Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in September ’13
What started with screaming Brownies and an immensely frustrated spaniel has ended with exhaustion and contentment. I am very pleased to announce the safe arrival of Frog’s puppies. She had ten, which is enormous for a first litter and took us somewhat by surprise, particularly as we were only expecting six.
I had made her a den in the corner of the utility room, lined it with newspaper and fashioned a bed from towels and blankets. I was very pleased with my handiwork and called Frog to come and inspect it when I had finished. She waddled after me into the house, regarded her new living quarters impassively and sighed deeply. She allowed me to coax her inside, where she sat on the edge of the bed, looking bored.
The next morning, Lily and I drove into Sturminster to do some shopping. Lily was bursting with excitement about the imminent arrival of the puppies. We ate ice lollies in the park while Lily mused over possible names: Flopsy, Cotton-Tail, Jemima, Tiggy Winkle (time to expand Lily’s library, perhaps), along with Rosie and Apple, her best friends.
When we got home, Lily skipped off to find Frog, returning a minute later to inform me that Frog had ripped up and chewed the new flooring in the downstairs loo. ‘That means the puppies will be here within the next 24 hours,’ I told her. Lily clapped her hands and squealed with excitement. ‘Shush, Lily! It’s very important that we keep calm and quiet around Frog so that we don’t upset her.’
Lily wandered off and came back a few minutes later. ‘Mummy, Frog’s had a baby in the washing basket,’ she whispered urgently.
‘Very funny,’ I said, mindful of her extraordinarily fertile imagination.
‘Come and look!’ Lily hissed.
I smiled and allowed myself to be dragged to the utility room, where I found Frog crammed awkwardly into a plastic basket full of dirty towels; her front legs dangled over the rim and she was panting heavily. ‘And there is her baby,’ said Lily softly. I peered closer, squinting in the gloom. Beneath Frog, something moved. Something pale and slick was pushing against the slatted holes. It couldn’t be? Heart pounding, I crept closer. The thing squirmed and emitted a squeal.
‘OH MY GOD! IT’S A PUPPY!’ I yelled.
‘I told you.’
‘KEEP CALM! DON’T PANIC!’
‘Be quiet, Mummy,’ said Lily reprovingly.
Having extracted the puppy from the basket and rubbed it with a warm towel, I phoned our friend and neighbour Angie, whose knowledge of whelping is unsurpassed. To my relief, she arrived five minutes later, exuding calm and reassurance. Six hours later she had delivered another seven strong, healthy puppies; the score was four black and four yellow. An exhausted Frog, meanwhile, was on a fresh bed, enjoying a bowl of warm chicken and gravy. Calm descended, Angie went home, Lily went to bed, and Jasper and I collapsed on the sofa, exhausted.
An hour or so later, Jasper went to use the loo in the utility room. I was drifting off to sleep when he returned and asked: ‘How many puppies are there?’
‘Eight.’ I replied sleepily.
‘Well, there are ten now.’
The two new arrivals were still damp and Frog was licking them enthusiastically. She stopped momentarily as she looked up at us and thumped her tail proudly. A week later, all the puppies are thriving and Frog has proved an excellent mother.
No one was more pleased to hear the happy news than our friends, Simon and Sandra, whose dog, Henry, is the father. We have long admired Henry as the perfect specimen of a Labrador: tall, dark and handsome, with a deep chest, noble head and intelligent expression. When Frog came into season, we phoned Simon and Sandra to let them know. ‘Bring her over,’ they said, so we bundled Frog into the car and set off.
Henry was lounging majestically on the lawn when we arrived. He lifted his glossy head and looked at us imperiously as we drove in. When Frog jumped out of the car, Henry’s ears pricked and he approached with his customary debonair swagger. After a brief pretence at coyness on Frog’s part, the mating ritual began.
The foreplay was surprisingly rough. So blinded by lust and excitement were the protagonists that they knocked out most of the croquet hoops and smashed a terracotta pot.
Sandra’s cocker spaniel, Bertie, shot over to join the fun, but was swiftly grabbed and held aloft by Sandra, where he hovered, thrusting, repeatedly performing what is known in golfing circles as an ‘air shot’. He was imprisoned in the house, from where he leered through the dining room window, bristling with jealous rage.
‘Now down to business,’ said Simon, as Henry mounted Frog and commenced a rather more productive thrusting. ‘What’s he doing to poor Frog?’ asked Lily in an appalled voice.
‘Frog and Henry are getting married,’ said Sandra, diplomatically. Lily, though, looked unconvinced.
At that moment there was a chatter of little voices and a procession of Brownies filed into view.
Squeals of glee filled the air. ‘Keep moving, children! All eyes ahead!’ cried Brown Owl, turning bright pink as she hastily led them out of sight of the knotted-on dogs.
‘That’s one nature trail they won’t forget,’ Simon said.