Our much-loved Border Terrier, Martha, gave birth to a litter of 5 puppies on the night of Boxing Day which made for an interesting festive break. Martha eschewed the ‘whelping box’ which I had lovingly-crafted out of Yapp Brothers’ wine cartons and gaffer tape favouring our 9 year-old son William’s bed as the destination to bring her progeny into this world – he won’t forget that in a hurry. Fortunately all went smoothly and the puppies arrived safe and sound, although they were tiny and looked more like sleepy moles than the cute, fluffy creatures you see on greetings cards. I find it fascinating that a 3 year-old dog that hasn’t lived with other dogs since it was 8 weeks old can instinctively know how to deal with placentas and umbilical cords (never mind post natal care) but happily Martha did. I must confess that I slept through the nitty gritty of the actual ‘whelping’ leaving that to the rest of the family but my sister Rowan (who was visiting) and I did take over weighing and monitoring duties the following morning.

In truth, we were all rather apprehensive. On the advice of our vet we were using the (wonderfully titled) ‘The Book of the Bitch’ as our birthing manual. This much-respected text is not optimistic. It is a doom-laden catalogue of disasters, defects and diseases that might (and we, of course, feared would) affect your dog and its offspring. We were agog with the prospect of breached births, caesareans, fading-puppy syndrome, cleft palates, prolapses and infections. According to TBOTB ‘it is rare for a full litter to survive’ and the first 36 hours of a puppy’s life are ‘critical’. Apparently the 3 most common causes of death to a newborn puppy are (in no particular order) being dropped, being squashed and being malnourished. The last 9 days have not been relaxing but we have been determined to keep ‘Five Alive’ and I am glad to report that the puppies have all been putting on weight and are doing well.

Of course, the star of the show has been Martha, who after initially passing the puppies around the family (for approval?) did take up residence in the whelping box and has been a caring and dutiful mother. An initial loss of form did necessitate a visit to the vet’s en famille where a mild course of antibiotics was prescribed but Martha has now regained her appetite and is confident enough to leave the puppies for a while and chase after a tennis ball as oft times before.

I nearly forgot to mention that we celebrated the new arrivals not with fizz but with a bottle of Richard Maby’s red Lirac, which (I hope you will allow) is a Border Terrier sort of wine – robust, unpretentious, earthy and utterly dependable.