Chapter 81 — Old Dogs and Special People

Millie was a nice dog, polite, grateful for a walk and a scratch behind the ears. But she seemed likely to become a long-term resident at the Humane Society.
Millie was old. Everyone wants a puppy, sweet, cute, energetic and adorable, ready to wiggle and bounce his way into your heart.
Old dogs, like old people, are less likely to be cute and energetic. They don’t handle change as well as they did when they were younger. And they tend to have more medical needs. Go calculate the ratio of gray hair and wrinkles to brown hair and smooth skin at your local doctor’s office. It’s probably close to 20:1.
Millie wasn’t cute any longer. She was a bit oddly shaped, maybe a little more pear-shaped and a little less elongated than she would have been as a younger dog. But she had a sweet disposition.  I got to know her as we walked the Humane Society grounds on my weekly dog exercise time.
One sun-filled Monday, I walked into the Humane Society building, looking forward to seeing Millie again. We could go together at what has become a reasonable pace for a 70-plus-year-old human and a dog of roughly equivalent years.
We could walk up hills instead of running as the younger dogs like to do. We could sit in the sunshine and Millie could contemplate the scents of outdoors, which are always more interesting than what you get in the kennel.
I grabbed a leash and strolled down the row of kennels, setting off the usual four-alarm barkathon. Dogs leaped against the cage doors or pawed the chain-link cages.
It’s a no-win situation. I don’t have the upper body strength to handle a dog so energetic that he charges out of the kennel before I can snap the leash clasp on his collar—and sometimes goes after another dog pressed against her cage door. I don’t want to create an out-of-control situation, so I leave them in the cages. Sadly.
These dogs desperately need walks, but they cannot reason out the problem. They don’t know I would love to take them for a walk in the sunshine, out in the world where dogs should be, if only they could stand still long enough to be connected to a leash. They don’t even need to reason it out, if only the Humane Society had the resources to pay a professional to work with some of them on good behavior. They are not bad dogs. They just need to learn how to live with people.
But Millie, I could walk. Except that Millie wasn’t there that day.  She had been adopted.
It takes a special person to care for and love an older dog, to give her medication as needed (and pay the veterinarian’s bills), boost her hindquarters when she can no longer make it up the stairs, put down an egg-crate foam or a soft bed when arthritis stiffens aging joints.
Millie’s new parents could be jerks who neglect and abuse her.  We don’t know.  But I choose to believe they are not. I choose to believe they will do what it takes to make her last years happy.

A dog can’t ask for much more than that.

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Chapter 80 When You Really Need A Good Coat

What can you do when winter comes and you’ve got a great natural fur coat, water-resistant and multilayered? You can park your butt in the snow and just sit there waiting for a rabbit to hop by, that’s what. And you won’t be shivering.dogs in snow 2015-02-22 003
Naked apes shiver when we are cold. Dogs usually don’t. If your dog is shivering, experts say it could be from illness, pain, excitement, but usually not because she’s cold.
Okay, Boston’s got it all over us, but outdoor temperatures have dipped into single digits around here lately. The human would happily stay indoors until the snow melts and spring comes over the windowsill, but indoors 24/7 is not an option for canines. So we traipse out, with Greta, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever—coat made for Canadian waters and winters–and Rusty, the Cocker spaniel with a nice soft, curly coat not made for serious winters. Rusty’s coat is augmented by a dapper plaid jacket when the thermometer drops below freezing.
Rusty is not a snow dog. His legs are just barely long enough to reach the ground in non-winter weather. Add eight inches of snow, and he gets trapped. He sinks into the snow and flounders, trying to get through to dry ground.
So, what can a little dog do when winter comes? He can stretch out on the egg crate dogs in snow 2015-02-24 001foam covered by the old mattress pad and sleep. He is warm and dry, and he can dream that when the grass is green once more, there will be rabbits and squirrels to chase. Life is good now, but it will be better then.
The dogs can romp in snow, but ice is not so good. A recent storm brought freezing rain that coated everything—snow, bare patches of ground, driveways, people who were standing out in the weather—with ice.
Greta used the aftermath of the ice storm to demonstrate that dogs do not understand cause and effect. The cause part came when she charged across the back yard after a lone and foolish squirrel, slipped on the ice and twisted her hips.
It hurt. Greta has arthritis in her hips. She limped back across the yard, came indoors and lowered herself onto the egg crate foam. She indicated that she had no plans to move. Painkillers are a tough choice for Greta: pain relief and an upset stomach or pain, but no upset stomach. We went with Option A.
By the next day, Greta was feeling better. She had a bit of jauntiness in her step as we ventured out. Before her human could stop her, she stepped onto a patch of ice.
You know the rest of the story. She doesn’t have any visible injuries, but she stands up like an 85-year-old trying to push himself out of a deep, soft recliner. And she’s back on the painkillers. The only difference this time is that she has a companion on the other egg crate foam. Rusty slipped on the icy driveway and went down with all four paws going in different directions. Luckily for him, painkillers do not affect his appetite.
The naked ape got off easy. Just a scrape on one knee and a kneecap that is an interesting shade of blue/black.
Come on, spring.

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Chapter 79 Letter to Rusty’s Mom

Rusty’s Mom, this is for you.
I recently found your note among his papers. It said, “Dog’s name is Rusty. My son left him w/me and I can’t keep him – I have tried to find a home but have not been able to. Pls try, he is a good dog – Thank you.”
The story, from what the folks at the Humane Society shelter knew, was that Rusty—he of the heart-melting big brown eyes and the ears that trail the ground when he walks and the cruelly docked tail that he still tries to wag—Rusty lived with his former owner for nine years. The owner moved away and did not take the dog with him.
“How could he?” people asked when they heard the story.
How, indeed? How do you just walk away from a dog with whom you have shared your home for nearly a decade? How do you walk away from the little fellow who greeted you happily every day when you came home from work, nuzzled your hand and made you feel better on the toughest days?
Your son is still on my list as a possible candidate for jerkhood. But Mom, your note says “kind and caring heart.”
Rusty has shared my home for 14 months. He lives with me and his big sister, Greta, a mostly Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
It’s been a tough year for the guy. He needed dental work when I adopted him, as you probably knew. But the $400 worth of dental work was only the beginning.

Rusty has kidney disease. He takes azodyl at $65 for a 30-day supply, and will need special low-protein dog food at $42 a bag for the rest of his life. He had surgery to remove a bladder stone: $1,495.
Rusty has had chronic tracheotic bronchitis for months. None of the medications has helped his persistent cough, and the cough never succeeds in clearing the mucus from his lungs. He had an echocardiogram to see if his heart might be involved in the bronchitis: $600. The good news: his heart is in pretty good shape, for an older gentleman. Next week, we are scheduled to see a specialist about other options for the bronchitis, because the course of prednisone–the most recent attempt to knock out the bronchitis–only left him so hungry he snarfed up rabbit droppings in the back yard. It did nothing for the cough.
Bottom line: Rusty’s medical bills, including shots and special diet and hydrotherapy for his arthritis, topped $5,000 last year. He doesn’t have health insurance, and couldn’t get it now because of pre-existing conditions. Rusty’s copay is 100 percent.
I don’t mean to whine about the bills, Mom. I’m very lucky to be able to pay for what he and Greta need for their care. I want you to know that I have done all that veterinary science seems to have available to get my guy feeling better. He’s a good fellow, and he sucks all the marrow he can get from the bone of life.IMG_0208
Rusty wakes up every morning just knowing that today is the day he’ll get that rabbit that hangs in the back yard. He doesn’t swim when we go to the park, but he wades chest-deep in the water while Greta swims out to fetch her squeaky toy. He has learned to play the treat game, where the dog has to identify which plastic cup covers the hidden treat.
Mom, I have no way to track you down, but I just want you to know that I’ve given Rusty the best home I can. Barring some unforeseeable accident or illness that would make it impossible for me to take care of them, he and Greta have a home for life.
So if you’re ever on the Internet, and you Google® Rusty, I hope you find this and know that we are doing okay. You were right, Mom. He is a good dog. And I love him.

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Ch. 78 Dog On Diet


Rusty is on his second diet. The first one didn’t work out exactly as his human planned. He gained a couple of pounds on it.
Not that Rusty was ever on board with any proposal to slim down. He was perfectly happy being the William Howard Taft of  cocker spaniels. If we had to move an extra-large tub into the bathroom, as they did in the White House so President Taft could take a bath, Rusty was not embarrassed. He never wanted a bath, anyway.
If people called him pudgy, Rusty let that roll off his broad little back. He had a human of his own and a home of his own. He had a comfortable rug where he could nap, morning and evening exercise walks, chase-able rabbits in the back yard and regular meals. Rusty’s plan for his retirement years was to stay right there and suck as much marrow as he could from the bone of life.

Rusty pix 2014-01-24 001
Until the veterinarian said, “Losing weight will really help him with his breathing.”
Rusty has chronic tracheobronchitis, inflammation of the airways. He coughs when he gets to his feet after lying down, to try to clear the mucus from his lungs. He coughs when he starts walking from a sitting position, coughs when he trots. He has been on a bronchodilator, theophylline,  But it hasn’t helped much in the three or four weeks he has been taking it.
Rusty is willing to take the pills indefinitely, as long as they come wrapped in peanut butter. Would we all be happier in life if our pills came wrapped in peanut butter?
Rusty was overweight when we met one year ago at the Humane Society animal shelter  The chubby little fellow  stood near the kennel door and looked up at everyone who came by, big sad brown eyes asking, “Are you the one?”
But he was an old fellow, 12 in dog years, 64 in human years. A number of people passed him by for younger dogs. Perhaps Rusty was meant for someone who knows about being old. I know more than I care to about aging.
Rusty would lose some of that extra poundage once he got regular exercise, the Humane Society staff predicted. At first, he did. We went on twice-daily walks and his weight began to drop. He went to the groomer and looked even slimmer with his curls trimmed. My man was lookin’ good.
Things changed when Rusty was diagnosed with kidney disease. He had to go off his regular dog food and on a special kidney disease food. Slowly, his weight crept up.
I tried giving him less food. Rusty was scouring the kitchen for crumbs and snarfing up rabbit droppings in the back yard. Ugh. He was not losing weight, but the disgustingness level of his snacks was soaring.
“I don’t understand this. I am not overfeeding this dog,” I kept saying at regular weigh-ins.
I’m reasonably certain the veterinarians did not believe me, until a few weeks ago when one said, “Well, that kidney disease diet is high in fat.”
Oh. No, I hadn’t known that. No wonder my guy was ballooning outward. So now Rusty’s dinners consist of one-half kidney disease diet food, one-half low-calorie nuggets. He was okay with the dog food switch, but unhappy with the limited quantity. It’s like being accustomed to ordering the 12-oz. steak and dropping back to the 8-oz. You want to get your stomach to stop overhanging your belt, but that 8-oz. steak, even though it is half a pound of meat, looks really small on the plate. And you’re still hungry when you finish it.
“Try adding green beans,” said one veterinarian. “They will help him feel full.”
They might have, except that all the green beans—frozen, cooked, whole, chopped—were carried carefully from Rusty’s dish in the kitchen to the dining room rug. And left there. Trying to vacuum up green beans gets old fast.
Try carrots, said another veterinarian. Aha! Cooked carrots were a hit.
Two weeks and a pound or so of carrots later, Rusty’s weight has stabilized. He hasn’t lost any weight yet, but we’re headed in the right direction. By spring, he may be the hunkiest cocker spaniel on the block, not the chunkiest.



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Chapter 77 Old Dog, New Ills

The Cone 2014-10-23 001

Non-News Flash: getting old is no picnic. That’s as true for our canine cousins as it is for us. They handle it better because they don’t count the years.  Like us, when they dream, they race the wind and catch the rabbit, just as they could when they were young. They don’t mark their birthdays, but if they get a birthday cake,  they’re not going to turn it down.
Rusty is 13, or 74 in people years. At the moment, he is a little dazed and more than a little bewildered after surgery to remove a bladder stone. More about that later.
He has a head cone to prevent him from chewing out his staples. In Rusty’s language, it would come out as, “That *@#$%^&! cone!” The cone is sized for a border collie or Cocker Spaniel, but Rusty is sized between a King Charles Spaniel and a Cocker. The cone is too big for him. He can’t see out of it as well as a larger dog would be able to, so he bumps into walls and chair legs and other stuff that is bumpable at small spaniel height.
“Can I cut about an inch off it?” I asked.
No, said the vet tech. He might be able to reach his staples and start digging them out. Doubtful, I think, but can’t take a chance on having to run back to the clinic with a dog bleeding where he chewed out his staples. Compromise: when I’m nearby and able to watch him, we are allowed to take off the blinkin’ cone.
I discovered Rusty couldn’t even get a drink of water while wearing the cone. His tongue and lips were too far back in the cone to reach his water, even when the dish was filled to the brim. Don’t tell the techs at Carroll County Veterinary Clinic, but the cone is about an inch shorter now. And Rusty can drink while wearing it.
So, how did our guy end up being bundled into the car and taken to the veterinary clinic one recent morning, when he would have much preferred to chow down on breakfast and then have a nice nap? Rusty’s veterinarian had found the bladder stone on an x-ray. Concerned that the stone could move and block his urinary tract, she recommended surgery.
We said good-bye in the clinic waiting room. Rusty hung his head as he walked away with the tech, his language for, “I’m not doin’ this.”
I called in midafternoon. Couldn’t wait any longer. Yes, they said, Rusty did okay with the surgery and was resting comfortably. They would keep him overnight for observation.
“They won’t let you out of the hospital until you can pee,” my friend Marcy had said earlier.
“He can go home tomorrow as soon as he can urinate properly,” the vet tech said.
We have more in common  than we sometimes wish to admit, we dogs and naked apes.
Rusty came home in the afternoon. He has a shaved place on his back where they stuck a pain patch that will send pain medication in through his skin. He has a shaved place over his eye where they removed the wart that has been a persistent problem. It bleeds, forms a new scab, repeat. He has a shaved area on his lower belly where they made the incision. Yes, they even shaved his penis.

And he has the cone. It is supposed to be soft and flexible so he can sleep while wearing it. He keeps shaking his head to try to get rid of it, but it does work, sort of. He is able to nap while wearing it.
Rusty is on restricted activity: no stairs, no running, short walks and potty breaks only. He hasn’t complained. That’s a characteristic dogs don’t share with their human cousins. For the most part, they don’t complain. Not even dogs that are 74 in people years.


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Chapter 76 — Life Tastes Good. Savor It

All the other dogs have advice for humans on how to get through life with happiness and a full food dish. There are “Advice From A Dog” t-shirts, books, dvds. Greta and Rusty want to share some points they’ve learned in living every day, things they wish their mothers could have told them when they were puppies.
Something good will happen every day. It might be a squirrel in the grass, suitable for Greta in snow chasing. There may be a piece of leftover steak in your dish. You might be able to chase your squeaky toy and make it squeal, or drop it in the snow and then find it. And nothing feels as delicious as rolling on your back in the grass with all four paws in the air.
There are always trade-offs in life. If you want the freedom to run through the grass off the leash, you have to come when your human calls you. Yes, even if there’s an important scent that could lead to a groundhog burrow.
Claim your rightful place, in the car and in life. Greta and Rusty have their own ritual for getting into the car. Rusty pushes ahead to be first in line to get in, probably because his first human took him to the shelter and then drove off without him, and he doesn’t want to take a chance on that happening again. He hops in on the driver’s side and crosses to the passenger side. Wrong move. Greta has ridden in the passenger side of the back seat for seven years. She likes that side. It’s her side. She pushes  across, and if necessary, body-slams the little guy out of her seat.
When you get into the car and you don’t know where you’re going, assume it will be somewhere good. Sometimes you’ll be disappointed, but think about all the drive time you would waste worrying about whether you’re headed for the veterinarian’s office, when you might not be going to the veterinarian after all. More often, your destination will be a walk in the park, a hike along the trail where you found a rabbit last time or, best of all now that summer’s here, a swim in the lake.

Food will be there.  When you’re hungry, find your human, look up at her with big brown eyes and wag your tail. If she still doesn’t get it, you may have to trot over and stand by your dish and look up again. Be sure to use the soulful gaze.
Don’t worry about where food comes from or whether it will run out. Food will be there, morning and evening. If for some reason your human lets you down and food doesn’t come to your dish, you know where the rabbit in the back yard lives.
Don’t let just anyone sniff your rear end. You have a choice. Greta and Rusty are both selective about sniffing permission. If the other dog who wants to sniff hasn’t approached with a friendly high tail wag or at least without visible aggression, his attempt to check out the anal scent glands may be met with a warning growl. Sniffs must be reciprocal. After all, if a dog Greta and Rusty encounter wants to get to know them, they also want to get to know him. It’s a canine social thing.

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Chapter 75 — Barkdown at Gopher Gulch

          It was a hot, dusty day in Gopher Gulch, Texas.  Every day was  a hot, dusty day in Gopher Gulch, except during the winter, when it was cold and dusty.  Rusty trotted down Main Street.  When he put his nose down to check for scents,  his  spaniel ears dragged in the dust.

 Rusty’s humans referred to him as a “maybe spaniel.”  They couldn’t figure out whether he was The Champa Cocker spaniel or perhaps a King Charles spaniel.  Rusty had never met his dad and couldn’t remember his mom, but he didn’t really care what his breed was. Like most of us, he was a mix.

          Rusty  headed for the stable, where his friends would be hanging out in a patch of shade cast by the wall of the building.

          “Hi, Rusty,” they greeted him.

          “Hi, folks.”

          The  dogs sniffed rear ends.

          “So, what’s new?”  Rusty asked.

          “About the same as yesterday,” replied Sam, a bloodhound.  “Not much.”

          “Say, did you hear about the new dog in town?”  Anita,  a golden retriever, chimed in.

          Four heads swiveled toward her and four sets of ears perked up.  “A big dog, Great Dane.  Says he can out-bark you,  Rusty.  I told him you’re the champion, but he says he never met a dog who could beat him,” Anita told them.

          Rusty shrugged.  “If you see him, just tell him I’ll be around,” he said.

          Rusty strolled over to the bucket below the horse trough for a drink of water, then joined the others in the shade.  They weren’t there  long before a tall, brown dog with a massive jaw strolled into the stable yard.

          “Is one of you Rusty?”  the dog rumbled in a deep baritone.

          Rusty stretched himself up to his full 22-inch height.

          “I’m Rusty.  And who are you, stranger?”

          The Great Dane made a noise like he was trying to stifle a laugh.  “You’re Rusty?  The barking champ?  I was expecting someone, uh, taller.”

          Rusty drew back his lips to expose his teeth.  “I get the job done.  Now, you want to tell us who you are and what brought you to Gopher Gulch?”

          “The name’s King.  Heard about you, and came to check out just how good you are.  But I didn’t know you had such short legs.  You’re a real little guy.”

          Rusty stifled a growl.  “I don’t bark with my legs.”

          “Okay, you up for a barkdown?”  King asked.

          Rusty nodded.  The dogs gathered around and quickly agreed on the rules.  MacGruff, a watchdog, would time the barking.  The winner would be determined by three criteria: longest barking, loudest barking and vote of the group.   King, the challenger, would go first.

          “Ready?”  MacGruff  asked.

          King nodded.  He stretched and yawned.  At the signal, he opened his mouth and began to bark in a deep baritone.  He turned, barking as he faced north, east, south and west.  On the opposite side of the street, a window opened. A man stuck out his head and yelled, “Shut up!”

          King  continued barking.  At last, he stopped.

          “5 minutes and 42 seconds,” MacGruff announced.

          Dogs murmured admiringly.

          “He has a beautiful deep bark,” Anita said.

          “I know.  It sends shivers down my spine,” agreed Linda, a Shetland sheep dog.

          “Nice turns while barking, and he got a human to yell at him”  added Sam.

          It wasn’t looking good for Rusty.  Rusty sat down and scratched behind his ear, thinking.

          “Ready, Rusty?” asked MacGruff.

          Rusty stood up, stretched and yawned.  “Ready,” he said.

          At the signal,  Rusty opened with a few “Rowr’s,”  building them to a rapid-fire crescendo.   Then he switched to “Rowf’s.”   He barked as he ran in circles.  He barked as he put his nose to the ground and picked up a scent.  He barked riffs on “Rowruu,” as he trotted around the barn.

          Then, as a finale,  Rusty lifted his leg and barked while peeing.

          The move was a crowd-pleaser.  The assembled dogs cheered  and howled.

          “Five minutes and 45 seconds,” MacGruff announced.

          Rusty had won longest barking.  King’s voice earned him loudest bark honors.  The tie would be broken by vote of the pack.  King had a great voice, but Rusty’s barking performance was unmatched for showmanship.   The dogs thought hard as they cast their ballots.

          MacGruff counted the secret ballots and announced, “4-1 for Rusty.  He’s  our champ!!!”

          The pack cheered.

          “C’mon, everyone, let’s go down to the saloon.   You too, King,” Rusty said.  “Bowls of fresh water on me.”

          They trotted down the dusty street.

(c) 2014 by Donna Engle

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