Winter arrived in a rush. We wandered through October like a balmy September. Then, overnight, we got kicked in the butt.
Snow. The temperature at our place dropped below zero and has stayed there. The temperatures are nice enough for November, but we missed the normal set-up. I wasn't quite ready for the puppies that came along either.
The pups were planned and the projected birth date was known. But this was a first litter for the female so we watched her closely.
Within a day, it became apparent the new mom had no milk. The newborns would have to be bottle fed. The pups were set up in a cardboard box next to the wood stove in the living room.
I have had dogs my entire life. My first coherent memory is being bit by a cocker spaniel (I tried to take her bone). That incident did not deter me from liking dogs. Labradors, dobermans, German shepherds and sled dogs have followed through the years. Over the last 40-odd years with shepherds and sled dogs, there have been 30-odd litters of pups.
I have never had to bottle feed a litter. The learning curve is tremendous.
It took only a couple of days to figure out how happy that mother dog was to get rid of those demanding little buggers. They wake up and scream for food every couple hours. That means at night too. The formula must be right. They have to get used to the taste. The temperature needs to be consistent.
A mother dog can nurse three pups at one time. I can only do one, which means loud screaming from the other two.
Replacement milk formula is expensive. The can I got made 60 ounces, and they emptied that in a couple of days. The internet tells me how to make my own, and here is a modified recipe that has worked out well over the past few weeks. This formula is a bit more substantial than the canned product and seems to satiate the pups longer.
— 8 ounces evaporated milk
— 4 ounces warm water (you can sterilize it by boiling, if you like)
— 4 ounces plain yogurt (not fat-free)
— 2 egg yolks for protein. There are claims that egg whites can cause a deficiency of biotin, which is necessary for protein digestion. Given that unknown, avoid the whites with a tiny pup. You can substitute 2 tablespoons of fish meal after the first week.
— 4 tablespoons of canola oil.
— 4 tablespoons of milk substitute (to help out with necessary vitamins)
The objective is to get the fat content near the 40 percent range. The protein level should be 35 percent or more.
Now, what no one says much about is this: Whatever you put into the puppy comes out the other end. The mother dog cleans up her pups. She licks up the pee and eats the poop. Efficient? Yes. I'm not doing it. Newspapers work for the first few days, especially just before elections.
Old towels and a real good washing machine work. Cloth baby diapers probably would be effective. We opted for doggy pee pads — the kind you get for the Chihuahua that doesn't house train. By the end of the second week, you'll be changing pads every few hours.
Twenty days into the feeding process, dog food can be introduced. Teeth don't have to be formed, but the gum line should be pretty solid. The kids should yelp when the puppy sucks their finger.
The switch to solid food is not an immediate transition. Warm-soak the dog food, but don't turn it to mush. Hand feed it to the pups for a day or so. Continue with the milk, though by now you might stretch time between feedings to four hours at night.
Three weeks acting as Mr. Mom has not gotten easier. The feeding is smoother, but the clean-up is proportionately tougher.
We are fortunate. The kids help feed and clean up during the day. Uncle Charlie, our house German shepherd, has taken over some of the chores. He cleans up the pups by licking them, just like their real mother would. Before we realized that Charlie would do this, we had to wipe the pups down with a warm rag before every feeding.
The pups still receive a daily bath to get the stuff Charlie misses. The stinky little critters have moved to the wood stove in the shop so as to save on incense sticks. When I walk out to the dog yard, the pups' mom greets me with a big smile, as if to say: "Glad they are yours now!"
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.