Category Archives: The Pack

The Pack, Part 4

“Shame on you!”

I loaded Scout into my truck for the ride home. She willingly jumped into the crate and made herself comfortable. (It’s always helpful when a dog is crate trained, I thought). As we made our way onto the highway she started barking. Vehicles following behind us made her uneasy. I requested Scout to “quiet,” and Continue reading

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Her Name is What?

The Pack, Part 3

A fellow rescuer emailed me about a nine-month-old female border collie. “She’s too much for the owner to handle,” Linda wrote. “If someone doesn’t take her she’ll be dropped off to a shelter in the morning.” Continue reading

The Pack, Part 2

“God’s Finger Touched him, and he slept.”

                (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

At 4 am, I heard Scout barking. Now at a frail sixteen years of age his bark was soft and raspy, but I always had an ear open should he need me. He must need to go out, I thought. But wait, he’s gone. Just yesterday he crossed over the rainbow bridge. I lay there in bed in the dark in the awful silence with my eyes welling up. I felt that gut-wrenching feeling, my anguish still as raw as an exposed nerve. How could my mind play such a cruel trick?  I took a deep breath, dried my tears, and closed my eyes. Never mind my sorrow–I wanted to hear his bark, just one more time, so I laid very still, hoping my mind would play that trick again.

The pack had been making adjustments with Epic being gone and now Scout.Scout1

He was a rescue from a puppy mill, the best family pet. We dabbled a little bit in various dog sports. Scout’s favorite part of agility was leaving. In obedience class he preferred to hide underneath of a table, and rather than herding sheep he gave it his all to befriend them. His job, as he saw it, was to remind me that it was time for the kids to come home from school. I would let him out the front door, he would wander to the end of our property, position himself at the top of our private road so when the bus pulled up he would meet the kids and escort them home.

He felt the need to be helpful with all children, not just my own.

He and I were down at the lake one day enjoying a hot and sunny day when he heard two very young girls screaming. He ran immediately to them. They were standing in the water up to their waist pointing towards a sandal that had floated out to the deep water. Scout spotted the sandal, swam out, and retrieved it. Once on land he dropped it out of his mouth, giving it back to the girls. They were so amused; they giggled and laughed, picked up the sandal and threw it back in the water for Scout to fetch again.

He never liked to be doted on; however, much to his chagrin, brushing and bathing was not always an option. He was low maintenance, no fuss, no muss, always content.

Scout was the mayor of the pack. He would be the first of my dogs to greet any rescue that I would bring home. He was an extremely good judge of character and helped me a great deal with guiding and training the foster dogs. I had just brought home a German shepherd mix from the shelter at the same time I let Scout go. Foxy, relinquished as a stray, would cower in the corner of her kennel, snarling everyone away. He would have adored her gentle nature but would have taught her that growling at visitors coming into my home was not appropriate.

Even while grieving Scout’s absence I had to work with Foxy, I owed her that. Regardless, she’s coming around. Her adoring wiggly body and happy face has certainly been a pleasant distraction. Scout

I recently filled the dogs’ box with new toys. Tulley was convinced they were all for him. He would gather as many in he could into a nice neat pile and growl away any of the dogs that he thought might attempt to steal his treasures. Mirk got so frustrated with the constant tension he started to growl back at Tulley. The conflict escalated to a full-blown out-and-out knock-down, drag- out. Fortunately my husband and I were able to end the clash as quickly as it started with nothing more than bruised egos.

This episode would never have happened on Scout’s watch. He was the pack guardian; his motto, “Say No To Violence.” As soon as there was any discussion between the dogs that might possibility escalate, he would jump in between the two antagonists stand tall, growl, and order them to go lie down. Since I no longer had Scout to do the policing, I had to slip on my “trainer” hat and manage the problem.

I’m not sure I even realized what an essential role Scout played in both of our lives until I nearly lost him to a bout of pancreatitis nearly a year earlier, then a few months later to old-dog vestibular syndrome. The thought of Scout not being a part of my day to day was unfathomable. He took care of my family and I for so many years, life without him was not an option. With the pancreatitis he was so weak. I cooked chicken and rice, begged him to eat and willed him to live. He pulled through, I suspect in attempt to please me. The vestibular syndrome robbed him of his balance. His eyes bobbled back and forth like a pendulum in a clock. Again he could not walk, eat or drink on his own. Once again I was determined to save him. I carried him everywhere; hand fed him, and administered subcutaneous fluids. Friends and family gently planted the seed that it might be time to let him go. No, I wouldn’t hear of it! As before, I willed him back and so as not to disappoint me he came around.

He had become increasingly weak and tired. He had little strength left in his back end and most of the muscle on his body had wasted away. When round three came, this time I knew I couldn’t make better. The veterinarian prescribed a low dose of steroids, the beginning of the end, I knew, but it was nearly Christmas. Surely we could have one more holiday together, and so we did. January came and went and Scout was getting increasingly weaker. By February, I was carrying him up and down the steps, in and out, and he was only eating whatever I would cook special for him. Much to his displeasure I gave him more baths in a month than I think he had in nearly his entire lifetime.Scout2

I came home from work one day to find him off his bed, lying on the concrete floor in his own waste. He barely picked his head up to look at me as I scooped his feeble body off of the floor and gently placed him into the tub. As I washed and rinsed his old frail body, I knew he was tired. He had enough. Ironically I had just had a conversation with a friend the day before. She had to let her dog go and wondered if she had done the right thing.

“I’m not sure that letting Wallace go was the right thing to do,” Ellen sobbed. “He had no quality of life, his dignity was gone. Is that how you would have wanted to live?” I reassured Ellen that she had made the best decision she could for her beloved Wallace.

As I washed Scout off in the tub my own words spoken just the day before played through my mind over and over. “I would not want to live this way.”

The next morning I took Scout to our veterinarian, assured him I would be okay, and that it was all right to rest easy. I held him as he slipped away into his deep and peaceful sleep, all the while whispering in his ear what a good boy he was, how much I loved him, and that I would be fine. Once I knew he was gone I lay with him on the floor for a long time and sobbed completely inconsolable.

Scout4Scout (pictured front) with the pack.

The Pack, Part 1

They Lost Their Pack Leader: Now What?

by Terri Florentino

pack

Terri and her pack.

I never bought into the theory that I had to be the dominant leader of my dog pack. I never saw myself as such, nor did I ever feel the need to attempt to “act” like my dogs in order to communicate with them. Yes, I spend time individually training my dogs, feed them, groom them, socialize, exercise, and love them but I am not their “pack leader.” Yes, humans have domesticated the dog, but to what degree?

I have lived with many dogs, at least five at a time, over the course of fifteen years, and can tell you that there appears to be a pecking order within their own ranks. I’m not sure why we would believe otherwise. We humans fall into similar social hierarchies. For instance in sports, doesn’t every team have a coach? Most social animals do. It seems to be natural for any pack, pod, or flock animal—consider the very phrase “pecking order,” which comes from watching chickens.

Tulley, Echo, Mirk, and Roy, who was just visiting.

l. – r. Tulley, Echo, Mirk, and Roy, who was just visiting.

What actually constitutes the definition of a pack leader, within a group of domestic dogs? We know that for a pack of wolves or coyotes it’s all about survival, so we can appreciate the importance of a strong hunter.

My dogs have never had to fight for food. I know of puppy evaluations where a piece of meat is thrown to a pack of seven-week-old pups. Whichever pup “guards the meat” is one that the breeder might be very interested in keeping for its dominant temperament. So does the display of a survival instinct define a leader? Perhaps a leader is determined by the tendency to discipline other dogs for inappropriate behavior, in effect, to govern them? How about the drive to ward off strangers? Perhaps the ability to charm humans into doing their bidding might be the real and true mark of a canine pack leader. I’m often amused at how often some dogs have their owners so well trained, and the owners don’t even know it.

As of last week, my family and I lived with seven dogs.

Heather and her soul-dog, Epic.

Heather and her soul-dog, Epic.

After careful examination and an abundance of medical testing it was apparent that my old girl Epic had developed a bleed in her brain. There was no turning back. My daughter Heather and I knew that we had to let her go.

Epic had chosen my daughter Heather as “her person” soon after we rescued her from a hoarding situation. Heather trained her, competed with her in obedience, and became her bed bug at night. In the vet’s examination room, Heather cradled Epic in her arms, inconsolably sobbing. I held both Heather and Epic, reassuring Epic that she was a good girl as the doctor gave her the final injection. Epic took her last deep breath and was gone. She lay peacefully in Heather’s arms until Heather was able to let go.

Now the mourning and healing for the human family would begin. But what about the other six dogs?

Sweet Epic has left us.

Sweet Epic has left us.

A bewildered uneasiness had fallen upon our pack. Epic had been the matriarch who commanded respect. She managed all of them with strong-willed peacekeeping diplomacy. She was a guardian, the greeting committee to the countless rescued dogs who entered our home, an “Aunt” to the occasional litter of puppies, teaching them right from wrong. Any dog who had been under Epic’s regime would greet her by laying down, rolling onto their back and licking her mouth, even when she’d reached the fragile old age of fifteen.

Scout

Scout

Now our pack consists of Scout, who, at nearly sixteen, is the oldest of them all. Next is Deja Blue at fourteen, Tulley at a youthful twelve (He was featured in the “Mean Dog” series in BCI), Mirk, age eleven, Echo at seven, and young Wyn of five years. Scout has always been the family pet, too old to care about leading the pack.

Deja, Mirk, and Echo

Deja, Mirk, and Echo

In her day, Deja was a tough lady, a talented sheepdog with too much of an independent streak. In her “hay day,” I suppose I might have thought her the next pack leader, but she now prefers to be left alone to sleep comfortably on her bed, next to mine.

Most of the dogs defer to Tulley, but he has no interest in the pack behavior unless it has to do directly with him.

Mirk at work.

Mirk at work.

Mirk was born here (Deja is his Dam) and lived with us for the first year of his life. Then he went off to pursue a professional sheepherding career. Over the course of the last ten years, he would come home on occasion. Just a few months ago, he retired and is now home for good, and the pack is still adjusting to him. He does have a very strong presence within the group, but strong enough to step up to the role of leader?

I love them all, but my heart and soul is Echo, a younger full sister to Mirk–she finishes my sentences. She’s not one that stands out as a leader, but she is well balanced within the pack and will step up to control any improper conduct with the other dogs. It’s said that the best leaders rule with a velvet glove, so maybe it will be Echo?

Will Wyn be the Winner?

Will Wyn be the Winner?

The truth is, I always thought that Wyn, a daughter of Echo, even though the youngest of the pack, would be the next leader. After Mirk she is my most talented sheepdog, by far the most boisterous and always into every other dog’s business. She may be too much of a busybody to rule the pack.

Either way it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of my pack eventually play out. For now, we’ll let nature take its course.