The puppy farmer who discarded Clara (aka Lara) couldn’t have known she was pregnant, she had a lucky escape. They certainly would never have got rid of her if they’d known. They’d kick themselves if they discovered that the dog they thought was worthless, was carrying 10 valuable puppies. For a miniature schnauzer, 10 puppies is a large litter, for a small rescue centre faced with hand rearing them it was an immense challenge to face. But, for Clara and her puppies, they had the luck of the gods as they were in the dedicated hands of Janet and her DBARC team.
The puppies are soon to leave their foster homes and head off to their happy futures, all thanks to incredible care they’ve received over the past 8 weeks. We asked Janet and some of those closely involved to share what hand rearing them has involved.
We started feeding them when they were just 24 hours old. We’d hoped to just have to help Clara and top up feeds during the day and that she could manage overnight. But sadly within another 24 hours she was admitted to the vets for post-op complications and more surgery. We were the only chance the pups had. Their first week it was every 2 hours, so I was up from 11pm to 6 am feeding every 2 hours. By the time I’d finished one feed, cleaned and sterilised bottles it was time to go again. After the first week it went down to every 3-4 hours.
When the feeding regime dropped to every 3-4 hours, Julie and her daughters Sumer and Natasha would arrive for the 7 and 10 pm feeds. Janet maintained the night shift and Donna or Gary took over at 7am. And amidst all this, the usual running of the Centre was continuing.
Nobody handling the puppies was allowed to handle any of the other rescue dogs so separate teams were needed for the pups. They were particularly at risk as it wasn’t known how much of mum's colostrum, which gives a bit more resistance to disease, they’d had before she had to leave them in Janet’s care.
It was an extremely worrying and demanding time for everyone involved. Just living at a rescue centre presents many risks for such young, fragile lives. There’s a disease risk everwhere.
Assistant Manager, Julie has been there throughout,
The hardest part for me was seeing these 10 beautiful babies who we were trying to get to bottle feed every 2 hours. Seeing them all alone in their bed without their mum and praying as the vets were fighting to save Clara’s life.
To ease some of the pressure, DBARC volunteers, Carol and Genine took on the responsibility of caring for two of the puppies at home. Genine is a second year veterinary nurse and explains how it felt,
It’s not easy at all. As a veterinary nurse I knew I had the knowledge on how to do it but it was so much more demanding than you can ever imagine and the constant worry if they will be ok and am I doing it right?
Genine has an 8 year old son and driving home with the puppies, he was as excited as anyone could imagine a child to be. She wondered not only how the puppies would cope but would he ever sleep again!
I got home and to my surprise there was calm in the house! Then the hard work really began, they were 6 days old with no mum and completely helpless. I know how important the first few weeks are to a puppy and I was determind to let these have the life they deserve, being loved and cared for even if their mum was too sick to do so herself.
Within an hour of arriving home, having got everything cleaned, sterilised and ready to go, the puppies were demanding food and doing it the way puppies do best - loudly!
I thought to myself, right next time Genine, you need to be quicker at this. Be prepared before they wake, after all their mum would have milk ready and not make them wait. I wrapped one in a blanket and began feeding. Luckily they both took the bottles well from day one. Feeding when they’re so small can take around 20 minutes as they only have small stomachs and cannot store a lot. But it’s exhausting for the puppy so they fall asleep and wake up again to finnsh the bottle. When they’re with their mum depending on how they suckle the nipple will release milk at the correct speed for the puppy but with bottle fed ones this doesn’t happen.
As the days went by, every detail and development was noted, literally day by day the puppies were changing.
Despite the exhausting, repetitive regime, it’s such a pleasure to be able to help them on a wonderful journey. To see each day they’d grown another centimetre or their tummies looked bigger and you weigh them and see they’ve put on weight. Watching their ears getting bigger, their eyes opening, their feet growing, their claws getting sharp, they looked more like a schnauzer every day. Their coats came through and their own individual markings started to take shape – every day was a new day and a massive pleasure.
But it was far from plain sailing and three of the litter were admitted to the vets on and off for the first 2 weeks. As Janet quipped once all was well and she felt more confident, the smaller pups were particulary fond of faking death! She explains some of the worries and pitfalls involved in getting the puppies to where they are today,
Keeping them the right temperature is tricky - too hot is just as bad as too cold. Feeding must be done correctly as aspiration pneumonia is common and very easy to give them if milk goes into their lungs - so you have to be very careful to take it steady. The temptation at 2am is to try to hurry them as you're falling asleep. Some take to the bottle easier than others, the smaller ones struggled more even with a smaller teat, which is why we had problems with them initially. They only have tiny tummies so you can only give small amounts of milk, it has to be little and often. Giving too much will either give them diarrhoea or they will regurgitate, which risks causing the pneumonia. One also needs to stimulate them to wee & poo!! This has to be done after each feed. Bottle fed pups tend to get a bit constipated, so this presented a few problems getting them to poo.
Watching every detail and being hyper vigilant was the only way to ensure that all was progressing well. The puppies were weighed daily. Janet explains that a healthy puppy should put on weight each day. Weight loss is one of the first signs something is wrong. Although the puppies are never out of danger when so young and vulnerable, once they began eating on their own, the intensity of the worries around them slowly eased.
None of this could have been predicted and all presented a huge logistical challenge for a small rescue. It couldn’t have been guessed that Clara was pregnant, nor with such a large litter, or that she would experience rare, life-threatening post-op complications and couldn’t care for her puppies, even should she survive. Life and death decisions had to be made, and made fast.
Initially it was thought that splitting the litter might work best, with 3 or 4 puppies being cared for by each volunteer, night and day. However that would have meant the entire team being exhausted and the centre still had to run, other animals needed the team’s care and attention. So as Janet lives onsite, it was decided that she would shoulder the bulk of night time duties. It was exhausting, but ultimately, now the puppies are about to go off to normal, happy lives, it’s been completely worth every minute of emotional and physical exhaustion.
It has been so very hard. But the team have been wonderful. I feel blessed that I’ve had a chance to do this. I know it would have been better for the puppies and Lara if this had not been needed, but to be sat in their nice warm room, just me and them, in the middle of the night, listening to music during feeds has been priceless.
All ten puppies and Clara survived through incredible dedication. The emotional, physical and financial demands have been tremendous, but not for a moment would anyone involved not do it all again should it ever be needed. This is what every donation to Schnauzerfest supports - serious rescue work at its best.
The puppies will leave their foster homes and go off to their new lives this coming week. Some are staying with the carers who have literally saved and nurtured their lives, including from the moment they entered the world. We’ll look forward to hearing about them as they go through life.
And mum Clara? She has a wonderful retirement home awaiting, one where she will never know anything but love and kindness and no demands on her whatosever.
You can read more insights from Gary, one of the puppies carers on Janetta Harvey’s blog here