Sometimes it’s not so much what we choose, but rather what chooses us that becomes a gift. Late in March, while we were building our house, an obviously pregnant and gaunt golden-coated dog just showed up, one day. She may have been dumped by someone who didn’t want to have a mother dog and her puppies, or she may have escaped brutal and cruel treatment. She was starving, and was frantically trying to find food for herself, and to find a place to have her babies.
After she stayed around for a couple of days, eating table scraps, the homesteaders made a special trip to town to get dog food for the stray. She was very reluctant to get close to either the house or the detached garage. Her aversion to any human contact made it hard to leave food and water out for her, especially since there were a lot of nocturnal four-legged bandits–raccoons–who would have enjoyed her water and food.
Finally, her thirst and hunger drove her to eat and drink the offered dog food and water in two plastic bowls. When the bowls were put out, morning and evening, she would stand about fifteen feet away, watching to make sure the food was for her. She never ate or drank when people were around. She would always wait until the doors closed, to even take a bite, although it was obvious she was ravenous. After awhile, although she remained a very skittish dog, she would take treats or food if they were left out for her on a stack of two by four boards, or if she thought no one was watching her steal a treat.
Within about a week, it was obvious that she was no longer “with pup(s)” and that she was nursing at least one pup. She would disappear for hours, and then, suddenly reappear. We, also, noticed that she would disappear for a couple of hours after going around the east side of the old barn. We searched the barn and all of the nearby outbuildings, and found nothing. Then, we started watching her behavior from a window, because she wouldn’t do anything or go anywhere when we were in the yard or close to the barn. She seemed to have a “sixth sense” when we were being especially curious about her activities.
It took about three days of detective work before the puppies were found. While a neighbor was visiting, he heard the pups’ whining and mewing, and, knowing animal habits better than the resident homesteaders, listened some more, and walked to the northwest door of the barn. He opened the door where bales of hay were stored in the lean-to of the barn, and listened some more. Finally, he spotted a hollowed out place between several bales where the stray had hidden her pups and had made a bed for herself and them.
They were the cutest pups! Their eyes were still closed, and they were pretty wobbly when they tried to root around for their mother. The smallest one was the prettiest shade of cinnamon. The other one was much bigger, and was black with the cinnamon colored markings of a black-and-tan hound. Neither one looked like their mother. After finding the pups, we waited a few more days before touching them, so she wouldn’t think she had to hide them in another safe place. She was still wary–waiting until no one was around to slip into and out of the lean-to to care for her precious babies–but she didn’t think that she needed to hide them, again.
She had found the perfect spot for her puppies’ safety, where she would easily squeeze past a not-quite- closed door to the hay-filled shed, and where nothing or nobody could get to her pups. Once they were found, everyone who saw them wanted to hold them.
Our daughter-in-law told us that we needed to pet and hold the dogs to help them become used to humans. We started taking the pups out to pet and hold them, which wasn’t a difficult or dreaded chore. Although not many people knew about the pups because the homesteaders wanted to keep them safe, a select few friends and neighbors would stop by the farm for one of two reasons–to pet and hold the pups–or to check on the progress of the home build. People, saying they were checking on the progress of the house build, always seemed to ask about the star attraction on the farm–the dog and her pups–and, invariably, asked to hold and pet the two pups. The Mama dog was frantic, at first, but she came to trust us with her two precious pups.
Trust slowly developed as the stray learned no one wanted to hurt or harm either her or her puppies. But that trust was tested when one of the many dog lovers who came to visit had held and petted the puppies, and, after awhile, had carefully returned them to their home in the hay. However, they came under suspicion when Mama Dog, thinking that the puppy admirer hadn’t returned the pups, started frantically circling and almost herding the person back to the barn. After several minutes and a thorough search of the potential dog-napper, which included sniffing hands and looking under a shirt and a coat, she was satisfied that the pups were safely home, and she relaxed her guard for a few minutes.
After about a week, other nesting arrangements had to be made. The pups were covered in fleas! The problem of finding a less “buggy” home was solved when the resident woodsman, a pretty crafty guy, built a puppy escape-proof box using a couple of old pallets, and scrap lumber. Shredded paper made good bedding and an old blanket tucked in the corner provided a warm and comfy bed for the dog trio. The Mama dog was able to get into the spacious box to nurse her puppies, and she didn’t have to worry about them getting out.
Over a period of about a month, the Mama Dog became less timid, and although she wouldn’t allow anyone to pet her, she seemed to understand that petting and holding her pups was beneficial for them to become someone’s devoted dog. And as Charles Schultz wrote, in a Peanuts cartoon,
“Happiness is a warm puppy.”