Monday, March 01, 2010


It’s 1:30PM on Monday March 1st and I feel helpless.

This morning I woke up to take the dogs out for their usual morning bathroom run. Typically all three are eager to get outside and relieve themselves but this morning, Archie, my twelve year old Jack Russell Terrier lagged behind. He’s “slept in” a few times in the past so I wasn’t concerned. When I came back in however, Sue was holding him. Something was terribly wrong. His mouth was agape, tongue hanging out and his eyes were droopy. It looked as if he’d had a stroke. I began getting ready to take him to the emergency vet, Sue called ahead to let them know I was coming and began hitting veterinary websites for some insight. Idiopathic Trigeminal Nerve Paralysis seemed the most likely candidate. An hour later the vet suggested it may be what we were seeing as well. A low blood platelet count seemed to suggest Evan’s Syndrome was also a possibility. Idiopathic disorders are dealt with in a diagnosis by exception approach; essentially trial and error. It gets expensive and emotionally frustrating very quickly.

We’ve known for some time that Archie’s health has been deteriorating when we saw signs of lameness two years ago. The process of elimination began then with Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia being the most recent suspect. Evan’s Syndrome was suggested as well. ES is a terrible combination of IMHA and Thrombocytopenia; both autoimmune diseases which attack otherwise healthy red blood cells and blood platelets. The treatment includes steroidal and antibiotic drugs. For Archie the treatment is complicated by a heart murmur. One that’s grown worse since we first learned of it; possibly aggravated by his current prednisone regimen. In other words, a veterinary Catch 22. An ultrasound of Archie’s heart is being done as I write this entry. The result will determine whether a higher dose will be counter-productive or not.

These are very difficult, anxious hours. It’s ironic that writing about this is the only thing that’s helping me cope with what I fear is the inevitable.

Sue and I experienced this almost thirteen years ago when we lost our dog Floyd. I’ve forgotten, gratefully I suppose, how painful it is. I knew going in that I would likely outlive each of my dogs. Knowing that doesn’t help when the end seems near. Neither does knowing that he’s enjoyed a life of adventure, good food, love, learning and friendship. In the end I still feel cheated, like he deserves more quality time than he’s had. A measly twelve years.

If you’ve seen Archie in action you know what he could do. There were few things he seemed to enjoy more (eating was two of them) than helping out in a lesson, most recently when I was training a group of dog owners to take the Canine Good Citizen’s test. He’d get very excited when I asked him if “Do you want to help me today?”. In doggy parlance his response was “Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Oh Boy!”. That was Archie at his best. If you’ve worked with me you’ve heard me talk about Archie in relation to resource aggression, jumping and barking. There were plenty of times when the other two dogs would appear noticeably happier when he wasn’t around. But that's also the good stuff. Archie’s given me empathy for other dog owners working through these problems. He’s given them reason to be optimistic that they can get past these issues and enjoy their dogs. Archie’s made me a better trainer. He’ll never fully know how grateful I am to him for that, how much I love him for that.

As I drove him to the Animal Hospital this morning he seemed grateful to be in the car resting on a fleece blanket with me stroking his head and ears; he loves both of those things. Even in those moments he reminded me that it’s the simple things that matter most. A quaint, sentimental thought for me since I’m known for neither.

We should be hearing soon what the results of the ultrasound are. We’re prepared for the worse, as best we can be. Sue and I have talked to our eight year old son Keir about this. He understands, as best he can, that Archie may not be coming home. This is a hard time. I’ve been through them before. It doesn’t numb the feelings I’m having for my friend Archie. I’ll tell you more about him in future posts. For now I’ll end by saying that while I do helpless, beneath that I also feel a deep abiding sense of gratitude for the dog Sue and I lovingly refer to as “Scrappy” a nickname that always made his ears perk in anticipation. This one’s for you Scrappy. Your family loves you very much.