Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Gentleman's Passing

Czar has finally passed on.

We got Czar, a beautiful GSD (German Shepherd Dog) from the Sarnia Humane Society in October 2001. He was to be a partner for our big old Bouvier, who had lost her partner the week before.

He was 66 lbs, about 20 lbs too light for a Shepherd of his height and mostly blind due to the brown clouds floating over his pupils. He didn't really seem that interested in people... or me.

Anyway, a big German Shepherd was not my first choice. But one of the techs at the Humane Society urged me to have another look at him and give him a chance. Then he met my daughter and bent his head down to brush it on her 4 year old chest. We knew we couldn't leave without him. He was claimed to be 6-7 years old, already grey around his muzzle and had heartworm. Being the deal-maker I am, we got him for half price.

His first night home, he was outside while I was making dinner, when my husband came home from work. The car headlights spooked him. Not yet knowing this was his home, he jumped the four foot high fence and was gone. We called all the area Humane Societies and Dog Pounds, we searched and searched, and we took notices around to the neighbours letting them know that we had a GSD, still wearing a seatbelt harness, wandering around. What a mess!

We would put a dish of food out each night. Each morning it would be gone but we never knew if it was Czar eating it, or some other animal. Then the farmers around us began taking down the corn. We were in a panic but still could not find him anywhere and no one had seen him.

One day, I was holding my one year old son, looking out the front window and saw Czar crossing the neighbours driveway. I threw my son on my back, grabbed my daughter, grabbed a piece of leftover steak out of the fridge and ran out to get him.

As I approached him quickly, he began to hurry in the other direction. I panicked, knowing that if he disappeared into the corn field, I wouldn't be able to find him or track him, having the two children with me.

I quickly realized the problem was that he still didn't know me, didn't know his new name, didn't trust strange people and had no idea where he was. Top all of that with the heartworm infection that made it hard for him to breathe properly and of course he was afraid.

So I sat on my haunches, holding the steak out toward him, coaxing him gently to come get the steak, praying that he would get close enough for me to grab his sea
t belt harness. Well, it took a while but eventually he did. Then I was praying that he wouldn't bite me when I grabbed the harness. He didn't... thankfully.

And so this was where life really began with Czar.

Because of the heartworm infection, he did not run, he did not play. After about a week at our house, he realized this was home and no longer had any desire to wander off. So, we began the heartworm treatment which he just barely survived. Then his recovery really began... and boy did he recover.

After the heartworm was gone, if he knew he was in an open space, he would run like the wind. Over time, we managed to pack about another 20 lbs onto his lithe frame, bringing him to around the 85lb range, which was book-weight for his height. He still ran like the wind and with his back floating above the ground, you could barely see his feet touch the earth.

Finally, when our house went gluten free, the brown clouds in his eyes (pannus) receded to the outer rims, leaving his pupils clear for him to run anywhere, as he wished... And run he did.


Most documentation of pannus notes that it is common in GSDs and no known cure exists. A lot of documents claim some relation to the sun. When his pannus cleared via diet, I posted his/our story on the internet at a place called "BrainTalk" where both medical and lay people talked science stuff about the brain, challenges and how it all related to every day living. Sad to say, this site is no longer in existence.

Eventually, a vet from the U.S. saw one of my postings about Czar and contacted me to compare notes. He had resolved a pannus issue in a much younger GSD and believed the removal of all corn to be the deciding factor.

In reality we had both put the dogs on diets where only minimal amounts of rice was allowed, so there is no way of knowing if it was actually gluten, corn or some other grain related item. For more information, contact Dogtor J, he's very good about responding and happy to tell great recovery stories. Though we have lost contact over the years, I know he is still working full force to help people understand food intolerance in animals:

Czar spent time on soccer fields watching his kids play and enjoyed sitting nicely while the other kids made a fuss of him. He enjoyed visits from various canine friends. He liked to wander out to the road to say hello to the lady around the corner who always stopped to pet him as she passed our house during her evening walks. He loved making visits to Granny's house to get special treats and hang out with his friend Molly. His last visit was just five days ago. When he knew we were going for a visit, he was pacing behind the van, waiting to be lifted in.

The last two years, he really began to show his age. At night, he would sometimes wander out into a field next door and seem to forget where he was. We would have to go out with a flashlight to search for him in the dark. We would find him just sitting quietly. It was like he was waiting for someone to come fetch him because once he saw us or the flashlight, he would come quickly and happily.

This was also around the time he developed a brain (myelin) disorder that began to render his back legs difficult to manipulate. This didn't seem to cause him any pain but created difficulties doing stairs and eventually, because of the loss of sensation creeping up his back, we knew it was only a matter of time.

For more info. about GSD and peripheral neuropathy:

When he was 10 or 11 years, he had more time under his belt than many GSDs see, so of course we began to expect his passing.

Well, he continued on for another 4 years. Even though is back legs were not cooperating the way he would've liked, he could still go in and out but no longer slept upstairs in our bedroom. For several years, he didn't get better but he didn't get worse either. Then in the last week or two, I noticed his back end seemed to suddenly lose a drastic amount of control.

No matter, even a couple of days ago, he was very excited to see his friend Dakota from two doors over, who comes to visit our guys every once in a while. We all look forward to Dakota's visits because the three dogs (and any visiting canines we may have) are always so excited to see each other.

They all say hello in their doggie way, then George (our 9 year old rottieX) and Dakota run and play for a bit and then all three dogs sniff around together like they are in search of something crucial to the very continuance of our planet... until Dakota hears his Mom calling for him out their window.

Another dear friend who he always enjoyed seeing was Peter. Peter is a retired school teacher and one of the neighbours we met when my husband was delivering notes, all those years ago, about our lost GSD. Whenever we went away overnight, if Granny couldn't come to stay with our animals, it was Peter who would come to take care of everyone for us.

Just two days ago, Czar was lying in the yard when Peter came to visit. Peter went to where Czar was lying to stroke his head and talk to him and I wondered, at the time, how many more times I would see that familiar scene.

Last night, I took the kids out to the drive-in while my husband stayed in to do some work. My husband, this morning, told me that when it was time to go to bed, Czar wouldn't come in. He was pacing the yard slowly.

When I got home, I found him lying in the grass looking fairly comfortable but a little too close to a ladder. When I called him, he didn't get up. I figured his back legs needed some help getting into the standing position, which was becoming a common scenario. But as it turned out, his back legs could no longer stand even when I placed them in position under him.

I was able to carry him to his usual spot in the yard but the pressure on his chest from being carried took his breathe away. He has never, in the eight years he's been with us, spent the night outside. I was caught. It was a beautiful night... but would he feel like I'd left him? I was pretty sure he wouldn't make it until morning and to carry him all the way inside might be too hard on his breathing.

My daughter, almost 12 years old now, was still awake so I brought her down to say good-bye. As we went outsi
de, we found his breathing had calmed. He tried to get up. So, I managed to get hold of him again, and carried him into the house, putting him in his favourite sleeping spot in the living room, near the bottom of the stairs. We made sure he had water nearby and that he was as comfortable as possible, lying on his side. Then I sent my daughter to bed.

He did struggle through part of the night with his breathing and getting comfortable. I kept bringing him water and rubbing his ears the way that always calmed him. Finally, his breathing calmed substantially and eventually, I couldn't stay awake any longer.

Before I slept, I prayed that he wouldn't make it through the night because it did now seem he was in pain or at the very least, very uncomfortable. In the morning I would have to make the difficult decision of taking him in to be put down. I really didn't want to do that because he would've hated going to the vet.

The vet terrified him to the point that we always joked around, even in his younger days, that after all he'd been through, he'd die from a heart attack just going to the vet. Through the years, home was always his favourite place.

Thankfully he passed sometime between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m right there in his favourite sleeping spot after eight wonderful years with us, at the generous age of 14 or 15 years old.

A special thanks to all who have acknowledged Czar to be the special gentleman that he was through all the years he spent with us.

Yes, that is a chicken riding on his back in the attached photo. Her name is Blackie. It was taken last year.

Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. I've not proofed this yet and had some difficulty when to use the past tense and when to use the present tense.

Adopting senior animals can be a truly wonderful and rewarding experience.

Czar was a bird hunter when he came to us and still learned to live with chickens and ducks shortly after his arrival without the use of any corporal punishment.


Dragonfly said...

Kim Thank you so much for sharing your story of your family's journey with Czar and how you took him in from the shelter even though you knew he had ailments. It is so nice to hear about such compassion being extended to an animal even when you know that your time with them was limited and to hear about how he was changed in a positive way knowing that you took the time to care for and love him until the end :-)

KimS said...

Thank you for your positive response. :)

He really was a wonderful guy. :)