Dogs of the Snow Country

And for Toby’s birthday, two posts in one day!

I am also a writer, mostly of poetry and nonfiction, but occasionally of fiction.  I am an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, but have not written much in this much beloved genre.  A few years ago, though a story came to me, and I was lucky enough to get it published.  So here is my first published fantasy story, which, of course, features Nihon Ken.  It’s a long story, a novella, so is not a quick read, but I hope is an enjoyable one.  While the story is fantasy, it is clearly based on the native dogs of Japan.

And while it is not illustrated, I thought I’d include a couple of photos of the dogs that inspired by story.  The Kai Ken:

The Akitas:

And of course, the Shibas:

And here is my story, with a huge thank you to the editors at Black Denim Literary Review who published it:  “Dogs of the Snow Country.” 

Toby is 12!

Happy birthday to my best boy, Toby, who turned 12 today!

He’s gone from this:

Four weeks old

Four weeks old

to this:

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What doesn’t change is his interests, which include food and riding in the car!  So for his birthday, I picked him and put him in the car (he can’t jump into the car on his own anymore, though he feels being lifted is very undignified!) and we went out for a birthday jaunt.

He had a birthday cheeseburger, which he enjoyed:

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He decided, however, that a true Shiba servant (ie. me) should help him get to the good parts:

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Ok, that looks better:
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What big teeth you have:

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The bread wasn’t that great, but in the end, he decided to eat that too:

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We also went for a short walk in town today, which he enjoyed at first, but then he decided he was done with his walk, and we still had to get back, so I think our walk went a bit longer than he enjoyed (it was still under a mile, but Toby is still having some trouble in his leg).

Toby’s 11th year was eventful.  Toby has severe luxating patella in one leg, and it’s not great in the other either.   Most of last spring, he was hopping on three legs.   I had plans for treatment, but due to an unrelated family emergency, ended up not having the money for his treatment.  But thanks to fabulous friends and readers of this blog, we were able to raise enough money to help Toby.   A huge THANK YOU to all of you who contributed to the fund!

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Toby says THANK YOU!!!

My regular vet was reluctant to do surgery on an 11 year old dog, so we went with a well recommended non-surgical approach called prolotherapy. (this is not my vet, but the description of prolotherapy was a good one).  Toby had several different treatments, from July into the fall.  It was wonderfully successful at first, but during the summer, Toby got in a fight with Leo and got hurt fairly badly.  This set back resulted in more damage to his knee, and though we did more treatments, he still has not fully recovered and is still limping.  If we could do more, I do believe we’d have more success, but due to limited funds (and another dog, Zora, who did have knee surgery in December for the same issue), we’ve been unable to continue, so Toby is still limping, though it is getting better.  I’m hoping to continue treatment sometime this spring.

During his recovery, he had daily short walks:

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And other low impact activities:

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(For anyone who goes through knee problems with their dogs, do investigate the non-surgical options.  Though we had a setback and not quite the results we wanted, I do think it was effective.  It’s not cheaper than surgery–or at least wasn’t cheaper than the old school knee repair my regular vet does–your mileage may vary depending on location–so explore all your options and consult with multiple vets!)

So now, Toby is 12. He is truly a Shiba elder now.   He is my familiar, my best boy, my heart dog.  He has been with me through some very difficult times, both for him and for me, and he is always there, in his undemonstrative Shiba way.   He’s given up hunting, and doesn’t do much of a Shiba 500 anymore.  He doesn’t even really jump up on the sofa anymore–but he enjoys his kuranda bed with his soft sheepskin on it.  He sleeps a lot.  He’s got cataracts, though he can still see except for in low light, and he can’t hear well, but he’s sharp as ever mentally and he enjoys his short walks, though they are slower these days.   I hope we have more years together to come.  I love my Toby!

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Want to help celebrate Toby’s birthday?  How about through supporting Shiba rescue?  There are many Shiba elders in need of homes.  Shiba elders are fantastic!  They’re usually pretty calm couch potatoes (though may be grumpy with other dogs or perhaps, like Toby, not tolerate other dogs at all anymore) and would make great companions who are past the crazy puppy stage.   If you can, consider adopting a Shiba elder in need.  I’ve included a couple of rescues, below, that tend to have Shiba elders that need homes.  Or if you can’t adopt, perhaps you can donate to a rescue that helps elders.  I’ve included some that I’ve supported, and also included the national list.

Northwest Shibas 4life
Tristate Shiba Rescue

Midwest Shiba Inu Rescue

Shiba Inu Rescue of Texas

Or check out the list of National Shiba rescues here:  Shiba rescue in the US

Happy birthday, Toby!

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Toby, from a few years back.

 

Toby in Need

I haven’t updated this for awhile, but now, Toby is in need, and it’s time to do it.  If you follow the link to the fundraiser, you’ll see more details of the family crisis we’ve fallen into.  Basically, Toby has always had luxating patellas in both knees, but this spring, it got much worse in the right leg, and at some point, he tore the ACL too.   Now we’ve been through this with Jezebel (now happily hunting beyond the rainbow bridge) and so I’m familiar with both injury and the possibilities for recovery:  it’s a slow process, but it does work.

Here at the House of the Fox Dogs, we normally have money set aside for vet bills. Unfortunately, this is not the case now, for a couple of reasons. We quickly spent a lot of money on consultations, first of all (nearly $500 so far). This is what the vets told us. One highly recommended vet has a nonsurgical method that will cost us approximately $1200. Our regular vet can do the old fashioned surgery (like she did for Bel) for $1800-$2000. Or a third vet, an orthopedic surgeon, will do the “new” surgery on Toby for approximately $5000.

Toby on his 11th birthday

Toby on his 11th birthday

It would never be easy for us to raise this money, but normally, the two less expensive options would be within reach, and I wouldn’t have to ask for help. Unfortunately, just a few weeks ago, I had a family emergency with my mother in Alaska, and have spent quite a bit of money, already going back and forth trying to help her. I also discovered she had incurred debt in my name that needs to be paid off. This emergency has already stretched our family resources as far as they can be stretched and beyond. So I’m finding myself in the difficult situation of asking for help. The fundraiser link is here: http://www.youcaring.com/lisa-chavez-and-toby-362245

I’m hoping to cover Toby’s health care first, and if there is more money left, then I’ll pay down the debt. And if there is any money left beyond those things, I will donate the rest to Shiba rescue. If you can help–be it through donating, or sending encouraging words, or through boosting the signal–we appreciate it!

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Toby at the vet, getting the bad news about his leg.

 

Toby is 11. He is happy and relatively healthy for an 11 year old. He’s sort of deaf, though he won’t admit it, and is starting to develop cataracts. But he is mentally as sharp as ever, and still quite interested in life. He’s a Shiba, and could easily live to 16, 17, or 18. Without some treatment soon for his leg, however, he’s likely to injure the other leg as well, and if he can’t walk….well, you can see this would shorten his life (and break his person’s heart). With treatment, he’ll be able to use the leg again, and enjoy the rest of years pain free.

Toby says thank you for your support!

Toby says thank you for your support!

Toby is Ten!

Happy birthday to Toby, who turned 10 today!

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Toby at Four weeks old

He is now officially a Shiba elder, and he celebrated his status by doing what he likes best:  nothing much at all.

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Often I take the birthday dog for a ride to get a burger at a drive-through, but today I had a puppy class, and was in town already with Zora, so Toby had to forgo his birthday ride.  That’s ok:  Toby is rather….um….portly, as it is, and I didn’t think I needed to add to his quest to be World’s Largest Shiba.    He did, however, have a bully stick, and got lots of attention.   In some ways, Toby has kept his puppyish figure, and his interests have remained much the same too:

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Toby then….

though these days, he takes up a lot more space:

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Toby at 9.5 years old

Oh, Toby did have a slim period, but that has long since passed:

Toby and Bel in better days

Toby and Bel in better days

(Bel was a puppy in that photo, and Toby was around two years old).

Mostly, Toby seems to be returning to his youth in some ways.   As a puppy, while he didn’t exactly enjoy other dogs, he seemed to be able to tolerate being around them:

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Toby and Gideon were puppies together.

But his middle years were difficult.  His friendship with Gideon went sour and Toby seemed to lose every fight he started:

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Toby’s war wounds

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Yeah, I lost, but I got this cool neckerchief…

Of course, the fight(s) with Bel were the worst, and in 2008, we nearly lost him.   The damage she did was so great, Toby’s liver began to fail.  But thanks to the best vets ever, and to Toby’s fighting spirit, my heart dog pulled through.

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After 6 weeks at the vet, I brought my boy home

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Wounded by still smiling!

Toby has seen a lot.  Of course, he has scars, both physically and emotionally.   Toby was very scared and reactive with other dogs ever since then–and who can blame him?  Every interaction he’d had with other dogs seemed to go very badly indeed, and in the years afterwards, Bel tried to attack him every chance she could.  Finally, it was too difficult trying to keep them separated in the house–Bel was masterful at getting through doors and knocking down dog gates.  Toby got his own room,  the sun room, which had also been his recovery room.

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Toby in his room

I don’t think he minded.  He had his own chair, and privacy, and big windows, and he seemed to feel safe in his room.   He came into the rest of the house when the other dogs were outside and he slept in the living room at night, but he would happily run back to his room in the morning.   I did worry that he was lonely, as he had no dog friends, but since he’d had such bad luck with other dogs, I think he was more comfortable on his own.

There were some hard times there before Bel died.  There are always mistakes when you have to manage dogs that don’t get along, and we had some too.  Once Toby slipped outside when the others were already out, and I suddenly heard a very aggressive barking.  I ran outside and what I saw was horrible:  Toby was running towards the house, with three others dogs (Oskar, Bel and Leo) in pursuit.  But Toby isn’t fast, and Oskar knocked him down and bit him, and Toby was on his side, screaming, and Bel attacked.  I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to pull two dogs (Oskar and Bel) off Toby and shove them into the car which was the closest place for me to put them (thank god I’d left the doors unlocked!)

Toby had run, crying, back to his room and was on his chair when I got there, and Leo, sweet Leo, was rolling on his back in front of Toby, as if to say, “look, I’m harmless!” Thankfully, Toby was ok, and there was only one minor puncture wound to treat.  But I still feel guilty about that:  it was my fault, as I hadn’t locked the door to Toby’s room, and during the night the wind blew it open, so it was slightly ajar and he was able to go out.   Seeing him on the ground, with the other dogs attacking him still makes me teary:  my old fat boy, wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but they went after him the moment they saw him.

Something did good out of this though:  after seeing Leo make appeasing gestures, I wondered if perhaps Leo and Toby could become friends.  So very slowly, over the course of year, we began to test it out.  I took them for walks together.  We let them sleep in the same room, with Leo in the crate.  Leo is the perfect dog for rehabilitating a reactive dog:  he reads other dogs well, and he is nonthreatening.   A lot of those early walks involved the two dogs not looking at each other all, or sniffing near each other, but with no eye contact.  Polite dog behavior.  Then we let Toby loose in the yard with Leo on the leash, and then the two of them loose in the yard together, where they continued to politely ignore one another.  They weren’t friends yet, but they were getting along, something which I thought was amazing progress.

And then Bel died, and the dynamics in the house changed dramatically.  The relief in the house was palpable:  Toby knew his tormenter was not there.   He started to relax.   And he and Leo became friends for real.

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We’re friends, but I still get all the toys.

It was a pretty amazing change for an old dog.  They are easy together, and lately, I’ve been thrilled to see Toby even greets Leo with a polite sniff and tail wag.  They’re even comfortable enough together to chill out on the sofa together:

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And perhaps the bigger miracle is this:  Toby even tolerates puppy Zora!  They’ve been loose in the yard together several times now, and while Toby will give a warning growl to get Zora to keep her distance–no puppy play for Toby!–he also doesn’t seem to be threatened by her.   I’m hoping this will continue as she gets older, too.  It would nice for Toby to have a big protector too, like Leo has with Oskar.

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Polite greetings with puppy Zora in the background

So my old boy has learned some new tricks, and I think he’s happier having some friends, or at least knowing that most of the dogs he lives with will not hurt him (he still can’t get along with Oskar, but two out of three isn’t bad!)

Toby may be 10, but he’s a Shiba, so I hope he has many more years left–Shibas are relatively long lived dogs.  He’s not as healthy as he could be, as he is hypothyroid and probably is in the early stages of Cushings disease.  He has always had mild luxating patella, but his age and weight are starting to take a toll, and that leg is getting a bit worse.  And while Toby has long wanted to be the World’s Largest Shiba, I would very much like him to lose some weight, though the various diets we’ve tried haven’t taken much off.  He’s getting hard of hearing–sometimes I can call and call, and when I go in front of him and he sees me, he’s clearly startled:  he didn’t hear me.

But I love my old fat boy like crazy, and am so thankful to have had these past 10 years with him, ten years in which we both had to fight hard and struggle against enormous odds.  We’re both a bit scarred, a bit less trusting than we were ten years ago, and a bit more tired, but also wiser, and we’ve learned to value true friends and simple pleasures.

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So here’s to Toby, who is 10, my first Shiba, and my favorite fat boy in all his splendor, and with all his nicknames:    Toby Toby, Toby Soprano, Pope Toby the Only, Fatboy Slim, Toblerone, Devil Dog, Bobo.  May we have many more years together, and you’ll always be my best boy.

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Toby as Best Man

She’s Here!

Time for a new addition at The House of the Fox Dogs. Introducing, Zora!

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Zora at 6 weeks, photo by Liberty Akitas

Zora is an American Akita, bred by Liberty Akitas in Oklahoma.  I have been wanting a Liberty dog ever since I met the Bennetts several years ago, and I inquired about upcoming litters after we lost Bel.  Last weekend, little Miss Zora came home with us.

Years ago, I met her grandsire, Bugatti, at a show, and was quite taken with how friendly and even silly he was (he was just a pup then!)  I also met Demi  at that same show.   I really wanted a Bugatti puppy, but we were full up on dogs at that time, since in the intervening years we’d gotten our Whirlwind of Naughty, the Kai Ken Leo.

But this year, everything fell into place.  Zora’s sire is Bugatti son Clooney, and the lovely Demi is her dam.  Clooney is gorgeous, and it was fun to meet him and see he was as fun loving and wonderful as I remembered Bugatti to be, and Demi is a lovely lady.  And now we have Zora!

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Zora, 8.5 weeks

As you can see, she is a mostly white hooded girl, and while her head looks black in some photos, she actually has some brindle on her neck and cheeks.  And she has the black spot near her tail that a friend christened her “spanking spots!”  She’s a lively, curious girl, who has charmed everyone she’s met, including our dogs.   While it takes Oskar the big boy awhile to adjust to puppies, he’s already much less grouchy with her than he was with Leo (though they only are having very limited controlled meetings for now).  Toby ignores her (but he also only has met her while she was crated). Leo spent two days trying to ignore her and pointedly ignoring me (oh Leo’s feelings are hurt!  He’s not the baby anymore!) but Zora was determined to make friends and less than a week later, they are already comfortable with one another.

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Little Miss is busy, into everything.  She’s an adventurous girl, and in her short time here has already explored much of our large yard.  She climbed up the stairs on her second day here, and has already mastered going up the outside stairs, which are open stairs and harder for dogs.  Indoors, she loves a good game of tug, and outdoors, she likes to climb and jump and run.

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Indoor activities include getting into EVERYTHING!

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You had to wash these anyway, right?

So things have changed at the House of the Fox Dogs, and sadly, we are almost not really a house of Fox Dogs anymore, as now we only have one Shiba, Toby.   But I’ll keep the name, even though we’re becoming a house of Akitas these days.

I hope to have a few different type of blog posts in the next couple of months.  While I intend to keep up my sporadic dog updates (more pics of Zora, I promise!), I’ve also been working on two dog related writing projects, one a longish fantasy story about Japanese dogs, and also an essay about Bel.  I’ve decided to post both of them here, probably in a series of entries since both are long.   So look for that in the next few months, and I also promise to update with pictures of Zora, the Queen of Cute (and thanks to another friend for coming up with that nickname!)

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this photo of Little Miss on “guard” duty.

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Zora on her first day home (thanks Marisa for this pic!)

And a huge thank you to Liberty Akitas for trusting us with this sweet little monster, to Marisa for driving out to Oklahoma with me to get her, and for my husband for holding down the fort while I was gone, and managing the rest of the canine crew.

Goodbye to Bel

On the afternoon of July 12th, Bel was bit by a rattlesnake, and we euthanized her later that day.  I have some other things to say about Bel, but this is the first post, about what happened to her.

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Grieving, I sometimes find myself saying the same words over and over, like a mantra, though it is not one that brings comfort.  And in this past week, I’ve been hearing these words run through my head:   I lost my little squirrely girl.  I let my girl go.  My little Bel is gone.  But she is not lost, and I didn’t “let her go.”  No, I made the decision to euthanize her.    I held her while my vet slipped the needle in, and held her as she suddenly slumped, soft as a sigh, into her death.  I did that, and we can rationalize it all the ways we need, but I did make the decision to kill her.  I know I did the right thing, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier, and grief keeps up its oddly euphemistic chant in my head.  We lost our girl.

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My red girl loved the snow


I’d been agonizing over it for weeks.  Years, really, but in the last few weeks of her life, it was a constant weight.  It wasn’t a “should I?” it was a “when” and that was the difficulty.  I’ve had to euthanize other dogs, of course.  With Kai, my German Shepherd Dog, it was obvious.  The cancer had turned the bones in this back legs to lace, and he was not always able to get up.  But the final sign was when he got a fever he couldn’t shake, and it raged so high it was clear it was going to do damage to his brain if we couldn’t get it down.  And we couldn’t.  Not with aspirin, not with towels soaked in ice water.  It would subside a bit then spike up again, and he was clearly suffering.  So, after a bad weekend, we took him into the vet, and he sighed and wagged his tail when the vet asked him if he was ready to go.  I think he was.  It was the first time he’d wagged his tail in a week.

But with Bel, it wasn’t so easy at all.  it wasn’t one, terminal disease Bel had.  It was a myriad of other things.  Bel was epileptic, and often had small (petit mal) seizures that left her frightened and confused.  She was hypothyroid.  She had liver and kidney damage, and the kidneys were chronically a problem.  In May, we discovered she had two badly broken teeth, and one mildly chipped one.  She had luxating patella and had had surgery for it on one side, but in April, the other one went out too and then she tore the MCL, and so from April til her death in July, she got around mostly on three legs (and she mostly got around quite well on three legs).  We also noted, at a vet visit in May, that she was beginning to demonstrate some other neurological problems.  My vet noticed she was swaying more, and had more trouble recovering from a gentle nudge, not from her bad leg, but because her balance was off.  She was confused more often.   I had noticed a year or so before that one eye protruded slightly more than the other–this time, the vet noted it too, and felt it was more obvious than it had been just a few months before.  I have long thought Bel might have had a brain tumor; my vet disagrees, as her experience has been with fast growing tumors that kill quickly.  But I know there are dogs with slow growing tumors, too, and I believe, still, that Bel likely had one of these.  There were just too many symptoms.  But we’ll never know for sure.

The thing is, many of Bel’s health problems could have been fixed if I had more money to spend.  I could have had her broken teeth pulled, had the surgery done on her knee.  We couldn’t, likely, have fixed the neurological problems, but we could have done MRIs or CT scans to see if there really was a tumor.  We could have ordered a battery of tests to check her kidney function.

I did not.  There are times I felt guilty about this, but I have three other dogs, and limited resources, and I understood the hard truth:  I could spend thousands more dollars on Bel, and it would still not fix her.  It would not change the fact that she’d still be a fearful, sometimes aggressive dog who was often confused and frightened by the most ordinary aspects of her life.  No amount of money would make Bel a normal dog.

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Bel was often sick



I kept a journal of Bel’s health.  Since Dec. of 2012, it had been getting worse and worse.  She often wouldn’t eat, and would drink and drink and vomit up bile.  She had these episodes at least once a month at first, and then it got worse and was twice a month, sometimes more.  I could interrupt it with anti-emetics (and did, and sometimes had to give her injections when it was particularly bad), but it was stressful for us all.  When she was sick, she’d ghost around the house, tail and head down, clearly miserable. She’d become incontinent during these times too.   As the spring progressed, she was often sick and then agitated at the same time:  sometimes she would pace the house, and if I blocked off a place I didn’t want her to go (I was tired of her vomiting on the carpet upstairs, or sometimes peeing on our bed), she went nuts, and she broke down doggie gates trying to get upstairs or back downstairs.

The worst was in May.  I was supposed to go to graduation, to celebrate the very wonderful graduate students I had been working with.  Bel was having one of her episodes, and had been vomiting, but she also became very anxious and was pacing.  I realized, later, she probably had had a seizure I hadn’t seen.  But she would not settle.   She broke down the doggie gate to come upstairs, and she hid in the closet in my bedroom.  Then came back out.  Then climbed on the bed.  The jumped off, bad leg and all.  Then she wanted to go back downstairs, but the gate was still in place.  I was trying to dress to go to graduation.  Suddenly, Oskar, the Akita, began to bark, and I discovered Bel had crept in between the railings on the stairs and was going to jump downstairs, a jump of six feet or so.  I caught her  and put her in the big crate, where she went crazy, flinging herself at the side of the crate and screaming and biting the metal.

I left anyway.  I had to go; it was graduation.  I got in the car. I could hear her barking and crying outside the house.  I drove away.  I could only drive a few miles, though, before I stopped and turned around.  I worried she’d hurt herself in the crate.  I went home and sedated her, and after an hour, when the acepromazine had finally worked and I was able to leave (ace, while not ideal, was the only thing we could use that would actually have a sedative effect on her by then–we’d already worked our way through valium and xanax and prozac, all of which made her hyperactive and aggressive).

It was terrible.  I was worried about her, but I was also frustrated, and exhausted.  She was not an easy dog to live with in the best of times, but her behavior had become so erratic, her health so unpredictable, that sometimes I simply couldn’t take it.  I’m not happy to admit I did not always feel kindly toward Bel.  When she refused to take her pills, I became frustrated with her, and one day, when she refused liverwurst or cheese, I finally just opened her mouth and shoved the pills down.  She had to take them:  without the phenobarbital she’d have more seizures, and be even worse.  She had to have the meds for her injured leg, the antibiotics to keep her broken teeth from becoming painfully infected.  I didn’t hurt her, but I scared her, and she ran away from me tail down, and hid, and I felt so horrible and so guilty. It haunted me.   I did the best I could, but seeing her fear was terrible.

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Leo comforting Bel while she was sick



In early June, I took her to the vet.  We were supposed to have her teeth pulled, but I finally realized that maybe that didn’t make sense.  I wasn’t sure putting her under general anesthesia and putting her through the recovery of the pulled teeth was a good idea.  I handed my vet the list of Bel’s illnesses since December (most of which, of course, they’d seen).  I told them about her behavior, how some days she didn’t know how us.  How many nights I couldn’t get her inside at all, and how finally, I’d given up, and let her sleep outside at night, though I never slept well, listening, fearfully, for her, worried a coyote would get her.   My vet weighed her.  She’d lost 15 % of her body weight in 3 weeks.  She wasn’t eating anymore, or barely enough to sustain herself. Some days she would eat nothing. Some days,  she’d eat a half a stick of string cheese.  She’d eat a quarter cup of Stella and Chewy’s Duck Duck Goose, the only food she’d tolerate in those last months.  She’d eat a spoonful of ice cream or liverwurst.  And no more.   There was a real worry, my vet said, was that Bel would simply starve to death, a particularly unpleasant way to die.

And so we had to have the talk.  My vet has known me through all these years of struggle with Bel.  She was there to put Toby back together after Bel nearly killed him, and she listened to me think about euthanizing her then, all those years ago.   She even helped me try to find another home for Bel, though in the end, I kept her.   She did the surgery on her knee; she’s stitched her back together after the coyote attack that caused head injuries, and after the stray dogs bit her a year or so ago.  She or her husband attached Bel to IVs for failing kidneys, and she helped us sort out the thyroid levels and the right dose of phenobarbital for her epilepsy.   She’s seen it all.  And my vet said that she thought it might be time, and that I’d done all I could do for this little dog.  But I think what really got me was this:  she told me that if I wanted, we could order tests.  We could do a full panel of blood work to try and figure out what was wrong with her kidneys.  We could do a MRI or a CT scan.   I could spend several thousand dollars, or more, but in the end, we’d still be where we were, and she’d still have to recommend putting the dog down.

And I knew.  I knew that before I’d come in.  I needed to hear someone else say it.  But I also couldn’t do it right then; the thought of losing Bel was too hard, and also, I knew my husband who loved Bel deeply, but was also in deep denial about her health, would never agree to it.  In the weeks to come, though, what to do about Bel, about euthanizing her, became the constant question.  Not if.  But when.

And in those weeks, while she still managed to race through the yard on three legs, while she refused food and refused to come in, but then had moments of unaccountable sweetness, I mourned my little Jezebel, though she was still there, a flame-bright presence in our lives.  I saw a dog bed I thought she’d like at the thrift store, then started crying when I realized it made no sense to get it for her.  I watched Leo lay snuggled up against her and got teary thinking of how much he’d miss her.

On the summer solstice, some dear friends came over and we sat outside under a tree, the other dogs happily gathered around us.   Bel was like a phantom already, a red presence who ghosted through the yard like a shadow.  She’d been unaccountably friendly for a few moments, then she disappeared, moving like a wild animal through the trees, too spooked to do more than glance at us.  She had a favorite place in the yard she liked to sit, and from that place, she’d stare out to the woods beyond the fence, the woods the coyotes often called from, and I had the sudden sense that she was already only half in this world anyway, that she was already looking out into whatever comes after for dogs.  She seemed utterly indifferent to us, like a wild creature who had stumbled into the yard and stayed, but was not really part of our lives.  She was like this for weeks, a feral presence in our little half acre.

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My vets are often in and out of town, and what I knew was that I did not want to have to euthanize Bel at a strange clinic.  I wanted, instead, for our vet to come to our home.  Bel had always been a little homebody, a dog who could be lively and charming at home, but who did not enjoy going to strange places.  So I made an appointment.  My vets could only come out on Weds or Saturdays, so I picked the last Saturday they would be in town in June.  June 29.  It was also her eighth birthday.  It was terribly difficult:  my husband didn’t agree with me and I wasn’t even sure the time was right, though I had one illuminating moment when a friend asked me what I would do if I wasn’t arguing with my husband about the “when” and I said I’d put Bel down.  And she said, well, there’s your answer.  And it was true.  I knew it was the right thing to do.  Though she didn’t act like it, I knew Bel was in pain–from her teeth, from her leg, from the chronic kidney issues.  I also was aware that I was giving her more and more meds:  for pain, to sedate her when she was crazily anxious, and it just didn’t seem right.

Then, unpredictable as always, Bel began to eat again.  The week before I’d planned to put her down, she rallied.  She ate.  She started to come in at night, happily.  She was affectionate again, and she played with the other dogs.  She was lively. Our little girl was back!  I wasn’t fooled–I knew she was not going to get better.  But I also decided to give her a bit more time.  The night before her birthday, my friends and I went to see Patty Griffin, and she sang a heartbreaking song (Wild Old Dog) about a dog she’d seen on the highway, and I cried through the song, and was so thankful that I had called the vet that day and cancelled the appointment, and that the next day was not the day I was going to put my little girl to sleep.

It wasn’t that everything was better.  Bel’s problems remained.  And in the final week of her life, I noted more confusion.  Once, when my husband came home, she ran out to greet him, then got confused, and she backed away from him so fast and so fearfully that she tumbled into me and fell, stricken and scared.  A few minutes later, she came out of it, and showed her regular delight to see him.  That happened more than once.

I knew we were just biding time, but we had that time, those few extra weeks, and in that time, Bel seemed happier than she’d been.  I thought vaguely of making an appointment before we left for Germany, as I was worried about leaving the responsibility of her to my friends who were housesitting.  I just tried to be present with her in those days, to watch her, to be with her, though often I was in tears as I stroked her soft fur.

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Leo and Bel in the yard

Her final day was unexpected, and I think, in someways, as awful as it was, that it was also a great gift.  Because I couldn’t seem to decide. I couldn’t figure out what the right thing to do was, and I talked to friends about it endlessly, needing advice, but more than that, probably, just an ear.  I scoured the web for articles about euthanasia, about when to make the decision.  I found  a good article  from a hospice vet that included a quiz to help decide if it was time.  Bel’s score was 11; they recommended euthanasia at 8.  But it was still a decision I couldn’t seem to make, though I knew Bel would not live out this summer.  (Some other good links about making this hard decision are here and here)

Friday, July 12.  Bel was out in the yard, in the early afternoon, and I heard, suddenly, her shrill alarm bark.  I let Oskar out after her, and then I heard him bark, and a dog scream, and I ran out into the yard yelling “no!” before I even knew what was happening.  A part of me registered that the scream I’d heard was not one of my dogs, but I ran out to find all three, Leo, Bel and Oskar, packed around a small, strange dog, which was on its back, screaming.  It was a Shih Tzu or Maltese, a small white dog in a blue, untagged harness, and even as I was screaming “leave it”  and Oskar was backing away, I saw Bel move in to bite it.  She’s always ignored the signs of surrender, the dog turning on its back, always took that as an opportunity to do damage, and all I was trying to do was to stop her from killing this dog that had somehow appeared inside our fenced yard.  Then some miracle–the little dog pushed itself back and fell through the fence (it was so small it fit through the squares of the wire of our fence), and then it was on its feet and running away.  I wanted to make sure it was ok, so I ran after it, but I had to run around to the gate to get out, and by the time I made it to the street, the dog was very far away, running. And then, forgotten, because of what happened next. I hope that little dog was ok; I hate to think of someone else losing their dog that day.

I went back to get the car, and I called the dogs in, and when Bel came in, I noticed she was pawing at her face. It looked like there was a little knot on the side of her muzzle, and it looked like a bite, though  a very small one, but I figure that tiny little dog probably had tiny teeth.  Still, I’ve been through enough dog fights to know that it is best to always treat even the seemingly minor bites, so I called the vet, and as I was calling I saw the knot was swelling rapidly….and I think I knew then it was not a dog bite.

We’ve been through the rattlesnake bites before, of course, with Leo, and he’d swelled up like that too.  He’d been uncoordinated and confused, though, within minutes, and Bel was not.  I got her in the car, and she leapt into the front seat as if she were fine, ignoring the bite, the injured leg, and she leaned against me in her favorite place to ride.   I knew.  And in the brief drive to the vet  I talked to her.  “Girly,” I said, “if this is a rattlesnake bite, I think this might be it.  It might be time for you to go.”  I was crying, and she leaned against me harder, as if she were trying to comfort me.

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Pretty girl



I still wasn’t sure when we got to the vet’s office.  She wasn’t disoriented.  She didn’t seem dizzy.  By this time her muzzle, though, was horribly swollen, though she didn’t even act as if she were in pain.  I told the vet  that I didn’t think it was a snake bite, but I saw his face darken as he glanced at her when we walked in the door, and I knew I was wrong.  We went into the exam room right away, and even before he examined her, he talked about our options, about using antivenin or not (we had with Leo), about possible treatments and the difficulties we faced because of her particular health issues.  And he said what I’d been thinking–did I want to try to get her through this?  In the meantime, Bel acted like her usual self, pacing a bit, trying to jump up onto the chair in the room.   On the exam table, she was calm, and didn’t seem disoriented, even when he shaved her muzzle and we saw not one, but two set of puncture marks.  She was calm even when we saw that her muzzle was already turning black where it was swollen, and the wounds were seeping black beads of blood.

I knew.  I knew when we’d gotten in the car.  My vet reminded me, gently, of Bel’s failing kidneys, and the damage that snake bites can do to kidneys even in a healthy dog.  Could he get her through this?  Maybe, maybe not.  In any case, she’d be on an IV, left in the vet clinic overnight, and I knew I couldn’t do it.  It was too much–the snake bite and everything else, the litany of health issues that never seemed to end, and I knew how scared my little girl would be there at the vet, overnight, and what if she died anyway and I wasn’t there with her?  I couldn’t bear it.  And so I made the decision then.  It was not the way I’d wanted Bel’s death to be.  I’d imagined she’d be at home, and my husband would be there and my best friend, M., who had driven with me, almost eight years before, to a place in Nebraska I wasn’t then educated enough to understand was a commericial breeder, a puppy mill, where I’d payed $300 for a 4 month old puppy who I had named Jade Jezebel Foxglove, and called Bel.  I wanted us all there.  I wanted the other dogs there.  I wanted her on her favorite sheepskin, surrounded by those who loved her.

But Bel had always had a mind of her own.  And as I told the vet as he prepared the injection, I couldn’t help but think Bel had had a good day for her.  She’d loved to fight, and she’d gotten in a fight.  She liked to hunt, and obviously, she’d been after a snake.  She’d gone for a ride.  She was calm, and seemed happy and pleased with herself, and I think, if she could have chosen, she’d have chosen to go out after such an eventful day.  At least, that’s what happened.  I held her, and kissed her between the ears on her fur bright as a fox’s pelt, avoiding that still swelling muzzle, and she had that final dose of phenobarbital, the one let her slip away from us forever.

In the end, her death seemed so sudden.  But I suppose that was the gift,  in the midst of grief.  There was no more agonizing over what was right to do–there was just that moment, and the knowledge that I couldn’t let her go on in pain.   It was time, and it almost seemed as if she’d chosen the way she wanted to go–to go out fighting.

The next morning, I walked around the yard, looking to see if I’d find a dead snake.  I wondered if she’d killed the one that bit her.  I didn’t find anything, but I found a slight hole in the fence, and grabbed a big log to block it.  Under the log, there in the middle of the yard, was a rattlesnake.  I don’t know if it was the same one that bit Bel, but I hope it was.  It didn’t move, and I went into the garage and got an axe and killed it.  I think Bel would have approved of that.

Proud Hunter

A past snake encounter she won



The next week, all the other dogs got the rattlesnake vaccine, which will help lessen the effects should they be bit.

There’s more to say about Bel of course, about her life from the days I got her at the puppy mill til the day she left us.  I learned so much from her.  Some of it I suppose I wish I didn’t know, but because of Bel I know how to flush drains in wounds.  I know how to give dogs injections.  I know about luxating patella and torn ligaments, about canine epilepsy.  I’ve learned a lot about fearful dogs, and fear-based aggression, and dogs that haven’t been socialized.  I’ve learned, too, that many dogs are dealt a bad hand by the people who breed them, who don’t care enough about animals to be more careful, and I’ve learned that many dogs who come from puppy mills are not actually ever able to overcome that initial bad hand.  Bel was one of those dogs.  She didn’t even come from the worst of the mills.  But she was never able to really be a normal dog.  Toby paid for that.  I paid for that.  Our entire family did, physically, emotionally and financially.  The last count I had of Bel’s costs, we were up to around $12000, and I’m sure it was closer to $14,000 or $15,000 by the time she died.  She was a hard dog to live with.

And yet, I loved her.  And that day when I took her home, I committed myself to her, became responsible for her life.  I gave her the best life I could. I also gave her a good death.  And in between, she lived her life on her terms.

Goodbye, squirrely girl. We miss you.

(More about Bel’s story is here and here.)

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Leo is One!

Leo is already one year old!  Time flies!

Here are some pictures of our little whirlwind of naughty (so-christened by a friend from the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab forum).

Baby Leo:

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Leo today:

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Leo still enjoys agility, and though this picture is from the early fall, when he was younger, he’s still just as eager to run through a tunnel or over a jump, or go over the A-frame (his favorite!).

Leo in the tunnel at his agility class

Leo in the tunnel at his agility class

We’ve found agility to be great for general training too–in some ways!  He got off leash one day on a walk, and my heart stopped–there have been too many lost Kai.   So I said “let’s go” which we say in agility and pointed the direction I wanted him to go and started walking, and he came running, and sat.  I clipped his leash back on.  Good boy, Leo!

Of course, he also sees most of the furniture in the house as part of an agility field now, and happily jumps and climbs on things whether I want him to or not.  I think he’d have done that regardless; Kai Ken are climbers.  But now, at least, he’s quick to jump off something if I want him to, as he’s used to watching my hands and responding to commands.

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Leo in a rare moment of repose (on the back of the sofa)

He starts a new group class tomorrow:  advanced obedience, which is only really as advanced in that he had to have another class before it.  I don’t think he’ll enjoy it as much as agility–at 1 year old, he is still puppyish in many ways, including impulse control.  I don’t think he’ll enjoy stays, for example.   But it will be good practice, and then we’ll go back to our agility trainer later in the spring.

I took him to a loose leash walking seminar recently too, because he pulls like crazy.  They used a gentle leader head collar on him, which worked quite well.  In fact, in about 5 minutes he had stopped pulling, and was heeling like a champ.  One of the trainers remarked to the other how smart he was, and how clicker savvy he was, and how he watched my hands so attentively.  We talked about his agility class, and how good he is, and just as I was congratulating myself for having a brilliant boy, the trainer suggested a change of venue.  We went outside.  Leo saw some agility equipment and started pulling like a sled-dog, even in the head collar.  All semblance of focus on me was gone.  Ha!  Now that’s more the Leo I know!

Why do we call him the whirlwind of naughty?  Because he’s always into something:

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Like that!  He just jumped right up on to the table in front of me, because wow, that mouse looks tasty!  (Leo loves to chew plastic).  He’s also a crafty little planner:  he often checks things out to figure what he wants to steal, and then if I go out of the room (even for a minute!), he’ll grab it.  This means he can’t ever be unsupervised, because he’ll get into something!  Library books, cameras, phones, my kindle–these are all favorite targets.

I think he wants to read.  Maybe he’s heard that Toby writes and he wants to try too!

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The Nihon Ken forum? I have things to say!

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Thoughtful Leo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But naughty or not, he’s a wonderful dog.  He gets along with the other dogs, and is a little peacemaker.  He is smart and funny, and more loving than the others, and he is endlessly entertaining.  He even tries to charm the other dogs into giving up things he wants (like the toy Bel has) and though it never works, it is fun to watch:

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Silly Leo

Happy birthday, Leo!  We’e so lucky to have you in our lives!

And thanks to Brad and Jen Anderson at Yamabushi Kennel for entrusting him to us!

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