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Antique Dog

Last winter, my firewood man made a delivery when I wasn’t there. Later he remarked that no one was home but an “antique” dog. We now come to the last chapter of Teddy’s life.

As he aged, his arthritis progressed. One winter I decided he should no longer live outdoors, so I gave him a bath and let him in the house. He instinctively knew life had changed for him. The dog who’d never tried to climb on furniture took one look at my favorite chair, scrambled in, and curled up. I didn’t mind, as long as he was clean. To protect my good furniture, I’d set a basket of crochet on the seat. He knew it was off limits, and obeyed. Later, when he became incontinent, I had to keep him off all the furniture. Eventually, he became unable to climb on it anyway and could barely make it up steps. In the meantime, with Teddy indoors at night, deer and rabbits ate my vegetables and wild hogs rooted up my garden beds.

Living with Teddy was like sharing a house with a 90 year old man. He wouldn’t talk to me. He snored so loudly I could hear him through the walls and I swear he slept 23 hours a day. On nice days when he was outside, he’d crawl under the house and I could hear his snoring through the floor. He began to stink. I’d bathe him, he’d lick himself, and within hours he’d stink again. His incontinence grew worse, even with medication. I tried to diaper him but he developed diaper rash. Finally, I barricaded some rooms to keep him out and resolved to throw away the rugs in the others after he was gone. Despite all this, I loved him and (when I wasn’t mad at him) I enjoyed his companionship.

His traveling days came to an end when he couldn’t climb in or out of the van. Once when I went on a trip, a friend kept Teddy. Afterwards he told me, “He kept chasing my chickens!” Now, Teddy had never chased anything besides wild animals (or any cat who challenged him) and by now he couldn’t get around well enough to chase anything. I asked my friend what he meant. He laughed and told me how Teddy would lie in the yard and occasionally raise his head, turn towards the chickens, and bark. The chickens paid him no mind.

For three winters, I did not expect Teddy to make it another year. He was a tough old guy, but his mobility steadily decreased. He’d bark at the porch steps. When I told him barking wouldn’t make them go away, he’d glower at me. I knew he was in pain despite the medication I gave him twice a day.

Then he started to poop in the house. He’d never done anything like that before. I knew it wasn’t accidental—he just didn’t want to tackle the porch steps. My fussing and cussing must have been less trouble to him than climbing steps.

Finally, the time came. I called my vet. She had been treating Teddy for 16 years and was fond of him, but she agreed it was time. She prepped him and I stood beside the table with my arms around him when she gave him that final injection. I talked to Teddy, telling him how he would now be able to chase the rabbits and deer again, and it would no longer hurt. I felt him relax. I felt his gratitude and relief as the pain subsided. Don’t tell me dogs don’t have souls. The vet checked his heart and nodded. She was crying almost as much as I.

Wild sunflowers where Teddy rests

Wild sunflowers where Teddy rests

Afterward, it was so strange to come home and no Teddy to greet me. Or walk around the house and not see him in his usual napping places. Then I dreamed of him. Nothing significant, only a dream that he was in the house with me, doing normal, everyday things. These dreams came three nights in a row. On the fourth night, no dream. I knew then he had finally passed on to the Happy Hunting Ground, where all good dogs go.

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Why are we willing to spend so much money on a dumb animal? I used to think people were crazy to pay large veterinary bills for a cat or dog. I never thought I would be one of those crazy people until I had a million dollar dog of my own.

Country people don’t always take their animals to a vet. My parents never did. Teddy was my first dog to get veterinary care. Living in the woods, with the possible threat of rabies, and having children around, I took no chances. I kept his check-ups and shots up to date.

When the vet recommended he be neutered so he wouldn’t “chase the ladies,” I had it done. I felt bad for him, but Teddy didn’t seem to mind. He always liked going to the vet, despite all the indignities they inflicted on him. All I had to do was say, “Time to go to the vet,” and he’d hop in the truck.

Often I wished I could clone Teddy, because he was such a good dog. Maybe that’s why I was willing to pay a $1500 emergency clinic bill to keep him alive. Here is how it came about. On our walks I noticed he’d pee only a few drops at a time. I thought he was just marking territory. Then he started dragging around, not acting his usual self. When I found him under the porch steps totally listless, I knew I had to do something. Since my vet didn’t have emergency services, I took him to a clinic an hour away.

The young veterinarian said Teddy had kidney stones and was unable to pass water. He was near death and needed immediate surgery. Or I could choose to euthanize him. I weighed my choices—money or dog. But, really, what choice did I have? This was the dog who was willing to lay down his life for his family. (Read “Pup Dog” if you haven’t already.) I paid for the surgery with my credit card and spent the night in the waiting room. After this, I kept him in the house and nursed him to full recovery.

Even that wasn’t the end of the expense. I took Teddy to his vet for follow up and was told he needed to be kept on a special diet for the rest of his life. The food was expensive, but I didn’t want a repeat of the kidney stones episode. After I retired and could no longer afford the special food, the vet prescribed a powder to add to regular dog food. Teddy never liked the special diet and refused to eat dog food laced with powder. Finally I gave up and fed him Old Roy and watched to see if he had any trouble urinating. He never had a recurrence of kidney stones.

In his later years, Teddy developed eczema, which required many trips to the vet. We tried several treatments, all temporary fixes. Often his beautiful coat was marred with bald patches. He also suffered with arthritis and hip dysplasia, and it became increasingly difficult for him to go on long walks or climb stairs. I laid boards over my porch steps to make him a “wheel chair ramp” but he refused to walk on it, even though climbing was obviously painful. The vet put him on drugs for arthritis pain. Then he became incontinent. More drugs. More expense.

At first it was no trouble to give him pills. I just put them in his food. Then one day he caught me in the act. He looked hard at his dish and ate around the pill. After that I had to trick him by crushing pills and mixing them with leftovers or canned dog food. He was so suspicious he wouldn’t eat unmashed peas because they looked like pills.

At every setback, I’d take him to the vet and each time he was prescribed more drugs. By now I was spending more money on Teddy’s medical care than on my own! I began to call him my “Million Dollar Dog.” But he was such a good dog.

One day a visitor referred to Teddy as an “antique dog.” That phase of our life together will be the subject of the final post of this series.

 

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In the spring of 1999, Amber and my niece Arianne found a puppy on the side of the road. They brought him in the house wrapped in a towel and all I could see was a friendly little brown head. Then she took the towel off—there was not a hair on the rest of his body. He was covered with mange. The girls promised to find a home for him.

Teddy

They named him Teddy and took him to the vet. He responded well to treatment and before long, he was covered with a beautiful brindle coat. But before they found another home, I had grown attached. Teddy was a big a name for such a little puppy, so I called him Pup, and later Pup Dog. For the remainder of his life, he was known to the rest of the world as Teddy, but to me he was Pup Dog. If I called him Teddy, he knew I was mad at him.

At first I kept him on the front porch and cleaned up behind him, but I didn’t mind. What I did mind was when he ate the potted plants on the porch. If they were in plastic pots, he ate the pots, too. He even ate a bag of potting soil! I’d never seen a dog go through a worse puppy-chewing stage. Of course he’d also eat any shoes or other objects within reach.

I don’t think he ate anyone’s homework, but he did eat my beeper. One night when I was on-call, coming home late and tired, I must have dropped it in the driveway. I found it the next day, too badly chewed to function. I had a good excuse for work—my dog ate my beeper! He never got sick, so the diet must have agreed with him. In fact, he thrived. He grew to full size within a year.

I could not keep a collar on him. I bought a nice collar with his name on it, only to find its mangled remains in the bushes months later. Afterwards, I kept his dog tags with his vet records.

Teddy was an outside dog most of his life. He did a good job keeping varmints out of the yard. He’d sleep all day and patrol at night. I could hear him on one side of the house, then another, barking a brief warning to any intruders that infringed on his turf. His barking was never a problem. If someone drove into the yard, he’d bark once to let me know they were there. I never had any unfriendly visitors, but if I did, I believe Teddy would have kept them at bay.

Some people have problems with deer or rabbits eating their gardens. I never had such a problem when Teddy was in his prime. He also kept coyotes away. The only creatures he cowed to were wild hogs. A herd of them lived in the woods behind me and would come to my yard to eat acorns and earthworms. Teddy knew they were bigger and meaner, so he stayed out of their way. The only time he stood up to them was to protect Amber. One evening, she walked to the neighbor’s and when she came home, the hogs were in the yard. Teddy drove them off.

Then there was the cottonmouth. For a day or two, Teddy had fits, barking frantically at something in the yard. When we discovered the cottonmouth, Amber decided to kill it with a hoe. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring Teddy inside out of harm’s way. Amber chopped at the snake with the hoe and missed. She squealed and jumped back. Teddy thought the snake bit her. He immediately went after the snake, and the snake bit him. I took the hoe and finished off the cottonmouth, then took Teddy to the vet. Dogs often survive such snakebites because the snake is frightened and doesn’t always inject a full dose of venom, but I took no chances. What else could I do when the dog was willing to lay down his life for my child’s?

Teddy was good company. He’d follow me around the yard. He was so curious he’d get between me and whatever I was doing, which could be aggravating. When I went for walks, he always accompanied me. That is, until a rabbit or deer crossed his path. Then off he’d go, paying me no mind. Hours later, he’d trot home. I never worried about him getting lost. Sometimes he’d go off on his own excursions and bring home a dead animal. Farmers disposed of dead livestock in the woods. Teddy would find them and drag home part of a cow or some other unidentifiable beast. Cow skulls and bones littered my yard, and of course, Teddy would smell just as bad as the rotting carcasses.

I’d bathe him before taking him to the vet, and even then he’d manage to get smelly before we left the house. His veterinarian appreciated that he was a free-range country dog and said, “He sure leads a dog’s life.”

Next week I will write about my travels with Teddy.

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