“That’s before he realized that we weren’t going to give the pups back to him once he found another place. Said they were worth $20 each to him. And he needed this poor girl to make more pups for him to sell. He only brought her in ‘cause the trailer park guy threatened to call the pound.”
I swallowed my disgust. Twenty-buck pups seldom ended up in nice places.
“We’ll find wonderful homes for all your babies,” I promised Momma dog as we guided her up to the side of my van. Even with the van’s low floor, it took four of us to pick her up and ease her inside, where she settled into the quilts with a moan. I started to climb in the back with her, but Diana stopped me.
“No, I’ll sit with her. I hit a pothole, she’ll pop. You know how to avoid them.”
So I drove and Diana sat on the floor of the van, Momma dog’s head cradled in her lap.
Twenty minutes and one contraction later, we off-loaded the dog into my basement. I constructed a snug den by draping towels over the sides of a puppy pen and cushioning the bottom with old quilts. Momma dog took a few laps of cool water, then relaxed into her new nest.
We stood watching her for a few minutes, but I knew the dog needed time to settle in, so we left—Diana on her way home and me to feed the rest of my foster animals. From time to time I checked on Momma dog, but as far as I could tell, there were no more contractions. That was normal; under stress, a pregnant dog can go out of labor for up to 48 hours, and the early hours of the morning were the normal time to whelp.
I did, however, take the opportunity to get her cleaned up a little. She cringed at the sight of the brush; she’d probably never seen one before. But soon she was stretched out on her side to allow me to groom her all over. I used a soft rag and mild soap to bathe her teats as well as her ears. Once again I was moved to tears by this creature’s willingness to place her complete trust in a stranger.
Later that night, I settled into a chair near Momma dog. With one eye on her belly, I finished sewing the new trim onto my Santa suit. The next day would be a long one.
I went to bed early, but got little sleep. Every few hours, I slipped down the stairs to check on Momma dog. The first time she gave a tentative wag of her tail. The next time she heaved herself to her feet and came over to me. I sat in the chair and we talked about the upcoming event and how different this whelping would be. I resettled her into the nest and sat beside her for a while, my hand resting on her belly. Her sides twitched and jerked—a tiny bulge of a foot, the rounder bump of a head as the pups squirmed in their sacs. Still, no more contractions.
A light rain blurred the next morning. Not auspicious Santa weather. Some pet owners would stay away, and every dog who did come would greet me with muddy paws. My usual excitement at being Santa was further tempered by the fact that Momma dog had not whelped during the night. When Diana came to pick me up, I asked if she could check on Momma a few times. She refused, but kindly offered to drive me home to check on the dog myself.
The Humane Society’s “Santa Paws” photo shoot had a new location that year, a roomy local storefront. The floor was covered with worn rugs, Christmas trees lined the brick walls; there was even a stately throne for Santa and a huge stack of brightly wrapped boxes for a backdrop.
The Santa shoot went well; there was a steady flow of people, but never so many that we couldn’t take time to assure the dogs that Santa wasn’t going to eat them—or try to convince the cats not to eat Santa.
Twice we put out the “Santa’s feeding the reindeer” sign and Diana rushed me back to my house. The first time, Momma dog looked unconcerned, but on the second visit, she was panting and squirming about the nest in an attempt to get comfortable. Although I didn’t see any while I was there, I knew the contractions had resumed. Nevertheless, she showed no undue distress and appeared to be at ease with her surroundings, so I left her to her job and went back to mine.
The last two hours labored by: a few more soggy dogs, a cat that left a claw in my leg, a kid who fussed about the muddy condition of Santa’s lap. And then, at long last, it was over. We wished the last dog “Merry Christmas,” locked the door and pulled the blinds.