When I brought Rugby home on December 1, 2007, he was approximately 8-9 months old. I think he might have even been a bit younger, but this is our best guess. An older puppy, but very much a baby who never really got off to a great start in life. I really didn’t know what he hadn’t gotten in his previous homes, but I had to assume that he didn’t get the right things, simply because few rescue dogs do.
When we had our Corgis, we knew when their exact birthdays were. For that matter, I really even knew the time that some of them had arrived on the planet, because I caught them as they were whelped. Birthdays were fun, and friends often sent them cards and small gifts…as if they were children. We even hosted an honest-to-goodness birthday party for our first litter, and every single puppy and owner came to it! They came from all over the Midwest, and we had an absolute blast!
When my brood bitch was in whelp, I counted the days on the calendar carefully. I notified my vet that she had been bred and when the expected delivery would be…just in case we had any emergencies. I fed my girl her solid good quality kibble, and offered mid meal snacks of beef liver and cottage cheese or yogurt to boost her calcium and protein. Great excitement ruled the roost! Dreams were in the works….and dream I did!
When the delivery day approached, I moved my mama from sleeping in our bed to her whelping box in our guest room. I moved to the guest room as well, so that I could spring into action when things started to get hopping! I had my whelping kit handy. I had my resource books close by…their well-read pages clearly marked. I had a stack of towels ready….emergency phone numbers ready, and I grew more and more excited as each day went by.
Whelping day was the most terrifying fun! It was hard to rest well until I knew that Mama had delivered her babies, and that the babies were eating well. Once our vet had checked over our sweet Mama and her little charges and given me two thumbs up, I could breathe and smile! Naps for everyone were always the first order of business! Puppies always seem to arrive in the middle of the night! *sigh*
Each day, I weighed my little puppies in a small shoebox on a food scale, and charted their progress. I pulled the bigger puppies from the prime teats and made sure my little runts could easily belly up to the milk bar. When each puppy weighed a pound, I cheered!! It meant that they were well on their way to becoming healthy and happy puppies. No one was fading, and all of them were thriving!
I sat next to the whelping box day by day and hour by hour, and watched my little puppies with more love than I can describe. I was so proud of them, and so happy that they were mine! I tenderly reached down and stroked them, and talked to them in a soothing voice, telling them over and over how much I loved them and how special they were.
I thought they looked so much like huge hamsters, so I started calling them the “House-Sized Hamsters” or “House Hamsters” for short! I named each one of them, and I took photos of their weekly progress on a daily basis! I couldn’t help myself!
As my litters grew, I moved them from the whelping box to the puppy pen, and enjoyed watching them tumble and play with each other….clumsy movements that often made them fall over from lack of coordination. Sweet, sweet puppy play that left me in stitches, and warmed my heart….day after day. I picked them up throughout the day….snuggled them close…. and smelled the sweet smell of puppy breath. I was hopelessly in love with all of them, and carefully screened prospective homes like my litter was Fort Knox, and someone was trying to get in!
The season of my life when I showed my Corgis and whelped puppies in my home are some of my very dearest and fondest memories that I carry in my heart. I honestly loved every single day that I had with my Corgis, but raising great puppies was probably one of the most amazing and wonderful experiences I could ever hope to have in life. Carefully breeding healthy puppies and then providing early socialization and training for them gave them such a great start in life. Every single one of the dogs that I bred had a wonderful home and life. I cherish that like you can’t imagine.
One day, when I was hanging out with Rugby, in the early days of his life with me, I realized that I had no idea when he had been born. I had never owned a dog and not known when it had been born. No birthday to celebrate? No specific date that belonged just to Rugby and his siblings? The thought of that made me so sad. Every creature who arrives on the planet should get fanfare and celebrations associated with the miracle and hope of new birth. I wanted my little puppy to know that he was very special, and that I was so happy and excited that he had been born! Birthdays say that you matter….that it’s a good thing you were born….that you’re special. Because I didn’t know Rugby’s actual whelping date, it made me sad to think that no one had cared to pass that information along….if it had ever been known at all!
At times when I was snuggling my new puppy as he slept, I would think deep thoughts about him. I would dream about him and who he was and who he would be. He would lay across my lap, and I would stroke his face and ears. Over and over. Day after day.
And tears would fall down my cheeks.
I had no idea if Rugby had been wanted or not. Had any human cared for his mama while she was in whelp or had she been left to fend for herself? Had she been cherished or put out on the mean streets because she had gotten pregnant? I can only hope that someone cared enough to give his mama regular meals and good food to grow her babies and nourish herself. I hope she had a warm, safe place, and was wanted and loved from the moment that she was expecting her litter. I hope her puppies were whelped in a warm house, and not on the streets to a stray who was doing the very best that she could to care for herself and her puppies.
When I remembered my dog breeding days, I was left with so many questions about Rugby. Had any humans been glad that he had arrived on the planet? Had anyone helped him arrive and carefully dried him off with soft clean towels? Did he have a clean and warm whelping box where he and his siblings were safe? Had he been handled carefully and lovingly? Did anyone coo to him and sooth him? Had he been a fat little puppy or one of the runts in his litter? Who had smelled his little puppy breath and smiled….?
The thought of sweet puppies being born and no one caring about their mama or their lives is something that I can hardly bear to consider. But such is the life for so many dogs on planet Earth. I can’t tell you how many dogs I have trained who were found wandering alone on the streets at even 5 and 6 weeks….the very age when I was weaning my Corgi puppies. The streets are so mean to dogs, and puppies and pregnant dogs are so fragile and at risk to have to fight the elements….cars….humans….other dogs…..the cold…..the rain….
And because dogs live in a world run by humans, they are often considered as being “lesser creatures” rather than “different but just as important creatures.” As a result, they are often treated like property….a possession, rather than a treasure to be cherished and loved. When a human doesn’t want that dog anymore, they get rid of it and get another one. And for dogs like Rugby, it starts a cycle of life that’s just tough to break, unless and until someone stops it. Each time a dog is recycled into a shelter/rescue/or new home, there’s a price to be paid, and the dog is generally the one who pays the highest price.
It’s a sad reality. Spaying and neutering isn’t the only answer. Careful treatment and socialization of puppies to get them off to a great start, as well as early professional training are such important factors to stop the recycle cycle that keeps our shelters and rescues full of dogs that no one wants. The little throw away “Rugby’s” of the world…
Since I don’t have a specific birthday to celebrate with Rugby, I’ve chosen to celebrate his “Gotcha Day.” That’s the day when his life changed and he finally found a human who wouldn’t give him back, and who wouldn’t give up on him. The recycle cycle stopped for Rugby on December 1, 2007. That’s the day that his new life really began, and that’s the day that makes sense to celebrate.
Through thick and thin, he’s my little guy….my speckled and spotted treasure in fur. He’ll be turning nine sometime over these upcoming Winter months. It’s hard to believe that he’s been here just over 8 years, but I also can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t part of my life. We’ve had lots of ups and downs together… celebrating little behavioral victories, and moments of absolute frustration where he just stymies me and I can’t solve a problem that’s tough with him. Over the course of his eight years with me, he’s made such big strides in wonderful ways. He’s never going to be an easy dog, and he will likely never be what I would consider a “normal” dog. But at the end of the day….he’s mine, and I’m all he’s got. That’s not anything I take lightly.
I’m Rugby’s world and those are big shoes to fill.
Happy Gotcha Day, Rugby James. You may have been a no account throw away dog to other humans, but this human loves you to the moon and back. Your life matters, and I’m so so glad you arrived on planet Earth! And through the mysterious circumstances of God’s hand, it’s no small miracle that you found your way into my home….and wrapped yourself around my heart.