This weekend will go down as one of those unforgettable formative experiences our girls have ever had. I know we moved to Ireland in part to give them a more rural life experience and with all the animals they have in their lives: cat, cows, rabbits, dog, they are certainly experiencing things they wouldn’t have in the city. But I never would have guessed when we moved here that they’d have an experience like we did this weekend.
The gestation period for Jack Russell terriers is 9 weeks, so we’re guessing our dog Friday must have been about three weeks up the pole when she landed in our lives. Of course Grace called the pregnancy before anyone else including the vet (there is some speculation that Grace thinks all our pets are pregnant so this isn’t particularly unusual…but she was “suuuuuurre of it and why doesn’t anyone believe me!!!”)
Our Girl Friday
Well when Friday swelled up like a little football, everybody finally agreed with Grace who also incidentally called the delivery correctly…as far as date goes. We had Friday in at the Vet for an exam on Friday (I know, confusing…) and Grace said “she’s going to have the babies this weekend” and the vet said “sorry honey, I think it’ll be another week or two”. But Saturday morning, Mary and I were awoken by screams of joy and excitement when Grace and Tara discovered that Friday had delivered a tiny baby puppy.
By the time I got dressed and came down to look at the pup, it had passed away. Life lesson #1: It’s tough.
The bitch continued whelping throughout the day (notice all the new words I learned from the vet) and we moved her house into the front hall so she and her impending pups wouldn’t be at risk from foxes or other local predators.
Friday’s box is starting to look like Pandora’s
But in spite of a long day of encouragement and soothing from Tara and Grace, her labor hadn’t produced any new pups by the time we set out in the early evening for the memorial mass in Liscannor for our dear departed friend Howard who passed away six years ago. When we returned home, the vet told us to bring Friday down for a look. Because of the late hour, Grace and Mary stayed home and Tara and I put Friday into a basket of blankets and took the whelping bitch (sounds like something you’d call a woman you didn’t like) to the vet.
you go girl!
This being Ireland, the vet’s clinic is a room at the side of his house, so emergency after-hours visits are a little less trouble for the doctor than some fancy big-city pet hospital. It also means that pet owners are rather more involved in the ensuing activites.
A quick examination determined that the only course of action likely to save the life of the dog and any pups was going to be a caesarean section. Eugene the vet says to me “this is going to be messy, are you going to be ok with it?” I roll up the sleeves of my white dress shirt and nod affirmative to his sceptically raised eyebrow. Eugene hands a bunch of paper towels to Tara and says “you’ll be in charge of the babies”. Tara nervously agrees, looking like Audrey Hepburn in an elegant long dress with a Chanel-style bolero jacket.
I soon became glad I had endured so many of the hospital shows on TV with Mary because I credit those for my “being Ok” with the proceedings. I also began to recall having seen some sort of caesarean video during one of the birth classes we took when Mary was pregnant with Tara or Grace. This was just like I remembered: cut through the outer layer, blood, cut through inner layer, more blood, some other layer, mess, uterus, amniotic sac, then “pull this!”
As Eugene the vet squeezes some sort of organic greenish water-balloon looking organ which I assume is a uterus or something, I manage to pull out from the incision a dark soggy mass dragging and dripping strings of warm stuff and hand it to my eleven year old daughter. Tara bravely embarks on her mission of cleaning, drying and trying to get the little pups to breathe. The first three were a complete loss but Tara kept on trying to revive them and get them going until the vet told her it was hopeless. The last little creature that came out Tara managed to get some activity from and clean it off, and got it breathing.
Now Eugene set out to try and save Friday. I did what Eugene said and held what I was told to hold and squeezed flaps of whatever together wherever Eugene instructed, and just like on the TV shows, I squeezed, he sewed and we managed to put Friday back together.
Tara named the little white puppy Luna and was valiantly working to keep her warm and stimulated, but Eugene sadly looked at us and said it was a slim chance that either Friday or the baby would survive the night.
We called home, told Mary to boil the hot water bottles, light the fire and put on the coffee, we had a long night of nursing ahead of us.
By two am we had Luna nursing on the still struggling and unconscious Friday. By four am we managed to get Friday to drink a little water from the dropper-style bottle left over from the rabbits. Every drop she drank resulted in more alertness and vitality. At six am Luna climbed up to lick Friday’s face and, like Sleeping Beauty, she awoke and started cleaning and minding her pup as if she had suddenly realised she had a baby.
It now looks like they both might make it. But no matter what happens with the dogs, the girls lives have been forever impacted by the miracles of life, death, and the struggle we all share to survive. These are the lessons you can’t plan to teach your kids, but you hope to encounter along the way.