For one very pregnant — and blind — pit bull named Darla, her unborn litter was almost her death sentence.
Pregnant dogs are often the most at-risk when they are taken into shelters. As much as the shelter staff may want to help, the health risks to both the pregnant dogs and to their puppies can be severe. In a crowded shelter environment, newborn puppies are at high risk for infection, which can be fatal.
Even though Darla was only two weeks away from birth, the open-intake shelter in Fresno, California, planned to abort her entire litter.
Sadly, this is not uncommon. Because of shelter overcrowding, euthanasia and even full-term abortion of puppies happens often. In particular, shelters often euthanize pit bulls.
But Liesl Wilhardt, Executive Director of Luvable Dog Rescue, had a different outcome in mind. She decided to take in Darla and “allow her to continue the pregnancy.”
Reflecting on the high rate of euthanasia for pit bulls, Wilhardt told PupJournal,
“Some shelters Luvable works with have a 98% euthanasia rate for pit bulls. In fact, we’ve been told that at some shelters, the ONLY Pit Bulls getting out alive are mothers with puppies being pulled by rescue organizations. The other 98% of the pit bulls are killed simply because nobody wants them.”
When pregnant Darla came to Luvable, she was treated to their unique version of love for dogs like her — the shelter provides cottages for pit bulls, with a special focus on pregnant dogs and their litters.
Darla was given the full menu of loving care: a cottage to call her own, as well as “lots of good food, relaxing massages, belly-rubs and short walks to ease the final days of her pregnancy,” according to Wilhardt. She even had her own covered porch — heated, of course.
And yet, this gentle, blind dog’s troubles were far from over.
For one thing, Darla’s belly seemed bigger — much bigger — than it should be for a dog her size.
Wilhardt told PupJournal, “for such a tiny dog, her stomach looked grotesquely extended…far more so than I had seen with all our previous pregnant dogs. The days passed, and Darla just got bigger, and bigger and bigger. But she was eating, seemed to feel ok, and and we had no real reason to think anything was wrong. An X-ray showed eight “normal sized” puppies, so we had no real reason to worry.”
A friend of Wilhardt’s named Sandy, who is also a retired midwife, was very concerned upon seeing videos of Darla’s size. She commented that if Darla were a human, doctors would worry that there was a problem with the fetus — and possibly even a stillborn baby.
Darla’s veterinarian assured the Luvable staff that Darla was ok, and that they shouldn’t panic.
But the very next day, the Luvable staff found out that there was, in fact, reason for great concern.
Darla went into labor surrounded by the capable staff at Luvable, and delivered her first puppy without incident. But as she struggled to deliver the second pup, Wilhardt “realized she needed help.” The second puppy was stuck in Darla’s birth canal, and Wilhardt was barely able to get him out. Wilhardt describes the moment in vivid detail: “With Darla pushing and screaming, and me pulling, I managed to get the baby out. The puppy was so enormous, she literally almost could not pass him. And the poor little boy was dead.”
The next few hours were critical; Darla needed to be rushed to the local emergency veterinarian, and eventually to another emergency clinic.
The journey wasn’t an easy one; it was winter in Oregon, and though Darla’s labor had started at about 3:30 p.m., by the time the Luvable staff drove Darla to the second emergency clinic, it was the middle of the night, and driving conditions were terrible, with dense fog and ice on the roads. Yet Darla managed to deliver another, healthy, puppy in the car.
This blind pit bull was showing some true resilience, but her journey wasn’t over yet.
At the second emergency clinic, veterinary staff had to perform an emergency c-section. Sadly, they discovered another stillborn puppy inside Darla. This puppy was “mummified” and, because of its condition, could have killed Darla. So, indeed — the midwife’s instincts were correct.
Thankfully, Darla gave birth to a total of eight healthy, happy puppies, and survived without any health complications herself.
Each of the puppies was named after one of the Little Rascals. The boys are named Buckwheat, Stymie, Petey, Spanky, and Porky, while the girls are Alfalfa, Froggy, and Rascal.
Recently, the shelter conducted a DNA test, and learned that the puppies are all 50% Siberian Husky, and 50% pit bull.
And Christine Lagos, one of the primary puppy caregivers at Luvable, says that Darla is a great mother, despite her challenges. According to Lagos, “Darla’s blindness does not stop her one bit from being an amazing mom. She cleans, feeds and even plays with her pups just like any other. Darla has learned to be more reliant on other senses, such as sound and tactile. She regularly seeks out our lap for cuddles and reassurance. This experience of caring for Darla and her puppies has been life changing for me. The bond we have has been unlike any other.”
Wilhardt adds, “[Darla] also trusts her caretakers completely to handle and care for her puppies, even though she can’t see us.”
Another Luvable staff member, Kayla Barilleaux, reflected on the challenges of blind motherhood, and the ways that Darla has handled it:
“Darla is an extraordinary dog. With such a sweet personality and eagerness to be around people, her blindness did not stop her willingness to be a great mom to her puppies.
She allowed us to not only help her through her pregnancy but also help her be a part of the beginning of her motherhood. We really brainstormed on ways for her to navigate around her fragile puppies and she has proven Mother Nature is truly amazing.
I’m so extremely proud of her. I’ve never experienced a blind mom dog go through such great obstacles and come out conquering the world with a crew of 8 adorable healthy puppies.”
All of the puppies are available for adoption, as is their strong, gentle, resilient mother, Darla. You can learn more about the pups and Darla on Luvable’s website.
Header images via Luvable Dog Rescue