Friday, September 18, 2015

Love Letter for Wylie

My daughter brought Wylie home in the autumn of 2008, a fat, fluffy ball of fur who didn’t have to make any effort at all to worm his way into our hearts.  From the time she brought him home, he was bonded – there is no question that they chose each other.  And I mean, really, just look at this face.  This is one of the first pictures we saw of Wylie, and it’s one of the few times he was ever really still.  How could you not love this?!

Not quite sure what’s going on here!

                     Smiling Wylie

My daughter drove to New Brunswick to get Wylie from the breeder.  He had grown considerably from that first ball of fur into a clumsy, happy puppy.  He tripped over his own big feet.  He was a ball of energy, in between our feet when we were in the kitchen (because, really, a boy could never be certain that food wouldn’t fall to the floor for him to pick up!).  He had squeaky toys and played with them with the same abandon you’d see in a 3-year-old given a drum kit – which is to say that sometimes, I wondered what evil genius invented squeaky toys for dogs.  Like most babies, though, when he slept, he slept hard, and often with a favourite squeaky toy.

Wylie and Toast

By 2009, barely even a year old, Wy had lost all that baby fluffiness.  He had become a teenage thug – in a good way, though, honestly.  Oh, sure, he’d stick his face into the garbage if we were silly enough to leave it where he could get it (because: buffet!).  And yes, he’d drink out of the toilet bowl if the lid wasn’t down, but all dogs did that.  He wasn’t a destructive dog – he chewed plenty, but only things that he owned.  My shoes, for instance, were safe, and that was a good thing!

The park, always a favourite haunt.  And always a thirsty puppy.

We were beginning to discover things about Wylie, and my daughter was swiftly learning that as charming and wonderful as Wy was, he was unique in some other ways.  That thirstiness of his, for instance, wasn’t always about thirst.  Wylie drank everywhere, and he drank everything.  He didn’t care if the water came from his bowl, the toilet, a stagnant pond, the ocean, or a puddle in the driveway.  He drank it.  And when he drank it, he invariably regurgitated it.  Once you’ve swallowed water and barf it back, though, it’s not quite like water anymore – it’s more like trying to clean up egg whites.  My daughter, always a conscientious and responsible pet owner, brought him to the vet numerous times to figure this out.  Turns out that Wy had Psychogenic polydipsia, a central nervous disorder of dogs characterised by polydipsia (≥ 100 ml/kg/day).  If you do the math, you’ll see that even as an adolescent dog, weighing maybe 30 kg, that was a lot of water – at least 12 cups a day.  Dogs with the condition, which is inherited, often compulsively search for water, because their mouths always feel dry, and have clinically measurable hyponatremia. Well, wow.

This was only the beginning of Wy’s medical journey.  He was also diagnosed with Megaesophagus, which means just what it sounds like.  He had an enlarged esophagus.  The condition gradually causes the esophagus to enlarge like a balloon and to essentially become a storage organ.  The process is accompanied by regurgitation, loss of weight, and recurrent episodes of aspiration pneumonia. Investigation showed that Wy had no physical blockage causing the problem, which meant that it had to be congenital – a hereditary disorder.  We did get to learn about aspiration pneumonia firsthand - it left Wylie listless and miserable.  The difference a good antibiotic made was amazing, and it never kept him down too long, though.

We were all in love with Wy – we’d find a way to live with his idiosyncrasies.  He couldn’t help them, after all.  His water was restricted, so that there was not a constantly filled bowl on the floor for him.  We became very conscientious about the toilet lid.  My daughter tried a number of ways to feed him designed to slow down his eating, including spreading his kibble on a cookie sheet, because he simply couldn’t scoop up a mouthful then and was forced to eat the kibble a few pieces at a time.
Despite the medical issues, despite the frustration, Wy was growing into a really gorgeous dog.  He was friendly and happy, and he loved people (though he never developed much of a fondness for children – we couldn’t imagine he’d ever bite a child, but we tended to be very careful when he was around children, which is probably a good idea anyhow).

Handsome Wy

And Wy loved my daughter.  “Well, sure,” you think. “Of course, because she was his owner.”  But honestly, I’ve never seen a dog who loved his person as thoroughly as Wy loved her.  He was a pretty sociable creature and was happy enough in my company, for instance – a pretty easy fella to be with.  But when his girl came home?  That was something to behold.  Wherever she was, he wanted to be.  Long past the time when he’d passed the lapdog stage, he would still snuggle with her on the couch, and there are some great pictures with this great lummox of a dog curled up on her lap, to her bemusement.

Like many big dogs, Wylie loved winter.  He was basically a heat engine, so the winter weather that left us moaning and whining was no big deal to him.  And hey, there was snow out there!  A dog could play in the snow!  He could scoop up the snow and run with it!  He could chase snowballs thrown for him!  Wy did all of those things and loved them.  In fact, he pretty much loved life with abandon - it was all just a big dog park to him, and if he got to spend it with his girl, when so much the better.

If you had to actually go outside during the winter (and of course you did, because he needed to be walked), at least he made it bearable.  Walks often became social events, as so many people stopped to admire him.  And he accepted their admiration with grace and good humour.  Children loved Wy, though he wasn’t so sure about children.  They loved the way he galumphed around, and we often heard, “Oh, Mummy!  Look!  That dog looks like a BEAR!”  And he really kind of did – that’s a Bernese for you.

During the summer, Wy enjoyed trips to the beach, not just because my daughter would throw a ball into the ocean for him to retrieve, but also because (if we’re honest) the North Atlantic makes for one heckuva water dish.  Sigh!  If a summer day was just too hot, he’d lie on the bare floor, limbs splayed so that he looked just like a Bernerskin rug!

Wy also went to Pride Parades, where he received even more attention.  He loved being around people, but truly, he would be happy doing anything at all, as long as his girl was within eyesight. 

It wasn't long before we learned firsthand about ‘bloat.’  My daughter knew of it – she’d done her research before taking on pet ownership, and she’d researched about large dogs, and Berners in particular.  You can read about bloat, and you will find, as we did, that it is the second leading killer of dogs, after cancer.  It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs – like a Berner, for instance – are particularly at risk.  Bloat can kill in less than an hour, so knowing – I mean, really knowing – your dog is important.  Sometimes, what seems like a dog just having an off day is a symptom of something much more serious.  My daughter knew Wylie.  She knew the very bones of him – she knew every bone, every bump, every toe.  She knew how his fur felt when he was healthy, how his nose and eyes looked if he wasn’t feeling his best.  

The technical name for bloat is Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, and it’s often related to swallowed air (although food and fluid can also be present).  It usually happens when there's an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach (gastric dilatation).  Bloat can occur with or without the twisting, and as the stomach swells, it may rotate 90° to 360°, twisting between its fixed attachments at the esophagus (food tube) and at the duodenum (the upper intestine).  The twisting stomach traps air, food, and water in the stomach.  The bloated stomach obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs.  The combined effect can quickly kill a dog.  If you have a big dog, or if you’re considering adding a big dog to your family, you’ll want to be aware of this.  A dizzying trip to the emergency vet clinic, a shockingly high bill, but he was cured. A couple of days later, he felt none the worse for wear (but we felt kind of shattered).

Life continued, and Wy continued to charm, love, amuse, and occasionally infuriate.  Just like a kid! My daughter thought that Wy might benefit from a companion – he had a Siamese cat to play with, but honestly, the cat wasn’t nearly as impressed with Wylie as Wylie was with the cat.  My daughter, having bought a dog from a breeder, thought that her next dog should be a rescue, and so she kept her eyes open to see if she could find another Berner.  She did, and that’s how Ben joined the family.  (You can read about life with Ben here:

 Brothers from a Different Mother: Ben and Wylie

Turns out that two Berners, once they’re accustomed to each other, really are not so much more work than one Berner – they are much more fur, obviously, and I really do think we could’ve built a new dog with all they shed!  They got along, and they spent time playing and romping.  And so life continued.

Wy kept drinking everything in sight.  He continued to be a bit of a punk – it’s as if he knew that he’d probably get away with quite a bit, just because he was such a cool dog.  He’d look at you when he’d done something he knew he shouldn’t have, and once he’d been told off and presented the appropriate hangdog expression, you’d get this look that said, “Come on, you know you love me!  Look at this face!”  And he was right.  It is impossible not to love such a great dog, problems and all.

Wy, a dog with other medical conditions, was even more likely to fall ill again with bloat, and my daughter had done everything anybody could do to mitigate his risk.  When he was neutered, his stomach was surgically tacked to the side of his abdomen – this wouldn’t prevent bloat, but it could give more precious minutes to get him to a vet in case it happened to him.  And of course, it did.

Wylie got bloat again a couple of years ago – this time, my daughter was intimately familiar with the symptoms, and because of her familiarity with Wylie, she was able to get him to the vet in time – not just to save his life, but frankly, also to save her wallet a bit.  There was no trip to the emergency vet after hours this time (which is not to say that it was inexpensive, because it was not, but you just deal with that stuff).  Again, Wy came home and was back to his usual self in just a couple of days.  We all heaved sighs of relief.

On July 3, Wy celebrated his 7th birthday, a rather venerable age for a Berner.  Well, really, I guess my daughter celebrated for him – all he knew was that there was gonna be a big cookie involved, and he was pretty stoked for it!  Here he is with Ben, in what sadly was Ben’s last picture.  Ben died of cancer in early July. We were all heartbroken, because although Ben, too, had had more than a few issues, we loved him.  There was a big Berner-shaped hole in all our hearts.  Knowing that my daughter had given this broken rescue she brought home from Quebec a life that he never would have had if she had not discovered him provided very little balm for aching hearts. 

Happy birthday, Wylie!  Ben and Wylie

Wylie knew how to dance (on his hind legs, no less).  He could whisper.  He gave hugs.  He may have done these things on the hope of a treat (It's ridiculous how much this boy would do for the tiniest treat!  Sacha the Siamese was embarrassed for him, I'm sure.) Wy was a smart dog, a loving dog.  If my daughter's life needed saving, I have no doubt that he'd try to save it.

Less than a week ago, my daughter called me to tell me that Wy wasn’t feeling so great, a bit off his food.  Five days ago, she brought him to the vet, where they discovered that he had aspiration pneumonia, which he’d had before.  But this time it seemed worse – she couldn’t give him medication, because he couldn’t keep anything down.  The vet decided to give him a massive dose of antibiotics, to jump start the process of getting better – he’d lost more than 4 kg, which is significant for a dog weighing in at Wy’s usual 32+ kg.  Two days ago, she called to tell me that the pneumonia wasn’t getting better, and that the vet suspected something else in addition to it – that Wy might also have damaged his esophagus beyond repair (the megaesophagus and constant regurgitation are desperately hard on a dog), or that he might have a tumour that was affecting his ability to eat.  Either way, Wylie was a 7-year-old Berner – for his breed, he was kind of elderly.  The average Berner lives between 6 and 8 years.  We had sort of hoped, despite his myriad medical issues, that Wy would just die quietly of old age.  Life had other plans.

Last night, my beautiful daughter said goodbye to Wy, and I am not there with her.  Her heart is broken, as is mine.  She brought him to the vet one last time, knowing that she would not be bringing him home anymore. Our lives were turned upside down and inside out with the addition of Wylie to the family.  He has been my daughter’s constant companion (and occasionally a pain in the behind).  He’s made us laugh and comforted us when we were sad.  He has loved, and he was loved, from the minute she met him until his very last breath.

It feels almost too much to bear, to have lost two beautiful boys in two months.  It doesn’t help to know that nothing could have saved them.  It doesn’t help to know that they knew – they surely knew – how very well they were loved.  There are toys to be picked up and put away, because there is no dog to play with them.  Sweeping will take less time, because there’s no dog fur on the floor.  No big boy will lean on you when you sit at the kitchen table, no big head pushing insistently into a hand to remind you to scratch his head. This is gonna take some time.  I sit at my desk, and look at the picture of my daughter and her partner with Wy, and the knowledge that he will not be there when I get back to Halifax is just awful.  Being away from my daughter right now is worse. Note to self: get tissues.  Wiping eyes with paper towel just makes them worse.

Wylie: July 2008 – September 2015

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