I'm afraid I have neglected my dog related blog posts recently . I rather felt you may all have had an overdose of sentimentality and canine capers with my 'blogathon' during the Pedigree Adoption Drive Campaign .
However , it seems that enough is never too much for some of you and so , due to popular demand , here I am again . I thought I would do a serious post and share my first experience of the joys and pitfalls of ' Having a Litter '.
I do not believe in churning out puppies. Good homes are difficult to find and Afghan Hounds are not the easiest of dogs and so we made the decision to only have a litter when we particularly wanted a puppy ourselves . Therefore we have only ever had two litters of Afghan puppies and three litters of Maltese . This is the story of our first Afghan litter , which turned out to be something of a baptism of fire .
We tried three times to have puppies from our beautiful black and silver showdog , Cleo , but each time we were unsuccessful and we just couldn't go through the trauma again . Perhaps one day I will share the story , but it is sad and very upsetting and maybe better left in the past.
After the heartache with dear Cleo we almost gave up, but friends persuaded us to carry on and so we decided to mate our lovely cream coloured Sophie to the stunning silver brindle Joe .
You would have thought that , as we owned both the dog and the bitch , this would have been an easy task . Unfortunately , nothing is ever simple , dogs don't read reference books and mine have rarely behaved in any way that could be called 'normal' ...... whatever 'normal' is !
We tried every day from the ninth day of Sophies season and every day the two dogs either completely ignored each other or tried to kill each other . Sophie was always particularly fiesty and was determined to kill either us or Joe and I don't think she cared which !
Bitches are in season for approximately 21 days and are usually mated successfully somewhere in the middle of that time and so you can imagine that I had given up all hope as I let the dogs out to play on the morning of the 21st day . It was January and very cold and the damn hose was frozen and so I had to carry buckets of water to fill up the dogs bowls . I was busy doing this and cursing the fact that icy water was slopping out of the buckets and freezing on my legs and I was so cold that I couldn't feel my fingers , when I noticed Joe and Sophie getting quite amorous . I screamed out for help and , with much slipping and sliding on the icy ground , we managed to get the dogs as far as the garage before the inevitable happened . I will leave the rest to your imagination , but suffice to say , I didn't hold out any hope for a successful conclusion to this union.
Bitches are pregnant for 9 weeks and during the first 4 to 5 weeks they don't really give much indication of any change to their bodies. Sophie was more or less the same as usual apart from the fact that she suddenly rejected all food ...... I mean everything ! Of course , I tried all the tricks and tips I knew . Afghan Hounds are notoriously difficult to feed , preferring to starve themselves and worry their poor owners to distraction . They have only been domesticated since the early 1900s and so are still very wild , and in the wild they would not neccessarily eat every day . Vets have always said , " Oh, they will eat eventually, no dog will starve itself " Well all I have to say to that is , " You have clearly never owned an Afghan !"
So, because of the refusal to eat , we needed to know if Sophie was ,in fact, having pups . With this in mind we set off to our wonderful vet Jill and requested an ultra-sound scan and there on the screen was the evidence .... Sophie was indeed pregnant and it was estimated that there were about 4 puppies ! We were astounded , shocked and excited all at once . Wonderful !!
It became a matter of urgency to get Sophie eating if she was to give birth to healthy pups without damaging her own health .Luckily I hit on the very thing to tempt her when I was cooking a chicken for dinner . She started to show great interest in the roast chicken and so for 4 weeks Sophie had a whole roast chicken every day . But of course it was not that simple , oh no ! It had to be straight out of the oven , piping hot , burning my fingers as I cut it into pieces for her . I tried cooking two at once to save time and reheated the second one the next day , but this was rejected with a sneer and a look that would have frozen boiling water !
The preparations began . Ian made a super whelping box and I collected blankets and towels and surgical equipment , the study was emptied and made ready for 'D' day ; or should that be 'P' day ? My friend Cheryl , in Birmingham , phoned daily and as she had some experience with litters of puppies , a 'hot-line' was set up . No-one was better prepared , or so we thought !
The fateful day arrived , Sophie began to pant and look anxious , it was Saturday the 28th March , would we end the day with 4 lovely puppies ? I was nervous and excited , I had devoured every book I could find on the subject and everything was ready . And so it began !
Ian proved to be absolutely marvellous , especially when things were a little tricky and eventually the first puppy arrived at 1pm , a dog weighing 1lb 2oz . We rubbed him with a towel and examined him and put him with Mum , who licked him and nuzzled him and looked smug .
After that it went ..... 2,20 , a bitch. 2,45 , a dog. Another dog at 3,30, then a pause in the proceedings while we caught our breath and looked at the babies . Three dogs and a bitch , wonderful ! But I felt Sophies abdomen and thought I could still feel something , oh maybe there were 5 puppies instead of 4 ; no problem .
At 4,25 came a bitch , followed swiftly at 4,45 by another wee girl ...... Ok , can we stop now ? But, no ! We had a dog at 6.30 and another two dogs at 7.00 and 10.00pm. Surely that was it , Sophie settled down and we cleaned up and tidied the room and even managed to get her to leave the sleeping pups long enough to stretch her legs and spend a penny and eat her piping hot roast chicken .
By now it was 1,30 on Sunday morning and we were exhausted . I decided to stay with Sophie and the pups , to make sure everything was well and that she didn't accidentally lie on one . Then suddenly she gave out a little whimper and at 2.00 am the last dog arrived . Ten puppies , oh my goodness, we were overwhelmed .We realised we would have to supplement the feeding and rotate the pups , 10 is an awful lot for one bitch to feed properly. Ah, but we would manage , feeding one or two pups will be no problem !
Well, next day all the puppies were making a most unhappy noise , we couldn't get them to suckle and poor Sophie was becoming really distressed . Jill , the vet, visited to check everything was OK . She praised our 'maternity' ward , was pleased with the size and health of all the pups , in admiration of our midwifery skills, but expressed concern over Sophies milk supply , perhaps it would appear soon .
Oh no , dear reader, no such luck . Lovely Sophie was a diligent mother , washing the pups and snuggling up to them to keep them warm and give them comfort , but , she had NO milk. That meant only one thing . If the pups were to survive we would have to feed them with bottles , every two hours for the next three weeks until they could lap by themselves ! This was a huge commitment .
A mattress was dragged into the study and so began the marathon undertaking . For three weeks I slept in the study with the pups and Ian and I took it in turns to stay awake with them . The room was heated to almost tropical temperatures to ensure they used no energy keeping warm . I became expert at feeding pups with a baby bottle . A skill that has stayed with me and proved quite useful in helping other people in similar situations . I found the best way was to stretch the pup out along my arm so that there was less chance of choking . However, this meant that my arm was continually scratched by the razor sharp claws as they 'kneaded ' with their little legs.
My days became a constant round of puppy feeding and trying to catch some sleep . Ian and I rarely saw each other and I don't think I ventured outside that room for days on end , other than to shower etc. Ian and the kids did all the other chores and shopping and such and the pups thrived , as I grew more and more exhausted . Then fate dealt another blow . The special powdered milk became difficult to obtain locally , we were using it by the tubful every day as the pups drank more and more . We tried an alternative but the pups refused anything but the original . Panic ! Luckily , Cheryl was friendly with the manufacturers and so salvation came in the form of Dugdales wonderful Area Manager , Mike , who ferried huge tubs of 'Instalac' across the Pennines . Our knight in shining armour ! In fact the pups became the subject of an advertising campaign in Dugdales newsletter .
The puppies continued to thrive , as you can see from the photographs , and we began weaning at 3 weeks , which is early but under the circumstances was vital for my sanity !!
We nicknamed them the 'Dream Team ' and all of their registered names had the word 'dream' included i.e.;
' Dream Warrior' , 'Perchance to Dream' , ' Dream Machine ' etc.,. This was because we had always dreamt of having them , but when they arrived we had no time to dream !
The puppies grew strong and healthy and beautiful and all went on to have wonderful homes . Some went into the show ring , with great success . .Our young daughter , Louisa , chose a lovely silver brindle , Fletch , who had a very successful show career , gaining his Junior Warrant and many other accolades . Some went to racing homes and had great fun at the Afghan race events and a couple went to loving pet homes . They all became an important and much loved part of their respective families and no breeder can ask for more than that . We still receive Christmas cards from their owners even though the dogs themselves have sadly gone to the Rainbow Bridge . I still remember each and every one and will always be proud of them .
I would like to be able to tell you that our second litter was easier , however, we had 13 puppies the next time....................................................