Update....We've Adopted A 'Pregnant' Stray Dog In Spain!?!

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Tuesday 10 January 2017

Update....We've Adopted A 'Pregnant' Stray Dog In Spain!?!

Not 24 hours since we shared the happy news that we have a new addition in our travelling pack in the brown and white shape of Leela, it looks like we'll soon be joined by 5 or 6 more. Since the day Leela came to stay last week we (and many others in the village) had increasingly recognised and commented on the signs of a pregnant dog. So, we'd gotten her to the vets as soon as possible after a national holiday. What we didn't know was just how pregnant. Well today through the wonders of ultrasound we got to see just how many heartbeats were hiding beneath Leela's fur.

Adopting Leela has inspired a collection of dog-themed poems and illustrations:
Love, Fluff and Chasing Butterflies - 50% of royalties are donated to the Dog's Trust 

Getting used to having Leela around has certainly been a short, sharp learning curve. As I wrote yesterday, it took us (particularly me) two weeks to get used to the idea of sharing life with a dog at all. Then I got 4 or 5 days to wrap my head around the idea that she was like a furry Russian doll with little ones inside. Then, this morning, I found out there are probably 6 more furry snouts to feed on the way in the next 5-15 days. Changes, it seems, are like buses. They arrive all at once.

 According to the wonderfully patient and informative vet here in San Jose, based on how fully formed the pups are (we could see their hearts beating, their eyes and their mouths opening and closing!) she estimated Leela to be around 45-50 days into her pregnancy, leaving around 5-15 days until the big arrival. Not really very long for me to prepare for Grandog status. Still, if there is one thing Leela has taught us already in her brief time with us, there's nothing like going with the flow.

Then the vet dropped the bombshell. The previous day (when we had booked the ultrasound) she had advised us that only in the first two thirds of the pregnancy would they still potentially consider a surgical spay/termination. Now she changed her mind slightly, saying that as their was perhaps error in her estimate until birth (it could be 40 days gone, could be 50), if we wanted she would still do it the next day. But that was the last chance and we also had to bear in mind it was risky and not ideal for Leela in various ways so late in pregnancy, especially if she was 50 days gone. But it was still up to us because, as she made clear, while it wasn't ideal here in Spain it was a more common practice because even a late stage termination can be kinder than bringing even more unwanted pups into the world. She didn't like it but that was the reality she had to deal with in her job every day, seeing abandoned and mistreated animals. Finding a good home for one or two pups in Spain may be possible, but we had to think about 6 and had she not been found and we'd offered a home she would have delivered in the wild and the pups would likely have starved anyway. Not a nice reality, but that's how it is. Or did we have the means and the willingness to take the responsibility of finding or offering good, loving homes ourselves?

What did we want to do?

Wow - 5 days as dog owners and 6 (potentially 7) lives hung in our hands already. It felt like, indeed it is, a big decision. Now this is doubtless a very emotive subject for many, it certainly is for us. Some people would likely say immediately "there are enough dogs in the world and I don't want any more, do the surgery and I'll take the risk". Others might say "it's too late, they're fully formed pups, it's not fair and it's not worth the surgical risk. I'll have to find them homes when they arrive".

The fact is both viewpoints have strong arguments for and against them depending on your perspective. It definitely isn't something we feel qualified to judge on. Personally my overriding thought at first was wishing there wasn't a decision to make at all - I mean if she'd been just 20 days pregnant carrying odd shaped balls of cells termination would have felt easier. Or even if she was 60 days pregnant and surgery wasn't even offered I could have been happy. Either felt preferable to this arbitrary borderline of terminating fully formed, viable pups in a relatively risky surgery that the vet had marked out for us.

Thankfully the vet was very patient and compassionate, reminded us we could take the day to think about it and so we thanked her and left, with a wagging tailed Leela looking very proud of herself trotting happily alongside us.

Once home we decided to take some time apart to journal and meditate on what we felt was the right thing to do.

For my part everything in me intellectually screamed that termination was the sensible and socially acceptable thing to do, especially here in Spain overrun with stray and abandoned dogs. I was an academic and my head always used to rule my heart. Yes it was a risk to Leela, but putting your trust in a surgeons knife is what we're supposed to do these days isn't it? I know I have plenty of times (with mixed results!). I could also make a whole list of all the personal practical challenges and costs we could anticipate if all 6 (or 7) puppies came to term. Passports, vaccinations, potty training, transport, finding good, loving homes, renting accommodation that would allow them.....the list went on and on.

But still, when I closed my eyes it didn't 'feel' right. The doubts wouldn't let me push them down. Instead more and more questions arose. For example, I am, after all, a 'vegan'. So what does that really mean to me? Is it just a diet choice or something more?  Do I believe all animal lives have equal value, or only that we don't need to eat them. What did my principles mean outside of the food industry? I realised I hadn't really had cause to think in depth before on how I might personally effect change in this area. I mean I'd given money to the PDSA, RSPCA, Mercy For Animals etc. and volunteered at animal rescues but I'd never really considered something so close to my own life. Doing no harm myself had felt enough, but now I had to make a choice with no clear right and wrong that concerned the welfare of an animal in my care. Even when we'd had rabbits I'd let Esther make all of decisions on 'vet stuff'. I couldn't do that this time. If how I felt mattered, then how did I actually 'feel'? Crikey this feeling and intuition stuff was hard!

As the afternoon passed and the more I contemplated the world we live in, where so many animals are treated as profit making commodities provided with essential nutrients but with no recognition for their suffering, the more the thought of placing 6 fully formed, viable puppies on a counter to slowly suffocate (the vet had told me it would take about 5 minutes) hurt me. Isn't that I would be doing to Leela treating her as a 'thing'. I wanted a cute dog to fuss and I was prepared to cut out her pups close to term in a risky surgery, probably screw up her hormones as well, to avoid extra hassle. Was my argument about 'social responsibility' really just a smokescreen for avoiding personal inconveniences? I was beginning to feel that's exactly what I was doing. (I should probably add here that we had also phoned a vet we trust in the UK to ask about late stage terminations and she said, unequivocally, that in the UK it would not be done without a genuine medical reason. A healthy mum with healthy pups more than 5-6 weeks gone, while she could understand why in Spain it may be more conventional, would not be considered in the UK.)

It is, of course, a personal choice. I do not believe there is a 'right' or 'wrong' decision here only an individual judgement call. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet:

...."for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. Well, then it isn't one to you, since nothing is really good or bad in itself"

Anyway, the upshot of all these ramblings is that after an afternoon of contemplation and journalling I realised that my gut, contrary to my head, wanted to let Leela have her pups. I was so angry at myself for this when I realised! "You're such a naive idiot Dan" said my head, to which my heart said "and you're a heartless, selfish git". I genuinely wanted to slap myself, yet if there is one thing our travels have helped me to see it is that my gut usually makes better decisions. Also, as luck would have it, Esther went through pretty much the same thought process and came to the same conclusion and frankly just making a committed decision felt like lifting a weight off my head.

So, here's to Leela and her impending pups. Time to get excited. It should be a fun month ahead.....and it's okay to be scared. At least I am. Leela seems quite relaxed about the whole thing. She is snoring as I type "puppy births" into YouTube.

Adopting Leela has inspired a collection of dog-themed poems and illustrations:
Love, Fluff and Chasing Butterflies - 50% of royalties are donated to the Dog's Trust 


  1. How lovely all those puppies, Shirley and Jenny x

    1. Hi Jenny and Shirley! Yes it really is wonderful. Challenging but learning a lot from the experience and having a lot of fun. Vet said from the ultrasound they were going to be very active little ones! And that they definitely are :-)

      Replied to the other comment as well but just in case here it is again - thank you so much for getting in touch. Glad you are enjoying reading the blog and it's lovely to know that Shirley can see our news and especially the photos of the pups too. We are thinking of Ron and Shirley every day. Please let them know we are sending them lots of love and a big hug from us and all the puppies. And that we will phone again soon. Hope you and your family are well. Esther and Dan xxx


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