Blanche Axton is a dog lover and has been her whole life. She is a dog trainer, a dog rescuer, and an ambassador for all things dog especially her dear Pugs. There are lessons that only our dogs can teach us if we are willing to listen. They teach us at every stage of their lives. Watching them leave us is never easy. Blanche was kind enough to share somehing she has learned with me and I think it’s important. So I am sharing Blanche’s words with you. Thank you, Blanche.
When you live with dogs as intimately, constantly and consistently as I do, you are aware of times when you forget they are dogs. Sometimes the realization that they are, in fact, dogs is a delightful reveling in their incredible senses. Sometimes it is a punch to the gut. Lately, my reminder that they are dogs has been of the punch in the gut variety.
I have multiple dogs. And my crew lives together happily and without conflict. And I have had a lovely pug gent named Tank for 6 years. He came to me at 8.5 in terrible shape, having been re-homed several times, struggling with yeast infection, allergies, hypothyroidism and a criminally high dosage of prednisone. He came to me a smelly mess and has been a long term project. However, he has also been a sterling example of just how fine a dog a pug can be. Tank is everything I love about pugs. He is smart, relatively biddable, affectionate and, on occasion, bold. He has outstanding dog sense. He has been my constant helper in my fostering work. He immediately fit like a glove with my group. In fact, he became the dog that the others looked to for guidance, protection and comfort. I’m not a “pack theorist”, but I’d be lying if I said that Tank didn’t exert some sort of benevolent control over the rest of the group. Emphasis on the word benevolent.
Tank has always been closest to my eyeless female pug, Hazel. They were the June and Ward Cleaver of my crew. Always close together, always pug buddies. He has helped raise many foster puppies and overseen the care and loving of my son—who is his most treasured human.
Tank is now 14 years old. I never thought he’d live this long given the shape in which he came to me. But we battled his issues and, for the most part, won. He’s been a healthy guy for quite a few of his 6 years with me. And now……now we are dealing with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
CCD is a bitch. I hate it. And I’ve dealt with it before. It can be the downside to having dogs live into old age. Like us, they can end up with the dog version of alzheimer’s. And when I see the first signs of it, then I know I’m on the short road and that I need to relish every day and keep my eye on the quality of life and not the quantity.
Tank has deteriorated over the last year with one health issue after another. None of them serious in and of themselves, but I know the beginnings of a cascade failure when I see it. He has begun to space out more, be less involved, sleep more, engage less. And so I knew we were short timers, Mr. Tank and I.
And the gut punch realization of just how short our time is came today when Hazel attacked Tank and chased him from the room. He didn’t see it coming and neither did I—although I should have. One of my other dogs, my Japanese chin, has been trying to bully Tank since the dementia started. But Hazel has never shown this until today. And I knew. Tank has become “Other”. He is the Not Dog now. My dogs no longer see him as a viable part of the group. I’m not sure they even see him as a dog—hence my use of words like other and not dog.
My first emotion upon seeing Hazel growl and chase Tank away from sharing a bed with her (something they have done for the past 6 years) was horror. My second emotion was anger. My third was sorrow. My dogs know that Tank is at the end. I didn’t know we were there yet, but they knew. They sense that he is now beyond their ken. No longer Tank. He is the Not Dog.
And so to my great sorrow, I will let the old man go with whatever dignity I can give him. I will cherish this tremendous soul and his great character. And to my great regret, I forgot that my dogs are dogs and their response to Tank is neither aberrant or awful. It just is. They know in that intangible and mystifying (at least to me) way that he is done. He has served his purpose. They no longer acknowledge that he is of their world and chase him from it.
These are dogs. They have their own ways of being in the world and I forgot that. I will not be angry with Hazel or Meesh for their rejection of Tank. It grieves me. It humbles me. And it reminds me that while I know a great deal about dogs, I don’t actually know all that much.
How I will miss my old man who has traveled many roads with me, emotionally if not physically. I will keep him safe until the end and I will let him go with great sadness, but much thankfulness for the lessons he has taught me….even at the bitter end when he is Not Dog to my others…..
Photo credits –
All photos – Blanche Axton 2007-2013
Guest Author Bio
Blanche Axton has been involved with dogs her whole life-from the dogs her family raised and showed to working with canine rescue as an adult. Over the years, she has trained some of her dogs in agility, tracking, herding and therapy work. She volunteered as a therapy dog evaluator with Therapeutic Paws of Canada for several years.
Blanche currently coordinates Pugalug Pug Rescue, fosters pugs and sits on the Board of Directors. She also fosters for an all breed rescue called Speaking of Dogs. She currently works as a trainer at DogGone Right! in Toronto, Ontario.
More on dogs and loss: The Delicate Art of Saying Goodbye to Our Dogs
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