Sunday, August 21, 2005

life and death

Recently, I made an impromptu trip to Waco with my sister. (And right now, you're wondering how a blog with a title about depression can begin with a road trip story...but let me continue.)

Dana has been planning to get a Great Dane from a breeder near Waco whose Dane just had puppies. (18 in all!) So when she called at 10 p.m., wanting to know if I can ditch my job the next day to go to Waco, I assumed she wanted to go pick out her puppy.

Not so. The breeder's mother had a heart attack and a stroke the day before, and the breeder (obviously) spent the entire day at the hospital. While she was gone, the mom dog (Sable) didn't know enough to reposition her kids when they couldn't reach her by the time the breeder got home that night, they were severely dehydrated. Unfortunately, Sable was having puppies at a young age and didn’t have any idea how to be a mother – she needed help to make sure the puppies were properly fed.

When the breeder called Dana, several puppies were already gone, and they weren't sure how many would make it through the night. To top it off, the situation with her mother was going to be a long-term deal while she recovered from her stroke and heart attack, so the breeder couldn't guarantee that she could properly nurse the puppies and mom back to full health. She offered Dana her ENTIRE family of Great Danes! One American Dane male (the father - Arlo) and two German Dane (straight from Berlin!) female sisters (Sarah and Sable), and whatever puppies made it. She didn't want to break up the family, and she knew that Dana would take great care of all of them.

So we left at 5 a.m. and got the dogs...I ended up taking care of the two remaining puppies on the way home. We called the puppies #1 and #2 so we wouldn't get attached - #1 was the stronger of the two; #2 couldn't control his body temp and he couldn't bottle-feed. When I wasn't feeding them by sticking my finger in their mouths and putting formula drop-by-drop via syringe in them, they were cradled underneath my shirt to get my body heat.

An hour from home, #2 aspirated on the formula and was gasping for breath. He had stopped even moving his tongue when I dripped the milk in his mouth. I was panicked - here I had a dying puppy in my arms. Though I had tried my hardest for the past 4 hours to get warmth and nutrition inside this little body, #2 wasn't going to make it. And we had thought he was actually getting stronger for a while! I totally freaked out about it while Dana calmly told me that I had done all I could. She ended up taking #2 from me because I couldn't bear to have him die while I held him, especially since I was still caring for #1.

My sister is so great - she can handle just about anything. While she was also upset about #2, she was able to comfort me and deal with the puppy when I couldn't. She encouraged me the rest of the way home about how she couldn't have gotten them home without me, that #1 had a greater chance of surviving because of me, that she couldn't even get them to feed when we were at the breeder's house and I'd gotten them both to eat quite a bit.

From that moment until now, I have been so incredibly down. I tried so hard not to get attached because I knew there was an ENORMOUS chance they would die, but I was doing so well! I know it's not my fault, but I still feel like I should have been able to keep #2 alive. Did I let him get too cold? Did I feed him too much formula? Did I suffocate him while I was trying to keep him warm? All these things are flashing through my mind, even as I'm writing this.

The good news is that my sister has three wonderful Great Dane dogs now. The bad news is that #1 didn’t make it either. He lasted another day after we got him to Dana’s, but all of a sudden he started losing his body heat, just like #2. No warning, he just started to weaken after he’d been taking the bottle so well for the entire day.

Yes, I know that they probably would have been greatly damaged because of their extended dehydration at such a young age. Most vets wouldn’t even treat them because it was nature’s way of weeding off the ones that couldn’t survive. BUT IT WASN’T THEIR FAULT THAT THEY WERE DYING!!! They tried their best to get food, but they couldn’t get it! Mama didn’t know what to do, and nobody was there to help her.

This is seriously a tragedy.

Another bit of good news: I’ve decided that my next dog will be a Great Dane. Yes, they’re enormous, but they’re gentle giants. Imagine 150 pounds of a dog…they are a wonder to behold. So I plan to get one of the puppies off the next litter…which will be AFTER Sarah and Sable are 2 years old (a year away). By then, they will know how to be mothers, especially Sable after this whole debacle.

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