Friday, December 2, 2011
Our red shepherd dog Haggis has been a very sad puppy lately, and we've been sad too, as we wrestle with his health problems.
It's a major change in the happy equilibrium of the farmstead, although we're coping, as folk generally do when such things occur.
He recently developed laryngeal paralysis, a condition in which the larynx becomes unable to open and close with each breath as it normally does. The effect is that he wheezes and sucks wind for all but the slightest exertion. He can no longer take a walk unless it's just a mild toddle of a hundred yards or less, nor can he do very many of his other important jobs, such as herding chickens, woofing at the mail lady, or following us around the farmyard.
Obviously we've been trying to decide what to do, and have considered having him put down, or doing so ourselves. There's an operation, but it's uncertain in outcome, as well as thousands of dollars in cost, and we're practical people. We love our dog, but we're not paying thousands of dollars to keep him alive when he might not do so well afterwards. He'll take his chances, as we all must eventually, despite the best of modern medicine. We know we'll have to put him down eventually.
He's been so good-natured and uncomplaining about the whole thing, and has worked so well on finding his own new equilibrium, that for now we've put such thoughts out of our minds. One thing that helps is that he now gets a pill twice daily which works to reduce the bruising and inflammation that comes with this condition. He is now eating heartily, although he no longer can swallow the couple pounds of kibble he used to put away each day. He gets canned food instead, and has let us know through doggy sign language which of the various brands he prefers.
For a while there, before the pills, we wasn't eating at all and indeed lost a lot of weight, from 88 down to 76 pounds. This was weight he could afford to lose. Haggis, like all Womerlippi critters including human ones, was previously quite well-built, if not a little fat.
He can't afford to put that weight back on, because a fat dog pants much more, and Haggis can't easily pant without sucking air, and so the new diet will have to be monitored.
He spends his days much as he did, except that in the past he would get up and do things, and now he doesn't much. He still likes to follow me out to feed the sheep, but he's no longer right at my side. He instead picks a central vantage point and monitors my work from there.
So far he seems satisfied.
A shepherd dog is often quite critical of human efforts in sheep care. Shepherd dogs are the experts. Humans are still learning. We need to be watched constantly. Even a sick shepherd dog has his duty to the sheep.
(Sometimes we call him Corporal Haggis since he's so very dutiful and diligent. Good NCO material. Always ready to serve.)
He can be coaxed into taking a very slow toddle off towards the wooded trail where, this time of year, we used to walk a full mile together and with Mary-dog, at least once and often twice a day. He generally stops at the point where the trail begins and looks at you as if to say, OK, that's enough for me, and then we go back.
At night-time, he no longer climbs the stairs to sleep in our room. He tried that just once a couple nights ago, but the room was too warm for him, and so we took him back down. If the house gets warm, he asks to stay on the porch or be allowed outside.
His greatest pleasure, apart from just being around us, is to roll on the lawn.
I think that as long as I see him roll on the lawn with such pleasure, and as long as he's still so pleased to see us each day, we can work this out.
I am pretty bummed to lose my walking buddy, though.
It's hard to take yourself for a walk when you've always had a dog to take.
We did consider getting another dog sooner rather than later, but are cognizant that it would be very upsetting to Haggis to see me take another dog on a walk. We can't do that to him.