“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.”
I have always loved animals. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t somehow involved in the care of an animal. I grew up with horses, chickens, dogs and cats. I am now the mother of four children. Needless to say, I am well acquainted with poop, both analyzing and cleaning, so I was a perfect fit for fostering animals!
At five weeks old, the puppies were easily climbing out of their whelping box and were making messes everywhere. They quickly chewed up puppy pads (and towels, blankets, and toys!). Gracie decided that she was done eating their poop now that they were eating solid foods in addition to nursing, so clean up became a constant chore.
10 puppies x 6-8 daily poops each = a whole lot of poop!
Gracie became less and less eager to return to them after her mama breaks for walks and pets. She resumed her trips up to the school mid day to get Nora, and loved laying around with human company while Nora played with her toys in the afternoons.
When it was time to rejoin her puppies, Gracie would gently turn her head to the side. “Who do you want to go in there with those 10 puppies? Certainly not me!”
Gracie was such a good girl though and always ultimately listened to the command to come. As she approached the gate, all 10 puppies scrambled to meet her and many would tumble out as she went in. The puppy pen fencing was low, only 2 ½ feet, so the kids helped me scoop up the escapees and place them back in the pen with Gracie.
I was a little worried about Gracie’s physique. She was ever thinner despite eating enormous quantities. She had a patch of hair loss. Her nipples had suffered from endless scratches from the puppies’ mobile nursing (jumping up and suckling as Gracie walked around).
The vet gave me some dewormers for Gracie, along with a shampoo that would hopefully help her skin. They advised me to trim the puppies’ nails to help with the scratches, an idea that seemed daunting.
I administered the dewormers and then gave Gracie a bath. On a walk later that afternoon, Gracie’s poop was full of roundworms. Problem identified (and hopefully solved).
I trimmed each of the pups’ front nails.
10 puppies x 10 nails each = lots of patience.
It wasn’t as difficult as I had predicted and thankfully, there were no accidental quick cuttings!
This little (well, big) family was growing and thriving. As the fifth week came to a close, I felt overwhelmed by the mess and pleased with our progress…
The puppies turned 4 weeks and their cuteness quotient nearly doubled! The portly group of ten discovered how to coordinate their up-until-now clumsy appendages in efforts to escape the whelping box. They tumbled out one by one over the course of a couple days, and just in time; they barely fit inside with Gracie anymore!
Once out, the pups explored all over the vast puppy pen. They discovered Gracie’s food and water bowl and it didn’t take long for them to appreciate the joys of eating solid food. Gracie was an amicable sharer of her grub. She ate right alongside them, even as they crowded around edging her out at times. I had to continually fill the food bowl to ensure that she, who was still thin, along with her 10 puppies were all getting their fair share. It was difficult to really know how much food each pup was getting with such a big group.
The ever increasing weights were demonstrating that between nursing and a newfound interest in solid food, each of the 10 puppies was getting enough. Despite mama’s slender frame, her pups were quite round!
At 4 ½ weeks old, the puppies had their first vet visit. I was concerned for Gracie as the date approached. Dr. Julie had recommended leaving her at home. Mama dogs sometimes became upset as the puppies were each examined and sometimes cried during their first vaccinations. Plus, the exam room would already be cramped with two big carriers carrying the 10 puppies, the vet, the vet tech, and me. But how would Gracie cope with me taking her puppies away?
I took Gracie for a long walk right before I took the pups to the vet. Once she was back, I let her check on the pups before loading them up. I left Gracie with a full bowl of water and food (to eat in relative peace) and a bone (she was obsessed). She seemed okay. I hauled the pups to the car and embarked on my noisy journey to the shelter vet.
The pups got a clean bill of health from Dr. Julie. They were all growing and developing beautifully.
Time for a confession: remember a few weeks back when the kids and I were in a frenzy to weigh/name/gender/collar all the pups while Gracie implored us to hurry all the faster (Gracie’s puppies – the first week)? Well, some mistakes were made. Okay, it is extremely easy to gender a pup. They have a penis or they don’t (unlike gendering kittens, which was a learned skill for me), and this is pretty obvious. But, as it turns out, once we checked that once, we weren’t in the habit of flipping these puppers over…and we had made some mistakes!
Blast and Thunder, whom we had identified as males were actually females! Whoops! So this litter of 10 that we had thought contained 7 males and 3 females was actually even in regards to gender: 5 males and 5 females. I was so embarrassed! (And have, ever since, double checked genders quite a few times as the first vet appointment approaches!)
I was so relieved to return home and realize that Gracie was still in the pen, still chewing on her bone. Contrary to completely stressing out, she had seemingly enjoyed her time off. The pups were happy to see her though and scrambled over to snuggle and nurse and then snooze.
I have come to know that this week of puppy raising, week 4, is a true sweet spot. The stress of that initial adjustment period is over. Everyone is a lot less vulnerable. Growth and development can be readily observed. The pups are interactive and affectionate and oh-so-cute. And mama still adores them, cleans up after them, and nurses them willingly.
By their third week of life, the puppies were famous among our neighbors and friends. The kids were so excited about the whole experience (and to be honest, I was just as excited!) that they told anyone who would listen about the miracle at our home. And anyone who saw Gracie walking around the neighborhood could tell that she was a nursing mother as her nipples swung back and forth as she walked like a runner’s ponytail.
We had put off introducing anyone outside the family to this precious canine family in hopes of reducing the stress on Gracie and allowing her to develop a strong nursing relationship with the puppies. But well into the third week, it was clear that Gracie welcomed any and all attention, for herself and for her pups.
We had put off introducing anyone outside the family to this precious canine family in hopes of reducing the stress on Gracie and allowing her to develop a strong nursing relationship with the puppies. But well into the third week, it was clear that Gracie welcomed any and all attention, for herself and for her pups.
We started saying yes when neighbors asked to pop in and see the pups. When the kids’ friends were over, they were allowed to pop in and visit the pups (with their parents’ permission). Of course, when anyone was visiting the puppies, I was always right there making sure Gracie was comfortable and that the puppies were handled with utmost care.
By this point, I had completely and utterly fallen in love with Gracie. She adored me and the feeling was mutual.
So it took me by surprise one day when I got a phone call from a friend, a mother of one of Mae’s friends. The friend’s father had picked up his daughter from our house a short while before. He had seen the girls playing with the pups with Gracie just laying among the children and puppies enjoying a Kong. Though my friend had told me that she was okay with her daughter being around a mother dog and puppies (with the understanding that I would be present), she had not known the mother was a pit bull. Her daughter, a frequent guest in our home, would no longer be allowed to be near any pit bulls.
As I started announcing that Gracie was a pit bull when friends were over, the reactions were mixed. Most of the parents who were concerned had had a bad experience with a pit bull before. I wondered if at least part of the bad experience was the fear itself.
Every parent has the right to make whatever decisions they think are best for their children in the moment and we had some friends who played with puppies and Gracie for hours and others who had to stay out of the basement completely.
(Ryan, working in pediatric intensive care, carries his own fears regarding ATVs, wave pools, and trampolines. I carry my own icy roads fear around all winter long. These fears influence our parenting decisions regularly.)
I was also surprised by how many people LOVED pit bulls in particular and were infactuated with the puppies. Our teenaged neighbor spent hours just laying down and letting the puppies climb all over her. Another neighbor seriously considered applying to adopt Gracie, but couldn’t at the time because their older dog was not dog friendly (he ended up passing shortly after and they now have two rescues).
Fostering Gracie and her puppies taught me that most people harbor strong feelings, whether positive or negative, about pitties.
Meanwhile, the puppies were continuing to grow on Gracie’s milk. They were bright eyed, chunky, and newly mobile. They wobbled around adorably and wagged their tails at any and all attention thrown their way.
The dry food only diet, mixed with a little pumpkin puree, firmed up Gracie’s stools somewhat, but they were still loose. I also felt like she was continuing to look thinner and thinner. She enjoyed the dry food much less than she had enjoyed the wet food, so after a few days, I started adding some back in hoping she would eat enough to sustain her underweight body through nursing 10 pups.
At the start of the week, all the pups’ eyes were still closed.
By mid week, an eye here and there would open and by the end of the week, each puppy had two open eyes. During this week, pups’ ear flaps also open and they can hear and see the world around them for the first time. It was so neat to be able to talk to the pups and have them turn their little heads toward us and look up with their bright eyes.
Gracie, while still being a wonderful and attentive mother, started being more excited about her time away from the pups during this second week. Her energy returned on her walks. I doubt she had received much leash training in her prior life because she was a big puller. She reminded me of Taka in Moana (refresher below) as she dug her claws in and dragged me around the neighborhood. I would have loved to put a harness on her, but felt like that would potentially harm her nipples.
When we returned from our walks, Gracie would run over to peek at the pups but would then come out of the pen and hang out with us in the basement for a while until a puppy summoned her with its cries.
I don’t think Gracie had been an indoor dog or had been housebroken. But to her credit, she never eliminated in the basement after her trips outdoors and only went in the puppy pen (outside the whelping box) about once each day, overnight.
The puppies were continuing to grow. Tulip (hot pink collar) was the chunkiest and Cobalt (black collar) and Buddy (bright blue collar) were the smallest. (For the complete list of puppy names and collar colors, see previous post!)
Gracie was reluctant to leave her puppies that first day, even to eat and drink or go outside for a quick potty break. I brought her water bowl to her and she drank eagerly. I offered her small amounts of food at a time, knowing that having eaten 10 placentas she was fine on nutrition and calories for a while.
The puppies were almost always nursing. I watched them for a long while several times that day, ensuring that they were all latching on well. The distinctions between their markings were subtle. I ordered some break away collars for young puppies, knowing that I would need them in order to accurately track their weights.
By late afternoon, Gracie still hadn’t been outside to potty since the night before. When the puppies were all satisfied and sleeping, I clipped the leash to Gracie’s collar and firmly encouraged her to get up and come outside with me. She was eager to get back to the puppies, but quickly peed (what seemed like gallons!) and had a very runny poop. I knew that mother dogs could get diarrhea from having consumed the nutrient rich placentas so I wasn’t too worried about her.
Gracie rushed back in and curled around her puppies.
That evening, she ate and drank more (but only when I fed her by hand and held her water bowl right in front of her) and I took her outside once more, against her wishes.
Saturday (2 days old):
This was the day of the soccer tournament. Three of my children were competing in soccer games throughout the day in Bowling Green, Ohio, about an hour’s drive away. Ryan was working all day. I was happy that Gracie was not in labor, but I was anxious about leaving her for the day.
Early in the morning, I gave Gracie food and water and had to actually carry her out of the pen to make sure she had the opportunity to potty before I left.
I let the pet sitter (a former shelter employee) know that Gracie had recently delivered. I asked her to come twice that day, at noon and at 4pm, to offer Gracie food, water, and a chance to go outside. I explained to the pet sitter that she may have to clip Gracie’s leash to her collar to encourage her to leave the puppies to go outside, but to listen for Gracie’s cues and her own comfort in deciding how much to push.
Needless to say, I fretted about Gracie all day, through soccer victories and losses. The pet sitter texted to say that Gracie hadn’t eaten or drank or gone outside despite the offers. That evening, I hurried back hoping that Gracie and the puppies were okay.
Gracie wagged her tail upon seeing me. For the first time since delivery, she got up voluntarily and walked outside with me. She peed and pooped (more diarrhea) and ate and drank heartily.
Sunday (3 days old):
The collars arrived! The kids and I prepared to give the pups individual once overs, determining the genders, weighing them, and choosing names for each.
Gracie eyed us warily as we handled her still very new puppies. She was distressed when one of them would cry. Her anxiety rubbed off on me and I tried to adjust and fit each collar and take my weight and gender notes very quickly. (I will need to reference this level of stress later to explain a mistake…or two!)
The kids took turns picking a puppy to name and a collar color to match. Each kid picked 2 puppies to name. Ryan and I named one of the remaining ones and my aunt Peggy, who was visiting, picked the name of the final pup.
Beau (Devon and Ryan)
Monday (4 days old):
Gracie was settling into a routine of voluntarily going outside with me 3 times each day. While I offered her more opportunities, I listened to her about her desires to stay with the puppies 23 hours and 50 minutes of every day. With 10 pups nursing on her, she was constantly in demand from at least a couple.
Tuesday (5 days old):
The kids helped me weigh the puppies and change the bedding in the whelping box again. Each puppy gained some weight, which was a huge relief. 10 puppies is quite a large litter and it would not have been surprising for a pup or two to have less success feeding and thriving.
Wednesday (6 days old):
Gracie continued to have diarrhea. I had expected her stool to get firmer a few days after delivery and started to worry. I was also concerned about her weight. Now that the roundness of pregnancy wasn’t disguising her midsection, I could see Gracie’s spine and ribs prominently. I emailed these concerns, and some pictures, to the foster director at the shelter to pass on to the vet.
Thursday (7 days old):
At one week old, the puppies were continuing to grow well. They were becoming more mobile too, squirming all over the whelping box.
For the first time, Gracie was eager to go outside whenever I came to visit her. She even wanted to go for a 10 minute walk around the cul-de-sac. Gracie loved to eat and I indulged her by feeding her 2 cups of dry food mixed with a half can of wet food four times each day. She had dry food readily available at all times, but only finished it overnight.
I received word from the vet that we could try adding pumpkin puree to Gracie’s food to firm up her poop. Also, we could reduce or eliminate the wet food to see if that had an impact.
I decided to try the dry food only diet for the day and then pick up pumpkin at the store the following day to try as well. Fingers crossed for this hard working mama to get her digestive system sorted out so she could absorb as many calories as possible while feeding this huge brood!
Gracie was anxious and got up every once in a while to reposition herself or pace around the pen asking to go out. When I took her outside, she strained while using the bathroom. I became worried that she would have her puppies outside in the chilly April dark!
Each time Gracie came back inside, she went into my children’s playhouse and furiously dug around in the blankets there. I realized that she was planning to deliver puppies there and ushered her back into the pen, hoping she would reconsider the whelping box!
When I went up to help put the children to bed and tell them that there were no puppies yet, Gracie howled. She had never demanded my attention before. I hurried back to her.
The time of my soccer game came and went without much labor progress. My team texted me with the result and asked how Gracie was doing. While I was happy to have been with her through her increasing anxiety, I was embarrassed to admit that I had left my team short a player without any puppy arrivals.
At 9:30pm, Gracie’s contractions became more intense and regular. She was very uncomfortable as evidenced by her constant repositioning. Shortly after 10pm, she became distressed by the pain and began ripping up her bedding. After she was satisfied with the shredded bedding, she turned her attention and impressive jaws to the corrugated plastic siding of the DuraWhelp. She was focused and ferocious in her attack and yet I felt no concern whatsoever for myself sitting alongside her.
Between contractions, Gracie climbed into my lap and snuggled. With each painful wave, she went back to biting the whelping box.
At 10:30pm, with a massive contraction and an impressive push, the first puppy emerged. He was mostly gray with some white markings, much like Gracie herself. Gracie cleaned him, removing the sack and severing the umbilical cord in the process. Within a minute, he was squirming and breathing loudly. Whew! One down, six to go.
About 20 minutes later, puppy number 2 emerged, looking much like the first. I jotted down the time and markings and watched as Gracie cleaned this puppy too.
The third puppy was born 10 minutes later, again looking much the same. I could tell that I was going to have difficulty telling these babies apart!
Gracie took a short break after the third birth but didn’t settle down to nurse them. About 30 minutes after the third birth, she climbed into my lap and birthed the fourth and fifth puppies back to back! The miracle of life was very wet and warm. I will never forget that moment and the feeling of connection with Gracie.
Gracie attended to both puppies, but it was clear that the fourth born pup wasn’t responding to her licking. Once the fifth pup was wiggling, Gracie moved back into the whelping box and delivered the sixth.
I was so relieved that I was prepared with both the knowledge and supplies needed to intervene on behalf of the lifeless pup. With my heart pounding, I quickly rubbed him vigorously with a clean washcloth. I cradled him in my hand and swung him gently with his face tilted downward. I was prepared to suction his mouth and nose and/or offer breaths CPR style, but just the stimulation and gravity were enough to let him catch his first breath. Another whew!
And meanwhile, Gracie had gotten puppy number six cleaned up and she seemed to be just fine.
Because the puppies weren’t all delivered in the whelping box and Gracie was still restless, I collected them all into a blanket lined laundry basket with a heating disk to keep them all warm and safe. Gracie didn’t get the memo about my intentions however, and thought I was setting up a new nest for her. She climbed right in the tiny basket on top of her six puppies. I became worried she would accidentally suffocate them! And it would totally be my fault!
I tried to call her out of the basket, but Gracie was committed to her new nest and refused to budge. I saw the tell tale increasing contractions that indicated number seven was on the way. I daringly reached in under Gracie and extracted puppy by puppy, moving them all into the whelping box. If ever there was a time that a protective mama had validation for biting me, it was then! But of course sweet Gracie docilely allowed me to transport the puppies.
Gracie delivered her seventh pup in the laundry basket. He was the first that looked strikingly different from the rest, being mostly white instead of mostly gray. After he was cleaned up, I moved him to the whelping box to join his siblings and encouraged Gracie to climb in with them.
After checking on them all, Gracie paced by the door, wanting out. Outside, she peed and then wanted back in right away. When she came in, she rushed over to the playhouse again and laid down. I was confused. Why didn’t she rush back to the puppies?
I called her back into the pen and she checked on the pups. She laid down with them and let them nurse in fits and bursts, but was not very settled. I sent an email to Ann describing the situation. I didn’t think Gracie’s behavior warranted an emergency vet call, but I was concerned that Gracie wasn’t more attentive to the litter.
By this time it was 2am and almost an hour after the delivery of the seventh pup. I decided to go to bed, setting my alarm for 5:30am to check on Gracie and the pups prior to getting the kids up and off to school.
I was so relieved to see Gracie curled up with the litter when I entered the basement. But getting a closer look, I was a bit confused. The litter looked bigger than it had in the night. I counted…and then counted again…and again.
Nine mostly gray Gracie look alike puppies and the one mostly white puppy were all contentedly nursing on their mother. No wonder Gracie hadn’t been able to settle down and nurse the first seven; she had still been in labor! I felt terrible that I had abandoned her and grateful that the last three pups were all alive and nursing.
Gracie was reluctant to go outside and I didn’t force it. The towels were wet and filthy and needed a change however. I quickly moved the pups to the basket. Gracie followed them, worried. I pulled out the soggy towels and added dry blankets like I was in a time trial and then quickly and carefully replaced Gracie’s pups to the whelping box. I emailed the happy news to Ann and started my day with a smile!
Gracie was calm but attentive in the car. She looked around with minimal curiosity and shifted her weight with the turns. I regretted living a whole 20 minutes away from the shelter, knowing she must be uncomfortable.
At home, I took her for a quick 10 minute walk so she could pee and poop. She did neither.
I took her into the basement and she walked willingly into the pen. I gave her snuggles. When I left to unload Gracie’s supplies from the car, her eyes followed my retreat up the stairs, but she didn’t make a sound or a move.
Two very kind people had donated a DuraWhelp whelping box to the shelter for Gracie to use for the delivery. I lugged the huge box to the basement and assembled it. The whelping box took up about a fourth of the pen. I lined it with towels and blankets and hoped Gracie would feel comfortable enough to deliver her puppies there.
I gave Gracie food and water and left her in the pen to go pick up Nora from preschool. It hadn’t been until Gracie was in the pen that I realized how flimsy the gates were. We had only had puppies, no adult dogs, confined by the pen before. With one strong push, one bite, one not-so-impressive leap, Gracie could free herself.
Luckily, as it turned out, Gracie was not a pusher, biter, or leaper and stayed contentedly inside her designated area!
We fell into a routine of feedings, walks, snuggles and observation. Gracie soon won over my heart and it wasn’t long before I trusted her with the children. She had such a calm and kind demeanor. She often walked up to Nora’s school with me to pick her up mid-day and was greeted by her adoring fans. Gracie was not a smiley pup, but she seemed most content to simply be beside people.
Ryan also enjoyed Gracie and agreed that she seemed like a super sweet pup. But he was pragmatic in his thinking about his own family’s safety. We had already established rules with the children like not visiting Gracie without a parent in tow. Ryan encouraged me to think through what I would do in the event that Gracie became aggressive (while I couldn’t imagine it, Ryan gently reminded me about my own “aggressions” when our babies were tiny – apologies to my mother in law!). In most uncertain situations, preparedness is key.
I watched Gracie with the intensity with which a bride watches the weather forecast in the week leading up to an outdoor ceremony. Was that discharge? What did it mean? Did Gracie eat as much this morning as she did yesterday morning? Was she slower to get up today? I didn’t want to miss any signs that each day was the day.
But the days kept passing without delivery.
I studied her vet notes and did some calculations. The soonest that an x-ray reveals the skeletons of the puppies with clarity is at about 45 days gestation. Dogs’ usual gestation period is about 63 days.
Gracie had come into the shelter and been on the adoption floor for weeks before someone noticed her pregnancy. It had been diagnosed by x-ray a week before I brought her home. Even if that x-ray was performed at exactly 45 days, I would have brought her home at 52 days gestation and she should deliver by day 11 at our home, April 22nd. Okay, I relaxed into expecting her pregnancy to last about a week or so before delivery.
But the days kept passing. We reached day 11 uneventfully. No puppies. Continued clear discharge. Continued eating. Continued walks and snuggling and just living life.
I read about a temperature drop that occurs in the 24 hours before delivery. I could take Gracie’s temperature rectally twice each day and have a bit of a heads up on delivery time. But I was spending so much time with her anyways that knowing within a 24 hour window hardly seemed worth the indignity of rectally taking her temperature that often. I was trying to establish her trust in me prior to delivery after all!
Each day, I read the same articles about canine deliveries over and over.
While we were awaiting the birth of Gracie’s pups, our foster cat Dusty delivered her kittens. There was a long interval between the delivery of her first and second kittens and the second was born dead. The third and fourth slipped out quickly and were vigorous.
Witnessing Dusty’s difficult delivery inspired me to read up more thoroughly on assisting with deliveries in the event of complications. After reading about what to do if a newborn isn’t breathing, I wondered if there was a chance I could have revived Dusty’s second kitten.
Two weeks after we brought Gracie home, on a Wednesday, I started to worry that she would deliver a few days later, on a day we were expected to be at the soccer fields about an hour away all day for a tournament. I was planning to have a teenage neighbor let Livie out mid day, but felt like I needed someone a little more qualified to check in on Gracie. I found a shelter employee that lived near me and also worked as a pet sitter. She came over to meet Gracie.
The following day, Thursday, I got ready for my own evening soccer game and then went down to the basement to check on Gracie and let her out. She went out but was walking slowly. Her breathing was a bit labored and if I stared carefully at her abdomen, I thought I could detect contractions. I called my team and told them I would be missing the game. This was it!
At the shelter, I asked to meet Gracie. I wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable with her, comfortable enough to bring her to our home, to temporarily join our family while she delivered and nursed her puppies.
Gracie’s breed, like a large proportion of the canines housed at the Humane Society of Huron Valley, was listed as Terrier, Pit Bull / mix. Visual breed identification is extremely unreliable, even when the guesser is an expert. Dogs with blocky heads, unless they have other strongly competing characteristics that bring to mind another breed, are often labeled as pit bulls (meaning they appear to have some traits associated with the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier).
In fact, dogs with these characteristics and labels are estimated to make up about 33% of shelter populations nationally, with that number being much higher, up to 65%, in larger cities. Why? Pitties have been attributed with such characteristics as loyalty, tenacity, high energy, athleticism, high intelligence, determination, and willingness to please humans. While these natural tendencies have contributed to pitties’ rich history as wonderful family pets and success in service fields, they have also opened them to vulnerability to those who would exploit them in fighting rings. Some humans have welcomed pitties into their homes, hearts, and families. Others have watched them fight to the death, breeding only those exhibiting particular aggression and ferocity to other canines.
News biases do not help the pitties out. Among reported dog bites, several other breeds outrank the pit bull in bite incidents. The laborador retriever, current gold standard family pet, tops the list, being responsible for over 13% of reported bites. When small dogs, such as dachshunds and chihuahuas bite, the damage is less likely to be severe and the bites are less likely to need medical care or be reported. When large dogs, such as Rottweilers and pitties bite, the damage can be extensive. This severity, coupled with the pit bull’s current reputation, makes for exciting news fodder. Someone is more likely to click on the headline “Pit Bull Mauls Owner” than “Chihuahua Draws Blood on Visitor’s Leg”.
What this perpetuation of fear has done for the pit bull, and all the hapless pups that may share some physical characteristics with the collection of breeds, is earned them a “bully breed” label. That label translates into restrictions in housing and even entire communities. Breed specific legislation refers to laws that only apply to certain breeds of dogs, or dogs that look like they may have certain breed characteristics. Whole communities, like Denver, CO, prohibit owning a pit bull. Even in my forward thinking community of Ann Arbor, MI, pit bull owners relocating to the area would be hard pressed to find an apartment complex that would also accept their canine family.
Some states are starting to respond to public outcry regarding breed specific legislation. The map below (originally posted by Huffington Post) shows the states that have passed (dark blue) or are considering (light blue) laws prohibiting BSL. While this shift is a step in the right direction, it may be too little too late for the reputation of pit bull type dogs.
Even understanding the origin of, and having examined my own, prejudices against pit bulls, I still felt my heart speed up standing in front of Gracie’s kennel. What lay hidden in her genetic composition? Was I a fool for even considering taking her home?
Just like people, dogs are individuals with their own complex histories and personalities. While labs may top the reported bite list, I cannot even fathom a situation that would elicit a bite (to a dog or human) from my own sweet Livie. Still, if I brought a lab home and it bit someone, I do believe the sentiment would be “who would have thought?” while if I bring a pittie home and she bites someone shouldn’t I really have known?
I stepped into Gracie’s kennel, but she didn’t rise. She thumped her tail at me and gazed up with sad eyes. I leaned over to pet her. After a few minutes, I sat on her bed beside her. She rested her giant head in my lap gently and snoozed. Up close, I could see that her ears had been crudely cut off, certainly not by a professional (do professionals even do such things to dogs?). What had Gracie experienced before this moment? What events had led her here? Regardless, she deserved better and I knew in that moment I would be bringing her home.
The Bean puppies are all with their outstanding adoptive families this week, inserting themselves into hearts and homes. The families that adopted them have experience with their breed mixes and/or large dogs. Even more importantly, they adore their new family members. I have every confidence that each of those precious puppies will give and receive the deepest love over the course of their lives.
As the pups learn the true meaning of home and family this week, we have been cleaning and reorganizing and getting used to the quiet flow of a household without any foster animals. Last Thursday, I received a feline foster request email including a kitty with a broken leg. I responded that we would love to take him and apply some of my displaced Bean puppy love to his healing. He would have been a crutch for me, in all honesty. But some other kind soul had already scooped him up. So we are foster less and wondering who will be next!
Fostering Amina and her puppies had me reminiscing about our first mama dog. The canine foster request email described Gracie, a blue pittie with clipped ears and an serious expression. She was pregnant, expecting 7 puppies, and was in need of a quiet house without dogs in which to deliver her pups. The foster request email stated that an experienced foster was preferred.
With no experience with canine deliveries, and a rather busy household with four children and a dog, I knew we were not the perfect fit for Gracie. But as the emails continued to arrive every few days, including a whole new cast of pups needing foster, Gracie remained in the shelter and at the bottom of that list. I could not stop thinking about her.
What if we made a place for her in our walkout basement? She could come and go without interacting with Livie. But would our household be too loud for her? Would the sounds of Livie’s barks stress her out? I had no experience with dog deliveries. I had been in attendance for many a cat and horse birth growing up (and in fact had a pregnant cat awaiting birth in foster at the time!), but had never even witnessed a dog whelping at that point.
Another reservation I had, if I am being honest, was the fact that Gracie looked like, well, a pit bull. She had the definitive blocky head, clipped ears, muscular body. The fact that I was hesitant to mention her to Ryan and admit that I was considering bringing a pit bull, raging with maternal hormones, into our home with our children, highlighted my own prejudices.
To be clear, despite the breed, there is some risk involved in bringing any new animal into a home. We often do not know the complete history of the animal or what his or her triggers may be. Any animal is a bit nervous in unknown situations. That risk is certainly compounded by motherhood.
But was it compounded by Gracie’s breed as well?
Ryan and I had a long conversation about the prospect of offering a foster placement for Gracie. I was pretty sure someone else would scoop her up while we deliberated for days. We discussed how to establish safeguards, guidelines for the children, protocols for visitors to our home (often children).
Finally, I reached out to Ann, the foster director at HSHV:
Didn’t initially respond about these guys because we do have a dog, but can’t stop thinking about Gracie (my first shelter adoption was a pit mix named Gracie!).
Definitely not the ideal foster for this sweetie. No experience with dog deliveries (just cat and horse!), dog in the house (could keep them on separate levels, with separate entrances, but I am sure they will smell/hear each other). But if she is approaching her due date and nobody better (!) has responded, I am happy to talk to the family about it and come meet her.
Tell me more!
Ann responded that in fact we were the ideal foster family for Gracie because we were the only ones who had responded with any interest! Any time a pregnant animal can deliver and raise her babies outside of the stress and potential contamination of the shelter environment, it is certainly preferable.
I connected a few flimsy 2 ½ foot tall baby gates together in the basement over a tarp just in case I returned with a dog and headed to the shelter to meet Gracie.
Today, the Humane Society of Huron Valley is taking applications and placing the Bean puppies (affectionately dubbed the Beanie Babies) into homes. The pups are at HSHV in Ann Arbor, ready to meet hoards of loving visitors and hopefully their perfect forever families.
A quick note to their adopters from someone who loves them dearly:
Puppies are often a pain (and adorable pain, to be sure!). They can be annoying, perplexing, messy. While their actions threaten to test the limits of our patience, they require the absolute best, most consistent versions of ourselves.
Please remember that these babies will be scared about being away from their siblings and being in a completely new environment on their first few days/nights. Be patient with their crying (and with the chortling/howling that Bean Sprout emits). In only a few short days, they will learn that they are safely home.
They have sharp teeth (and claws). All puppies do. Do your research about training and follow through. Teach the whole family about replacing hands with toys and using appropriate distraction techniques.
These puppies have never been walked on a leash. It may be weeks before they are able to go for a walk with you. Read about leash training. Let them drag one around your house. Pick up the end and follow them around. Let them go slowly.
To help with housebreaking, keep them in a small part of your home at first. Take them out a lot. Reward them when they go outside.
Forgive them when they chew something that they shouldn’t. Give them ample things to chew.
Basically, remember that they are new in your home, new to the world. While they will grow to be your family, your partner, your best friend, they are babies now, relying on you for guidance.
This most difficult day of any foster journey is ameliorated by knowing these babies are off to live their best lives with families that adore them. (And having this forum on which to unload my pedantic musings is also helpful!)
For over 6 months, we have had a foster (or quite a few!) in our home without a day’s lapse. (Before that, we were on vacation for a week and had a neighbor/fellow volunteer take a litter of kittens in for adoption for us!). So the house feels a bit empty and quiet. I am going to clean the puppy pen, finish up the last loads of Bean puppy laundry, and wonder which animal will visit us next!