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When Zzisa had her puppies, we had quite a few people helping out!

Along with Eric and Tracy Darling, veterinary externs Gretchen Powers and Eric Weiner were on hand as well. Afterwards,

Gretchen and Eric wrote a great story detailing their experiences on the special day.

The story of Zzisa’s first litter, as experienced by two veterinary externs

“So Zzisa is ready to have her puppies any day. Would you two be interested in being on puppy watch?” “Yes, absolutely!” replied Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine student Gretchen Powers and Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine student Eric Weiner.     “Have you ever delivered puppies before?”

“Nope!” Despite both being senior vet students neither had even witnessed a litter of puppies being born. The annual Penn Vet Working Dog Conference was in full swing so the two veterinary externs were the lucky ones available for the job.

Gretchen arrived first around 7am after Zzisa had a long night pacing, nesting, and staring at the walls—all signs of imminent puppies. Zzisa was too uncomfortable to lie down with her belly full of puppies that were near delivery. Instead she sat near Gretchen and dozed off, nodding her head in short moments of rest. Zzisa was staying at the whelping house of Eric and Tracy Darling. Unfortunately Tracy had to work, but the amount of research and preparing the Darlings did for the puppies was truly impressive. Along with all of the doggy-versions of “what to expect when expecting” books, they had set up a whelping box. A whelping box is an enclosure with raised sides that the mother can step into but the puppies cannot crawl out of.

Eric arrived around 8:30, which shortly preceded the arrival of the first pup. Zzisa was pacing around the room as if looking for an ideal location, and then all of a sudden squatted. Gretchen was the first to spot the beginning of the birth of the first puppy. We guided her back into the whelping box. She seemed so confused. The puppy emerged but Zzisa was busy inspecting herself, unsure of what was happening to her.

“Well it looks like he’s turning blue, I guess we should intervene,” said Mr. Darling in a calm tone as he reached over to the shelf to get his tank of oxygen. In preparation we discussed giving Zzisa the opportunity to take care of the puppies herself without intervention unless necessary. Gretchen jumped into action, grabbing a bulb syringe to remove the fluid from the airways as Eric ripped open the placenta, uncovering the puppy’s mouth and nose. Together we rubbed and stimulated the puppy to take the first breath and let out a good cry.

“Congratulations Zzisa, you have a little boy!” Mr. Darling proclaimed. Ribbons of different colors were being used to identify each puppy and record data such as gender, weight, identifiable markings, and whether the pup was born head first of tail first. A yellow ribbon was tied around him like a collar, and we put him back with Zzisa. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with him yet, other than lick him clean. After they had some time to bond, we picked him back up to get his weight and check for any abnormalities, such as cleft palate, atresia ani, or any extra toes. Puppy number one was perfect. However because Zzisa did not remove the placenta, the pup was still attached to a long umbilical cord. Gretchen ligated, or tied it off, with some wax-free dental floss, and then cut the cord short.

About 20 minutes later Zzisa became restless, panted heavily, and paced around the room as she did before the first puppy arrived. We were ready for round two! This time Zzisa went into the whelping box on her own, and then proceeded to deliver her second puppy. This time, although still seemingly confused, Zzisa showed more interest in the new puppy and actually began removing the placenta herself. Instincts are fascinating! She did not quite finish before we decided to intervene to make sure this puppy could breathe, but she was certainly getting the idea. Again we jumped into action, removing the rest of the placenta and using a bulb syringe to clear the airways. We stimulated and checked him over just as before, and found no abnormalities. Another boy!

Things quieted down shortly after that. It was another half hour before Zzisa started showing signs of labor again. Both Gretchen and Eric had reviewed their vet school notes about the birthing process, which advised to intervene medically after thirty minutes of active contractions. However, Zzisa showed no obvious physical signs of contractions other than the anxious behaviors that preceded the next birth. Each delivery went smoothly and easily, though if we could ask Zzisa she may have felt otherwise.

By the third one, Zzisa was really starting to get the hang of it. She went after the placenta immediately and didn’t take long to remove it from the pup. She was even showing more curiosity in what we were doing after we picked up the first girl, as we dried, weighed, and examined her.

By now all of us, Zzisa, Mr. Darling, Gretchen and Eric were getting into a good routine. Gretchen and Eric were getting the puppies dried off, examined, and stimulated to breathe while Mr. Darling was not only managing the temperature of the whelping box, but keeping the world updated at an impressive pace. He posted photos and updated Facebook, sent emails, text messages, phone calls, and Skype all as it was happening. Not to mention documenting every occurrence and cute moment with his incredible photography skills with a still camera, as well as with GoPro and Flipcam video footage

We were becoming a well-oiled machine. Another half an hour passed and Zzisa was ready to deliver another puppy. This was a good time frame for us to accomplish our documentation. However for our canine friend in labor perhaps it was too long to wait. Puppy number four, another girl, arrived but before we had everything from our routine situated the fifth puppy emerged, barely two minutes apart! This male ended up being the biggest of the bunch. “Whoa Zziz, slow down!” jokingly demanded Mr. Darling. Lucky for us, Zzisa knew exactly what to do for her newborns by now and didn’t need any help from us. Our most difficult task at this point was being sure the loose ribbon collars stayed on so we could identify each pup.

Zzisa gave herself another half an hour before the next female was born. The gender score was now tied at three boys and three girls. We made our predictions for which would be next. Zzisa used the next hour to get some rest while her puppies began to nurse. In the meantime we captured some incredibly cute pictures of her sleeping with her little ones.

Dr. Otto used the conference lunch break to come check on Zzisa and the puppies. We discussed the events of the day so far while Skype connected to a booth at the conference so attendees could get a glimpse of the newest Penn Vet Working Dogs. It had been a little while since the last puppy when Dr. Otto arrived. Just then, while checking on Zzisa, Dr. Otto reached in and said, “Oh I think I found Number Seven.” We were shocked! We didn’t even see it happen! Zzisa must have given birth while lying down, and removed the baby from the placenta so quickly, we didn’t even notice. Now she was just showing off.

Within ten minutes Zzisa calmly delivered the eighth puppy, again without any warning. Her pups nursed without interruption as their sister was born. The girls were now ahead, five to three. Nine puppies were expected based on previous radiographs and ultrasound. Dr. Otto used a portable ultrasound machine to confirm the presence of at least one more puppy in the womb. It was exciting to watch the little heart beat!

The longest lapse between deliveries, an hour and forty minutes, passed before the final and smallest puppy arrived. Perhaps she took advantage of the space previously crowded by eight siblings. Zzisa was able to get some rest before the last girl was born. Final count: three boys and six girls. We congratulated ourselves and praised Zzisa on a job well done while cleaning the whelping room, placed fresh towels and blankets, and let Zzisa out for a bathroom break and breath of fresh air.

It was a long but exciting day. Mr. Darling thanked us for our help before we returned to the conference. Two veterinary externs were the thankful ones. We watched a first time mother’s instincts kick in as she progressed from confused to confident in caring for her litter. It was a great experience, one that we will hold onto for the rest of our careers. What a thrill to have the opportunity to help welcome the Penn Vet Working Dog Center’s first litter born into the program!