by Patricia Gail Burnham
One of the drawbacks to white dogs is that a small percentage of them are deaf. Modified hair cells located deep in the ear are what you hear with. And when there is no pigment in the hair around and inside the ear, those vital hair cells can atrophy and the result is deafness. Breeders of white dogs like English Setters and Dalmatians routinely test their puppies for hearing ability. It is easy to tell if a puppy is deaf in both ears because they don’t respond to sound. But the only way to tell if a puppy is deaf in one ear is to do an electronic hearing test. So I took Ringo to have his hearing checked. I knew he could hear in at least one ear. I wanted to be sure that he could hear in both ears.
Ringo arrives at the Veterinarian’s Office
This was not one of our best days. First Ringo didn’t want to go into the strange vet office. Once inside he got an injection of ace promazine, which made him collapse on the floor, conscious but not able to walk. Then tiny electrodes were injected in the skin of his head and an earphone was placed in his ear. The earphone clicked and the electrodes recorded his brain activity. His brain activity showed peaks that were in time with the clicks. He could hear — in both ears. I was delighted.
Then the vet suggested cutting his toenails while he was tranquilized and I agreed. But he was tranquilized, not anesthetized. He still had his ability to feel pain. So when the vet cut the first nail and hurt him, Ringo came up off the floor teeth first and reached for her cheek. I was astonished and unprepared. I pride myself on never having gotten a vet bitten in decades of holding dogs for vet work, and that includes sewing up wounds under local anesthesia. The vet’s eyes were wide. I asked if he had made contact and she said, “Yes.” But it had just been a graze, a toothy warning not to hurt him again. She was undamaged but we had both been amazed at the speed of his reaction.
I suggested that we end the nail cutting effort and I would teach him to allow me to cut his nails when he was not under the influence of the drugs. I wasn’t about to discipline a puppy for his drugged reactions. When he was back in full possession of his reflexes, I would teach him to let me file his nails in exchange for treats. It is easier to teach a dog to like having his nails cut than it is to teach him to fight with you for a lifetime of nail care. Ringo’s grandmother had exceptionally sensitive paws so I wasn’t surprised to see that trait turn up in her descendants.
But I was very impressed with the speed and accuracy of his warning strike. When we live with dogs we grow to think of them as buddies and near human friends. What we forget is that they are eighty-pound predators with thousands of years of hunting and killing ability tucked away in their genes. They rarely show us the wolf behind the dog’s devotion.
Ringo was none too steady on his feet when I helped him out of the office and back to the car. He slept all the way home.
The Nail Incident had reinforced his dislike of Veterinarians
That posed a problem two weeks later when I woke up one morning to find Ringo making strange faces and gagging. I had never seen anything like it. I looked in his mouth but could see nothing to cause the trouble. I fed the other dogs and called for a vet appointment. The morning was complicated by my having an early doctor’s appointment of my own, so I took Ringo with me to the clinic. It was cool enough for him to wait in the car while I saw my doctor and when I got back to the car Ringo seemed better.
He was no longer making faces and rolling his tongue out of his mouth. So I decided to take him home. I had not been looking forward to having a vet examine his mouth. That would mean putting the vet’s nose next to Ringo’s nose which is the most threatening thing you can do to a dog. Poor Ringo would have an anxiety attack. I was completely baffled at what could have caused his strange symptoms but as long as he was better we could pass on the vet visit.
Just as I pulled off the freeway near home he began rolling his tongue again and grimacing. When I pulled up in front of the house, I decided to have one more look in his mouth before keeping that vet appointment. This time I opened his mouth wide and looked under the tongue and then at the roof of his mouth. There, oddly out of place, was a two-inch twig bridging the roof of his mouth. The ends of the twig were wedged against his rear molars. It was a moment’s work to hook a fingernail behind it and flip it out. Ringo sighed gratefully and closed his mouth. All the twigs that he chewed in his puppyhood had their revenge, but at least he had been spared a trip to the vet.
Ringo was winning me over.
He developed the habit of coming up behind me in the yard and gently taking my hand in his mouth. He had the softest lips I have ever encountered on a dog. He wouldn’t use his teeth to hold the hands, just his super soft lips. It was like getting the hand kissed.
He also found a way to get more pets than his brother and sister. He learned to stand on his hind feet and gently put his front paws on my shoulders for a hug. Jirel thought hugs looked like a good idea but because she was a lot shorter than Ringo she would hook her front paws on my body and try to pull herself up to get face to face. That made her toenails dig into my arm as she tried to chin herself. I tried to discourage her body climbs. When Ringo stood tall he was already nose to nose with me. He didn’t have to climb and his hugs were very gentle. The rule of hugging is that I will pet the dog as long as they continue to stand tall. Ringo could stand tall for a long time.
And then he learned how to stand with his front feet on the top of the washer so I could hug him without having his feet on me at all. Whenever I say hello to him after being at work, he and Starfleet and Jirel would come racing out of their room and Ringo would put his front feet on the washer to be ready for hugs. It is hard to ignore a big white dog that is looking at you eye to eye. He always got the first hugs, and the most hugs, and he was happy.
I always spay my bitches before they reach old age when the operation risk increases. I don’t want to have to do an emergency spay on a 13 year old bitch. So I made appointments for Sheena and Sunny and, since Kira was never going to be bred, I made her appointment at the same time. Dr. Schenck, who had delivered Sheena by C-section as a puppy, was doing the operations and I had a lot of faith in him.
Still, I was tense until the vet’s office receptionist said that Sheena and Kira were both recovered from the anesthesia and were looking at each other from their adjoining cages. Dr. Schenck said that it was much easier to spay young bitches like Kira, and a lot more work to spay the old timers like Sheena and Sunny. The night after the operation they had to stay in the hospital and the bed was very lonely without them. I kept doing housework and putting off going to bed.
But the next day they were thrilled to see me. Kira recovered quickly. Sheena had a tougher time of it. Blood pooled under her skin along the incision and bruises spread across her abdomen. She didn’t bleed externally, but she obviously was bleeding internally — not enough to make it necessary to reopen her incision, but enough to look bad. Gradually the pooled blood was reabsorbed and the bruises faded as Sheena healed.
Putting on the Dog at the Mall
We followed our usual postoperative exercise plan of short walks at the mall. Kira was thrilled to accompany us on drives to the mall for our nightly walk. The routine was simple. I would start the laundry in the Laundromat on the way home. When I got home I would greet Kira and Sheena, put dinner in the oven, let the puppy pack out to run in the yard, put the dog kibble out to soak, and then take Kira and Sheena back to the mall. By that time the laundry was ready to go into the dryer and we would walk while it dried.
It never hurts to have lots of people tell you that your dogs are beautiful. Sheena would pace along imperturbably, while Kira danced beside her, eyes sparkling, entranced by everyone who passed. And the mall provided a lot of entertainment and great smells. First was the smell of hot peanut oil from the Silver Dragon Chinese restaurant. Then on to the Thrifty drug store, which dispensed people carrying ice cream cones. One couple stopped to admire the dogs, and Kira, with no shame at all, went right up the lady’s front, reaching for her ice cream cone. I managed to pull her away just short of her target, but after that I watched Kira carefully if folks were carrying ice cream.
Next was a Fresh Choice restaurant, a popular smorgasbord with a lot of people waiting in line and then a Home Express where they would stack sale items on the sidewalk. It was here that Kira saw her first mirror. It was conveniently placed at dog level and she was mesmerized with the image of herself and her mother.
Next was Java City with its outside tables and customers who were usually good for some dog compliments. Then at the end of the block the Benihana Grill where knife-wielding chefs cook on steel tables surrounded by the customers. Tantalizing odors of grilling meat waft outdoors and the windows allow us to watch the fancy cooking process which was invented by medieval Japanese soldiers grilling food on their shields before battle.
We went to the mall’s photo shop to get a photo of Kira. When she proved too wiggly to hold still on the posing table, I sat on the table and took her in my arms. She obediently looked into the camera for a couple of shots and then she put her chin on my shoulder in her usual hugging position.
She had been snuggling her head onto my shoulder for her entire life. The photographer waited for me to raise her head again but I told him to keep shooting with her head where it was. And we got everyone’s favorite picture of me wearing seven month old Kira on my shoulder. I was so taken with the pose that we repeated it several times over the next six months. Each time the pictures were slightly different as she grew up and modified her position and expression, but they are my favorite sequence of dog pictures.
Kira was happy and Sheena was happy but at the back of my mind was the blood test that had been taken the day the puppies were born. It showed slightly elevated liver values. And elevated liver values had been the first sign of Star Traveler’s liver cancer.
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