Google+ Followers

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 -- Year's End

What a turbulent year it's been.  December was a hard month to end it on.  December 5 was the day we picked to say Goodbye to Big Guy.  At that point, he was becoming emaciated.  His tumors were getting quite large, and a couple of them appeared to be rupturing through the surface of his skin.  We took him to the vet and had him gently put to sleep.  I grieved that dog harder than I thought possible.

Most people don't know that we had been looking for another schnauzer even before Big Guy got sick.  We put feelers out through our groomer/breeder/shelter friends.  The first to bear fruit pointed us to a breeder in Centralia who had some standards.  Details were sketchy at the time, but we drove down on a Saturday to check them out.  She had a couple of 10-month-old sisters that were not destined for the show ring.  One was black, the other pepper-and-salt.  They were quite affectionate, and we couldn't decide on which one we wanted.  So we took both. I should mention that the kennel we got them from is nationally known and highly regarded in the show circuit, having been to been to Westminster:  Sketchbook Standard Schnauzers.

Isabel and Indigo

We named the black one Indigo and the other Isabel.  They are playful, athletic and damned smart.  Both learned to sit in about 3 days.  They are already crate trained and we are working hard on house training.  We call them the Sisters of Chaos, but we exaggerate.  They're pretty mellow for adolescent puppies.  They've only destroyed two three pairs of Stacey's flip flops.  Indigo is a friend to everyone, and has very pretty eyes.  Isabel is shy around strangers but full of mischief at home.  While both have cropped ears, one of Isabel's fell down, which gives her a comical look.  We're trying to break them of chasing the cat and barking at things from the window.  We love them to bits.

Another of our feelers turned up a giant schnauzer in Indiana.  We took a weekend to drive out and visit family in Crawfordsville and spent the night with Stacey's brother and sister-in-law in Indianapolis..  We drove down the next day to take a look at the giant. Kitty is a champion in her own right (Ch Fanta C's Gunsmoke's Leading Lady), 6 years old and a retired breeder.  She licked our faces and seemed very well behaved.  Though we had expected to pick her up in January (if, indeed, we wanted her and were allowed to have her), but decided to just take her home then.  Prior to that day, I had only seen two giant schnauzers during my whole life, and one was Big Guy.  Fanta C Giant Schnauzers had several magnificent adults in outdoor kennels and three puppies inside.  The pups were so adorable; all they wanted to do was lick your face.

Kitty has the cropped ears of a show dog.  She is already crate-and house-trained.  She walks on a lead perfectly and is generally cooperative.  She doesn't get up on furniture, nor bark much at all.  She rides in the back seat of my truck and just lays down, never barking.  We are working on sit and a few other commands.  She is playful and becoming integrated into the pack.  As the weather got cold recently, she climbed into the little fish pond and broke through the ice with all four feet, which then were covered in nasty mud.  So she got her first bath at home. I am still learning her personality, but she appears to be very sweet and loyal. She satisfies some inner need we have for a big dog.

Miss Kitty at Christmas

We still have the white miniature schnauzer Gretchen, of course.  So if you're keeping score, we now have four schnauzers in various sizes and flavors.  It's kind of crazy in our house right now, as we all adjust to a new routine.  I grew up in a house full of dogs, so 4 is not in the "crazy dog people" range for me.  Our plan is to make them well trained and well behaved so that the house is as orderly as it can reasonably be.  It's a process we are working.  We thank Shammy Johnson for connecting us to the standards and Carol Bridgeman for connecting us to Kitty.

I just finished reading the James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small) compilation of dog stories.  It was fascinating.  One of the things he recommended is that, upon the loss of a dog, one should get a new one right away.  The new one does not replace the lost one (for, like Big Guy, each is unique), but I think the new one keeps you so busy that you don't have so much time to think about the old one.

I have had few opportunities for photography this month except for the dogs.  You'll find some decent shots in the online album below.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Memories of Big Guy

I want to document here various aspects of Big Guy's personality before I forget them.  This is a fairly personal narrative, written for my own memoirs, so feel free to bail out of it at any point.

He never gave dog kisses. He would sometimes lick his nose after sniffing you, so if you got close enough he might accidentally lick your face. He did have a penchant for licking Savannah's legs. We don't know why.

Big Guy did not like water. Perhaps because he fell into a frozen pond when young, he would not enter water of his own volition. I never saw him swim.

He always liked drinking the rainwater in our rainbuckets best. You had to dry his beard after he had a drink, like wringing out a mop.

Every night he would roll on the living room floor and growl. This was his invitation to wrestle. He liked wrestling and would only return the level of aggression he was given. He seldom bit, but could nip with his incisors for a painful but harmless pinching effect. If he got a hold of my watch or other inanimate object, he knew that wasn't flesh, and he'd bite it hard. He tore holes in two of my T shirts while jumping for toys. He could hurt you on accident though. One time I bent over to pick something up in the back yard and I hadn't seen him running up. His head hit me in the temple and I saw stars. He liked tug-of-war best. He would fetch some toys, but not retrieve them all the way back. He had a few favorites, like the tractor dog and the double-donger, which was like a stick.

He liked to run. He would chase Gretchen, or be chased, around the back yard, making circles around a tree, the pond, or the wood furnace. He would really zoom around the softball field when we took him there, then usually take a poop in center field (we always bagged it).

He always had a problem with him licking his feet. Only at the end, when prednisone completely suppressed this behavior, did we know with certainty that it was allergies. I assume the same was true of his somewhat runny eyes.

He was always right around 100 lb. We never let him get fat. Had great lines, an elegant gait and looked beautiful running. We got compliments on him everywhere we went. We took him to the Autumn Folk Life Festival and could hardly get anywhere because of people stopping us to talk about Big Guy. He was a truly beautiful dog.

He would sleep in our bed with us for 20 minutes or so almost every night, and sometimes in the morning. Eventually, he'd get down to sleep on the floor or in his personal toddler bed. On the other hand, he often did like to cuddle, and would get in your lap if you let him. If you could get him to lie next to you with his head on your chest, it was glorious. He enjoyed attention, though could not really express affection directly. He always got excited when we came home, but was too busy jumping around to come close and get hugs.

He would let you know when he wanted to go outside by barking and pawing you. If I were working at the kitchen table in the morning, he'd do this about every 5 minutes. Drove me crazy. He also pawed at the door to get back in the house. If you were asleep, he might paw your face, or just sniff you and hit you with the big exhale at the end. He made very entertaining noises at times, like deep moans and growls. He would sigh at night when he went to bed. He often had dreams and could be heard growling, whining or suckling while his legs twitched. He had a deep chest and you could feel his heart beat through his ribs.

The only trick he knew when we got him was to put his paws on your shoulders. We taught him to sit and to stand from the sit to get a treat.  He wasn't a natural sitter and seldom did it spontaneously. He was learning to jump through a hoop at the end of his life. He could jump high and far. He often would vault over the rainbuckets when we let him out, and easily jumped the rabbit fence into and out of the prairie. I never taught him to draft a wagon or to pull me on a skateboard or skis. He just took to that naturally. He also followed hand signals, which was very useful, and, again, untaught. He loved doing all these things, as well as going for walks or runs. He was so good at reading body language, he could figure out what we were doing (such as running) by how I was getting dressed. He would figure out when you were going to bed and jump into your spot just before you got there.

He never wanted to be kenneled up in the laundry room during the day, so he would go "hide" in the basement on the couch just before it was time for me to go to work.

He was so tame and submissive, I could do almost anything to him. I could push him around in the bed to reposition him. I could pick him up completely off the ground. The only thing I could not do was to cut his toenails. He couldn't stand that. The most aggressive we ever saw him was when he got a hold of a steak bone. He would not give it up, and from the loud growling sounds he was making, I was not inclined to take it from him. He showed his dominance over Savannah and Racin--by humping them. Gretchen could dominate him, but he didn't seem to care much. He would seldom meet the eyes of a human, even when trying to get their attention. I saw him get nose to nose with an injured bird. He just sniffed it. Later, Gretchen killed it. He always chased squirrels but never caught one. I always wondered what he would have done if he had. He sometimes chased our cat, but never hurt him.

Once we visited a dog park and another dog got aggressive and bit him on the ear. He didn't seem to notice. His pain threshold was so high, he never seemed to show pain. The huge needle used to microchip him didn't even make him flinch. He ran into one of the columns on the back porch, damaging his kidneys, but didn't slow down.

He didn't like the vacuum cleaner, but I think he learned that from Gretchen. He didn't like the schnauzer statue that now lives on our front porch, and he really hated the cow puppet, which could incite them both to feats of jumping and biting.

He was a notorious counter surfer, and was extremely clever in taking food that did not belong to him. He used his size to advantage, and could take anything off the table, from inside the sink, or on the kitchen counter. For example, if the doorbell rang while we were eating dinner, he'd eat our food while we went to greet the visitors. The fire pager was the worst. We'd have to suddenly get up and leave at any time, including meal time. I don't know if I can remember all of the things he ate: part of the uncooked Thanksgiving turkey, most of a ham, pizza, an entire loaf of banana bread, a raw steak right out of the shopping bag (the $6.50 price tag remained), chocolate cake, prime rib bones, two dozen cookies (at once). He must have had an iron gut, as he never got diarrhea from any of these. He really liked butter. One time Stacey walked by and waved a stick of butter in his face and he bit it. She used it anyway, tooth marks and all.

When eating his bowl of kibble, he'd usually lie down next to it for awhile before consuming, presumably to give his stomach juices time to start flowing. He usually ate some in the morning then finished it off at bed time.

He was deceptively fast. He had good coordination and could catch toys in midair. Back when we had the futon in the basement we let him use both that and the couch. When he was playing he could bounce off of one and onto the other, the full width of the TV room without touching the floor. He wasn't allowed on the new couch, so no more bouncing.

He had a way of making himself look adorable, particularly when he figured out we would finish dinner. He'd come up to your side, hold his ears up a bit and wag his tail.

Otherwise, he was not very expressive externally. He lacked the docked ears that make Gretchen's every emotion plain as day. It made him look stupid and perhaps boring. It was only after maybe a year that I understood his depth. He was actually pretty clever, and you had to really watch him to understand his emotions and moods.

He had a nasty habit of grazing plants in the back yard. That would usually make him foam at the mouth, and occasionally throw up the leaves. He used to jump the rabbit fence to get into the prairie and sample my plants.

He loved to take rides in the car and was great at camping. He had his own couch in the RV and traveled well. He was perfectly housebroken, and never had accidents in the house. He hardly ever threw up either, fortunately.

He barked like mad when anyone came to the door, but he never bit them. That's the perfect guard dog. I never worried about anyone breaking into the house while he was there because his bark was loud, deep and forceful.

He's the only dog I've ever known who would watch other dogs on TV. If it was a particularly stimulating scene, he'd bark at them. A couple of times he had his paws up on the entertainment center and I thought he might try to go through the screen. He did the same for wolves and bears.

Let us tally the damages. He broke a piece of glass out of the old entertainment center (with his head), but we never replaced it. We did replace the screen on Stacey's laptop, which he broke by knocking it over. He has scratched up the baseboard in our bedroom where he sleeps, but I have a replacement for that. He broke out of the house one day by plunging through the screen in the bathroom window. I fixed that, but then one day we left it open accidentally, and he went through the screen again. He decided he could still get out the window by chewing through it, the damage of which we have not yet fixed. He tore a muscle in Stacey's shoulder while going after a squirrel. Not sure what the cost was of her surgery to repair it, but the orthopedic surgeon called him the most expensive free dog he'd ever seen. So we put up a fence in the back yard to keep him in without having to use leads. I think that was $1400. In only two years, three trees have fallen on it, requiring additional repairs. He would jump up against the laundry room wall when we got home, and had nearly worn a hole through the drywall, as well as scratching up all the door moldings. I did a minor remodel and covered the drywall with fiberglass reinforced panels.

In many ways, he was a high-maintenance dog. But I have no regrets. It was worth every cent for the four years we had with him.

Here's a playlist of videos I've made of him so far:

Big Guy: Adventures with a Giant Schnauzer

And here's an album of various stills.

FlickR Album

Monday, December 1, 2014

November 2014 -- The Shocking News

Winter came on with a sudden ferocity, plunging us from 70 F to below freezing within a week.  By now, we've already seen rain, sleet, snow, and freezing rain.  Wait, that was all in one DAY.  I had to start the wood furnace up much earlier than usual.  At least I am somewhat prepared to run out of wood early--Lowell and I cut some trees down, limbed them out, and dragged them out of the woods last summer.  It should be a short affair to log them out and haul them home as needed.

Last month Big Guy cut his toe running around the back yard.  We took him to the vet and had it glued back together and while he was there they gave him his vaccinations.  Shortly thereafter he developed a large swelling on his neck.  I suspected a vaccination reaction; the vet prescribed antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.  When all the pills ran out the swelling was reduced, but still there, and other bumps had sprung up in various places on his body.  I took him back to the vet on Friday, November 21st, his 7th birthday.  They took needle biopsies of his bumps.  The diagnosis was lymphoma, a type of cancer for which there is no cure.  We chose the option of trying to extend his life by treating him with high doses of prednisone.  We spent the weekend mostly grieving.  We had to go to Quincy so we stopped at Burger King and bought him a double cheeseburger.  He's been eating really well--lots of canned food, people food and treats.

One side effect of the prednisone is that he drinks and pees a lot.  We have to let him out almost every hour, even at night. He seemed to be responding to the medication, at least at first, in that his neck lymph nodes shrunk a bit and he had more energy.  Since then, he is more lethargic, the bumps grow and multiply while his muscles waste away. Words fail me when I try to express what this dog means to me.  If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know what adventures we've had, such as camping, skateboarding, and skiing.  Those activities don't convey what a playful, loving and gentle spirit he has, and how that has enriched our lives for the past four years.  The terminal diagnosis is hard.  He's still here, and we can see and hug him, but he won't be here long.  In a short time, we'll have some difficult steps to take.

Insect activity has ground to a halt, though we did sample the North Campus pond for aquatic species and the soil/leaf litter for tiny invertebrates.  I got some photos of some strange things, though good shots of the little springtails eluded me.  I have taken lots of images of the pets, fortunately, mostly with my phone.