Special delivery: Philly-bound service dog gives birth to 8 puppies at airport

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Philadelphia-bound golden retriever Eleanor Rigby gives birth to eight puppies in the Tampa Bay International Airport.

It was around 11:45 Friday morning, about 30 minutes before the Philly-bound flight was scheduled to take off from Tampa International Airport.

Diane Vanatter was at Terminal F about to board with her two beloved therapy dogs, Ellie — for Eleanor Rigby — and Nugget. Suddenly, she noticed Ellie, who was pregnant with Nugget’s puppies, acting strange.

“She stood up and hunched her tail and started shaking,” Vanatter said Saturday night from her parents’ home in Bradenton, Fla.

“I saw feet come out — two feet,” she said. “I laid her on the ground and I said, ‘I need help! My puppy is delivering babies.’ ”

An American Airlines employee summoned Tampa Fire Rescue, and paramedics rushed to the scene.

“They were absolutely great,” Vanatter, 48, of Aston, said.

Vanatter crouched on the floor and helped comfort Ellie. “I kept seeing more feet come out,” she said.

Over the next three hours, Ellie delivered eight pups — seven boys and the last one a girl.

“We were worried about her at first, but she seems fine. We had a vet check them all out.”

“All done,” the paramedics tweeted at 3:26 p.m. Friday.

Vanatter said she would have never attempted to fly Ellie back home if she thought she was close to giving birth.

She said she’d had a vet check the light-colored golden retriever two days before the flight. Usually, a dog’s temperature dips and she doesn’t eat or drink as much if she is about to go into labor, Vanatter said.

“None of that happened,” Vanatter said. “It had to have been the stress of going to the airport.”

About five months ago, Vanatter had driven from Philly to Bradenton with Ellie, Nugget, and her daughter Stephanie, 24, to care for Vanatter’s father.

Stephanie returned to Aston on May 8, while Vanatter decided to stay a little longer with Ellie and Nugget.

Ellie is a therapy dog to Stephanie, who suffers from bipolar disorder. She named her Eleanor Rigby because the dog was from Rigby, Idaho, and Stephanie is an avid Beatles fan.

“She’s my emotional support,” Stephanie said Saturday night from her home in Aston. “She can detect when I’m feeling down and not feeling right. She comes to my side and she puts her head on my arm.”

Nugget is Vanatter’s therapy dog. Vanatter says she suffers from chronic pain, a heart condition that causes low blood pressure, and low blood sugar. “When my pain is high, he comes to me and calms me down,” she said.

Vanatter is now back at her dad’s home with Ellie, Nugget, and their eight pups. None has been named yet.

“This is not something I planned,” Vanatter said. “Nature just took its course. I’m so glad everything went well and everyone is happy and healthy.

“These dogs are like my babies. They go everywhere I go.”

Staff writer Oona Goodin-Smith also contributed to this report.