Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pup Mail

Last summer, I raised a litter of Basset Hound puppies. I've written about their mother Millie, the very-busy-a-little-Beagly Basset girl who came in to the shelter pregnant and came with her pups to me after the birth, below.

Lately, I've had a few messages about the pups. Lexie, who lives up near Tacoma, has just been spayed. She's recuperating this week from her surgery, which I suspect will only slow her down for a couple of days at the most - she's taking after her mother in her activity level.

And a couple of weeks ago, I heard from Oscar's new mom. He's growing into quite the boy - and Bernice, the elder gal in the household, has got him firmly in paw.

Yesterday, a Basset belonging to a friend and mentor of mine had a litter of 10 puppies. I'm looking forward to visiting with them, perhaps this weekend. There's very little that relaxes me as much as cuddling a sleeping pup. If you sit quietly with them, they'll crawl up on your chest, push their little noses against your neck, and sigh into a nice deep sleep. Ahh, puppy murmurs!

No matter whether they are a litter from rescue, or a litter carefully planned for and bred, puppies have the same life at my house - and are as all-consuming. The first week or so, I sleep on the floor next to the whelping box. That way I can hear Momma if she needs to go out, and the puppies if something starts to go wrong. The first week or 10 days, there's really very little sleep, if you're being careful with the litter.

Even past that point, puppies are fragile, like babies - although even smaller. Things can go south for them - dehydration, a little virus brought in unawares on someone's clothing from a dog they passed by, a chill - very quickly. Millie's litter all came down with something around 2 or 3 weeks of age. They were all congested and snotty, and when puppies are snotty they don't eat, which means they can dehydrate very fast. I made them a tent, and ran a humidifier under it to keep their nasal passages open, and gave them fluids to keep them from crashing. It was another week of lost sleep, up every couple of hours to check on them, check their gums for dryness and give them their every-four-hours-around-the-clock medication.

Even with all that, the first month is magical. The puppies are all cuddles. When they are resting, they twitch and move constantly. In fact, one of the signs that a pup is not well is when it stays in one place while sleeping. All that twitching is their nervous system developing - a pup too quiet in sleep is a pup that may well be failing, and needs help fast.

Once their eyes open, at a few weeks, they start to hoist up onto their little legs and lurch in each other's direction, falling together in piles and growling like little bears as they start to learn the basics of play.

That's when the real work starts....socialization, play, stimulation, all these are critical in raising pups who will be good family members - for their people and for other dogs in the home. Puppies raised here stay until 12 weeks at least. The show puppies stay longer, while I sort out who's staying, who's going off to good homes.

By the time the pups this summer left, they each had a place in my heart for good. They are off to their new lives, but they will always be "my kids". I love getting emails and calls about the pups - it's great to hear that they are off to their new lives successfully. At the same time, they will always be welcome home - whether it's for visits or because life didn't turn out quite how we all hoped.

Today I was at the local shelter, checking in on an 8 year old Basset who came in as a stray. When her owners were notified she had been picked up, they declined to come get her. She's been climbing out their fence when she was left in the yard all day. With luck, this weekend she'll be safe in foster care, and we'll figure out from there a good home for her.

One day eight years ago or so, she was a little snuffling and twitching puppy. I guess her family didn't know her then - or they couldn't have let her go, could they?

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