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Six of Ginger’s puppies

Ginger and Nutmeg are full sisters from different litters. They are lab mixes, but they both have the shape and coloring of chocolate labs. We didn’t intend to breed them this year, but with life in such an uproar this fall, we weren’t as in control of this situation as we might normally have been.

We recognized in November that Ginger was pregnant. We weren’t as certain about Nutmeg – she showed some indications of pregnancy, but she didn’t get fat enough in the belly for us to be sure.

Ginger gave birth to a dozen puppies in mid December. One died the first night, while she was still birthing. The rest did splendidly, and Ginger proved to be a competent, gentle, and easy-going mother.

A few days after Ginger gave birth, Nutmeg showed signs of being in labor. She staked out a spot for her nest, and she began to discharge fluids. We didn’t like her chosen birthing spot – right up against my brand new couches in the living room – so we moved her into a bedroom. She wasn’t delighted with the new location, so we had to close off the doorway to keep her in there. Eventually she settled down, and was moaning in labor.

We waited and waited . . . but there were no arrivals! Nutmeg didn’t seem to be in distress, her labor pains gradually eased, she was eating and drinking, wagging her tail at us and moving about normally – but she was still emitting a small but steady flow of blood, and there were still no puppies!

After about three days, we figured there really weren’t going to be any puppies coming from Nutmeg. Poor girl, though, she had LOTS of milk, and she kept going into the room where Ginger had her litter, and staring at those puppies longingly.

On Christmas Eve, when the first batch of pups were just under a week old, I decided to try an experiment. I wanted to see if Nutmeg would accept a few of Ginger’s puppies. Ginger had her paws full with eleven, and having Nutmeg nurse some of the pups would ease her workload, as well as possibly making life nicer for poor, puppyless Nutmeg. 

Nutmeg had no idea what to do with the babies we put into her bed. Eventually, we gently forced her to lie down, and we put the three puppies up to her nipples. Nutmeg may have been confused, but the puppies were NOT! They began nursing eagerly, obviously thrilled with the lack of competition and abundance of milk at this new eating location! Nutmeg remained perfectly still; she was apparently terrified to move! All that day she refused to get up unless we first removed the puppies from her side. Only then would she leave her bed to drink, eat, and have a short run in the yard. As soon as those needs were taken care of, she would be back, staring again at Ginger’s litter. Then we’d return the three puppies to her, and she’d nurse them some more.

Nutmeg, lying perfectly still, with her first three, well-fed puppies

That evening, we still weren’t certain that this experiment was going to be a complete success. Although she was allowing the puppies to nurse, Nutmeg seemed to have no idea how to care for them. She hadn’t licked them at all – she was apparently still paralyzed with fear. We had tried putting the puppies into her nest while she was out for a break. When she came into the room and saw them, she looked at them longing, but wouldn’t lie down with them. She seemed to be afraid of them, or possibly concerned about potentially hurting them.

At the end of the day, we decided to put the puppies back with Ginger, since we wouldn’t be able to monitor the situation during the night. With the next day being Christmas, we didn’t move the puppies over to Nutmeg all of that day. 

The morning after Christmas, however, Nutmeg was lying as close as she could get to Ginger and her litter of pups. She clearly wanted another chance at motherhood, so we brought the same three pups to her nest again. Gradually, Nutmeg’s mothering instincts kicked in, and she relaxed and started to manage the puppies in a natural way. Later that day we moved another puppy to Nutmeg’s group, and then one more after that. Success! We now had two happy mothers caring for separate litters. It was a good situation for Nutmeg, Ginger, AND the puppies!

A full belly = a happy, contented puppy

The puppies are now over a month old. Nutmeg is healthy and happy with her five adopted puppies, and Ginger with the remaining six. The sisters show no sign of recognizing that anything odd has happened here. Neither dog bothers the other mother’s litter, and everyone seems perfectly content with the results of our experiment!