Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Unholy Fourteen

I hadn’t had a collie litter for nearly two years.  There is nothing as sweet as a collie pup, and there were a few bitches who were scheduled for the next litters.  One was Chance (my enthusiastic sheep herder), who was now four and a half and had not yet had a litter.  I didn’t really want to wait longer, and risk possibilities of pregnancy or whelping problems.  And now I had a male that would suit her beautifully. 

The second was Kate, my smooth girl, who had produced several outstanding litters for me, with show winners and service dogs.  She was now seven, and, although she absolutely loves having puppies, this would be her last litter.

I didn’t anticipate having a large number of pups.  Chance was from a litter of one, and her mother in her previous litter produced only three.  The intended father, Tattler, a new boy that had arrived from England only a few weeks before, was only a year old, and inexperienced.   Kate, at seven, well, I didn’t expect a large litter (although in the past she had had litters of eight and nine pups), at her age, I would be happy with one lovely little female that could carry on for her in future, as she enjoyed her golden years in peace.  I even had a name for that one puppy – Legacy.  This was to be a repeat mating of a litter from two years ago that was very successful – and had only four pups.

As is common, all the bitches came in season about the same time.  Chance and Kate were bred at almost the same time.

I am not one that runs off to do ultrasound exams – I always felt that it was possible to wait for the two months of pregnancy and then see the results.  The two bitches did show signs of being pregnant.  Kate did not look at all big, so I expected my one puppy, just hoped it was a girl.  Chance did develop a belly, but nothing out of the ordinary, and it didn’t seem to affect at all her energy, spirits, or desire to catch helicopters.

As the whelping dates approached, everything was ready, each bitch had her own room with a box, and neither of them showed much interest.  Kate was due first and was experienced, so I had no doubts that when the time came, she would have no problems.

Then, several days before due date, Chance started to show signs of imminent whelping.  She wandered around the house, poking into corners, ignoring the comfortable box, (of course!) and trying to persuade me that my bed was the proper place…She was not in stress, not panting heavily, and I could see that there was still time.  I left her in the whelping room, and went to bed, but of course, was up ten times during the night to check. She looked at me with a calm gaze – “What are you so uptight about???” and went back to her introverted thoughts of what was happening inside…

In the morning, she was kind enough to let me finish feeding and cleaning the other dogs, and then she started to produce puppies.

Chance was very efficient about it. This was her first litter, but she acted as though she had already delivered many pups.  She efficiently pushed them out, cleaned them, and went on to the next.  I sat in the room with her, offering her water occasionally, but other than that, I was totally superfluous.  Four puppies, five puppies….”Chance, “ I said, “that is great. You can stop now!”  Six, seven….she stopped at nine.  Six sables, three tricolors, 4 females and five males.  The puppies were a few days early (the pressure of carrying nine puppies had evidently had its effect), and they were tiny little things, an average of about 150 grams – but vigorous!  From their first breath of air, they headed straight for the nipples – obviously they inherited their mother’s great love of food! – and latched on.  I was prepared with such a big litter to give them a supplement – but they were not the least interested, only mama for them!  And regular weighing showed them all gaining weight as they should.  They were strong and content, even if small.

Litter two was born two days later. Kate did not give me any early warning signs, she quietly had her puppies in the middle of the night, and in the morning I found her contentedly nursing five – four girls and one boy, including my little Legacy.

14 puppies!!!!!!

The first three weeks are of course no problem.  The puppies are only interested in eating and sleeping, and the mothers are calm and content, relaxing with their kids in the box, cleaning them and enjoying motherhood.  Once I saw that Chance’s nine were all nursing very efficiently, growing, and strong, I could stop worrying about them – even though at this point Kate’s pups were twice the size.  But I knew they would catch up in time.

As we approached the magical number of 21 days, life began to liven up.

This is the point where we start to see the difference between smooth collie pups and rough collie pups.  They may be basically the same breed, but….

Chance’s little fluffballs indeed became alert to what was happening around them, to people coming into the room, to the new experience of real food, to the noises of the household, toys and so on. But they were gentle and well mannered, and although they would stand up with their front legs over the top of the whelping box, they came out only by invitation, when I would lift them out to let them run around in the living room.

The smooths became aware of everything at the same time – but for them, new things meant interaction.  What a strange idea, to sit in the whelping box and watch the world go by outside it!  They insisted on being in the midst of things.  By the time they were three and a half weeks old, they were not only climbing out of the box and running around the room, but they were using the puppy fence as a ladder to climb up onto the sofa, from which they would bungee jump back down.  No arrangement of box and fence helped, whatever I tried, they surmounted.  Life is not meant to be closed in a box!!!!  When I opened the door to come in, they were between my legs like a flash and running for the freedom of the whole house.  And they were fast and determined!  Food – well, the gentle mannerly nibbling of the roughs was unknown here – they dived into the food bowl with all feet, and gobbled.  Keep in mind, this was all going on with puppies that were under five weeks old.

Their introduction to the great outdoors was as expected.  The roughs sat in a pile next to the steps and cautiously moved forward inspecting everything and watching mommy to see what was expected behavior.  After a few minutes of examining this fascinating new world, it was time to start running around and playing and enjoying the new toys they found outside – but always at a reasonable distance from the steps into the house, their known safe place.

The smooths, on the other hand, from the minute their little feet touched ground, took off like little streaks of lightning in all directions, and I could almost hear the “Wow!!!! Look at this!!!! Look at that!!! I need to taste everything!!! I need to pick everything up!!!! I need to bungee jump down those stairs!!!!” as they tried to do everything at once.  I was kept occupied preventing the bungee jumps…

As they got a bit older and more “experienced” in life, the whole bunch of puppies played and ran around together and the roughs learned from the smooths (not the opposite, of course, that would have been too easy), and they all ran, played, jumped, chewed…Great fun for all!

Except for me, of course, who had to try and watch 14 little bouncing balls scattering all over the yard, picking up and chewing everything in reach, getting in the water dishes (that is great fun!), and then finding some mud to dig in…
Keeping 14 active puppies clean and presentable is no picnic – by the time I had brushed one clean, the ones I had cleaned before were ready to be cleaned again.  These puppies were well acquainted with having quick showers in the bathtub from a very young age.

It is always very hard for me to part with my puppies, I am always tempted to keep them all – but of course that is not possible,  I have to admit that with these guys, as each puppy went to its new home, the difference in activity and amount of care was very apparent!  Each one had such a strong personality that it was very noticeable when it was taken out of the group.

Ten puppies have gone to excellent homes, and some of them have a future as therapy dogs as well.  Four have stayed here (obviously I was not going to be able to let them all go!)  My little Legacy is here, of course, her pet name is Robin, and she is smart, learns everything immediately, and then thinks about whether she wants to do it. Her tricolor rough brother, Lucky, is a big awkward boy with a very sweet nature and no idea that he is bigger than the others.  The two Chance kids, Topaz the female and Tawny the male, take after their mother – they have not yet paid much attention to helicopters, but like their mother, they love to run after the hose pipe and try to grab the water, they nip at the shoes and pants legs of visitors trying to herd them, and they are extremely talented at climbing fences to get into my poor little patches of garden that are meant to be protected from the dogs.

Well, four is easier than fourteen….

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