Written by Beverly Kinsella, foster mom for Spaniel Welfare SA
Professional photography by Cindy Allen Photography
When golden Cocker Spaniel Bindi arrived at our home on the 15th of October 2017, she was in a terrible condition – neglected, scared, undernourished… and pregnant.
In alarming condition
Little Bindi was only around 18 months old when she was rescued from an old mine site in the North-West province, where she’d clearly been fending for herself for a considerable length of time.
Her general condition was really quite alarming. Her small, frail frame weighed a mere 12kg. Her ribs, spine and hips were seriously protruding. Yet although she was physically fragile, she had a very feisty spirit and wasn’t about to give up on life.
Her small pregnant belly and enlarged nipples were the only signs that she was probably pregnant but, because of her condition, we had no way of guessing if she definitely was and how far along she was…
Ready to be born
On Tuesday the 18th I took her to our vet for an examination. She was sitting calmly on the examination table, wondering what was happening, when – surprise – her waters broke.
There was no doubt now: there were puppies and they were ready to be born.
But by Friday the 21st she had still not commenced labour and we were worried… a trip to the vet and a sonar revealed at least four puppies with good, strong heart beats. The vet decided to induce her.
The hours ticked by while we waited anxiously. At around 8 o’clock that night, Bindi went into labour, which continued for the next 12 hours. For most of the night we sat with her, holding her, stroking her, gently massaging her belly and back, and calming her as she panted heavily through each stage.
I could feel the puppies moving around in her belly and stroked their little heads as they bobbed around. Bindi had been with us for a week at this point; she displayed signs of gratitude to us and I felt that we’d gained her trust in this short time.
The following morning, Bindi was ushered into the “puppy nursery”’ (aka the laundry room) that I’d prepared for her. It was to be Bindi’s personal safe sanctuary for her and her puppies for the next 10 weeks. Now, they just had to be born…
At 08h15, Bindi let out an excruciating howl and her first puppy – Chloe – entered the world and I waited anxiously for the little one to take her first gasps of breath. I watched in awe. I felt completely overwhelmed witnessing the beauty and miracle of this birth. Within an hour, Pasha was born, then Finn and then Phoenix. A bundle of snuffling puppy love and Bindi tended to them all lovingly.
Heartbreakingly, two stillborns followed, despite efforts to try and resuscitate them; the tears flowed for these two precious little souls. A trip to the vet followed and he administered meds to assist her body to expel the retained placentas and another undeveloped fetus was also manually removed. No doubt, had Bindi not been so neglected and starved, none of these problems would have occurred.
The full impact of Bindi’s neglect
Bindi now only weighed a mere 10kg – the pups had taken up the other 2kg. The full extent of her emaciated state was now, horrifically, even more obvious.
For the first three days, Bindi was an exceptionally good and attentive mother and the puppies thrived. Pasha was the runt of the litter and not as strong as her siblings, so we monitored her closely.
But on day four, the puppies starting crying continuously and Finn felt very “floppy”. Off to the vet we went where it was established that Bindi’s milk was drying up. We would have to start bottle-feeding the pups. This proved to be quite a challenge as none of the pups took to the pet bottle or formula very easily; they definitely preferred their mommy’s teats and milk. But, alas, it was not to be – they would have to drink formula.
Syringe-feeding and sleepless nights
We resorted to syringe-feeding the pups every two hours. This has to be undertaken with great care so as not to under- or overfeed, and so that they don’t aspirate (inhale) the formula; tummies need to be rubbed and the pups need to be cleaned and their digestion stimulated as their mother would have done.
Initially there were many sleepless nights, frustrations, tears and fears, trying to get into a routine.
Bindi seemed to realise that she couldn’t nurse her puppies and didn’t spend much time with them at all. A certain sadness came over her, yet she seemed to convey gratitude to us for intervening with the bottle-feeding.
Things start looking up
As the days progressed and we got into a routine and gained our confidence, things became easier and flowed effortlessly. All the pups had finally accepted bottle-feeds, although Finn still fought hard against the bottle so we made sure he nursed from Bindi as much as he could, even though her milk supply was very limited.
Bindi slowly started spending more time with her pups again; she really was a very good mother to them despite everything and kept them exceptionally clean. Pups were weighed regularly to monitor weight gain. Feeding times became a joyous bonding time with each pup individually. And don’t forget that pups need to be burped too... giggle!
When they reached around three-and-a-half weeks old, we slowly started introducing soft foods and decreasing the bottle-feeds. A slight sadness presided over me, yet it was exciting to see them maturing into strong, healthy puppies. It honestly felt like the “empty nest” syndrome creeping on.
Because Bindi was severely malnourished before and during most of her pregnancy, the puppies’ health had also been compromised; there were many times when we thought we might lose one or two of the four pups that were born alive. We were very grateful when they reached a stage of stability; we knew they would survive now.
They starting growing into little fat, furry, white hippos, taking their first wobbly steps. (Their daddy was most certainly a white Labrador!) Their eyes began opening around day 12 and slowly their individual personalities emerged.
The largest and the smallest pups – Phoenix and Pasha – were always together; they were mischievous and instigated all “attacks” and rough and tumbles. They were also very vocal, clearly expressing themselves with their pleasures and displeasures! Chloe and Finn were the quiet, gentle pups who played very gently together and shied away from too much noise and rough play. (I formed an incredible, very special and unbreakable bond with them.)
At around five weeks of age, I introduced the pups to the garden. At first, they were not at all impressed with lawn, soil or gravel and before I could go back inside, they were already piling in past me, aiming for the carpet and cool, smooth floor tiles. Our TV lounge became “The Puppies’ Play Lounge” – they claimed it totally, “christening” the carpet a million times, hiding “greeting cards” (poos) for me behind the furniture, and chomping cables, blinds, chair legs, carpet tassels, and more. But they were happy and healthy, and doing what puppies do best.
The great outdoors
Slowly they ventured outside again and, with growing confidence, exploring the garden and horizons. They played hide ‘n’ seek in the bushes, chased each other through the flowers and reeds, and really seemed to enjoy rummaging through our “Treasured Memories Garden”, which we’d built in memory of Joshie, Benji and Phoebe.
The garden was filled with little muddy paws and squealing vocal cords as they partied together until, one by one, they slowly dropped down into a pile on top of each other to catch up on sleep, exhausted after their three-hour playtime in the fresh air and sunshine. House-training also commenced at this stage – they were remarkably clever and caught on very quickly where to go and potty.
Early mornings were particularly beautiful: I would enter the kitchen and peep into the laundry. Someone would see me, recognise me, and come running up to the wooden barrier gate, tail wagging, ears flat and butt waggling.
I would scoop them up into my arms and put them on my shoulder and just cuddle! They would squirm their way around my neck and bite my hair and ears. Once everyone had been hugged I would open the gate and they’d all scamper (and they knew the route) through the kitchen into the dining room, through the first lounge, tumble down three steps into the TV lounge – THEIR play lounge – and the day’s events would commence.
Such happy memories; there was a constant flow of visitors in the house during this time and warm friendships were established through a common denominator of a mutual love and passion for animals.
Finally, at six weeks, they paid their last visit to our vet, receiving their first vaccinations, deworming and microchipping. Their time with us was now drawing to a close.
Bindi made the most of the time left together and would spend hours outside in the garden with them, playing, chasing them and teaching them. I, too, spent most of my time playing and cuddling with them. There were tearful goodbyes as the pups left with their new families. Each pup had crept so deeply into our hearts, never to be forgotten.
It was now time to focus on Bindi and get her completely strong and healthy. Now that she was no longer comfort-nursing her puppies she started to gain weight. She flourished and relished any time being spent with her. Although, initially, she’d seemed slightly feral, she’d soon warmed up to everyone and was very willing to give and receive love.
She absolutely thrived on good food, love and attention. We formed an incredible bond with her too; she learned to trust us and allowed us to handle her puppies from the moment they were born.
During her own recovery time, Bindi truly blossomed into a beautiful new healthy dog. She once again became a puppy herself and embraced all the things that puppies do. In early January 2017 she was spayed, and one week later we delivered her safely to her new family and forever home.
I honestly believe that if Bindi had not been rescued, she and her puppies wouldn’t have survived the difficult circumstances they faced, let alone thrive and find forever homes as they did.
On a closing note and from a very personal point, I found the whole experience of nurturing Bindi back to health and helping her raise her puppies a beautiful, sacred and healing experience and very rewarding in many ways. How miraculous to see life growing inside her belly despite her condition, to witness the birth of new life. Having experienced the passing of six of my own fur babies within a few months of each other, there was a healing element to all of this.
I would like to thank Lindie Myburgh, Bindi’s initial rescuer, for eventually managing to capture her and take her into her care and safety.
Secondly, a warm thank you to Sue and Pete Choppin for transporting her to me.
Thirdly, a very big and warm thank you to my trusted vet, Dr Jaco Jacobs, and his wonderful, caring and friendly staff at Val De Grace Animal Clinic for their all their professional services to Bindi and her babies, and for all their support, patience and understanding shown to me, a very nervous and anxious first-time fur kid “gwanny”. Your kindness and assistance with this little fur family was immeasurably appreciated.
A very big thank you to the anonymous sponsor who financed a very large bag of very high-quality food for Bindi: thank you for your kindness and for caring about her.
And last, but most certainly not least, a very big thank you to Spaniel Welfare SA (Lesley-Ann Marshall, Elmari van der Merwe, Anita Landman and Annelda) for your love and support given to us in countless ways during the time that we fostered Bindi and her puppies. You were all a constant source of strength and support to us that was very deeply appreciated. Without Animal Rescuers like you, animals like Bindi would not have had this second chance. Thank you for all the extremely hard work you do, the endless, exhausting hours you work, both on a personal and animal welfare level, sacrificing much of your own personal family time. Thank you for never turning an animal away, and for always putting their needs and safety first. Thank you for always showing kindness, compassion and positivity, and offering hope, especially in a world where animal neglect and abuse can be totally emotionally and soul destroying. Thank you Cindy Allen for the delightful photographs of Bindi and her beautiful puppies.
Spaniel Welfare SA
Spaniel Welfare SA is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation and rehoming of Spaniels in South Africa. They are funded entirely by donations from the public and rely on fosters to care for the Spaniels surrendered into their care. Find out more about Spaniel Welfare SA on their website at www.spanielwelfare.co.za and follow them on @SpanielWelfareSA https://www.facebook.com/SpanielWelfareSA/