Mojo defied the odds from the moment she was born, but we had no idea just how steep those odds would become during the birth of her own puppies.
Early spring we noticed Mojo was rapidly gaining weight. Two weeks later, she looked like she was going to explode, and we knew puppies were on the way. We were a mix of giddy excitement and extreme trepidation. With Mojo’s history and Turner’s substantial size (around 100 lbs.), we were nervous.
Early on the Monday morning of April 9th, my 7-year-old, Izzi, woke with a stomach ache and tears. I decided to keep her home, just in case. By 9:00 she had made a complete recovery, and I was doubting my maternal instincts.
Izzi kept checking on Mojo, certain she was in labor. Around 11, Izzi declared something was hanging out. We were well-versed in labor and delivery by this point, and I donned a pair of rubber gloves to examine her. Before I could, she squatted and pushed the sack out. Liquid splashed everywhere, but the sack was devoid of a puppy. (For those new to this, each puppy is cocooned in its own sack within the uterus.)
For the next hour amniotic fluid leaked out with every push, but poor Mojo made no progress. Then a second sack burst –again without a puppy.
Keep in mind one of Izzi’s favorite shows is The Incredible Dr. Pol, a reality-based program on Nat Geo Wild that follows Dutch-American veterinarian Dr. Jan Pol and his employees at his practice in rural Michigan. The moral to every other episode, besides the necessity of castrating farm animals, is that if your horse or cow is in labor and you wait too long to call Dr. Pol, the baby will die in utero and you’ll likely lose the mom too. With this ingrained in my girl, she insisted we needed to do something.
As Mojo’s labor stalled, I called our emergency veterinary hospital. The tech responded, “You need to get her here now.” We moved quickly, except we live about 90 minutes from the hospital. We knew every second counted. After collecting my husband and Gracie, the four of us flew up the interstate while Mojo slept in the third row of the vehicle. Pushing hard for hours then suddenly sleeping was not a good sign.
The surgeon and his team of four technicians were ready the minute we walked through the door. He spoke to us very briefly, asking if we wanted to remove Mojo’s uterus afterward to prevent this from happening again. We asked the odds of her having difficulty again, and he indicated very few Labs have issues with labor and delivery. If she was struggling this time, the odds were high that she would the next, if she even lived through the surgery. We agreed, signed papers, and paid for the surgery. We weren’t allowed to be in the operation room and were encouraged to go to dinner then return. The tech promised to take photos.
It was the longest meal of my life.
When we pulled back into the hospital parking lot, we all agreed –we just wanted Mojo to pull through. If no puppies survived, we would be okay with that. We’d watched enough Dr. Pol to know we should be thankful if we walked out of this hospital with our Runt alive. We couldn’t prepare the kids because we had no idea what we were about to face. Whatever lay before us, we were in it together.
The same tech greeted us with a huge smile, and I knew then Mojo was alive. She said, “You guys! You have 10 healthy puppies –five black and five cream –and momma is doing great!!” The happiness and pride in her voice was unmistakeable. We whooped and cheered and hugged each other and the hospital staff.
As Mojo woke from the anesthesia, we oohed and ahhed over our beautiful salt and pepper litter. All at or above a pound and not a single runt in the litter. On that drive home, we felt like we’d won the lottery.
The hospital was true to their word. Photos arrived via text, and we were certain we were the luckiest family in the world. Mojo was alive. Every puppy had not only survived but was big and healthy. Looking at these photos, we marveled at God’s creative design.
That first night Mojo didn’t move. She slept while the puppies nursed. Of course, Gracie didn’t leave their side.
Within 24 hours though, Mojo got her own mojo back and adamantly wanted every puppy with her. She licked and nuzzled them, using her nose to rotate them. She was content just to be with her babies. I marveled at her natural maternal instinct and the sheer rightness of becoming a mommy for her. It was clear, although getting to this point had been challenging, this was the role for which Mojo was made.
The puppies grew at the same rate with little assistance from us. We followed Mojo’s lead and let her call the shots, but sometimes we had to force her outside to pee because she hated to leave her babies, even for necessities.
And her babies were absolutely perfect.
Once more we thought we were out of the woods.
Thirteen days after her c-section, on a quiet Sunday afternoon with just my husband and I home, Mojo began hemorrhaging. Bright crimson blood covered her blanket and the hardwood floor. We called the emergency hospital and began plotting how to get her into our car. Then she vomited solid black liquid, a sign of internal bleeding.
She lay on her blanket and began the slow labored breathing of a dying animal, and we knew we couldn’t save her. My husband and I sat on the floor and held her. We stroked her head and rubbed her paws. Through tears, we said, “You are such a good girl, Mojo. Yes, you are, and you are the best momma in the world. You’re a good girl, Runt. We love you….we love you…we love you.”
And she was gone.
She had defied Death three times. This death, that to us had begun and ended in the span of a hour, was the least expected. We’d braced for her passing when she was the 6 oz runt who couldn’t latch on, when she’d had to be glued back together, and when she could not deliver her puppies. On this day, we were not prepared. This death was perhaps the most cruel because she had just found the job that suited her best…being a mom.
A mom. Dear God, how would ten –not yet even two-week-old –puppies survive without their momma?
How would we explain this to Gracie?
I closed Mojo’s eyes and tucked a blanket around her. She was already so cold.
I sent my son to pick up my daughters. At least they wouldn’t have the awful memory of blood and a convulsing body. We cleaned up the mess and waited for the girls return.
Gracie took it the hardest. There were no tears at my words, but they came quickly when she saw her baby’s body. She carefully lifted the blanket and ran her hands all over Mojo’s cold, stiff fur. Then the most gut-wrenching sob escaped Gracie. She wrapped herself around the dog whose life she’d once held in her hand and did all she could.
We all did that day. By Gracie’s instructions, we buried our sweet runt under the swings in the backyard. As we were still grasping our loss, we had to begin the task of answering the question… what next?
Mojo had loved being a momma and had given her life for her puppies. She was part of them, and we were certain of only one thing in those early hours of grief.
We were determined to keep all ten puppies alive.
Mojo’s story couldn’t end with her death. As long as those puppies thrive, we thought, her story would continue….
(Part 2 of 3. For surrogate moms, tons of bottles, and rediscovering puppy love as the ten puppies who broke our hearts put us back together and fill us with joy, click here for PART THREE. If you missed Part 1, click HERE.)