September 29, 2009
A Season for Puppies
The All Around Cocker
Once in a while, it’s time for renewal. In our case, it is not just spring time and bulbs beginning to bloom.
It is a season where we get to raise puppies.
We do not do this as often as some, or even as often as we used to. It’s down to about every 2 years. So
every little life is precious, eagerly awaited, even as we know there are sleepless nights ahead, puppy
poo to clean up, and the chance of loss along the way.
In our case, having Nick pass away very suddenly in the fall, and Maddie in February after a long battle
with breast cancer, the special sweetness of possibly having Easter puppies on the way (and all that
symbolism) was making the prospect of breeding my daughter’s girl, Rosie, all the more special. Rosie is
a Nick daughter, a liver roan; and her mom is Maddie’s sister. She was the last puppy my mother every
held, and that also made her precious to us.
Angel with Rosie as a pup; 2nd from right.
While we waited for her to come into heat, I had a request to use Brock for a line breeding program. The
girl in question might come into season at any time. This breeder also wanted a fertility test (Brock was
5 and had never been used) and I agreed. My vet wanted a live bitch for collection. As Willow was
coming in, I took the two to the vet. Brock practically ran away and hid.
I’ve helped with frozen semen collection, worked with other owners on bitches with iffy heats, and
never had a dog refuse. Confused? You bet. Low libido has never been a problem in almost 30 years!
So I took our unsexy dogs home and I tested the dogs daily. I set them up in their own room in crates
side by side; I took them out for romps together, I did everything I know. No interest; the only thing they
wanted was to sit in my lap at the same time.
Thinking I had missed Willow and proper dates, that we would get no puppies at all this year, maybe,
and that even Rosie would be left out, I continued on my sad task of allowing morning playtime. In this
case, in the office, while I answered emails.
I turned around and Brock was beginning to get serious! I walked over to gently separate them (too
early to take a sample to the vet) to find –they were tied! And Willow had the funniest smile on her face.
How Brock, with no sexual experience, knew when she was ready, is beyond me. The signs from Willow
were not clear; but he knew. And of course, she knew.
So I wrote the other breeder and said if she could wait 61 days we’d have our fertility test proof.
Rosie was now coming along nicely. The first time they were together, there was a good tie.
A dog with no experience and he had no problem with 2 bitches in one week. Wow.
I did allow a second breeding of Brock to Willow as well; to ensure if she had puppies we had done what
we could for her (a good sized litter is actually better all around than a very small litter, in my
experience. Singletons and 2 or 3 pup litters are harder to keep warm, and seem a bit slower to get
going. 2 breedings would cover all the bases). Rosie also had multiple breedings.
Meanwhile, my daughter was making plans to move. This meant Rosie needed to be whelped here;
moving a mom and puppies just a few days old did not seem safe. In for a penny in for a pound, I
suppose. 2 litters on the way!
Besides watching food intake, trimming off some hair (Willow’s feathering was to the ground) , and all
the puppy dreaming and planning, I set up two separate nurseries. One in the office, one in the living
room. I felt this was best as I could block any other dogs from bothering either mommy while still being
able to get to them in a hurry. The girls were bloomy, round and happy.
Willow was due, by whelping chart, on the 21st, Rosie 6 days later. But I knew from previous experience,
when the breeding is quick, easy and seems fairly early in the cycle, it’s often 59 days not 61 or 63.
Willow decided, on day 60, and a cold and rainy day, to crawl under the deck and make her own nest.
We had to remove 3 boards to get her out! I don’t think having to bathe a girl in early labor is a good
idea but I had no choice. Needless to day, I was already rather emotionally exhausted but somehow, the
birth of puppies makes that staying up all night thing OK.
And they were beautiful. All orange roans; most dark red like Brock, but a couple were golden, as their
mom had been, at birth.6 girls and 1 boy. Oh my. Only 2 “littles;” the pups averaged about 9 oz. a piece.
Some of the dogs did sneak in to look at Willow’s puppies: she was as tolerant as she could be; Brock
being in the room did not bother her. Had he been human I would say he was a proud papa! I had to
present pups to the old ladies, Sarah and Angel, or they just wouldn’t shut up. Sarah never had puppies
of her own, but just adores tiny babies! Willow was a good sport, but protective. The puppies were
settling in and growing.
Rosie decided it was time 4 days later. Her human mommy and her dog mommy stayed right with her.
I got up when things got serious (Rosie believed in the the dead of the night theory.) She needed a bit of
help with the first puppy but after that did just fine. We were oohing and ahhing over liver and whites,
orange and whites and blue roans. Five total. A dozen newborn puppies in the house.
She and Megan finally settled down to sleep; she had more discomfort than Willow (but then, Willow is
such a trooper in every way.)
This whelping box had to soon be replaced for a much bigger one!
Rosie got bored quickly. If Megan wasn’t right at hand, she’d go look for her. So Megan did not get much
sleep the first week (I always left a chair for Willow to hop out and allowed her to come sleep with us
briefly. Her puppies were fine; Rosie’s were too but Megan had the audacity to shut her bedroom door!)
Willow would go and commune with Rosie at times. Rosie was never upset by this; they just acted like
they were comparing notes. I should have known then things would get interesting.
Angel took to baby sitting for periods; Rosie is so in love with her mom she wouldn’t interfere.
Sometimes we had to chase Angel out to let Rosie nurse her pups!
At about one week of age, Megan had been checking on all the puppies. Bruce and I needed to leave for
an overnight trip. Willow’s tiniest puppy had a swollen neck (motto; just because you’ve never had it
happen before doesn’t mean it can’t!) We rushed her to the vet; it was an abscess. They formed a drain
with the smallest end of a kitten feeding tube. Most likely cause; a puppy toenail scratched her or
Willow nipped her when removing the sack. Honestly, she seemed fine, no fever and was nursing well.
Dilemma; Emily (I named her for the toughest lady I have ever known; also one of the sweetest!) could
not be left with mom. The drain had to stay in for 3 days. So, loaded up with puppy milk and feeding
tubes, antibiotic drops, a heating pad and box, and off we went. Bruce immediately dubbed her “U
Tube.” Destined for great things, I think.
Emily seemed to like traveling, was easy to keep fed by tube, just sort of hummed along, mostly in my
When we returned, I slipped Emily back in, hoping she could just nurse and then I could remove her.
Willow washed her well and let her settle in. She never once pulled on the drain.
All the puppies were growing well and we took so many pictures you’d think no puppies had ever been
Rosie still occasionally left the puppies to sit with Megan. We tried slipping them in with Willow’s pups
for more company and warmth while mom was out. Rosie thought this was just DANDY!
And so did Willow!
It was so much easier having one pen and, believe or not, the moms just took turns nursing! All of the
puppies! Yes, they are half sisters, and their mothers were full sisters. Yes, they are both good and
gentle girls. But that they would see raising puppies as a cooperative effort…just blew my mind. No
jealousy or arguing…just-get er done! They seemed relieved when I just said-OK and left the puppies all
We sometimes forget the great capacity of dogs to love, I think.
I named my red and gold girls after blonde and red headed friends. While intended to be a good laugh
the names sort of um-fit! Megan named hers after roses. King’s Ransom (Falcor, the Luck dragon, with
his white ears! Her “keeper.”) Brie for Briar Rose, Harley for Harley Rose, Remi for Romantic Rose.
Sapphie for Sapphire Rose. This is fun and we always do this-personalizing the puppies and giving them a
chance to respond to early commands (mostly learned from watching the big dogs; my pups usually
catch on to “come”” and “kennel up” and sit” without much effort at all. I also do not leash break until
the teeth are in-I think their mouths and necks are sore during that time. And leash breaking is usually
just encouraging on with a bit of food. Usually this happens when I am going somewhere they have to
wear a leash. I realize that this attitude of “raise em naturally” seems kind of odd, but….it works.)
They learn their new names when they go to new homes very quickly. English cockers are just plain
When they were old enough to start toddling around, and we tried an outside romp, both mothers
stood guard-over any puppies near them, not just their own….yes, I carried puppies a few at a time in a
big basket…no way I could carry 12 at a time!
These puppies were fearless. I do believe the calm mothers and constant attention were very good for
them. (On the other hand, anyone who thinks I think 2 litters at a time is a good idea! NO way! This was
an intense 3 months and I hope not to repeat it!)
As the puppies grew, both the moms and “Aunt Katy” sometimes felt the need to escape!
Things like a first bath become-interesting-with 12 puppies. And you end up making a lot of puppy mush
after 4 weeks of age…lots of towels and bowls to be washed….lots of puppy pen liners to be changed ( I
use hospital pads or puppy pads, unscented- absorbent and plastic coated. Much cleaner than
Both girls nursed until about 7 weeks. I think all the teeth just made it unbearable after that!
After 6 weeks ( we returned to a 6 week shot instead of waiting until 8 weeks because of the threat of
new parvos, new dog flu etc. we use a shot that is supposed to override maternal antibodies and also,
cause no immunosuppression) and the first puppy shot, prospective owners could come and visit. This
was always a rollicking good time for the crew.
I think anyone looking for puppies without some sort of specific choice in mind was kind of
overwhelmed with so many! (For those folks, we’d narrow it down after a while-you want a girl…you
want a blue, or orange) and separate puppies down to just a couple to help owners choose who would
best “suit” them.( but they always see everyone!) Both boys were spoken for at birth. I was having a
hard time narrowing down my choices. The liver roans quickly found homes- owners had been waiting
for them. I took one girl out of the “rotation,” Carol, as she was a bit skinny. Didn’t like fighting for
mom’s milk with the other pups. Her attitude once they could eat puppy mush? Never met a dog food
kibble she didn’t like!
A friend of the family chose to drop by and play with puppies. Tiny Emily-uh, U-tube, crawled in her lap
and announced this was her person.
What made this remarkable was that the lady had just suffered a stroke, and could not speak very well. I
swear, with Emily in her arms, I understood every word. And had tears in my eyes as I told the family
member who drove her to our house; she might as well accept it-this was her puppy.
That lady started yoga classes , visited weekly, and learned to drive again, to come visit her puppy.
Sending Emily to her new home was one of the most joyful days of my life.
Emily won over the male half of the family, and went to work on the 18 year old Keeshond. He adored
her; and passed away a few weeks later after a full life. Emily’s owner felt he was at peace knowing
Emily would be there to take care of their very special human!
I told you that one was destined to be great…..
Other owners and dogs seem to “mesh” almost instantly. This was not the first litter I had seen do this-
just know who they belonged to-as Willow’s last litter had done the same! Jack and Ace, Dazzle and
Bunny, they all just-knew.
I wish I had the same perfect “radar” that dogs do!
We took a very special visit to Brock’s dad’s breeder to look at the puppies, and another breeder who
has known my dogs as well as her own over the years.
Falcor earned the title of “puppy who can sleep anywhere in any position,” while Brie just blew
everyone’s mind. Liver and white and gorgeous. Not mine to keep; Megan chose Falcor.
I was still deciding between golden Sharon (we believe Sharon and Emily are, technically, lemon roans.
Brown eyes and nose from the liver genes; but more orange in coat than what I have heard called
lemon; it’s the genes expressed in eye and nose color that make the difference for Pointers and some
other Sporting breeds. They showed the same eye color change to green that liver roans do! Sharon’s
were the most lovely turquoise shade for a few days…) and smooth Diane (who got up and trotted
around the yard, perfect topline, by 6 weeks of age. She also showed some o f those empathic traits,
sitting very still in stranger’s laps; taking care of those who just couldn’t move around as much. This is so
much a Nick trait……) ok so I was done. Diane was staying….
But I kept tucking little Carol behind me and not really letting folks look. She seemed still, a bit small to
me, though she rapidly developed what we call—a Buddha belly!
And I sure didn’t have a clue who she looked like-but oh never mind. I wasn’t letting her go. Thus goes
all the good intentions of keeping only one puppy out of a litter!
The puppies had many adventures, besides vet visits and shots…they played in the woods, ate
watermelon, and greeted everyone as if they were old friends; ate daylilies and roses to the ground, ate
every mesh vent window out of the green house; disappeared into the hostas making me look frantically
for them…..having a wonderful time. And incidentally, getting very used to outside and pottying. I have
always found getting them outside regularly a great help for the real housebreaking period.
The lounge was always good for a morning snooze..or not!
But eventually, they had to go home. Two actually went home by airplane with their new families. (At
least puppies are small enough to fly in the cabin…) this meant more vet visits for rabies shots and
health certificates. I took no chances anyone would get stuck unable to fly with all the new rules for
animals on airlines.
And with each one leaving it got a bit quieter……and finally it was down to 2, as Falcor could go with his
mom to Megan’s new house. Carol took up the mantle of-eating anything not nailed down. Including 2
hardback books (I never got to read them!). Diane took to swimming in the water bowl. I had been
cleaning up what I thought was a leaky refrigerator for 2 days before I figured that one out. Lately, they
seem fascinated with digging up tulip bulbs as fast as I get them planted. I suppose our pretty, orderly
array for next season-won’t be.
A daylily after the puppies were done.
Getting used to my 2 puppies, watching Willow pretend to grump but still love them, was fun. The older
dogs are quite good with them, though we always give them “puppy free” time.
And then came the days that would change us forever.
It was mercilessly hot. I had been allowing the puppies to go with me to put the goats out for the day,
but it was so nasty out I wasn’t going down that hill much (hotter walk back UP the hill let me tell you.)
One Friday morning, the big dogs romped through the woods (puppies were in bed for naptime) as the
goats and I made our careful way down the hill.
The next morning, Willow was hot, her neck swollen up on one side until it was about double normal
size. We rushed to the vet-there was no abscess, just fever and swollen lymph nodes. The suspicion was
spider bite and she was started on antibiotics, given fluids, etc.
The next day she ate a few snacks with us, did not seem too uncomfortable; we actually had a pretty
good day. I hoped we had turned the corner.
But as she crashed on Monday, our hopes proved to be just wishes. She was dying. Everything the vet
could do was useless; she passed away late in the afternoon. Still looking golden and perfect when we
They found pinprick like hemorrhages all over her legs when they shaved to give fluids. It appears ( best
guess) that she walked into a nest of copperheads. August is a month where baby snakes are born, the
weather is hot and dry, and the snakes just plain testy.
Had I seen her bitten, had she cried out, we might have had that first hour to try anti-venom. But she
never cried-there was no blood-just, as the hours went by, a very very sick girl.
She lived four days with that venom destroying her.
I delayed Willow’s champion daughter coming home from Ohio, as she loves to run in the woods..the
older dogs I simply asked to stay closer, in the yard, not the woods..and they did. They easily adapted
their habits when asked.
I found it difficult to love the puppies that looked so much like her, the first week. I had to do it the hard
way-go through the motions, check that everything was done for them…and now after a few weeks, I
even appreciate the bits of her I see in them. She left me a very special gift, this unexpected bonus of a
litter of golden red and white puppies….
And friends encouraged us to keep up with the puppies to have fun. Dog people are just the best…
The girls went to their first match. We drove over to Maryland to visit good friends Marybeth Piedrafite
and Bill Clark (“The Fireplug” English Cockers). Marybeth would show one girl and I would show the
other. I gave her beautiful big Diane and I took Carol. Figured Diane was the more impressive pup.
Diane and Carol at five months, first match
And Carol, yes miss formerly too skinny Buddha belly Carol-got a Puppy Group 1 and pulled out for Best
in Match..won by another puppy but special to us all the same…
Carol wins the puppy group!
But this tale is not a brag on my lovely puppies. It is a way of remembering all the lessons of this season
of puppies…all the effort, and tears, and joy. Of Willow who-just knew-who wanted these puppies and
thrived, taking care of them and loving all the puppies. Of Rosie who had the grace and sweetness to
share so readily. Of the dogs who seem-so in tune with us, with everything, they can just go with the
flow and be happy, even with changes.
Of puppies who knew how to take care of their people partners, so early on.
Raising puppies can be a headache, heartache, or sweetness beyond measure. I think we got all three…