Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eating Puppies

As some of you know, I used to be a professional dog trainer. Not only did I train dogs for the police and military, but I also competed with my dogs in Schutzhund - a German originated sport that is one part obedience, one part tracking, and one part protection. During this time I had owned an amazing German Shepherd female who I named Aridan but the people in my club nicknamed Armageddon. For being so small, she was a vicious bitch (and it's okay to say bitch when you're talking about dogs) but also terribly smart and sweet. Everywhere we went I had people asking if I'd consider breeding her because they wanted a puppy.

So, after careful consideration of the work involved, I decided to breed Aridan not only for Schutzhund, but for the police departments that two of her puppies eventually went to work for. I found her a nice hip-healthy stud and, a little over two months later, we had puppies. But there was a problem. Her labor was long (12 hours), she became overly tired, and there were more puppies than expected (twelve in all).

The first eleven puppies had come out in what looked like dirty water balloons which I tore open and Aridan promptly ate. (Gross, I know.) She then went about licking the puppies until they started breathing, crying, and eventually began eating. Except for the twelvth.

When he came out, I knew there was a problem. His birthing sack was already popped and hung from him like a wet grocery bag. Still, I tore the sack open and held the puppy out to Aridan for inspection. She sniffed him and, to my horror, turned away. I knew this wasn't good. So I scooped all the nasty out of his throat with my pinkie finger and went about rubbing the puppy with a towel in the hopes of getting him to breath - he didn't. In fact, his little tongue began turning blue. Again, I held the puppy up to Aridan and, again, she turned away. My only option left was to perform puppy cpr. (I know what you're thinking and the answer is 'No.' It doesn't involve mouth-to-mouth.) Basically, you squat down with the puppy between your legs (like a football player getting ready to hike a ball) and you swing the puppy up to the sky as fast as you can. Up and down. Over and over again. Until, miracle among miracles, he started breathing.

Ecstatic (and feeling very much like the Dr. House of the dog world), I set the puppy next to Aridan so he could start feeding only, to my dismay, Aridan nudged him away and gave me a look that clearly said, "Will you get this thing away from me?"

I was horrified. How could a mother treat her own puppy that way? Sure, he was smaller than the others. He moved a little differently, slower - and a little twitchy - but he was still her puppy. How could she reject him?

Determined to give the little guy a fighting chance, I set off for the pet store and bought some puppy milk and an eye dropper. When I returned, I tried to feeding him and, while he ate some, he didn't eat enough to make me comfortable. Resolving to make a vet appointment in the morning, I set the puppy among his sleeping brothers and sisters and decided to call it a night.

The next morning, I returned to the puppy pen to find Aridan happily feeding her puppies - all but little number twelve. He was nowhere to be seen. Panicked, my husband and I carefully searched through the blankets, towels, and newspapers we had in the puppy pen. No puppy. Wondering if he somehow got out (not very likely for a puppy who could barely move), we searched the entire room. No puppy.

It was at this point that I, slightly hysterical, called a good friend and dog lover and told her that I'd somehow lost a puppy overnight.

Chuckling, my friend told me that I hadn't, in fact, lost a puppy. That the more likely explanation was, that I had a very sick puppy, a real problem in the animal world, and Aridan had simply 'taken care of' the problem.

I was devastated. Being the anthropomorphic human that I am, I couldn't understand how a mother could eat her own baby - they're so little and helpless. My friend explained to me that that was just the way nature works. That to animals, it is all about survival of the fittest. The weak must be eliminated to make room for the strong to thrive.

Pretty harsh, right?

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, I've been thinking and I've come to the conclusion that publishing is just like my German Shepherd and the puppies are our manuscripts. We fret over our puppies, we breath life into them, do our best to make them strong, and even fall in love with them. But, in the end, none of that matters. The year(s) that you spent writing your novel? Doesn't matter. The passion you bled from your fingertips? Doesn't matter. Maybe the agent didn't connect with your MC's voice. Maybe the publisher already has something on their list that is similar. Whatever the (and believe me, there are a lot) you could wake up one morning, open your email, and discover your puppy has been eaten.

So what can you do? Well, there's only one thing to do. Before sending your puppy off into the world, you have to make sure that it's strong enough to stand on its own. I've often wondered what would have happened if I hadn't put the puppy back in the puppy pen. What if I had a made a separate bed for him away from the others? Would he still be alive? Or did he have an unseen illness? Would he passing have been slower? More painful?

And I've wondered the same thing when I've had manuscripts rejected.  Was there something I could have done differently? Did I send it out too soon? And that's the worst part, the second guessing. It's the second guessing that's toxic - infecting your blood and making you doubt yourself. Because sometimes we just have to let go - to send our puppies out into the world with the understanding that sometimes they will be eaten and sometimes they will thrive.

It's unfair. It's hard. But, just like raising and training dogs, the rewards far outnumber the heartaches. I'll never forget the day I received an email from a police officer telling me how one of my puppies (from the litter that the twelfth puppy was in) saved his life during the riots that took place in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Just like I'll never forget the day my agent called to tell me we had an offer on KATANA. Did that make all of the grief and suffering worth it?



  1. Umm, ew gross ... and I feel like we're soul sisters...

  2. Great post...I'm going to run home and hug my dog now.

  3. My god that was depressing.

    Still, incredible analogy. It's a hard world, get used to it or get over it.

    Oh, and remind me never to fuck with you.

  4. A harsh story. But that's the reality of it. Though I'm a little squicked out, the analogy was good. And second guesses are poison. You can "what if" yourself into an early grave if you aren't careful. It does no good whatsoever.

  5. Big hugs and well done for resurrecting that little guy. For what little time you had together, you were an awesome surrogate mum. *hugs*