Rob's Blog Archive

June 2, 2013

Saying Good-Bye










Since I had moved Ghost back out to the yard, he had always gotten up as soon as he realized a meal was coming.  Standing was tiring and awkward for him, so I usually fed him as soon as I could, then went off to feed the others.   Minimizing the time he spent waiting for his meal meant I could balance him on all fours to eat and he could complete his meal this way.  Standing or not, he ate with gusto.

Monday night, Ghost didn’t get up to eat.  I watched him as I fed everybody else---he was alert, but didn’t even think about moving toward his food.  I brought him indoors. 

It had been almost two weeks since I had moved him back out into the dogyard.   I had built a special overhead tether for him that allowed him to move around without getting tangled, even if he was dragging his rear legs.  It worked great.  Half was a good design.  Half was Ghost---even though he had been only an okay sled dog, he had always had great line savvy.  Even blind, dealing with tethers was easy.  

It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on---his temperature was 105.0 F.  It would peak at 105.7 F.  Ghost had been on prednisone since mid-March and it is a powerful immune system inhibitor.  This was Ghost’s second major infection during that period.  The first time was a cut on his wrist.  This time, it seemed like one of his organs, but who knows.  Ghost got his first dose of cephalexin that night. 

His temperature dropped from its mid night peak and hovered around 103.5 F during the day.  With the drop in temperature, what scared me was that he didn’t drink at all.  He had had a lot of water the day before, something I had noticed, but if he didn’t start to drink again he’d be hard pressed to fight off whatever he had.

By late afternoon I decided that if he rallied, I’d nurse him with the hope of giving him a few good days and me time to say good-bye.  If he didn’t I’d make an appointment to have him euthanized the next day.   With his blindness and continuing loss of ability to use his hind legs, the question had changed from whether or not to euthanize him to when. 

Tuesday night, 24 hours after the high fever, his temperature had dropped to 102.6 F.  He also started drinking again.  It wasn’t the rally I wanted, but it was still clear.  His temperature would continue to drop.  By late Wednesday, he was normal---100.5 F give or take.  And, most of the times I presented him with water, he drank. 

That’s basically been the pattern since late February.  Ghost would degrade acutely, have a noticeable recovery, then continue improving slowly.  This would go on for anything from a few days to a couple of weeks.  Then, something else would happen, and he’d go through another cycle.   Unfortunately, the high point for each cycle was always lower than that from the previous cycle.   There have been at least five so far.   As I write this, while he has no real problem dragging himself around, he has far less use of his rear legs than he had had a week ago.   

What had caught my attention when I was trying to figure out exactly what to do, was that warm weather was predicted for Saturday.  If I could nurse him enough to get him a nice day or two in the yard---not exactly a high note for a dog who had pulled for 7,800 miles including 4,600 of sledding, but not a low point either---we could part with at least one last “good time.”  There are three truths about sled dogs.  The first is that they love their job.  Even blind, Ghost had had his last decent run on February 9, something I am happy about.  The second is that it is nearly impossible to overestimate how much they will cue on their owner.  The final is that their home is with their pack.  Sunning themselves with everybody else is always a favorite off-season pass-time.  I may be his musher, but he belongs with the other dogs. 

Saturday wasn’t quite as sunny as I would have liked, but Ghost got time out in the yard---about four hours.  In keeping with a rally that’s adequate but not stellar, he had an open sore on the flank that he tends to drag.  I washed this and slathered it with triple antibiotic, the latter being a kennel owner’s go to for any cut.  The problem was that it was oozing enough fluid, happily not pus, that I wanted to change any dressing regularly and my best efforts at creating one with vet tape and gauze failed.  When he was indoors, I wasn’t too afraid, but I did have to figure out a way to keep real dirt out.  The answer was a cheap cotton drop cloth cut to surround Ghost’s doghouse and held in place by tent pegs.  All of which worked great.  I didn’t see him do it, but just like indoors, he was able to move around and reposition himself to be comfortable.  The cotton surface gave him good footing and kept him off of the dirt.

I heard the first thunder for the day---rain has been predicted for a while.  Tomorrow and Tuesday are supposed to be partly sunny.  With luck, Ghost will get another few hours in the yard and I’ll get to see him hanging with his buds.  Tuesday afternoon will be his last chance for this.

The first time Ghost had any back problems was during my run on February 26.  At the half-way point, I put him in the sled bag and took him home.  After the run, good old carprophen had him bopping around nicely, raising either leg whenever he wanted, until something started his second cycle.  It was during his third cycle that I decided to bring him indoors for the first time. 

Throughout all of the previous cycles, regardless of whether Ghost was in the yard or in the house, he always joined the other dogs in their howls.  During this past week, he hadn’t.  Many friends have said that there had been times when a dog told them it was time.  There is no question that since Monday night, Ghost has looked at me this way.  I’m hoping that, particularly with time sunning himself in the dogyard, there’s a part of him that appreciates my choice to give us a final few days together before I do what he wants.

Just as I was working through the final edits of this blog, he joined the pack for a howl---loud, clear, and reverberating within the house.  My gamble, keeping him alive rather than euthanizing him immediately, worked.  Our appointment is for 15:00, Tuesday. 

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