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Shirley Zindler
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The Joy of Fostering

She was another one of the many neglected strays I pick up on my job as an animal control officer but I was shocked by how emaciated she was. Her spine and hips stood out in stark relief, especially over her rump where much of her hair was missing. Her belly was hugely swollen and closer inspection showed that she was ready to deliver. She was incredibly sweet and looked like a Border Collie/Lab mix; all black with beautiful big brown eyes.

It was clear that she would give birth before her stray hold period was up and in her condition, the shelter was not the best place for her. Her photo was posted online in case an owner came looking for her. They would have had to do some explaining as to why their unspayed dog was roaming and in such terrible condition if they had tried to claim her. I named her April and took her home and made her comfortable in a cozy, spacious kennel that I keep ready for dogs in need.

Within days she delivered 8 beautiful puppies in shades of gold and black. She was a doting mama and her puppies thrived. Getting full choice puppy kibble and several warm wet meals a day she actually began to gain weight even while nursing. She was delighted when I gently examined her puppies each day and would wag her tail proudly while licking each one as I checked to be sure they were gaining and healthy.

On the ninth day I went in to do my daily puppy cuddle and was shocked and saddened to find one of the gold puppies dead. It’s not unusual to lose a very young puppy, especially when mom was in such terrible shape, but they had been so fat, shiny and healthy the day before. When I examined the rest of the litter I found others that were failing too. Even mama April was off her food and seemed like she didn’t feel well.

I consulted with the vet, who thought they had probably picked up a nasty infection. We started antibiotics twice daily and I began tube feeding and gave warmed subcutaneous fluids to the ones that weren’t able to nurse.  Some of them rallied while others went downhill. Having worked in numerous shelters and vet clinics I’ve dealt with sick puppies many times.  Often the very young pups die even with extensive treatment.

It was heartbreaking to have to poke the sick babies with needles and stick tubes down their throats but it was all that was keeping them alive. Several of the pups never did get sick and they continued to grow and gain weight. I took the chubbies out several times a day to give the weaker pups a chance to nurse without competition.

The two remaining blond pups and the little blaze-faced male were so sick that I doubted they would survive. After nearly two weeks the blond pups started to improve but little Blaze lingered, barely alive, day after day. More vet consults, more meds and fluids. I started to wonder if I was just prolonging his suffering but he didn’t seem painful, just terribly weak and frail. I was certain he would die but he hung on and would at least attempt to nurse so I continued the treatments.

He finally improved briefly but then I found him nearly comatose one evening. I put Karo syrup on his tongue for energy and gave him warmed fluids. I sat up half the night with him cuddled up on my chest and dripped miserable tears onto his tiny body. He remained unresponsive and there didn’t seem to be any hope. Around 1 a.m. I finally tucked him into a warmed blanket on low heat and kissed him good-bye.

I was emotionally and physically exhausted after 2 weeks of round the clock puppy care but I tossed and turned until six before getting up and preparing to bury Blaze. I was positive that he couldn’t have survived the night and was shocked to find him rooting around for a meal when I opened the blanket. Hurrying him into see April, I moved the bigger puppies out of the way and placed him on a nipple.  She nosed and licked him eagerly and I supported him while he nursed for a moment before falling asleep. He was still very weak and I helped him nurse every hour or so until he grew stronger and stronger.

Blaze finally turned the corner and he and the other pups never looked back. Mama April and all the puppies were adopted into wonderful homes and we get together for reunions so they can play together. I’ve been doing fostering and rescue for more than 25 years but the rewards of helping needy dogs still feel just as sweet.

I would love for Barks readers to consider fostering a needy dog or share experiences of fostering.  Most shelters and rescues welcome the assistance and there’s nothing like the feeling of making a difference.

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Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

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Sophie (right) reunited with her family
By
Shirley Zindler
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Shirley Zindler
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Shirley Zindler
More in Shirley Zindler:
Never Give Up: a Lost Dog is Reunited
Sweet Dreams Hector
Lessons from Joey the two-legged pup
Justice—and a Home—for Patty
A Bag of Tricks Helps in Dog Rescue
A Sweet Good-bye
Lost Dog Recovers From Tick Attack
Amber Turns the Corner
Going the Extra Mile
Learning Dog Social Skills