I’ll be the first to admit that when I took in Peekaboo and Posey, in the summer of 2015, I took on more than I could comfortably handle. Too many dogs, too many expenses, and too many unknowns. All those things have come back to bite me, so to speak; but I’ve also had a chance to reflect on the factors that were and were not beyond control in this picture.
I started taking in old Shelties in 2000, and not really intentionally. A guy in my neighborhood, whose Sheltie I knew from seeing him in the local park, showed up at my door one day with that Sheltie in tow, and told me he’d lost his apartment and couldn’t find one that would let him keep Angus, the Sheltie. Dennis had adopted Angus from the Animal Welfare League shelter a few years previously; Angus was about 10 at the time Dennis brought him to me. Dennis, who had some problems with substance abuse and probably-untreated depression, asked me to keep Angus until he found a place to live that would allow dogs. What was I going to say? Angus shouldn’t go back to the shelter; and at the time, I had three Shelties: Sander, Pippi, and Sundance. I said okay. Dennis unpacked Angus’s food bowl, leash, and a bag of truly crummy dog food, and vanished. I never saw him again. I knew I wouldn’t, and once I saw the condition Angus was in, I knew I would never return him to Dennis even if he had come back.
No question Dennis loved Angus, but he hadn’t cared for him very well. And no question Angus loved Dennis, because for three nights he slept by the front door, apparently waiting for his return. It was sad. But after a while, Angus’s spirits lifted and after a bath and some good food, his physical condition improved too. Angus proved to be a chipper, bossy little Sheltie, and my dogs didn’t mind him at all. He went with us on walks, he got more healthy by the day, and he loved the raw diet and raw bones that cleaned his teeth and spared him the need for a dental. When Angus was 15, in mid-2005, he was found to have advanced, inoperable bladder cancer. He’d been asymptomatic until the incidents of uncontrollable and frequent urination sent us to the vet; he’d also, when Dennis owned him, had a retained testicle removed surgically, and it was malignant – that predisposes a dog to later bladder cancer, my vet observed. And so, having enjoyed five years in my household, Angus departed peacefully. I hope he met up with Dennis, if indeed he was still hoping to be reunited.
Angus was the thin end of the wedge. The next year, I adopted Rudy, who was found stray in central Illinois and was dangerously close to dying of starvation and exposure when the good Samaritan brought him to rescue. Rudy was over 10 years of age, and when my vet neutered him after I adopted him, she estimated his age at 12 or 13. Before I adopted him, Rudy was too frail for surgery. He weighed 29 pounds on intake, and when healthy a few months later, he had filled out to 44 pounds – that’s how bad his condition had been! (Rudy was a big Sheltie, over 18” at the shoulder. At 44 pounds, he was not fat.) Rudy also fit wonderfully into my household: Sander told me to take him in, and the two of them hung out together, a pair of sweet old Sheltie gentlemen, for a year before Sander passed away in early 2006. Rudy kept on keepin’ on until October 2010, and was easily 16 years old when he died.
After that, it was a given that I would have an old Sheltie in the family. Good Guy showed up, 14 years old on adoption, and enjoyed four years of old age – napping, puttering about the yard, and barking at the upstart youngsters – until he departed to join Angus and Rudy. Banjo came in from New York, from Julie Canzoneri’s rescue: he’d had a nasty, enormous nerve-sheath tumor removed from his back before he came to live with me, and when he collapsed a couple of years later, I was mindful of that medical history and surmised that some cancer had been lurking, undetected, in his body until it finally manifested and finished him off. But like the oldsters before him, Banjo had a great time in my house!
Irwin was over 10, another Sheltie; he loved to run around the dog yard with his squeaky ball in his mouth, making the most annoying noise. He too accompanied us on walks, and was a full participant in the dog family until the day he collapsed, apparently of heart failure, and made his exit, peacefully and with that family around him.
Around and through all these lives, I had my own non-senior dogs: Shelties all, until I adopted a rescue Finnish Lapphund in 2009 (a senior) and a rescue Border Collie in 2010 (a puppy). The seniors I adopted became part of the family, until Charlie Bear in 2015 … Well, Charlie’s got his own blog post.
The rescue Finnish Lapphund, Heikki Takkinen, brought with him a chronic case of ehrlichia, and taught me a whole lot about tick-borne diseases. He also instilled in me a great affection for the Lapphund breed, which reminded me in quite a few ways of the Shetland Sheepdog breed: opinionated, companionable, up for adventures, willing to work and never shy about making their presence known. Once the ehrlichia had the last word on Heikki/Mikey, I eagerly accepted into my home a Lapphund puppy from the same breeder who had pulled Heikki from the shelter almost five years earlier.
So in the summer of 2015, I was full up with dogs. I had the obligatory senior ‘poor thing’ – Charlie Bear – and I had my crew of Rowley, Beau, Dee and Alex. But I hadn’t yet learned my lesson, and I still thought I could help the pathetic Shelties I saw in Facebook posts. That’s where the Merle Girls ambushed me.
As I understood it, they came from a hoarder, although she wanted to be called a breeder. (And I’d like to be called the Queen of England, kthx.) An east-coast rescue had been talking to her for quite some time, working on getting her to reduce her dog inventory – er, population. She surrendered six Shelties in the late spring of 2015. Four of them went into foster immediately, but the Merle Girls had nowhere to go, and wound up in temporary housing in a pen in a wildlife refuge. Oh, so sad! I didn’t hear Charlie’s evil chuckle as I posted that I could take them. And I took them. Transport was arranged. They arrived in July, close to their birthday – it seems they were littermates, or that’s what the hoarder gave the rescue to believe. She might have been accurate about that. They were both 12 years old in 2015.
Before they got to me, they were examined by a vet for the rescue. Posey, the vet opined, almost certainly had mammary cancer. She was still intact, but with that condition, she wasn’t a candidate for the surgery to spay her and remove the tumors; the vet didn’t even feel comfortable giving her a rabies vaccination. Posey had a little note on her card that read ‘short-timer’, figuratively speaking.
Peekaboo, her sister, had an exam and a rabies vaccination. The hoarder told the rescue that Peeks had been spayed long ago, so the only thing I was looking at for her was a dental, sooner or later. Gotcha. Posey: end of life. Peeks: get her crummy Sheltie teeth cleaned. I can handle this!
Except Posey’s mammary cancer was either nonexistent or set a record for the time it took to do her in. She went to the vet in the fall of 2016 and had an exam, bloodwork, a heartworm test – and the vet said that although she did indeed have quite a few encapsulated tumors in her mammary chain and might have cancer, she also had a broken tooth and some other dental distress that meant she would need dental surgery. We did x-rays of her lungs and they looked fine. So in November she had 9 teeth extracted, which left her feeling noticeably better and improved her breath odor by about 100%. At that point, I started questioning the cancer diagnosis, but she still was an old dog, and I wasn’t about to try another surgery on her. She seemed to go into heat more than twice a year, which was hugely annoying, because it triggered one of my male dogs to go about marking everything. He also paid her assiduous court, which she welcomed, and which also annoyed me. (Did you know that a neutered male can achieve a tie with an intact female in season? I know that! Don’t ask me how I know it!)
Meanwhile, the summer after that, Peekaboo announced that she had Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), a fact which was entirely news to me and presumably to the rescue too. The hoarder hadn’t mentioned that Peeks has a blown disc in her back. One evening when she had stood in one spot, panting and trembling, for nearly an hour, I took her to the emergency vet and they quickly ascertained her condition. Some painkillers and Prednisone worked wonders, but I had to keep an eye on her for future flares, and I decided to take her in for chiropractic adjustments ever few months as a preventive measure.
So in early 2018, I was acknowledging the fact that the Merle Girls were more than I should have taken on. Charlie’s vet bills had already exceeded $3,000 since his arrival; now the Girls were closing in on the $2,000 mark. I don’t have that kind of ‘extra’ money. But I also can’t deny or skip veterinary care, so I felt like I was in a bind and I would have to trust to time to sort things out.
Then Rowley’s heartworm diagnosis turned my world, and my finances, upside down. Do you know it costs more than $1500 to treat heartworm? HOLY BUCKETS! I had not known that! In April 2018, I had the cost of annual wellness visits for all my dogs, and was staring down the barrel of the heartworm treatment cost for Rowley. Major, major damage was inflicted on my bank account!
That’s when I found that Peekaboo was intact.
I had a meltdown. No other way to describe it. I was entitled and I had a meltdown. The rescue had told me she was spayed, the drops of blood on her vulva and the cytology smear performed by my vet told me otherwise. I had never seen signs of a heat cycle from her before, but as shut down as she is by nature, that was something I could easily have missed. If I’d known she was intact, I absolutely would not have accepted her, since there was no reason – no possible mammary cancer, no tumors – that she couldn’t have surgery to remove her reproductive bits, and to clean up her awful teeth at the same time. The rescue should have done that. I believed that then and I believe it now. To take the word of a hoarder about the repro status of a surrendered dog is just not a sensible course of action. There are ways to determine with relative certainty whether a bitch has been spayed.
So I messaged the person who was my contact in the rescue, and I said ‘I’ve had enough; in fact, I’ve had too much. This needs to be addressed or you need to take the Girls back.’ The contact presented the situation to the rescue. I heard nothing, for more than a week. I had another meltdown. (It was a rough month.) I was giving Rowley doxycycline every day and waiting until he could have Immiticide shots. On top of the nightmare of Rowley’s heartworm, a Lyme Disease diagnosis for Beau, and a mountain of vet bills for all dogs, I had to somehow come up with more than a thousand dollars to get Peekaboo’s surgery done, which would allow her to come home with a clean mouth and no more reproductive system. It might as well have been ten thousand dollars, the way I felt right then. The rescue was ‘discussing’ it but eight days had passed and they had in no way indicated that they would provide ANYTHING in the way of help.
Someone suggested I do an internet fundraiser. I’ve never done that, although I’ve donated to plenty of them. But if it raised even a portion of the amount of the surgery estimate, it would help. And it would make me feel like I wasn’t forced to do everything myself, with no help anywhere – and about then, that was even more important than the money.
So I went to GoFundMe and put up a fundraiser for Peeks.
And immediately, the money started coming in. I was absolutely astounded. I don’t know why I was surprised; my cyber-community is that of dog owners and dog rescuers. They stepped up, and I blessed every one of them then and I bless them today. And even friends who didn’t have dogs, but who know that my dogs are my life and rescue dogs are part of that, sent money to help.
I sent the GoFundMe link to my contact at the rescue. I don’t think they were thrilled, but I also don’t care. They should have come back to me in less than eight days. If they looked bad, it was their doing. I will say, once I talked to the head of the rescue, that I don’t think they ever intended to do anything other than assist me financially with the surgery. She went to the GoFundMe link and donated a significant chunk of money, bringing the fundraiser to goal.
Because I’d also received funds from friends who chose to send it privately and not through GoFundMe, I actually raised enough from friends to pay the entire cost of Peekaboo’s surgery, her preliminary vet exam, and her subsequent chiro adjustment. The funds from the rescue were available to cover the vet exam cost for Posey’s annual exam, and to cover the cost of Posey’s euthanasia when she passed away, suddenly, on Memorial Day. It was the most enormous relief to get the Girls the veterinary care they needed – even up to and including Posey’s last day – and not have to dig out of debt afterwards. It was like being able to take a deep breath instead of going under for the third time. What price sanity!
I learned a number of things from the entire sequence of events.
I learned that my resources – emotional as well as financial – are finite and that I cannot take on as much as I once did. I won’t repeat my actions and decisions that led up to this, although I also do not regret one bit that I over-reached and took the Merle Girls. Posey had a wonderful time here for the 34 months she lived with me. I can’t imagine a better place for her, given her limitations. Peekaboo, who had her surgery on June 25 and is now spayed and minus nine crummy teeth, has a new lease on life. She misses her sister, I’m sure, but she’s engaged more with my dogs now, and she has peace and quiet and good food and a comfy bed, which is what every old Sheltie should have. For whatever time she has left, she’s welcome here.
I learned that although it’s easy to feel like the world is a harsh, rude place, people are still thinking and feeling like human beings, and they do respond to an animal in need. I think they are glad to be able to make a difference and to see that they can have a positive effect. The fundraiser wasn’t about giving me money, it was about giving Peekaboo a fair shake, which she seemed not to have had much of in her life up to now. Every old dog deserves to be comfortable and as healthy as they can be. And the great friends who responded to my request for help for Peekaboo share that view. It gives me hope for humanity, and a great affection and regard for my friends. Thanks, you guys, for having my back when the going got tough. Peeks thanks you and I thank you.