I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be less than 6” high and let loose in a ‘wilderness’ of grass and flowers; daunting forests of shrubs; wooden benches as high as the tallest sky-scraper and plies of logs as imposing as Mount Kilimanjaro. Was anyone phased? No. Turns out that these small puppies are extremely adventurous and, at this point in time, have no real fear. This, for us humans, is both good and bad. I’m glad that they are adventurous, seeking out new experiences, absorbing life and knowledge like sponges, however… it does mean that you need eyes in the back of your head—sides too would be useful—in order not to loose anyone!
We took them out in groups, not sure that we could cope with monitoring all 10 at the same time. How right we were! After acclimatising, which took less than a minute, they were off… and like a gaggle of small children they all went in different directions! I remember taking Finn to the zoo when he was about 3. He had never seen elephants before and was totally enthralled. As an adult it is difficult to recapture that initial sense of enchantment: the delight of something unexpected and new, something totally beyond your imagination. I wonder if it was like for the puppies?
Our garden is quite large, with flowerbeds, a vegetable patch, a woodpile, overgrown areas for the wildlife and lots of nettles! I foolishly hoped that the pups would stay, more-or-less, in the centre of the neatly mown grass area—no such luck! They particularly liked the overgrown brambly bits: for human arms a killer combination of scratchy long grass, brambles and nettles, for puppies—a breeze! It’s quite something watching a small puppy disappear head first into the undergrowth, white bum and tail left waving in the air. And boy can they move if the mood takes them, sprinting across what to them must seem like acres of open plain. I guess that could explain their preference for the overgrown areas—safety. Out on the savannah grasslands of mowed lawn they are vulnerable to passing birds of prey and larger carnivores; hidden in the nettles and the brambles they are safe!
What stories they had to tell when they returned to the sanctuary of the kitchen. And when they slept what dreams they had, their small bodies twitching, excited, legs running as they relived their adventures. And tomorrow, tomorrow is another day, with more adventures, more firsts, and more life to be lived, but perhaps nothing will ever be quite as special as that first sojourn into the garden.
Everyone, large and small, has been fed and watered, and are now lying fast asleep: replete and content. There is jazz playing in the background and I am drinking a glass of cold white wine—a small oasis of calm in what has become an unbelievably busy, and somewhat manic, life. Would I change anything? No. Tired as I am, chaotic as my life has become, watching these 10 new lives as they grow and develop is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. Characters are beginning to emerge: there is the diva, the explorer, the chilled out one, the escape artist. They captivate and beguile; and I will miss them when they go.
Last week they moved into the kitchen. I added a run to the whelping box, so they now have twice the space. In so doing I discovered that I possess 22 drill bits… hmmm… let’s just say that I am equipped to drill any size hole in almost any medium! The pups love their new accommodation. Being in the kitchen means that they are at the ‘heart of the home’, with all the domestic comings and goings, and all the associated noises and chaos of family life. Hopefully, by the time they leave with their new families they will be well versed in the washing machine, the hoover, the clanking of pans, the radio, music, etc, etc.
I started weaning them last week. My Mother was a herbalist and I am following her ‘natural rearing’ method. The pups are started on raw meat: a pulp/paste of chicken meat and bone. I love weaning puppies—encouraging them to taste, watching them engage, enjoy and devourer their new food. Seeing how quickly they develop once they start on this meat diet reminded me of papers I read when studying for my Masters: papers about the relationship between the cooking of meat—the use of fire—and the development of the human brain. I’m not sure what precisely the connection is, but it seems that protein is a ‘force for the good’ and that in order to evolve the human brain required cooked meat. As well as meat the pups are, initially, given milk, honey, tree bark food and oatbran porridge. Over the weeks I will introduce different meats, offal, bone, vegetables and fruit. Dora would, I think, be happy to be fruitarian. I have never known a dog to be so fond of fruit! She loves, blueberries, raspberries, mango, strawberries—in fact any fruit you can think of, except apples! Why she doesn’t like apples I do not know. Our Dora is a bit of an enigma. It will be interesting to see if any of these pups love fruit as much as she does.
Tomorrow Mandy is coming over and we plan to take the pups out into the garden—their first taste of the outside world—now that could be fun!
We are coming to the end of yet another day and the beginning of another week. The puppies are 18 days old. We have just finishing weighing them—I have weighed them every day, at about the same time, since they were born. The daily weights are put onto a spread sheet and in my ‘spare’ time I play around with the figures, looking at % increases, who weighs the most, who the least, how it has changed since they were born—they are a remarkable even and consistent litter—Dora is doing an excellent job! Soon they will be too big for the kitchen scales. Although the photo of Octavia suggests that they lie neatly curled up while being weighed, this is a fallacy; mostly they wriggle like mad, try to escape and generally make it very difficult, if not impossible, to get a steady reading. So, although I carefully log all the results, who know what they really weigh because I doubt it what I am recording!
Wednesday (day 14) was worming day. They will be wormed every two weeks until they leave for their new homes. Everyone warned me about the bright pink worming paste and how it got everywhere. I must admit to being somewhat sceptical about that one—2-week-old puppies, a syringe and some worming liquid, how can it be THAT messy? Well… turns out it can! And, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s only going to get worse. It’s the shaking of the head that does most damage—minute droplets of slightly foamy, fondant pink liquid dispersing into the atmosphere, landing on anything and everything. Needless to say next time I will not be wearing clean clothes! The worming liquid was the first ‘alien’ substance they had encountered, their expressions were priceless—ranging from sheer horror to disgust to disbelief.
The other ‘job’ that seems never ending is the trimming of nails; I keep them short to prevent them scratching and tearing Dora as the pups ‘prime the pump’. With 10 puppies there are a lot of nails to trim. Some don’t mind too much, others protest loudly and wriggle a lot. The first time I did it the pups were so small and wriggly that I was worried I would cut into the quick. Now they are bigger it is a little easier—though it has become a 2-person job: one to hold the ‘victim’ down and one to cut. I guess getting them used to nail trimming, worming and generally being handled is all part of their ‘education’; not skills that they will learn from their Mother or siblings, but rather human constructs that will, hopefully, equip them to be good canine members of our society.
On re-reading this blog entry I feel I ought it be headed— Ways to Torture a Puppy. So I hasten to add that they also get lots of love and cuddles!
Today I have divided my time between editing and puppies—puppies it transpires are exhausting, but rewarding—editing is just, well… exhausting! In the afternoon this is a sunny room, Dora and Scout are stretched out on the floor, fast asleep: Scout is lying in one of the pockets of sun streaming through the window, Dora lies in the shade, taking a smidgeon of ‘time out’ before returning to the ever hungry brood. The room is silent apart from the occasional noise from the whelping box. Puppies, it seems, dream. I’m not sure what they dream about; perhaps they hold memories from long ago, because they cannot, surely, be dreaming about their current life experiences? They are fascinating to watch, their bodies twitching, animated: not the uncontrolled twitching of the newborn but more deliberate; an attempted scratch, the legs moving as if running. And the noises… an anxious noise, a contented noise, a low, soft, gentle growl, that one, the growl, caught me unawares, I thought I’d misheard, but no it came again, a low, soft, gentle growl. Sometimes, like now, the noises sound like singing, and when several of the pups join in it sounds like some strange primeval chorus. When they are awake barking is added to the ensemble, funny little high-pitched barks. It turns out that puppies, even very small ones, are noisy, sometimes very noisy!
Some puppies have opened their eyes. Some puppies can stand. Some puppies can sit. Some puppies go and wee on the paper. Some puppies wee on me! Their personalities are beginning to emerge and I am beginning to have my favourites!
Soon it will be time for tea: Dora and Scout will be fed, the puppies will be weighed and the whelping box cleaned. Dora will, once again, take her place in the box, stretched out, a ready supply of milk. I cannot quite believe the amount of food she is currently consuming — vast quantities of porridge and honey and milk and yoghurt and eggs and meat and tripe and biscuit and veg and… the list goes on. She is still skinny, like a wraith—all that goodness going in and coming out again, turned into nourishing milk for those small creatures she grew inside her for 9 weeks; and now gives her all to feed and raise.
Finn is home from school and the kettle is on. The process of feeding starts again…
A week… a whole seven days… at the moment time seems to be moving both quickly and slowly. Dora’s babies are a week old: their eyes are beginning to open, tiny slits appearing at the corners. They have almost doubled their birth weights, they are trying to stand: I watched one this afternoon, pull himself up, put his hind legs underneath his body, stand… wobble… and fall over! This time last week they were new, so new, less than a few hours old. Their first instinct was to get to their Mother’s teat, to food, to nourishment. Watching them, still wet from the birth, crawling with such determination, I was struck by the desire to live, to thrive.
Given that they can neither see, nor hear, nor walk, they are remarkably speedy and determined as they move across the whelping box. Watching them a couple of days after they were born my daughter likened them to zombies—puppy zombies driven by the smell of milk, an army of undead homing in on their mother, driven forward by instinct, the desire for survival. There are 10 pups and 7 teats: not quite enough to go around: first there, first served. Those who make it to a teat hang on for grim death, as if their very survival depended upon it, which, I guess, it does. As a zooarchaeologist and scientist this fascinates me—this survival of the fittest, their biological urges and desires. I watch them and wonder how many, and which ones, would have survived in the wild. Here, in the comfort of the book room, they are monitored and those that seem in need are given priority access to Dora. The pig rail, in the carefully constructed whelping box, stops them being squashed by a tired, slightly overwhelmed, first-time mother.
I once found a cluster of neonatal canid bones, several puppies buried together in the corner of a cave. These bones supposedly came from a time before domesticated dogs. Archaeological data indicated that hunter-gatherers were using the cave on a seasonal basis—were these bones evidence of very early interactions between wolves and humans, or had this ‘burial’ occurred while the humans were absent and the cave was being used as a whelping den? Research into wolf behaviour revealed that wolves bury their dead pups. We will probably never know if this cluster of neonates was the result of natural animal behaviour or human intervention. Watching Dora and her newborns I am reminded of the wolf pups, the strength of the maternal bond, the love that comes unbidden, the desire to protect and make safe, even if, as in the case of the wolf pups, that means carefully burying the ones that don’t survive.
I’ve been smiling a lot this past couple of days: little smiles that come unbidden and play around the corners of my mouth. Dora is a mummy! She has ten babies—five girls and five boys. As I write she is lying surrounded by black and white, spotty blobs. The pups look as if they are auditioning for a Persil advert—they are snow white; she keeps them very clean does our Dora. And they are so soft to the touch; their coats feel like the finest velvet. They are quite extraordinarily beautiful.
The miracle of birth never ceases to amaze me. Dora went into the first stage of labour on Tuesday. I had been carefully taking her temperature, waiting for the ‘magic’ drop that would signify the start of the pup’s journey into this world. I’m still not sure when the drop happened. I guess, Dora being Dora, she did things a tad differently to ‘the book’ and I missed it. No matter, when you know your canine companion well you can tell that ‘things are happening’! Dora isn’t a diva, she doesn’t make a fuss, she just gets on and does, and true to form, that is exactly what she did. I kept a close eye on her; she was so relaxed and laid back that at times I thought I’d made a mistake and that she wasn’t in labour at all. Just as I had been at Dora’s birth, Mandy was coming over to be at this birth. We’d kept in close contact all afternoon and evening, I would let her know once Dora went into second-stage labour.
I drank copious cups of tea—I’m seriously thinking about buying shares in a tea company! Everyone, except me, went to bed. I remember sitting on the floor, with my back to the wall, watching Dora stretched out serenely on the sofa opposite me. Was she really in labour? Then she looked at me, and I knew, yes, she was. Around midnight I debated calling Mandy, but decided against it. There was no point in two of us loosing sleep unnecessarily. Half an hour later and Dora had definitely moved on… I rang Mandy. It takes about an hour and a half to get from Mandy’s to mine…plenty of time for the first puppy to arrive before she got here! I rang my friend Sarah; she lives 2 minutes away, and is very good at making tea! Dora had decided, unhelpfully, that she was going to have that first puppy just inside the whelping room door. She was also determined to have it standing up. Sarah and I covered the floor, typically the only bit of the floor not covered with a plastic sheet, with layers of newspaper. There was a gush of liquid—her water’s had broken. The first puppy was imminent. The puppy bag appeared at her vulva—I could see and feel feet—it was going to be a feet first delivery. About half of all puppies are born feet first, so this was nothing to worry about, though a head first delivery is easier for a first puppy from a maiden bitch. Slowly she began to push it out. She was still standing, so I gently cradled the emerging puppy, guiding it downwards in line with her birth canal. Mandy and the puppy arrived almost simultaneously!
Dora instinctively started licking the babe, removing the bag and detaching the placenta. Bitches often try to sever the umbilical cord very close to the pup’s belly, which is not good as you can end up with hernias. Dora was determined to remove as much umbilical cord as possible, so with a few deft moves the cord was clamped and neatly cut by human hands. We gave the pup a quick rub with a towel to help dry it off and got it suckling. I remember smiling, all three of us smiling, Dora’s first baby had been safely delivered. As each new life enters this world they are sexed, named, drawn, weighed, checked over and the time of birth noted. This first puppy, a girl, named Andromeda, was born at 2.09am.
The next puppy arrived some 20 minutes later. By now Dora had moved into the whelping box, though she was not convinced that lying down was the best option. She had my sympathy—I remember when I was in labour with Finn, being on all fours was definitely my favoured position! This time it was a head first delivery, a little boy, whom we named Thor. My son had come downstairs to watch Thor’s birth—he didn’t say much. Birth is a messy, anxious business, lots of blood and gore and pain! He will, I am sure, remember Thor’s birth for the rest of his life—watching a new being come into this world is a wonderous experience and something you never forget.
And, on that philosophical note, I must go and attend to Dora and her ever-growing brood.
Tomorrow is my friend Jo’s birthday; it was Jo who provided impromptu hospitality en route to Kassel. Poor Jo… not only did she become involved in our trip to Germany, she was also, in a rather roundabout way, involved in Dora’s birth! Fast-forward 9 weeks from our Kassel adventure to the beginning of July 2015. As I was having one of Esther’s puppies I really wanted to be there at the birth, however, I had a prior engagement, two friends from university were coming to stay the weekend the pups were due. No problem, puppies never come when ‘scheduled’ it would be fine… famous last words!
I was due to pick Jo up from the airport Friday lunchtime. Friday morning Mandy rang, Esther’s temperature had dropped; the pups were imminent. I picked Jo up from the airport, returned home, got her settled in, showed her where everything was, including all the ingredients and recipe for the evening meal, where to meet our other friend from the train, and left… I arrived at Mandy’s about 4pm leaving, 8 puppies later, at 4 am. By the time I left I knew Dora would, eventually, be coming home with me. I’m not sure why I was so sure, but I was. Maybe, sometimes, things are just meant to be. Dora coming to live with us was definitely one of those ‘meant to be things’.
Back home my friends had enjoyed a lovely evening without me—which only goes to show that no matter how essential you think you are to a social gathering no one is indispensable!
And now, nearly 3 years later, we are waiting for Dora to have her own babies. They are due on Jo’s birthday! The journey to this point has involved several trips to Germany looking for a suitable stud dog. I love those trips, meeting and making friends with people we would never otherwise come into contact with. We, complete strangers, have been welcomed into people’s homes, given unlimited hospitality and access to their dogs. We (well me—Mandy won’t drive in Europe) have driven many kilometres, through beautiful countryside, we have visited fascinating villages and towns, and some amazing houses. We have had some serious adventures, a lot of fun and a lot of laughter. Things don’t always turn out as anticipated, but that just adds to the ‘spice of life’!
Which leads me neatly into Dora and Tonic. We had decided to mate Dora in spring 2018. Dora duly came into season and, in order to have the best possible chance of success, we had her bloods taken and tested for progesterone levels. We knew that once the bloods reached a certain level we would have to pack our bags and travel across to Germany as quickly as we could. We had a plan, we had done this before with Esther, we knew what was involved, how long the journey took, where we might stop en route, etc, etc. This time we were better prepared, we wouldn’t be turning up on Jo’s doorstep at some ungodly hour of the night!
Unfortunately for us Dora coming into season coincided with some of the snowiest weather the UK had seen in a decade! The weather was so bad that Mandy nearly didn’t get Dora’s blood to the lab for testing, but she persevered and, despite a snowstorm, managed to get to Wetherby and the lab. We got the results back that afternoon: Dora was about to peak; we had to leave as soon as possible. It was still snowing in Yorkshire. Living in Southport for the last 20 years has meant that I have almost forgotten what snow looks like—hence my ‘oh well, shall we leave tomorrow’ comment. Mandy suggested that I look at the weather forecast… I looked… I rang her. ‘Hmm perhaps we should go down to Folkstone tonight?’ She picked me up and we left a not very snowy Northwest coast and travelled south through increasing cold temperatures and flurries of snow. We booked a hotel en route arriving about 3am. Once there we booked the Channel Tunnel for later that morning, and as the snow arrived, causing havoc in the UK, Mandy, Dora and I were safely aboard a train speeding across to the Continent. There was no snow on our journey across Europe, but in Germany the temperature was -10oC! It was cold, oh so cold. It was lovely to see Martina, Markus and Tonic again. Tonic is such a delightful dog, a real gentleman and so sweet natured.
Three days later, on our return to England, we wondered what all the fuss had been about—snow, what snow—there was little evidence of the deep, disruptive
snow that we’d seen on the news. Looking back we were so lucky, so many things could have gone wrong. Mandy might not have made it to the lab, we would have missed Dora’s peak, the heavy snow could have stopped us travelling south and into Europe. But nothing did go wrong—as I said about choosing Dora, some things are just meant to be…
Monday is my working-at-home day, it is also a day I meet up with my friend Sarah for a coffee—today Dora came too. She thoroughly enjoys a walk into the village and a visit to the Barrel House, a particularly dog-friendly hostelry and somewhere Dora has frequented reasonably regularly since she was a puppy. She is a very social dog—perhaps too social! She certainly knows how to work a room, though she has a rather disconcerting habit of randomly sniffing crotches, which, not surprisingly, has it’s drawbacks, especially when the majority of customers at the Barrel House are elderly men! Both my dogs are very sociable and throw themselves into a party with the abandonment of a carefree adolescent—unfortunately they are just as prone to break things… though it is their tails rather than ‘drunk and disorderly’ behaviour that creates havoc. Scout is particularly fond of pushing himself through people’s legs, sometimes head first, sometimes bum first. This is fine as long as you have long legs… however, not everyone has and he has been known to lift people off the ground—at which point I usually pretend that I don’t know him and that he isn’t with me.
Anyway, back to our coffee. They have dog biscuits in a jar at the Barrel House; I lost count of the number of biscuits Dora consumed while we were there. I think she managed to extract one from every person she ‘spoke to’. I did wonder what people made of her and her slightly strange shape—no one mentioned it, perhaps they were just too polite to ask. Fortunately she did not sit, as she loves to, legs akimbo with her ever-expanding stomach and ‘milk bar’ on show for all to see!
People frequently ask me what ‘sort’ she is—this phrase, ‘what sort have you got there?’ makes me laugh, it reminds me of choosing chocolates out of the Quality Street tin at Christmas. And they never quite believe you when you say ‘Large Munsterlander’, particularly if, like me, you follow it up with ‘it’s a German HPR’: they look at you slightly askance, not sure whether you are telling the truth or taking the mickey! When someone does know the breed I treat them like a long-lost friend or relative, which must be equally perplexing. I guess that’s Munsters for you—they’re just a bit different and it tends to rub off on the owners!
Dora is lying stretched out on the sofa, she shouldn’t really be on the sofa, but then she is just about to give birth, so is entitled to some privileges. Scout is lying at my feet—he hates to be left out and is determined to always be at the centre of everything, and I mean everything. I am curious to see how he takes to a houseful of puppies. He was brilliant with Dora when she arrived, so tolerant, too tolerant! Dora runs rings round him and he lets her: a doting uncle indulging his favourite niece. As a puppy Dora was extremely cute, but rather naughty… there was the time she did the ‘Wall of Death’ around the sitting room—leaving everyone open mouthed and somewhat incredulous; no one quite believing what they had just seen. I still think of her as ‘the pup’ and it’s odd to think that very soon she will have pups of her own.
It’s almost exactly 3 years since Mandy, Esther and I made the journey over to Germany, to Kassel and Rasko. As with most things ‘Munster’ that trip didn’t go entirely to plan! Turns out it’s a long way from Yorkshire to Kassel and not necessarily a trip to be done in a day! We only realised this while crossing the Channel—what to do? Find a hotel en route, or ring my friend who lives in Holland—not quite en route… but close enough… sort of! Fortunately, I have really lovely friends, who are totally unfazed by random 2-legged and 4-legged visitors arriving at unbelievably short notice. The next day, following an evening of generous hospitality (which, I seem to remember, included quite a lot of Cointreau), Mandy, Esther and I left Holland for Germany. Dora’s Father Rasko (Urban von St. Vit) has a delightful human family who have always welcomed us into their home with great generosity. I especially remember the copious cups of coffee and pieces of cake—guaranteed happiness! Mind you we nearly didn’t make it back to the UK, leaving the Arend house, happy and slightly high after a successful mating, or too much coffee, I forgot which side of the road I should be driving on and narrowly missed driving into an oncoming bus—oophs…
Nine weeks later and Dora was born. And that story I will leave for next time.
Dora learning to hold—and yes, it is a paint roller!
I’m not sure where time is going at the moment. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day, but, as a friend pointed out, if there were more they would only get filled with ‘other stuff’ and you would still feel ‘time short’ — this is, I fear, true. Anyway it turns out that preparing for a birth, or at least any birth that is occurring in your house, requires quite a lot of sorting, clearing and cleaning! In many ways this is very cathartic and I have found a number of things I didn’t even know I’d lost. Like the soil rake, which, had I remembered its existence, would have been very useful when levelling the mound of soil left over from laying the slabs outside the backdoor! Mind you, rediscovering the soil rake is nothing compared to finding, a few months ago, the lost, very lost, Macbook under the seat cushions on the sofa — that, frankly, was a minor miracle!
Most of the morning was spent outside gardening. Both Dora and Scout enjoy a bit of gardening, though I have yet to train them to do anything remotely useful. Constantly dropping a ball into the weed trug, in the hope that I will throw it, is not helpful! Dora, who could, from certain angles, be mistaken for a beached whale, spent most of her time basking in the sun, though she did also chase Scout round the garden, play rough with him, dance on two legs round the apple tree (she was telling the birds off) and hunt for mice in the wood pile. I am torn between stopping these antics and allowing her to be herself — I want her to be happy, to enjoy this final week of freedom. She didn’t ask for this and giving birth is not risk free, nor is it without pain — as any of you who have had children can attest! So fingers crossed everything goes ok. What is lovely, is feeling the puppies move, they are kicking quite hard now, and when Dora is stretched out on the floor you can see the ‘inmates’ practising their drop kicks and jostling for position. As I sit here in almost complete silence — all I can hear is Dora breathing (plus the occasional sigh) and the noise of wood pigeons in the distance — I am aware that very soon the house will be filled with the mewing of new-born puppies. Guess I need to make the most of the silence while I can…
As I sat down to write this first entry, the radio, on in the background, informed me that the Director of the film the Dam Busters had recently died — now that might seem rather irrelevant to a blog about a litter of puppies, but it’s not! Dora’s Grandmother Fee was a German dog and was trained for her German working tests at one of the dams/reservoirs bombed by the British in 1943. Perhaps it is significant that her Granddaughter will have her first litter of puppies, to a German dog, during the RAF’s centenary year. Fee was a very special girl who came to Britain by chance and good luck, she had two litters, and those of us lucky enough to live with her offspring know how amazing her children and grandchildren are. Here’s hoping her Great Grandchildren follow in her footsteps!
Well… we are into the last week of pregnancy. Mandy came over this afternoon and helped me put the finishing touches to the whelping box. I am so proud of that box… it’s amazing what you can do with several pieces of plywood, some softwood and a box of screws! Particular thanks must go to Finn, my extremely able 18-year-old son who acted as joinery assistant, general factotum and handyman — here’s hoping you’re around to make cups of tea when Dora goes into labour! And Dora… well… she’s blooming. Pregnancy must suit her because is she looking good and seems very content. She’s not quite as fast on the sand dunes as she was a few weeks ago, but is still enjoying getting out and about: a very social dog our Dora. She is currently lying at my feet, waiting for her tea — food and Dora go hand-in-hand, particularly at the moment. So on that expectant note I will leave you and go and feed my ever-expanding, black and white companion.
PS — Mandy took the photos as I am a rubbish photographer!