Rob's Blog Archive

June 22, 2014

A Lifetime of Improvement










I found my first Siberian Husky on July 7, 1976, three days after the bicentennial.  Sapura followed me home and even led me to the door.  We were each other’s companion for the next thirteen and a half years.  During that time, I finished college, my Ph.D., two postdocs, and my first six months as an industrial scientist.

After Sapura passed away, I spent nine climbing seasons dog free.  It didn’t take long to discover how easy it was to just head off to the mountains and climb.  Sometimes, I’d have a partner.  Sometimes, I’d climb alone.  I limited the solo climbing to what I felt comfortable doing---generally fourth class rock or the equivalent on snow and ice, but I could do it at a whim.  I particularly liked that.  Still, I missed having a dog more than I enjoyed the freedom being dogless gave me.  Halloween of 1998, Dawn and Tenaya entered my life. 

The two plus decades between when I found Sup and when I got Dawn and Tenaya not only marked huge changes in my life, they coincided with huge changes in our dogs’ lives.  These had started right before Sapura passed away.  Sup lived most of her life on Purina Dog Chow. However, I did switch to Science Diet Senior, an astronomical improvement over the old standard, for the last few years of her life.  A bunch of other brands came onto the market around the same time and all were much better than the old feeds.  Since then, feeds have continued to improve, and while quality varies, almost all are substantially better than the old dog chow was.

I started Dawn and Tenaya on Eukanuba Premium based on their breeder’s recommendation.   Since then, I’ve bopped around a bit, but always tried to move to feeds that were as good or better than what I had been feeding. 

The quality of dogfood wasn’t the only thing that improved since the seventies.  Sapura started showing back issues when she was nine.  They didn’t quite deny the severity of Sapura’s back problems, but the general thought was that only a couple of breeds had these and Siberian Huskies weren’t among them.  Just like dogfood, back problems in dogs were just starting to be addressed, both surgically and with better drugs.  Beyond that, vets realized that while back issues may be more severe and the onset earlier in some breeds, as any dog gets old, these occur frequently. 

The one good thing that did happen was with moving from Seattle to Boulder, Co, the drier climate gave Sapura three pretty good years.  Unfortunately, moving to the east coast with its humidity did take a toll on Sup.  Of course, she was over 12 when I moved there, so age did play a big factor. 

What’s clear, though is that rimadyl/carprofen then prednisone would have been much better than cortisone, the only steroid I was offered or the NSAID I had used---the name escapes me.  Sima went from a level of pain not too much less than Sup’s, to running with the team for a year by virtue of Rimadyl.  After a year, his condition deteriorated very quickly and not even prednisone seemed to help. 

It isn’t just medicines that have improved.  I’ve known of enough cases where surgeries, massage of various sorts, and acupuncture have resulted in marked improvement in dogs’ lives.  All of this came just a little too late for Sup. 

Along with all the ways that medical care and food for dogs have improved, I have gotten better, too.  The big mistake I made with Sapura was hesitating on putting her on cortisone, the one steroid I was offered.  I only gave her the drug for about a week.  I was concerned about the long term effects of steroids and cortisone in particular and had neglected the fact that at 13+ years, there was no long term.  With the steroid, she was a much happier dog.

Since then, I haven’t made that mistake.  Still, just over a year ago, I kept on seeing the improvement part of Ghost’s cycles and not paying as much attention as I should have to the dramatic degradation in his condition with each cycle.  After the last cycle down, I struggled to get him just a few good hours in the yard with his buddies.  Prior to this, he was comfortably living in the yard, albeit with a doghouse and chain I had modified to make his life easier. 

Things turned out as good as they could have at that point.  We got a warm day, and I was able to let Ghost hang out I the yard, totally unable to stand but still inclined to drag himself around, with his buds.  As near as I could tell, while he had no use or even feeling in his legs, he also was pain free.  It was a pretty good couple of hours. 

Happily, neither Sima nor Otter had deteriorated anywhere near that much before I had them euthanized.  While Sima was clearly in a lot of pain and it was time, his mobility was actually pretty good.  He stood up anytime he wanted to.  It’s just that he didn’t want to very often.  Otter didn’t seem to be in any pain, but she was losing her mobility.  With her being just short of fourteen years, that would only accelerate.  Happily, unlike Ghost or Sapura, my memories of Otter and Sima are dominated by them being happy, even at the end of their lives.

And now, as we’re into summer, I’m watching all of my dogs.  Vixen is fourteen and a half, Fondue passed thirteen, Quid is twelve and a half, and Jake and Tempest just turned twelve.  Tok, next in age, is actually the only dog on drugs for age related issues---spinal stenosis. 

Most racing kennels sell their dogs to “recreational” mushers long before the dogs reach a decade, the median age in my kennel.  If they are responsible and make sure the dogs get into good kennels, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Still, I think these mushers miss two things.  First, they don’t spend much time dealing with the ailments of old dogs.  I’ve learned a lot doing this.  Between reading the dogs better and understanding treatments better, I can train my dogs better and I can care for them more effectively on the trail. 

Second, they miss the dogs themselves.  My dogs aren’t as fast as they once were, but they’re happy.  And with that, so am I.











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