BLACK RIVER, N.S. – Christina Spencer makes no bones about the fact that she’s one of the lucky ones.
“Every day I wake up and can’t imagine doing something else,” said Spencer in an interview July 26.
The Black River resident runs Oops! Puppies, a one-woman rescue organization she founded in 2012 while living in Lawrencetown, Annapolis County. She takes in adult dogs in need of adoption when possible, but primarily focuses on caring for litters of pups requiring a safe haven and eventual rehoming.
Puppies come to Spencer for a variety of reasons. She takes in abandoned and unexpected litters to ensure the pups have the best possible chance at a happy and healthy life. And Oops! Puppies will pay for the “mama dogs,” as Spencer lovingly calls them, to be spayed.
“Mama stays with her family. These families love their dogs most of the time. They’re family members and vet care is just something that they can’t afford, so it becomes something really difficult,” she said, adding that spaying and neutering pets to prevent unwanted litters is an important part of the equation.
“It really starts to make a difference in the communities.”
Spencer works alongside her beloved boxer mix, Spoo, to raise well-adjusted puppies in a nurturing environment. Spoo helps with lessons on manners, boundaries, dog body language, etc.
“Spoo works with every dog that comes in,” she said, noting that Spoo is oops spelled backward.
“She needed to be this super, well-rounded everything dog.”
Together, Spoo and Spencer teach the dogs how to interact and behave. Socialization is a key part of the pre-adoption phase and Spencer frequently takes the litters out in public to get them used to new people and unfamiliar surroundings.
The babies stay together for at least eight weeks to learn things like bite inhibition, pack hierarchy and resource guarding from littermates.
Labour of love
Spencer has built Oops! Puppies around a self-sustaining model that does not rely on volunteers, foster homes or donations. Adoption fees are in place to offset the costs, and Oops! Puppies does not charge surrender fees.
It’s a labour of love demanding 24/7 availability, especially when the puppies in her care require bottle feedings around the clock until the joyous moment when they’ve all transitioned to eating mush on their own.
“Mama dogs do an amazing amount of work,” she said, noting that she’s taken in abandoned pups as young as a day old before.
On average, Spencer estimates that she typically welcomes four to five dogs into her home per month. There was a time, though, that she had 32 – multiple litters of pups and her own two dogs – at once.
As of July 26, she had two pit bull mix litters – one with ten pups and another with five five-week-old females.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said with a laugh.
“It’s hectic, absolutely. It ebbs, and it flows.”
She’s proud to open her small, country home to the puppies and dogs until the day comes that the pooches are ready to be paired with individuals vetted through Spencer’s adoption application process.
“Happy dogs are less stressed and less stressed means less destruction, and less apt to be aggressive,” said Spencer, who has been working with rescued dogs for more than 20 years.
Those magic moments
She accepts applications for litters when the puppies are seven weeks old and arranges matches based on temperament tests done with the adoptable pups and the information provided by applicants.
“I don’t care about their finances. I care that these dogs are going to go into amazing homes that are going to love them forever,” she said.
“They’re not all magical by any stretch… but every once and awhile you get a dog, or a puppy or a person, that just absolutely, without any doubt, needed that exact dog. And then it’s just magical.”
For Spencer, the most heartwarming matches occur when a child who struggles to form connections with other people instantly clicks with one of her dogs.
“Some of those kids just need a best buddy,” she said.
She often hears from the families reaching out to let her know that adopting a dog from Oops! Puppies changed their lives for the better.
“Your dogs are out there and they’re making somebody’s day every day,” she said, smiling from ear to ear.
“It’s definitely my happy place. It’s been six years of ‘This is what I’m meant to do.’”