Thursday, Nov 14th, 2019 – Today was the day we were bringing home Amina, our pregnant foster dog. I crossed my fingers that she hadn’t gone into labor the night before. I lined the interior of the car with cozy blankets and an extra leash to secure Amina in the car and headed to the shelter.
I peeked in on Skittles, Snickers, Pixie, and Twizzler, our foster kittens who had come to intake the day before. They were finished with their sterilization surgeries and ready for adoption. I gave them some pets and love and wished them the very best luck in finding perfect homes.
Then I went to Dog Town to make sure all the dogs had been out for their first walks of the day before meeting with Kristin to pick up Amina. Four, an unaltered male dog who had come in with Amina and was the likely father of her pups, had not yet been walked. I took him out for a while. He was sweet and a gentle walker. He loved sniffing everything and following his nose to the most interesting smells. When I was about to return Four to his kennel, number 27, I noticed that another dog, Henry, was there! Whoops! Henry had been taken out of his kennel, number 28, and returned to Four’s kennel next door. Luckily, a fellow dog walker volunteer and a staff member were there to help move Henry back to his kennel, making room for Four. What a different situation it would have been if I hadn’t noticed Henry before opening the kennel door! Whew!
After washing up, I went over to intake and met with Kristin. Kristin told me that the shelter staff had thought that Amina was in labor the afternoon before but she had not delivered any puppies yet. Another whew! Moving a brand new mama is stressful for all.
I signed the foster forms and picked up supplies. By this time we have a ton of necessary supplies for pregnant fosters at home. We have blankets and towels, bowls and toys. We have medical supplies like syringes and a baby scale, an incubator and heat disks. But Kristin loaded me down with all the necessary disposable supplies that the shelter provides at pick up: four bags of dry dog food, many cans of wet puppy food (thanks for running to the store for these, Ann!), puppy pee pads (good for lining the bottom of the whelping box and for puppy messes as they grow!), and puppy formula and bottles (just in case a puppy needs extra help with eating). Kristin also gave me some kitten food for our 6 hungry 6 week old kittens we have concurrently.
While I loaded up the car, Kristin took Amina out to relieve herself. And then it was time to head home. Amina loaded into the car easily despite her giant belly. She sniffed out all the interesting smells a minivan in a family of four children contains. When her nose was content, she hopped up on the car seat and watched the view on the way home.
When we got home, I took Amina for a short walk to stretch her legs. Then we entered the basement and she explored each nook and cranny, including her pen. I filled her water bowl and her food bowl. She happily scarfed down 2 cups of dry food mixed with half a can of wet food.
After some snuggle time, I left and closed Amina in the newly reinforced pen. I went upstairs. Immediately, Amina started whimpering and then howling. Loudly! I knew she would need some time to adjust to her new surroundings. As I heard her rattle the door to the pen I was glad that Anne and I had taken the time to carefully reinforce the integrity of the enclosure.
At this point, I need to acknowledge that I know our home and set up are not one hundred percent perfect for fostering pregnant and nursing dogs. Our home is active. We have two dogs and four children. Two of those children are budding musicians! The foster dog cannot have free run of our home because pregnant and nursing mothers should have a space separate from other dogs in which to get comfortable and feel like their pups are protected. I am not with our fosters all the time.
That said, we provide a safe and comfortable space for expecting mothers. Our walkout basement provides quick access to the outdoors for mamas reluctant to leave their puppies in the early days. While not always quiet, it is surely always more quiet than the shelter. The mothers and puppies are free from disease exposure. They are well loved, socialized, exercised, and fed. I am usually at home with them and can monitor deliveries and health needs. I am so well-intentioned it hurts sometimes. By now, I have loads of experience with kittens and puppies and that experience can be used to help resuscitate seemingly stillborns, tube and bottle feed little ones that cannot nurse or aren’t getting enough sustenance, reassure mothers, and so much more. I am willing to do a hundred (or more!) loads of laundry per litter, and be covered in poopy paw prints first thing in the morning when the puppies are starting to leave the whelping box.
And this willingness and love to share are what make every “imperfect” foster home into the very best place for an animal in transition.
In short, I wish Amina could lay on the living room couch and have her puppies in the corner of the dining room. (But even without the reality of our dogs, maybe the discharge of a very pregnant dog — and the bloodier discharge of a newly delivered mother– or the often destructive behaviors of a mother in labor wouldn’t be suitable for a home with fabrics and carpet.)
But not being able to provide everything cannot be an excuse to not provide what we can to animals in need.
I have to remind myself of all these things as I cycle through the day spending time with Amina and then listening to her whimpers and howls when I leave her alone. So often I wish I could explain the deal to the animals in foster, let them know as much as I do about the trajectory of their lives.
I tell Amina, “I know you’ve been through so much change, too much change. But you are safe here. You will be loved and well cared for. You will have your puppies and we will love and care for them too. Then, you, and they, will head off to loving, safe forever homes. While it may be difficult and scary at times, we will be the bridge from homelessness to forever love. You will never have to go through this again.”
I tell her, and as the day goes on, I can see her settle down and maybe at least absorb the safe and loved part. She is always happy to see me arrive. She stops whimpering and goes into the whelping box for a rest when I leave.
I wish I could keep a more constant eye on her though, so I decide to order a pet camera. I choose an inexpensive one that works with wifi so I can monitor Amina from upstairs, but also from soccer practices and games, school pick ups, and the grocery store.
I am hopeful that she will have a few days to settle in before delivery, but whenever it is, I definitely want to be there!