Dogs and the Things We Cannot Change

WM Walter Nap

Are you the kind of person who gets nervous in a new place if there isn’t a dog to talk to? Do you find it easy to look through the dog spit dried on the passenger window when making a right turn in your truck? Do you have a drawer with a bunch of old dog collars with worn tags that you just can’t seem to throw out?

A couple of weeks ago I was at a book event standing behind a table. The author next to me said something that I didn’t catch. It might have been clever. She laughed and laughed, pointing at some short white and yellow hairs on my tablecloth. Of course there were hairs there; they matched the ones on my clothes. I still don’t get the joke but it had to do when her not having a dog. I don’t understand that either.

So, I didn’t tell her that in my writing studio I have four dog beds and a can of compressed air to blow those same hairs out of my keyboard. It’s worse; I lay proud claim to especially liking bad-dogs (here).

There’s Walter, coming from the witness protection program in Wyoming for over-barking, and from Texas, Preacher Man, named because he loved of the sound of his own voice a little too much. But it isn’t like they bark all the time. Just if there is another person around. Or other dogs. Or horses. And of course, cats, but that’s expected. And the llamas; they look like alien cats after all. Besides, it’s their job (here) to ward off intruders. The truth is they’d probably both be considered reactive dogs. It’s a lifestyle choice that limits their welcome; not everyone appreciates their brand of compulsive yodeling as much as me and the Dude Rancher. I suppose there are those who would hold their shedding against them, too.

The pack also includes a thirteen year old Briard, Tomboy, and Finny, a kind soul of a lab mix. We were all coasting along, dysfunctional and happy about it. Sure, Walter had that diagnosis, (two liver conditions, one fatal and the other requiring a homemade diet, five meals a day, and a complicated regime of medications,) but he’d been cheerfully howling on, ignoring dozens of blood tests that said he was two years past his expiration date.  It all became our normal.

Sometimes change hits you like a sledgehammer, but for us it was more of a slow leak, almost unnoticeable above the usual yelping pitch of our lives. Gradually there was more fighting at back door. The dogs all ate separately, but mealtime became intensely frantic. The dogs who didn’t usually bark took up the habit.

When Walter was first diagnosed, he lost a third of his body weight. His strength faltered; he still barked too much, but with less enthusiasm. Then a biopsy, more testing, some medication balancing, and in a few months he was almost back to himself. Walter was three then. If he wasn’t so thin, you’d never know he was sick at all, but monthly blood tests showed numbers three to four hundred times higher than normal. My vet told me what to look for: weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, no appetite. I watched for a physical sign.

On pizza nights, we had to separate the dogs. We missed our dog-pile on the couch but we split them into shifts. Walter began to have sleep drama, waking up in a barking panic several times a night. Now he finds peace sleeping in his crate.

I read somewhere that when dogs begin to weaken with age, some will want to act tough as a sort of self-defense. Maybe it’s like that but Walter has gotten quite aggressive, with a deep and constant growl, even toward me. His hackles are always visible, like he has to threaten us to prove his strength. His muscles quiver most of the time.

We all feel his stress. Walter attacks Tomboy most often and she guards against it, growling and barking back. Preacher joins in but always afraid of getting stepped on, he nips from behind while barking hysterically. Timid Finny worries, waits for a quiet moment, and then pounces on Walter. Breaking up fights is a constant, while all the time thinking this isn’t who we are. It’s not what we do.

Yes, we’ve tried every herbal available and taken all reasonable advice. Walter lives in a Thundershirt now. I can’t tell if it calms him but it hides some bald patches. He hates being separated and hates being with us. He constantly paces. I’ve talked to the vet about anxiety meds but as compromised as his liver is, it would be a dangerous idea. Now I think maybe the rest of us could use some medication.

I continue to look for a sign. Even as I continue to ignore all the signs.

Last weekend, I took Walter to Denver for some TTouch and a massage. I worried that he might have a second condition–a sore back maybe. Watching him get his treatment gave me a chance to see him with new eyes. In the beginning he was restless, he winced a couple of times, and eventually relaxed deeply. Seeing his body finally soft reminded me what he was like before all this started.

So our pack is a mess lately. We all have some pretty spectacular short comings; we get things wrong in this slow motion war, myself included. Care-giving is exhausting, but Walter is one of us. We’ll see him through and try to remember that it isn’t really us that he’s fighting.

Rescue dogs are all the rage. It’s a quality of life transaction; we want to give them a better life and we get the same in return. The plan is always to have more good days than bad, but sometimes that isn’t possible. Then we lower our expectations and say thank you. We’re just hoping for a few more moments of that special late-afternoon sun.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

41 thoughts on “Dogs and the Things We Cannot Change

  1. Thank you for being able to describe the effect that Walter’s illness is having on your household with compassion and tolerance. As all of us animal caretakers have experienced, you will know when to say goodbye. It will be a little later than most would say, but right for your family and Walter.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Love! We always say we have the “best bad dogs ever!” But we’re willing to concede to Walker for now. I’m glad he has you and The Dude Rancher.

  3. I’m sorry that your pack is struggling now. It is so hard to find the balance between safety and support. We have danced that dance as well, but with a dog much older than Walter. I hope you find either your sign or peace again within your pack. It is so hard to deal with constant, unrelenting pain it would make anyone grumpy.

  4. If it is liver failure driving his behavior change, I’ve seen it in people with end stage liver disease too, primarily because they become more confused from elevated ammonia levels in their blood and brain. Not sure if they can measure that in a dog, but it could be encephalopathy — you are right, he’s not fighting all of you, but fighting losing his battle. So very hard to witness and requires so much grace on the part of the witnesses.

  5. My beloved lab-pit mix Sweetpea (we christened her a “gulf stream retriever” to sidestep the inevitable pit bull discrimination) endured four years of cushing’s disease. This post took me right back to her final days. The emotions around her illness and impending loss definitely complicated the last decisions I had to make for her.

    On the day I let her go, I agreed to a sedative injection before the syringe with the blue juice. Almost immediately she stopped panting, eyes softened, muscles slacked. For fifteen minutes I had my dog back, peacefully laying in my lap. As you said above, I had forgotten how she used to be. Such an unexpected blessing.

    My thoughts are with you, Walter and the other ranch residents.

  6. I have tears as I read this! I’m 63 and sometimes the loss seems so overwhelming. So many wonderful members of our pack have left this earth. Your words are such a treasure. Thank you for putting in words the feelings in my heart.❤️

  7. I feel for you – as does everyone who lets a dog, cat or horse into their heart. Because that’s what we do. Old age (mine) is bad enough – but looking at one of my “kids” getting older – and closer to the time – its so hard. Right now my dog (rescue lab mix) & my cat (technically my son’s but he moved & she wouldn’t) are both coming up to 9 years old. So we are doing pretty good. Suzy(dog) has had 2 bladder infections so is now on cranberry supplement – VERY minor problem! As Karen (above) said – so many of my kids have left the earth. Honestly – how DOES anyone have a good life without animals?

      1. Suzy originally came from a kill shelter in Alabama when she was a little over a year old – had a litter of puppies before she was brought up to a rescue in NY – also had been abused – very shy & spooky. Much better now – shes my sweetie – not too good with strangers.

  8. Another good Anna article. Reminds me of all the dogs we have had and will continue to have, no matter what. We care for them no matter what the problem is and teach ourselves new lessons. We keep on loving them.

    I hope you get Ivy Lynn more often. Makes me happy to see you happy Peggy. I can imagine how fast the time goes by when you are with her.

    Happy Easter!

    Love & Hugs, Gerri

    On Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 5:56 AM, AnnaBlakeBlog: Relaxed & Forward wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: ” Are you the kind of person who gets nervous in a new > place if there isn’t a dog to talk to? Do you find it easy to look through > the dog spit dried on the passenger window when making a right turn in your > truck? Do you have a drawer with a bunch of old d” >

  9. Sorry Anna. This was supposed to go to another animal/horse/donkey/dog/bird loving friend of mine – Llamas included. As a horse and dog lover, your articles definitely hit home and are wonderfully refreshing and enjoyable.

    Thank You,

    Gerri Lightfoot Quarter Horses

    On Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 1:26 PM, Gerri Lightfoot wrote:

    > Another good Anna article. Reminds me of all the dogs we have had and > will continue to have, no matter what. We care for them no matter what the > problem is and teach ourselves new lessons. We keep on loving them. > > I hope you get Ivy Lynn more often. Makes me happy to see you happy > Peggy. I can imagine how fast the time goes by when you are with her. > > Happy Easter! > > Love & Hugs, > Gerri > > On Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 5:56 AM, AnnaBlakeBlog: Relaxed & Forward comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote: > >> Anna Blake posted: ” Are you the kind of person who gets nervous in a new >> place if there isn’t a dog to talk to? Do you find it easy to look through >> the dog spit dried on the passenger window when making a right turn in your >> truck? Do you have a drawer with a bunch of old d” >>

  10. I’m trying to turn the hauntings into friendly ghosts ;-). My 3-adult household is ruled by a middle aged Beagle & an old & cranky Cushings-afflicted Beagle. The barking is, of course, nonstop, as are the tumbleweeds of dog hair. Their hearts are huge but their sphincter control sucks. They have forgotten the meaning of stay, and come, but come running at the sound of pills being popped out of blister-packs & wait patiently to be given the last few drops from any beer consumed on the premises. This morning I accidentally finished my breakfast and said, dang, I ate the dog’s pieces. Pack life — it changes a person. Good luck finding a little peace with yours. Thanks for sharing. It’s a radical act to share what it’s like to live with an animal family, which I think is why so many of us appreciate you.

    1. Oh lordy, a cranky old beagle. You made my day… what a pack you have. I’m nearly envious. and thank you for the best compliment ever. Radical, indeed. Thank you, Julia.

  11. You put all our experiences into words so perfectly, Anna. No dogs at our house currently, but two 16 year old shelter cats who (mostly) live in a state of armed truce, keep us amused, and in servitude. Btw, I am still savoring R&F at two chapters a night.

  12. If there is nothing more maddening than the nonstop barking, elderly, bad-ass dog, it’s when that barking goes silent. My old man bad-ass is there now and the quiet is deafening … so much so that I’m actually relieved when he does bark a little. Sending good vibes as we try to bask in a few more late afternoon rays too.

  13. Thanks for sharing! Walter will let you know when it is time! I had to put my Sammy down last summer. Hardest thing I ever had to do. He was blind and diabetic for many years! I actually think he hung on as long as he did for me. He wanted to make sure I would be okay! I really was never okay with it, but came to terms with it. I actually told him to tell me if it was time through tears many times. He would hold on tight and hug me with all his might feeling secure in my arms.

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