“I wonder how many pups she’s had by now,” I said to Nancy, the Humane officer, as she drove me home. “Four, at least.”
“None,” Nancy argued. “If she didn’t whelp last night, she’ll wait and have them tonight. Dogs always whelp during the night.”
“Normally whelp during the night,” I insisted as I removed my Santa beard and scratched my face. “She looked pretty uncomfortable when I left. I’m betting four pups.”
“Zero,” Nancy said, numbers we repeated minutes later as we stood outside the door to my basement.
Nancy grimaced as I eased open the door—there was no mistaking the soft, insistent whimpers of newborn pups. Momma dog lay in her snug nest, several tiny creatures wriggling by her side. I knelt beside her, me with my stuffing-enhanced Santa belly, hers still fat with pups. She licked me as I brushed my hand over her babies.
“Six,” I whispered, but as I stroked her belly, another contraction rippled beneath my fingers and out slid puppy number seven. Panting with pain and exhaustion, Momma dog carefully lifted the pup in her mouth and placed it between her front paws, where she could wash it without disturbing those already suckling.
An hour later, I found an eighth pup, and Momma resting at ease beside them. Eight brand-new lives, clean and well-fed.
At midnight, I went back down. The pups whimpered and twitched in their sleep. I lured Momma out of the nest with a bowl of warm formula, and then quickly changed the bedding and resettled the new family.
One by one, I picked up the pups and noted the sex, weight and color in my notebook. And with my face still itching from a day of wearing Santa’s beard, I gave them their names:
“Here’s Dasher, here’s Dancer,
“You’re Prancer, you’re Vixen,
“So this must be Comet, and this Cupid,
“And I can’t forget Donder and Blitzen.”
And I tucked them away to their brave mother’s breast. To all a good night, and to all a safe rest.
As the puppies grew, Momma dog’s ears worsened. Since antibiotics failed to cure the infection, and the only other option was an expensive surgery that would leave her totally deaf, she was declared unadoptable; once her puppies were weaned, she’d be euthanized. Again, Diana came to the rescue. Though she’d planned to adopt one of the puppies, she decided to adopt Momma dog—whom she’d named Asha—instead. Then began the battle to save Asha’s ears. Together, we hauled her to every specialist in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and every one said the same thing: to save the dog, the ears would have to go.
Finally, took her to the young and eager miracle workers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Six months later, after a strict diet and a host of medicines and treatments, Asha had her ears, her hearing and her health. Asha is 13 now, and thoroughly enjoying a second puppyhood in her happily-ever-after home. And every year, this brave dog and her caring human come to sit on Santa’s lap.