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.
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".
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.
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.