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Layal Bouaoun
Bernese Mountain Dogs used to haul milk carts to market, but due to her motherly instinct, Florin became the milk cart for her seven nieces and nephews.

She’s a Grand Champion in the show ring, but Florin’s more impressive title is Super Mom.

The gregarious 4-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, owned by Layal Bouaoun, of St. Louis County, Missouri, is equally comfortable on the streets of Manhattan, as she demonstrated recently while competing in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, or on her owner’s 4½-acre wooded/pasture land home.

But it’s Florin’s maternal instincts that make this story different. Yes, she’s an award-winning conformation competitor, but her wow factor is showcased in the whelping box.

Florin was the gentle one in her litter of five, but at about age one, she began exhibiting maternal behaviors with small animals, recalls Bouaoun. “Even with the ducklings and a baby rabbit, she never showed any predatory behavior. Instead, she would get very excited to see them every day. She would put her head in their pens, flip the ducklings or bunny over like a newborn puppy. She would clean their bottoms and would become very concerned if one of the ducklings ran off from the others. At that point, she would use her head to guide the runaway back to the others.

“She would look at these little animals with a gentle, nurturing look, and would become highly upset if she could not see them first thing every morning.”

And it wasn’t long before that same passion segued into the canine corridor with her own singleton offspring and soon, nine others – from three other breedings, including two other breeds.

Gotta, the Belgian Sheepdog; Brida, the Bernese Mountain Dog; and Chance, the Alaskan Malamute as puppies.

A Step-In Mother

Florin’s first litter was a lone female named Brida born June 26, 2018. She had not been exposed to other litters previously, so her maternal aptitudes were simply that. True to her previous behaviors, Bouaoun explains, with the ducklings and bunny, she looked after her newborn constantly, obsessively grooming and loving her.

The following day, a close friend in the St. Louis area had a Belgian Sheepdog give birth to a single puppy, too. He was born by emergency C section four days early and the mother had no milk nor showed any interest in the puppy. The breeder call Bouaoun desperate for help. “I had never raised a premature puppy and neither had she. She asked how Florin was doing and if there was any way she had enough milk for this puppy. I told her Florin had plenty of milk and to bring the puppy over and we would see how she handled the situation. She brought him over and carefully introduced him to Florin, who was in her whelping box. It took less than five minutes for Florin to decide that nobody else could touch that puppy. He was hers!” The puppy was about half the size of Brida but snuggled in right alongside the tiny Berner and made himself right at home.

Bouaoun and the Belgian Sheepdog owner joked that maybe in a few days Florin would get a third puppy. Well, you know the old adage: You better be careful about what you wish for!

On the same day the Belgian Sheepdog moved in, a veterinary friend delivered a litter of three Alaskan Malamute puppies for a breeder nearby. Only one survived. But this mirrored the Belgian Sheepdog scenario where the mother had no milk. The breeder attempted to bottle-feed the puppy but with limited success. She reached out to Bouaoun, who, of course, said bring him over. Two days later – which was about week from Brida’s birth – the Malamute was introduced to Florin without any issues.

“It took her less time to attach herself to the third baby,” Bouaoun adds. “He went straight to work nursing. I joked, ‘I wonder what’s next?’ ”

Well, guess what?

Four week old Brida (right) takes a moment to pose for the camera, while her “brothers” Gotta (Belgian Sheepdog) and Chance (Alaskan Malamute) practice becoming show dogs. Photo Courtesy of Layal Bouaoun

Welcoming Seven More Puppies

Bouaoun had leased a female bitch, Mia, from a local friend and bred her to one of her stud dogs – Florin’s full brother. The female gave birth to a litter of seven just two weeks after Brida was born.

Mia never developed milk, either, no matter Bouaoun’s efforts to provide her with supplements and medications to encourage it. Nor did she have an interest in caring for her litter.

“Florin was going crazy every time the puppies in Mia’s whelping box would cry,” recalls Bouaoun, “as they were in the same room as her three puppies. She would run to me and then run over to them and stare at me like something is wrong, can’t you do something for them?”

After six days, Bouaoun gave in and called Mia’s owner and told her to come get Mia and that Florin was assuming control of the litter. Once Mia departed, Florin was given full access to the whelping box and seven Bernese puppies, who were her nieces and nephews. She went straight to cleaning them and laid down so they could nurse until content. And that was the routine for the next two weeks.

During that span, Florin segued from one whelping box to the other tending to “her” 10 offspring. “Once the seven puppies were asleep she would check on the “older” three youngsters. If all was well in there, she gave the younger litter one last glance, then immediately took a well-earned nap. She was on double duty round the clock, and I did everything I could to help her maintain her strength. She was eating nonstop to produce enough milk for the 10 puppies,” Bouaoun adds.

After a month, the older trio was introduced to solids and progressing nicely. At that point and to lighten the load on Florin, Bouaoun asked the breeders of the Belgian Sheepdog and Alaskan Malamute to come to get their puppies.

Fast forward: All three of the “Motley Crew” litter – Brida; Gotta, the Belgian Sheepdog; and Chance, the Alaskan Malamute, have moved on to the show ring.

Reunited & It Feels So Good! Brida and her “brothers” catch up after showing at Purina Farms Event Center. Photo Courtesy of Jason Mewes

Super Mom In and Out of the Ring

Bouaoun concludes, “In the ring, everyone competes to the best of his/her ability, but when push comes to shove, the dog-show community is always there to help out their own. The three of us still joke that this was the best possible outcome to the worst possible situation. Florin was the real heroine through this. I don’t know how many other female dogs would do this. Raising puppies is a very hormonal time for females and some may not be willing to bring in any unknown puppies.”

As you would assume, Florin – named after the fictitious country in the movie, “The Princess Bride,” one of Bouaoun’s favorite films – is an unflappable character. In Manhattan for Westminster recently, she loved the attention from the show crowd and those on the streets. “She is always up for a cuddle from a stranger,” Bouaoun smiles, “having them take selfies with her, or even giving kisses to someone she thinks needs one. She will typically wrap a front paw around someone, pull him or her in and give them a lick.”

With all of these built-in instincts and sociable nature, therapy-dog work would seemingly be a natural fit in Super Mom’s future. “I would love to get her certification for that this year,” concludes Bouaoun. “She has done several Meet the Breed events and refuses to let anyone walk by without getting to know her. She adores working the crowd and will loan herself to anyone who needs a hug.” Which makes her the perfect fit for hospitals, nursing homes, and shelters.
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