As I sat Christmas Eve in an emergency veterinary hospital, I could not help but wonder how we, as farmers, get ourselves into these situations?
It all started back in October when I wrote the blog Don't Worry, The Farmer Will Care For Your Abandoned Dog. Yes, there was a stray dog. This time a black lab broke our perimeter woven-wire fencing system. He interacted with our 7-year-old chocolate lab. Now, our farm family sits in an emergency veterinary hospital the day before Christmas.
Our farm dog, Riley, was pregnant. She started in labor the night before and had her first puppy around 10 p.m. I have assisted in the births of pigs, cattle, horses and sheep, but never dogs. Growing up, our farm dogs always ran off and came back with a litter of puppies, but not this time. Temperatures were in the teens and despite her age; this was Riley’s very first litter. She was not going to do this alone.
The puppies continued to come over the course of the evening and into the early morning hours. I was hoping for just three, but by the seventh puppy, my daughter and I were exhausted. Hourse went by and her delivery appeared to be complete.
But the farmer, or mother, in me knew something was wrong with Riley. I thought I saw movement, she continued to labor, yet she wasn't progressing. So, I made the call to our family farm vet. I must give a big shout out to Dr. James Hale and all of the other veterinarians who take calls on the holidays. You, like farmers, never seem to have a day off. He was out of town, but assessed the situation and told me to take our dog to a clinic.
My girls and I loaded Riley and her seven pups into the farm truck and drove 45-minutes to the nearest emergency vet hospital. After the initial assessment and a series of x-rays, it was determined there was at least four more puppies inside her uterus. The vet tried oxytocin, a hormone that helps induce contractions, but nothing. An emergency caesarian section was the only option.
As with any surgical procedure, there is risk. As the vet explained them, my girls began to tear up. They know growing up on the farm around livestock that there are no guarantees. They came to the vet hoping to bring home their dog and puppies, only to realize they were going to leave them behind.
A phone call that evening revealed they could only save one more puppy. In addition, there was a little complication with Riley and they wanted to keep her overnight. A Christmas Eve that started out so promising was ending with such uncertainty.
I am not sure who slept at all that night, but Christmas presents were the last thing on our daughters' minds the next morning. Finally, a phone call at 6 a.m. revealed that Riley was doing much better and we could pick her up midday-- her and all of her eight puppies.
As farmers, unexpected seems to be the norm, whether it is volatility in weather, swings in markets or unplanned veterinary bills. Still, we find a way to overcome. We find a way to manage to see the joy in one more day on the farm, one more day with family, one more day with friends, one more day with our favorite farm dog, and one more day with…puppies.