61: Doggy-Nanny

61: Doggy-Nanny

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?


Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.

~Oprah Winfrey

When my family and I realized that our Golden Labrador, Gypsy, was going to have puppies, we were excited. After all, these would be the first puppies born on our property in well over ten years. But at the same time, a voice in my head said, “Brace yourself.”

As cute as puppies are, they are a lot of work, and the circumstances were far from ideal. To begin with, Gypsy was around ten years old when a certain white German Shepherd came to visit, and she never had been known as the “sharpest tool in the shed.” My parents knew from experience that Labradors had large litters of puppies. And given Gypsy’s age and the risk of the birthing process, we had no doubt we would be doing more than our fair share of raising the little darlings until they were old enough to place in good homes. We needed help, but where is a nanny when you need one? Enter the doggy-nanny!

Her name was actually Freebie. She was a German Shepherd that a veterinarian had given us when our beloved Collie had passed away, hence the name. I have to admit that when our parents told us that they were acquiring a German Shepherd, I was more than a little timid. Until then the only German Shepherds I had heard of were military dogs like Rin Tin Tin or K-9s working for the police department. Freebie would make a good guard dog, the general of the yard, but would she act like a pet too?

However, Freebie turned my world around. The same dog who ripped the back pocket off an intruder’s jeans was the one who came to lick my face when I fell down rollerblading in the driveway. She dealt death by whiplash to every snake that slithered into our yard and still made time to play with every pear that fell from the tree. And when it came time for Gypsy to give birth, Freebie was more ready than the humans. In fact, she was the one that let us know the puppies had arrived.

When I got up one morning, Mom said, “Melissa, don’t go outside.”


“Gypsy had her puppies last night, and Freebie brought me one of the ones that didn’t make it. Melissa, she was so gentle. She carried the puppy to me in her mouth and laid it at my feet. There isn’t one tooth mark on its body.”

“Oh my gosh!”

“I know. She then led me to two more of them lying in the yard. Let me check on Gypsy first and make sure there are no more dead puppies outside, and then you can come see them.”

Dogs will naturally separate the live puppies from the dead ones, and in large litters, these deaths are quite common. But that a dog who is not the mother would be shaken by these deaths was something we did not expect. And after she had shown Mom where each dead puppy was, Freebie set to work with the seven survivors.

For us humans, puppy duty consisted of building a good pen to protect the mother and her little ones. Freebie may not have helped with that part of the work, but she made sure that pen was an extension of her yard. The puppies were not intruders; they were her nieces and nephews, and she was going to make sure that no snakes, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, or restless neighborhood boys would give them trouble. When they whined, she was at their sides. When they scrambled over the walls of the pen, she picked them up gently by the scruff of their necks and plopped them back inside. If one made a jail break, she was hot on its trail. And when my dad let them outside the pen to play, she made sure none slipped into the street. Except for the runt, which my sister had to feed with a bottle, there was hardly any work left for us to do.

However, the best part was mealtime, even with the poor little runt! Freebie had been neglected before the veterinarian had found her, so she really loved food. When Dad went to the food container, the guard dog turned into a little puppy herself and started yipping. Mom and Dad said she was singing for her supper. Well, when it was time for her meal, Freebie figured that the puppies needed to learn to sing too. She not only started the chorus, but she went from puppy to puppy to make sure they did their part before she went to her own bowl. I have no doubt the neighbors could have set their watches by Freebie and Gypsy’s little band.

It did not take long before the puppies were grown, and all but two found homes, but still every night when Dad came outside, Freebie ran to Gypsy, then to each puppy, and finally to her bowl. Freebie also taught them how to defend their yard and even how to play what I like to call “shake a snake.” But one day, we learned that Freebie had come down with congestive heart failure, and in a few weeks, she quietly passed away. That was the first time in seven years that mealtime was silent, and those puppies never sang for their supper again as long as they lived.

In the Cajun culture in which I was raised, a “nanny” is not an au pair. It is the name we call our godmothers, because they are deeply involved in our lives. That is precisely what Freebie was to those puppies and to our house. Personally, if I am ever blessed with a German Shepherd of my own, I hope it too keeps away the bad snakes but still finds time to lick away my tears and sing for its supper!

~Melissa Abraham

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