He wasn’t the biggest puppy in the litter. Two others were bigger than him, and both had drifted into a sleep from which there would be no awakening. As gentle hands lifted him out of the whelping box and offered a bottle, he nuzzled into the tips of each finger, searching for his mother. But, his mother was gone now. She had breathed her last, and he was alone.
“Come on, Little Fella,” the voice said to him … “Give it a try.” But, the milk offered to him from a bottle tasted nothing like the milk of his mother.
“He’s refusing the bottle,” someone said. “If he doesn’t nurse soon, he isn’t going to make it.”
Gentle hands held him close to a chest beating with a heart of gold. “You can do it, Little Fella. It’s OK. You can do it.”
But it wasn’t OK.
The mother dog, dam of champions and herself a champion as well, had not counted on the raccoon that found its way into her kennel run. Scrounging for food, the coon rejoiced upon finding left-over kibble from that night, and the night before, as the mother lay with her newborn puppies in her nest box. This was great. This was easy.
But, that night, the mother dog woke from her spell. Was that a sound? Was something shaking the chain-link fencing of her kennel? Lifting her head, she caught sight of the raccoon just as it dropped to the ground and headed straight for her food dish.
With a deep, throaty growl, she warned the intruder to leave, but he didn’t stop. Ignoring her, the raccoon, secure in being the survivor of many seasons, and larger than average besides, rolled on.
NO! the dog barked. Get out! Get away from here!
Or, what? the creature seemed to ask, turning to face her. Do you really think you can hurt me? Look at you. Such a funny creature. Look at your ears. I could rip those ears to shreds with my claws. Your neck? I could jump on your back and sink my teeth into it. Your belly? Look at that soft flesh. I could tear it open and laugh. Leave me alone, he seemed to say, I’m hungry.
Perhaps he was right. Perhaps the champion, after being coddled and favored by her proud and doting owners, had become soft. After winning many ribbons, and retiring to a life of ease, maybe she had lost her edge. With food every day, whether she wanted it or not; with a warm, dry place to sleep and people attending to her every need, maybe she had forgotten the nature of her ancestors who carved their way in the wild.
The raccoon finished every last morsel of feed that the dog had been too preoccupied to care about. And then he heard it: The whisper-squeal of a puppy as its mother shifted her position to better watch the intruder and guard her treasure.
What’s this? The raccoon seemed to wonder. Dessert? What luck! Making his way toward the nest box, he paid no heed to the warning growls coming from within.
From somewhere inside, deep within her mind, a flood of courage washed through the mother dog. Roaring with all her strength, she alerted the household and the other dogs kenneled around her. No! You cannot — you cannot — have my babies!
Lights from the house! Shouting! Running! Only to see a swirling mass of fur and muscle, teeth and glaring eyes, as the worlds of wild and domestic clashed. “Stay back!” someone called out. “We can’t get one without hurting the other!”
Bravely, the mother dog fought. Furiously, the raccoon bristled with anger.
“Shoot it! Shoot it!” somebody cried, as dogs leaped and lunged in their kennel runs.
“I can’t! I can’t shoot into the fencing and the other dogs!”
Blood-curdling screams! A raccoon mortally wounded … a mother dog dead.
“The puppies! Oh, no . . .”
Scattered about the kennel yard, trampled and still, lay their tiny, lifeless bodies. “She must have jumped up and attacked while they were nursing,” a young woman said, picking them up and cradling them in her arms as she counted them, shining her flashlight into the nest box. “Mom! Dad! Look what I found!”
He wasn’t the biggest puppy in the litter. Two others were bigger than him, and both had drifted into a sleep from which there would be no awakening . . . .
The rest of the story:
Years ago, I had purchased a prized dog in Texas and she was in whelp. It was during the summer and the airlines wouldn’t fly a dog anywhere until the temperatures cooled off. As a result, she was boarded there at a large kennel in the country and the puppies were born in Texas.
One night, I received a call. I was stunned. A cougar had made its way into the kennel compound during the night and only one puppy survived.
I never did fly that puppy out of Texas. He was bottle-raised by the kennel manager’s daughter and he stayed with their family. Like his dam, he became a winner, and he is still with them to this day.
Sometimes, the littlest puppy can be the greatest treasure of them all.