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Clover helps family raise 11 newborns

Charles Hoffecker bottle-feeds one of a litter of 10 bloodhound puppies at his Clover home Friday. The mother bloodhound died after giving birth, so the puppies are being fed formula. Above, a few of the 2-week-old puppies nap after being fed.
Charles Hoffecker bottle-feeds one of a litter of 10 bloodhound puppies at his Clover home Friday. The mother bloodhound died after giving birth, so the puppies are being fed formula. Above, a few of the 2-week-old puppies nap after being fed.

CLOVER -- With her beloved bloodhound fading, Vicki Hoffecker was desperate.

So desperate that the 59-year-old, a volunteer EMT, began giving her dog mouth-to-mouth treatment, trying to keep her alive.

But on Dec. 9, maybe eight minutes from a veterinarian, Copper Flash died, and Hoffecker became mother to 11 four-day-old puppies.

The litter has been reduced to 10, as one puppy, Angel, recently died.

To comprehend how distraught Hoffecker was over Copper Flash's death means understanding that there are dog people, and there are people who treat dogs like people.

She's in the latter group.

"I went out, and I bought a playpen, and went to a consignment shop, and I bought those little baby blankets," she said. "I had to have so many pinks and so many blues. Nobody gets wrapped in the wrong color blanket."

Playing mother to so many bloodhounds means feeding them formula every few hours, day and night. And Hoffecker already was reeling from the loss of her pet, her joy having turned to grief.

She was surprised when many of her friends and family began stopping by to help, e-mailing words of encouragement and sending sympathy cards with messages such as "pets are angels with fur."

All that love -- over a dog.

"It made us feel good, especially right here at the holidays," Hoffecker said. "It's like people know you're hurting."

"It shows that there's still a lot of compassion left," Hoffecker's husband, Charles, said.

Friends such as Carol Carpenter have been stopping by the Hoffeckers' cabin to help feed the furry collection of black and brown runts still fumbling around with unopened eyes.

"God made them puppies just like he made us," said Carpenter, who owns two golden retrievers and an Australian Shepherd. "And they lost their mama. ... Somebody needs to love 'em and take care of 'em."

Hoffecker's daughter, Sabrina Kovacik, has been stopping by after work to help with the evening shift.

Kovacik said she shares her mother's passion for dogs.

"My dogs have stockings and Christmas presents under the tree," she said.

On Friday afternoon, the family was gathered on the green carpet between the illuminated tree and the puppies' playpen.

Charles, Vicki and Sabrina bottle-fed the pups and tried to keep track of them as they scattered across the floor.

Vicki said she hopes most of the bloodhounds will go to law enforcement. Her son once worked for the York County Sheriff's Office K-9 unit. And other than the puppies, she has a German shepherd, Earl, and another bloodhound, Chase. Both dogs came from law enforcement.

But until they go to other homes, the puppies with names such as Poncho, Big Mac and Charlie will continued to be cared for by folks, who, like Hoffecker, treat them as their own young.

"We're out in the country," Carpenter said. "Country folks are more apt to ... care about animals all the way around."

Carpenter said her services are always available, even for a late-night feeding.

"I'll be there with bells on," she said. "Ain't nothin' sweeter than puppy breath."

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