PASCO -- The plight of a homeless and pregnant Labrador-mix female and her devoted male terrier companion is a bittersweet story that began Christmas Eve.
Carmen and Joe Rodriguez of Pasco found the lab and terrier in their front yard when they returned home from church.
They didn't have the heart to leave them out in the cold, so they took them in.
The lab gave birth to two of her nine pups in the wee hours Friday, in a closet in the Rodriguez family's home. By noon, the mother had not yet delivered the rest of her brood, and she was worn out from the stress of trying.
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That is when the staff at the Pet Medical Center in Pasco stepped in to help.
Momma, as she is being called, was taken to the clinic and had an emergency Caesarean section to deliver the other seven pups, said Stephanie McKennon, the pet center's manager.
"There were a few complications in the procedure and we lost one baby who was stillborn," McKennon said. "We think that one might have been caught in the birth canal. But the other eight are all healthy."
Dr. Charles Coleman, owner of the clinic, said it was a combination of events that could have caused Momma to have such a difficult delivery, stress being at the top of the list, especially when she was homeless, hungry and pregnant.
"Genetics comes into play too," he said. "But she was just worn out from the long labor."
The Lab's companion never left Momma's side as she gave birth to the first two pups, said Molli Van Dorn, founder of Pet Over Population Prevention.
"He kept nudging a blanket over the babies while Momma rested, then he would rush back to her and lick her face as if reassuring her everything would be fine," Van Dorn said. "It was so precious to see."
When the dogs were taken to the clinic, however, the two had to be separated so Coleman's team could tend to the mother without interference.
"He cried for a while and the mother whimpered when we first separated them," McKennon said. "But he settled down."
The clinic took over foster care of the dogs for POPP and will handle all their medical needs until permanent homes can be found and the babies are at least eight weeks old.
"I'm sure we won't have any trouble adopting the babies out, and we have no intention of separating the mother and the terrier," she added. "Hopefully a home can be found that will take both."
Anyone interested in donating to the clinic's Guardian Angel fund, which helps people with veterinary costs who can't afford it, can call the clinic at 545-4931.
For donations to POPP, go to www.popptricities.org or leave a message at 943-4722.