Tonight’s quiet is so much louder than normal. The night insects are chirping, there’s an occasional truck or car acceleration in the far distance that travels through the dark from the highway about a mile and a half away, tired old Jackie rhymically nurses her sore paw and every-playful Cricket is flat out on the love seat in the other room. Every cat in the house is taking up two or three cushions, furry bods stretched, tails flopped idly.
Nessie, the 5 month old Border Collie is still off on a playdate with her 5 month old pup-friend and I wait for the call that says she’s on her way back to town so I can go meet up to collect her. Yes, it’s especially quiet without that bright little nipper.
Occasional sheep and goat bleats from the pastures interrupt the heavy late summer dark, lending the night an even deeper stillness.
In reality, we’re all a bit shell-shocked. A cruel, hard lesson about human failings has us all depleted. And by us, I mean me, the cats, and the dogs of the house.
For two days, we shared our home with a beautiful 9-year old Springer Spaniel named “Chase.” For just two days.
About a month ago I was at our local veterinary clinic and a woman escorted in this loving dog and her small daughter, sharing that he showed up on their porch stoop the evening before and was still there in the morning. They’d brought him to the clinic to have him checked for a microchip that might give a clue as to his home. I was there with my 4-month old pup, Nessie, and instantly volunteered my name and number should they need a foster home for him.
When I got the call the Tuesday night, my biggest concern about picking Chase up the next morning was that if there were any unknown aggression issues, it might not be safe to bring him into a home with so many other pets already. But it broke my heart to think of him in a kennel, alone, barking and scared. I thought of my own dogs and what a wreck they’d be if they had been deserted and in a strange place for a month. I wanted to go and get him as soon as I could to reassure him, help him to live the life that he was due.
I picked him up Wednesday morning.
When Chase was not pacing and barking, he was panting and whimpering. I leash-walked him everywhere the first day, in case he was disoriented and chose to run. I didn’t want him to end up hit by a car out on the main road or lost on someone else’s doorstoop. Also, he was intent on chasing my poultry that were not in their fenced in yard and I didn’t want to risk the peafowl flying off. I brought him in the barn while I tended to my goats and horses, and my pony that was recuperating from colic. I couldn’t bring him into the stalls with me but I kept he & my other dogs in the aisleway of the barn with the aisle doors closed so that they would have each other’s company while I mucked and fed the animals.
Chase was frantic about being separated from me and though I spoke to him reassuringly, as long as I was out of his sight, he would bark. I was unable to get chores done with him on a leash if it meant going in and out of the stalls and chicken coops and pasture, but if I put him in the house or in the barn, he would bark nonstop.
On the second day I allowed him to run without the leash and he stayed local. Before I set him free, I made sure the poultry were all in their fenced-in yard to avoid casualties. He flushed them along the fence-line, but at least I knew they were safe. He ran on his own, exploring, but barking, and circled back to me if ever he got too far away. Much like my own dogs who always liked to be within sight, I felt secure that he wasn’t going to take off.
On the evening of the first day, I suspected that Chase would rest better if his nerves were steadier and asked my vet for an anti-anxiety medication. I dosed him accordingly but he still panted and paced the whole evening and into the wee hours, only sleeping a couple of hours in my bed, practically on top of me. The next day/evening, I knew that I couldn’t sustain the energy to care for him and my farm without trying to help him find a calm and so I continued dosing him according to the directions. I even got an additional prescription for him from our pharmacy that we felt sure would help him to rest. But he only barked more and whined and panted more intensely. I’d hazard to guess he was suffering from fatigue from his ordeal of the past month and the stimulation of my home/farm which he couldn’t cope with. His previous owner said that he’d not had exposure to cats before, and I have 5 house cats. Every time he saw one of the cats during his stay, he would become frantic and I became concerned that our cats would disappear from fear.
It is the first time I’ve mentioned his owner, and you may be wondering what he was doing with me if his owner had been located. Chase’s owner discovered my comment on a social media post when a friend of a friend shared his photo and information the month prior, trying to locate his people. My comment had been that I’d met him and he seemed such a sweetheart, and I’d hoped that his people would be able to reunite with him. Chase’s owner wrote her phone number down in response and asked that I contact her.
When I contacted the owner, she explained that she’d given him away to a friend because she was going through some tough transitions in her life. The friend had obviously lost Chase but what she was so disappointed in was that the friend had not pursued to find him. So this was how she found out that her dog had become lost. She asked me if I would take him, but I told her that I had 3 other dogs and 7 cats and a farm. Though, I said, I would love to take him, or foster him if they couldn’t find him a home, it would have to be on a ‘trying out’ basis because of my other animals. She’d said he could be o.k. with dogs and that he’d never been with cats before. She said he was her baby. She said she would not take him back.
When, on the second day, I tried to imagine long term care for this sick dog, I made an appointment for him to be neutered the next morning. I thought an intact dog, at 9 years old, and extreme anxiety, were not a good combination. One thing that I hoped would help him if he were to have a settled home was to be neutered. Plus, I have an unspayed female pup who is a bit young to have a spay-operation yet. So I didn’t want any accidental pregnancies at any point. Also, he was trying to mate with me the entire time he was here. Sometimes this is comical in a lewd way, and we’ve all see this happen with dogs. But as a persistent behavior in a pet, it’s not funny, it’s not anything but annoying and intolerable.
The more of Chase’s behavioral issues piled up, the more frustrated I became with the poor choices that mature adults make. I thought that there was a chance at providing him with a good home given his dear qualities, I even called his owner back to find out if she would consider taking him while we found a good home. She said she wouldn’t. I tried to explain that my own home wouldn’t work because he wouldn’t stop barking at the cats, that my cats have been here for 10 years and it wasn’t fair for them to have to be re-homed. I couldn’t do that and feel it was a responsible decision.
Chase barely slept last night, and that was after giving him all of the medication that I could for his anxiety. None of it touched his symptoms. I woke up early after barely sleeping, packed the car with the pies I was to deliver after I brought him in, packed Nessie’s day-kit for her puppy-visit, filled all of the cats’ bowls hoping that in our absence they would reappear, and I drove to the clinic for the neutering appointment.
I know some about mental illness. I spoke with professionals to discuss Chase’s cortisol levels and long term treatment for such extreme anxiety. The very unsettling fact was that if we placed him in another home, it would likely begin a pattern of placement for him which would only increase his anxiety. The medical caregivers and staff at the local animal care facility were trying to be honest with me, but not insensitive, and said that if I wasn’t able to help him, they did not have faith that we would be able to find him a home that would provide as good of a chance as I was able to offer.
I thought about how if Chase had a cancerous tumor and related pain that was the size of his anxiety, we would have an easier time saying it was time for him to go. These were the thoughts that helped me to find some reasoning in making the decision, instead of neutering him this morning, to have him euthanized.
I choked a bit when I was talking with the staff and cried because I hadn’t even given him breakfast. He was to have the neutering procedure on an empty stomach. The treat-coffers were opened up to me and before we sedated him, I hand-fed him as many doggy treats as he was interested to gobble.
I crooned and stroked Chase while he drifted off on a soft blanket on the floor of the clinic office. He’d had a good roll in something smelly before we’d set out this morning, and I know that had been a jolly moment. His soaked ears, from all of his panting, were dreadlocks of manure. I repeated to him that he was a good dog, he was a good dog and it wasn’t his fault. He was just a good dog and his peace was coming.
I want for Chase’s story to be a lesson if it can’t end happily ever after. I want for us to be more mindful of the pets we take into our homes, our lives, and impress on our friends, family and neighbors the importance of spaying and neutering, of proper training of young pets, of the responsibilities that go with the decision to have animal companions.
If you’re already that kind of person, you’re nodding your head. If you’re not or if you’ve heard it before and you think it’s just noise, then you won’t find any use for reading this.
Wherever your community, you will find pets that need a foster home. Chase’s story is tragic for me to have experienced, tragic for me to share. But maybe by reading this you will reach out in some way to see how you can help more pets to have a loving chance.
I hope that Chase’s two days with me were something special in his life. I had his body cremated for a few reasons. I knew, though, that I would plant a tree for him like I did for our old Abe, 12 years as a faithful companion, because, like all good dogs, it is the least that we can do to honor all of the pets that selflessly watch over us even when we, selfishly, don’t watch over them.
“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.” – “Dogs are People, Too”, NYTimes, October 2013 – Gregory Berns , professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, the author of “How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain”