By Lynne Hendricks
ROWLEY — Indya Shaheen has 16 extra mouths to feed this week, after her 2-year-old golden retriever Retro, a.k.a. Fertile Myrtle, delivered a near record-breaking litter of puppies Monday morning.
Retro's doing most of the work feeding the pups, but with the extra pitter-patter of 64 tiny feet in her Rowley home, Shaheen is working overtime to help the first-time mother cope and care for her adorable brood.
"I think she feels better now that they're born," said Shaheen of the proud, purebred mother. "I think she was a little confused at first. She went to sleep, then woke up and had 16 kids."
The current world record for most pups born in a litter is 24, born to a Neapolitan mastiff from Great Britain in 2005, but only 20 of the Mastiff pups survived, which broke an existing record of 17 for most surviving pups in a litter. But Retro's 16-strong brood is nothing to sneeze at, since all are healthy so far, and equal twice the average size of a typical golden retriever litter.
"I've been breeding dogs since I was 9 years old," Shaheen said. "And it's the biggest litter I've ever heard of. I know it was the biggest litter ever born at (Slade Veterinary Hospital)."
Prior to Monday, the largest litter born at the Framingham clinic, which works with breeders in reproductive medicine, was a litter of 14 Labrador retrievers, but Retro's superior fertility shattered that record by two.
"Everybody likes to think it's the boy dog, but (the female) pretty much determines the number of babies, by the number of eggs she releases," said Slade Reproductive Technician Mary DeToma. "She definitely is a Fertile Myrtle."
It took DeToma and six others to deliver the pups in little over an hour and a half, and even though all were expecting a big family after glimpsing the pups on the big screen X-ray, 16 was still a shock.
"About two weeks ago, (Retro) really started getting huge," said Shaheen, who brought the dog into the clinic on Friday to make sure things were progressing normally. The babies weren't scheduled for c-section until Halloween, but technicians knew from the X-ray pictures something needed to be done sooner.
"They put the X-ray picture up, and it was all puppies," Shaheen said.
"We stopped counting at 12," doctors told her. "She's full of puppies."
Now those puppies — 10 males and 6 females — are home resting with Mom, and with the exception of one female runt weighing in at 8 ounces, all came in at unexpectedly healthy weights of approximately 14 ounces. Even the little one is unusually spry, Shaheen said.
"She gets right in there and nurses, and she'll nurse for hours," Shaheen said.
Good thing Retro doesn't realize how many puppies she's tending, Shaheen said. Leaving the 4-foot-by-4-foot blanketed puppy den only to relieve herself outside, the mother dog nuzzles and cleans each one in succession 24 hours a day, getting help from Shaheen to ensure each pup gets what it needs.
Shaheen separates them into two groups of eight, allowing Mom to nurse half while Shaheen feeds the other eight with formula via miniature bottle.
"She only has 10 nipples," Shaheen said. "When she takes eight, I take the other eight and feed them."
And the father? According to his owner, Charlene Devens of Millis, Dalton is none the worse for wear — already sidling up to a new female conquest and completely unaware his American-Canadian Championship genes are so productive.
DeToma said the owner of the champion sire is a patient of the clinic, and though he's fathered other litters, none have neared this one in abundance. It takes two to tango, and in this case what Dalton needed was the right partner to make the most of his virility, DeToma said.
"Obviously this is a very fertile line," laughed DeToma.
Three of the pups are already under adoption agreement, and all will fetch about $1,300 apiece when they're ready to leave home in 7-8 weeks. Until then, Shaheen, a dog groomer for Petco of Woburn, is taking time off to devote all her time to raising the kids.
"I had to stay up most of the night with them," said Shaheen of the pups' first night home. "They have to eat every three hours. I took this week off, but I don't know what I'm going to do next week. I'm going to take each day at a time."
It's thankfully not Shaheen's first experience breeding puppies, and she gets high marks from the techs at Slade Veterinary Clinic.
"(Retro's) going to be a great mom," DeToma said. "And Indya's doing a wonderful job."