In February 2013, I adopted a senior Sheltie from an east-coast Sheltie Rescue, Tri-State Shetland Sheepdog Rescue. The dog was Banjo, and I had spent a lot of time talking to the TSSSR person, Julie Canzoneri, about adopting a special-needs Sheltie named Petunia, who was a senior girl living with cancer; but it turned out that Petunia’s foster home had fallen in love with her, and she wasn’t going anywhere. Julie suggested I consider Banjo, who had arrived in rescue in pretty dreadful condition, led into a shelter in NYC by a woman who claimed to have found him but whom the shelter staff believed to actually be his owner. Banjo had an enormous nerve-sheath tumor on his back, and underwent surgery to remove it – when I say enormous, I mean over two pounds. Thankfully, a biopsy indicated it was benign. But Banjo needed some good care, to make up for years of apparent neglect. I took him, and Julie arranged a transport that brought him from New York state to Indiana, where I collected him.
Banjo was such a sweetheart – I will always smile, thinking of him. He lived with me for about 18 months, and then in August 2014, he collapsed and died. I think he probably did have some unidentified malignancy, but for the time he was here, he was a happy dog.
But this isn’t about Banjo, it’s about CharlieBear!
So having gotten to know Julie over discussions of Petunia and Banjo, I followed her and her Sheltie rescue on Facebook, and in early 2014, she pulled a little “Sheltie mix” from a shelter in Brooklyn and put his photo on Facebook, saying he would need a home and was blind, senior and kind of a mess. I posted that I could take him, if he had nowhere to go … Julie said ‘Let’s see if anyone out here steps up, but thank you!’ and I was rather relieved, since I wasn’t looking for another dog just then.
But circumstances beyond my control intervened, in the heartbreaking form of Julie’s death. She was only in her forties, but she had battled kidney disease for years – decades, I think – and a host of other health problems as well. Her death was sudden, and it shocked the rescue community. A huge outpouring of grief on social media began the day we learned of her passing, February 28, 2014. I had never met her in person but had spoken to her on the phone and messaged and e-mailed her so often that I felt I knew her, and it was easy to feel the love she had for Shelties and the determination she had to help them, all of them, every one. Julie was tough. A Capricorn, I think she had all the determination associated with that sign and she channeled it all into the breed she loved. She is still missed by many, including me. This news story from 2012 tells you everything about Julie:
And a week or so after her death, TSSSR contacted me and asked if I still was interested in taking CharlieBear. Um. Well. Hmmm. Gee – I guess so! Come on, I told myself: one little old dog, how much trouble can he be? I said ‘Well, if you can get him out here to Chicago …’ and I probably thought that I would hear back that he’d gone to another rescue in NY. I didn’t. I heard back that there were people willing to transport him, and if I could meet the last leg of the transport in north central Indiana, she would deliver Charlie to me. Alrighty then! In March, the transport volunteers moved Charlie from New York to Indiana, and I brought him home to Chicago.
He was kind of a mess. He’d been shaved down in the shelter because he was so matted; he was blind, probably from untreated KCS (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), a ‘dry-eye’ condition that’s not uncommon in Pomeranians, and Charlie appeared to be a Sheltie/Pomeranian mix. His teeth were awful – still are! My vet examined him and tactfully inquired if I had meant to adopt such a train-wreck of a dog. I said I had, that Charlie would be given a good end to his life in my household. ‘Well,’ the vet said, ‘He’s got grade 4 dental disease, but he’s certainly not a candidate for surgery – elevated liver values, a heart murmur – no, I wouldn’t do surgery on him unless it were needed to save his life. The condition he’s in, he could go another year; I think six months is more likely.’
That was in March 2014.
Charlie wasn’t much trouble in most regards: he learned his way around the house and the yard remarkably quickly, for an old blind dog who had never been within 500 miles of the place before. He did, however, urinate constantly. I mean this dog peed LAKES. I started to research the symptoms and treatment for Cushing’s Disease, and in May I took him back to my vet to see if we should start him on Lysodren. It’s really difficult to get a conclusive diagnosis of Cushing’s, and the vet felt we should start with something more basic: an ultrasound of Charlie’s urinary tract. And there they were: bladder stones. Bad ones. Size and location were both bad. Now I was looking at that ‘life or death’ surgery! Trouble was, the cost of the surgery wasn’t in my budget. Rescue resources were consulted and rescue favors called in. Charlie re-entered rescue for one day, had the surgery performed by a vet who treated rescue Shelties near me, and was re-adopted by me, for which I paid an adoption fee that covered the cost of the surgery. Incredibly, not only did Charlie survive the surgery, he bounced back even more feisty than ever! And he no longer urinated every ten minutes! I was thrilled. Mind you, I still thought I had a short-timer on my hands, but he was happy and eating well and not soiling in my house, so life was good.
Time went on, and Charlie went on. Julie thought he was probably 12 when she pulled him from the shelter, and my vet concurred with that; and as one year rolled into the next, Charlie got older but not much changed. His eyes changed, though: he developed glaucoma, or an existing condition worsened. He was supposed to have drops in both eyes daily, but even with the drops, he kept getting eye infections and was clearly uncomfortable or in pain when that happened. My vet performed a grid keratotomy in late 2014, and that helped – for a while. By late 2015, though, he was miserable due to the condition of his eyes. Now the glaucoma was so extreme that my vet said he worried about one of the globes rupturing. Yikes! ‘So what I propose we do –‘ my vet began, and I finished the sentence for him: ‘— is take his eyes out. Yes. Do it.’
For some reason, people get squeamish when they hear that. And yet, if the dog hasn’t has the use of his eyes for years, why not perform an enucleation and remove the globe, nictating membrane, and conjunctiva? Charlie went into surgery in December 2015 for a double enucleation. The dog who wasn’t a candidate for surgery had now been under the knife twice in two years for life-threatening conditions, and again, as with the bladder-stone removal, he recovered from the enucleation surgery with remarkable rapidity and no complications. It gave me a hell of a start to see him, when I went to collect him after the surgery: they’d shaved his face, and that and the eyelids sewn closed gave his head a distressing similarity to a horror mask. ‘Oh, Charlie, NOT a good look!’ I said when the vet carried him into the exam room. But once the hair grew back on his face, I got used to seeing him with his eyes permanently closed.
I got used to seeing him, period, because Charlie wasn’t going anywhere! As I write this in July of 2018, Charlie’s asleep on his bed in the kitchen next to the refrigerator. From that spot, it’s a walk of about 12 feet to the deck door, and once outside, he navigates the deck stairs expertly, and uses the ornamental fencing and wooden walkways in the back yard to tell him where he is, and to guide him back into the house. This summer, in the jungle-like overgrowth that is my back yard, he’s gotten lost a couple of times, but when I go look for him, I find him battling the shrubbery or the vines and making for the walkway and the house. This dog is made up almost entirely of determination. If he was 12 when I got him, he’s 16 now. His teeth are still vile – cleaning them up a bit when he was under for the enucleation surgery didn’t help much. I’m sure his liver values are still elevated. He’s got a big lipoma on one side over his rib cage. I notice he refuses to put weight on his right back leg some days, but when I check him he declines to tell me where it hurts, or if it hurts. So I let him do it his way, because that’s always been Charlie.
He’s not a sweet dog, or a cuddly dog. If you pick him up, he’ll struggle to be put down. He doesn’t care for petting. He likes food, but once that’s been delivered, he’s lost interest in interacting with the human being. He’s the most cat-like dog I’ve ever known! He doesn’t have much use, either, for my other dogs; he likes Rowley, and will show this by trying to mount him sometimes, but the other dogs seem to be beneath his notice. He will walk into one of them and neither change his course nor back away; the dog walked into will leap up and either snarl, or simply flatten Charlie (who had it coming, frankly), at which point Charlie will let out a series of yowls that sound like cats being horribly abused. (Please note, Charlie is absolutely fine, no dog or person has ever harmed him while he has been here.) This seems to be a Pomeranian trait. A few years ago I was at an agility trial with Rowley and I heard a version of Charlie’s scalded-cat shrieks, and I called out ‘Who’s got the Pomeranian?’ and from two aisles over, a woman replied ‘Right here!’
I don’t know that I’d consider Charlie a pet, actually. He’s a law unto himself, and he’s either taking care of business that only he knows about, or he’s avoiding dealing with things that only he knows about. In any case, he’s my houseguest for the duration of his life, and it amuses me to consider reasons for his longevity and his refusal to pack it in: Julie’s not ready to take him on yet (and can you blame her?). Or, he’s the reincarnation of my very unpleasant grandmother, who lived to be 99 and was about as irascible and rude as Charlie. Or, as one friend suggested, he’s become a zombie. Whatever the reason, heeeeeeeere’s Charlie!
And that’s just fine with me.
Update: Vaya Con Dios, Charlie! — October 4, 2018
As the summer began to fade and fall weather showed up in Chicago, Charlie also started to fade. He had a harder time doing anything that involved physical exertion: his back end, which was never strong, was now so weak he couldn’t stand for long, and he stopped puttering around in the back yard and spent almost all his time in his bed in the kitchen. His digestion also turned problematic, and he was incontinent quite often. It was apparent that quality of life had declined past a point where I believed he was happy.
On the first of October, we went to the vet to see what the next step should be. Charlie had lost two pounds in the year since his last visit, and that weight loss seemed to be muscle mass from his back end. He never really had any hips to speak of — I’d bet he was severely dysplastic — and now his front end was doing all the work, all the time. In general, he was just winding down and wearing out, as very old dogs do. The vet gave him some pain meds, Carprophen and Gabapentin, and suggested we re-check him in a week, but noted that Charlie was definitely in end-of-life care now and that we could make the choice to let him go if the pain meds didn’t make his life easier and restore some quality.
There was an improvement in his mobility once he started the pain meds, but his digestion issues got worse. He had either diarrhea or vomiting each day, and by Thursday, I had decided that at the re-check the following Monday, we would be stopping any more palliative care and letting him go. Charlie pushed that schedule a bit when he was hit by an episode of vomiting/diarrhea that was now bloody. It was time to let CharlieBear stop dealing with all the issues of his aged body.
So that afternoon, Charlie and I went back to the vet clinic, where the very nice techs and veterinarian set up the ‘goodbye room’ for us, made Charlie comfortable and fussed over him a bit, and then administered the drugs that stopped his hard-working little heart. He had a very peaceful passing: I was with him as he headed off to find Julie, who had saved his life in 2014. I like to think they’re together now and that Charlie has no more discomfort. He was a tough little fella who brought an amazing determination to a life that certainly had more downs than ups. I will not forget him. Vaya con Dios, CharlieBear. Be well now.