• Robert Swanson

The Overlook Dozen!

Nearly four weeks ago, we were very fortunate to have a litter of 12 puppies sired by our Sawyer out of our Sailor. I always approach every whelping with fear and trepidation. My history of emergency c-sections in the dead of the night has become legend with my vet and the friends who rush over in their pajamas to watch the dogs as I rush to the hospital. Puppies born in the back seat? Yup. Puppies lost at an emergency hospital because of horrible service? Yes. Moms always survive? Thankfully, yes. But, this time would prove to be different!


On November 24th, 2019, there were 12 puppies born in 12 hours. Sailor started some serious labor at 3:30 in the afternoon of November 23rd. Her first puppy was born at 7:30 and two others followed in the next 45 minutes. Could this be an easy whelp? Could I possibly escape the emergency c-section curse that had plagued me for several years? Could I have a litter where every puppy survived? These were the questions that were haunting me as we began the delivery of the Sawyer x Sailor puppies.


The first three puppies were robust and started nursing immediately. Sailor, a seasoned Mom, went right to work cleaning the puppies and making sure all was good. An hour later a fourth puppy was born and an hour after that, a fifth puppy! There were three boys and two girls, all good-sized and vibrant. We were expecting ten puppies, and assumed we were halfway through despite the fact that Sailor had not seemed to decrease in size with half the litter already on the ground. It was odd.


An hour later, at approximately 11:21 the sixth puppy arrived. In the next hour three more would arrive in quick order. We passed the midnight hour with nine puppies safe and sound. Four boys and five girls. But, Sailor still looked so big!


All the while, I had been using a monitoring system called Whelpwise. There is a Doppler unit to track fetal heartbeats and a monitor that measures contractions. The data on the contractions is sent over the phone lines to a veterinarian in Colorado who reads the data and lets me know how Sailor is doing. When necessary, they advise on the administration of calcium and/or oxytocin to move things along. Very often the contractions can look very big to me, but internally they are quite small and not strong enough to push a puppy out. I would be lost without Whelpwise!


As we came up to 1:15 am, Sailor was clearly tired and actively trying to push her tenth puppy out. We used calcium and oxytocin to no avail. I took Sailor outside for a quick walk to (hopefully) move things along, but all she did was pee! It was also very windy and I knew we were in for some torrential rains. I was happy we had avoided that force of nature so far.


After two hours and no puppy I was concerned. Understatement. I was going crazy. The vet at Whelpwise told me I should be prepared for an emergency c-section and to call my vet. I couldn’t go through another middle-of-the-night race to a vet who was 20 minutes away, wouldn’t be happy to hear from me (despite putting his kids through college with 30 years of vet bills) and would complain because he wouldn’t be able to secure any vet techs at that hour of the night. I’ve been through this scenario too many times. I can write the script. But, he’s truly a great vet!


I told the Whelpwise people I could not go through that. The puppy’s heart beat was very strong and I thought he just needed some more time. Ten minutes later, she delivered the biggest puppy of the night. This boy was BIG. No wonder she was having trouble. The biggest puppy is supposed to be the first puppy! I guess nobody told him he’s supposed to pave the way for the others. He was very vocal and clearly happy to be in the real world.


It was now 2:30 in the morning and I settled all the puppies with Sailor so they could nurse. She still looked a little big but she was definitely not the size she had been when the night started. As I was watching the puppies nurse, Sailor had a contraction. Another puppy? A missing placenta? I grabbed the Doppler and found a very strong heart beat on puppy #11. But, this puppy would prove to be the most difficult of them all. Sailor’s contractions were weak and drugs were necessary but not working well. We talked once more about an emergency c-section.


More than two hours had passed and there was still no sign of a puppy, but there was a very strong heartbeat. I decided to walk Sailor outside to possibly move things along. Did I know there was a monsoon? We went outside and I had an umbrella in one hand and my iPhone flashlight in the other. Wrapped around my neck was a cloth towel in case a puppy was born. The hand holding the umbrella was also holding the leash. We hadn’t taken five steps in the windy, pouring rain when a puppy dropped to the ground. Did anyone hear me scream? I threw the umbrella in the air where it was quickly grabbed by the wind and went sailing. I grabbed the towel and the puppy and Sailor ran into the house. The puppy was still in the sack and fighting to get out. We made it! Five boys, six girls and it was not yet 5:00 am.


Another contraction? I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw some motion where there shouldn’t have been motion. Once again, I grabbed the Doppler and secured another very strong heart rate. Where were all these puppies coming from? Sailor is a small dog that weighs only 55 pounds. Ninety minutes later the seventh girl was born, strong and healthy, and Sailor was in a very deep and well deserved sleep. Actually, it was just a nap. She was up and taking care of those puppies 15 minutes later. I wondered what she was thinking as she was suddenly assaulted by all these nursing puppies. I’m sure she felt better than being pregnant and barely able to get up the stairs!


It was an incredible night. I haven’t had a litter this big in 15 years! It was Sailor’s great grandmother, Scout, who had 12 puppies in 2004. It was also a joy to whelp the litter naturally instead of via c-section and to have all the puppies survive. Nothing is more heartbreaking than to have a fully formed, perfect puppy, stillborn.


As hard as Sailor worked to whelp the litter, that was really the easy part. Caring for and nursing 12 puppies is a round the clock job. She’s so very good and so very careful as she navigates around the puppies all splayed out in the whelping box. She is also enjoying the non-stop food she is inhaling as she makes enough milk to feed the little monsters. She’s a perfect Mom who just whelped a perfect litter perfectly!

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