Wednesday, February 29, 2012

And Then There Were Four ...

A few years ago, hubby and I lived just down the road in this little rural redneck trailer park. It was a decent enough place for a couple cowboy/mule packer types, and our space had a green lawn, a beautiful big shade tree and room for all our dogs.

Anyhow, the winter of 1998/99, about this same time of year, hubby and I came back from town and as we drove towards our house, we saw this little dog frolicking in the snow, next to one of the other mobile homes. It was the cutest thing, about 3 or 4 months old and it looked like a border collie on a corgi chassis! Short legs, pointy ears, adorable fox-face, but it had a long black coat, white on the chest and a big plumy tail.

We soon found out the pup was named Scruffy, and it belonged to a single mom with 2 small children and a live-in boyfriend. They weren't real good about keeping track of him and he sometimes went strolling around the trailer park, but it was a quiet place with very little traffic. Of course he soon discovered our house with its collection of dogs, and somehow he struck up a friendship with my border collie, Rose.

So, we started letting him into our yard. Just for a little bit, mind, but he and Rose would romp and play and have a great old time! This was kind of amazing, really, because Rose was a grown lady and did not allow such familiarity with any other dog. No, sir. But she would play with Scruffy, and when they had enough, we'd let Scruffy out and he'd trundle off up the street towards home.

Well, at some point during the winter, the neighbor's boyfriend disappeared, probably kicked out, and the little dog was seen roaming the trailer park more and more. Some residents began getting annoyed at the rascal, because he got in their trash and ate the cat food on their porches. The trailer park manager didn't like him at all, and once I saw the old fart *kick* Scruffy off someone's front porch!

But as weeks turned to months, Scruffy continued his visits to our house and maintained his friendship with Rose. We could give him at least that much. From time to time, when we took our dogs somewhere in the car, Scruffy would "accidentally" get in with them and go along. But we'd send him home, after the adventure was over.

Then ... sometime in April, we got a late, heavy storm. When we looked out our front window, there was Scruffy. Curled up in a ball, sound asleep under a big spruce tree, amidst about a foot of new snow.

"Get him in here," Tye said. Which we did and we closed the gate behind him. Scruffy came in the house, licked Tye to say, "Thank you," and that settled that. Nor did we open that gate ever again.

When we went back to the mountains to pack mules that summer, Scruffy went with us. His former owner never came asking about him, even once. Maybe she cared, though. Maybe she was just glad the pup went somewhere else, when she had two babes to raise, alone.

As the years went on, Scruffy accompanied his border collie pals, Rose and Jesse, to our sheepdog training lessons. He had no interest in sheep or any other livestock, the big silly things, but he loved being the "greeter" down at the ranch. Only when I had to retire Rose due to hip dysplasia did Scruffy stop coming down to lessons with me. But he soon found a new "job" as hubby Tye's private eye dog, riding along while Tye went about his work, sharing snacks when they stopped for coffee or lunch on the road.

Oh, Scruffy had his rescue-dog issues. He was a fear-biter, he would yowl when being bathed, he was terrified of being grabbed, and for a long time, he was fearful of men he didn't know. But with time and love, those issues faded into the background. To us, he was just a happy, bouncy, buoyant personality, who trotted around with his little chest out and his tail flagged proudly behind him.I had to do some scrambling to learn the stubborn corgi mindset, and I'm forever grateful to the mail list, Corgi-L. But he was kind to our cats, got along with almost all dogs, and above all things, he loved hanging out with Tye.

That bond meant everything, when Scruffy's girls finally began passing away. Shortly after we moved to this house, he lost Rose, and then he lost Dolly and Della, all within about 18 months' time. Some of his sparkle seemed lost with them. But he was still our Scruffy, the PI dog, and he bore the coming of the new pups, Nick and Gael and Ash, with admirable patience.

Time takes its toll on us all, though. Last fall he took sick and lost all appetite - unheard of, for a corgi! - and we got him in to the vet. A bazillion tests ($$$!) later, the vet found that his kidney values were a bit off, but mainly, Scruffy had a raging bladder infection! She prescribed a heavy dose of two strong antibiotics (can't recall what they were) and Scruffy rebounded with notable speed. Soon he was his old self, and life was good.

But ... last month he took another bad turn and this time, the antibiotics had no effect. This time, the vet said his kidneys were indeed failing. There wasn't a lot we could do, but we tried all we could. Scruffy was a fighter, and though his body weakened and grew more frail by the day, that stubborn light refused to go out. However, by this past Monday, we could see he was weary and tired and done. He had stopped eating days ago, and now he could no longer seem to drink water. Today we made the appointment to say goodbye.

I had to work, so Tye had to handle it alone. I felt horrible for him. Yet it seemed to go as well as these things can. Tye took Scruffy for one last ride in the car, one last stop at Starbucks, one last offered bite of scone (or some other sweet,) even if Scruffy would not take it. When they got to the vet, Tye just sat in the car with his little partner and talked and petted. The vet came out to the car to administer the sedative, and Tye stayed with him until Scruffy passed beyond knowing. We'll get him back as we did Della and Dolly, a box of ashes which we'll one day scatter in the mountains.

Tonight, the dogs seem to know something is changed. Tye said that when he got home, Nick, Gael, Ash and Jesse all clung close around him. Now that I'm home from work, they are just ... quiet. Very quiet. And although Scruffy removed himself from interaction with them days if not weeks ago, I think they feel the silence of that missing heartbeat.

I know I do. Tye and I both do.

But Scruffy is past sickness or weakness or pain, now. I want to believe he is once again that sprightly little dog of years past, and that he gambols once again with his dear sister, Rose, racing through the green grass as fast as ever his funny short legs can go.

Run fast, run free, little Scruffy No-Legs. We will be along in a while.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Round-up of Nick's Vet Visit Today


Alrighty, then!  I'm reiterating everything I posted here on FB in more scattered form, earlier today, so if you're tired of hearing from me, move along, nothing to see, here. ;)

In a nutshell, Nick may *still* need a 4 or 5 thousand dollar back surgery. But honestly, it's not as scary as it was, and it's not immediate.

I took Nick in to see Dr. D.W. Griffin of Loomis Basin Veterinary Hospital, in Loomis, CA. Just as with Dr. Richardson at Campus Commons in Sacramento, he was given an extremely thorough physical exam, which returned Nick's neurological responses as wholly normal. His musculature, stance and weight-bearing were also balanced and correct. However, Dr. Griffin did think Nick showed some discomfort when pressed firmly at the lumbo-sacral area. Not a lot, just Nick tilting his head to shoot a dour glance back at the doc.  ;)

Then - oh, happy day! - they took not one, not two, but three beautiful *digital* X-rays. Those things are so COOL!   :-p

Ultimately, Dr. Griffin's findings did not differ drastically from Dr. Richardson's. Nick has a form of Cauda Equina, with spondylosis-y stuff going on at the juncture of L7 and his sacrum. There's an instability there that's been pinching and causing the pain he was experiencing. I do not know the *cause* of that, but it seems to be something that just ... happens. Wear and tear in a hard-driving dog. I'm not sure if Nick's accident back in October (whatever it was) caused it, or just triggered its manifestation. I belatedly realized I need to ask Dr. G some more questions. (Hey, my brain was full!)

However, he said that it's a very *mild* form of the condition. If Nick were just a house dog, he'd have told me to just take Nick home, keep him fit, watch his weight and feed him glucosamine. But given that Nick's a working sheepdog, an athlete, it may not be so simple. What we have at the moment is "wait and see."

What IS notably different is that Dr. Griffin looked at our shiny, nifty, awesome new digital X-rays (all 3 views) and he did NOT see the Transitional Vertebral Segmentation that Dr. R. thought he saw in the previous, single-film X-ray. People, this is SUCH a relief! This means that Nick doesn't have something congenitally wrong with him. He's just damaged himself while storming around being a border collie.

He could still, (maybe, possibly, someday?) sire healthy Nick-babies and leave a legacy behind. It's a dream, anyhow.  :)

Meanwhile, though, I can bring him carefully back to work, focus on his fitness, monitor how he's doing and let time tell. Dr, Richardson said lots of long walks and swimming if possible would be good for his overall fitness. Also, the doc approved of my regimen of MSM, Synovi G3 and Cetyl-M supplements for Nick. Then, if going back to work means that Nick does regress to pain and lameness ... I'll know that surgery will come sooner than later. Next fall maybe. Or not.

But it's such a relief to have a clear picture of what's going on, clear knowledge of what to do and what to watch for, and so good to escape the pressure of, "OMG, need surgery, need surgery, MUST DO SURGERY, OMG, SURGERY!" that I had begun to feel from Dr. R.

I have room to breathe. I have things to do, to help Nick. I still have a dog I can work, in the meanwhile. And the potential of *needing* surgery no longer feels like the end of the world. Nick's not on the brink of shattering like a twig.

*whew* I needed that. I'll have the X-ray images PLUS an impartial evaluation from their radiologist by next week, so I'll share all that, when I get 'em.  :)

Thank you, everyone, for sticking with me, putting up with me, and offering your support. And special thanks to T and WolfTown ( and everyone who has contributed to them! They cut today's vet bill nearly in half.   :D

Just had some pie. Now going to have some wine. Yes.