Monday, November 17, 2008

Special Needs

My dog, Cyrus' Veterinarian is the House Call Vet. He calls Cyrus a Special Needs dog. Those of you who've been reading me for awhile have heard Cyrus' story before, so if you know all this, skip this part. Cyrus was either born in a "shelter" or was dropped off there when he was very young. He's a lovely Rottie mix but spent his first nine years in that "shelter." I put quotes around the word shelter in this context, because there is some question as to whether the woman who ran the shelter was running a legitimate shelter or was just a hoarder and animals were part of what she was hoarding.

At first her house and shelter was located in a suburban part of Tucson. As the number of pets grew, so did the discontent of her neighbors. She was reported to authorities and eventually moved her shelter to an area in the desert about 200 miles from any populated area, and thus it was also 200 miles from a veterinarian or doctor. She was in her late forties when this move happened. Her records were sketchy, so not much is known about the health care or behavioral problems of her animals. When she was in her mid fifties she died suddenly. Her family kept calling and getting no answer or return call. They eventually called the authorities and it was discovered that she was dead and all her animals were in desperate straits. That's when Best Friends stepped in and rescued all her animals.

At this point Cyrus probably got his first real medical attention. He was bathed and groomed, probably for the first time in his life. He was anesthetized and given a thorough going over. His teeth were cleaned and a few extractions were done. It was discovered that he had arthritis in his hips and that one of his legs was at risk of needing an ACL repair. They discovered a thyroid problem. And true to any creature with a thyroid problem he was over-weight. He was ID chipped. He was found to be a sweet natured dog, and with a little socialization was deemed ready for adoption. But Cyrus would need just the right home. Cyrus was depressed.

It's hard to find people who will take an old dog. Most people want a puppy. Or if not a puppy, a well trained one or two year old. But I love old dogs. I'm a bit of an old dog myself. So after many calls and much time spent on the internet, we arranged a day when they were having an adoption event at one of the suburban Petcos. They did not tell me the size or breed of Cyrus. The reason for this oversight is that they had arranged for me to adopt another dog, who, at the last moment, exhibited behavior that make her unadoptable, so Cyrus was a bit of a last minute substitution. And in truth, I think they were afraid I would say no to such an enormous dog with health problems. His medication costs very close to $100. a month. Now I've added supplements to his diet, which brings the monthly pill cost to over $100 a month. This is a wild extravagance, but I would go without cable TV if my budget got that tight, and it is close to that now.

When I first saw Cyrus he looked depressed. In the midst of Petco, surrounded by thirty other animals there for the adoption event, he was lying flattened, head down. The only indication that he wasn't sleeping was the open eyes, tracking the activity. When I told the woman from Best Friends my name, she started crying. She reached across the table and hugged me. "We are so grateful to you. So few people will take an older dog. But you will really love this dog."

Best Friends gave me a two month supply of his meds. and about a weeks supply of his food. They'd had him on Kirkland kibble and mixed it with a bit of canned food to moisten it some. He was on a diet, so I was told exactly how much to feed him twice a day. So far so good. He came with me without any resistance, but I thought right then that Cyrus was a profoundly depressed dog. I had his medical records, complete with dental x-rays and copious notes--all of which has been very helpful to the House Call Vet.

I'm something of a recluse. I have my own mental health issues, and one of them is that I feel slightly agoraphobic when I leave my property. It's doable but I'm never completely at ease out in the larger world. This is probably a result of early abuse. I always preferred to play alone in my room and was forced to go outside to play with other children. Bipolar disorder has probably made this tendency toward agoraphobia more pronounced. But with Cyrus, I felt it was important to take him for a short walk twice a day. He was docile on his leash and would walk with me very nicely. He seemed interested in his surroundings, did a lot of pee trumping, and paid close attention to his environment. He was nice when we passed other dogs out walking with their people. And then one day while we were out, we heard what sounded like gunshot. Cyrus turned and started to drag me back home. He weighs about the same as I, so when he is pulling on the leash, I am the one being led. There is almost no stopping him. I did manage to get him to stop. I crouched down beside his head and talked calmly to him. He was trembling all over. And I then realized that he was not able to listen because he was terrified. We came home very quickly and he has refused to budge from the property ever since. He will go outside to do his dogie business, morning and night, but that's it.

The month of July was a nightmare for Cyrus. I contacted Best Friends and talked with their trainer. She said to put him on Melatonin and sent me an article about dogs with fear problems. We have no idea if Cyrus was ever shot at or if it's just the "normal" fear of a dog who is noise sensitive, but Cyrus and I are two of a kind. Both Best Friends and our House Call Vet have assured me that I have not made Cyrus crazy. Cyrus was raised in a crazy situation. He has lots of face scars so has probably been in some nasty dog fights--too many dogs in a too small area with too little supervision or training. And now if Cyrus is outside for his first pee of the day and has just lifted his leg, and a car off in the distance backfires, Cyrus cuts that stream and runs to the house. He will not go outside under any circumstances if I close the door behind me when we get outside--he simply wheels around and puts his face to the door, waiting for me to open it. In order to get him to go outside, I must go ahead of him, the door must remain open, and as soon as he's done he runs into the house and flops down on his bed.

Our Vet has reassured me that I am probably the perfect person for Cyrus. Cyrus seems happy enough to be in what must seem like a very luxurious kennel here in the little house with me. He has one large dog bed next to my bed and one near my computer table. He and Roscoe (Melea's big yellow Lab) spends three or four days with us when Melea is at work or out for the evening and the two dogs get along swimmingly. Roscoe likes to lick Cyrus' face which sometimes sends Roscoe into an air-humping frenzy.

For the first four or five months Cyrus was with me I never heard him make any noise at all. No bark, no growl. But now if someone comes to my door, Cyrus sits up and barks very authoritatively. So I now have a very large guard dog in the house, and Roscoe is the guard dog that keeps anyone who doesn't know us from entering the property without an escort from either me or Melea.

So the crazy old woman has a crazy old dog and we comfort one another.