As a pet sitter with 14 years veterinary experience, my clients often look to me for advice when they have questions or problems with their pets. One particular client was planning to leave on vacation that early summer day when their veterinarian dropped a bomb on them. Their pregnant English Bulldog needed emergency surgery that morning.
Sola entered the world on May 30, 2012, in the way most English Bulldogs do, via caesarian section. She was the only girl in the litter of four, a product of an unplanned breeding. Her mother’s owners were not sure of the breeding date so the due date was sketchy, but the vet believed it was past time for these puppies, so momma was prepped for the operating room.
My phone rang and although I was totally blindsided, I headed out to pick up the mother dog and her four brand new babies. I was extremely unprepared for what was to unfold. I had seen hundreds of dogs and pups post c-section in my years working at a veterinary hospital, but nothing seemed to be right in that case. Momma was still sedated when I arrived. The babies were cold and ridiculously small. I loaded mom and babies into my car and drove them to my home.
What was supposed to only be a weekend gig turned into a nightmare. Momma didn’t want these babies. She wouldn’t have even stayed in the same room with them if I hadn’t forced her. Mom had no interest, no milk, no colostrum, no motherly instinct. After the weekend she was separated permanently from the kids for their safety. She didn’t like them, she didn’t want them, and she frequently was found lying on them. I was then solely responsible for those four teeny tiny gerbil-like bulldog babies. It was no easy task. I had zero experience hand raising bulldogs ,or any puppies for that matter, but I was 100% committed to saving those babies.
Sadly, two puppies didn’t even make it through the weekend. The other two were not thriving, losing weight, and very quiet. The owners knew a lot less than I did so it was decided that the last two pups would remain in my care until they were eating on their own. Since my clients could not afford to pay my daily fee for six weeks, my payment would be my choice of puppy. I was free to sell my puppy or keep it. Having always loved bulldogs I accepted the deal.
I took a crash course in raising baby bulldogs, acquired a feeding tube, researched the best formula and proper feeding technique, and started saving the last two pups. The next couple weeks I lived and breathed those babies. They literally went everywhere with me, traveling in a large purse I had lined with a little soft blanket. I carried a cooler wherever I went to keep formula cold to make sure those babies always had fresh milk and were kept well fed. I cared for them in friends’ homes, in clients homes, in the car, in numerous parking lots, in the middle of the night, at church, while out to eat, etc. They literally NEVER EVER left my side. They even slept in a basket next to my bed. Nobody was going to come between me and those babies.
They gained weight, slowly, but they seemed to be thriving. I tentatively named them Gusto and Feisty because they were doing so well. Having spent almost every waking hour with these two, I knew them inside and out. I knew immediately when little Gusto was not right.
I sat up with him all night fearing the worst then met my vet at his door the moment the clinic opened. I explained that something wasn’t right with the little guy. The doctor questioned my fears because he thought the pup looked fine to him. I assured him that he was not acting right and insisted on having him observed over the course of the day. Later in the afternoon, the vet called to say he did see the little boy declining, but was unsure of the problem. Several hours later, another phone call suggested I come and sign authorization for euthanasia because the puppy was doing so poorly. I rushed to the vet where I was ushered into the back room where little Gusto lay practically lifeless in a card board box, snuggled in a towel and heating pad. I picked up the little guy and held him close, apologizing for failing him. I told him that even though he was only three weeks old I loved him dearly. He passed away in my arms moments later.
Those puppies had never been right. Neither puppy had opened their eyes yet. They both seemed to be about a week behind in all the regular puppy milestones. An autopsy was ordered to answer the pressing question of why. The following day the test results confirmed my suspicions. The babies were 7-10 days premature. Gusto had a lot of internal issues, but under developed organs and lungs were his biggest concerns.
The vet said I was fighting Mother Nature with these guys. There was nothing I did or could have done that would have changed anything. He was surprised that any of the pups had survived as long as they had. My attention quickly turned to the last remaining pup, the little girl who was soon renamed Sola, which was the Spanish feminine form for the word “only.”