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Thursday, March 10, 2011

All Things Shadow

I talk about my dog a lot. He is adorable, but that's not the only reason I feel the need to talk about him in (nearly) every blog post. Beyond that, he is the closest thing I have to a child. So I thought I would expand a little more to show exactly why I baby this dog so much.

Shadow is a German Shepherd mix, my first dog on my own without Mom and Dad to help with the training and the feeding and the walking. Boyfriend and I got him after a year together, partly as a graduation present for me. He was so, so tiny when we first got him: about 10 lbs, which is small for a shepherd.

He was so scared when we picked him up from the pound that he was trembling when I carried him to the car. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, so much so that we didn't have a collar or leash or food for him at all. We took him straight to a pet store and I carried him through it while we picked things out, like new dishes, food, a bed, a crate, a collar, an ID tag, and a stuffed, squeaky duck that was almost as long as he was.

He didn't connect with us fully, right away, and we figure that's because he was adopted before, and quickly returned to the pound, but this time after all of his brothers and sisters had been adopted. The new owners thought he was sick (he was, although we didn't know at the time) so they just took him back. He was curious and happy, but not as bonded to us as we had hoped.

A little more than a month went by before we realized how sick he really was. At around 3 months, he was around 11 lbs below the normal weight for that age of his breed, and when the vet asked if we could feel his hip bones, I answered that we could clearly see his hip bones sticking out of his skin. He was all skin and bones, not eating, and getting more lethargic by the day.

The vet ruled out parvo and instead did tests for other things, finding two parasites. We treated him for the parasites, but I knew something more was wrong and I couldn't convince our vet that it was more than just a parasite. He would lay on the bed with me at night and cry, cry, cry so much that I recorded it on my phone to show the vet. He would only stop crying if he was lying on my chest (when he was small enough to do so), and I wasn't moving around too much.

It was so heartbreaking, hearing my little puppy crying and so sad and confused. During this time, we had to give him two pills in the morning, two at night, then a syringe of horrible smelling liquid medicine that we had to shove down his throat. He was such a patient, trusting puppy no matter how often we took him to the vet and he got poked and prodded and given more medicine than his little body knew what to do with.

We found out a few months and over $1,000 later that he had distemper during this time, something only 3 of 10 dogs live through, in addition to his two parasites attacking his stomach. He was such a trooper. He really started trusting us after that, and really became attached to Boyfriend as his playmate dad and me as his cuddle-buddy mama.

Then, disaster struck again when Shadow was just four months old. Shadow had an unfortunate fall and (we think) ruptured a disc in his back. This is a pretty big deal. Often, dogs with ruptured back discs never fully recover, even with super expensive surgeries to repair the disc.

When the vet told us that we could send us to a specialist that would charge about a grand just to do an examination, Boyfriend and I exchanged looks of worry. Then Boyfriend said, "I'm sorry... we just don't have the money for that." In just over two months, we had already gone through a grand just getting him past distemper and two parasites, medicine, plus his shots and checkups (which became mandatory every week... every week, another 40 bucks for the visit).

The vets were great; they didn't make us feel like bad dog owners for not having an extra $5,000 for his back. They offered us a slim chance with steroids and muscle relaxers, but they made us clear it was a long shot and would be a "miracle" if he recovered fully.

I cried, a lot, about this, but there was nothing else we could do. I had a full time job, but Boyfriend is still in school and working just part-time. My salary barely covered the rent, my car, insurance, bills, and gas. In the meantime, Shadow couldn't move his back legs at all. He would drag them behind him, hobbling if he could, so he was on strict crate-rest. If we wanted to have him near us, we'd have to carry him. At this point, he was almost 40 lbs, and I struggled with it. Keep in mind also that we live on the second floor in our apartment building... so Boyfriend carried him down every single time Shadow needed to use the restroom.

When he finally started recovering, the muscle relaxers made it hard for him to warn us about needing to go potty, so we had a lot of accidents. He had only had one accident as a puppy (potty training was a breeze, because he's so smart!), so he was constantly embarrassed and kept putting his ears down in shame after an accident. The steroids made him thirsty, so he'd literally drink so much that the water would upset his stomach and he'd throw up.

We went through about two full months of this, maybe a little longer, of more steroids and pills and vet visits, but then... he started to walk. Just for a few minutes at a time before his back legs would give, but it was a huge improvement. Even the vet called it a miracle recovery.

Now, Shadow can run and walk and play like a normal puppy. He does have some signs of hip displasia and if another dog pins him too hard by pressing on his back, he yelps and cries, and comes to me for some reassurance before he goes out to play again. The other day, during obedience school, he slipped on a freshly waxed floor and his back legs splayed out as he fell. He cried so loudly that everyone in the store looked over. Boyfriend helped him stand up and, after a little bit of petting, he went on his way.

We'll always have to be careful with Shadow's hips, legs, and back, but by now, he's such an integral part of our little family that I can't imagine our life without him. For almost 8 months, taking care of Shadow has been a full-time job, and he has repaid us in unconditional love. I think it's a fair trade :o)

1 comment:

  1. Awwww this made me sad and happy...only you Jen2a...only you! We are going to get a dog eventually...I'd like to say when Mason is 4, but I just don't see that happening! I think it'll be within the next year or so. I have 3 "types" of dog I will consider...German Shepherd, Husky, or Yellow Lab! Of course, reading this made me want to get a pup right away! I'm sooo glad you ended up getting Shadow! <3