EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is a first-person story from Incline resident Beverly Keil, telling her account of caring for Bandit, one of six “Dumpster Babies” that is expected to live after being thrown in a South Lake Tahoe trash bin on July 23. The following article details week one of care. Look to the Bonanza next week for Part Two, detailing the second week of care.
I am just finishing a Pet Network board meeting and learn that 10 newborn puppies have been found in a Dumpster and are on their way to the shelter.
Volunteers are needed to try to save their lives. I have four cats at home. I have never owned nor cared for a dog. But I wonder: Can I do this?
Thirty minutes later, I leave the shelter with a small cat carrier containing two newborn pups, a container of powder formula, and a baby bottle the size of one I had for my dolls when I was eight years old.
The quick instructions are: Keep them warm, warm, warm; feed every two hours all day and night; and rub the abdomens to get them to pee and poop. And, even if you do everything right, they still may not make it.
I am home about two minutes when my dinner guests arrive. My husband is cooking. I am inspecting my puppies and embracing the task ahead. My friend Linda sees the carrier and thinks I have adopted another special needs cat. She is floored to see the puppies.
I hand her the brown one and I hold the black one. They look like little rats. I mix the formula and warm the bottle. We take turns trying to nurse the pups whose eyes are closed and who still have umbilical cords attached to their tummies. I think they should devour the food but they are so young they don’t know how to suckle.
We have to force the nipple into their mouths again and again. The black one seems to finally catch on but we are having trouble getting the brown one to nurse. They are finally worn out from the exertion and we place them in their carrier to sleep. They have eaten so little, yet because they are so tiny, it may be enough. I set a timer for two hours. We have a glass of wine to ease the stress.
The feeding challenge goes on every two hours and the amount consumed seems miniscule. The phone keeps ringing. My friends Diane, Toni and Cathy have their own pups and are asking questions and comparing experiences.
Becky from Pet Network is checking on how we are doing. It takes a village. My husband and I stay up all night caring for the pups. They make it through the first night, an important milestone. The feedings get a bit easier as the pups learn to nurse.
On day three I learn that one of the pups with another volunteer has died. Later that day, a second one dies. An already stressful process becomes even tenser as I worry over my babies.
On Saturday afternoon, I notice my pups are limp when I wake them for feeding. They will not eat. Something is wrong. Becky at Pet Network tells me to use a hair blower to immediately raise their body temperature. I am also instructed to put some Karo syrup on their gums.
Low temperature and low blood sugar mean death. About 6 p.m., I get a call to bring them to the shelter immediately for a de-worming medication. The car ride seems to stimulate them a bit although they are still not very strong. They weigh in at seven ounces each.
They make it through another night and I am elated. But Sunday afternoon, the black one fails. I know he is dying and I can only wrap him in a towel and hold him. He refuses to eat and eventually dies in my arms.
Now the brown pup — named Bandit — is alone. He’ll need more warmth so I add a space heater at the rear of his carrier. He rewards me by eating well. I take him to Pet Network for assessment on Monday.
I seem to be giving him the right care. Time will tell. He gets a teddy bear to curl up with in his carrier — a poor substitute for his lost sister.
Beverly Keil is a board member with the Pet Network Humane Society. Learn more at www.petnetwork.org.