We home schooled our kids, so this seemed like a perfect research assignment for school. E.M. was to research which breeds of dogs met our criteria, no dander, no shedding, not high strung or yappy. His research found several breeds that fit the bill. The breed that appealed the most was the West Highland Terrier. He also studied about crate and obedience training, animal first aid, and how to teach them tricks. So a few days before his 14th birthday, we set off to search the pets stores to find a Westy puppy.* (I know, I know... a pet store puppy, what about the whole "puppy mill" thing? For an answer to this question read the paragraph at the end of the post). We made a list of the stores that had a Westy pup for sale and began our exploration.
The store we went to had one Westy pup and someone was looking at it when we got there, so we just cruised around looking at the other animals while we waited for them to finish. The door to the service area of the puppy nursery was a dutch door and the top of the door was open, so as we walked by we caught sight of a puppy that was out on the floor getting a bit of exercise. The woman who was watching him while he was out of his cage was unpacking boxes and there was packing paper on the floor around her feet. The puppy raced by her, grabbed one of the pieces of paper and ran with it as fast as he could, until she caught up with him and took the paper. I turned and saw stars in my son's eyes... Oh dear,this was not the Westy puppy... it was a little buff Cocker Spaniel... Cockers shed... (the requirement for no shedding was mine, since I knew I would end up being the one to clean up the hair, and was the only household member who would care if the black pants they were wearing looked like the dog slept on them, etc.)
But I knew that look... so we asked if we could see him.
E.M. had educated himself well on puppy training, and Tagg was a champ. Crate training was a breeze, obedience training went well, "Sit", "Stay" and "No" were well understood and usually complied with, there was really only one problem... Tagg had a paper addiction, specifically toilet paper or tissues. He never touched books or magazine, and only chewed up the occasional school work, but he couldn't resist toilet paper. If you left the house and forgot to put the T.P. out of reach, you would come home to a toilet papered house. It would be everywhere, shredded into tiny pieces. If a friend came to visit and there was a tissue in her handbag, you would find Tagg up to his shoulders in her bag, helping himself to her tissue. I would shout his name and his head would snap up, one side of his lip tucked up and his mouth full of tissue, he would give me a sheepish look and spit out the soggy wad of kleenex. He knew he shouldn't do it but he just couldn't help himself. Even now at the age of eleven, if someone forgets the close the bathroom door when we leave the house, we will come home to find Tagg looking like "the cat who ate the canary", with a piece of T.P. stuck to his jowl and confetti trailing from the bathroom to the front door.
He learned many tricks, that entertained us and others who came to the house. When I was struggling with mobility issues due to a Fibromyalgia relapse, I trained him to pick things up for me. If I dropped a piece of clothing that I was folding he would pick it up for me. If I knocked my reading glasses off the table, he would gently pick the up and drop them in my lap, smudged with slobber, but at least I didn't have to pick them up! One day long after my relapse, when I was feeling good again and didn't need Tagg's help anymore, I was sorting pieces of fabric, a pile to keep, a pile for Goodwill. The Goodwill pile was at my feet on the floor. I was looking at a stack of fabric in my lap when I felt Tagg's presence at my feet. I looked up to see what he wanted, and I saw him standing there, wagging his tail, with the pile of "Goodwill fabric" in his mouth. His eyes said "Here Mommy, I got these for you!"
He won't eat store bought dog treats and looks at you like he is being punished if you give him one. He is afraid of the Kong chew toy that I paid $15 for, (you know the one that has the hole in the middle that you can put peanut butter in...), and he leaves his sharp little pieces of beef bone strategically around the house where my bare feet will find them. He hogs the couch and snores so loud that you need to turn the volume up on the movie you're watching. He would leave enough hair on the floor to produce a new Cocker Spaniel every three days if I didn't have his long beautiful coat clipped short. He had been banned from every groomer for 20 miles, for being "difficult" about having his feet clipped. I didn't know what I was going to do about getting him groomed, until I met Dawn, Tagg's godmother and premier dog whisperer at "Furry Godmother's",(Dawn is local groomer and dear friend, who has a gentle and effective way of helping animals deal with their fears and neurosis.) She even traveled down to Costa Rica when we lived there to groom him, (of course that was just one of her reasons for the visit, but bless her, she brought her clippers and she and her husband clipped him outdoors ... I still remember the winds catching balls of his fur and carrying them high into the rainforest...Sigh.)
|Tagg is the only dog I've ever met who smells flowers|
|Watching for the mail to come|
Tagg is also my comforter and councilor. He licks away my tears and offers his upturned tummy to be rubbed when I feel sad. He looks at me with his soft brown eyes that speak louder than words, and tells me that he loves me no matter what and that everything will be alright. If I leave a room, he goes with me. He keeps my floor clean in the kitchen and has spent half of his days dusted in flour or spotted with carrot juice, since he insists on laying at my feet while I am working in the kitchen. He never judges me, never holds a grudge or sees my faults...
When Tagg was 8 years old, I started seeing some wasting around his right hip and though it didn't seem to bother him I kept it in mind and worried that it there might be something wrong. But he had always been barrel chested and slim hipped so I let it go for the time being. Then one day when he and I were out for a walk on the greenway, he took a miss-step and his hind leg slipped off the walkway. He yelped and limped/ dragged his right leg. I checked to see if he had an injury, but there wasn't anything visible. I massaged his right hip and gave him a few minutes to shake it off. Then we tried to walk back to the car, but he couldn't walk more than a step or two without crying out, So I picked him up, which hurt too... It was at least a 1/2 mile back to the car so it was a long walk for both of us. It was hard for me to get my arms around him in a way that didn't hurt his hip, and carrying 40 pounds for that distance, meant I had to stop and put him down so that I could catch my breath. I think we were both wishing for a wagon at that moment.
I took Tagg to the vet, where my previous fears were confirmed. Tagg has Hip Dysplasia. I was told there was little that could be done for him, except for surgery, which isn't always very successful. So I went home and did some research. I found that eating a diet of raw meat and vegetables can help to strengthen the connective tissues and increase synovial fluid production. So I started grinding chicken thighs up, added blueberries, carrots and peas and fed him that twice a day. I also found a product called Nzymes,which is used to improve synovial production in animals with joint issues. After a few weeks on the raw diet and the Nzyme tablets, Tagg began to walk normally again and showed little if any favoring of his hip unless it was stressed or moved wrong. So Tagg'slife began to return to normal, but in the back of my mind I knew that this wouldn't always be the case.
It rained the other morning. Da had taken Tagg for his morning potty break and was walking down the sidewalk with him when he heard him yelp. Tagg was standing hold up his left leg. He couldn't walk much since his right hip isn't very strong. He usually relies on his left and the right just follows suit. Our best guess is that his feet slipped apart on the wet walk,stressing his left hip. I made up a bed for him at my feet and spent the day trying to ease his pain. I had to carry him out to use the bathroom and hold him up so he could go. If he tried to walk using his right hip as his primary way to propel himself, he can go a step or two and then he had to sit down. The next day was a little better, but he really didn't leave his bed and he wouldn't eat or drink unless I hand fed him and held his water dish up to his mouth. By the third day he could use his left leg a little and could walk to go outside, but wasn't doing much else. I have started giving him sprouted soybeans (which do what the Enzmes do but are fresh, living food, not in a tablet), medicating when necessary, and I am looking to see improvement in mobility. There does seem to be some hope that he will get better than he is, but if the right hip is any indication, it will not be like it was before the mishap.
Tagg has been so much a part of my life, a constant, loving and true companion. The dog that started out as a birthday present for my son has become like one of my kids to me. What would I do for one of my kids? I would do anything within my power to take care of them, protect them, love them... Their pain is my pain... If Tagg needs me to carry him, to help him up and down, to feed him by hand, I will gladly do it. He has always been there for me, and if it was within his power, I know that he would do whatever I needed him to do, I will do no less. But I am now faced with a situation that every pet owner/ animal friend dreads... what if this hip issue doesn't get better enough to allow him a quality life? What if the rest of his life is spent in pain, unable to play or take a walk, having to bear the humiliation of diapers? When do I, as the person who is responsible for his care and accountable to God for his well being, say that it is time to end his suffering? When is his life no longer of any good to him? I can't ask him, I can only guess what he considers a good life, but I think he would say a good life is to be able to love and protect his family, to be a part of our lives. Can he do that from his bed, with us hauling him and his bed around the house so he can be where we are? Yes, for now. I am going to buy a wagon with high sides that I can take him around in, I am going to continue to feed him the foods and supplements that will help him recover. I will work with him to help him get his strength back. I will pray for healing and for some more time... His mind is sharp, his heart is strong, only his legs are failing him, so I am praying that God will give him healing and and allow both of us more time to be together.
**See the Update on Tagg's condition**
* Why not adopt one of the many pups who are in shelters, just waiting for a good home? Well that would have been our preference, but with E's asthma issues we needed a pure bred animal that had no dander so, it was going to be a puppy from a breeder or a pet store. We did some research and found a pet store that made available to the customers, information about the breeders who supplied them with puppies. If we found a puppy that we wanted, we would check out the breeder and make sure that they were practicing responsible, humane breeding practices and that the animals under their care were kept in clean safe conditions.