A year ago today Momma Bear gave birth to 8 puppies - this was a crazy event in our world, I have learned so much from my sweet Momma Bear. Where to begin.... We live on a remote road across the street from South Mountain. It's our little bit of heaven, a place near downtown Phoenix remote enough that we experience nature and have room to breathe deep.
Routinely we have what we affectionately call 'dump dogs' visit for water and food. Dump dogs because people dump pets they no longer want at South Mountain. I assume people think that dogs will hunt for food; however, the desert is challenging and water scarce. We had one beautiful dog show up who's feet pads were so pristine...she obviously was an inside dog ill prepared for desert walking. Typically when dogs show up - we call Maricopa Animal Shelter, although we had two dump dogs we adopted Lovee Boy and Little Bit. Lovee took >3 months to even pet him, he was traumatized and Little Bit was simply a girl we fell in love with instantly.
Momma Bear and another puppy showed up in October or so in 2014. I was standing at the kitchen window, Lovee and Little Bit were laying on their bed inside when I saw Momma Bear and Puppy drink from the water pans we keep out front. Both dogs' ribs were showing and I thought oh crap. Dog laws in Maricopa County are a bit screwy - if you call the MAC, then the dogs you want picked up are supposed to be 'contained' so they can pick up the animal for transport. However, often times dogs that visit our property are traumatized either due to abuse or because they've been roaming around awhile - there's no way to contain them for pickup unless you feed them for sufficient time that the dogs trust you. The law also says that if you feed a dog more than 3 days, technically the dog is yours and the pickup is no longer a rescue but a surrender in which case you're supposed to pay a surrender fee. From our perspective, this is a no win because bottom line: when we see an animal that is hungry and needs water, we're going to provide. The idea that we would deny food/water to these dogs who were obviously hungry and thirsty is just dumb, isn't going to happen.
Across the road we placed a food and water pan and began the process of feeding, watering, and socializing Momma Bear and Puppy. Mommy very quickly began to come to a whistle and would let me pet her...Puppy was much more reticent. The plan was to get them somewhat socialized and then call MAC. However, it became apparent that Momma was pregnant. Yikes - now what are we going to do?! We decided that the most humane thing would be to keep the dogs together and around until after she had the babies. When we decided this...honestly, I don't think we thought too hard about the logistical challenges and changes having puppies around would present. In hindsight we recognize this was INSANE! But at the time all we thought was that Puppy was still not very social and Momma was pregnant, their chances in a shelter might not be great.
We got home later on Sunday, December 14 to discover no Momma or Puppy. Hmmm, I went searching and found that Momma had dug herself a trench and was laying there. My initial thought was okay - I'll get some supper going and then tend to her, our biggest concern was the cold, it was supposed to get down to upper 30s and she was laying outside on the dirt in an unprotected place. So I went in to supper and when I came out - Momma and Puppy were gone. I looked and looked and finally thought that she probably went off into the desert to have her puppies. But then I saw Puppy laying near the front door so I went to check and sure enough Momma was laying inside the dog house. I breathed a sigh of relief because there was a heat lamp there for the dogs, warm bedding, and shelter to protect the puppies. I didn't know what the other dogs might do with puppies. At about 2:30 Monday morning (12/15) - I awoke and went to check on her - at that time she had just had a puppy and was cleaning it. By the time it was all done, Momma had 8 puppies, one later passed.
Within 24 hours, we noticed Momma was rattled and dazed - I put out a question on Facebook and was advised to feed her eggs and milk supplement. Given she was malnourished when she arrived and hadn't quite recovered from that, I assumed pregnancy depleted her. Once I began feeding her the eggs and milk booster with extra food - she seemed less rattled and capable of caring for her puppies. She was a good Momma, attentive, and very clean. It wasn't long before puppy mania ensued!!!
On SuperBowl Sunday 2015, all the puppies were taken to a shelter where they were adopted within a week. Puppy was taken to MAC and we decided to keep Momma Bear. The day the puppies left we let Momma Bear in the house where she went straight to the couch and made herself at home where she proceeded to 'sleep it off.' The next few months were quite tumultuous - she was fixed and then started losing weight. We discovered she had Valley Fever and Tick Fever - treatment for both took months. After a while though her energy returned, she started putting on weight and she went from a somewhat listless girl to one who leapt, jumped, and generally got in your face.
Lessons Learned from a year with Momma...
- Hospitality and relationship often begin with available food and water.
- Providing food and water do not guarantee relationship...hunger and thirst are primary needs secondary to relationship.
- One has to earn the right to be heard and earning this right is dependent on trust.
- Trust comes from consistent presence. Being there, caring on her terms, and availability.
- Having been 'dumped' and then roaming for food fosters trust issues and insecurity.
- Relationship and touch cannot be forced - these things have to be earned. While Momma more readily received some physical attention early on it was always on her terms. I remember a time after she had puppies where she crawled into my lap and leaned real hard into my body. When trust is given it's complete and demonstrated physically.
- Eyes reveal the soul - Momma has old soul eyes - sometimes loving and sometimes wary.
- Rebuilding a life takes time - it is an inner journey that she must take in our presence.
- Play is a daily group activity.
- Best thing of all is time together.
- Hello kisses are always in vogue!
We did not need a 3rd dog especially a somewhat neurotic insecure girl. She can be jealous, insecure, wary, too aggressively in your face - all of these things and more. And yet. She's part of our crazy family - sweet, tender, always loving. She still gives full body hugs, loves to cuddle, and cannot wait to say hello when we come home. I'm so happy this beautiful girl, our Momma Bear, adopted us!