A few days ago I wandered into the hospital on my day off (I just can’t stay away) and walked into one of those disaster scenarios worthy of Animal Planet’s Emergency Vets TV show.
The scene: Two techs vigorously trying to stimulate respiration in two recently extricated newborn pups. A German Shepherd bitch anesthetized on the surgical table, all four legs akimbo. One tech busily manning the anesthesia and instruments. The vet, my colleague, fully gowned and sweating over an open abdomen. And finally, the stunned owner standing nearby, hands over her mouth, looking for all the world like someone who’d like nothing better than to be anywhere else.
Great. Another one. Here’s where backyard breeders and I usually intersect—always under unpleasant circumstances, usually over a disaster C-section.
My colleague is like me. He likes to make them watch the fruits of their irresponsibility. While that might sound cruel—it usually works.
Faced with the impending death of two innocent babies I rolled up my sleeves like everyone else (save the ineffectual owner) and got down to the business of getting puppies to breathe.
The pups were huge and their lungs fluid-filled. They’d been overcooked. This bitch was probably due three full days ago (a very long time when gestation is only 63 days). This owner had completely missed the due date, signs of distress, etc.
By far the biggest mistake inexperienced breeders make is to assume nature will provide. This bountiful life force, she’s always in control and knows just when the little darlings will come into the world, right? Think again. After you breed a seventy-pound bitch to a hundred and ten pound male you’ve just offended Mother Earth. And she’s not so forgiving as the vets you desperately need when it all goes to hell.
When backyard breeders (ubiquitous offenders in Miami) get to teaching "the miracle of life" to their children, they can be truly stupid. Here are the mistakes they usually make that lead to that last-second, emergency C-section:
1-They don’t know the date the dogs got it together. (But they live in the back yard and they’re always together.)
2-They have sought no pre-pregnancy or pre-natal healthcare for their dogs. (When I was little we never needed to do that and my dog had ten puppies six times.)
3-They were not prepared for the birthing process. (No whelping box, no towels or newspapers, just a big backyard with a "comfy" patio.)
4-They have no idea what to look for when the bitch is ready to whelp. (What’s whelping? You mean I should hit her while she’s giving birth?)
5-They ignore signs of distress. (But she always paces around all night in a circle and that stuff coming out of her is normal, right?)
About half the time backyard breeders get lucky and they bring their dogs in before all is lost. The other half are not so lucky. While we can usually save the mother the pups are often dead or simply not sustainably revivable.
My own dog was one of these irresponsibly bred dogs. Although her owner considered herself a dog breeder, those pesky methamphetamines had been getting in the way of her breeding business. Sophie Sue was one of her casualties: her uterus had ruptured when the pups couldn’t make their way out. Who knows how long she had been trying to deliver them? I managed to negotiate her freedom for the price of the C-section and spay. (Crassly explaining that she didn’t need another non-productive mouth to feed, she enthusiastically made the deal.)
This week’s case was similarly disastrous. The bitch`s uterus was fluid-filled and unresponsive to oxytocin—it had clearly been over-used and less than cared for. In its current state it was a perfect candidate for pyometra (an overwhelming infection of the uterus). The owner did not, however, grant permission for the recommended spay.
After an hour of working on the pups it became clear we couldn’t maintain their hearts or respiration in the presence of all that fluid. Suction, oxygen, drugs….and then nothing. Yet this owner was undeterred. (Next time I’ll have to keep her inside when she starts to look big.) Great. You do that. We’ll look forward to your next visit.
You’re thinking: There should be a law against that! Nope. That’s not negligence in the eyes of the law. Nor is it considered animal cruelty. If you overstuff your fridge and it breaks that’s your dumb luck. While in Miami-Dade County (where I live) breeders have to obtain a license and fulfill some basic puppy care requirements, no pre-birth regulations are included in the legislation. Dogs are your property. You can f--- them up any way you like as long as you don’t actively do them violence.
Make no mistake, breeding is not for the meek…or the ignorant…or the irresponsible. It takes years to learn how to do it right. In lieu of that, it takes a whole lot more research and veterinary care than most people realize. I make that point with the owner of every single unspayed female that walks through my door. Are you willing to risk her life for some potential puppies?
Until backyard breeders stop doing their thing and until laws can be installed and enforced to make them stop, I’ll have to keep doing these disaster C-sections. There’s no point in denying any animal a life-saving surgery. But I will continue to make those responsible observe the outcome of their ignorance and arrogance. I want the "miracle of life" to be at least a fraction as painful and uncomfortable for them as it was for their pet.