The little fuzzy faced mama dog began to pant and dig at her bedding. Pippa had come to me as an abandoned stray only a day or so previously in an advanced state of pregnancy. It was obvious that delivery was imminent. I dialed a friend who offered to keep me company during labor and she arrived a few minutes later. It was around 9 pm and I poured us a glass of wine and we chatted quietly as we waited.
In a very short period of time, Pippa turned and began to lick her vulva. We could see a dark bulge presenting and Pippa strained and licked until the baby was free. She cleaned the baby vigorously and it squirmed and squeaked. The labor progressed well throughout the night with a puppy being born every 15-30 minutes. At one point there was a long period with no puppies and I began to worry but eventual, with a tremendous push, another little boy was born. He had kind of a big head and I grinned and said “no wonder she had a hard time.” By 4:30 in the morning, 9 puppies had been born and all were nursing and doing well so I headed off to bed.
We named the puppy with the big head, Hernando. As the days passed, all of the puppies thrived but I began to notice that Hernando’s head was getting bigger by the day. By 3 weeks of age his head was cartoonishly huge and I realized with a sinking heart that he was probably hydrocephalic. I have done a lot of fostering and had a hydrocephalic puppy in a previous litter. That baby stopped developing at 3 weeks of age and was very delayed in every way. She had passed away peacefully at 9 weeks old. Unlike the previous puppy, so far Hernando seemed fine in every other way.
I knew from my previous experience that there wasn’t a lot that can be done for hydrocephalic dogs and most don’t survive puppyhood although there are exceptions. I had been posting daily updates about the puppies on Facebook and listed my concerns about Hernando. People began to comment about how they were crying, sobbing and devastated by his condition. I would look over at Hernando, playing joyfully with his siblings, nursing or sleeping safe and warm cuddled up to Pippa. He certainly wasn’t sad or suffering. In fact, he was one of the more advanced pups in the litter and his little tail wagged all the time. He was usually first to eat, first to greet visitors and first to dive in and nurse.
People were requesting updates, and yet it was making them unhappy. In my posts I started reminding people that Hernando’s future was uncertain, but dogs live in the moment and Hernando was as happy as they come. There are so many lessons to be learned from dogs. Hernando could die tomorrow, but being miserable about it today won’t change the outcome. And what if he is one of the rare ones that survives and thrives? We will have wasted all that time being sad over something that never happened. Others asked why I didn’t have him put down. The answer is that there is no need at this point. He is fully functional and in no pain. I will never let him suffer, but his life matters, however long or short.
I did take Hernando to a neurology specialist, just to see if there were any other options. The vet asked if Hernando could walk. I set him down on the floor and much to our amusement, he bounced sassily across the room and began to chew the doctor’s shoes. After putting him through a thorough exam, the vet agreed with the diagnosis but said that since he wasn’t showing any deficits there wasn’t anything to be done at that point. In rare cases a shunt can be placed to direct fluid away from the head and back into the body. The cost is around $8000 and the procedure often only lasts for a year so it was not recommended. Medications can be helpful in some cases but aren’t usually prescribed unless the dog is having problems.
Hernando will be leaving for his wonderful new home soon. The vet said that if he makes it to a year, he might live a full life. He will be a pampered and adored companion however long he lives. He is a daily reminder to live in the moment and find our joy every day.