Today has been a very disturbing day, and not in a good way. My big boy, Baldric, my companion and friend, suddenly began acting strangely. I suppose that I should first clarify that Baldric is my Irish Wolfhound, a truly noble creature, and a real joy to be around. Unfortunately, for anyone who has shared their lives with giant breed dogs, short life expectancy comes with the turf. It always seems that you have to say goodbye entirely too soon. In this case, I have been spoiled, and even though we have had our medical crisis from time to time, we have always emerged on the plus side, to resume our happy relationship.
Baldric is almost 9, which in terms of wolfhounds, probably puts him in the same category as people closing in on their centennial birthdays. However, he is always perky, and willing to accompany our other dogs in the yard. Admittedly, he will sometimes just lay on the deck and watch the younger ones run, but surprisingly, he was still able to pour on the steam if something trespassed his domain. Today was the wake up call that we have probably been on borrowed time for awhile. Something happened that has never occurred, despite my being delayed at work, despite my daughter's basketball game being sent into overtime. Today, he started toward the door to go out and lost his bladder. No evidence of illness has been evident. His appetite has been just fine, and he still tries to surf the counters for tidbits of people food after each and every mealtime. So aside from the accident in the house, everything would appear to be normal, but it isn't..... I lost our last wolfhound to kidney failure, suddenly, and without apparent organic cause as proved by over $1000 in diagnostic tests. This total departure in behavior from an animal that has not had an incident in my house since he was 6 months old. In that regard, he was probably one of the easiest puppies we ever housetrained.
Of course, now we are all watching him a good deal more closely, and we have noted that he is asking to go out in the yard a lot more frequently. To be honest, before this morning's accident, I truly thought that all the dogs were thrilled to be outside in the sunshine, without the bitter cold. In other words, they were suffering from cabin fever due to a long and hard winter, just like the rest of us. And this notion was reinforced by the fact that the other two dogs have gone right along with him each and every time. But maybe, they sense something wrong with their pack member, and the desire to be outside with him is something other than just a gorgeous and sunny day. I was heartened to hear him barking at the neighbor dogs (which is a daily ritual for all). However, he has been glued to either my side or my husband all day long. The other dogs appear to be sniffing him up and down, generally trying to support or comfort (whatever it is that dog's communicate to one another). And I did notice that he doesn't seem to be getting up off the floor as readily and easily as even yesterday. Sooooo, it is reality time.
I truly respect my vet, and know that her advice is always rock solid, but after all the unemployment craziness over the past two years, I simply cannot absorb over $1000 in diagnostic tests only to lose the dog anyway. I am confident that she wouldn't recommend anything, just to get a fee. I still don't have it to spend. So, do we run the risk that this is something by way of an infection, something that is easily addressed with some antibiotic therapy? This guy has been Mama's boy since we brought him home from a farm in Ohio. He rode on my lap the entire way, and even managed not to soil inside my car when we got stuck in the parking lot known as Indiana, lengthening the trip by almost 2 1/2 hours stuck in bumper to bumper traffic inching along. Or do I do what is right, and let him go? And then there is a practical reality.....if we just let things run their course, wait and see...what do you do with a 160 pound dog who dies on your living room floor? None of my choices seem really good at this point, and my buddy and I have been through some bizarre things over the years.
Originally, Baldric was to have been a show dog. He was to have been the founding stock of my own kennel and breeding program. I owned him free and clear of any restrictions from the breeder where I made purchase. And he matured beautifully, reaching a size even greater than we expected, but not sacrificing overall conformation. Yes, he had his faults as does every dog, but overall, an impressive representative of his breed standing over 37 inches at the shoulder. Being totally fair, and trying to think like a judge, I suppose that his neck could have been a bit longer, a bit less thick, and his coat, a gorgeous wheaton (blonde) was not quite wiry enough, and thicker than I have seen on most other wolfhounds. Stripping him was a constant chore, and if you didn't keep after it, he would actually have the undercoat start to matt into what looked like dreadlocks. My husband would refer to him as a blonde Bob Marley. So, Mom was not blind to his flaws, but the show career didn't happen.
Remember the story of Ferdinand the bull, sniffing the flowers and sitting on a bee? Well, Baldric somehow managed to sit on a shrew's nest, and get bitten. The injury was so tiny, that we didn't see evidence of it at all at first, but as days went by, he kept fussing at his tail. First thought was that he was suffering from flea dermatitis, but when treatments didn't help, and he was actually biting a whole section of his tail bloody and raw, the vet started antibiotics and we were bathing his tail mulitple times a day. The infection localized into something the size of a baseball, which ruptured necessitating an emergency trip to the 24 hour vet center (these things never happen during normal office hours). Long story short, the next day we transferred him back to our vet, who was going to try to surgically clean the wound area and stitch it back up, hopefully healing sufficiently that he would be still of show quality.....and at some point in the whole process, the dog decided that he had enough nonsense from humans, and literally bit his own tail off. Our vet did a lovely job of repairing the stump, but instead of a wolfhound with a glorious 39 inch tail, I now own a large, very blond Rottweiler. At least from the back, that is what the stump looks like. We love him dearly, but that pretty much was all she wrote for his show career. So, began the search for a female, whom we could show, and possibly breed to the big boy at a later time.
We found our baby female, and brought her home to the pack. Baldric was no more fascinated in her than in any of the other dogs who have passed through our household in his lifetime. He is pretty mellow and laid back, just another puppy passing through. After a bit, he figured out, unlike other fosters, this one wasn't going away to a new home....and this one was taking some of his center stage attention. He was kind and gentle, but as she got larger and more mature, he became more assertive, putting her in her proper place as lowest canine on the totem pole. Then she went into her first heat, and poor Baldric, who had never had a single purient thought in his life, up to this point, literally went off the rails. We didn't know what to do with him as suddenly this huge dog was cranky, out of sorts, aggressive. Turns out, he was suffering from the same sort of discomfort as Viagra run amok....poor guy-discovered his sexuality and couldn't shut it off. This resulted in him having to take meds for two weeks along with tranquilizers, before they could surgically neuter him. Once the surgery was past, things returned to normal very quickly at home, and everyone was one big happy puppy pile again.
But somehow, I don't think this is the time that we will laugh about how silly the illness is, after the fact. I have the feeling that this time, my buddy doesn't come home with me, and that is always very hard. And I only hope that the other two are able to console one another. When we had to put the last wolfhound down, the two other dogs in the pack died very close in time. One dog was literally just a couple of weeks later, and the third couldn't handle losing the rest of the pack and stopped eating, drinking, and literally wasted away in front of us. All three were gone within a three month period. So, I am doubly concerned about losing the Big Boy. He has been a super dog, fabulous with kids, a great ambassador for his breed.
It will be really hard to imagine a household without him. His dog bed is pretty much the whole couch, although he doesn't get up there unless we are not home. He tends to snooze on the hallway floor-effectively blocking the entire hallway. His nose is right there with you if you are at the counter chopping fresh veggies, and he will saturate your shoes with drool for bites of sweet bell pepper. He always shares my morning smoothie with me-adores his yogourt and Kefir. He is usually laying on my feet when I am at the computer. Even with the bitter winter we have had, I have never had to deal with cold feet. He guards my daughter's domestic rabbits, and has generalized that to all rabbits, so our yard has become the safe zone for bunnies to nibble and play. No worries about the foxes or coyotes in our yard, as they are under Baldric's protection, when they aren't nesting underneath our deck and raiding our vegetable garden. Without Baldric's watchful eye, I imagine the two remaining dogs will chase the bunnies, and perhaps the lapine element will elect to reside somewhere else. We even have nesting birds that have gotten so used to his giant presence that they will perch literally inches from him and chirp and chatter at him. If he gets up to move, they don't necessarily startle or fly away. In essence, he is a real calming presence in our world, and keeps his pack mates from getting carried away with rough house play. He is quiet, as he has nothing to prove. He is always waiting just inside the front door when I come home. He knows the car, the alarm set, and the sound of my keys jingling as I come up the stairs, and he is off the couch, waiting behind the door. I will miss that greeting, that huge head waiting to be scratched. Hard to believe, but even with two other dogs, the house will be empty without him. I don't want to have to take him for the last drive, and I don't want to sit and hold his head while he is put down, but it is probably time, and the right thing to do. Sometimes the right thing sucks!
Filed under: Side Journeys