The Trials Of Puppy Parenthood - Tired Little Leela

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Trials Of Puppy Parenthood - Tired Little Leela

As I alluded to in my previous blog posts about the first couple of weeks in the lives of Leela's puppies I've been surprised at just what a challenge it has been. Not only, I hasten to add, for Esther and I although certainly the level of anxiety we felt, for example, when one of the puppies continually cried in the first week added to the anxiety we were already feeling in such an unknown situation has taken a noticeable toll on both of us. 'In a daze' and 'running to stand still' captures much how we've felt over the past two and a half weeks since the puppies appeared - so much to learn, so much to do and apparently so little time. Yet, as we have increasingly settled into this unexpected responsibility of puppy care, what we have had a growing sense of is just how much impact caring for the puppies is having on Leela.

It's just over 5 weeks since Leela came to live with us and even after just that short time neither of us can imagine her not being around. From the day we met her and again during that first 2 and half weeks after she came to stay (prior to the puppies) we fell increasingly in love with her energy, her independence and her inquisitive nature. It felt far more like she adopted us than the other way around, accepting and trusting us in a matter of hours. I find it very hard to capture in words the strength of the bond that has grown so fast. It has also, for me at least, allowed me to express an entirely different and more nurturing side of my character.

Then the puppies arrived and it's not that Leela changed so much as she had a burden thrust upon her and a heavy one at that. To be available 24/7, to have her body turned into a milk production factory, needing to eat almost 4 times her standard requirement (1700+ kCal per day) to keep up with the puppies growth, to help them toilet, keep them clean, to stay home far more than usual......well, it is very hard for her, especially as she is only really a puppy herself (less than a year old).

Twice now we have had to take Leela to the vet as she was off her food, suffering with bad diarrhoea, vomiting and she barely had the energy to walk up the stairs.  Both times we were very scared for her (and the effect on the puppies), but as the vet has explained right now her entire system is being overwhelmed by the demands of raising those puppies. It's in 'crisis' mode in many ways she said, with all resources going into puppy care and throwing her system completely off balance. The diarrhoea could have been caused by many things, such as ingesting so much puppy waste as she keeps them clean and toileted. Thankfully both times she perked up after 12 hours or so with some probiotic supplements.

In general, however, as an outside observer I have to say she often looks tired and 'hunted' herself.  Her brow is furrowed and she just looks worried a lot of the time. For the first weeks whilst she was nursing the puppies and we entered the room she looks so expectant for a moment and then the glint seemed to fade from her eyes a little. It was like she wanted to jump straight up and run and play like before,  but couldn't because she was pulled back by this overpowering urge to care.  More recently we've taken her I on slightly longer walks for the first time since the birth and we see a glimpse of Leela before the puppies, running back to us in huge bounds, sniffing around and apparently enjoying the air on her face. Often when we get back to our front door she just sits outside in the sun.

Even more recently we have had spend nights sleeping in the puppy room with her, as otherwise she just sleeps by our bed the whole night and then we have very hungry, grizzly puppies in the early hours of the morning. We don't know if it's because she has been abandoned and wants to know where we are? But she is more and more seeming to want to follow us and be where we are instead of spending her time in with her puppies.....which means we need to spend large chunks of our time in the room with the puppies.

I don't want to make it sound like she isn't a good mum. The puppies are growing well, she shifts her body so they can all get on a teat at feeding time, she keeps them clean, eats up their waste, treads carefully around their sleeping bodies....she does what she needs to and what a good mum should. The vet and others who have experience with litters of puppies says she is a really good mum and that it's good for her to spend some time on her own resting away from the puppies, that she will increasingly do this as the days go by. Plus, as the vet reminds us, she is a small dog with a relatively large litter and that is a big demand on her (in the wild the vet has reminded us it is unlikely that all the pups would have survived). The combined puppy weight is now almost the same as her body weight!

Now I know that there are some people who would argue that what Leela is doing is natural and that it's healthy even for a female dog to have at least one litter in her lifetime (some vets used to recommend it). That words like 'hard' and 'burden' are only a humanised interpretation of events and that I'm just projecting this apparent internal battle between being a puppy herself, wanting to be outside playing, compared to being  inside with her puppies on her. That Leela is, in fact, 'happy' responding to her instincts and raising her puppies and perhaps that the case.

Now I'm neither qualified nor inclined to get too involved in a debate about whether or not animals other than humans 'feel' in the same way we like to think we do. I have read a few fascinating books on the subject and would especially recommend the excellent 'Homo Deus' by Harari for a discussion about how unclear our knowledge of apparently accepted concepts like 'feelings' and 'consciousness' even are.

Instead perhaps I should just stick to more observable things. Since the birth, no matter how much food we get into her (we're making sure she is getting her nutrient requirements), Leela often seems lethargic, her teats look sore, she remains thin and is increasingly clingy whenever we are around. The truth is as beautiful as the puppies are and as much as I love them, I do feel a little sorry for what Leela is going through at the same time. An experience she didn't exactly choose.

Which is primarily the reason I felt moved to share a few thoughts on Leela in this post. I don't want to put a damper on the joys, for us, of watching the puppies grow. Every morning we find ourselves increasingly entranced by how quickly they are becoming little dogs. Their paws and noses are dark already, their cries sound more like yaps and barks and their snouts seem slightly longer. But as much fun as it is to post cute pictures and write about how the puppies play and wriggle and squirm when we are with them and about how incredible being at the birth was, I'd feel bad if I didn't share a little of this other side as well. That Leela (beloved after even just a few weeks) is bearing a heavy burden and that although I am committed to finding these puppies good homes and enjoying the process of watching them grow, having a littler of puppies is definitely not something I would have ever chosen for her.


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