There are few experiences in life that you can look back on and every single element of that moment brings back memories of absolute pure joy. The day that our beloved Nancy delivered her puppies is one of those.
We had an inkling her labour was imminent the evening before as she was very restless and kept hiding herself in places she wouldn't normally go. We had tried (with little success) to coax her into the whelping box we'd made and put in our study, but she wasn't particularly keen to spend any time in there, as Nancy is a dog that likes to be by your side at all times.
Now there are some great books you can buy which give you all the advice you need if you're thinking of breeding. I read 'The Book of The Bitch' by JM Evans & Kay White, which I found to be invaluable.
They all say that a Cocker Spaniel's gestation period is 63 days, which is pretty precise and quite unlike humans who are a bit more random within a 9-month timescale, so we weren't convinced that Nancy would deliver on schedule. But what did we know..?!
The Monday marked the 63rd day of gestation since the first mating with our chosen stud, Piers the Champion Wonderdog, from the famous Lochranza Kennels up in Derbyshire.
A friend of ours had come over and we were sat out in the garden enjoying the rare English spring sunshine. Nancy uncharacteristically vomited on the sofa and as I was trying to clear the mess up I noticed that there was a little black gooey sack showing at the back of her. I was desperately trying to get her into the whelping box, calling for my husband to come quickly, when she delivered her first puppy on the stone floor under the desk. So much for careful planning!
Whilst Nancy licked away the sack around the puppy and chewed at the umbilical cord I managed to get my specially purchased plastic gloves and apron on. I then felt a bit more prepared (and sterile) and was able to pick the newborn puppy up and lay it down in the nice warm, clean whelping box. Thankfully Nancy followed me in and spent the next five minutes tending to her puppy before her whole stomach began contracting again and the second one started to appear.
The following two and a half hours were completely magical. Maybe I was feeling extra sensitive and 'connected' to the whole experience as I couldn't help but remember my own struggles with conceiving and then painfully (and quite vocally) delivering a single baby, and here was this amazing little dog just getting on with it, not making a sound throughout each of the deliveries. I was in awe of her. Such a beautiful experience and I felt honoured to be a part of it all.
We recorded the time of each birth, plus the sex and colour of each puppy.
Wondering what colour pups Nancy would produce was the big question throughout the pregnancy. Piers the stud dog is red but known to sire blacks, reds and black & tans.
The first one was a black boy born at 10.05, then a black girl at 10.10, a black & tan girl at 10.19, a black & tan boy at 10.38, a black & tan girl at 11.20, a black girl at 11.55 and the final black girl with a tiny white chest (just like her mummy) at 12.28. Seven perfect little babies in total.
Nancy was absolutely amazing and of course did all the work, licking each of the puppies clean of the placenta sack and chewing the cords about an inch away from their tummies. All I needed to do was make sure each puppy was active and breathing well, with no mucus blocking the airways, before pointing them in the direction of their mother's teats.
My niece Jessica had turned up just in the nick of time, and her very capable hands were a welcome relief. Plus the fact she's as much a dog-lover as me, so we were like two little kids in a sweetie shop and couldn't believe the wondrous scene unfolding before us.
We weren't completely sure if Nancy had finished after her seventh pup as we could feel a hard lump inside her and she was still contracting. A call to the vet reassured us that we should take Nancy (and a box of newborn puppies) in to make sure everything was okay.
A quick scan and examination later, and the vet was satisfied that Nancy had delivered all her puppies.
Trust Nancy to choose a Bank Holiday to give birth which meant that we had to pay double time for the examination (I mentioned in this blog about how much the whole process could potentially cost you), but we were so relieved that she'd delivered all her puppies safely and that she seemed so unfazed by the experience that we'd have paid any amount.
I'd have to say that the first few days and nights were pretty full on. All the information I'd read about leaving the bitch with her babies in a quiet place, without distractions, definitely didn't apply to our dog. Nancy really wasn't keen on staying in the whelping box as she couldn't see us when she was in there. Poor thing was really torn between being a good mum and being with her people.
In a bid to keep her contained with her babies we shut the door of the study on the first night and went to bed at midnight, setting the alarm for 3am to come and check on her. Knowing what I know now, and if we ever do the puppy thing again, I would never leave mum alone again with her puppies for these first few nights.
At about 1.30am I was awoken by a howling Nancy scratching manically at the study door. I ran downstairs to find she had taken all the pups out of the warm and comfy whelping box and deposited them on the cold, hard stone floor!
Now I'm not normally one to stress but I was so panicked that all the pups may have died as I picked them all up and returned them to the comfort of the box. God knows how long they'd been on the cold floor, but it only takes a short time for a newborn pup, who can't regulate its own body temperature, to become very cold and pass away. Thankfully each one was still alive but they were squealing pretty loudly and the whole scene was absolutely horrific.
Nancy had run out of the study and found the nearest shoe to carry in her mouth. She was sitting in the hallway by the door with a look of sheer terror on her face, as if to say 'I don't know what that situation is in there but please can I have my old life back?!' She was absolutely petrified.
I had to coax her back in by laying down in the box next to the squealing puppies. I can't say she was exactly convinced, but at least she wasn't on her own and terrified. It took me hours to try and get them all to latch on and feed and to try and regain some calm and stability.
Suffice to say, the next few nights I slept in the study on a pile of duvets, catching a few hours sleep here and there, making sure Nancy felt relaxed enough to stay in the box and that the pups fed as much as they could. It was exhausting, but definitely worth the effort as I was able to monitor each pup and also make sure that Nancy didn't squish them; something she accidentally did do on more than one occasion when she changed position or came back into the whelping box. I know that puppies have been smothered and crushed before, particularly with bigger, heavier breeds.
Every day the pups grew stronger, each putting on a gradual amount of weight, although they varied in size quite a bit. We had attached a coloured tape around the neck of each one so we could identify them easier when we weighed them.
The black & tan female with the red collar was named Bertha as she was so greedy and, even with her eyes still closed, had worked out that the teats towards the back were more engorged with milk and would do anything to try and get onto one of the bigger ones. It was pretty funny watching how cunning she would be, even if you moved her off she would still budge her siblings out of the way and find her way back to the big, full teats!
The next few weeks were totally full-on. We actually turned the dining room and study into one big play and newspaper-covered bathroom area for the ever-growing puppies, which was wonderful as it meant the puppies could venture out of their whelping box and really start to experience the big wide world.
I became the master at counting seven little bodies were all present and correct, as they had the habit of tucking themselves away in the tiniest spaces.
Within two weeks they had opened their eyes and were by now much more mobile. All they wanted was to be cuddled and would go to great lengths to try and get out of the whelping box, even though we'd extended its height twice. It was impossible trying to do anything as all I could hear were puppies asking to come out to play. Imagine the hardship of spending 10 weeks playing with puppies!
Photo courtesy of @janiceissitt_life_style
Photo courtesy of @janiceissitt_life_style
It was around about the four week mark that I had to face the fact that we couldn't keep seven pups. I was so attached to all of them, with their amazing little individual personalities, that the thought of letting them go to new homes with complete strangers was too much to bear.
Maybe in my next life I'll be a full time puppy breeder, but in the meantime, the simple task of finding seven exceptional new parents for Nancy's beautiful little babies...
Photo courtesy of George Logan.