She wasn’t meant for this world.
At not quite 6 oz., she wasn’t even half the size of her littermates. My daughter Gracie, who was 11 at the time, hadn’t left the momma’s side since her labor had started at 9:00 that humid July morning. The tiny chocolate runt was the fifth of fourteen puppies. The momma, named Ashby, wouldn’t deliver the final puppy until 9:00 that night, and it was around that time that we knew the runt wouldn’t live if we didn’t intervene.
Some would argue we should’ve let nature take its course, especially when the momma separated her smallest baby from the rest of the litter.
But giving up isn’t part of our family mantra.
This was our first litter. Looking back now, I realize how woefully unprepared we were. No puppy formula. No bottles. We had to improvise. My one-month-old granddaughter happened to be visiting, and Gracie commandeered a few ounces of breastmilk to feed the runt, a name that would stick.
The puppy’s mouth was so tiny she could not latch on to her momma, so Gracie used an eyedropper to feed her human breastmilk every two hours, even at night. Miraculously, it worked. Within a week, the teeny puppy had enough energy and spunk to vie for a spot even when her much larger brothers and sisters were nursing. Ashby had accepted her back into the litter and all of the puppies were thriving. We thought we were out of the woods.
One Sunday afternoon, as the momma carried the puppy to her basket, a noise from the open window startled her and she accidentally bit down on the runt. Two of her teeth pierced the puppy’s skin, exposing tissue and muscle on her back. We doctored the cuts, applying peroxide and liquid adhesive, learning quickly that Ashby would lick the adhesive right off in an effort to clean her baby.
So Gracie transformed an old sock into a runt-size sweater.
And it worked.
Runt wore the sweater for two solid weeks. Her wounds healed. Her eyes opened, revealing vibrant baby blues. She nursed and grew…and we fell in love. Our runt became our princess.
We hadn’t intended to keep a puppy. In fact, we’d lectured the kids repeatedly before the litter arrived, trying to make sure they understood that our goal was to raise these puppies to being loving, smart and loyal dogs for wonderful families. That first litter came at the perfect time. Our three older children had left for college just after the puppies were born, and the four of us left behind were struggling to figure out how we fit together without the older siblings at home. Say what you will about teenagers, but while the food supply stabilizes without them, the noise level and volume of life in the house drops drastically.
With the puppies came plenty of life… and responsibility and chaos and work and laughter. The four of us became a unit and one heck of an efficient assembly line at puppy bathing time. Witnessing the fruits of their labor in the puppies’ growth, from helpless newborns to roly-poly playmates, cultivated our daughters’ work ethic, giving them pride in jobs well done.
Their infant niece grew right alongside the puppies. When she and her parents visited, our house nearly burst with life and the promise of tomorrows.
Though we never name our puppies –to prevent attachment we call them the color of their velcro whelping collars –the runt became Runt, and Runt and Gracie became inseparable. When the rest of the litter went to their forever homes, Runt stayed and become Mosby Jo of Clover Fork Labs, officially registered to the little girl who had saved her life. Not once, but twice.
Our home, which had felt so empty just months before, once again felt right. We missed our older kids (and I don’t think I’ll ever feel complete without all of them under the same roof), but the four of us were a team and our little runt kept us busy. Her name quickly shrunk to Mojo, and, boy, did she return that to our family.
She was a typical Lab. Full of energy. Chewing on anything. Jumping with excitement. Mojo wasn’t a glutton like most Labs, but her development was steady. On her first birthday, she weighed 65 lbs., considerable growth since her birth weight of 6 oz. Imagine if human babies grew at that rate!
When Mojo’s sisters came in heat for the first time, Mojo did not. In the months that followed, she gave no sign of reproductive ability. Our polar white stud, Turner, showed zero interest in breeding her. We supposed that given her difficult start and small stature, she simply would not be able to have puppies.
Of course, we were wrong.
But that’s another story, even more miraculous…
(Part 1 of 3 — Click HERE for Part 2.)