Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dog on the Blog: This Is Maybelle, One of Our "Cracker Jack" Dogs

These pictures go back a few years. Top photo is Maybelle, not too very long after coming to live with us. We refer to her as one of our Cracker Jack dogs because she came to us with a surprise inside!
Maybelle wandered onto the school campus where Ricky was teaching in Albuquerque. She had no collar or identification. Knowing that school policy was to send all stray dogs to Animal Control, and knowing further that most dogs taken there did not live to tell about it, Ricky kept her in his shop classroom until the end of the day, and then took her to our vet. She was scanned for a microchip, but there was none. Ricky made posters and placed them in the school and around the neighborhood, but no one ever claimed Maybelle. So she lived with us.
At first, it was not obvious that she was pregnant. She was a little worse for wear, and definitely underweight. When we took her back to the vet for a full examination and wellness visit, she informed us that we were going to have more dogs than just Maybelle! So her routine shots had to be postponed until she delivered. We did our best to put weight on her, and gave her vitamin supplements to stengthen her. But being pregnant on the street takes a toll on mother an babies.
Maybelle had seven beautiful babies. We named the four girls to honor their mommy: Lulubelle, Sarabelle, Annabelle and Clarabelle. We named the boys for the Ford family: Henry, Edsel and William Clay. Pictured above, starting just below Maybelle and moving down the page are Lulubelle, William Clay, Clarabelle and Edsel. Everyone seemed so healthy at first that there was little inkling of what would lie ahead for Maybelle and her pups.
Our first big test came when Maybelle developed a uterine infection just after giving birth. In those days, I lived in San Diego full time in one of our rental properties, while Ricky taught in Albuquerque Tues through Fri. Then he would fly out to San Diego for Sat - Sun - Mon. (I know, I know, I hated that schedule too. I was glad when Ricky finally quit teaching to work in our business full time, and I could be with him all the time!) Maybelle had moved from Albuquerque to San Diego so I could be with her during her pregnancy and then after her puppies were born. But our favorite vet was in Albuquerque, and we never really did settle on a San Diego vet during our California period.
I took Maybelle to a vet who had been recommended to us. He looked at her infected uterus and told me she would have to get on antibiotics immediately, but that she could not nurse her babies if she was taking antibiotics. He told me to buy formula and a bottle and feed the pups every several hours. To placate new-mommy Maybelle, I was supposed to buy stuffed animals and put them in her bed, so she would think they were her puppies!
Skeptical, but believing that veterinarians always knew best, I did what he said. When I got home, I put Maybelle out in the yard and then I gathered up her babies and hid them in the spare bedroom, behind closed doors so Maybelle would not hear them. Then I carefully arranged a sackful of stuffed animals in Maybelle's bed to approximate her babies.
When Maybelle came inside, she went immediately to her bed and stood transfixed for a moment. Then she sniffed at the stuffed toys, and quickly turned on her heels to go searching for her babies. She did not believe for a second that those charlatons in her bed were her babies!
I thought she would tire herself out after a while and just settle into her bed. But I was wrong. Maybelle cried and searched that whole house, room by room, looking for her babies. It was breaking my heart to watch her. When I slipped away to feed her pups in the spare bedroom, she was waiting for me at the door when I came out, eyes fixed on mine, pleading with me to give her back her babies!
By the next morning I could not stand it any longer. I sought out the advice of another vet, and this one told me to go ahead and let the puppies nurse, even if Maybelle was on antibiotics, His opinion was that it would not hurt the babies. Well, he didn't have to tell me twice! Maybelle was joyous to have her babies back. She laid in her bed, counting them and cleaning them and claiming them, as they nursed. I am pretty sure she forgave me, because dogs are like that, and Maybelle is an especially loving girl.
The puppies grew and at first there did not seem to be anything more to worry about.
But soon we noticed that Clarabelle's head was growing faster than her body. Specifically, the top of her head was growing to disproportionate size, compared to her brothers and sisters. When they babies went in for their next checkup, the vet explained that Clarabelle was hydrocephalic. Just like some human babies. She had excess fluid in her skull, which caused her head to grow more than a normal pup's to try to accommodate all the excess fluid. The vet explained that this would probably mean she would have learning difficulties and possibly medical issues, as well.
All we could do was wait and see.
Clarabelle grew more slowly than her sibblings -- except for her head. She hit milestones later than the others, and had limited coordination. As time went by, her head seemed to become closer to "normal" proportion. We figured that Clarabelle was our special girl who would need a little more nurturing and help than the others. But that was fine. We loved her every bit as much as her brothers and sisters and mommy.
When the puppies were about 7 months old, Ricky came in on a Friday night as he always did and looked at Clarabelle and asked me if she had an ear infection or something. Because he had not seen her since the previous Monday, he noticed differences more than I did living with her every day. I told him I did not think so. He noticed that she was acting differently, less coordinated than usual. We took her temperature and it was normal. So we didn't think much more about it.
That Sunday, Ricky and I went to the auto show in downtown San Diego. When we returned home that evening, Clarabelle was laying in the room with her brothers and sisters, but she was clearly already gone. There was nothing we could do to save her. We were devastated.
After we lost Clarabelle, all the others seemed to grow normally. But at about a year old, we noticed that William Clay had some very strange appendages growing on his leg and hip joints. They were like little wings, poking his skin and fur outward from his body. We were concerned and had him checked. The vet said they were calcifications -- like his bones had grown extra pieces on them for some reason, about which he could not speculate. He said he could operate and remove them, but he could not guarantee that they would not grow back. HIs advice was to leave them, since they did not seem to bother William Clay.
And so Maybelle and her babies moved with us from San Diego to Arizona, and then again from Arizona to Texas. They seemed to enjoy their life together, playing and chasing one another, and piling together at night to sleep, just as they did when they were pups!
But we unexpectedly lost William Clay about a year ago. There were no warning signs, and it looked as if he died quietly in his sleep. We were sad to be burying another of Maybelle's beautiful babies, but we just chalked it up to one of those things.
Now Annabelle has developed some of the same odd growths that William Clay had. She cannot keep body weight on, despite giving her extra, high calorie food and vitamin supplements. She has been diagnosed with cancer. She lost the sight in one eye, and then she lost the sight in the other. But so far, Annabelle is still enjoying her life. We have had her in the bed several times in the past few weeks, because we know she will not be with us much longer. Each time, she wagged her tail, begged for animal crackers, and was generally animated and loving. She does not seem to be in any pain, and she is coping better than expected with her vision loss.
And her brother Edsel is very susceptable to mange. We no sooner get him over it, and very soon thereafter the mange mites will invade him again. We stay on top of Edsel's condition by monitoring him closely and treating him when the mange mites start to "win" again.
I don't know if all these issues with Maybelle's babies stem from giving her antibiotics when she was nursing, or whether they may be related to having little or no prenatal care out on the streets while she was pregnant.
I just know that Maybelle's pups seem to have had a tougher time than the average litter of puppies. The surviving puppies are now 10 years old. And Maybelle, whose age is really unknown, is still chasing around her play yard like a puppy and just enjoying life!
Little did we realize when we rescued Maybelle that we would also be saving seven additional lives!
Jay Hellerich, executive director
smiling dog farms
a 501(c)3 corporation
wharton, texas

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