Rob's Blog Archive

March 24, 2013

Ghostal Le Deuf










His real name is Ghost.  Starting on his first day at Silly Lake, he was always picking fights and challenging the rest of the guys.  Far and away the smallest male in my kennel, he gives up at least eight pounds to each of the other boys.  He’s okay as a fighter, but nothing more---certainly incapable of compensating for his size.  And it wasn’t just that he picked fights with no chance of winning, he also put on the biggest show after he marked, scraping with his hind legs and barking “I’m Ghost” to all who would listen (nobody, actually).  I looked up “Napoleon Complex” in one of my canine medical books and right next to the picture of a toy poodle was a picture of Ghost.

Each of my dogs will do things that have me calling him or her a dufus, some more often than others.  Ghost’s continuous demonstration of his Napoleon Complex tops the list and justified a dedicated nickname, Ghostal le Deuf.  It’s French for dufus, (for the record, I’m the only person qualified to make the translation).  Shortened versions include Deuffy and Deuf.  For those of you who have heard me call Ghost Ghostal or Deuffy over the years, you now know the etymology of the name.

Three years ago, the vet diagnosed Ghost as having pigmentary keratitis.  Usually, this is amenable to topical eye treatments.  However, Ghost evidently had “retinal involvement” and that meant he would go blind. 

A year and a half ago, I was sure he had some vision.  It seemed like he also had huge blind spots, but generally compensated for these. 

At this time, I don’t think he’s totally blind----he has a sense of where large objects are and can make his way around without bumping into everything---but I’m not sure.  I can’t say that he isn’t picking up auditory cues---all of the items he senses are big enough that with excellent directional hearing (look at that ear design!!), he could sense where echoes are coming from.

However he does it, he generally gets around the yard well.  And I’ve been running him.  He pulls with the team---he has difficulty with speed, but he’s happy at a trot, something he can still do at 11 mph.

All this was true until a couple of weeks ago.  On a nine mile run he seemed to be having a lot more difficulty than normal---he was trying to lie down.  I tried telling him he could do the run and encouraging him, but it didn’t work.  For the first time in quite a few years, I bagged a dog.  The fact that I didn’t have to restrain him at all, just put him in the sled bag, made this easy, but also told me whatever happened was serious. 

That evening, he had difficulty moving and his sense of where his back feet were, proprioception, was at best poor.  I started him on carpofen a.k.a. Rimadyl.  I was relieved as his condition improved dramatically over the next few days.  If I had kept him on the line too long, it didn’t seem like there were going to be any significant consequences. 

By Saturday morning, four days after the run, he looked nearly symptomless.  By Saturday afternoon, that all changed. I have to assume he severely reinjured himself---by that evening he had at least as much difficulty walking as I saw that first night after the run.

Unlike the first gyration, he didn’t improve with the carpofen, at least not much.  I talked to my vet on Monday about the proper protocol for switching from carpofen to prednisone and started the protocol that evening.  Tuesday evening he had his first steroid dose. 

Initially, this also helped a lot.  However, as time went on, he continued to deteriorate.   Either the combination of blindness, snow, and the tether (normally he’s quite good with lines, even blind) had him tripping and aggravating the back rather than letting it heal, or there was something more serious, like a tumor, that was causing the degradation.  Hoping it was the former, I brought him indoors. 

If I wasn’t sure of Ghost’s breeding before bringing him in, I am now.  The first night in, I had him in a crate.  This is one of the crates with the latches that allow it to be broken down quickly.  I had almost all of them closed, just a couple at the very front open. 

I came down at about five in the morning to find Ghost laying at the foot of the stairs, a slight smile on his face, and the crate forced apart enough to let the door easily open.  I put the crate back together, this time making sure everything was fully latched, put him in it and went back to bed.

From the start, I looked at the crate as a temporary solution.  He wouldn’t be tripping over a tether, but I wanted to make sure he could lay in a position that was comfortable for his back and the crate was too small.  Sunday morning, I found my puppy-pen and set it up.  He seemed fine with the puppy pen and this gave him a lot of room in which to get comfortable. 

The next morning, I found the pen in an odd shape and Ghost on the outside---not what I’d expect from a blind dog with a back problem.  This time, he had deformed it a lot, moved it around a bit, and evidently crawled out underneath.  Not good for a back injury.  I had neglected to install the plastic spacers that hold the pen rigidly in the shape of a regular octagon and that’s what let him break out.  I was delighted when I quickly found these and installed them.  This made it much more difficult to crawl out underneath---he would have had to lift all of it rather than just a few panels. 

Of course, putting the spacers in didn’t keep him from trying----I came back from a quick ski tour to find the pen moved. I figured he’d realize that the mode of escape he had used that first night in the pen was no longer available after that one shot.  He didn’t.  Unfortunately, I think he was aggravating his back more when he tried and failed to get out than the time he actually got out of the puppy pen.  In any case, I set the pen up against a wall, and placed several weighted logs around it.  Since doing this, it has remained in the same spot.

Memories of iterating to make yards escape-proof for Siberian Huskies, particularly my first Sibe, Sapura, have been coming back.  And while there’s a certain pleasure in working through problems like keeping Sibes in a yard, the iterations in these stressed me much more than in other situations.  Each failure with Sapura meant she was running in city traffic.  Each failure with Ghost meant he aggravated his back. 

In Ghost’s case, it also made it impossible to determine if his problem would take care of itself---what sure looked to be happening initially---or if there was something more serious, like a tumor, that was causing an ongoing deterioration.  There are several e-mails to my vet postponing my giving him a definitive statement that either Ghost has steady improvement or  he’s coming in for an x-ray. 

Finally, over a week after I initially brought Ghost indoors, I got it.  My procedure for walking Ghost was to guide him with his leash and hold onto his tail to give him balance.  It took almost no force on his tail to help him.  Additionally, it made it easy for him to pee.  Even defecating wasn’t too difficult. I’d often let him walk a few steps to see how he was doing, but usually, his rear would cant to one side or the other and he’d fall. 

Most days I thought I saw some improvement, but I remained concerned that my innate optimism was creeping in and biasing my assessment.  His condition Sunday night and Monday morning convinced me that the improvement was real and not just cycling coupled with my optimism.  Far from 100%, he was at least walking with a degree of rhythm and strength.  After small improvements followed by significant declines which I assumed were caused by Ghost’s escapes, he was the best he’s been since I brought him indoors. 

And there’s more good news.  Ghost now treats the pen area like a den.  After walks, I’ve been letting him roam free in the kitchen-dining area where walking around is pretty easy---this is one of the few times I don’t curse the people I bought this place from for having the kitchen fully carpeted.  Most of the time, he puts himself back in his pen, then lies down.

But not all the news is good.  By the end of the week, he seemed to get worse, though I’m not totally sure.  It’s like his left side continues to improve, but his right side has gotten worse.  The right always was a little worse than the left, but now there’s no comparison.  It could be that the left simply got better faster, is now overpowering the right, and he still doesn’t have quite the strength to cope with this---I just don’t know.  

Still, the basic long term trend is improvement.  With luck, I am hoping that a year from now, I’ll be able to write that I was again able to run my blind boy---that is my optimism.  That said, I’ll be happy if all he can do is live in the yard with his buddies and play during yard time, just like he used to.  And, to the extent he understands what’s actually going on, I’m thinking he would be too. 

 Rob's Blog Archive Index
Rob's Blog | Writing | The Dogs | About Rob | Mushing Terms | Equipment | Sponsors | Instruction| Videos