Authors: Holly Webb
The box seemed to be getting colder and colder. The April night had been frosty, and the puppies had huddled together to keep warm. They weren’t used to being outside at night and there was only the thin cardboard box between them and the concrete steps. They had always slept in their comfortable basket, snuggled up next to their mother. The cold was a
The smallest of the three, the tiny girl puppy, woke up first. She was miserably stiff, the cold aching inside her, and she scrabbled worriedly at the cardboard under her paws. Her two brothers were still asleep, curled up together, but somehow during the night she had rolled away from them. Now she was on her own in the corner of the box, shivering and hungry.
She tried to scratch at the side of the box, wondering if she could get out, and somehow find her way back to her mother.
But even her claws hurt this morning, and she felt weak and sleepy. Too feeble to claw a hole in the side of a box.
She still didn’t understand what had happened. Why had they been taken away from their mother, and their warm basket? Was someone going to come and get them, and take them back to her? When they’d been put into the box, she’d heard her mother barking and whining – she hadn’t wanted them to go any more than they had. The littlest puppy had a horrible feeling that they might not be going back.
Zoe and her aunt were nearly at the
shelter. Zoe could feel herself speeding up. She loved it when they got to be the ones who opened up at Redlands – it was a real treat, and usually only happened if Auntie Jo let her come and help on a Saturday. She knew that all the animals would be excited to see someone after the night on their own. The dogs would be the most obvious about it, jumping about and scrabbling at the wire mesh on the front of their pens, and barking like mad. But even the cats, who usually liked to be more stand-offish, would spring up from their baskets, and come to see who was there. The shelter had a big pen full of guinea pigs at the moment, so there would be mad squeaking from them as well.
Auntie Jo was searching in her bag
for the keys, so it was Zoe who first noticed that there was something strange on the front steps.
“What’s that?” she asked curiously, frowning at what looked like a box in front of the main door to the shelter.
Auntie Jo looked up from the bunch of keys. “What?”
“There. On the steps. Maybe someone’s donated food to the shelter, Auntie Jo!” People did bring in pet food for the animals occasionally, Zoe had seen them. “It’s funny that they didn’t bring it in when there was someone who could say thank you, though.”
“Mmmm…” Auntie Jo was walking faster now, the keys dangling forgotten in her hand.
“What’s the matter?” Zoe asked. She could see that her aunt looked worried.
“People leave us other things too, Zoe,” Auntie Jo sighed. “It might be an abandoned animal in that box. If it is, I suppose that at least they’ve brought it to us, but I hate it when they just leave it like that.”
Zoe felt her eyes filling with tears. The box was just a box, a shabby cardboard one. How could someone stuff a cat or a dog in there, and then just leave it? It was so mean!
They hurried up the steps, and sat down slowly, one on either side of the lid. Auntie Jo took a deep breath. “I never get used to this,” she murmured, as she started to unfold the flaps on the top. “It’s been such a cold night. Look, there’s frost on the top. If there’s something inside, I hope it hasn’t been in there long.”
There was a feeble scrabbling noise from inside the box, and Zoe caught her breath. “There is something inside there!”
Auntie Jo frowned at the box. “Yes. And I’m being silly, Zo. We should take the box inside. We don’t want
whoever’s in here getting scared and leaping out.”
Zoe nodded. “Good idea. Shall I take it?” she asked hopefully. “You unlock the door.”
Carefully, Zoe slipped her hands underneath the box, shivering as she touched the clammy, cold cardboard. Whoever was in it must have spent a miserably cold night. She heaved the box up, and felt something inside it wriggle. There was a worried little squeak, and a yap.
“It’s OK,” she whispered. “We’re just taking you into the shelter. It’ll be nice and warm in there. Well, warmer than out here, anyway.”
Auntie Jo had unlocked the doors now, and she was just turning off the alarm. She held the door open for Zoe, and they hurried into the reception area, putting the box down on one of the chairs.
“I think it’s a dog,” Zoe told her aunt. “I definitely heard a yapping noise. But it can’t be a very big dog, the box hardly weighed anything at all.”
“Let’s see.” Auntie Jo lifted the flaps of the box – it was meant to hold packets of chocolate biscuits, Zoe noticed – and they both peered in.
Staring anxiously up at them were
three tiny brown-and-white puppies.
The littlest puppy flinched back against the side of the box. She was still so tired from being bounced and shaken around, and now the light was flooding in, after hours of being shut in the dark. It hurt her eyes and she whimpered unhappily. Her bigger, stronger brothers recovered more quickly, bouncing up to see what was happening, and where they were.
But the little girl puppy pressed her nose into the corner of the box, hiding away from the light. She was too cold and tired to get up, anyway.
Zoe and her aunt gazed inside, and Zoe pushed her hand into Auntie Jo’s. She’d never seen such little puppies at the shelter, she was sure. They were the smallest pups she’d ever seen anywhere. “Oh my goodness, three of them,” murmured Auntie Jo.
“They’re so tiny,” Zoe whispered. “They can hardly weigh anything at all.”
Auntie Jo nodded. “Mmmm. They’re far too young to be away from their mother, really. They can only be a few weeks old. Well done for keeping quiet, Zo. We don’t want to scare
them. They may not be used to seeing different people.”
The puppies were looking up at Zoe and Auntie Jo uncertainly. One of the boy puppies scrabbled hopefully at the side of the box, clearly wanting to be lifted out.
“Well, he’s not shy,” Auntie Jo laughed quietly.
Very gently, she slipped her hands into the box, and lifted out the puppy.
He wagged his stubby little tail, and licked her fingers. “Yes, you’re a darling, aren’t you?” She turned to Zoe. “They must be starving if they’ve been in this box all night. Now I can see him properly, I don’t think this little boy can be more than four weeks old. He’s probably only just been weaned from his mother. They should be having four or five meals a day, and a bit of their mum’s milk still.”
Zoe giggled. “That’s why he’s trying to eat your fingers…” Then she looked worriedly down into the box. “Auntie Jo, what about the little puppy in the corner? Is she OK? She isn’t moving like the other two.”
Her aunt sighed. “No, she isn’t… We’d better have a look at her. Can you
bring the box along to one of the puppy pens? Then we’ll have somewhere cosy for them to curl up, and we can mix up some puppy milk. Maybe a little bit of Weetabix mixed in it too. We’ll have to see what they think. They may not have had any solid food yet.”
Zoe gently lifted up the box, with two puppies still in it, and followed her aunt through to the main shelter area, where all the pens were. Dogs jumped up excitedly as they came past, barking for their breakfast, and for someone to come and make a fuss of them. Zoe looked down worriedly at the two puppies in the box. The bigger one – she was pretty sure it was another boy – was now standing up, balancing carefully on plump little paws, and listening to the new and exciting noises. He looked up
curiously at Zoe – the only person he could see at the moment.
Maybe he thinks it’s me barking! Zoe thought to herself, smiling down at him.
But her smile faded as she looked over to his litter-mate. The tiny puppy was still curled miserably in the corner of the box. She didn’t seem to want to get up and see what was going on at all.
“We’ll put them in here – nice and close to the kitchen,” Auntie Jo said, opening one of the pen doors, and crooning to the puppy snuggled in the crook of her arm. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got a big tin of that powdered puppy milk replacement left,” Auntie Jo murmured. “And some of the
bottles. I’d better order some more though.”
She sat down on the floor in the pen with the puppy in her arms, and Zoe put the box down next to her, kneeling beside it. “Should we take the others out?” she asked, looking at the boy puppy, who was clawing excitedly at the side of the box now.
Auntie Jo nodded. “Be careful though, Zoe. Don’t scare them. They might not be very big, but puppies can still nip if they’re frightened. Get the bigger puppy out first, then we can let him explore with this one, while we see what’s the matter with the tiny one.”
Zoe reached in and picked up the puppy, who was still standing up against the side of the box. He wriggled and yapped excitedly and when she put him down on her lap, he squirmed around
eagerly, trying to see everything in the pen. Then he nuzzled Zoe’s fingers, and wriggled carefully down the leg of her jeans, making for the floor. He obviously just wanted to go exploring this new place.
The other boy puppy was still snuggled on Auntie Jo’s lap, looking around curiously, but not quite confident enough to go marching around like his brother.
“Try just giving the little one a gentle stroke,” Auntie Jo advised. “Don’t go straight in and pick her up. She isn’t looking at us, and she’d get a shock.”
Zoe reached in and ran one finger down the puppy’s silky back. The brown fur was so soft, but she didn’t feel as warm as her brother. “She’s pretty cold,” Zoe said, glancing round at Auntie Jo. “Even just touching her. And she’s sort of floppy.”
Auntie Jo bit her lip. “She’s suffered more being out all night because she’s smaller. Here, put this on your lap, Zoe.” She lifted a soft fleece blanket out of a padded basket in the corner of the pen. “Then lift her out carefully, and wrap her up. Just loosely. And keep your hands round her to warm her up a bit.”
Zoe nodded, and gently cupped one hand around the puppy. The tiny dog shivered a little as she felt Zoe’s fingers, and turned her head slightly. But she was just too weak to look up. Zoe slipped the other hand underneath her, and lifted her out on to the blanket. She swathed it round the puppy, stroking her gently through the folds.
“OK, little one,” Auntie Jo murmured to the puppy on her lap. “I need to go and get your sister a hot-water bottle. And make up some milk for you guys. Hmm? Want to go and see this nice basket?” She lifted the puppy in, and stroked him for a few seconds until he got used to being somewhere new. Then she got up slowly. The other boy puppy trotted over to the basket too, nosing affectionately at his brother.
“Those two seem fine,” she said, sounding relieved. “And I’m sure they’ll be even perkier once they’ve had something to eat.”
Zoe looked up at her. “What about this one?” Her voice wobbled. “You don’t think she’s going to be all right?”
Auntie Jo sighed. “We don’t know yet. She seems very weak. I’m going
to call Sam at the vet’s and ask if she’ll come over as soon as she can and have a look at them all. Are you OK with them for a minute, while I get a hot water bottle for the little one?”
Zoe nodded, still gently rubbing the puppy through the blanket. She wished she could feel her moving. The puppy felt like a saggy little bean bag, slumped on her lap. Carefully she moved the blanket from round the puppy’s head, peering down at her. Her eyes were closed, and her pink tongue was slightly sticking out of her mouth. It looked dry, Zoe thought worriedly. Auntie Jo had better hurry up with that puppy milk. She hoped they’d be able to persuade the pup to drink it. She didn’t look like she wanted to make the effort to do anything just at the minute.
“Here’s the hot water bottle,” Auntie Jo said, hurrying back. “I’ve wrapped it up so it isn’t too hot.”
“Do we lie her on top of it?” Zoe asked, starting to lift the puppy off her lap.
“No, that would be too hot. I’m going to put it at the side of the basket, then she can snuggle next to it. We’ll just have to keep an eye on her brothers, and make sure they don’t nudge her away.”
“Maybe we ought to put her in a pen on her own,” Zoe said doubtfully. “They’re a lot bigger than she is. They
might push her around.”
“I’d rather keep them together if we can. She’s already lost her mother, and her home. Her brothers are the only security she knows. Also, if we separate her, she might find it difficult to manage being around other dogs when she’s bigger.”
Zoe nodded as she laid the puppy close to the hot water bottle. “We don’t want her to be lonely,” she agreed.
“I’ve started to warm up some puppy milk. I’ll just go and get it, and we can see what they think.” Auntie Jo nipped into the kitchen, and came back with a shallow metal tray of the special puppy milk. “Hopefully they won’t tip this over,” she explained to Zoe, who was looking at the tray in surprise – it
looked like something her mum would make chocolate brownies in.
The two boy puppies had been nosing around the edges of the pen, trying to explore, but as soon as Auntie Jo put the tray down, they galloped over to see what it was – so fast that they got tangled up, and fell over each other. They struggled to their feet,
, and then scurried up to the tray, sniffing at it excitedly. It only took seconds before they were eagerly lapping, burying their tiny muzzles in the milk and splashing it around.