Charlie

I will preface this by saying I consider myself an animal lover. I would never intentionally hurt or abuse any animal for the pleasure of seeing something in pain. I think of myself as a good pet owner, or at least I try to be. Sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds. In fact right now I’m at an impasse as to what is a good pet owner.

We got Charlie when he was ten weeks old. He is the only dog we picked out as a puppy and purposely brought home to raise. His parents were proven bird hunting dogs, so Mitch figured that Charlie would inherit those traits and he did. Charlie has always had a great nose, searching out pheasants. His points are picture perfect and he’s never been leery of the retrieve. He’s a good hunter despite having us as pet owners. Now after eleven years he still has that hunting heart and soul.

What he doesn’t have any more is all of his facilities. He is suffering from Canine Dementia or Cognitive Dysfunction. There isn’t a lot of good information out there on Canine Dementia, but he’s not exhibiting most of the symptoms, loss of sight, hearing or incontinence. No, Charlie has become very aggressive. He has always been a bit unstable, stemming from being attacked by the dogs of a former neighbor twice when he was a puppy. Those two incidents pretty much set the tone for his animal aggression for the rest of his life. Now an explosive episode comes without warning or provocation.

In the last two months Charlie has attacked Orso three times just for being within five feet of him. On one occasion, Charlie went after Orso and I was between the two so Charlie bit me, not breaking the skin, but he left a large bruise and a knot on my thigh. Another incident happened with Orso walking in the door and Charlie went after him drawing blood and when Mitch tried to separate Charlie from Orso, Charlie went after Mitch. Mitch said that when he looked in Charlie’s eyes, he wasn’t there. His eyes were dilated and blank, no recognition, just rage. Two of the last three episodes have drawn blood.

We’ve tried Diazepam (doggie valium) but it doesn’t help much. I think we were hoping he would sleep through his days and be blissfully dopey. Instead we still have a dog that gives way to explosive violence and aggressive attacks aimed at Orso. It is so heartbreaking to watch our dog (crazy as he is) slip away and become replaced by an animal that is more Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll. It is even more heartbreaking knowing that we can’t protect Orso, who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, doesn’t deserve any of this and loves Charlie so much.

Since we don’t have a vet here yet, we don’t have anyone we trust to talk to about this and ask for guidance, we called our vet in Kansas City to discuss our options. Sadly there are few out there, and only for the short term. More Diazepam maybe but this is only going to get worse. We need to plan for an end of life solution. We know this and accept it, but following through and finding a vet here feels almost like an act of cowardice. We took him to raise and euthanasia feels like we are failing Charlie; that we should figure out a way to fix him. That is our hearts talking, our heads know better, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. It’s hard to even talk about it because to voice it and say the words, makes it real, and that means you have to make a decision.

I only hope that Charlie will sleep well and rest easy and know how much we have loved him his whole life. He was a good hunter, and loyal to a fault. A piece of my heart will go with him.

The Day After

Yesterday morning we woke up to about two inches of snow, nothing like the people in the north eastern part of the country have gotten and are still getting. Just enough snow to cause multiple car crashes and traffic problems. Surprisingly the morning walk was pretty uneventful, with Orso only acting like a puppy at the end of our walk. I let him off the leash and he took off like a rocket butt down running around in great big circles coming back to bash Charlie, so I let Charlie off the leash to retaliate. For once Charlie got into the spirit and ran around jinxing and jagging keeping Orso at bay. That lasted for about five minutes before Charlie got cold and decided it was time to go back inside and get his carrot.

The drive to work was slow, with most streets still snow packed. By the drive home though the main roads had been cleared and most of the side streets weren’t quite as bad. In our little berg, the mayor usually plows the roads and does a very good job of it giving most of us that false sense of security that all the roads are in as good condition as ours are. Surprise, when we leave the city to venture out on the major roads and highways, the conditions are abysmal at best sometimes. You could say we are quite spoiled.

This morning the roads were still in pretty good shape except for the patchy slick spots where the snow had melted and re-froze overnight. Those sneaky little patches always get me, even though I know they’re there lurking waiting for me, I try so hard to watch for them, but I get caught every time. I think they move.

The dogs and I started off on the walk this morning with no problems, surprisingly the roads were dry, no slick spots. We rounded the curve and walked up the hill and still had not encountered any icy patches and I did what I always do, I started relaxing and let my guard down. We topped the hill and started down the hill when I noticed the deer standing in the neighbor’s yard watching us. The dogs hadn’t seen or smelled him yet and just kept walking down the hill. The deer showed no intention of moving off just stood there watching and waiting for us to come closer. I should have stopped right then and there and turned around before the dogs realized what was at the bottom of the hill, but no I didn’t do that. It was like I was watching a train wreck about to happen and did nothing to change destiny.

I even spoke out loud to the deer and said, “Bud you can’t be there.” He still didn’t move. Halfway down the hill the dogs saw the deer, jerked on the leashes to let him know they knew he was there and I found the slick spot in the road. I went down so quickly and hard landing on my rear end. I sat there in the road with my legs straight out in front of me and the dogs looking at me wondering what I was doing sitting there when there was a walk to finish.

I really need to move to a warmer place.

My Inspiration

I get most of my creative inspiration from Mitch and the dogs. Granted all three have been very entertaining over the years giving me lots of good stories to write about. But now the dogs are much older, Charlie is ten and Orso is eight, and for the most part are calm and sedate spending more time sacked out either on our bed or the couch than up doing cute dog tricks. They still drag me around as a boat anchor when they spot something in the dark and want to give chase, just not as much as in the past. Orso will lunge forward give a big woof then sit because he knows I’m going to correct him and part of the correction is to make them sit then lay down, something I’ve been working on with both dogs. Making them sit then down to make them focus on me and break the focus on whatever it was that got them worked up in an agitated state. It works most of the time, but sometimes I still get yanked around getting body parts dislocated.

Mitch occasionally provides me with inspiration, usually because I come up with some off the wall idea or a remodeling project that always goes horribly wrong. With every project I always hear, “Just once I would like something to go right, just once!” Guess what, it never goes well. Everything always takes longer than expected and costs much more than it would if any other person was doing it. Part of the reason for that is because Mitch is so fastidious about his work and because the house we live in was built in three separate sections starting in 1928 and ending in 1986. But now the remodel of the house is almost done after eight long years, so there are less catastrophic remodeling projects to be had.

I came up with what I thought was a really great idea for future writing inspirations, but Mitch is not so keen on the idea. I suggested that since the dogs are old and not as much fun we should get a puppy. Mitch looked at me the same way a person looks a-would be stick up man who’s pointing a gun in their face. Shock and horror was written all over his face. I know we’ve always said that we would not get another dog until Charlie went to the “farm”, but I had a weak moment. My head knows that we can’t bring another dog into the house while Charlie is still alive, but my creative juices wanted a nudge. Charlie is animal aggressive and we have to work very carefully when introducing him to other dogs. It’s a long laborious process. When we rescued Orso, we had to call in an animal behaviorist to work with us just to keep Orso from ending up in the emergency clinic over and over. Even though Charlie is outweighed by thirty pounds, he can be a mean little dog.

“Are you out of your mind?” was Mitch’s response when he could finally talk. “We are not getting a dog.”

I knew that but I just wanted to see the look on his face when I suggested it. Besides if I start mentioning it occasionally, he’ll get used to the idea of getting another dog, in the future.

My New Nickname

I have a few nicknames that Mitch has given me over the years, “Speed Racer” when I spun out at the airport and crashed going too fast on wet pavement, or “Dances with Ladders” after my latest tryst carrying a ladder down a hill (it didn’t end well). But today I can add a new nickname to my list. This time it’s the dogs that can take credit for my new nickname.

On our morning predawn walk today things started off as always, Charlie and Orso sniffing and peeing on everything wandering back and forth on both sides of the street making the most of their time and bodily fluids. I was distracted thinking about a million different things, calling the doctor to rewrite a prescription, what I was going to wear to work and what to take for lunch, you know everything that goes on in your head as you go about your day. Granted, it was all my fault, I know better, when walking the dogs in the dark I have to be on guard constantly for critters large and small that might cross our path.

Just as we had crossed the road to head down a long tree lined dark stretch of road, Charlie and Orso either saw or caught the scent of something ahead. I didn’t see or hear anything but they did. Charlie was on my left side and Orso was on my right side, when Charlie jerked around and circled behind me yanking my left arm behind my back to come around and stand next to Orso, both lunging and growling at something. Jerking my arm around behind my back with enough force and the combined force of Orso lunging forward with Charlie meant my body had a choice, dislocate my shoulder or spin around and follow the leashes. In reality what happened was a combination of both. I would like to say that I pirouetted around like a ballerina, but in reality I jerked around lost my balance and very ungracefully ended up sitting down hard in the middle of the street with my feet splayed out in front of me.

The dogs turned around to look me in the face with what looked like embarrassment that I was so clumsy. How could they possibly be tough dogs facing the unseen danger ahead with this woman who can’t even stay on her feet? I on the other hand was not so pleased with their attempt to be guardians of the roads. I stood back up dusted off my behind and made sure nothing was broken or bent. Evidently whatever was out there fled in terror, not so much from the ferocity of the dogs, but because of a small woman flaying around like a madwoman.

My new nickname, “Sits in the Road”.

Almost Fatal Attraction

I almost died this morning. No, not really, I’m exaggerating but it sure felt like it for a moment or at the very least I could have ended up with a really bad case of road rash, maybe even a bruise or two. And as is almost always the case, it was because of the dogs. Those miserable mongrel beasts that I feed, walk and let sleep in my house as well as my bed. Let me put it in perspective for you, I am five foot two inches tall and weigh in at a little over a hundred plus pounds, I’m not giving exact weight that’s only for the scale and me, but you can see that I am not a super big imposing person. The dogs on the other hand come in at one hundred and seventy plus pounds together, with Orso at a hundred and one and Charlie at seventy one pounds. Plus they both have way more muscle mass than two other people and me put together. Even though they are both senior dogs, Orso is eight and Charlie will be ten on Halloween, they can still get to afterburner speed when they are so inclined.

Our morning walks are always in the predawn hours when the creatures of the night are still out carousing and the morning animals are starting to stir. Most mornings I can hear owls calling out to other owls and a few of the early birds that are just waking up. It’s quite common to see raccoons, opossums and deer in the dim light. Because of that I am always on high alert making sure I see anything before the dogs hone in on it, causing them to bolt and charge after the object of their desire, thus making me a boat anchor dragging behind them. This has happened too many times to count. I’m pretty sure I’ve paid for more than one vacation for my chiropractor all from walking the dogs.

This morning started off very sedately, that’s how it always begins by the way. I get lulled into a false sense of security, a cool morning with fresh air and a slight breeze with the dogs sniffing and peeing on all of the bushes and trees strutting down the street like we are the only ones out this time of day. We had walked out to our time limit spot and had turned back to head home so I could jump in the shower and get ready for work. We had topped the hill and had headed down to round the curve in the road when Orso saw something and lunged forward to give chase with Charlie reacting a split second later. I was caught totally off guard, thinking about what I was going to wear to work, not paying attention and almost lost my balance. I came very close to actually falling down before I regained control and jerked on the leashes to yank them back. Orso turned and looked up at me with a very contrite look on his face and sat. Charlie on the other hand looked at me with a look that said, “It’s all the big dog’s fault, I was trying to save you. I would never have done that.”

It took a few minutes for my adrenaline level to get back to normal and my heart to stop pounding in my chest. I never did see what was out there in the dark that caused Orso to want to chase after, but I will definitely be watching a little closer tomorrow even though it won’t be there.

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie

We knew the dogs would be excited to see us when we picked them up from the pet spa on Saturday after we returned from vacation, but we were somewhat disconcerted when we noticed Charlie was not his normal happy psycho dog self. He seemed a little off, more subdued than normal, there was no one thing that we could point at and say that is what is wrong. So we watched him and his behavior trying to figure out if he was getting better or worse. I thought that maybe he was depressed and then thought can a dog get depressed and why would he be depressed? Life inside a cool air conditioned house, good food and our soft bed, what is there to be depressed about? The only clue at first was his sad face.

Charlie continued to do all of the normal things we do every day; he had a healthy appetite eating everything put in front of him, walked at his normal fast “I have to be first” pace and jumped into bed with us to annoy us at night. He just didn’t have his happy face. But on Wednesday things went downhill fast.

Mitch called me at work that afternoon and said, “Something is wrong with the little brown dog.”

I asked what and he said, “At first he was walking around in circles with his head down and like he wanted to throw up, but he didn’t throw up. Then he started shaking, after that he wouldn’t put any weight on his left hind leg and it started to spasm uncontrollably. I have him lying down next to me, but something definitely wrong with Charlie.”

I called our vet and made an appointment to take Charlie in and finally figure out what was going on. I thought maybe he’d had a stroke or cancer. Mitch came by and picked me up so we could both go to the vet. The vet took one look at Charlie and said that the shaking was from pain. Charlie was in a great deal of pain and we couldn’t read the signs. All I could think of was that we suck as pet owners. He said that first thing to do was pain management and he would give him some morphine, then do some blood work and take some x-rays. He took Charlie and told us to come back in an hour.

Bracing ourselves for the worst, an hour later we walked back in the vet’s office and were ushered into an examination room. Charlie was standing there happy to see us, still pretty wobbly, but definitely in a little better shape than when we dropped him off, must have been the morphine. The vet brought in lots of x-rays to show us (that was going to cost us, I thought). He said that the blood work came back normal so that was a good thing. But he found something on the last x-ray he took, isn’t that always the case, never on the first x-ray. The x-ray was of Charlie lying on his side and about midway between his shoulders and hips there was a spot where it showed a spinal injury to one of his vertebrae. Our vet said that it looked like an old injury, but maybe being at the pet spa and playing with the other dogs, he may have re-injured it and that may be causing the pain and his inability to put any weight on the back leg. Plus he said that Charlie had a high fever running a temperature of a hundred and four. He said he gave Charlie a shot of antibiotics.

Our vet handed me two bottles of prescriptions, one was an antibiotic and one was pain medication. He also said we were in for a rough night. I didn’t think too much of what he said just thinking Charlie wasn’t going to die and this was going to be very expensive. We walked out to settle up with the receptionist and just about turned around to give Charlie back when she smiled and said that the bill was seven hundred thirty three dollars. That and the two hundred ninety nine dollars we paid the pet spa to keep the dogs while we were on vacation almost made me regret taking a vacation in the first place. Oh I know it’s nobody’s fault Charlie got hurt and sick, the same thing happens to children at daycare centers and we dearly love our vet and trust him implicitly with the dogs, it was just the shock of the amount. Why can’t I just add them both to my health insurance, pay my ten dollar co-pay and be done? Technically they are sort of like dependents, they depend upon me to feed them and walk them, so in the broadest sense of the word, they could be considered dependents. Too bad the insurance company doesn’t see it that way.

Oh well, I guess the next vacation will be a “staycation”.

Sleeping Dogs

Have you ever watched your dog sleep? The way they curl up in a tight ball tucking their nose under their hind leg and wrapping their tail on top of that to ward off the chill. Or when they get too hot and roll over on their back and splay their back legs out to cool off. You can tell a lot about a dog’s life just by watching the way they sleep.

A dog that has been abused or abandoned sleeps very lightly sometimes laying on their stomachs front legs bent jutting out between their head and rear legs tucked under ready to leap up for fight or flight. It takes a long time for a dog that has had a rough life to relax and begin to trust that danger is not waiting just around the corner.

Our dogs, Charlie and Orso, are the poster dogs for living the good life. We got Charlie at the young age of ten weeks and has never know anything but pamperhood. We rescued Orso at nine months from a young man that couldn’t keep him any longer. Charlie is now nine years old and Orso is seven and a half years old so I have had lots of time viewing their sleeping habits.

Charlie snores, and very loudly for a seventy pound dog, louder than Mitch sometimes. Orso breathes heavy, sometimes he works up a snore but nothing like Charlie. Charlie sleeps so deeply his eyes are closed tight and lays stretched out taking up as much real estate as his little body can. He juts out his legs straight away from his body and at times they are limp and relaxed and other times his legs are stiff as boards, earning him the nickname “Rigor” for rigor mortis. Which is especially fun at night when he is sleeping next to you pushing against you with those stiff legs. Yes we are those weak people that let their dogs sleep with us. We lost that battle years ago.

Orso at one hundred pounds takes up a bit space when he stretches out and gets even heavier when he lays his head on your legs sound asleep. You will not easily escape the dead weight of a dog that is so sound asleep. His eyes roll up in the back of his head when he is sound asleep. He looks like a big brown speed bump when he stretches out to his full fifty-three inch long tip of his nose to the end of tail body.

Both dogs dream and it is a hoot to watch them deep in throes of R.E.M. Charlie’s eyes roll back and forth under his eyelids. Sometimes he squeaks and sometimes he growls, I guess it depends on what he’s dreaming about and who he’s chasing. It usually starts at his front legs with a slight twitch, then growing stronger adding his back legs, then his legs run at break neck speed chasing whatever it is he is after.

Orso does it a bit differently from Charlie, his back legs jerk first, not a mere twitch, oh no, a full on jerk and you don’t want to be anywhere close when he start jerking those legs, he has left marks. Then he moves up to his front legs and then in concert Orso’s legs run in tandem after the unseen target. His eyes roll back and forth and his lips twitch sometimes working up a growl or moan.

I’m telling you watching a dog sleep is better than the reality TV shows on cable.

Snow Dogs

What is it about snow that makes a seven year old dog think he is a one year old puppy again? We had about two inches of snow the other night, but the streets had been cleared making it easy to walk the dogs. I took the dogs on a walk and both acted like perfect gentlemen as we left the house and walked down the street. All three of us were on the lookout for deer or other wild animals in the dark. Charlie and Orso, because they want to chase something anything, me, because I don’t walk to get my arms ripped out of their sockets or knocked off my feet and slammed to the pavement left to freeze in the dark. I know, pretty selfish on my part, but I’m the one with the house key.

Everything was nice and peaceful, a great walk all the way to the dam. On the way back I spotted three deer standing in a yard up on the hill, but lucky for me the wind was blowing the other direction so the dogs didn’t pick up their scent. We walked past them, with the dogs oblivious and the deer stood very still waiting for us to get beyond them. Both dogs sniffed and peed on just about everything they could all the way back.

Just as we got back to our driveway, which hadn’t been shoveled yet, Orso decided that he was twelve months old again and spun around in a circle and jumped at Charlie for a full on tag team match, leaving me on the ground with my feet sticking out in front of me. Luckily I went down on my rear end and not on my face or we would have had dog stew for dinner. Orso turned around looking a bit contrite, not too contrite but a little and when he realized I wasn’t dead he turned back to Charlie for a snow romp. I let go of the leash too late to save myself but in time to not get dragged into a chest bumping dog wrestling match.

It took me ten minutes to get them back under control and into the house. It seems Charlie can still act like a puppy too when the mood strikes him.

Skunk De-Skunker or A Public Service Announcement

Pheasant season is right around the corner and if your dogs are anything like ours, they get into a lot of thick tall grass searching for the elusive scent of a pheasant. Often other creatures pop out of the underbrush, such as rabbits, deer and on occasion, a skunk. That happened on one hunting trip. The dogs were hot on a pheasant that wanted to run through some prairie grass and would not break cover, when the dogs stopped short. As I caught up to Charlie and Orso I could make out something black sticking up in the grass and the dogs were barking at it. I just barely made out the shape and screamed, “Skunk! Leave it –leave it!”

I back pedaled as fast as I could to get out of range, but Charlie and Orso were not so lucky. As Charlie turned the skunk sprayed them catching Charlie on the right side of his face and shoulder, Orso got sprayed on his shoulder. As bad as the dead skunk stench smells when you are driving down the road and get a waft of the road kill aroma, a live skunk spray victim smells worse. It is a cloying sickening sweet, decaying smell that gets in your nostrils and won’t go away.

We took the dogs back to the hotel and first put Charlie in the tub and used all of the shampoo we had scrubbing, rinsing and repeating over and over until the stench was not as overwhelming as it first was. A trip to Walmart for more shampoo and it was Orso’s turn. Even though we were able to cut the stench down with the multiple baths, the stench was still there when you got close to their heads and shoulders. It took almost six months for the smell to completely go away.

After we got back from our fateful hunting trip, we decided to put together a skunk de-skunking kit. In the October 2008 issue of Gun Dog Magazine there was an article about skunks and dogs and it listed a de-skunking recipe. Below is the list of ingredients and instructions for anyone that takes their dogs hiking or hunting and just might need this.

16 ounce bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide (For best results, change out the any unused Hydrogen Peroxide on an annual basis. This is the keep it fresh and active in case you have to use it.)
1 pound box of Baking Soda (transferred to a waterproof container
Dawn Dish Soap
Latex, plastic or rubber gloves (several pair)
A plastic or metal two-quart or larger container to mixing the ingredients (we used a gallon ice cream pail)

Measure one or more cups of baking soda into large container. Add 1/2 cup or more hydrogen peroxide to form a paste. Expect mixture to foam somewhat. Squeeze one or more ounces of liquid soap and while wearing protective gloves, hand mix the ingredients until smooth and slightly runny.

Hand rub mixture into dog’s coat with a massaging motion concentrating on the region where most of the skunk oil is located. Leave mixture on dog for 10 minutes or more. Then rinse with ample fresh water. Avoid getting the mixture in the dog’s eyes. Flush well with fresh water if it does get in his eyes.

Rinse the dog with plenty of fresh water.

NOTE: Do Not mix the solution before it is needed. It is unsafe to store this mixture for any length of time, so mix only when needed, apply immediately and discard afterwards.

We haven’t had to use our kit yet and hope we never have to, but we take it with us on each hunting trip. Of course I probably should do that on our hiking treks too.