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Pups seek loving home

Owner: helen o'brien and her daughter grace, aged 12

Pet: sally, a cross-bred female whippet

Background: sally, a stray dog, brought nine puppies into the o'brien household

Back in July, Helen found Sally wandering around a supermarket car park. It was obvious that she'd been abandoned: she wasn't wearing a collar or tag and several hours after she had first been spotted, she was still hanging around. She was so thin that her ribs were showing, and when offered food, she ate ravenously.

At first, Helen thought that this friendly dog might have accidentally strayed from her own home. She had Sally scanned for a microchip: if this had been present, she could have been reunited immediately with her owner. But there was no microchip.



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Next, Helen visited all the shops in the local area, asking if anyone knew anything about the dog. She also went to all the local vet clinics, leaving a description, so that if anyone came looking for her, they'd know where to find her. There was no response to any of her enquiries: the dog was definitely a stray. Helen decided to keep her until she made a full recovery and named her Sally.

Helen already had a small menagerie of animals and Sally got on well with them from the start. Her friendly, sociable two-year-old male Labrador, Alfie, took to Sally as if she was a long lost friend and the two cats didn't seem to be fazed at all by another dog.

For her part, Sally remained calm and quiet, not causing any bother.

A couple of weeks after Sally had arrived, Helen returned home to find that Alfie and Sally were getting on better than ever. To be blunt, she caught them in the act of mating.

Alfie had not yet been neutered, and Helen hadn't noticed that Sally was in season. From that moment on, she kept the two animals apart until Sally's season was completely finished. She thought that she might be lucky: it was only one mating after all, and perhaps pregnancy would not follow.

Unfortunately, dogs are fertile creatures: around 80pc of matings result in pregnancy. It is possible to give a "morning after" injection to prevent a pregnancy, but if this isn't done, in eight out of 10 cases, pregnancy follows.



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It was no surprise when Sally's abdomen began to swell up and then, exactly nine weeks after the day of the mating, she gave birth to nine puppies. The pups have thrived. They've had the best possible start in life: both parent dogs are good-natured, calm individuals, and the pups have been well socialised from the start. They were reared in the kitchen of a family home, with children coming and going, and they've met other dogs, cats and even horses.

It's very likely that they'll grow up to be relaxed, well-behaved dogs.

They're eight weeks old now, which makes them just the right age to go to new homes, but Helen has a problem. She wants them to go to the right sort of homes, where they'll be cherished. She doesn't want them to have any risk of being abused or abandoned, like their mother.

But it's coming up to Christmas, and many people have an understandable reluctance to take on dogs at this time of year. After all, as the Dogs Trust message goes, "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas".

Helen has found homes for three of the pups by word of mouth, but she has a daunting challenge ahead, with six new homes still needed.


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