This story starts with an e-mail from a rescue person in Nevada who is part of Wylie Animal Foundation, an organization that specializes in the rescue and placement of elderly or disabled dogs. There was a 13 year old Bouvier , acutely sick, living on a chain outdoors in Incline Village, an area that can be blazingly bakingly hot at times and freezing cold at other times. The owner's daughter and the impending vet bills had convinced the owner to surrender the dog. We then began arranging for the dog to be surrendered and transported to BCNC and to me.
The following begins with a report the day of his rescue.
Sage was picked up yesterday by heroic rescue volunteer Laurie Munroe, Bouv lover and proprietor of Gateway Pets in Truckee, CA. Origninally the pick-up was scheduled for a day earlier, but -- and you won't believe this ! -- it had to be rescheduled for a time when the owner's son was not home so he could not protest. It seems that during the week that Sage was allowed to be in the house (due to an attack of Vestibular Syndrome), the child bonded to him and now was very upset that he would be leaving. The daughter is the one who managed to convince the mother that since she was unable (unwilling) to take care of this dog, he should be given up to a Rescue group and it was the daughter who located the Wylie Animal Foundation who in turn contacted BCNC Rescue. so both the children each in his/her own way loved this dog.
This poor dog, who is actually 13 years old, has been living on a chain all his life WITHOUT any shelter from the heat of summer nor the cold of winter. This is in Incline Village, Nevada, so you know it gets hellacious hot during the summer and freezing cold with snow in winter. And he has had only the worst of food to eat (currently he was on Old Roy, which is somewhat less nutritious than sawdust). He is very skinny , almost no muscle in his hind legs , as you can see from the first photo. Their other dog, who is being given up to Wylie Animal Foundation, is a Wolf x Pit Bull cross. This dog has been running at liberty in the trailer park -- as have his parents on both sides. but the Bouv has been kept on a chain "because he is so valuable." Not valuable enough to feed decently or to take to the vets except when he is seriously and unignorably ill nor to take to a groomer nor even to bother to mow away the foxtails within the reach of his chain. Nor apparently valuable enough to be kept current on vaccinations. His vets say that his most recent Rabies and DHLP were in Fall of 1996 ! (I do have him scheduled for shots on Monday at my vet.)
Anyway Laurie picked him up , got his surrender papers signed, and got his "papers" , a tattered litter reg blue slip (his parents are in fact from two of the most distinguished working Bouv breeders in the US !). She was also able to get his records from his vets. She phoned to let me know when she would be likely to get here. Well when she was an hour overdue, I thought it must be traffic. She finally arrived several hours later. She had been victim of what could have been a horrible traffic mishap : large chunk of concrete flung into her windshield by a construction crew working next to the road. Just a bit higher and a bit to the right and it would have been aimed straight at her face. The safty glass of the windshield did its job surprisingly well, but there were shards of glass and minute fragments blown towards her face. Fortunately she was wearing glasses and that saved her excruciating pain and may have saved her from being blinded. She says that in emergencies she tends to behave very calmly and only later on to get the shakes. She was able to keep control of her vehicle, thus probably saving her own life, the dog's life, and who knows how many others on the road. It was a heavy traffic time of day. She finally pulled off into a coffee shop to try to phone Highway Patrol, and as it happens there were two senior Highway Patrol / State Police people there having a snack and conference. They saw to getting the construction situation stopped so no one else would be endangered. they took evidence and wrote up an accident report , and so on. They helped Laurie get the vehicle cleaned up and fit to be driven -- luckily the major windshield damage was not in the areas that the driver needs to see out of. She had tried to phone me several times during all this but circuits were down. She arrived looking pretty battered.
Laurie is a true Hero of Rescue !!! I wish we had medals available to hand out.
We got Sage bedded down in my back room (see the second photo). It's rather bare, but he has a double bed mattress right on the floor to spread out on. Put down a couple water bowls and got him to eat some highly concentrated food, and gave him his pills prescribed by his old vet. Walked him a bit first. He is weak but at least he can walk. The worst of the Vestibular Syndrome has passed off, but he is still very weak and wobbly and it is a great effort for him to rise to his feet. The white sheets you see tucked under him are sheets of incontinence bed liner. He was frequently incontinent the first week, but gradually improved. I just kept putting liners over the wet spots, so he could lie in dry comfort.
Oh yeah, he had also been having a fair bit of blood in his stool when first brought to the vet, ie internal intestinal bleeding along with the Vestibular. And of course the owner "couldnt afford" a real workup. The vets did get a blood panel. I rather suspect that the vets must have had to do some talking in order to get consent to treat this dog; I'd bet the owner would have grabbed an excuse to put him down. Three days later she tells them that before the bleeding began she had given him 800 mg of Ibuprophen. At this point the bleeding has ceased -- his feces today were absolutely OK in that regard.
I got Laurie feda restorative dinner and offered her a bed for the night, but she had dogs and other critters (a horse I think) back home who would be wanting dinner, so she headed back home. I know she made it OK because I phoned today to check up on her. Today of course she feels really drained. Golly gee, wonder why !
Sage turns out to be a full brother from a later litter to a really nice dog, Genie (Iphagénie), whom I rescued and placed many years ago. Genie was a really sweet young girl who lived many years with loving owners and ultimately succumbed to lymphoma after nearly a year of good quality extension. The parents are from two of the top producers of working (Police and Schutzhundt) Bouvs of that era. The breeder at that time got my letter a bit late (arrived after the dog was placed because she had moved and it took a while for the letter to catch up to her), but immediately wanted to help. If I can locate her again, I will let her know about Sage. (Note: these efforts failed.) I think I will also let Genie's people know, just in case they feel like giving this old man a retirement home. (Note : they were tempted but feel they are "full" with their young Bouv, bought from a good breeder but not as smart or eager to please as Genie was.) I do believe that the good working line breeding may be what enabled poor Sage to endure and survive all the abusive neglect he has suffered. Most dogs would simply have given up and died. .
Anyway he is safe here and getting care. He hasn't got a lot of appetite and does not want kibble , but he will eat canned stuff and he was willing to eat Natural Balance lamb roll (like a giant salami : wonderful for training treats and also very high in nutrition; can be chopped up into small bits) last night and this morning, but now is rejecting it. I've got some hot dogs thawing. If need be, I will have to make a run to one of the greaseburger places to get him a cheezburger -- "yeah supersize it please, it's for my starving thin dog." Over the years I have become very skilled at getting sick dogs to eat. Will get him to my vet for his shots in a couple of days.
"Sage" : noun, (1) a spice that is very nice on lamb or chicken or turkey (see my recipe for "Lamb Chops Simon & Garfunkel, which is of course spiced with parsely , sage, rosemary , and thyme), (2) one who is full of wisdom, usually someone very elderly and very wise.
Got Sage in to my vet on Monday for his shots and general exam. I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary, but as soon as my vet started listening to his heart, he got quite concerned : really fast racing heartbeat with a "thrill" to it. My vet couldn't believe the Reno vet had not picked up on this, but of course that was a week earlier and maybe it was not there then -- or could be that the vet did not dare let owner know for fear that it would be a perfect excuse to kill the poor old dog ???
So it was work-up time. Started with two chest X-rays : side view and belly up view. the Reno vets had done a chest x-ray but probably only the side view. The side view looked perfectly normal, but the other view showed enlarged atrium and enlarged aorta. The most usual cause for this is heartworm infestation. Reno vets had included heartworm test on the blood panel and it was negative, but my vet wanted to rule it out for sure, so he did both a blood smear under the microscope to look for baby heartworms (microfilaria), which is the old way of doing the test, and did the "snap test" which is based on antigens to the adult worms. Both tests came back negative. The next step was an EKG (also called ECG = electrocardiogram). The ECG monitor hooks up to the phone line and sends the data direct to a consulting cardiologist. The cardiologist got back to us within the hour and said he has an atrial defibrillation and prescribed a calcium channel blocker to correct the arrhythmia and slow the heart to a more normal pace. The local pharmacies did not have the right dose in stock but they phoned around and found it in stock at a branch in the next town , about a dozen miles away, so I was able to get it that evening. also got him two bacon cheezeburgers which he ate with eagerness.
My vet says that the heart problem is part of the reason why his appetite is so poor. makes him feel both dizzy and nauseated. Another part of the reason is that his gums are really sore because he has huge amounts of ugly guck (calcified plaque) on his teeth. I took care of popping most of the plaque off the teeth yesterday (would have done it on Tues but had a dentist's appt myself).
He's been on his meds now for almost 72 hours and he has had clean teeth for over 24 hours and he is starting to be more willing to eat. I've laid in a variety of canned dog foods plus some hamburger and even a bit of ground lamb (marked down to affordable) and cottage cheeze (not the low fat kind) and yoghurt and plenty of hot dogs. hot dogs have been the best way to get his pills into him.
He had put on some weight by the time my vet first saw him and I think he may have put on a bit more since. His energy is a bit better. I have started bringing him into the main part of the house and the yard for a part of each day, letting him go back to the peaceful haven of my sick dog isolation room for the rest of the time. He has met all the rest of the dogs and seems to get some enjoyment out of exchanging sniffs. He is also getting to be more continent with his urine and it looks less watery. (the old mattress he has been lying on will go to the burn pile after he is done with it.) He is showing more interest when I go to his room. I think I see a greater hopefulness in his demeanor.
Sage went back to my vet today for a re-check exam. Very much improved. His heart rate is down to within normal range and the "thrill" is not audible or palpable. My vet instantly saw that his attitude is brighter too.
He added another med, which is a holistic Cardiovascular Support tablet containing magnesium, selenium, vitamin E, zizzifus (I have absolutely no idea what that is -- I'd assume a chinese remedy) , hawthorn, taurine & carnitine (amino acids needed for good heart function) , dan shen ( a chinese herb), siberian ginseng, grape seed extract, and coenzyme-Q. My vet uses various western and eastern herbals in addition to standard treatments. (also uses accupuncture and chiropractic where appropriate).
He wants to re-check in another week and maybe run another EKG then. If all is well then maybe his calcium channel blocker could be reduced from 3 times a day to only twice a day. As I am sure you all know, giveing meds on a 12 hour schedule is easy but giving them on an 8 hour schedule is more difficult.
My vet is hopeful that Sage's heart problems are largely due to longstanding dreadful nutrition.
He has been eating more readily. My knocking the calcified tarter off his teeth has helped to make him more ready to crunch down on food. My vet was very impressed at how good a job I had done in this respect. I've found that it is usually not all that hard to clean teeth on an awake dog, ie without sedation, as I almost always can get the dog to allow me to do it. I joked with my vet that this is something they don't teach you in vet school.
I am letting Sage spend more time in the main part of the house with the rest of the dogs. He has learned to find his way around, which can be a bit of an obstacle course. I still will put him into his own room for meals and for bedtime.
After two days on the combination of three times a day calcium channel blocker plus twice a day herbal cardio pills, I was finding that Sage was kinda zombied out and that his appetite had gone bye bye. So I asked my vet if we could reduce the calcium channel blocker to twice a day and see if that was enough to keep his heart rate and rhythm OK but allow a better appetite. He said OK , try it , but he wants to see the dog again after two days of this (which will be tomorrow). It does seem to help with his alertness and with his appetite. I have been trying to break him into eating kibble by mixing it with nuked ground meat and the fat that comes from that meat. So now he is eating some kibble.
He is now spending most of his time in the main part of the house. He really wants to be with the rest of us. He is only happy to go back to my isolation room to eat there. Although he does not interact very dramatically with any of the other dogs, he seems to like being around them. He is starting to come to me for petting more often. He is not strong enough or enough in control of his hindlegs to use the dog door, so I just leave the door to the yard open and have a curtain hung over the doorway.
Reducing his meds to twice a day brought back his appetite and a more alive demeanor. Later on I learned from an adopter who had had a similar heart arrhythmia that having the problem without medication made her feel exhausted because her heart was going double speed, so she felt as if she were in the last miles of a marathon race, but if she was getting too much medication she felt as if she were moving through very thick water and she had no appetite. So what she told me sounds exactly like what I was seeing in Sage's behavior.
Right now I think his medication is pretty much in the ballpark .He is eating better and better and his looks much more alert and at times really solicits affection and rubs his head into me like a cat. He is continent and housebroken and he can even negotiate the dog door , though it takes effort for him to get his hind legs through it (the lower edge of the opening is about 11" above floor level, ie the hole is right in line with the torso of an upright Bouv sized dog). I am leaving the door open except on cold nights or cold days.
Saturday morning at 8 am I was woken up by a phone call from Sage's former owner, you know, the one who let him get into such horrible shape and who had him living on a chain for years without much in the way of shelter and with the worst dog food in the world. Apparently Sage's vet in Reno had given her my phone number. (Lesson for all rescue people : when you call a dog's former vet for info, either do not give them your number or else beg them to NOT pass it on to the former owner.)
She was calling to say she was worried about him and wanted to know if he was all right, and to tell me how much she loved him. How much she LOVED him !!!!
Fortunately or unfortunately it is not possible to strangle someone over the telephone. nor cause them to contract a horrible painful and terminal disease. nor any of the other urges that leaped into my mind.
I controlled myself. I spoke as a civilized human being.
I told her that he had damn near died, that he had a serious heart condition, that out of the nearly 100 Bouvs that have lived with me while waiting for adopters there had only been 3 or 4 who arrived in such terrible shape or so starved. I also told her that if Child Welfare Services were to find out that she had been keeping a dog who had not been immunized for Rabies in 7 years in a home with children, that Child Welfare would take her children away from her.
I did not make any comments on her probable fate in the Hereafter. I did not make any comments on her deserved fate here and now.
I controlled myself. I spoke as a civilized human being.
It is now over a month since Sage was rescued and came to live with me. his meds have been reduced again and the EKG shows a normal heart rate and rhythm. The cardiologist says he needs to stay on the meds. Currently he gets one half a pill twice a day. He is eating very well and has gained weight. He is eating normal kibble with a bit of cottage cheeze stirred in to lightly coat the kibble for his morning meal and plain kibble or kibble with a few teaspoons of Science "Mixit" stirred in for his evening meal. He wants to go with the rest of the dogs for walks, but I am still keeping his walks very short.
Only Doggess Above knows how much longer this gentle sweet old man may have to live, but he is welcome to live it with me and to live in the comfort and affection that he deserves.
And the last photo shows him a few days ago, standing in my yard.
UPDATE 5/31/04 : on May 2, Sage suffered another attack of Vestibular Syndrome.
I came home in the evening to find him unable to stand up. (He had been quite normal that morning when I left to attend a canine medicine symposium.) With some difficulty, I managed to get him into the car and took him to the UCD Vet Med Teaching Hospital. Initially it was unclear what the problem was but it soon became clear that it was another Vestibular attack. I had not known that dogs could suffer a re-occurrance, but have since learned of other dogs who have had several episodes. Several days later he came home, wobbly but able to get around. He has since made a full recovery again. While at UCD , he was also given a cardiac workup and it revealed no significant problems and no detectable arhythmia. They think he probably does not really need to be on his calcium channel blocker medication, but advised that I continue it anyway at the current very minimal dose. Later on we may try to take him off of it.
So Sage's prospects are that he will go on living a life that he still finds comfortable and enjoyable. There is a real possibility that he may have another Vestibular episode in the future. If so, I do know how to deal with it and keep him safe through the initial phase when he needs help to walk. He is a sweet and gentle fellow and he is welcome to live with me. At times it is hard to say whether he or Duke , my other elderly Bouv, is the more challenged by infirmities, but they both are still able to enjoy life and , who knows, perhaps they enjoy trading stories of how they had to walk miles through the snow to go to Obedience School when they were young and had only a few old sticks to play with, and so on, and aren't these young dogs today spoiled rotten ?. (UPDATE : they were joined by a third ancient Bouvier, 13 year old Princess on 8/16/04, so now there are three of them to trade stories --- and to inspire my song "Three Ancient Bouviers".)
UPDATE : He did have a third Vestibular episode about two months later. This time I was able to manage him at home by using a sling (actually a firewood log carrier, but a bath towel will work) for supported walking and by paying close attention to his getting enough food and water. At one point for a couple of days , he was not drinking as much as I thought he needed , so I would cook up rice and oatmeal and mix with canned food to get liquid in as part of the food. Towards the end of the episode , he got another Neuro workup from the same VMTH neurologist who had done the earlier workup. No significant change for the worse. He thinks that Sage has been having little mini-strokes in the part of the brain that is involved in Vestibular syndrome. No real way to predict or prevent future episodes. Just treat them as they happen.
(Duke became unable to walk without severe pain, due to advanced joint disease in both elbow joints, plus great weakness in rear legs. When treatment failed to relieve him, I gaave him the Sacrament of Euthanasia on Sept 9, 2004. So Princess and Sage are the Ancient Ones of the pack now.)
UPDATE (11/10/04) : Six days ago, I came home in the evening to find that Sage, who had seemed absolutely normal (for him) that morning, was unable to stand up , not even with assistance. At first I thought it was still another Vestibular episode. He had had a third one 6 or 8 weeks ago. But when I took his temperature, it was 104 F, which is getting towards dangerous. Phoned the vet school again to have the emergency vet return my call. Meanwhile I started cooling proceedures and it dropped back to 102 and stayed there. Also he got up on his own and walked into my room and was able to go out to pee and return. Still 102 at midnight, and his tongue color was nice and pink; breathing a bit fast but otherwise not bad off. So I and the emergency vet figured he would be OK until morning. Next morning temp 103 and not willing to stand. Got him an Emergency appointment at the Vet School. And, yes, I DO wish I had taken him in the previous night !!! Really by now I should know that if the right side of my brain is concerned enough to even call the VMTH at night, that means the dog should go in for an emergency exam right then , regardless of what the vet on call and the left side of my brain think !!! Vet checked his inside mouth color and saw it was a bit blueish, so she whisked him off into the Intensive Care and into an oxygen cage. After an hour or two in oxygen, they took him out long enough for a chest x-ray to see if the most likely suspect , pneumonia , was the cause. Yes, he had quite a bit of pneumonia, a really bad case of pneumonia. Now this is something that can come on very quickly or it can be simmering away for some days and then suddenly get real bad. Vet thinks he may have aspirated something. First day he was considered unstable and critical, but by next morning he had improved to being stable and serious. He has been improving very slowly, and now today he is nearly ready to leave the oxygen cage. They had to do a bone marrow sample yesterday because his red and white blood cell counts had been going down and reason for this was not known. I got to visit him last night and he is much better but won't be ready to come home for a while. He was born Feb of 1991 , so he is 13 3/4 years old. Up until the pneumonia hit, he has been living a very comfortable life and enjoying the modest pleasures of old age. We expect him to recover back to that level, but there is worry about what caused the pneumonia and if that will cause it to re-occur. I don't think I would let him go through another episode like this one.
I hope he can recover and enjoy some more months of life with me. But I am reminding myself that his 14th birthday is coming and that his quality of life could slip away or crash suddenly at any time. I have found that old dogs often manage very well then crash suddenly and finally. It's almost like a cartoon character running off a cliff, running some distance on empty air, then looking down .
UPDATE 1/20/05 :
Sage did recover completely from his pneumonia. (And because his heart was very steady, we took him off the calcium channel blocker. It seems he only gets an arrhthmia when he is ill in some other way.) He has been living a relatively uneventful life with generally decent quality of life. He has some neurological impairment in both hind legs and some muscle atrophy, but not a lot worse than when he first arrived here. He does tend to lose his footing sometimes and fall down, but this does not seem to cause him any dismay. He often needs help to get his rear end up into a stand if he is lying on any surface that does not give good traction and sometimes even if he is on a better surface. About a month ago, I got home from a short absence to find that he had fallen in the yard and been unable to get up; so now if I am leaving home more than very briefly , I confine him to a portion of the woodstove room so he is safe, ie there is no way he can get into trouble if he falls and cannot get himself up. I just use 6 panels of X-pen as a cross-fence. His portion of the stove room has several cushions and a piece of carpet I got to cover the rest of the wood floor to provide traction. I had tried leaving him on a cushion in a 2 x 4 pen, but found that if he lies too long on the same side, the hind leg underneath seems to become numb or something and he dosen't use it well for a while after he gets back up. Giving him more room and a situation that lets him get up and move and chose a new position works much better. The woodstove is surrounded by its own section of X-pen during its active months, as a precaution against any dog falling or leaning against it. I did that some years back when Bones had his first Vestibular attack. (I will post a photo of this on my site at some later date, as I think it is a good safeguard for anyone with young children or old dogs in the home.) He is able to get through my dog door because I cut the hole 6" deeper, ie so the lower edge is only about 6" above the floor instead of 12" above the floor. But whenever he goes out, I either go with him or I make sure to check that he gets back in safely within a few minutes. He is able to go out for modest length walks. I try to walk him enough to maintain some strength in his hind leg muscles, though I know that this is ultimately a losing battle. Still, his condition has been pretty stable since he got home after his pneumonia, so I hope it will be some time before his quality of life goes sour. He is certainly in much better shape than he was when he first came into Rescue and he is enjoying life in a very low-keyed and largely sedentary manner. He certainly eats with gusto and he enjoys being groomed and petted.
He will be 14 on Feb 15, 2005. (My other ancient dog, Princess will be 14 a few days later on Feb 19, 2005.) He is leading a comfortable life with some pleasures in it at an age when the vast majority of Bouvs have been dead for quite a while. On March 11, it will be a year since his owners gave up on him. By Rescue standards and by my own, this has to be accounted a victory.
UPDATE 4/27/05 : It's about 10 days since Sage's euthanasia, and I find myself feeling very much at peace with it. That doesn't prove that I made the right decision for him of course, but only that I believe that I did so. One can never be utterly certain.
When I look back at the pictures I took of him at the time of his intake, they remind me that even during the last week of his life, right up until the last few hours of it, he was in better shape than he was at the time I took him in, at which time his body was slowly starving from malnutrition and his soul was starving from loneliness. He lived 13 months with me, and except for the medical "potholes" he got to live in comfort and contentment and companionship.
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