Faculty Feature: A Husky-Sized Crater

Editor’s Note: This post is the 19th in a series of posts involved in our Faculty Feature.  Today, the post has been written by Pat Perrier, the regional campus director of Lewis University’s Shorewood Campus..

“A Husky-Sized Crater”

The Sunday after St. Patrick’s Day sucked.

It’s never a good thing when Hubby wakes me up and says, “River is in a bad way.”  I got up swiftly and went into the front room, where my beloved husky, River, was whining and crying in pain, trying to get up and dragging her left front leg—unable to put any pressure on it.  Up and down, up and down, unable to be consoled, drooling gallons of saliva, and crying so hard that it broke my heart.

I tossed on some clothes, shooed away the Elkhounds, who were hovering around her trying to figure out what was wrong and how they could “help” fix it.  Hubby brought the truck around to the front; I grabbed her cushion and he lifted her up and carried her out to the truck.

Luckily, the emergency vet is about ten miles away.  I did everything I could to keep her quiet and try to comfort her.  She was in such pain that she pooped in the truck.

I have to go back a week.  The Monday before, she had a four-minute seizure.  She was already under doctor’s care for Cushing’s Disease and glaucoma, and was tolerating each treatment well.  She was 12½ years old, and for an old dog with one eye and arthritis, she could be pretty sprightly when she wanted.  That’s a husky trait: always appear “better” even if you feel like you want to hide under a rock.

We got to the vet and they diagnosed a brachial nerve issue (those are the nerves coming off your spinal cord and at your shoulder).  They sedated her to calm her and gave her pain meds.  We were told that she could probably come home after a few hours; they’d call us.

Several hours later, we called them; as one of the few emergency vets in the area, and it being a Sunday, they were very busy.  Finally, Hubby got through and the vet talked to him.  Not good.  We asked Kid #2 if he wanted to come with us, and he said he’d rather stay with the Elkhounds.

We got there and were ushered in to see her.  After seven hours, two doses of the pain meds and an IV because of all the saliva she lost (we were worried about dehydration), she was unable to get up and had no pain reflex in either of her front legs.

We petted her; we cried; and after talking to the vet, we made the final decision.  They took us to a room and then carried her in so that we could say our last farewells.  We petted her some more, hugged her and told her we loved her and would miss her so much.  After one final ear rub (she loved having her ears rubbed), she was gone.

Among all the sadness, there was something funny.  The vet asked us if we wanted some of her fur to take with us.  I had crawled into the crate she was in and was holding her, surrounding her with all the love I had.  I was literally covered in River fur.  From the neck of my t-shirt to the bottom of my yoga pants.  In between the tears, I did find a moment to chuckle.

River came to our family by way of a breeder who was downsizing her kennel. The breeder herself had had a stroke and was trying to find homes for many of her retired show dogs.  We went up “just to look” because we had, just two weeks prior, lost my heart-dog, Topaz, a black-and-silver husky.  I wasn’t ready, but our then-Elkhound, Gracie, had gone into such a depression that she refused to leave my side and wouldn’t eat.  So, we thought, “we’ll just see.”  We took her home that day.

Aside from her striking good looks, she was well-mannered and very mellow.  She and Gracie worked out the “who’s top dog” thing (it was River—Gracie was a great second-banana). They lived together till Gracie was almost 15 years old and we lost her to bladder cancer.  River was 4 when she came to us.

She was a show dog, and a showy dog.  She walked on a leash with her head held high; when she stopped, she “stacked” as if a judge was watching, and her fluffy tail was a wave of beauty that was a beacon to anyone who saw her.  Even the “I’m not much on dogs” people were charmed by her personality and those huge “bluer-than-Paul-Newman” eyes of hers.

She had a wicked-fast tongue and could wash your face or slobber up your glasses faster than you thought.  She ran into the house that first day, bounced on the couch and probably figured that was right where she should be.  I remember taking her for walks and she absolutely wouldn’t poop on a leash.  That was for the kennel.

Finally, she got it into her head that she didn’t have to “be in the ring”—and proved it by pooping, on-leash, in the middle of the street.  She looked so proud of herself.
At age eight, she contracted glaucoma.  It came on so suddenly that by the time we got her to the vet, she’d lost sight in her right eye.  We had a procedure done on her eye which halted further damage but kept the eye intact.  As you can see, at about age ten or so, she finally did get on the couch!
At age nine, she contracted Cushing’s disease, a disease of the adrenal glands.  The treatment is basically chemo.  She was tolerating it well, aging gracefully as we brought in Tippi and then Quinn to add to our pack.  She was still “top dog” and taught Quinn her puppy manners.  The Husky Paw of Pain was used till Quinn remembered that River was the boss, whether Quinn liked it or not.
She lost her sight at about the time we got Tippi.  While she was still energetic enough, and before we got Quinn, we were able to take River and Tippi to the dog park.  Tippi seemed to know instinctively to watch River’s side.  She guarded her from running into bushes and protected her from dogs coming up on her blind side.  They had a good bond.

Watching Tippi’s muscular running and then seeing River’s powerful husky stride, you really saw the beauty of dogs in motion.  Her tail acted as a rudder, and signaled her joy at being able to run to her heart’s content.

We noticed, in her 12th year, that she was slowing down.  She slept more.  She wanted shorter walks and didn’t want to play as much.  However, when she wanted to walk, she could keep up with the Elkhounds and was often lead dog.  And she loved her treats.  Even with one eye, she could catch a treat off her nose.  That was her only trick; after all, she was Queen of the House, and as such, she wouldn’t be bothered to shake hands or sit up or do any of those other things.  She didn’t even really bark or woo.
Surprisingly, she and Quinn developed a strong bond.  Quinn saw River as the mother she wanted.  They snuggled together and Quinn liked to keep River in her sight.  When they slept, they were often next to each other or Quinn was touching River somewhere.  And the ever-dignified River seemed to have picked up some Elkhound habits, such as going “topsy-turvy” every so often when she napped!  Never let it be said that they all didn’t learn from each other!

At different points, it was the duty of the dogs to be in our way.  River’s favorite thing was to be in the walkway—no matter which one it was.  She got the idea quickly to just not move.  It was easier; at her size, I didn’t want her standing up as we were walking over her.  We have a La-Z-Boy couch, and the standard phrase was, “River’s there” because she was long enough to bridge the gap between my knitting chair and the underside of the raised leg rest.  That was probably her all-time-favorite resting spot.  We always joked that her specialty as a watch dog was mainly as a tripping hazard!
When Hubby would take the Elkhounds on the trail, he’d often toss a few treats at River as he left the house; she knew they were coming.  I regret that I didn’t grab my camera on what turned out to be her last Tuesday with us.  It was classic…a treat slipped under the server and there was River, head-and-shoulders under the server aiming to either get the treat or flip over the furniture.

When people met her, the first thing they commented on was her eyes.  The next thing was her calm and friendly demeanor.  Even my niece, one of those “Not a dog person” people, was captivated.  River just walked over and made her believe that she was the center of her doggie universe.  That’s what she did to everyone.  It was her duty to make you pet her.  It was her joy to be adored.  It was her job to make you notice her.

Monday’s seizure was the first clue that our final decision would be sooner rather than later.  I had never heard her make the noise she made that Sunday, and it went through me right to my heart.  Somehow, I had the number “14” in my head, probably because of Gracie and Topaz.  But I guess River knew it was time.  While I was in her crate at the vet’s office, I got to smooch her on the nose before they did the final sedation prior to putting her to sleep.  Actually, I’m not sure she knew, at that point, that I was even there.  But I know.

I know there’s a husky-sized crater in our family.  The Elkhounds now know she’s not coming back.  Tippi was very depressed for several days.  Quinn watched Hubby take down River’s crate and then hid under my chair.  It’s very quiet in our house.  For a dog that never made noise, River made an indelible impression and our family has changed for the better for having her a part of it.  And we’re now changed in sadness because she’s no longer there.

Godspeed, River—I’ll see you with Topaz and Gracie someday and we’ll have a heck of a reunion!

— Pat Perrier

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