Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Joy Of Knucklehead & The Agony Of His Loss

 As you may have read in a previous post, I found a stray dog while out walking my dog Skye on April 3, 2024 in Spring Lake Park Texarkana, TX. He was by my judgement about 4 to 6 months old, too skinny & obviously hungry, probably dehydrated and in need of some love. When Skye and I walked passed him on the first leg of our walk he was laying in the grass taking it easy but barked some at us. About 20 minutes later he again was barking and growling at us when we came back the same way but we got a bit closer and he sat up favoring a front paw as if it was hurting. I spoke to him and he calmed down and we got close enough for Skye and him to sniff one another. Then we headed toward my car near the dog park and he followed us a half to three quarters of a mile limping all the way on that front paw. Well not quite all the way, once close to my car the limp disappeared. I figured either he worked out a sprain or cramp or was a really good sympathy seeking actor. I thought I had a can of dog food in the car to give to him but it was nowhere to be found. As it turned out, I brought him home and the saga of Knucklehead (the name I gave him after deciding Bozo did not fit him) commenced.
He was a beautiful dog strongly resembling a giant sized Manchester Terrier.

I did not intend to keep him and emailed & called around to find a no kill shelter. Not one returned my messages! I decided not to give him to the local government run pounds because they would put him down after only a few days. So off to my apartment we went wherein he ate like a horse and drank was if he could have swallowed an ocean. He also peed and pooped - yes on my floor. Thank good no carpeting in my apartment so it was easy to clean up.
I tried to find his owner(s) posting a notice of a found dog on lost & found pet site. A gal at one of the local dog parks posted on a similar local site and I posted his mugshot at my vet's office. No one claimed him. I also tried to find someone to adopt him but the only person who showed an interest wound up declining. On day two of him living with Skye. my two Hermann's tortoises and myself, I took him to the vet for an exam. He was given his shots including rabies and whatever else they gave him. The vet told me that my concern about him passing yellowish brown loose, et ad some formed but soft poops was due to me feeding him grain free food.urns out the food I fed him and have been feeding Skye is not grain free after all. I was told that despite him eating double the amount that Skye ate, he was not parasitized like I had thought.
After three more visits in the course of a few weeks, during the fourth one (as I recall), I was assured by the vet that he was "completely parasite free" but regardless of that the vet prescribed 5 days of Panacur (an anti-worm medication). On the fifth visit, I think a five days later, I brought in a video of Knuckleheads poops showing two white worms (as it turned out probably tape worms) on it. The vet tried to infer that the worms may have crawled up out of the dirt onto the poop  at the dog park but I had been only 10 feet or so away from him and went to clean it up with a few seconds. So that vet, now the third to see him in the same office, gave me Praziquantel and more Panacur for him to take. He got very sick after the third dose of those two meds. He stopped eating or ate just a tiny bit. I brought hi in for a sixth visit before a week was out. The vet that day finally did a blood test and told me the result showed extremely low white blood cells and he thought Knucklehead had one of either three things: cancer, distemper or parvo. He referred me to a vet clinic in Shreveport, LA, 73 miles or so from my apartment. We went there the next day.
Now before, I move on and get to the new vet in Shreveport allow me to say that even though Knucklehead had worms he was a happy puppy. For about three and a half to four weeks he was the most happy, playful and lovable dog I have ever taken care of. Somewhere in there, maybe week two or three, I was pretty sure I'd be keeping him. My other dog Skye usually just slept at home and only was at all active on walks or during trips to the dog park on an almost twice daily basis but she grew to love him too. He kept pestering her until she finally started to play with him a few times a day in the apartment and at the dog park; it was like Skye was a different dog when with Knucklehead.
He was good too, often barking to let me know he had to go out to pee or poop. In the last week or two he was apparently fully housebroken. He played fetch, something Skye does not do; if she fetches she plays keep away and does not bring a ball or stick back but has other dogs chase her, then drops whatever and when another dog tries to grab it she does so first and runs off with it to again tease the other dog. She does the same with people. Knucklehead loved a thick knotted rope to play with in the apartment for fetch and tug of war. When he retrieved it, I'd say put it in my hand and with a week or two it is what he did; of course only to play tug of war. He would also bring back a ball and give it to me after a bit of chewing on it and my finger when I grabbed it. He also loved to chew paper towels and chewed up a beloved book I had since the early 1980s, a gift from a past girlfriend that I treasured. He had good taste in literature!

He also loved to teethe and liked to do so on my hands and arms but when commanded "no biting" he'd stop almost immediately. He knew how to give me his paws, how to sit, ho to lay down, to come and to ease up when I told him easy to put on his leash. He pulled a lot when walking (but was getting better) and barked and growled at anyone we passed including cars when out for a stroll but he never attacked anyone. In fact if he got right up to someone at whom he was barking and they stood their ground, he would just lick their hands. I figured he was being protective of me until he found out that the person was a friend not a foe and then he just wanted to be petted. He was great with kids and adults and was playful with other dogs at the dog park. He liked drinking water from the spigot too. He gave Skye and me a whole new outlook on life. He truly was a joy to have in the family.
His last visit to my local vet was on last Wednesday. Then on Friday it was off to the vet in Shreveport. Then opened the front door for us and immediately escorted us to an exam room. With just a couple minutes or a few at most a vet tech came in to interview me about what was going on. Within another 5 minutes at most the vet came in. Once the vet was in the room I asked her to confirm something she had told me on the phone the day before which was that one of my local vets, the one who sent the referral, had told her he was concerned that Knucklehead might have something other than distemper, parvo or cancer. I wanted to confirm it because when she told me on the phone I almost fell over because he never told me on this particular suspicion. I the referral he said he also suspected that Knucklehead may have had rabies. Can you imagine your vet, heck any vet, not telling the dog's owner tat he thought the dog might have rabies. She confirmed that yes he included that in the referral. I was furious. She could not understand why he did not inform me. She was also quite amazed, not in a good way, that in the 6 visits knucklehead made to my local vets' office, they only did one test and repeated the same exact test at least three times - a fecal float, maybe four times. Even after they saw the worms and believed them to be tapeworms, they never did any other test to my knowledge to confirm tapeworms - just the third fecal float (or maybe the fourth). What should have been done, as is my understanding, was a fecal sedimentation test because many types of worm eggs do not float but sink in water as do at least some species of tapeworm eggs. There were also other blood tests and parasite tests that she said should have been done.
The vet in Shreveport ran as many applicable blood tests as she could in office, ones for which they got the results in her office without having to send them out. She was concerned about his WBC count and about other tests that would show how his immune system was working. Knucklehead at lost about 3.5 pound over the course of less than week, the time span of his last two local vet visits. By Friday two days after the last local vet visit he was obviously emaciated; while his ribs showed a bit on Wednesday, they were obviously showing on Friday. She told me he was "a very, very, very sick dog". The test results were all low for any indicators of how well his immune system was functioning and his WBC count seriously lower than on Wednesday when my local vet said it was extremely low. She was of the opinion that Knucklehead had leukemia and probably also had a bacterial infection in his Gastro-intestinal tract. Thus why he was not eating and drinking almost anything. She also thought he may still have had worms or other parasites. She then told me that a bone marrow test could be done but it had to be sent out to a lab and that it would take a week or two to get the results. Then she gave me the bad news again repeating tat he was " a very, very, very sick puppy" and the bad news was that he most likely would not survive until the test results came back and even if he did he would be extremely unlikely to survive treatment for leukemia which would probably be over 10 grand with him in the hospital for weeks to months. She also added that he would suffer miserably and unnecessarily just waiting for the test results.
Right after telling me all that she said: "I have to ask you a very tough question". I immediately replied "Don't ask, I know what it is". Then I said please just put him down. She excused herself and left the room. A short while later she came back into the room with a hypodermic, as she was about to give him a sedative, Skye, who had been laying down unconcerned, suddenly jumped up putting her paws on the exam table and began to lick Knuckleheads face as the doc administered the sedative. It was eerie, as if Skye knew what was happening and was showing him love and saying goodbye. All my imagination, I don't know - maybe but maybe not. As soon as the injection as completed, Knucklehead who had been calmly laying down on the exam table sat up, he looked right at me and moved his snout right up against my face. I could see in his eyes that look a puppy gives you when they think they did something wrong - the same look they get when they get a sedative - a questioning look like: "what did I do wrong (yes I am sure that was just in my head but it certainly looked that way even though I know it must have been the effect of the sedative). Then he laid down again with me petting him and me sobbing. A few seconds at most later, the vet administered the fatal shot and he was gone with me still petting him and I kissed his head too. I was left feeling the agony of the moment and now am left with good memories but also with the eternal sorrow that I am sure I will feel for the rest of my life every time I think about my lovable little buddy and how I knew him for just a wee bit of time before losing him forever. 
Then the vet told me she had another very tough question, I knew what it was because she had explained earlier what had to be done to test him for rabies. I told her go on with it which meant decapitating him and sending his head to the state infectious disease lab.  
Damn, I am crying again - he was the first puppy I ever had. Sure we had puppies when I lived with my wife in NY but all of them were hers and picked by her. He was also only the fourth dog I ever picked out to bring home. Holley from a shelter on Long Island (our first family dog - also put down early because she became extremely aggressive toward our children, Mimi from the ASPCA in NYC a true sweetheart & psycho as the second, Skye here in the Texarkana area was the third (all adults) and Knucklehead the last one and only male that I picked out and as I said the first puppy; although, I guess he actually chose me and Skye by following us back to my car the first day we found him.
So far, I have sat through 4 or five other of our dogs being put down, all in NY before my wife and I separated, None were easy, and they do not get any less hard to sit through after the previous ones. They all brought tears to my eyes but this was the toughest. I think that was because not only was he truly the most lovable of all the dogs that ever owned but was the most lovable of all dogs that I have ever known. Everyone who met him, at both vet offices, my neighbor and her kids, all the folks I know at the dog park have told me they knew not only that I loved and cared for him but that he loved and only wanted to please me and Skye. I will probably never even think of taking in another stray not even temporarily; losing him so soon was an emotionally traumatic experience that I would not have thought possible for me but I have to add - knowing Knucklehead (and him living up to his name), caring for him, playing with him, watching him and Skye play together while short lived; yet, was one of the most joyful experiences of my life.
All the best,
Glenn B 
PS: I guess I should add that the vet from Shreveport called me yesterday, the rabies test was negative.