I wrote this article in 2004. Nothing has changed since its writing. The box has more tooth marks, stains, and new memories. It continues to cradle new life, expectant mothers, hopes, and dreams that span 36 years now.
When I was new at breeding, I read an article in the AKC Gazette that I believe was called “The Family Cradle”. It was written by a breeder following a sad outcome of her litter. She spoke of sitting on the edge of her whelping box, wishing for what might have been, rubbing her hands across the edge of the box, and feeling the multitude of tooth marks and nail marks from litters past. She spoke of the delight of feeling those marks from past litters, and that the rough, unfinished, unsightly box was a family treasure — the family cradle for her dogs.
I can no longer find that article, which I kept for many years, but I don’t need it anymore. I have a family cradle of my own, in fact, two of them. They’re rough, unfinished, full of tooth and toenail marks. Some would find them ugly. To me, they are beautiful, and carry the memories, hopes, and dreams that I’ve had for 20+ years.
Of the two whelping boxes I have, one is my favorite, and if I only have one litter, it is the box that is in use. I was given one of my whelping boxs, by a friend of mine, Barbara Davis, owner of Champion Bold Aaron CD, WC (*The* dog who inspired me to get into the breed — the dog who was, in my opinion, the best Labrador on four legs). When Barbara got out of dogs, she gave me the box. It had been used by her for almost ten years and one can only imagine how many of Aaron’s own puppies were born in that box. When she gave me the box, every yellow dog in my kennel, and most of the blacks, had Aaron behind them. It was fitting that the grand, great-grand, and great-great-grandpups of Aaron should continue to be born in that box and each of them leave their mark (quite literally) on the walls of the box.
Those little tooth marks, each of them, represent a life that was either a show hopeful, or the life-long pet of a puppy buyer that spans more than 20 years now. Those tooth marks are precious to me. The rough texture of the box is comforting and beautiful.
The box is simple. Just a 6X4 space with a removable divider somewhere around 1/3 of the way across. The smaller side for bitch resting, the larger side being the puppy side. It has no “pig rail” because I am among a few who believes that addition actually contributes to neonatal injury or death. It isn’t fancy, it’s easy to clean, and it serves a purpose, and it’s far more practical than its simplicity would indicate.
As I rub the edges of the box today, I remember large healthy trouble-free litters, and also the sadness that occurred in the box. But during the sadness, the box served its purpose as a cradle for hope, dreams and prayers given up for small lives that sometimes, were never meant to be.
Sometimes the box is a place of comfort for my girls when their labor has gone very wrong, and they suffer the pain of c-section. I wonder if somewhere in their memories, they remember the comfort of the box when they were newborns and growing puppies. Is it possible that the box gives them a sense of home, security and comfort? I will never know. But I do know that sometimes, a bit of magical healing happenes in the box.
I remember Wish when she had an infection, and she permitted the lactating female of a friend to nurse her puppies, while both of these bitches laid in the box and tended their charges. I remember Abby, who came so close to dying after a ruptured uterus, and raised her litter in that box. I remember when I had had two litters, and one mother was exhausted after a c-section, and the other mother jumped in the box to tend the babies until she gained her strength. And I remember a single puppy who only felt the comfort of the box for the short 24 hours of his life, and how his distraught mother slept alone in the box following his death.
There have been so many litters born in that box, that I hardly recall them all, but I have memories of wet, firm bodies, and first breaths. Of the anticipation of each delivery. The Joy of looking at healthy litters nursing quietly in front of contented mothers.
When you visit my home when a litter is present, please come rub the rough spots on the whelping box. They are the marks of the past, and the dreams of the future. Each one represents a life that started in this rough, but precious and miraculous family cradle.
I anticipate that one day I too will pass a family cradle on to some upcoming wide-eyed new Labrador enthusiast/breeder. It will go to someone who will appreciate its imperfections, its rough texture, its mauled edges–Its promise.
copyright 2004 – D. Welle