GUELPH-ERAMOSA – Eleven puppies were given the gift of life this fall.
They nearly died but the persistence of two sisters kept the puppies alive and thriving. Now most of them have been placed in forever homes.
Shelley Lalla and her sister Heather Rogers didn’t realize what they were taking on when they agreed to care for Charlie, a pregnant Rottweiler belonging to Lalla’s daughter.
“I have never in my life experienced such a wonderful thing as birthing puppies and watching them come to life and giving them life and nursing them, and seeing them grow,” Lalla said
“It was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had … I would never do it again – never, never do it again.”
Lalla’s daughter, Kristin Johnson, wasn’t able to take care of Charlie through her pregnancy, so Charlie was flown to Ontario and Lalla with her husband Lester, brought Charlie to their Guelph-Eramosa home.
Rogers was planning to move into the Lallas’ home once the puppies were born to help care for them, but Charlie went into labour early, leaving the family scrambling for supplies and support.
On Sept. 25 Charlie looked well but out of the corner of her eye Lalla noticed something in the corner of the whelping box, the area set up for Charlie to give birth.
“I went to look and it was a puppy … [Charlie] had just dropped it. It was still in its sack. She didn’t clean it,” Lalla said.
She tore the birthing sack, tied the umbilical cord with floss and started to rub the puppy down.
“She was cold, she was white, I couldn’t get her going and then I remembered on one of the videos that they actually CPRed them, like blew in their mouth and I was like ‘I’m going in,’” Lalla said.
“I didn’t think I’d ever do it, but I did and we got her going and she was good.
“I’d never do it again, but it was such a wonderful experience because all of their mouth was white and then as the blood starts to flow through them it all goes pink and so you start to know that they’re okay.”
Rogers and Lester went to pet stores to try to find formula for the puppies because they weren’t sure Charlie would nurse.
With the help of Kelsey Johnson, another of Lalla’s daughters, the three women started a routine of cutting the umbilical cord, rubbing the puppy, weighing the puppy and putting on a coloured collar for identification purposes.
Puppies were being born every 20 to 30 minutes, Rogers said.
“Thank goodness we were so dumb, because if you thought you had to do all that, you would never do the job,” Rogers said. “You’d just think, ‘Oh no, keep the dog.’”
Lalla added, “And we thought that we would have to look after Charlie, and Charlie would look after her puppies.”
After 11 puppies were born the women used treats to coax Charlie to allow the puppies to nurse. They would allow the puppies to nurse in two shifts, then rub them down, clean them and massage their bladders to encourage them to pee.
Though they also gave the puppies formula though a syringe, it was important for them to nurse so they would get colostrum from the mother.
The process repeated every three hours all day.
After two days Lalla said the puppies didn’t look good in the morning, and they knew something was wrong.
“We weighed them and realized they had gone down in weight,” Rogers said. “So they weren’t getting (milk) from Charlie.”
Dr. Kevin Kennaley of the Guelph Mobile Veterinary Service came to the house and said it wasn’t looking good for the puppies and that Lalla and Rogers should focus on the strongest puppies.
“And he said he doesn’t know if they got the colostrum from the mother but they’re ‘crashing.’” Lalla said. “It was a really intense time.
“It was really bad and I couldn’t fathom having this box with the mother with 11 dead puppies.”
Rogers added, “But that was not our goal. Our goal was to start with 11 and have 11.”
The women worked even harder on the puppies and began hand feeding them with baby bottles.
“They were not going to die, not on our watch,” said Lalla. “And we had no sleep … by the time we fed, we washed, we weighed, we cleaned up … we had a half an hour before we had to go and do it again. And we had no relief. We didn’t have people to do it in shifts.”
The sisters’ mother and Rogers’ daughter came to help and Lester also helped when he was home from work.
Eventually, after about four and a half weeks, the puppies began weaning off the formula and eating raw food.
Now all the puppies but one have been placed with family or sold to new homes.
However, the specific raw food the puppies were fed did not allow for proper bone development and two of the puppies experienced fractures. They are now on additional supplements and Lalla and Rogers said they are improving. One is still in Lalla’s care.
“We talk like we’re such martyrs. We’re not, I’m sure there’s people who do this, but it was just such an intense, overwhelming experience,” Lalla said.
But both Lalla and Rogers said it means everything to them that the puppies not only survived but are doing well with their new families.
“They went through everything; they’ve gone through so many adverse things which means they are great puppies, they’ve got great dispositions, they’ve got really good fortitude to survive all that and because we hand picked the places that they went to, it just means everything,” Rogers said.
Lalla agreed. “I think what it also means to me is that if I had followed the guidance of today’s rush, those puppies wouldn’t be alive,” she said.
“To me it shows me that if we take a little bit of love, and a little bit of time, and really invest ourselves, we can achieve things that the over-arching statistics say you can’t.”
She said it was through sheer will the puppies survived.
“It cost us a lot, it even cost me my health,” said Lalla. “But it was worth it because 11 little lives that have brought joy to … 10 households … are there as a result of it.”