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“I was blown away when we did the first pregnancy,” says Mary Dunne.
Daisy the dog had been abandoned. She was heavily pregnant and it was down to Dunne and her son Jacob, 11, to deliver the pups.
Puppies are born in sacks that need to be burst so the pups can breathe, she says. Sometimes, the mother-dog doesn’t know what to do.
Dunne and Jacob stayed up half the night and delivered four healthy puppies. At around 4am, Daisy settled down. The Dunnes headed to bed.
Half an hour later, Jacob woke his mother. He asked her to go back downstairs in case Daisy had more pups.
“Sure enough I went down and she had had two more puppies,” says Mary Dunne.
Not everyone wants to take on the responsibility of a pregnant pet, but the people like the Dunnes, who foster for the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), are keen to do so.
During the current crisis, the DSPCA is encouraging people to foster pets – rather than adopt or buy a new animal as many have contacted them about doing.
“We wouldn’t recommend anyone makes a long-term commitment to take on a pet at the moment,” says Gillian Bird, communications manager with the DSPCA.
Not Just for Lockdown
Each Christmas, the DSPCA places as many animals as possible into foster families, says Samantha Hall, a volunteer with the charity.
With everyone stuck at home at the moment – and with fewer hands on site because of social distancing – they are trying to do that now too, she says.
During this crisis, a lot of people want to adopt an animal to entertain their children, says Bird of the DSPCA. “We are getting all these emails saying I want to adopt a kitten.”
People need to really think that through, she says. What happens when they go back to their normal routine?
Social distancing means the DSPCA can’t do its usual background checks, too. And some vets are closed so getting vaccinations might be tricky, she says.
Foster right now rather than adopt, says Bird.
The DSPCA is concerned there may be a flood of placements breaking down once the Covid-19 emergency is over, she says. “We could see a big increase in the number of people looking for us to take their animals.”
A Puppy in Your Life
In August 2018, Dunne had her first experience as a midwife for pets. While visiting her sister in Ibiza, her sister’s dog gave birth.
At the airport on the way home, she chatted to a stranger. The kids were heartbroken leaving the puppies, she remembers telling her.
The woman told her that she could always have a puppy in her life – and how: by fostering for the DSPCA.
DSPCA staff assessed the family and checked to make sure their house was suitable. You need to have an enclosed garden, says Dunne.
Fostering is a big responsibility and someone needs to be at home full-time, she says. There are often vet’s appointments and the like.
“The dogs that need fostering might be older dogs, dogs that need medical treatment, dogs that have been abused or neglected and need a lot of care and attention,” she says.
Sometimes they need a home for a week, sometimes for a few months. “We have four kids and we are puppy crazy, so we tend to always foster puppies,” she says.
The kids don’t get upset when the puppies leave, as they understand the process, says Dunne.
Fostering and training the animal is essential because some people quickly send their new pet back to the DSPCA if it isn’t well adjusted, she says. “We get this puppy ready to go and find love in its forever-home.”
“The DSPCA don’t have the space to house all the animals they can help,” says Hall, who has fostered dogs, but prefers cats – especially kittens.
Homes are a better environment for the animals than the sanctuary too, says Hall. “It is very rewarding. A lapful of kittens, there is nothing better. Pure joy.”
When some find that their dog is pregnant, they abandon it, says Dunne, sounding sad. “Sometimes the dog is picked up on the street wobbling, very heavily pregnant.”
When Daisy was about to give birth, she acted exactly like a woman in labour, pacing up and down, says Dunne.
She remembers Daisy’s puppies well. She watched them open their eyes, she says.
Before she gets a pregnant dog, she converts her toy room and builds a nest for them out of cardboard boxes, she says.
Hall, another fosterer, also says that her own experience of motherhood has prepared her for helping pregnant animals and “new mums”.
“I absolutely feel for the mums, they just want somewhere quiet,” she says. “Your heart goes out to them because they are just exhausted.”
About three years ago she first helped a cat to give birth, she says. “It was very nerve-wracking.”
She makes a house for them out of cardboards and crates, a place they can keep the kittens. Once the birth is over, it is easy, says Hall. The mother-cat basically does all the work.
A foster family keeps the cat with the kittens until they are around eight weeks old, she says.
Then the cat goes back to the DSPCA to be re-homed. The kittens stay on in the foster home for a few more weeks, until they are more than 10 weeks and have had their vaccinations, she says.
Recently, Dunne and her family got Joey, she says, a puppy found locked in the boot of a car with his mother, who later died, and siblings.
“He was trembling, terrified, he was one of the quietest puppies we have had,” she says.
Ten days later, Joey is thriving, she says. “He is part of the family now, tearing around, jumping all over the dogs, jumping up on us giving you big hugs and kisses, it is amazing.”