When I first met Shadow she was scrounging dropped food from the car park of a large shopping mall. When she was still there the following week pitifully eating an old, blackened chip, I knew that I had to do something. Rebecca, Joshua, Justin and I managed to convince this surprisingly overweight stray to throw her lot in with us. She sat on Joshua’s lap all the way home, looking at him adoringly. The rest of us, she suspected, were definitely up to no good and couldn’t be trusted, but this tall, good looking boy was just what the doctor ordered for a little dog in distress. Once home she continued to follow Joshua wherever he went and so came to be christened Shadow. Graeme came home without a care in the world only to find that the ever-growing pet population had once again increased by one. At that stage we didn’t know that our pet population was about to increase by a lot more than that!
Now if there’s one thing of which we can never accuse Shadow it’s being an ungrateful dog. She settled into our family quite easily and within a few days, even learned to love the rest of us. Her attitude was if her personal god Joshua liked us then that was all she needed for a recommendation in our favour. Before too many days had past, I discovered that Shadow’s round shape wasn’t due to an excess of worms, but rather an excess of pups! Day by day this little Silky type grew rounder and rounder, taking on the shape of an over-inflated balloon and just like the balloon, threatening to pop at any moment. Walking became more and more difficult for Shadow as her belly grew, until finally her feet were no longer able to touch the ground. Try as she might, all she could manage was to roll around on her tummy like those dolls with bases filled with sand that swayed when you set them in motion. Shadow looked exactly like a cartoon dog that had been blown up by an air pump. Rolling around on her tummy proved very uncomfortable, so she spent her days resting on her bed or indicating by a series of sharp barks that she needed her new human family to rally round and give her some assistance so that she could answer calls of nature.
Thus I spent my days while everyone else was a school or work. Keeping my ears open for Shadow’s distress call and rushing outside to help with toilet duties then bringing her back to her bed. Picking her up had its own special problems. There was no obvious spot to grab hold and she squealed every time I tried to lift her. Shadow was a very cowardly little dog during those last few days of her pregnancy. She seemed to squawk at nearly everything that happened to her, but I don't point the finger - I've never been pregnant with a litter of nine so I don't feel that I can judge her. The large gap between Shadow’s feet and the ground lasted for two days before she finally delivered her brood. During these two days I lived in trepidation that she was going to need a caesarean to deliver her pups, and that Graeme would finally disown me. In the end there was no problem at all with Shadow’s confinement, she delivered her entire brood of nine pups naturally while we were asleep.
Now we were in deep trouble. Graeme’s patience with the rest of his family’s pre-disposition to welcome any and all animals into the fold, had worn extra thin. I think his breaking point came when I very recklessly pointed out that the dog count on our Razorback property was now 23! Our Maremma bitch, Robbie had recently given birth to a litter of ten pups. Apollo, our male Maremma and Socks our Kelpie made up the extra numbers. After taking in what I had said, Graeme turned pale, tottered to the nearest chair and didn’t speak for some time (for which the rest of us were extremely grateful). When he did regain his powers of speech it was to ask us what we thought we were going to do with all these pups.
Robbie’s litter was not a problem. They were purebred Maremmas and very much in demand for guarding farm livestock. Shadow’s brood was most likely less than pure-bred Silky Terrier, and likely to prove a challenge in finding homes for all eight of them (Shadow, believing nine an unlucky number squashed the ninth pup in her sleep). Rebecca, Joshua and Justin, recognising a state of emergency when they saw one were galvanised into action. They began doing the groundwork on their school bus and at school by telling everyone they could that we had eight of the most beautiful pups anyone had ever seen being given away free. We could have given the pups away several times over for all the children who wanted one but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to dole out pups willy-nilly. I refused to hand over a pup without a parent present and in favour of taking it on. Things were starting to look grim. The pups had reached eight weeks of age and we hadn’t found a home for even one of them. Robbie’s brood on the other hand, had all left home to begin their careers as guarding dogs on other people’s property, so at least the dog count had reduced to 13. Graeme refused to be consoled by this piece of mathematics. In his estimation we were still at least ten dogs too many, if not 13!.
Thank God that six weeks later we hosted JOTA for the Scouts and Guides. JOTA, for those uninitiated in Scout and Guide lore, stands for Jamboree On The Air. Guides and Scouts gather at various venues around the world on a weekend in October to contact Guides and Scouts in other parts of the country or even in other parts of the world via ham radios and the internet. Our farm on the top of a mountain was ideal for radio reception so a camping weekend was organised for the Scouts and Guides and that weekend we played hosts to over 300 uniformed children and their leaders.
Now the wonderful thing about 300 plus children who are a captive audience for two whole days and at close quarters with a litter of adorable pups is that they very quickly devise plans not to go home at the end of the weekend without at least one little furry bundle. As each parent arrived they were met with a child and his or her treasured pup, in a lot of cases already named by the Scout or Guide, before they had been warned and had time to make up a convincing argument against taking on one of Shadow’s team of eight. Consequently we found a home for seven of the pups, one of them going to a Scout’s grandparents who had arrived to pick him up. All pups found good homes and most were spoilt beyond their wildest dreams.
Our pet count returned to almost normal, but Graeme had seen the signs of things to come if he didn’t maintain constant vigilance. There would be no getting future additions to the menagerie passed him so easily in future.