Breeding is not for the faint-hearted. River was such a trooper throughout the ordeal. Her hard labor started at 2:15 PM and the first push came at 2:30. She was holding back on the first one, absolutely sure that the pressure was a need to relieve herself and being a good dog was determined not to potty in the house. The journey to motherhood for a maiden Dam must be scary. Finally back in the whelping box, she relaxed a little bit, pushing when need be to our gentle encouragement and praise. The pushing lasted an hour and midway through it, River started shredding the newspapers and pads like she was possessed. She was indeed a force of nature and it was awesome to watch. When she finished, she nestled in her creation, perhaps checking the appropriateness and comfort for her pup.
After an hour of pushing with some periods of quiet waiting, River delivered her first puppy at 3:55 PM, a little girl who weighed 6 ounces, and was stillborn. We rubbed and prodded, and shook and rubbed some more. We let River see and smell and lick and poke. But the pup’s tongue and paw pads were white and we knew it was hopeless. That took the wind out of our sails. I called my veterinarian, who took my call despite being in the middle of a 2-week vacation, mostly to hear what I already knew: wait an hour for the next pup to arrive.
We sat back contemplating the little girl who might have been while River took a much needed and deserved nap. One hour and twenty minutes later, I called my veterinarian hospital because River looked a little too relaxed and the contractions had not resumed. They advised us to take her in. So we bundled up the puppy basket, towels, hot water bottle, a few brightly colored collars, the whelping chart and notes I’d taken, our hope and we packed River and her stillborn puppy into the car. Scott drove while I rode in the back of the Sequoia with River. The drive from our house to Fells Point through rush hour traffic took an eternity and although River was shaky and whining, I didn’t feel any real contractions.
The techs laid a small blanket with a Halloween theme on a low table where I could sit with River and hold her while a veterinarian I’d never seen before palpated her abdomen and declared that she thought there was a pup up high under her rib cage. She also examined the puppy, wrapped in a towel, lying on the counter and didn’t declare anything. One of the things I love dearly about my veterinarian is that he allows me to watch procedures on my dogs (and occasionally other dogs!) He knows of my nursing background and that I won’t pass out watching him do things to my dogs that would make other people queasy or worse. I asked the vet tech if I could go with River up to the procedure room where another staff veterinarian was going to do a sonogram. The tech was hesitant and said she’d take River and shave her and then the doctor could escort me upstairs. There was no way in hell River was going anywhere without me and she was adamant. So I took her leash from the tech and said I’m taking her and upstairs we went.
As it turned out she didn’t need any shaving and as it turns out, there were no more puppies to be seen on ultrasound. The doctor ordered an x-ray and stated that if she found a spine, she’d re-do the sonogram. But there were no more puppies inside my little girl. She had delivered a singleton puppy, stillborn. While the staff searched high and low for the oxytocin, I made a few phone calls and sent a text message to my veterinarian who stepped out of vacation mode, called his hospital, and asked to speak to me. It was comforting to hear his voice, advice, and sympathy.
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates uterine contractions and the let-down of milk. It is also the bonding hormone that all mammals, male and female, have naturally in their bodies. In dogs, it is also used as a clean-out drug to ensure there is nothing left inside the bitch that would cause her to become ill. Since the hospital couldn’t find theirs, they had to go to the local pharmacy and get some which meant more waiting. I took River back down to the exam room where Scott was waiting, and put her back on the blanket where she dozed on and off with her head on my leg. A couple of times, I got up to examine the puppy, still lying on the counter.
After the shot, we were free to go home with our one-week supply cephalexin to ward of infection but without puppies. As we left the exam room and the little pup on the counter, River began whining and leaking milk all over the floor. She did not want to leave her puppy behind. I put her in the car while Scott waited for the antibiotic prescription to be filled. River was very curious about the empty basket that still smelled like her puppy.
When we got home, I closed the door to the office where the whelping occurred and opened a bottle of wine. Poor River, so tired, trying to protect a pup that didn’t exist from the other dogs who were curious about the curious odor she was emitting. I should have bathed both her and me to wash away the puppy and whelping smells but she and I had no energy.
After the bottle of wine was gone and the tears had dried, we went to bed. River and I slept the sleep of exhaustion, wrapped around each other, comforting each other in our loss. She was a good Mama dog even though her motherhood didn’t last nearly long enough. The empty whelping box is sad and it is much too quiet around here this morning.
We lost a puppy but gained a lot experience and a new relationship. River is physically healthy and time will heal the emptiness she is feeling this morning. And next year, we will try again.