The first hint I had that something was wrong with our dog, Truman, was in the afternoon on a Sunday in late January.
I tossed him a dog treat and he didn’t immediately jump up to grab it. He raised his head tiredly and, after a moment, got slowly to his feet. He ate the biscuit and lay back down with a deep sigh.
I didn’t think too much of it. Truman was nearly 12 now, and had certainly slowed down. Increasingly, he was refusing to go on the walks he used to love, getting halfway down the driveway and just stopping. He slept a lot. His hearing was going, and we could no longer count on him running to us at the sound of his name. When he was out in the yard, he would look toward the house, using his eyes instead of his ears to know when to come inside.
He still looked good, with his beautiful blue merle coat, but he was no longer the active dog he had been for so many years. He came to us in 2006 from an unknown breeder in Montana when I decided I wanted an Australian shepherd. I bought him after seeing a single adorable picture on the internet.
That was a terrible idea but we got lucky. He was a gorgeous healthy ball of fluff with boundless energy and eyes that could and did stop traffic — one a melting brown, the other a deep icy blue. Walking him was like hanging out with a celebrity. People would stop us endlessly to admire him. He would sidle up to them like a cat, eventually ending up on his back, basking in the attention.
He had the strongest bond with our youngest, Tessa. They grew up together, running and jumping, playing until they were both exhausted. One of my favorite pictures shows a sleeping Tess stretched out on the couch and Truman laying next to her, his eyes closed but one big white paw stretched over her protectively.
And now he was older, slower, deafer. But nothing seemed radically wrong until dinnertime on that January Sunday, when I poured dog food into his dish and he didn’t move or even raise his head.
“Trumie? Dinner! Truman?” No response, no movement. Had he somehow broken a leg or dislocated a hip? We got him to his feet and he staggered. Something was very wrong. Our own vet was closed but they directed us to Bulger Veterinary Hospital in North Andover.
We waited for some hours while the kind professionals at Bulger assessed him. When the doctor came out, her face was grim. Truman was having severe heart arrhythmia and we needed to get him to the Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital, a specialty facility, in Woburn as soon as possible.
We headed to Mass. Vet at first light the next day and he was admitted immediately. When I cuddled him to say goodbye, tears running down my face, I wondered if this would be the last time I saw him alive — lying on a blanket, unable to raise his head, an IV already started in his leg.
Over the next 24 hours, the amazing doctors and staff at Mass. Vet stabilized Truman’s heart and looked for the cause of the problem. X-rays didn’t show any cancers but did indicate clot damage to his heart. Blood work also showed evidence of anaplasmosis, a tick-borne infection, which may have pushed existing problems to a crisis point.
Truman came home with a bundle of medications, but he was a very different dog than the one who was near death only a couple of days before. He sidled up to me for petting in his usual way when I picked him up from Mass Vet. Two days after coming home, he threw his favorite toy into the air a few times and pounced on it. He ate every meal, looked for snacks, and tried to get the cat to wrestle with him.
We go back to the vet soon for a recheck and are keeping our fingers crossed. The wonderful people who cared for Truman there and at Bulger can’t make him young again but maybe they have given us a few more years with him.
Tess saw Truman for the first time since his illness when she came home from college recently. That night, I took another special picture. It shows the two of them in front of the fireplace, Tess smiling and Truman stretched out in front of her, utterly content.
This picture tells another story, too, as inevitable as time: That more than ever, it is our turn to protect the old dog at our feet and care for him as long and well as we can.
Marilyn Davis Archibald (email@example.com) lives and writes in West Newbury.