I can’t remember a whole lot about that Saturday in October except that it was a beautiful fall day and that it didn’t quite go as we had planned. As it started out, we anticipated a brighter outcome as we prepared our Grand Show Champion black and tan female, Sally, to give birth to a long awaited litter of pups. You see, we had carefully chosen the stud and had the highest of hopes that this cross would not only be outstanding show dogs but coon dogs as well.
The events that followed in the next short hours gave us all a reality check on what we can truly call our own in this world, and what are truly gifts lent to us to cherish if only for a short while.
The first time we saw them, they were inside a cardboard box covered with an old towel. That point and time is kind of faded to me, but I do remember thinking that the box looked very cold. We had just been told that we had lost their mother on an operating table during what we were told was a routine C-Section. We now had a litter of 11 black and tan babies. We were handed a bottle to feed them with and a half a dozen cans of very expensive milk. That was all.
Armed with our milk, bottle and cardboard box, we headed for home. All that we had left for us now was what remained of a grand champion show dog and the gifts she left behind. The gift was borrowed just as she was. Let me tell you a little about Sally. Sally was proudly bred to Mr. Gene Hicks’ GRNITECH GRCH ‘PR’ Hicks’ Thunder Mountain Eli. She was the kind of dog that our kids showed because she was so bench worthy. The dog that I was daring to take to the Grand American because I knew she would show me how to win against a class of people, dogs and judges that I had yet to have the courage to face. Her full name was GRCH ‘PR’ Alabama’s Little Sally. She was something very special to my entire family.
As we were driving home, through the tears, I managed to look inside the cardboard box that was so full of the dreams that we had for such a special litter of black and tans. Looking at them then, I felt a hopelessness that can not be defined. I felt empty. I made myself pick up the first puppy on the top of what seemed to be a very large pile. As I looked into its little face all wrinkled from the journey he had just completed, I noticed the in the center of his chest was a perfect heart. I showed it to Mike. This was Alabama Sally’s Little Heart. Needless to say, the tears began to spill all over again.
We pulled in to our drive way and Mike looked at me and said that he was not able to tell our boys about Sally. He had to let me try to tell them in whatever way I could. Our little cardboard box would speak for itself, but I would have to be the one to speak for Sally. As we entered the house we were greeted by our boys. The faces seemed to glow with questions. Not one word was uttered. They didn’t have the chance. I guess the look on my face told them there was something terribly wrong.
Right away, we saw that our work was cut out for us. Carefully we began to feed the babies. One by one. Hour after hour. The c-section had left them all very weak. Most of them had to be revived during their ordeal, so they seemed to have trouble breathing.
This was the beginning of the end for most of Sally’s hearts. The puppies were suffering from lung congestion. Pneumonia set in quickly. As our babies began the end of their short journey, they would be placed into a separate box that became known as “the death
box”. Still being warmed by heating pads, the puppies would cry out until the Angels came to take them to be with their mother. It was very hard to deal with. As the hours drug on, rocking, crying, holding and feeding the tiny miracles became our ritual.
By Monday morning, all that was left of the large litter of pups were three. Two females and a big male we began to call Tuff. (aka: Alabama Sally’s Little Heart) By noon on that same Monday, we had lost one of the females. The remaining female had begun to show signs that her end was near. I had carefully placed her in the death box. I must say, she thought much differently about the situation. About an hour after placing the last little girl in the box, I heard a scratching sound on the floor. I went in to check on her, thinking nothing but the worst, and there on the bare floor was a crawling little 48 hour-old baby trying desperately to make it back into the bedroom where her brother was. Tuff was at that time all alone in the cardboard box that had carried him and his other 10 siblings home just a few short hours before. I could not believe my eyes! I picked the baby up and placed her back in the box with Tuff. She had the drive to live.
We bundled Tuff and his sister up and headed to Johnston to find the one person that I knew could help us. We arrived at the Johnston Animal Hospital and were given antibiotics and instructions on what to do from here on out. The desperation that we all felt seemed to ease somewhat. Our youngest two boys had planted mums for each of the pups that we had lost. The little grave site seemed to stretch over sacred ground. The mums represented the thoughts that we were all feeling. As the boys told Dr. Raulton about their memorial to their precious gifts that should have been, I remember Dr. Raulton telling them that he didn’t want to see our mum garden grow anymore. We were not out of the woods, but together we could save these two if we hung together and worked hard.
Today is December 10, 2005. Sally’s babies are now 7 weeks old. We still have Tuff and a little female that we now call Bailey. Now there are only two, but we kind of pacify ourselves and all the questions that we all seem to ask by telling each other that God must have needed a few good hounds of His own. He certainly got some of the best we had to offer! We also need to remember that we are only given these magnificent animals as gifts from up above so care for them with all of your heart because the gift may only last a short time!