Tales of Tails: Tino Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 – JOY

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.

Henry David Thoreau


Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
John Dryden


The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.
Samuel Butler


Tino and Bernie moved into our backyard.  The yard was medium sized, got a decent amount of sunshine all day long, and had a huge eucalyptus tree to offer shade.  It also had a breezeway between the house and the garage and it was in this area we set up two beds for Tino and Bernie.

Our first ordeal was bathing them. Sally loved getting baths, and she would jump right into our bathtub and happily be scrubbed down and toweled off.  Being a Lab, she loved anything having to do with water. But these two felt no such joy towards water.  Even the sound of the hose sent them into a panic and scurrying away from us.  Not only were we unprepared with any type of outside tub, we weren’t prepared for the struggle.  We drafted Steve to help and between the three of us we got at least 50% of each of them washed and hosed off. We put extra strength flea and tick collars on and they settled in to their new home.

Looking at their faces it was hard to tell them apart. They both had a shepherds coloring, although Bernie was a bit darker. Bernie also appeared to have more of a squarish, Lab shaped face than Tino whose face was longer and narrower. Tino also had an unmistakably hollow look in his eyes, probably resulting from the months of dealing with the pain in his right hind leg. Whatever had happened to him, it was obviously an old injury that he had learned to adapt to, but you could read the constant agony in his eyes.

It was obvious to us that they had been abused, not just as evidenced by their being abandoned to fend for themselves in a wilderness park, but they were wary of being touched. They were particularly watchful and standoffish around my husband and other males. If you happened to be standing next to them and raised your hand to push the hair out of your face, they would cower and scamper away from you thinking they were going to be hit.

I took on the main responsibility of caring for the dogs and after a few days, as they became more accustomed to their new routine, slowly their guard came down around me. They realized that they were being fed and cared for and even getting lots of hugs and kisses – something they were surely lacking. They were surprisingly docile to the medical care they required. Bernie’s paw required bandage changes twice a day. They needed eye drops and nose drops to ease the symptoms of distemper. I also had to take and record their temperatures three times per day to monitor any decline in their condition. In addition, their ears were eaten raw by flies and required cleaning and medication. They both sat patiently through this daily ordeal. Providing this care to them intensified the love I felt for them. They were so helpless and yet so grateful to me for the care they received. I know Bernie’s paw was aching, but as I changed his bandages each day, he would lovingly lick my face and hands as if to say ‘thanks’.

This devotion was not only due to the care they were getting, but they were very, very sick from the distemper and while all dogs sleep most of the day, these guys slept about 23.5 hours. They really only got up to eat and move to another location in the yard to go back to sleep. It would be a long time healing not only the distemper, but whatever abuse they had suffered.

Both Liz and I wanted the dogs to be seen by our regular vet for a couple of reasons – one for confirmation of the distemper diagnosis and two for a more realistic assessment of their chances.  Liz felt pretty strongly about her vet who had nursed Rudy through some trying times, so we went to visit him.

He confirmed the original assessment of distemper although there is no definitive test for the disease; it is based solely on observation.  He gave us a regime of temperature taking and medication for their runny noses and crusty eyes – both symptoms of distemper.  It was a 3X per day routine that took me about 30 minutes to attend to each of them and change Bernie’s bandages.

The vet told us what to watch for:  spiking temperature, depression, loss of appetite, irritated eyes and noses with discharge, vomiting and diarrhea, disorientation and finally seizures and death. Thus started the roller coaster ride.  Their temperature would go up, I would take them to the vet where they would stay and get constant care 24-7, they would get better and come back home.  We repeated this 2-3 times over the next couple of weeks. The vet had said the disease usually runs its course in 4-6 weeks and if they make it that far, they may be okay, although distemper frequently leaves some permanent damage.

During this time, Bernie’s paw healed and he was able to get around.  On the days they felt better, we would try to play with them, but they had no clue.  They didn’t know how to chase a ball or a stick or just run around with each other.  Sally was a masterful player and would play with anyone and anything, but they were still quarantined, so we couldn’t bring her into the yard with them to show them the ropes.  It was sad to see.  The vet had estimated their age at under a year old, but here were two youngsters who had no idea how to have fun.  Their life had been filled with worrying about survival rather than romps and toys.

They say dogs live in the moment. I absolutely saw that reflected in Tino & Bernie. Slowly the memory of any prior pain or trauma drained away and even if just for today, today they were happy, warm, fed and cared for. I see this same joy for today in one of our other dogs, Jack.

Jack had been a stray who ended up in a local no-kill shelter. He was big and rambunctious and considered unadoptable because of his out-of-control behavior. He was even on Prozac when we met him. We took him in, got him on an exercise routine and brought in our dog trainer to help us work with him. Jack soon forgot about the shelter and devoted his life to loving us. Something our trainer said stuck with me. “Whatever YOU are doing, is Jack’s favorite thing to do”! That was so true. I could be combing my hair, and he’s right there watching, tail wagging…taking out the trash, okay, I’m with you…sitting and watching TV, great, sounds like fun, let’s do it! Whatever you’re doing…my favorite thing to do!

Right now, Tino & Bernie’s life with us was all about eating and sleeping.  Tino weighed in around 35 lbs and Bernie a little over 40 lbs, about half of what their normal weight should be, so they had a lot of catching up to do.  Eating was a highlight of their day and their appetites never faltered…except for one day about two weeks after we got them.

It was a Sunday and I went out to feed them in the morning.  Tino did not get up to greet me as had become their custom.  Bernie was waiting for me, although not wandering too far from his brother.  Now that his paw was healed he seemed to be gaining strength and stamina more rapidly than Tino every day.  He came to us healthier (except for his paw) and we figured if either of them made it, he would be the one to pull through.  It was Tino that we worried about because he was so much weaker, so when he refused to get up and then refused to eat or drink that day, I assumed this was the beginning of the end for him.

I sat with him all day, trying to hand feed water and food.  He would take a lap or two of water and then lapse back to sleep.  Food was out of the question. I watched for more signs, but he had no discharge, no diarrhea and no seizures. I went to bed sure that the next day would be his last. When I woke in the morning and checked on them.  Tino was up and about and anxious for his breakfast!  It seemed we had weathered the storm – at least that one.

The interaction between Tino and his brother Bernie was interesting to watch.  As I said, we assumed they were brothers based on their appearance, but their behavior exhibited signs of the very strict pecking order you see in animal packs. And Tino, surprisingly, was the leader. Bernie was extremely deferential and submissive to Tino. If Tino wanted his bowl of food all he had to do was stand next to him and Bernie would move away. If Tino wanted me to pet him instead of Bernie, the same dance would be performed. It was interesting to see especially given that Bernie was bigger, stronger and obviously did most of the hunting and providing for the two of them while they were in the wild. Tino was too impaired by his injured leg and the pain of it to fend for himself.

As time went on, their personalities began to shine through.  Bernie was more playful and more of a clown. Tino was more cautious, reserved and watchful of what was going on, what we were doing and where the next meal was. They continued to sleep the majority if the day and night although there were a few nights when their dog instincts took over and they would howl at the moon or at the local coyote pack. Since they were quarantined, they never left our backyard, but seemed content to just lounge in the sun. The sheer joy they found in the simple pleasures they never had…clean water, cool shade, regular meals, a pig’s ear (which they never ate, they always buried!) or stuffed toy.

They would come to us whenever we entered the yard with their tails wagging and smiles on their faces. It was heartwarming to see some of the pain and stress gone from their faces.  Even after all they had been through…were still going through, the natural joyfulness that dog’s possess of living in the moment and appreciating whatever that moment brings shown through. We began to hope that they might just pull through.

During the 4th week, Bernie took a turn for the worse.  It was a shock as he seemed to be stronger and the one who would survive.  Within 24 hours, he went from seemingly ‘okay’ to seizures. We knew that once he started having seizures, there was no recovery.  He was suffering neurological damage with each attack.  We called our local vet, explained the situation and they said to bring him right in and they would put him down.

We knew it was the right thing to do. Bernie was just lying on his side, not moving and every once in a while, you could see the seizure come on and his whole body would shiver.  It was sad and frightening to watch.  I wasn’t sure how Tino would react.  Would he mourn the loss of his brother and fall into depression himself? Bernie had been his brother and helpmate, would he survive without him?

The drive to the vet was painful. I sat in the back with Bernie’s head on my lap.  As we pulled in, the vet tech came out to greet us with a cart to place Bernie on.  We carried him in and said our goodbyes. Bernie was still seizing, but at the sound of our voices his tail thumped against the cart. Even in the midst of this catastrophic damage to his brain, he recognized our voices and showed his love and appreciation to us as all dogs do – with a wag of his tail.


Next week: Chapter 3…….Perseverance

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