Thursday, March 13, 2014

Romy's Story (Part II -- The Seven Dwarves)

Missed Part I?

How did we miss Romy's pregnancy? Easy: she was probably three days pregnant when we picked her up. All initial vet checks showed no signs because it was too early. And canine pregnancies go fast--before you know it, it's too late to do anything about it.

Romy at the vet on Oct 15 (2012)
Three weeks before giving birth. Looks very
un-pregnant, doesn't she?
Which is exactly what happened.

So Romy was going to have puppies. A problem in itself: in an island where homeless dogs are too many to count, where animal rights culture is a step up from non-existent, finding good homes, even for puppies--perhaps especially for puppies, because everyone wants them while they're young and adorable, not so much later when the cuteness is marred by their potential for destruction--is not an easy thing.

There was another problem, however. A more immediate problem. Romy's foster had upwards of 17 dogs. Romy would have to give birth in close proximity to them. Even separated by the iron fencing of the kennels, everyone could see this wasn't a good idea.*

So Romy came back to us. Not a dog-free household, certainly, but our pack was more manageable, one, and two, there were plenty of rooms indoors she could choose from to make her birthing spot.

Another problem: because we didn't know she was pregnant, she'd been on Prednison and antibiotics for--oh, about a month. Yeah, that first month of pregnancy, the one crucial to healthy development of the pups. Which meant the pups might be born with deficiencies, deformed, or even dead.

Once we found out about it, that was one closely-monitored pregnancy.

And she was huge. When I brought her home, the vet told me she'd give birth in under two weeks, probably one, maybe even in days. I prepared a bed for her, started hoarding newspaper, cleaned out the linen closet for anything remotely "old" that might be used for her bedding and to swaddle the pups, got the vets--a group of five vets CARF works with--on speed-dial, and warned them I'm a paranoid control freak and I wouldn't look at the clock before dialing. And then I sat down to wait.

And wait.

Romy ate enough for three dogs her size. And she was getting to three times her size. But no imminent signs of puppy arrivals. She seemed healthy; happy, full of energy (in spite of that huge belly), as sweet and friendly as always.

I inquired about C-sections at her next check-up (we were down to weeklies by then). The vet gave me a look. "Let's give it another week. Keep an eye on her, if she stops eating or shows any signs of pain, call me."

Two nights later she disappeared. We were watching TV, which usually means the dogs spread out around us. On a fridge run I noticed she wasn't there.

"Romy's gone." Panicked, I crawled on all fours to look under every possible nook. I checked the bedroom where we'd set up her birthing spot. I checked the other bedrooms. Under our bed. In the pantry. "Shit!"

Cor joined me with flashlights to search the yard. "Could she have gone out to the street?" "No, everything's closed." "When's the last time you saw her?" "Five minutes ago. Maybe fifteen." "Well, which is it?"

We found her huddled next to the gas cylinders behind the house. No blood, no puppies, but in the beam from Cor's flashlight, I saw a contraction.

It was 10:00 pm.

Puppy #1 and Cor (with magic all over his face--
first-time births will do that).
She came back inside willingly (which was fortunate), and once I closed the bedroom door on the other dogs (they didn't come close, the smell of birth is one they, as females who spent time on the streets, were all too familiar with), she settled into her bed. She was scared, probably confused, too. The vet calculated she was about a year old, so this was, at most, her second litter. But she allowed me to stay close (also fortunate).

The first puppy came at 10:40 pm. She cried out, a low howl that was pure pain, and a pitch-black puppy slithered out into the world. Even in the low light, even with her licking him and blocking my view, I saw the puppy was too big for her. Maybe we'd have to go with the C-section after all.

I texted the vet: Labor's started. Will keep you posted.

No reply. Well. I'd get them out of bed if necessary. This momma wasn't going to die, not today, not on my watch.

Romy and the Seven Dwarves a week after giving birth.
Six males, one female.
But Romy was more resilient than we gave her credit for. She brought seven puppies--seven large puppies--into the world with only a few whimpers, only one other howl--with #3. I had to help with this one; it came ass-first, and she didn't have enough strength to push the head out. She tried to bite me--the one and only time--when I reached in, but in the end she let me help. She got used fast to me changing the newspaper under her, bringing a container with fresh water up to her in between births so she could drink. Her big chocolate eyes looked at me in wonder: what's happening? why does it hurt? what am I going to do with all these babies?

Yeah, Romy. I'm asking myself the same thing. But at least you're not alone.

At five AM Cor got up to check on us. "Seven?" he said. "Seven," said I. All black, all strong. All lived. None had any deformities, although a couple did develop demodex later on--nothing that regular baths and good food couldn't take care of.

Romy feeding her puppies in the sun
just two days before their first month of life.
(Look at those tails! And the paws! OMG, the HIND PAWS!)
Romy was a fantastic mother. She suckled her puppies far into their third month, even though I made sure she got enough breaks so she could rest--eat, sleep, play away from the demands of seven hungry mouths. After the birth she looked so thin, skin and bones, so I made sure she got all sorts of goodies: not just as much kibble as she could stomach, but also good meat, veggies, egg, milk, liver... And she made it.

Then it was time to find homes for the pups. That would turn out to be quite the drama--in more ways than one. But that's a story for another day.

How does one say goodbye to this?

*Momma dogs require privacy to whelp. It's about safety; the smell of blood attracts predators, and in the middle of giving birth even the fiercest mother will be unable to protect all her babies--or herself. A dog about to whelp needs to be given, well in advance of the birth, a spot where she feels safe--walls rather than fencing, no other dog smells close by, few humans--if any. We're not very nice, us humans, and dogs like Romy have the scars to prove it.


  1. Awww seven healthy puppies!!! How adorable... Thank you for sharing her beautiful story. Waiting to read more about her :)

    1. Thank you for the visit, Rajlakshmi, and for reading. So pleased you liked this :)

  2. Hi Guilie, thanks for dropping a line over on my blog so I could find you. I am absolutely enthralled. I can't wait to read more about your pups - you tell their stories beautifully.

    1. Thanks to you, Leslie, for hopping over here and reading Romy's story. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I look forward to mutual visits--Bella's story is as enthralling as they come :) Kudos to you for taking such good care of her!


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