My wife was the one who’d wanted the puppies. She’s the one who pushed to have our cocker spaniel, Violet, bred. I went along with it. Thought it might be fun. We had Violet bred in early May, and by mid-July we had eight purebred cocker pups on our hands—seven females and one male, some black, some parti-colored, one buff.
I’d been nervous throughout Violet’s pregnancy. So many things to go wrong. I’d studied up on how to handle emergencies, copied stuff off the Internet, read it till I knew it cold. I was appalled at the possibilities. Dogs must be different from cats, I thought. We’d once had a cat who’d had kittens and we didn’t even know when she had them. She just appeared one day with six healthy kittens. If the Internet could be believed, with dogs you had to practically have an ambulance waiting. Well we couldn’t do that, but I did get some things ready, like alcohol and sharp scissors and a lot of absorbent material. Good thing about the scissors. The first pup born was still sealed tight in her amniotic sac, not breathing, and I saved her life by snipping her out of it. Thinking then that they’d all be born in sacs, I tried to snip the second one out too, but stopped short when I saw she was breathing, was not in a sac, and I was about to cut her shoulder open. My wife took the scissors away from me till I calmed down.
Anyway, the pups were now three weeks old, each about as big as a large hamster, and I knew from my reading that it was time the little beggars had some real food. My wife was taking a nap, so I’d have to handle it alone. I’d bought some puppy chow already, which I proceeded to dump into a blender. I ground it up some, thinned it with water, added another handful of chow and a little more water till it was the consistency of wet Sakrete, and then pureed it a few minutes more. I went to get the pups before the stuff hardened and ruined the blender for good.
I figured this should be an outdoors job, so I hauled the protesting pups out to the lawn, two at a time. The mother didn’t protest much, and my wife napped on. I set each pair on the lawn under the maple tree before hurrying back for the next two. The eight of them commenced to squirm along on their bellies through grass that reached their shoulders. They’d been practicing barking and growling for a couple days now, and tiny yips soon rose on the summer air. Keeping an eye on them as long as I could, I ducked back into the house for three shallow bowls and the blender pitcher, figuring to make this like a wedding meal, small groups of guests at separate tables.
I poured the mix into the bowls, set them out, and lined up three pups radially around one dish, three around the second, and two around the third. They could at least detect light and dark, I knew, but I’m sure it was the divine aroma that drew them. They began to drag themselves toward the source. I sprawled on the grass next to them, nudging a couple of the slower ones toward the table. I was smiling, eager to see them stand around and sip their first meals like proper pups.
The trouble is, none of them knew what a proper pup was. They moved toward the food all right, but didn’t stop at the edge of the dish. They plunged into the food, slipped, fell, wallowed, got up, wobbled, and fell into it again. They slurped the food, slurped each other, wrestled, upset the dishes, and finally established what resembled a small brown swamp on the lawn. Riotous splotches of liquid brown dappled once clean hides. In less than two minutes eight perfectly normal pups had begun to look like the offspring of Cujo. The conversational level dropped off as they tried to clean themselves. The stuff was starting to harden.
What am I going to do now? I thought. With that gruel drying on their bodies, they’ll be stiff in five minutes and in ten minutes they’ll be dead because they couldn’t expand their chests to breathe. Before they’ve even seen the world they’ll be DOA from an overdose of Dad’s. Maria will kill me. She loves these little things. I checked to make sure she was still napping.
I’ve got to give them baths, I concluded. I left them wallowing in the mess they’d made, and went into the house to run warm water into a dishpan. When I came out with the pan they were unrecognizable as dogs. I grabbed one and dipped her into the water, hoping that re-dried dog food could be put into solution without a catalyst. She cried, but her body began to glisten. It’s working, I thought, and she’s still breathing. I dropped her gently onto the grass and started on No. 2. The chorus began again, punctuated by high-pitched yips and ridiculous growls. As fast as I dropped them onto the grass, they crawled off in whatever direction they happened to be pointing, which seemed to be mainly toward the driveway. I upped my washing tempo. Then I noticed it: shivering. Shivering. All the clean ones were trembling as the evaporating water cooled their tiny bodies. Oh no, I thought with alarm, now they’re going hypothermic. I quickly dipped and washed the remaining customers and moved out to corral the shivering escapees, plopping them one on top of another away from the tree, out in the summer sun. They continued to shiver, the yips turning now into a more pathetic mewling. I rushed into the house, tiptoed past my napping wife, and grabbed a bath towel. Spreading it out in the sun, I hurried to stretch the little bodies out on the towel, parallel and close to one another, like tiny logs, and quickly folded the rest of the towel up over them, massaging and patting the little bodies dry. Eight diminutive flop-eared heads protruded like—well, like dogs from a bun—and they began to relax.
I have to tell you this: they all survived. They gradually stopped shivering, and in a few minutes began to doze. But soon one damp little body, then another, stirred and started to wriggle, struggling out of its steamy towel sandwich, energized by its first serious protein. Trying to pull themselves to their feet, they began as a group to move out to all points of the compass. They stumbled, drunk-like, and fell, crawled, tried to stand, each forging erratically ahead, bent on exploring this dimly visible grassy world.
Relaxed now, I stretched out on my side to enjoy the spectacle. A galaxy of furry mounds was expanding steadily across the yard. The furthest were already under the rhododendron and lost to sight. I was starting to think about reining them in when, to my consternation, the door opened, and Maria and Violet walked out to see what I was doing.