips. Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, she worsened, not just refusing food but beginning to show signs of labor, far too early. Per my ex, there was nothing to do but monitor her for the time being...he wouldn't do an elective Cesarian since the likelihood of survival wanes with each day prior to their full gestation.

The little hand-held Doppler he'd given me for Christmas two or three years ago has been a literal lifesaver many times over. Using it, I could detect two heartbeats, but only from one horn of her uterus (dogs don't have one ovoid vessel like humans do, theirs is elongate and bifurcated). Nothing but the gurgles and gushes of Ella's own body sounds on the other side. Again, my stomach lurched.

Abbreviating the story somewhat, a Caesarian was what ultimately had to happen, two days early, and the discovery made during surgery was that during her hijinks in the exercise paddock, Ella's uterus had torsioned (twisted), which cut off the blood supply to the pups in that horn of her uterus. Their death had triggered a cascade of physiological processes so that there was ultimately no recourse but to bring the remaining two living pups into the world sooner than Mother Nature intended. (Spoiler alert: that's one of them looking at you from the crook of Kyle's girlfriend's arms.) Two utterly gorgeous girls, with deep black & red pigment and chunky little bodies. For the first three days I had to tube feed them, since Ella's milk hadn't yet come in and they weren't ready or strong enough to suckle on their own. But by the third day things picked up, and Ella took over completely. Now we could celebrate.

Ella herself barely showed signs of having had major surgery. More major than even the Caesarian, since the damage to her uterus from the loss of blood supply necessitated her being simultaneously spayed. My first-born was via Caesarian, and I can tell you that I was not doing stairs the day after, nor was I even particularly excited about sitting up in bed, and I dreaded coughs and sneezes like the devil. But I had the wonder of new life, my little Jessica.

Contrast that with Ella, who was wanting to bound up and down stairs as soon as the grogginess of anesthesia wore off. Once again she so ably demonstrated how to accept, how to be right exactly where she was without wasting a moment of her life. She didn't whine over her ordeal, that was in the past; she didn't bemoan the loss of future litters, for she had kids she loved to attend to in the here and now.

I try, Ella, I do; I want to live fully present, I want to feel joy for what is, not obsess over what was (or maybe never really was, only now imagined), or live in fear of what may be.

The high anxiety wasn't over, as it turns out. While Ella's kids grew, opened their eyes, began walking and eating, Luna's pregnancy became the in-your-face kind where you look at the dog and groan in sympathy. Her belly was so enormous she waddled. With an appetite sufficient for an entire pack, she was happy to hang out in the whelping room awaiting delivery day. Until she, too, stopped eating.

Deja vu, all over again. She hadn't been rampaging around in an exercise paddock, so I felt confident it wasn't another freak accident like Ella's. She was so huge it was easy to imagine there simply was no room for her stomach to expand, or that eating caused acid reflux or other disincentives for eating. Coaxed with chicken or steak or tripe, she ate a mouthful here and there, just enough to avoid utter starvation, while her insatiable unborn pups sucked the protein right out of her muscle tissue for their own growth needs.

Doppler readings showed normal heart rates, and nothing drastic seemed awry, but that did nothing to allay my growing anxiety. Once burned, twice shy, as they say, and over the course of thirty years of breeding I've been burned enough times to have an outright phobic response to anything other than perfect text-book births. And then...Caesarian number two for the month of December... resulting in eight lively little babies, two girls, six boys. Of course, having been semi-starved for a week or more, her body was too weak to produce enough milk, so I found myself tube-feeding the little pack every three hours 'round the clock. Now, a bit more than a week later, Luna's sufficiently recovered to (mostly) feed them herself, and in short order they'll be eating solid food and taking some of the burden off mama Luna. Neither pups nor mom will remember their rough start, they'll just be a happy family.

But wait, we're not done. Rio was due a week after Luna, was looking as radiant and active as Ella had been, and appeared to my eye to be carrying between four and six pups. She ate like a fiend until the day she went into labor, proceeded into labor with no fuss or hiccups, and summarily set out to bring pups into the world the way the book says they should. Or, so it first seemed. When three hours of hard labor had not brought forth the firstborn, I was on the phone with the emergency clinic at 4:00 AM. Bring her right down, they advised. Not so fast...I wanted suggestions, not surgical intervention. I'm a newbie to this side of the phone line...after thirty years of running a vet clinic, answering just this kind of question, conferring on cases with my husband, I can't seem to get it into my head I'm the one who stopped at a B.S. to support him while he got the medical degree means no authority to dictate medical procedures. Hang up from Emergency clinician, call ex-husband.

No go. He's got his new life, his new routine, his new priorities. He's been generous with his professional help, but any diminution of access to the acumen I helped him acquire is a painful reminder of the many losses of our union. As the jabs of yet another volley of sharp reality darts hit home, I'm literally on my knees, head bent to the floor to see what I'm doing, one latex-gloved hand compressing Rio's belly to aid contractions, the other desperately trying to hook what little of the pup I could contact as it breached, for the umpteenth time, the lip of the pelvic rim. With no hands free, the now-dead cell phone was still held scrunched to my shoulder by my badly-torqued neck.

No aid to be had, it was up to Rio and me. I got down to the business of getting that pup born. Rio was a wonder in patience and experience-based cooperative effort. She bore down, I pulled and wiggled and pushed and strained, trying to follow the medical maxim of "first, do no harm" but knowing full well once I'd gotten the pup's head past the pelvis that I had to get it out fast one way or another or it would suffocate. It seemed hopeless, and the poor thing's lips were blue as it gasped desperately for air that the compressions of birth wouldn't let it draw deeply into its lungs. Finally, against all odds and my own expectations, with expediency winning over caution, I applied more force than I thought wise and the shoulders and body emerged in one smooth rush. He gasped instantly, sending a warm flood of relief cascading the length of my body. Pragmatic Rio set about cleaning and acquainting herself with her newborn. His brother arrived three hours later in much the same fashion, previous success having lent Rio and I the dogged determination and cooperative teamwork to get through the tough stuff and celebrate the new arrival.

There is no formula. Worthwhile efforts can be as simple as (literally) pie, as challenging as scaling a mountain, or as potentially life-threatening as bringing new life into the world. The effort we put in does not guarantee a positive outcome, nor does an unwanted outcome have to be experienced as "bad." The more I watch these dogs, the less I like labels at all. What is, is. It's only good or bad if you assign a valence to it. Otherwise, it's just life, and embracing it is a joyful process.