Puppy Hell

by Lisa Del Fava


Well it’s been two years since I got her as an eight-week old puppy, and now my yellow lab Sam is in heat. This is a momentous event, one I had been planning for a long long time. I would now be able to make a few bucks at home in my spare time. I previously had raised a few small litters of daschunds, and although it had its up and downs, it was totally doable, and I have more than enough experience with this sort of thing.

So what could possibly go wrong with yellow labs, right?

I had a part-time job like before, when I was raising the daschunds, cleaning houses about 25 hours a week, and anyone who cleans for a living knows the drill. Lugging, bending, lifting, carrying, moving, you know…

I was in shape and I was ready.

I found a wonderful stud service and off we went to the vet for Sam’s artificial insemination. Sam has champion bloodlines and her sire has champion bloodlines, and the puppies will fetch a good price.

Stud fee: $600.00
Progesterone test: $75.00
Artificial insemination: $125.00
Whelping box: $65.00 (used)

No, these items along with their costs are by no means intended to be an exhaustive listing.There’s plenty more, but I’m just tossing this stuff out there so that you, my gentle readers, will remain aware that there are lots and lots of incidentals and expenses associated with raising a litter of puppies.

Everything went just as smooth as can be.

And that was the last I saw of anything resembling smooth for the next five months.

Three weeks later a change in diet causes Sam to get bloody diarrhea. “Oh shit,” off to the vet to get x-rays and medicine. Nothing lodged inside, thank God. $270.00 later, and we we’re on the road.

And now the day I’ve been waiting for is arriving at last. Sam will be due tomorrow.

So I’ll go to work a day early, and be home tomorrow for the delivery.


Shirley, my pet sitter, will be there in one and a half hours. She will know what to do if anything happens because we’d discussed it previously.

Twelve noon rolls around and time to call Shirley.

“Hey Shirl, how’s Sam?”
“She’s in labor.”
“I’m on my way.”
“I don’t know what to do, I’m at home trying to call my vet.”

Great, Sam’s home all alone. I’m not there, and neither is Shirley.

I make it home in twelve minutes flat, and there’s a puppy on the kitchen floor, not breathing, all bloody, and covered in gunk!

Oh shit, I killed a puppy!

I picked her up, and as I pulled off the goo, she came to life and began breathing .

She can’t have been on the floor like that for more than just a minute or two. Lucky. Very very lucky.


Sam was in the other room. I ran the both of them over to the whelping box, and now mom is nursing her puppy.

Two and a half hours later, we had nine beautiful lab puppies, all healthy and strong.

It was a sign. Things were going to go easy. Thank you lord.

My first night with the pups is here, and all is well

Until 2:30am, that is.

Sam wakes me up, panting like mad. I can’t get her to stop. She looks sick. Is it the calcium deficiency that everyone warned me about? I did as I was directed. Don’t want to take any chances, so ten minutes later it’s off to the emergency clinic.

Calcium was normal and they gave her a fluid shot and $140.00 later, we were heading home.

It’s 4:30am now, and there’s still time for an hour and a half of sleep, before I have to get up if I lay down right this minute.

5:45am, and Sam gets me up to take her out.

No more sleep tonight.

Gotta be at work in several hours, I will call and reschedule.

In the interests of being close to things, just in case something happens and I need to be right on top of it, I will now sleep in the living room, with the whelping box full of dogs no more than ten feet away from me. The puppies are my priority and I accept it.

I soon discover that every night is going to be similar, with either Sam or the puppies or sometimes everybody all together waking me up, wanting to go out, playing loudly, barking and yapping, destroying my sleep intermittently throughout the course of the night.

In short order, I’m starting to experience the dragging feeling of sleep deprivation.

What will the next two months be like?

Time goes on.

Week two, the end of a typical day: I have not eaten today, because Sam and her pups have priority. The breakfast I made this morning is still sitting on the counter, cold, and I will eat it at 5:30pm. No time for dinner. I am losing weight fast, and I am already too thin. It has been fourteen hours of work, and Sam still needs a walk. With very little food in my stomach today, we stagger down the block in the dark.

Sam is a great mom. She cleans her puppies all the time. But there is still too much for her with nine of them, so I helped her out by lining the whelping box with lots of towels, changing them frequently to help stay ahead of cleaning the puppies.

They peed and pooped, day and night, and the laundry was going endlessly.

Hmm….what about newspapers?  They should be old enough now, so I switched from towels to newspapers.

But the newsprint was getting the puppies dirty.

Bad for the pups.

I drove thirty miles to get some rolls of brown wrapping paper ($30.00), and put it over the newspapers.

The paper changing was endless. I’d clean, they’d pee. I’d clean, they’d poop. I’d clean, they’d pee and poop. And poop and poop. And pee pee pee. And poop poop poop.

Week three: Sam is not producing enough milk. Off to the vet again, and $65.00 later, we have a plan. I will have to bottle feed each puppy, by hand, one-by-one, twice a day. So up at 5:45am, to feed Sam, and each pup, one-by-one, then grab a protein shake for myself, make lunches for Sam and myself, clean the whelping box, walk Sam, take my morning shower, fold some laundry, and wash the dishes before departing for work.

Come home from work and return immediately to taking care of mother and puppies, once again, with no break.

After my 16 hour day, I am finally able to lay my head upon my pillow, and attempt to get some sleep between interruptions all night long from Sam constantly waking me up to take her out, the puppies constantly waking up and playing loudly amongst themselves, and my having to periodically clean the puppy’s area of pee and poop.

Cruel sleep deprivation continues to accumulate.

I put the pillow over my head to drown out the sounds that jolt me awake, twenty or more times a night, not including the four or five times a night that Sam woke me, needing to go out.

The sleep deprivation was starting to physically sicken me now.

My back hurt from constantly bending over to pick puppies up, and from cleaning the box over and over again.

The muscles in my calves were starting to feel unpleasantly strange.

Three and a half weeks: Time for a playpen. Home Depot had just what I needed: Vinyl-coated steel-bar shelving. Beautiful! I came home with it and spent the rest of my day assembling it. My finished creation has a main area of six foot by six foot with a three foot by three foot attached bathroom zone on one side. Once finished, I suddenly realized I’d forgotten the linoleum piece that goes underneath it all. Back to Home Depot, and after a $200.00 total cost, I had myself a perfect puppy playpen.

By the way, don’t ever try to put the linoleum down by yourself after the pen has already been assembled, if you care anything about your back.

Another day: Today I’ll carry all the pups out to the carport in a box, and put them in a different playpen I’ve set up for the purpose, and feed them all together, hoping to save myself the time and labor of feeding them individually inside the house. They’re eating canned food now, and I put it all in a common area for them to get to as a group, all at once, every man for himself. I will just hose down the carport when they’re done. That will make things easier and less messy, right?



I have just thrown out my sacroiliac from lifting the box of pups when I came outside. And now, after a mob scene of eating , they are all wet and covered with food from head to toe. I have to wash each pup with shampoo, one at a time, and my back is on fire.

During all of this, one of the pups, Jamie, has eaten way too much and has blown up like a balloon. Does he have bloat? Oh my God, what do I do?

He pukes, he craps, and then miraculously he’s ok.

Back to feeding them one-by-one, indoors.

The days were long and my food intake was scanty, with no time to shop for myself. The pups need canned food every day and I have to go get it, endlessly, without a break. The pups, as ever, come first. My fridge was getting emptier and emptier, and there was no help in sight. I despaired of ever getting through this alive. I cried in my house alone, with no one to hear me and no one to help me.

By this time, people were beginning to come by to have a look at the puppies, to see if they might want one for themselves.

A family was on their way over, and would arrive shortly.

The house would need to be rendered spotless before they arrived.

How could I do it all? I couldn’t burden my friends, could I? My pet sitter was looking more and more unenthused with every visit, but I couldn’t do it all by myself either. I was on the horns of a dilemma. 

Another morning is here and my workdays are now sixteen hours, seven days a week, by this time.

It is relentless.

My legs and back are getting worse.

I can barely walk.

I need painkillers.

“Where’s my breakfast? I don’t know. Keep moving.”

Today is recycling day: I will spend the next one and a half hours driving around the neighborhood, picking up several hundred pounds of newspaper from where people have left it out by the curb, for the coming week. I do this every recycling day, and will be continuing to do it until the pups are all sold. But first, some painkillers for my back.

There is too much puppy crap to clean. It’s on my hands. It’s on my face. It’s in my hair. It’s under my nails. It’s on my shoes. It’s on my clothes. It’s on the puppies. It’s on the floor. I keep cleaning, they keep crapping.  I clean as I eat my breakfast, trying not to gag as I do so. There is crap on my hand, how can I pick up my toast? The toast will have to wait. Can’t stop or the crap will overrun me. They will walk in it. They will lay in it. They will play in it. They will eat it. I am going mad, someone please help. I am starting to lose my mind. The dishes need washing. The shopping needs doing. The laundry needs cleaning. The feeding. The mopping. The endless mopping. I rinse the mop in the bathroom sink, and the sink has become  clogged with puppy crap. I can’t get the smell of dog crap and piss out of my house no matter how much rubbing alcohol I clean with. The work is getting farther and farther ahead of me. Will the world forgive me if I bash them all, mother included, to death with a two by four? I find myself considering this seriously. Oh my God, what is happening to me? Lisa, you gotta get a grip! I am crying on the floor. Someone please help. No one hears me.

The pups are making no headway with their potty training. This is insane, and so am I by now. No one’s advice on the subject has helped. The wood shavings the pet store sold me for this purpose are all over the floor of my house, and the puppies remain untrained. I have to come up with an ingenious idea today, or I will kill us all.

And so, with a crazed glint in my eye, I came up with a plan that worked.

I trained nine pups in two hours.

I closed the playpen down to six foot by three foot, and put newspapers on the floor everywhere within it. Then I let them crap and crap and crap, till it was all filled up. They then stood there, eyes like saucers, staring at me. The look in their eyes said, “Slave, why don’t you come clean this up?” And I stood there and laughed maniacally, as I watched them wallow in their own shit for one and a half hours. They screamed and wailed and tried to escape their shit-soaked prison, to no avail. They clawed, they scratched, they fought, and they finally fell exhausted, asleep in their own excrement.

Then, as they slept, I moved the befouled papers over to one side, and sanitized the rest of the pen.

They were all paper trained that day, and that was the end of it.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and the desperate measures worked.

The pup’s bathroom area was moved right beside my dinner table, so I could clean crap as I ate, or, impossible as it may be to believe, I would never eat at all.

I threw out fifty or sixty pounds of crapped-upon paper every single day.

My legs feel like they are bleeding inside, and I can barely walk, so I call and reschedule one of my jobs. If I can’t walk, I can’t clean. Brutally simple, and utterly unavoidable.

Ring ring ring goes the phone.

Someone wants to come and visit the puppy they have already bought, but cannot take home until it is at least eight weeks old.

Time to redouble the cleaning of the house and make it look its spotless best for the visitors.

I’m in a dissociative fugue from sleep deprivation.

The world around me has taken on a surreal, make-believe look, and I imagine that perhaps I have, too.

I am looking much older. And feeling even older than that. Late eighties comes to mind.

My back continues to get worse.

The work is still getting done somehow, but that is all that is functioning.

I am a robot.

Keep working.

Faster, faster.

Time for some special treats for the pups. A change is always a good thing, right?


What’s this now? Some of the puppies have bloody diarrhea? Off to the vet we go.

$250.00 later, we have some medicine, but neither myself nor the vet can say for sure exactly what happened.  Don’t ask, just dose the doggies.

I will be measuring out four different kinds of medicine a day, per pup (all nine of them) as I feed them two times a day, each one separately, for two weeks. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the student to do the math on that one.

One week into our new regimen, the power line in the back yard gets taken down by a falling tree, and I had to continue the medications all by flashlight for a night.

More visitors, time to superclean the house once again.

By now I can’t make it through the grocery store because I’m so weak and in so much pain.

I literally could not shop for myself.

The nice lady at Sam’s Club lifted my groceries out of my cart for me and rang them up. I am becoming disabled. Someone come feed me today, please. Jim came. Thank you, Jim.

Some buyers were abominable. They constantly wanted to come visit their pups and were not taking “no” for an answer. The house often looked like there was a deranged Christmas family reunion in progress, complete with screaming children getting  their filthy feet all over my clean furniture, the very same furniture I had just broken my back cleaning, for these exact same slobby people and their barbaric children.

They came too often, they stayed too long.

The phone rang off the hook, and the house had to be perfect every time.

And so the shopping wasn’t done.  The laundry wasn’t getting done. I wasn’t eating. I was barely alive.

I was like a car that was being operated by a clueless driver, driven until it was on the side of the road overheated, flames pouring out from under the hood.

One buyer in particular, however, stands far above the rest as a consequence her actually caring about my own health and well-being.

Bless your heart, thank you Cathy Kaiser. You were the exception that proved the rule.

You were a lifesaver.

Eight weeks had finally gone by and it was at long last time to hand over the pups. I wasn’t dead. At least I don’t think I was dead. I can’t really be sure, it’s all such a blur.

Cathy took me and the pups to the vet for their final shots and health certificate.

All the pups were healthy.

Myself, not so much.

Cathy, I could not have done this without your kind measures. Did I tell you that you were a lifesaver?

You were a lifesaver.

I am now escaping hell, but hell is having a way of staying with me, even as it departs.

As each puppy goes out the door, never to be seen again, I find myself breaking out in tears. I love each one of them dearly and find that I miss them terribly as they roll down the street, safely tucked inside automobiles driven by their new owners.

And at last, the final puppy departs, the final tear is shed, and my home no longer echoes to the sounds of my beautiful baby dogs.

The place feels stark and empty without their vibrant company, and it’s almost as if a part of me has gone missing as well.

But there’s nothing for it and the appointment has been made.

Tomorrow, Sam is getting fixed.

Never again.

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