Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Dogs, like humans, have three stages of labor. The first stage is often called pre-labor which includes early mild contractions and dilation of the cervix. The mama dog’s temperature will drop and she will begin to nest. She will also pant and appear uncomfortable. The second stage of labor consists of active contractions and pushing. During this stage we veterinarians do not like a dog to be actively pushing for more than an hour without producing a puppy. If this occurs then veterinary care and intervention is highly advisable. The third stage of labor is the involution of the uterus and expulsion of any remaining placentas after all pups have been born.
Last night, at 2:45 am, a Shih Tzu presented to our clinic. We’ll call her Lola. She had been in stage two labor and actively pushing for nine hours. Nine. I can not say why she was not brought in earlier. Perhaps her owners were uninformed and had not researched labor. Perhaps they were holding out for a natural (and thus free-of-charge) birth. Perhaps a combination of the two.
At any rate this little gal needed a c-section, and sooner than later at that. But, before surgery, finances had to be addressed. These folks were financially strapped. They had poor credit. They knew of no one who would lend them money or a credit card. They had not planned for any potential complication. Nonetheless they would gladly pay us Tuesday for a c-section today.
I had a judgement call to make; perform surgery with a hope and a prayer of getting paid or not perform surgery with a hope and a prayer the dog would survive until she could see a day practice. I chose the former. If the checks don’t clear my head will be on the chopping block. All I could wish for was a neat clean and quick procedure which minimized costs but did not jeopardize the health of the animal.
As we were prepping Lola for surgery her owners came back to say goodbye. “We have a little girl at home,” they stated casually with no indication of the bomb they were about to drop.
“She’s six. This dog means the world to her and she would be absolutely devastated if anything happened to her or the puppies.” Criminy. A child. Children pull on my heart strings and this statement definitely upped the ante. But wait, there was more.
“You see last year she lost her brother. This dog was meant as a replacement. This baby for our baby, our human baby.”
And there it was. The whole package. Neatly wrapped in brown paper, placed gently on the floor and slid nonchalantly in my direction. Doctor. Not only are you responsible for the financial wherewithal of this family, you are also responsible for the life of this little dog and her unborn puppies. And, to top it off, you hold the mental well-being of a young child in your hands.
Needless to say the pressure was on. This dog had been in labor way too long and I was very concerned the puppies would not be viable. Everything rested on my shoulders. Fortunately our emergency clinic has an amazing and highly trained staff. There were only two of us, my technician and myself. Yet we were ready. We could handle it.
We went to surgery immediately. Luck was on our side (and believe you me we have been on the other side of the luck equation). Last night the procedure was quick and mama's uterus was in good shape. The first puppy came out gasping. It was alive! The second pup, the one stuck in the birth canal, did not show signs of life. His head was swollen and as I suspected he'd been stuck too long. But one live puppy and a live mama. That was good. We could salvage something from this mess.
My technician worked on stimulating the first pup while I finished surgery. As I was closing my incision the technician gasped. “Oh my God,” she exclaimed, “the other puppy is breathing!” Revival efforts began immediately. Against all odds that puppy also survived.
Last night the universe was on our side. We returned the neat brown package to sender embellished with a bright new ribbon. Inside was mama dog, two healthy puppies and a little girl’s heart and soul. Now, if we're really lucky, we might even get paid.
I am not an advocate for dog breeding. There are too many wonderful animals already in need of homes. And I should know given all my cats (3) and dogs (2) have been rescues. These animals are amazing. The labradork, Walterino, Mickey, Emmie and camera shy Mew Mew. I couldn't ask for a better crew. Each and every one of them was left for naught.
If, however, you ignore my plea and choose to breed please be prepared. Study and read about the birthing process. Consider Whelp Wise. Set money aside ($1000.00 to $2000.00) in case a c-section becomes necessary.
And, by all means, do NOT count your puppies before they hatch.