Fostering a mother dog and her puppies in Playa del Carmen

This mother dog was extremely protective of her newborn brood.A call for help on Facebook took me to a newly-built school where two dogs had made their home. The dogs had been fed by the construction workers.

But when construction was finished, the workers left and the dogs stayed.

A teacher was worried for the dogs. The students’ parents didn’t feel it was safe to have “stray” dogs hanging around the school. The teacher was trying to find a happy solution for the dogs, as well as for the children and their parents, and she reached out to my rehoming project, Adopta-1-Amigo.

That same Friday afternoon, I picked up the dogs and took them to IFAW’s local partner clinic, Coco’s Animal Welfare. The first step with all new rescues is a health check, vaccinations, and other preventive health care.

We got the dogs settled, and as I was running errands a few hours later, I received a call from Dr. Daniela about the arrival of six new puppies! One of the two rescued dogs had evidently decided that Coco’s was a nice, safe place to have her puppies, and now was a good time as any to deliver them.

Now we were in a bit of a pickle. I had hoped to have had a few days to find a good foster home for a pregnant Mama, but now we had Mama with a new family who needed a quiet place where she would feel safe to nurse and protect her puppies. The clinic is much too busy for a new mother, and my own home was full of foster dogs already. And of course it was Friday afternoon when everyone is shutting down and going away for the weekend.

We really had nowhere else but IFAW’s office! Yes that’s right, and what better place? We have a small back patio with good shelter from the sun and rain, and plenty of privacy. I live nearby, so it would be easy for me to look in on them often and make sure they have everything they need. I brought over a large kennel for Mama to use as a den, and left her with plenty of towels and newspaper so that she could have her choice of nesting places and carry her puppies wherever she needed to. I also left her with plenty of food and water in a way that the puppies wouldn’t accidentally fall in. A nursing Mama dog needs huge amounts of both to keep up with feeding her puppies.

Mama was shy when I first met her at the school, but it was no problem to coax her into the carrier and settle her in the clinic. But now, with her puppies to protect, she became a little tornado of snapping teeth whenever I came near. I only had to come near her den, and the whole kennel would rock with her snapping and snarling.

I had to figure out how to keep Mama fed and clean without losing my fingers and ankles in the process. My strategy was to sneak up behind the den and pull the leash that I’d attached to the door on the other side. It became a game for her to wait until I had the door nearly closed, and then hurtle herself at it so that it took all the self-discipline I had to push it the rest of the way closed instead of leaping for my life!

We seemed to come to an understanding, though. I’d shut her in, count my fingers, control my heart rate, clean and put out fresh food, water and bedding, and re-open the door, all to the steady rhythm of Mama’s snarls. We even agreed on a name for her: Chela. But one day about a week later, I came in to find that one of the puppies had tumbled outside the den. Uh oh. Now what?

I had two options. Either hand-raise the puppy as an orphan, or figure out some way to return the puppy to his mother. The first was just not an option. I refuse to bottle-feed a puppy who has a mother! Not only does one give up sleep and work for about a month, but most important, puppies really need their mothers and siblings in those critical first 8 weeks of life. A strong family bond with a good mother is their best chance to form a physical and psychological foundation to serve them for the rest of their lives.

It was around 11 pm, and I couldn’t call anyone to help me get this stray puppy back into his mother’s den. I kept rounding the rooms in the office looking for a tool that would help me with my problem. Then I saw it … it would work perfectly! A dustpan!

I locked the door of the kennel in my usual way with the leash trick. Chela was having a fit and chomping for my head, as usual. Then I turned a table on its side in front of the kennel door and hopped behind it, wielding my dustpan. I placed the little muffin on the dustpan and, safely barricaded behind the table, opened the lock of the carrier. With my heart racing, I opened the door just a crack, and then a tiny bit more, with Chela baying for my throat inside. Ever so gently, I tilted the dustpan through the space and rolled the puppy to safety. Chela let me know in no uncertain terms what she thought of me and my dustpan, but she quickly set to fussing over her pup and settled to feed him.

My dustpan trick served me excellently five more times, as the puppies began to move about and wander out of the den. Chela never left the others to fetch back the pup. She was a first-time mother and perhaps had trouble deciding what to do. But maybe also, she waited for me because watching me tremble in terror and quiver about with the dustpan was so marvelously entertaining for her. The bigger the puppies grew, the harder it was for me to lever them back into the den without losing my limbs.

After three weeks of these games, the puppies began to eat wet food, and Chela and I reached a truce. She seemed at last to accept that I was actually there to help her and had no interest in harming her puppies. She began to let me pet her and to play with the puppies – which is very important for the puppies to become socialized with humans too.

But that is when the hard work really started! Chela was eating excellently, and produced plenty of milk. The puppies helped themselves liberally to her food as well. They grew fast and strong. Their world was a great energetic adventure from morning till night, and the office stood in peril of puppy assault all day.

At around eight weeks, Chela decided she had had enough and that it was time to wean the little monsters. The building shuddered and quaked as Chela leapt to avoid her pups and they scrambled after her. The internet modem crashed to smithereens, the office telephone exploded, and the window shades flew. One day she brought down a big box of plastic bags. Oh boy, did the puppies have a blast with that!

At eight weeks, Joaquin de la Torre, IFAW’s project manager in Playa del Carmen, brought his camera and captured the personalities and vitality of the puppies and their mother. Within two weeks, the whole litter had found excellent homes. They had been vaccinated, dewormed and sterilized, and Coco’s will provide the rest of their puppy vaccines. By then, the owners will have found their own veterinarians. I receive updates from them every week and feel proud like a grandma.

Chela is now home with me, my dogs and my other foster dogs. Now it is her turn to be taken care of, and she is resting and playing as much as she wants to. She will be spayed soon, and then we will find her a perfect loving home. With that face, and those fly-away ears, she is everyone’s darling.

Your support helped Chela raise her family of fat, healthy puppies and to find them loving homes. Thank you. Chela, her puppies and I wish you happy and safe holidays!

--EF

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