It was the Friday before Easter and I was working in my flowerbeds when I saw a black dog in a field across the street. We live in a rural area with only a few neighbors, and I knew I had never seen this particular dog in our neighborhood before. I wondered where she had come from.
She certainly looked well-fed. Maybe she came from one of the houses further down in the valley. She looked over in my direction and then slunk off to the vacant lot next door, and disappeared into the woods.
Later that evening, as I watered my plants on our back deck, I heard yelping coming from somewhere in the woods. We have all kinds of wildlife in our area, and I assumed it was just some animal making noise.
That Sunday, my mother-in-law and I sat on my front porch waiting to go out for Easter dinner. I saw the black dog again coming out of the woods, only this time she looked a lot thinner and was moving much more slowly.
Oh, no! She’d had a litter of puppies! I remembered the sounds I had heard on Friday night. That was probably when she was giving birth.
I told my mother-in-law what I thought had happened. Without hesitation, she said, “We need to find those puppies.”
I had seen the dog go into the woods at the far end of the lot, but I knew those yelping noises had come from somewhere closer to our house. We entered the woods from that side, and it was like walking into a sauna. The humidity was high and the foliage was so thick that hardly any light could get through. Within minutes, we were both sweating through our clothes and our makeup. I lost an earring, and my mother-in-law had to retrieve her shoe from a rabbit hole as we stumbled along aimlessly, listening and looking for any sign of the mother or her pups.
Then we heard a low growl from somewhere on our left.
“We must be close,” I said.
We went in that direction, pushing heavy pine boughs out of the way, when we saw a blur of black fur run past us.
“She’s trying to divert us away from her den,” I said.
We went a little further and found a huge oak tree that had blown over in a storm. Beneath the root ball and cloaked in a thick mass of honeysuckle vines were seven healthy, beautiful puppies all rolled together in a tangle of ears and tails and fur.
Their eyes weren’t open yet, and I knew not to touch them until we had won their mother’s trust. So we backed out, forgot about Easter dinner, and went to the store to buy two huge bags of dog food. With nursing seven babies, she would need the extra calories and vitamins to build her strength back up and keep her milk flowing.
That afternoon, my husband and I took two bowls of food and water to the edge of the woods. We heard growling. We left the bowls, and Jerry and I watched from our bedroom window as “Mommy Dog” emerged a few minutes later. She hesitated at first, but she went over to the bowls. She devoured the food and water as fast as she could, then ran back to her den.
This continued three times a day for the next several days. Each time, we would move the bowls a little bit closer to our house. We hoped to lure her to our back deck, which sits about eighteen feet off the ground and would provide a good shelter for her and her pups.
We were watching again from our bedroom window when she came all the way to our side yard. It was the first time we had gotten a good look at her. She was pitiful. Her ribs showed and her fur was filthy and matted. I kept looking at her right eye as she wolfed down her food.
“What’s that thing on her eyelid?” I asked my husband.
He leaned closer to the glass and said, “I think it’s a huge tick.”
My heart broke. Apparently, so did my husband’s, because early the next morning, I awoke to the sound of loud hammering coming from below our back deck. I threw on my robe and went outside to ask him what in the world he was doing. He said he was building a shelter for the dog and her puppies so we could take them out of that sweltering, tick-infested hole that they were living in.
The plywood structure had a roof, and a square hole on one side for the dog and puppies to come in and out. We spread fresh straw along the ground and put bowls of food and water right inside the entrance. We managed to lure Mommy Dog over, but she wouldn’t bring her puppies.
A few days later, I coaxed her over to our front porch. She lay down on the cool stone floor, and with a pair of tweezers I took dozens of ticks off her. I stopped counting at fifty. She never once flinched. Then we used the garden hose to give her a bath. We had to lather her up three times to get her clean. To our amazement, we discovered she was a German Shepherd-black Labrador mix. She had been so filthy the only thing you could see on her was the black. We could also see she was gaining back weight and muscle tone.
After her bath, she fell asleep in a patch of sunlight. Jerry went over to her den with a large laundry basket and brought the puppies over to the shelter. Mommy Dog came around the corner of the house just as we were placing the first puppy into their new home. She stopped in her tracks. We didn’t move, fearing she might attack us. But she came over and stuck her head inside the basket and sniffed her puppies and then looked up at us as if to say, “Okay.” It was like she knew we wouldn’t hurt her babies.
The puppies stayed in the shelter until they were weaned and ready for adoption. We found homes for all of them, and when the last one left the nest, my husband asked what we were going to do with the mom. I looked over at her sleeping on her straw bed and I thought about all that she had gone through.
“Well,” I replied, “we can’t very well keep calling her Mommy Dog. She looks like a Sadie to me.”
My husband shook his head. “No more dogs,” he replied. “We agreed when we had Peabody put down that we wouldn’t have any more dogs. We’ll put out food and water and she can sleep outside until we find her a home.”
It’s been a little over a year since then, and Sadie is now queen of her castle. And I’m not talking about a doghouse. She’s healthy, happy and has the sweetest disposition of any dog we’ve ever had. Sometimes she puts her head on my lap and looks up at me with those soulful dark eyes―it’s almost like she’s trying to tell me she knows what we did for her and her babies.
Oh, and by the way, Sadie sleeps on her own special blanket at the end of our bed with her head on my husband’s feet.
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