This is the story of Sweetie, a Bouvier whom I rescued in Sept of 1993. My initial impression of her as a seriously fearful potential fear biter proved to be utterly false. She soon proved to be a very sweet dog.
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Sweetie was the first Bouvier bitch I was called on to rescue after the death of my soul-mate Chelsea. When I heard there was a young Bouv girl at the Solano County Animal Control, I grabbed my car keys and drove there with a song in my heart. Somehow I believed this would be a bitch who could somehow step into Chelsea's paw prints.
I arrived to find a fearful dog. Her body language, underneath her horrifically matted coat, was that of a potential fear biter. She was especially afraid of a hand approching her head. If anything her temperament looked to be "the Anti-Chelsea".
But of course I couldn't leave her there to be killed. She deserved a fair chance (as does every shelter dog !). When signing her out, I did say to the desk person "you might be getting a death certificate rather than a spay certificate on this one." (In those days shelters had not yet begun to do pre-release S/N. The simply required a deposit that was far far less than the actual cost of getting the dog altered. Not a winning strategy.) I knew that if she really was a dangerous fear biter, I could neither keep her nor place her.
The officer who loaded her into the crate in the back of my truck also considered her likely to bite. She took a wrap around the dog's muzzle before lifting her bodily into the truck. This was an officer who had had a lot of humane work experience in England before coming to the US.
Sweetie at the shelter
I got her home and considered whether to wait for my house-mate's return and help before trying to groom away the matted coat. Instead I slipped a muzzle on her to "take the worry out of being close", then started to work. I noticed that the area behind her ears was so badly matted that her ears were effectively glued to her neck. I very carefully and gently snipped these away, freeing her ears, revealing open sores under the matts. She immediately began to relax under my hands, probably because I'd given her some relief from pain. As I continued to work on freeing her most sensitive areas, she relaxed more and more. After a while , I removed the muzzle, believing she was giving me enough trust that she was unlikely to bite me.
I had been going through the alphabet in nameing my rescued dogs. Now I was up to "S", so it was irresistable to name her "Simone D Bouvier", even though she bore little resemblance to that justly famous Feminist icon, the author of "The Second Sex". As it became obvious that this was a genuinely sweet dog, her call name became "Sweetie" or sometimes "Sweetie-Pie".
Some of her initial fearfulness may have been due to prior abuse or maybe not. Some may have been due to having been captured with a "snare pole" (also called "Rabies pole") , a noose on the end of a long pole. Never a good experience, but for her worse considering the painfulness of her ears. Certainly she had plenty of reason to be afraid of a hand reaching towards her head.
Although she was cautious about meeting strangers and initially fearful of hands reaching towards her head, she very much enjoyed being petted (stroked) gently and especially loved belly stroking and belly rubs.
When I introduced her to calm and gentle children, I found that she was quite gentle.
She became very playful, running and bouncing. She also liked to take my wrist into her mouth with a bit of tongue sucking. My best guess as to age was that she was a very young adult, no more than 2 years old.
Sweetie would dance and sing when anticipating fun, eg when we'd first wake up, when she anticipated a walk or car ride, or (of course) when she thought I was about to feed her. Her "song" sounded slightly like a growl , but it was not a growl nor any sign of aggression, and I could (somehow) hear the difference. It's a sign of happy anticipation, and it is just a special individual Sweetie trick. I enjoyed it quite a bit. (I've since heard other dogs do this. My Velvet does it.)
She sometimes did a yoga twist, pictured below :
Bones, ever the calmly benevolent leader, became very fond of her and showed affection to her in many ways. He had probably been missing Chelsea, his undisputed ruler.
Later , when puppy Pixel joined us, Sweetie tended to be bossy and a bit of a bully to her, expressing dominance more roughly than nescessary. (that's the sign of an insecure dominance). When Pixel matured, she turned the tables very firmly, becomming the highest ranked bitch of the dog-pack. Pixel and Chris became the "partners in crime", though really they were just slightly mischievious. Bones still had a very solicitous and uxorious behavior towards Sweetie.
In those days , I did fairly thorough basic obedience training on all my rescues, and earned AKC's Canine Good Citizen title on many of them. Sweetie earned her CGC about a year after I rescued her.
I also trained her in herding, despite the fact that she had only a teaspoon's worth of herding instinct and a tablespoon's worth of desire to control sheep. She would never have been a really useful ranch dog because she lacked those abilities. But because she was very responsive to my commands and because by that time I was usually giving the appropriate ones, we did very well at certain kinds of trials. At her very first herding trial, she won her class and was High In Trial score. She went on to earn several of the lower level herding titles. And I learned a lot about handling herding dogs from working with her.
We also did a bit of obstacle work. This was in the days before Agility became a widespread sport, but my Obedience coach had some obstacles on her field. Doing obstacles can be a good confidence builder for a dog, and it makes them more aware of what their hind feet are doing.
In the late summer of 2001, while giving Sweetie a belly rub, I discovered a very small lump not far from one of her nipples. This would be alarming under any circumstance, but more so because I knew she had been spayed at an age that must have been later than her second heat, thus she was at higher risk for mammary cancer.
Statistically, half of canine mammary lumps are benign and the other half very in the aggressiveness of their malignancy. At least I'd found this while it was small. Of course I got her the earliest possible appointment at the UC Davis VMTH and the earliest possible surgery date. The lump was indeed mammary cancer. Surgery was followed by chemo.
The date "9/11" (Sept 11 , 2001) is burnt into my memory, not for the reason it's burnt into most American's memory, but because that was the day I learned that the chemo had not prevented a metastasis in Sweetie's lungs. That was the day I enrolled her in the clinical trial that Dr Cheryl London was running with a drug from Sugen. Sweetie helped the determination of drug blood levels over time, as she was happy to lie under a table and beg lunch tid-bits from everyone all day while a teaspoon of blood was taken (via catheter) at intervals.
The drug was initially dramatically effective. The metastasis shrunk by half. I was thrilled, believing that she would ultimately be cured. Go on to live many years.
However the drug only bought us time. It probably bought Sweetie an extra 4 or 5 months of very good quality life. Ultimately her cancer was harming her enough that it became harder and harder to get her to eat. I was feeding her 5 and 6 mini-meals of especially tasty goodies.
The time came to let her go in peace. We did it outdoors in the shade on the grass.
This Sugen drug eventually became "Palladia" and FDA approved for treatment of Mast Cell Tumors. It's also used for anal sac adenocarcinoma. It's not a "first line" treatment for any of the cancers, and it can have the side effect of seriously decreasing appetite, plus other GI side effects. Not a "silver bullet" or a major drug, but one more drug that has some benefits for some patients.
Sweetie helped this to happen, and she did get some benefit from it..
* A closely related drug, "Sutent", is useful for some types of stomach cancer in humans.
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