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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Rufus Garner

Rufus Garner was a dog of many names. Roofy-doofy-big-and-goofy was one. When we visited Steve's sister and Rufus became very interested in her chickens, it was quickly Roofy-doofy-big-and-toothy and we kept a close eye on him.  Roody-toot was another, occasionally it was R-Dog.  Sometimes just "Roof!" barked at him, which he understood.  You don't earn nicknames unless people love you, and a lot of people loved Rufus, probably none more so than me.  Today we had to put him down, but let me tell you his story first.

Rufus came to me one Saturday morning when I was at the PetsMart buying dog food for Tank, my six year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback/Rottweiler bitch.  It was the one Saturday a month that the Humane Society had stray dogs at the store in temporary pens, trying to get them all adopted.  I hadn't planned on adopting that day, but when I passed by Rufus, he was the only dog who dropped what he was chewing and came over to say hello.  He was a swell dog from the start.  I asked them to hold him for me for forty-five minutes so that I could rush home and get my dog and bring her back, to make sure she liked him.  She liked him just fine, and he her.   Fifty bucks later, I drove home with two large dogs in the back of the car, who played Bite Your Face the whole way home.  Five minutes after getting home, Tank let me know she was done with him. 

"Sorry sister- he's staying." I said to her. "Get used to it."

A few days later, a neighbor who trained show dogs for a living, watched Rufus sniffing around the front yard and interacting with people milling about.  "That dog's gonna bite somebody some day," he said.  And Rufus did, eventually.  He bit me, my ex-boyfriend, and my neighbor across the street.  I thought about trying to find him a new home, but decided I wasn't ready for that. I also decided that Rufus didn't know how to play with people, and stopped engaging him in rough play, and generally kept him away from people.  He mellowed a little, and the two dogs and I got along.  They played Bite Your Face everyday, and Tag every chance they got- usually in the house when I was on the phone.

Then Steve came into the picture.  Right after Steve moved in, the dynamic of the pack changed, and Rufus started asserting himself.  He became aggressive, particularly with me.  I thought about getting rid of him again, but Steve suggested that we talk to the vet about it, and see what she said.  Dogs have different reasons for becoming aggressive, and she gave us a handout for dealing with every kind of aggression.  They all pretty much suggested the same fix, which was to get the dog where he wants to please you again, so we worked on that with him. It worked! He mellowed out again, and found his place back in the pack in the Omega position, and all was well for awhile.

Then in October of 2005, I lost Tank. We mourned her for awhile, and then the following spring, I was ready for another dog.  I decided that I wanted the poodle I'd always wanted and started working on Steve.  He finally came around, but insisted that we should rescue a pound puppy, so I found Sophie from Florida Poodle Rescue. We drove down to the other side of Orlando on July 7 and picked her up.   Right about the same time, Rufus started moping.  At least I thought he was moping.  It took me several weeks to realize that this dog was pretty sick, and that he was running a fever.

To make a long story short, it took us (the vet and Steve and I) nearly three months to finally figure out that he'd been bitten by a tick and had Lupus.  So off to the specialist we went, who did joint taps.  The Lupus had ulcerated his tongue, which we couldn't see, and had left him with arthritis in every joint.  Fixing him was going to be a bundle, but as I told Steve at the time, it hadn't even been a year since losing Tank, and I just wasn't ready to lose another dog. So we spent the money and brought him back to health.

Then he became a whole new dog.  Any kind of aggression was completely gone, and Rufus became a docile sweetheart.  The Lupus had knocked all the stuffing out of him, and he became super-sweet.  Once, when we took him back to the specialist's for a check up, the vet tech came in first and asked a bunch of questions about him, and then said, "Okay, I need to take him in the back now."  I asked her if there was something she needed to do to him.  "No- the girls will just want to see him."  And after she closed the door behind them, we could hear a chorus of female voices exclaiming "Rufus! Rufus is here! Hi Rufus!"  He'd made himself pretty popular with the ladies.

When we drove across the country from Florida to Oregon in March of 2007, Sophie was ensconced in her crate in the back of the car, which was really the best thing to do with her.  Driving in the car made her very agitated and she'd chatter with sounds that sound more like a rodent or a monkey than a dog.  After a few miles of this bizarre chatter she'd settle down and sleep for hours.  Rufus, on the other hand, stayed awake most of the time.  We had put the back seat down, and strung his leash through one of the seat belts, and then up between the split in the seats.  His bed went on top of the seat backs, and then he went on top of the bed, tethered by his driving harness.  He was perfectly happy up there, and had unobstructed views out the windows, out of which he spent a lot of time looking.  I've never seen anything like it.  Even through the lonely expanses of Nebraska, he'd find something to see, and his head would follow the object as we passed by it at seventy miles an hour.

Then a little over a year later, he came down with what turned out to be pneumonia.  We'd been dealing with an allergy to something for years at that point, but he appeared to be really struggling.  So we took him to the vet, who took an xray of his lungs. One lobe was particularly opaque, and the vet thought it was pneumonia, and sent us off to a specialist.  Well, the specialist was in Cooperstown on vacation, and in the week we had to wait for him to come back, Rufus's lung cleared up on its own.  The films the specialist took showed two healthy lungs, and all he could guess was that it was an allergic reaction to something.  Steve and I figured that it might have been construction dust, because we'd taken him with us to the house we'd just bought, with which we were busy every weekend pulling apart.  So we decided that Rufus needed to stay home while we finished up the new house.

This last year though, Rufus had pneumonia two more times, which responded to antibiotics and cleared up.  Then he got it a fourth time, and this time it was here to stay.  Between his hip dysplasia, which was diagnosed at the time his Lupus was discovered, and the poly-arthritis from the Lupus, we'd had him on several pain killers at different times, none of which he was tolerating very well.  Now he had pneumonia as well, which wasn't responding to the various antibiotics we tried.  Finally, the vet tried Gabapentin for the pain, which worked, and an old-fashioned sulfa drug for the pneumonia, which also worked. Finally! We could make him comfortable.  He did fine for many months.  He still liked to go lie out on the deck and sniff the air, or take himself off to a shady spot on the lawn and take a nap.  He enjoyed his dinner and his breakfast everyday, and every night he chewed his Virbac chew enthusiastically. He was still enjoying life.

We noticed a change in his eyes a few weeks ago. Rufus was finally starting to look like an old dog, even though he never developed any gray around his muzzle.  All this time, he looked like himself, but finally with the change in his eyes, he was looking his age.  Then a week ago, his pneumonia came back strong, in spite of the drugs he was on.  He'd gone from coughing once or twice a day, to many times an hour.  His breathing became shallow, and his abdomen was somewhat large- almost distended. If I had to guess, it looked like something was growing in his abdomen and was pushing on his lungs.  And even though he was eating, he had to be encouraged to come get it. He struggled to get up, and staggered while walking. He no longer wanted to go lie on the deck, and his activity was now confined to moving from his bed to the living room rug and back, and sleeping.  And all the while huffing this funny, shallow breath.

So it was clear that it was time to do the right thing by him.  We had an appointment for 3:30 this afternoon, but Steve insisted that I call Dr. Wood this morning and let him know our plans instead of just springing it on him.  I'd made the appointment for him on Tuesday, but Dr. Wood is off on Tuesdays, and this Wednesday as well.  I had hope for Rufus on Tuesday, but it became really clear yesterday what our appointment would be all about.  So warning Dr. Wood, who really likes Rufus, was the decent thing to do.  Dr. Wood and I talked for a little bit, and he said that while he doubted that Rufus was in pain, it was obvious that he was pretty miserable.  He'd warn the staff, and they would bring us in through one of the exam rooms through to the resource room, where they'd have everything set up.  Then he asked if I wanted to take Rufus home or have them cremate him. I wanted them to take care of it. Rufus was 76 pounds the last time we weighed him.  Did I want his ashes back? Yes, I wanted his ashes back.  That costs extra (Dr. Wood is aware that I'm unemployed)- yes, I know, and I'm prepared for that.

True to his word, they were ready for us when we came in, and ushered us into the resource room.  Dr. Wood came in and examined Rufus, and gently thumped his abdomen. 

"See that ripple?" he asked as he thumped it again. "That's not air. That means that there's fluid collecting in his abdomen, and it's one of three things causing it, and none of them are good."  He walked us through the possibilities:  a tumor, cancer, or his kidneys failing.  Considering everything else that was wrong with him, we were doing the right thing.  He assured us of this several times.   He gave him a shot to relax him, and said he'd be back in about five minutes.  Rufus got very sleepy, and we stroked his head and told him what a good boy he was.  Doc came back in a few minutes and shaved a little fur off the back of Rufus's hind leg, and then told us he was administering the second injection.  We continued to stroke Rufus's head and told him what a good boy he was.  I told him to look for Tank, and then it was all over.

I feel like I lost my dearest friend in the world. I shall miss looking out on the deck and seeing him lying there in the sun and sniffing the air.  I shall miss him growling at big trucks in the street, or getting up from his bed and rushing the door, hackles up when the UPS man delivered something.  I shall miss looking down at my left side at the table and seeing him sprawled at my feet.  I shall miss him lying in the doorway of the kitchen and watching me when I cook.  I shall miss him showing up for a treat when he heard me peeling carrots or when I opened the lettuce box.

I shall miss my Roofy-doofy-big-and-goofy. He was thirteen.


Miriam said...

Oh Paula, I am so sad for you. It sounds like Rufus was a great dog - how wonderful that you found each other. I think we learn a lot about people by how they treat the animals in their lives, and you sure did right by Rufus from beginning to end. I hope he and Tank are having a really good game of Bite Your Face right now.

Anonymous said...

Paula, I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your precious friend Rufus. It's so hard to say goodbye, even when it's time...

I'm a vet tech, and I had to smile when you wrote about the nurses greeting Rufus in the back of the clinic - it's so true, we definitely do have our favorite patients that really engage our hearts. Rufus must have been one special boy - and what a blessing you were to him, to not give up on him when he was younger.

Their lifetimes go by so fast, don't they.... As deeply as he was loved, that's how deeply he'll be missed - I know, I've been there. My heart goes out to you tonight.


Farmgirl_dk: said...

I am so sorry, Paula. What a beautiful boy, dog and friend your Rufus was.

I couldn't but lightly skim the 2nd to the last paragraph - it hits too close to home, even now - 5 years (!!) after we had to put our beloved Spooky, our Flat-coat Retriever down. I can still cry buckets over my lost sweet boy.

Rufus sounds like he was a tremendous friend and you were so lucky to have each other. I am terribly familiar with the hole your heart must feel like it has in it tonight. Hugs to you. -danni

BilboWaggins said...

I had to do the same thing last year for my 14 y/old best friend and I know how much this hurts. Yes, you did absolutely the right thing by Rufus but it still hurts like hell.

Thanks to you, after a bad start, he had a long and happy life. Thanks to you, he did not suffer at the end, he was calm and peaceful and in no pain. The hurting and suffering is our job; thinking of you, it will be a while before you feel better but hope you get there eventually.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about your loss. I am closer to my dogs than I am people and mourned well over 6 months when I had to have my Elkhound put to sleep. It was very hard. God Bless!

Toni aka irishlas said...

Hi Paula,
Sending you warm thoughts. This is one of the hardest things to do in life, but, you made the right decision.
Thirteen is a good, long life for a larger dog. You gave him a wonderful life.

Joleen said...

Hi Paula,
So sorry. If you haven't read the poem about The Rainbow Bridge, look it up. Peace and love to you.

Kelly said...

I was just passing through from Irishlas' blog..just blog hopping really, and this story caught my eye. I am so sorry about Rufus, he surely is beautiful! It never gets any easier when we have to put down one of our pets, who truly are our best friends. I just had to have one of my cats put to sleep day before yesterday and its so hard. I am so sorry! I hope you dont mind if i follow your blog. Again, im so sorry

Paula said...

Thanks everyone. Your kind words mean so much, and I'm grateful to have a place to share. I have read the poem "The Rainbow Bridge" and put much stock in it.

el said...

Crap, Paula! How sad!

FWIW I had something similar happen to my dearest dog Alex, who looked like Rufus...he was German shepherd/golden retriever, and he got knocked out by cancer of the spleen. It was a "silent killer," he had no symptoms up until the day the thing ruptured, I guess. So not fun, taking your dog to the emergency vet an hour away, knowing this is not good and that it's not going to end well.

I--literally--was in a funk for months. It's one of the reasons I started blogging, to drag me out of the dumps!

Still, though, it sounds like you did the best thing for HIM if not maybe for yourselves.


Paula said...

Oh wow el- your dog looked like R because he was a German Shepherd/Golden Retrieve mix too!! Of course, when we had to rent a place in Beaverton, he was only listed as a Retriever mix, because German Shepherds are one of the many breeds you can't rent a house with: GS, Staffordshire terriers (AKA pit bulls), Rottweilers, Dobermans, and then most places wouldn't rent over 35, 40 or 50lbs. Which was so ridiculous, because we could have rented anywhere with Sophie, but Rufus was far better behaved!!

Cottage Smallholder said...

How sad Paula. I'm sending you a big hug.

Losing a companion animal is so tough.