Tales from a Foster Mom: Shayna and her Puppies
We’ve all seen those pawprint shaped bumper stickers that say “Who rescued who?” Good question. We sign up to save a shelter dog but end up saving ourselves in the process.
A few years ago it seemed like everything was going wrong. My sweet yellow Labrador Sunshine passed away just shy of her 15th birthday. My daughter married someone I wasn’t happy about after years of being a very contentious and defiant teenager. My mother in law passed away, my husband’s office burned to the ground when the neighboring suite had a fire that spread to the whole building. I had a horseback riding accident that set me back financially and required shoulder surgery and months of rehab. It was one thing after another….
One morning, while walking my dog Sugar with my neighbor Jerry, who also had a Labrador, he asked me if I would consider fostering. Jerry and his wife were volunteers for Labrador Rescuers and they were looking for a volunteer to foster a very pregnant Labrador about to give birth. The momma and puppies would be safer in a foster home. I hesitated a bit but then decided, “why not?” My life was depressing at the time, but maybe I could help make another life better. So after begging my husband to agree, we became foster parents to the pregnant momma dog. But by the time the rescue group was allowed to pull her out of the shelter, she had already given birth! We were told I would be picking up the momma dog and her eight puppies. When I arrived, there weren’t eight puppies in the basket; there were nine! Momma dog had no name. She was small for a Labrador, weighing only 35 pounds, with every rib visible. All her energy went in to nourishing the puppies. Their eyes were still closed and they were so small they fit in the palm of my hand.
The mother was a beautiful little girl and I named her Shayna. She was a good momma—very attentive and nurturing—but something wasn’t right. She kept panting even though it was one of the coldest winter nights we had had in a long time. I called the vet and told her not only was momma Shayna panting, she was getting excessive discharge. She said to rush her over to the clinic. I had placed the five-day-old puppies in a laundry basket and momma sat next to them and didn’t take her eyes off of them. At the clinic the doctors confirmed that something wasn’t right. The discharge was not normal and showed she had an infection most likely from a retained placenta. That explained it. The shelter told me I was getting eight puppies but I picked up nine, so she must have delivered one last one when nobody was looking and nobody was there to check if she had expelled everything.
Poor momma Shayna was rushed to surgery to remove the retained placenta. I was left with a litter of newborn puppies! They would not take the plastic nipples. They wouldn’t stop crying they were so hungry so I rushed them back to the clinic and our wonderful vet, Dr. Alcala, showed me how to tube feed them. She went through the steps with all nine puppies to make sure I was comfortable with the procedure. My good friend Diane even brought her pillow with her to spend the night to help me with the round the clock care these puppies would need while their momma was in the hospital. We were told to keep them in a small heated room so we chose the powder room, with no draft, and had the space heater going the whole time. The vet stressed how important it was to keep it at 98 degrees so the puppies wouldn’t get chilled and get sick and die on us. With each feeding session we prayed so hard that we got it right and nobody got any punctured lungs. There were nine puppies so by the time we finished feeding all of them it was time to start preparing for the next feeding! Needless to say, Diane and I stayed up all night barely catching ten to fifteen minute naps here and there.
Thankfully, we made it through the night. The next day the clinic said we could pick up momma Shayna around noon. So we had a couple more feeding sessions to do before picking her up. Since it was too difficult to transport the puppies in such cold weather, my neighbor Jerry who talked me into fostering, went to pick her up. He said that momma Shayna was wailing the whole ride and finally calmed down when he pulled up to my house and she knew her babies were there. The reunion was beautiful. She went over each and every one of her puppies as if doing a head count and settled down right away to nurse them. The puppies were so happy to have their momma back!
The next few days came and went in a blur. I didn’t get much done around the house I was so busy watching the puppies even if they were just sleeping. They were so precious it was really hard to stay away from them.
We went through mountains of newspapers. All the neighbors were recruited to save their newspapers to line the puppy “condo.” It was an enclosure I built in the garage with a heater to keep them all warm and cozy. Pretty soon the puppies’ eyes started to open and before we knew it they were trying to sit up and stand. Once their eyes were open and they could get around in those wobbly legs, the fun really started!
They loved to shred the newly laid down newspaper. They chewed on everything and on each other. Amazingly, even at such a young age, they began to potty train themselves by going only on one side of the pen. They were so adorable, not only was I having trouble getting things done around the house, everyone wanted to come and watch the puppies even if just to see them sleeping.
As they were weaned to formula then solid food, they also started to make bigger messes. Nobody told me I had to worm them every 2 weeks so I had not started the worming routine soon enough. Next thing I knew, there were these white spaghetti looking things in their feces that came alive and were moving and wriggling! The horror! Dealing with these worms was by far the worst part about this fostering experience; it was horrible! And momma Shayna would try to clean up after her pups and ingest that and then throw up the worms! This part shouldn’t be shared, but for anyone who wants to foster puppies, parasites are just part of the package. No matter how clean you keep the environment, they just get them.
Phew! Once we got over that ordeal, it was more continued entertainment watching them grow. Everything was interesting to them. They found joy in everything, even if just chewing on a leaf or another puppy’s foot. As the weeks went by, potential adopters began to come for meet and greets.
We were very fortunate that by the time the pups were nine weeks old most of them had been spoken for. Momma Shayna was the first one to be picked up which worked out great because she was getting aggressive with them when they tried to nurse. I guess that is Nature’s way of weaning the pups. Then one by one the puppies were adopted. Except for the two fluffy ones that didn’t look very much like Labradors. The longer they stayed at my house, the more attached we got, so of course, we ended up adopting those two. Rosebud and Scooter joined our family and they have been such a joy and constant source of laughter, tears, and entertainment. Our family wouldn’t be the same without those happy little faces and all the goofy things they do to make us laugh.
So when I think back to the time when I decided to foster, I didn’t save a pregnant momma dog and her puppies from the shelter. They saved me by making me better appreciate life, and look at things from a new perspective. I am so grateful for the opportunity to witness such a miracle of life. Staying up all night tube feeding those tiny, defenseless little puppies made me realize life is very fragile and we have to be good stewards to all these helpless creatures. They sure bring us more joy than any new car or boat or jewelry could ever buy. It was a lot of work—so much work I lost almost 10 lbs in just six weeks. I call it the best diet ever! But it was worth every sleepless night, every horrifying wormy mess to clean up, every pile of poop or throw up or chewed up pants legs and shoelaces. The joy and the love these pups bring into our lives is priceless. Who rescued who? They rescued me.