Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Day in the Life of... A Newborn Guide Dog Puppy

A litter of newborn Labrador puppies

Readers: This is the first of a series of articles originally published in our Community Connections Newsletter. We are reprinting them here for your enjoyment. Click on the "A Day in the Life" label link to list the entire series (see Labels section, right hand side).

I arrived in this world alongside my six littermates in the middle of the night – 2:00 a.m. to be precise! As I took my first breaths, my mom diligently started to lick me clean. She must have gotten a little help, because a tender hand scooped me up and helped to clear the fluids in my nose and mouth, and rubbed me down with a nice warm towel. One by one, each of my littermates and I were weighed and physically examined (I felt fingers run down my tail, open my mouth, hold and turn my feet, and turn my body sideways and back…it all kind of tickled!). I even got my first haircut! Vibrating clippers shaved an identifying mark on my left hip. Cool! 

Once we were returned to mom’s side, my littermates and I were ready to get down to business: we were hungry! Since our eyes weren’t open yet, we all fumbled along in the dark a bit to find mom’s nipples… but find them we did! (Boy were we determined!) We jockeyed for position, all while mom was tirelessly checking up on us with licks and nudges. Eventually we all had our fill of milk and nodded off to sleep. With a full belly and the warmth of my mom and littermates – I was in heaven!

It turns out that I am the runt of my litter! Since I was so small, the gentle hands came and helped me nurse every two hours around the clock, which I totally appreciated! It was nice to have my big fat brothers and sisters held off while I nursed my fill. (Can you say SHARE? Well, puppies can’t!) Apparently, I’ll get the round-the-clock nursing help for a few days as I work on growing. And if the nursing isn’t enough, I’ll even get offered a bottle of formula (not as good as what mom makes – but a meal is a meal!). In no time, I’ll be big enough to hold my own!

I’ve learned a bit more about my days ahead, here in Guide Dogs’ whelping kennel. I can’t wait to settle in to the routine and learn all of the new things that are in store. I will get weighed every day, and moved to clean and dry bedding on a regular basis. Those nice hands will continue to keep my clip mark neat, and I’ll even get my nails trimmed. There’s also a special group of volunteer hands that I get to meet when I turn 8 days old – with them, I’ll get lots of special attention and handling (I’m looking forward to the lavender-scented soft toys they’ll eventually bring for me to play with), and most importantly, I’ll learn that that those hands all belong to people, and that people are my friends.

But I’m really looking forward to my 14-day birthday – that’s when my life will really start to change! By then, my eyes will open, and my ears will work much better – and I can’t wait until I discover my own voice: yapping, growling and howling… that’s the fun stuff in my future!

At 4 weeks old, my teeth will start coming in, and I’ll be eating solid foods three times a day (I can’t wait!). I’ll still be getting my fill of milk from dear old mom too! By 6 weeks old, we’ll have said goodbye to mom (the milk truck has departed – drats!), and will be looking forward to moving day. Moving day is a big deal – it’s the first time we’ll all venture out from the only world we’ve ever known (the Whelping Kennel), and get a new home in the Puppy Kennel. There’s one stop on the way – we get to visit the vet clinic! While there, the doctors will have a peek at my eyes, ears, and other parts and give me a clean bill of health for the next phase of my young life.

My days will be entirely different once I am settled into the Puppy Kennel. Fortunately for me that does not mean I leave the kennel staff behind, just that I get a huge number of new friends before setting out for life outside of GDB. Stay tuned for the next installment: A Day in the Life of… a Guide Dog puppy and the campus socializers.

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