If you’d asked me last Thursday morning what the last thing was that I thought would happen after our dog Ziti was spayed, I probably would have said something like, “Well, I certainly won’t be sitting on the couch with Ziti curled up tight next to me in a ball, lactating and displaying all the signs of pregnancy.”

But I’ve been wrong before, and here we are again.

Ziti loves going to the vet. Even through the pain of two heartworm treatments, she shows up on her best behavior, tail wagging and ready to see her medical pals. So Alison and I weren’t too worried about getting her to the clinic. Of course, we had our concerns about the surgery, given that Ziti needed to be anesthetized, but it’s also a procedure that’s done every day, which put our minds more at ease. What we were most anxious about was her recovery. 

The adjectives that come to mind immediately when thinking of Ziti are loving, dorky, and energetic. The dorky and energetic parts concerned us. We didn’t want her tearing stitches or injuring herself further through enthusiasm, clumsiness, or a combination of the two. Alison and I haven’t given much thought to those things since Sunday, though.

Saturday night, Ziti was intensely nesting on our bed and panting. We thought the painkiller hadn’t kicked in and she was trying to manage her soreness. Eventually she settled in and went to sleep. We woke up to a different dog Sunday morning. 

Ziti nesting beside me.

Ziti was downright manic. I couldn’t leave her sight without her crying. She’d make a nest on the couch and then remake it a few minutes later. Panting was incessant. She needed to go out regularly to pee, but then she wouldn’t really go all that much. I was ready to call the emergency vet and bring her in. 

That’s when I noticed it.

Laying next to me on the couch, Ziti curled her head under her belly, and I thought she was going to mess around with her stitches, which she hadn’t done up to that point. As I looked, I saw white fluid, and I immediately worried that she had an infection. A closer look revealed that it wasn’t pus, though. It was, despite all expectations, milk. Or at least a milk-like substance. Ziti was lactating.

A quick Google search confirmed that dogs can sometimes have false pregnancies after being spayed. Typically, about a month and a half or so after a dog goes into heat, the progesterone hormone decreases in her body, while prolactin increases. However, when a dog is spayed, the change in these hormone levels happens so quickly that her body reads the change as being pregnant. A false pregnancy after being spayed can last for up to three weeks.

All this was confirmed by our vet, and we were given a sedative that Ziti can take as needed when she gets ramped up. I’m glad she can get that sort of relief. But this whole thing is sort of breaking my heart.

First, there’s the irony that goes with getting our dog fixed so she won’t get pregnant, and then she “gets pregnant.”

More than that, by all indications over the past few days, Ziti would be an amazing mother. She seeks out her toys to wash, nuzzle, and attempt to nurse. We try to keep them away from her so she won’t have such a drive to lactate, but she really wants to be a mommy right now. She also wants support. She stays right up tight to me. And when Alison comes in the room, Ziti shows visible relief to be around that female energy. Instead of curling up beside Alison like she does with me, she splays out, resting her head on Alison’s legs and looking up at her as if to say, “Motherhood. Am I right?”

Ziti has had puppies before. Sadly, they were conceived and birthed at a puppy mill. Most likely, Ziti did not have anything resembling the comfort and support she has here with us. She grew big with a litter developing inside her, did her best to stay comfortable, and gave birth within the lonely confines of a kennel. I don’t doubt that when her litters were born, she loved them hard and took care of them as best she could. My overthinking mind worries that right now, as she lays beside me, Ziti is relieved that she can be pregnant and have a litter in a safe space where she and her puppies will be loved. 

And … it just won’t happen. 

Because it can’t anymore.

And we’re responsible for that.

In the long run, Ziti being spayed is in her best interest. She’s been through a lot of physical and mental trauma, and birthing another batch of pups would be tough on her. But short term, this situation sucks.

The thing that’s not lost on me (and has been pointed out a couple of times) is when this is happening.

It’s the time of year for stories of an unexpected pregnancy under seemingly impossible circumstances. For tales of finding shelter when it seems there is none left. For narratives built on hope, mystery, and miracles.

Sometimes those things are revealed to us as clear as a cloudless sky in August. Other times, they are obscured in fog, requiring thoughtful searching. And sometimes they show up as a loving, dorky, energetic dog who’s just happy to be here.

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