“All is for the best in the best of possible worlds.”
In December of 2006, we took in a heavily pregnant female dog, a Labrador-Malamute mix (Clementine) and the most likely culprit for her condition, a male Boxer-mix we named Lucky. Both dogs were desperate, thirsty, panicked and thin. Lying in the only shade they could find, in the wash behind the corral (wash? think sandy river with no water) under a Palo Verde tree choked with mistletoe, the two dogs were panting heavily in the sun. Watching my every move with distrustful, guarded eyes, Clementine half-heartedly barked at me, protecting Lucky, but it was too hot to bark.
Easily bribed with food, water and shelter, a few hours later their ordeal was over. Later, neighbors would report seeing the dogs being pushed out of a white truck. The driver was angry and cursing at the dogs because they kept trying to jump back in.
Right from the start, I could feel the puppies squirming inside Clementine, and even glimpse an occasional puppy foot pushing on her taut, pink belly. Calling around, I learned that many places will abort litters up until the last minute due to the sheer number of unwanted dogs in the world.
But I just couldn’t do it.
Armed with internet research, and having discussed the process with our vet, Clem went into labor on December 18th, 2006 at 9:12 pm. Watching in amazement as life came to life in my hands, I rubbed fat bellies to stimulate the breathing process, cut umbilical cords and tied them off with dental floss, handed puppies over to Clemmy to clean, or, cleaned the puppy myself as she cleaned another. I was amazed at how well life knows what it’s doing.
During the nursing stage, the puppies were almost frightening; their thrust toward life transformed them into little hunger-demons, blind to all but the nipple. Clementine quickly became overwhelmed by so many demanding, unrelenting mouths, so I supplemented the puppies’ meals with goat’s milk, sucked one-by-one from a tiny bottle.
One of my fondest memories is weaning the puppies onto solid food. At that stage, we prepared a blender slurry of wet puppy food and goat’s milk and poured the concoction into a muffin pan, filling up eight slots. It made for a perfect, puppy-sized meal. The idea for the muffin pan had flashed into my head one bleary-eyed night at four in the morning, when the puppies were screaming to be fed and I despaired of ever having enough hands. How could I juggle eight bowls? Then I thought of the muffin pan.
Last month, we noticed that one of the puppies, Christmas, (a puppy given sanctuary at our ranch when she didn’t find a home), was limping. Cordoned off in a puppy play-pen in the kitchen to limit her movement, we made an appointment with a veterinary specialist at the recommendation of our regular vet.
(It brought back a torrent of emotions for me, since the last time we’d seen the specialist, our 16 year old terrier had gone into multiple organ failure. He was helped over the Rainbow Bridge that night. I miss him terribly. )
At Christmas’ appointment this morning, this time the news was good: Christmas doesn’t have a hip issue, but a knee injury, likened to a football injury, involving her tendon. It’s one hundred percent fixable. The relief in the house is palpable.
I’ve had the first lines of an Emily Dickinson poem in my head all morning: “Because I would not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me …” But this morning death kept going. We got a break.
Who knew hamburger with cheese on top could make such a fitting victory cake? Happy ranch dogs in Arizona, with hamburger bellies that remind me of the puppy days. Even my husband, recently complaining about Christmas waking us up early on weekends to go outside and play, had tears in his eyes at the good news. Summer feels like plain old summer again, with the worry lifted.
I only wish I had a big pin to pop the sky and bring down the rain so I could dance in it. Instead, I dance in the hallway with the terriers, who, on the command “dance”, stand on their hind legs and hop up and down with me.