Nancy Spiller’s “children” aren’t unlike many other people’s kids: the sisters sometimes have disagreements, it’s a chore to get everyone ready for a trip to the store to buy milk, and they can make a real mess of the house.
Nancy’s “children,” however, are quite unique in some very obvious respects: These “kids” weigh about 200 pounds and have four legs and a tail.
Nancy’s family currently consist of 17 Mastiffs, and if that’s not enough puppy love to go around,also “Dottie” “a kind of Dalmatian”. Plus, sleeping upstairs on a recent Tuesday morning, after having about 40ccs of milk replacement formula, was a baby Mastiff that had been delivered by cesarean just ten days before.
“They’re just pets.” Nancy says of the conglomeration, adding, “I feed them, and they feed me. I sell the Mastiffs to live.”
The Blairs Mills RR1 resident [who suspects she’s known locally as “the nut with the dogs”] sells the Mastiffs bred and born at her farm all over the country, advertising litters in Dog World magazine. Puppies fetch $1,800 to $2,500 apiece and are products of the best dogs in the country, winner of Best of Breed at the famous Westminster show, Nancy says.
Spillers’ puppies are delivered by C-section at Companion Animal vet services in Shippensburg, which Nancy praises highly for it’s staff’s professionalism and knowledge of Mastiffs.
Ninety-nine percent of Mastiffs are delivered surgically, because the big dogs “aren’t very good at labor.” “All they do is pant,” Nancy explains.
Once the puppies are born, Nancy takes over, with bottle feedings every two hours. The approximately 11/2 pound newborns gain about six ounces a day, consuming about 40 ccs of formula [made with boiled or bottled water] every two hours around the clock. Mother dogs generally have inadequate or poor quality milk supplies, Nancy explains.
To supplement the puppies’ diet, Nancy adds some infant rice cereal to the formula, which also satisfies the puppies better than a strictly liquid diet, a technique many mothers of human infants have utilized.
Large litters mean no sleep for the surrogate mother, who’s been known to lose track of time when she’s busy with babies to the extent that she’s had to call a friend to ask what day of the week it is.
All the attention lavished on the puppies, of course, creates a mutually affectionate bond between Nancy and her canine companions, and parting with them after eight or nine weeks is never easy.
“I cry, every one,” she admits. “I never get used to it. I’d like to keep them all if I could.”
Of course, at Spiller’s home, there’s always someone ready and willing to shower her with love and attention at such times, helping her to recover from the loss. And there isn’t much time to sit around and grieve. Every day, there is breakfast to get – about 40 pounds of dry dog food, along with some venison, calves liver, or chicken, or maybe some eggs, yogurt or cottage cheese on occasion.
The younger and pregnant dogs eat three times a day, as much as they want, while those that are older or neutered chow down just twice. And, Nancy admits, there are a lot of treats between meals for the “spoiled” companions that follow her everywhere.
Nancy describes the immense animals as even-tempered. “They’re couch potatoes at heart,” she smiles. “They go from being puppies to being unconscious in about a year and a half.”
Sometimes, of course, there are minor disagreements among the animals, particularly between sisters. “My boys are pretty good, though,” she adds.
Ironically, Mastiffs were bred for over 2,000 years in England as watch dogs and are still known as excellent guard dogs. History portrays the massive animals as warriors that were once pitted against the Roman legions and matched against bears, bulls, lions, tigers, and even gladiators.
The animals roaming Audley Farm near Blairs Mills show no signs of their ancestors’ aggressiveness, though, Actually, the big dogs seem to relish the chance to playfully nudge a visitor, enticing him or her into a game of bat-the-milk-jug or tug of war.
Although Nancy admits that going out to the store with her companions in tow is usually an ordeal, she always takes two or three of her dogs along, and provides a mounting block for them to use in getting onto the back of her truck in order to avoid injuring their backs and legs.
The idea for going away for more than a day is out of the question for Nancy, since finding someone to care for her brood [which also includes a variety of farm animals and 16 cats] is an improbability.
Besides, she’s not really interested in getting away. She’s just as happy to spend her days with her house full of four legged companions, enjoying their varying personalities and nonstop entertainment they provide.
“I think everybody should have at least ten dogs,” she says, convincingly, “They love you no matter what.”