Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Canine Chronicles, Cast of Characters Part Deux

As if I did not have enough troubles already with Ky the wonder dog, then along came Salty, or as we always called him Salty Dog. As the advice I had received thus far had been dead on from my illustrious trainer regarding Ky, of course I believed that this would solve all our problems. If she said that Ky simply needed a companion and that this would keep her from roaming around the neighborhood looking for trouble (and the occasional poodle), I was willing to do it toot sweet, no questions asked! So one spring Friday afternoon, my trainer extraordinaire dropped off the most horrid looking dog I had ever seen! I could not help but think to myself "Couldn't the dog at LEAST have been good looking?" Priorities! Lana basically pulled up with the dog in the car, waltzed him into the backyard and deposited him in my care; so much for training helpful hints! Here I was stuck with now a snarling border collie and one as yet unrecognizable breed of dog who was absolutely scared witless. It did not help poor Salty one iota that this border collie did not seem to want him there AT ALL. He was panicked from the beginning. I imagine it did not boost his confidence much seeing me leash up Ky as she immediately took after him to show him who was running this little ranch and poor Salty ended up cowering behind me I'm sure thinking that perhaps his fate (the pound) could certainly not have been any worse than this; death by slow biting torture. Bob had not gotten home yet nor had the kids so after about an hour of trying my best to "introduce" the two dogs to each other and getting nothing for the effort but a snarling match (all one-sided), I decided maybe I should go try and clean up this poor dog and at least try to make his ugliness a little better! I left the wild woman dog outside and proceeded to wrestle poor quaking Salty into the bathtub in the house and have at him with good old elbow grease and a warm bath. Much to my total amazement, what emerged from under this brown stained MESS of a dog was the most elegant beauty of a dog I have ever seen! When I hear the phrase diamond in the rough, Salty Dog comes to mind. Here was this filthy dirt-covered animal transformed into a beautifully marked collie/whippet mix; elegance always came to mind where Salty was concerned; refined in a certain canine way, and dainty; all those rolled into one was Salty Dog. I was totally amazed at what I had uncovered; unfortunately his upgraded appearance had no effect on Ky. If anything, she snarled at him even more since he obviously had gotten the attention! What ensued over the next week was a very tenuous stand-off. I ended up keeping Ky on a leash at all times and with me at all times while I gave Salty the run of the house or yard, wherever we were, but at least this way, I had control over Ky and could keep her from tearing him limb from limb at any given moment. Salty began to relax a bit and warm to his new surroundings, all except Ky of course. It came out later on that he had been abused and was totally freaked by boys and men; how convenient since I had 2 boys and 1 husband! He at first clung to Katie and I and followed us about like our shadow but eventually over time, he began to realize that not all men were created equal and ended up being Bob's dog; one of the happiest moments for all of us was when he came to sit near Bob and ended up with his head on Bob's foot. He ended up being a great protector of our boys whereas he was very wary of other boys about the same age of the boys who had abused him. Eventually Ky struck some sort of peace treaty with Salty and left him alone, although the fact that Salty was part whippet did not hurt! He was always able to outrun her by a mile and one day even sailed right over the fence (much to even HIS surprise I think) trying to out-maneuver her and get away. He was a beautiful boy and the gentlest of spirits; I'm not convinced that getting him did any good whatsoever for Ky's temperament but I guess as in all things, we saved another dog and had a friend for life so it must have been worth it! 

After a few months of coexisting and finally being able to strike a balance with the 2 dogs, summer came rolling along and with it came the constant flurry of sports activity in baseball with the kids. About late June, I had heard rumors about 2 black lab puppies that someone had found attacking their trash and as rumor had it, a family up the way had adopted these 2 pups. That lasted about a finger snap and the pups were turned back out literally onto the street again. On returning home one night from a baseball game with the boys in the car, Bob spied the 2 pups and apparently their mother on the 4-lane road near the house. He was furious that these 2 puppies especially were out roaming as they were way too young, barely 6 weeks. He managed to get them in the car with the boys and then proceeded to start asking around as to the whereabouts of the owner. He ended up driving over to the fellow's house and returning the dogs to him letting him know where he had seen them out and about and how dangerous it was on the road and that they'd almost been hit. Thinking he had definitely done HIS good deed, off he went. On the 4th of July, Jon had a baseball game and I had stayed home to cook and get ready for the festivities only to have Bob drive up about midday with Jon barely able to contain himself and leaping from the car as it stopped in the driveway. He bounds out of the car with his bat bag in tow and runs to me to show me that there are 2 black lab puppies in the bag. He is bursting with pride for his dad because he has brought the puppies home! I have to say I was stunned. Bob had seen the 2 puppies again on the 4-lane road this time alone and had again scooped them up and returned them to the owner, only to have the owner tell him that he was going to let them go again and if he was so darned concerned about their welfare, maybe HE should just take them and keep them; surprisingly Bob did! I have never been so amazed in my life (or so in love).  I asked him what were we going to do with 4 dogs? Even I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of having 2 puppies since I'd never had a real live puppy before, let alone 2 at the same time. Bob was convinced though that with all the baseball games we'd be going to over the summer, and them being black labs and so beautiful, we should have no problem whatsoever finding them a home; we didn't!

So began the long, long summer. In retrospect, I think it was good that we were considerably younger or we may not have been up to the task of raising 2 puppies. They were wonderful puppies from the very beginning although having 2 made it nearly impossible for us to get much sleep. They had also come to us filthy with fleas and of course that infested our other dogs not to mention our house and yard so that required an exhausting amount of effort to eradicate. Just the day to day (and night to night) raising of 2 puppies kept us very busy and very tired throughout the summer as they rarely slept for more than a few hours and because there were 2, awakened each other to play.  For some odd reason though, Ky took to the puppies like a duck to water. She loved the puppies and was in her element trying to mother them. She would mother hen them around outside just as she was programmed to do; her herding instincts totally kicked in and she seemed to be in doggie heaven having a job to do. She even forgot all about terrorizing Salty, and Salty was so easy going anyway, he did not mind the addition of 2 little upstarts into his world. The summer baseball circuit with the kids continued and every evening or weekend it seemed we were all off to the fields with our pups in tow (which we had of course named by now to make things "easier" - Molly and Mariah).  We were bombarded every game with folks giving us their names and phone numbers wanting to take one of the puppies when they were ready to go. Unfortunately, the puppies had begun to grow on us and now we were debating which puppy to keep of the 2 because we had fallen yet again in dog love. However, with 5 people in the family, the chances of agreeing on the one dog were nil. Someone wanted Molly, another someone wanted Mariah and on and on it went. The obvious outcome was just that; totally obvious. We ended up finding them both a great home - ours! We could not part with them when all was said and done and we very quickly became a 4-dog family. The icing on the cake came when both the puppies got parvo; Labradors are probably the most susceptible breed to get parvo and a huge vet bill later, it was nearly fatal for Mariah.  see link  The vet was advising that we put Mariah to sleep because she was not recovering as Molly had; Bob went to the vet to be with her when they did the deed and on seeing him, she had a miraculous recovery. We were a 4-dog family once more!

On beginning to train the labs, I noticed that Mariah was picking up the commands and simply acing the training while I was having a terrible time with Molly doing some of the commands. At first I thought she was being stubborn or purposefully obtuse but then one afternoon, I noticed on the "sit" command that she was making a groaning sound when she sat. Since she was only 6 months old, I could not imagine why she would be in any pain on sitting, but that led me to being on the lookout for any further symptoms. Rather quickly, I began to realize that she was having trouble lying down as well and any efforts that did not involve standing were being expressed with a groan/moan. On taking her to the vet for a confirmation, an x-ray later, I had the answer and it was not pleasant - grade IV hip dysplasia. The vet advised that we just have her put to sleep as the risks of surgery were great and the cost prohibitive to try and correct it. Unfortunately for me, I was head over heels in love with this particular puppy and the thought of putting her to sleep was out of the question. Of all the luck in the world and who could have guessed! I ended up taking her to a DOG orthopedist and as one hip was not so far gone as the other one, the only procedure available was a huge affair of titanium plates and screws to put the hip back to usefulness but involved breaking the leg in several places and putting it back together again. The other side that was already out of the socket would have to be sawed off and nailed back to bone but that could not be done until the more extensive procedure had healed. On talking it over with Bob, we decided just to take the plunge and try to save the dog; the extensive hip surgery ended up costing as much as a small car, and we could not drive Molly! The most unfortunate thing about it was that when I arrived to pick her up, I received the information that I had not been told before the surgery; that she would be able to put NO weight on the leg for 4-6 weeks. She would have to be sedated and carried everywhere until the hardware had a chance to heal. Her surgery was called a triple pelvic osteotomy see link and after the first 4-6 weeks, then the dog's muscles had to be exercised to bring back those around the osteotomy and restrengthen the leg, most desirably by swimming. Well, that certainly made things simple! I picked her up and got her home and crated, then set about moving my entire home office to the downstairs level in the family room, then proceeded to have her strapped to my ankle with a leash for the next 4-6 weeks while she healed. She spent every day all day literally chained to me and I lifted and carried her outside and back until the leg healed. I have to say that the surgery changed her life though. We were steadfastly careful about her not jumping up or down and we let her live as gentle a life as she desired. She had the other leg done shortly after and that was a relatively minor procedure in comparison see link. Again, she had to recuperate and then swimming was the recommended exercise for rejuvenating the muscles; unfortunately our local high school frowned upon bringing dogs to the pool so I found a lake where I could daily take the kids and the 2 labs to swim and that sufficed. Mariah actually became the enticement for Molly to swim, as Mariah was the ultimate ball dog/retriever. If we threw the ball a thousand times into the lake, Mariah would go swim out to retrieve it; Molly was the most disinterested Labrador in retrieving that has ever lived. She would much rather sit and stare at the moon, the stars or the clouds than retrieve anything; yet if Mariah was swimming out, she could not be left behind, so she would walk in and start swimming to reach her. It ended up being quite effective in getting her to exercise whether she was so inclined or not. And it was marvelous exercise for the kids as well. The surgery while ending up being far more than I expected in terms of convalescence and cost, could not have been more successful. A dog that was pronounced a virtual death sentence ended up living until almost 14 years of age; the investment certainly paid off as she was the most wonderful dog ever!

When the pups had grown to be about a year old, something changed and unfortunately we never knew what heralded this change but realizing that the pups were no longer pups, Ky reverted to her old ways; unfortunately for everyone concerned, she began to attack Mariah. She never bothered the other 2 dogs and only seemed to have a penchant for terrorizing Mariah. Mariah was not a fighter and quickly began to show signs of becoming permanently damaged from all these skirmishes. Whereas before Ky had not really hurt any other dogs, she was now regularly laying into Mariah and leaving her bloodied and afraid of her own shadow. Mariah was constantly looking over her shoulder to see if Ky was after her. I think for a year or so after Ky was gone, she was still looking for her to appear. It was also obviously taking a toll on the household and on the kids having to witness these unprovoked attacks and the ensuing chaos. We realized that something had to be done and getting rid of 3 dogs was now going to prove a far more arduous task than getting rid of 1 dog and we decided that the most logical dog to go would have to be Ky. We both adamantly refused to take her to the pound or return her to a Paws and Claws situation as that would have seemed counterproductive to all that we had struggled through with her, and fortunately for us, Bob knew of a very nice elderly man he worked with who fell in love with her at first sight and ended up giving her the royal treatment for the rest of her life. Contrary to what the trainer had pounded into my head, I think Ky wanted to be a one-person dog and she did need the serenity of being the top dog. She reverted back to her old ways of getting out from time to time and shaking up a poodle or two but apparently, she was quite content to come back to her beloved master and he likewise adored her. It was a sad turn of events that we had to get rid of her after SO much effort, but it seemed like the prudent thing to do for all concerned. That was when I began to realize the importance, however, of knowing what a breed is meant to do and began to realize that all dogs are certainly not created equal!  I think back on it now and realize that Ky needed some sheep to herd or some calves to chase about and she would have been in her doggie heaven!

As the labs grew and things settled down with our 3 little housemates, it seemed that life was good. We continued on with our fast-paced lifestyle as between the 3 kids and the 3 dogs along with working, we always had plenty to do. We were forever taking the kids and the dogs in the van and heading down to the seashore for a spur-of-the-moment run on the beach or taking them all to the school for soccer games, baseball games, and picnics. Salty especially loved the ocean and the waves and never tired until his last days of running into the waves or of chasing seagulls; I always thought of his little ears as tiny propellers whirling around in sheer delight as he gracefully pranced and danced through the waves and tore down the beach in pure ectasy. Likewise, they loved the lakes and the swimming and that was always one of the most enjoyable times for the kids; having their outings but also having their best pals there beside them. How lucky we all were to have so many friends/so many great dogs! After one particularly long, busy summer, school started up again and I had been out driving with Jon to get something done for school. It was dark and we were driving home on the 4-lane road to the house by ourselves in the pouring rain when we spotted what we thought was a lab puppy in the middle of the road. NOT AGAIN I thought! This poor dog was just totally lost and trying to weave in and out of the cars; him being black was not helping his cause much as folks were nearly hitting him and honking madly at him as he stumbled from lane to lane. Finally I pulled off the road and told Jon to wait there as I ran out in the rain and tried to grab the poor thing. He was so terrified I could not get him to come to me but finally after pulling up, circling back and just watching out for him, he finally made it on his own to the side of the road. I then crept up in the van and jumped out with Jon to try and corral him and get him up into the van. We barely were able to get him in between the two of us because he was absolutely terrified of the car. On finally getting him in and taking a closer look at him, he was certainly not a puppy and he was certainly not a lab; perhaps a lab SOMETHING but he was not the cutest bow in the box! As I'm driving along I'm telling Jon that I have to do something with the dog as I simply cannot take it home; Bob would kill me for bringing home a dog, let alone if he found out that I'd dragged him out of the 4-lane in the pouring rain. (I should have remembered the 4th of July story and that probably would have been enough to convince me it would be okay.) Jon became absolutely horrified that his mother would be so cruel as to pick up a dog and save it only to try and leave it somewhere else. As so many times in my life, guilt won out and I suddenly felt very embarrassed for having entertained the idea of not saving the poor thing. On the way to the house, I formulated a plan and told Jon to just not say a word and just go along with whatever I came up; since he was as much of a rescuer as I was, he agreed without hesitation. Luckily when I arrived home, Bob was not home yet from the driving route for our business and I set about setting up the dog on the front porch. I got him some food, a blanket, water, and tried to dry him off as best I could. He was so exhausted that he barely ate a bit, drank some water, allowed me to wrap him in the blanket, and proceeded to just drop off to sleep right away. He seemed so grateful I felt terrible leaving him out there but I had my story down and I was going to have to stick to it. My reasoning was that when he awoke, he would probably get up and amble back to where he had come from; no problem, no worries. Of course an hour or so later when Bob pulled up in the driveway and came running up the stairs tired from the traffic and the never-ending rain and led off the conversation with "what is that dog doing on the front porch?" I had 3 very inquisitive children gathered round to hear mom's great answer. It actually sounded much like the answer I gave years ago when he returned home to find the puppy in the backyard with the deaf dog; I had no problem saying it - "what dog?" He proceeds to describe a very black medium-sized dog who is sound asleep on the front porch and I feign innocence again with "I don't know what dog you are talking about but maybe he is just resting there to get out of the rain. What makes you think I know anything about it/him?" He just stares me down yet again and says "that is a very interesting story, Audrey and I'd almost believe it except that he is fast asleep wrapped in ONE OF OUR BLANKETS and he has a bowl of water and some food. Now unless he brought all those with him in a BACKPACK, where did he happen to get them?" Busted - again. I proceeded to assure Bob that he was no trouble at all; I had not introduced him to any of the dogs, so obviously I was not planning on keeping this one, and I had found him on the 4-lane after all and something had to be done. Besides, his son had been more or less accusing me of not caring if I did not intervene, so I had to set a good example and save the dog, at least temporarily. I had no doubt that he would be up and out of there by the next morning; he would sleep a bit, eat a bit, then wander off happily to his home and that would be that. I seemed to have convinced Bob by not having brought him in and bathed him! That seems to be a surefire tip-off that we are keeping the dogs when I start cleaning them up, so he was assuaged and we all went to bed thinking about the little dog that was sleeping on our front porch but convinced that he would just be a temporary guest on our front porch and wander off the next day. Little did we know! More tales to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment