Common Ground — Puppies are great, minus the wait

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. A very pregnant Parker has her owner feeling labor pains.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. A very pregnant Parker has her owner feeling labor pains.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
There’s an old saying, a watched dog never gives birth. It came from the annals of amateur breeders who fret and fawn over their beloved pregnant pets and experienced the science-defying slowness of labor. It had been less than 24 hours since Parker’s temperature dropped. The Internet said the birth of puppies was imminent when the dog’s temperature dropped. But now I was questioning my skill at using the rectal thermometer. The only instruction was in the form of marketing, “Takes temperature in under 10 seconds.”
For those who have never had children, are not veterinarians, are overcoming natural-born squeamishness and need lots of instruction, taking an animal’s rectal temperature ranks up there with learning how to fly a helicopter and performing neurosurgery. At the same time. There are buttons and a screen to watch as well as an angle of attack to consider, all while inserting a medical device with a calming bedside manner.
It was a two-person job, and my part required the most skill. Anyone can hold the dog’s head and whisper sweet nothings in its ear. That wasn’t my job. My dog’s tail was clamped shut as if she seemed to know what was happening.
“Not sure how to go about this,” I said. The thermometer beeped. Did that mean a countdown had ensued? I needed more time!
“What are you doing back there?” the head-holder asked. Head-holders do not appreciate that the people on the other end of the job cannot be criticized.
Nobody asks the pilot, “Hey, what are you doing up there?” Nobody asks their neurosurgeon what kind of grades she got in medical school. And it’s just plain not helpful to question the skill level of someone who is about to stick a thermometer in a place with very little available light.
“There’s a lot of fur back here, I can’t see where I’m going with this thing,” I said. My dog looked back at me with the evil eye. I had read somewhere that the way to stop an attack from a vicious dog was to digitally penetrate its anus. At the time, I didn’t question this potentially life-saving advice. Now, when faced with the actual logistics of such a feat, I realized how difficult it would be to attempt. Even more so with bears, probably.


After I managed taking my dog’s temperature, I poured myself a drink. Online sources said this would need to be done three times a day. It was going to be a long day. A friend invited me out fishing and another to a barbecue. I had to stay with my dog. It was the longest week of my life, and it was only an hour. I will remember the entire affair as the summer of my discontent. And she hadn’t even had the puppies yet.
When she still hadn’t had puppies after several hours, my self-doubt started to kick in. Possibly, I had taken her temperature wrong. She had all the other signs of an imminent birthing of puppies. “Just stay with her,” a friend with veterinarian training said. “And quit reading stuff on the Internet.” Apparently, the million things that can go wrong are mostly rare and no one enjoys dispelling your ridiculous concerns.
Luckily, I had more than one friend with skill in the area, but was running out of friends fast. You would think it would be a good idea to learn as much as possible so you could spot a problem if it did occur.
Unfortunately, this tactic causes anxiety, and dogs can smell anxiety just like they can smell fear, predict earthquakes and forestall the birth of a litter.
My dog did not look particularly anxious, though. “Aren’t you supposed to be nesting in your whelping bed?” I asked her. She was just lying there on her pillow, peacefully. “Maybe I should take your temperature again?” It had been a day since the last temperature-taking and we were past due.
She glared at me as if to say, “You know, they do make ear thermometers.”

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at christineemal@hotmail.com. For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.

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