Distress was written all over her face. Over her entire body in face. I sat across from Sally and watched as she paced the room, from this corner to that corner as if searching for something long ago lost. Slowly it dawned on me what she was doing, and I elbowed Davy in the side.
“I think it’s time.”
“No, Pappa, I don’t want to go to bed!”
“Hush,” I said putting my finger to my lips, and nodded in Sally’s direction. “I think it’s time for her to give birth. Remember, the Vet said she could have her puppies anytime now.” Davy’s eyes widened as if receiving an unexpected present.
“What do we do?” he whispered in a squeaky voice.
“Let’s put her on her leash and take her outside for a few minutes, then, let’s take he into the barn and put her in the whelping box.”
It seemed like yesterday, but it was a month ago on a rainy Saturday afternoon, that Davy and I built a whelping box for Sally. I had some slats left over from the horse corral sitting in the rafters, that I pulled down into a pile. Davy used the small hammer of course, and most, if not all his nails missed their intended purpose, but the pride he felt knowing his efforts were toward Sally’s benefit were worth the extra work it took me to pull the bent or exposed nails out were worth the look on his face.
I should have been a carpenter. I simply love the smell of wood, and sawdust. Most of all I love the feeling of building something by hand, with clean lines. Functional things, like tables, doors, frames. Beauty stems from functional as far as I was concerned, and the whelping box that Davy and I built was the most beautiful of all, because it was functional – to be certain, but more so because it introduced Davey to the pride one feels from working for the benefit of others. In this case, our 5 year old Shepard, Sally.
Usually, she was too strong for the lad, but in her condition, Davey was the master as he tenderly escorted her into whelping box that sat off in the corner of the barn. I complemented him on his gentleness with the dog, and he gave me a grin that never fails to melt my heart.
“Stay with her for a moment, I’ll get some blankets for us in case it’s a long night.”
“No, school tomorrow?” He said hopefully. I shook my head and smiled. Tonight was going to be one of those nights that become indelible memories, for both of us. I headed back into the house for the provisions we’d need during our vigil.
Davey was almost bouncing off the rafters when I returned. He simply pointed at Sally coiled up in the middle of the box. I followed Davey’s finger and saw that Sally was already fast at work, attending to the first of her puppies. “Look Dad!, he just popped out and Sally started licking him… and… and… I’m not sure he likes it.”
“Oh, he needs all that attention from Sally, each of them do to help them get ready for this world.”
“How does she know what to do?”
“Dogs just know. It’s called instinct. Dogs that give birth, simply know what needs to be done to take care of their puppies. Like finding a place to have pups. That’s what Sally was doing in the family room a while ago, looking for a good spot to have her babies. She couldn’t get out to the barn on her own, so we brought her here, and she knew what to do. “ I wasn’t quite sure my explanation was sufficient for his 6 year old mind. “Remember when we were down with the whelping box and we filled it with sawdust, and tinder so it would be a soft, dry place for Sally, she also knew it was the right place.”
Davey’s attention spun back to Sally as she began to attend her second puppy. “Look Dad, two!”
“I see. She could have as many as 5 or 6 puppies before she’s done.”
“I’m going to call this one Aardvark, and the new one Brian.” Davy said, as he propped his head along the ridge of the whelping box, watching in earnest until he gasped. “Dad, the cat!!!”
High up on the railing that separated the old horse stalls was one of the 3 barn cats. He too was watching with rapt attention as Aardvark and Brian wiggled as they took their first few moments in there new freedom. I had forgotten about the cats. This one was about to pounce from his high perch and I knew I had to think of something quick to keep the puppies safe. For the moment, I stood up, picked up the cat and gently carried him back into the house with me as I armed myself, and prepared a weapon for Davey to use. I returned to the whelping box with a rifle in each hand and gave one to Davey.
“Dad?” he said nervously.
“It’s simple Davey. We have to protect the puppies from the cats until they’re old enough to protect themselves. So, when we see a cat nearby, we…shoot them. Like this.” I lifted my weapon to my shoulder and pulled the trigger. A stream of pressurized water arced across the barn and hit the pail in the other stall making a tinny sound as it got soaked.
“Cat’s hate water, and won’t come within a mile of this place if they think they’re going to get wet. Think you can handle the job of ‘Puppy Protector’?”
You would have thought it a solemn oath Davey took as he protected Aardvark and Brian though the night, along with Daisy, Stubby, Wolf and Chestnut, who all arrived before the sun the next morning.