Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Wonder and Mystery of birth


by Brother Luke

Recently my iPod seemed to die, and I thought, Oh no, I (well, actually Ida) won’t be able to put my dog videos and photos on Facebook anymore!  But it turned out that the iPod battery was dead and it was possible to revive it. So, we were back in business. And it was a very busy time when the iPod went down. Bora had a litter of seven puppies, and then my Jaci was due to have a litter, which came one week later. I always try to capture with the iPod some of the scenes from the whelping. The primary reason for that is to keep our vet and breeding staff abreast of what is going on in case an emergency arises. But it also opens to our friends a little window into the wonder of the moment of birth for the new puppies and for me! Still, a lot goes on that is not captured by the photos. So, this is a little journey into the day, or rather the night, my Jaci gave birth to her puppies. It was Tuesday, December 13, 2016.

We usually have the expectant mother x-rayed on or close to the 58th day after the first breeding, which in this case was December 8th. The x-ray helps us to know how many puppies she is carrying so at the whelping we will know when all the puppies are out. Reading the x-ray is not as straightforward as one might think. Sometimes a shadow will look like a puppy when in fact no puppy is there. Sometimes there are so many puppies you might miss one or two tucked in behind another one. But in any case, we have found this to be helpful to us during the whelping. In Jaci’s case, we counted nine puppies in the x-ray.

We usually breed three times. So, the 58th day for the x-ray is calculated from the first breeding date. We then monitor how the expectant mother is doing with a view to her having her puppies by or before the 65th day. But we calculate that 65th day from the last breeding. So, the window during which the puppies can be born naturally is seven days, but we may add three or four days to that to cover for the third breeding. The signs that the whelping may happen soon include these: Mother stops eating, her temperature drops from the normal range of 100-101 down to 98-96 degrees, her eyes become glassy, she begins to nest and is restless, and her water breaks. As you might expect, all of this is very imprecise. Some mothers will continue to eat normally right up to the time of giving birth. Sometimes the temperature will drop and then go back up and then drop again and go back up again before dropping the final time. Some mothers nest for days before giving birth; others nest only a few hours before giving birth. It is not unusual to wait 12 hours for the first pup to appear after mom’s water has broken; it can also happen just as the first puppy is born.

For Jaci I did have some advance warning from these signs. A day before she gave birth, she stopped eating her normal amount of food. She did no nesting until just a few hours before she gave birth. Her eyes had turned glassy during the day she gave birth. I did not take her temperature, since I did not think we would have any problems with the whelp, so I let nature take its course. Tuesday evening, when these few signs were apparent and I suspected this was going to be the night, I took Jaci to my room but left Shems and Kahn in their crates down in the hallway we call the “mud room.” I did not want to have to deal with them should Jaci need to head over to the kennel during the night. I went to bed.

A couple of hours later, at 11:50 pm, I was awakened by the sound of a puppy crying. It had begun! The first pup had already been born in my room. Jaci was frantic, running around my room, heading back to the dog bed next to my bed where she had given birth. She christened that dog bed, which would not survive the night. The pup screamed as mom picked him up with her teeth and moved him around. I got up and tried to calm her down while I got dressed. I had a towel handy to carry the puppy over to the kennel. Brother Marc, who is in the room next to mine, poked his head into my room and asked if I needed help. Of course I needed help, but at that moment all I could say was “I’m trying to get my clothes on so I can get over to the kennel.” So he withdrew.

Leaving the bloody mess of my room behind, Jaci and I headed down the hallway to the stairs. Jaci was everywhere but not going in a straight line. She went down the wrong hallways, but finally headed down the stairs turning down the next hallway, only to go toward the refectory rather than the mud room. Once she got into the mud room, she ran up the stairs to the offices above, rather than toward the exit. I yelled at her and down she came. I put the puppy on top of a dog crate as I quickly put on a coat. Then I scooped him up in the towel and rushed out the mud room door and down the outside stairs but had to negotiate a traffic jam of construction vehicles parked in the snow on the road around our Transfiguration Temple, which is being renovated. I tried to warm the puppy with a rather meager towel in the below-freezing outdoors while Jaci ran over to the dumpster rather than toward the kennel. I started to trot, hoping I wouldn’t fall with my precious cargo. Jaci finally got the homing device in her head reoriented, and she sped off ahead of me over to the kennel and began pacing back and forth in front of the door. Once we were inside, all the other dogs in the kennel started barking, including Bora, who was nursing her nine puppies in the pen next to Jaci. Well, there was no time to worry about that.

We keep records of all the puppy births, but I had not yet put the cart with the scale and other supplies in the room. So, I put Jaci in with the pup in the whelping pool (we use children’s wading pools with newspapers on the bottom for whelping) and left the room to get the cart and extra towels and newspapers.  The cart has the scale, a box with ric-rac in different colors to identify the pups, syringes, Calsorb, Oxytocin, scissors and sterilizing solution, and a small suction ball used on occasion to withdraw fluid from the pup’s mouth if necessary. A chart hangs on the wall outside the room, but it comes into the room during the whelping. On the lower shelf of the cart we store a plastic lug about 3 feet long, 15 inches wide, and 10 inches high with a warming pad covered with a towel. We put the puppies in there when needed during the whelping process. So, with all this now in place, I had to weigh the pup, who was only .95 pounds, then sterilize the severed umbilical cord, put a ric-rac collar on the pup (orange in this case), and then try to get Jaci to calm down enough to begin to take care of this first pup. Instead of calming down she decided that the lug under the cart was the best place to have the next puppy, so in she went. I got her out only to have her take her first-born with her back into the lug. The puppy was screaming, the dogs were barking, Jaci was nesting, it was pandemonium. In other words, it was a normal whelping!

Now I was trying to calm down Bora next door and also watch Jaci for the next puppy, which came forth within the hour. Jaci was still frantic, but more of her attention was on the two pups, which she was licking furiously and knocking around as she attempted to warm them, stimulate them, and get them to defecate and nurse. After the third puppy was born, Brother Marc arrived to lend a welcome hand. Jaci kept looking into the lug as if searching for other puppies. Several times during the whelping she dove back into the lug, and we had to get her to come out and get back into the pool. In most cases pups arrived within an hour of each other. In a couple of cases they followed each other within minutes. Brother Marc stayed and helped with the whelping until morning. By that time eight pups had come into this world, all healthy and busy searching for nipples to nurse, doing their investigations without the advantage of sight or hearing, which would come many days later.

As it turned out, the reading of the x-ray was off by one pup. In reality, Jaci was only carrying eight puppies, so we were finished before 7 am. She delivered four boys and four girls. And at this writing, they are all well and growing, and Jaci is being the perfect, calm mom, nursing and being very attentive to her pups. I am always in awe of the process and how the mother is able to manage all she has to do. Of course, problems can arise, but this can never overshadow the wonder of nature and the beauty of emerging new life. And, oh yes, I did use the iPod to take photos and videos during the whelping, some of which have been posted on our Facebook page. You might want to check them out!