My Way: A Control Freak Raises a Litter of Basenji Puppies

In exchange for the upending of my 16-year moratorium on raising litters in our home, I wanted control of the puppies. My husband had raised previous litters in his basement office, and I knew I could do better and minimize the damage to house and routine.

In my defense, I didn’t realize how calm life had become with only two adult dogs and two adult humans. Hot-turquoise pillows and bright-orange throws accented my brown leather couches; I had a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens, and I followed it; the dogs pottied in the right places. I assumed my dominance would continue.

In the living-room corner, a roll of linoleum on top of plastic sheeting protected the new hardwood floor. The exercise pen, custom-sized and with two doors, was positioned for comfortable puppy viewing. I brought in a storage shelf to keep supplies categorized and within easy reach. A friend remarked that her whelping area had looked that good to start with but ended up shredded. Not here, I thought.

3:00 a.m., six days before the projected due date: I had Chloe in labor, bat-crazy on a leash, pulling me through the house looking for a place to have her puppies. Oops. Turns out neither my husband nor I knew how to count.

I planned for a few nights on the futon next to the whelping box, but I became addicted to the puppies’ squeaks, Chloe’s feeding/licking routine, and the feeling of being indispensable.

I required an intervention after two and a half weeks. “I think it’s safe to come back to the bedroom,” said my husband.

I turned my focus to keeping pee smell at bay. I bought a Glade automatic mister in tropical scent and set it for maximum dispersion. As the volume of pee increased, I added vanilla cookie plug-in oil warmers, and eventually I resurrected the gingerbread-scented wax warmer. The living room smelled like Christmas in Paradise.

My linoleum collection kept pace with the puppies’ expanding territory: two rolls, then three, all duct-taped together. I covered the throw rugs with stick-on carpet protector. Pee pads and cedar pellets beckoned in three high-traffic areas. When I let the puppies out, I sat on the floor like a recess monitor.

I can’t say exactly when I sought the sanctuary of a kitchen counter stool and the obliviousness that distance afforded, but it had something to do with the puppies’ piranha teeth and coincided with the removal of everything bright and nice from the living room.

Chloe backed off, too. Her initial approach to puppy-waste removal was consumption before it exited their bodies, segueing to before/as it hit the floor, and finally to face-offs with me over drying puppy poop: “Are you going to get that?”

The tipping point that triggered my complete abandonment of aesthetics came when the puppies began using the slip-covered couch as an excavation site and pee-pad. I removed the cover and stitched and washed it. I encased the couch with two plastic tablecloths from the dollar store and put the slipcover back on to secure them. The top layer of protection: a pastel-peach bedspread, with blue flowers of unknown species and two barely noticeable bloodstains—a four-dollar thrift-store find. When I sat down, the crumple of the plastic made me smile.

It’s a matter of perspective.

—M.W., Basenji Club of America (August 2013 AKC Gazette)