Spot’s Close Call

I’m back! Bet you thought you wouldn’t hear from me for another six months. This is my third blog post which should move me from guest to regular, don’t you think? Although I do still have to rely on Chico to post for me. As I mentioned in my first post: hooves + keyboard = disaster.

Anyway, I’d promised a couple of stories in my past posts, one about my role as herd accountant and the other about Nevada’s brush with death. Since Nevada’s story is more timely, and I can talk about me anytime—I do love to talk about me—I’ve decided to make this week’s post about my good friend Nevada, aka Big Spot, aka Spotticus, aka just Spot. He’ll also answer to “Oh great one.”

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Me and my bud on a trip to Smithers, BC in 2010.

Nevada is 27. A few of you might be thinking, “Wow! That’s old.” But it’s not really, for a horse. Our average lifespan is 25-30 years, far beyond what you can expect from a dog or a cat. At 27 coming 28 in the spring, Nevada lands smack in the middle of the end-of-the-trail range and, back in August, we all thought he’d arrived.

It started off with him walking a little slower than usual and losing some weight, but when a guy is 27, it wasn’t a surprise to any of us—humans or horses—that he was slowing down. T started taking him into the barn for a little extra feed and some supplements and he seemed to perk up. He just needed a little old-guy support.

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Enjoying his extra groceries.

Then T and N headed north for a family reunion/birthday party in the last part of August. They were barely out the driveway and I started to notice a shift in Spot, the slowness returning, and he wasn’t grazing the typical 18 hours/day. By the Monday following T & N’s Friday departure, I knew he wasn’t right, and luckily for Nevada, the horse sitter did too. She called T and then the vet. Our old herd boss was colicking.

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My herd boss for all but the first year and a half of my sixteen years.

If you’re not a horse person, the type of colic you might be familiar with is in human infants and it causes discomfort and crying. Colic in horses also causes discomfort, is often easily resolved, but can be deadly, particularly in an old horse. It all depends on the cause. I never had a chance to meet him, but T’s Anglo-Arab, Echo, died at 24 from colic that was likely caused by some kind of intestinal tumours.

So, anyway, our favourite equine vet from Animal Care Centre, Dr Rand, arrived, examined Nevada, and treated him for impaction colic (in this case, impaction means pretty much what you might imagine.) Nevada stayed in the paddock by the barn over the next few days, to be monitored and fed, and by Friday morning was really starting to seem more himself. And then, early that evening, he crashed…

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One part of colic examination. I haven’t had the pleasure.

The on-call emergency vet was called, but this time Spot wasn’t colicking, in fact the young vet wasn’t sure what was happening. Anemia, she said, and extreme weakness, possibly from internal bleeding, likely from some kind of strangulating lipoma (which is just as horrific as it sounds) or mass. None of it sounded like something he could recover from, the vet was concerned about the safety of anyone handling him and, from what I could gather from the farm end of the phone call to T and N, a decision was made. All the rest of us could do was stand at the fence line and watch.

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The whole herd.

And then Nevada’s guardian angel stepped in, his saviour. Despite the direness of his condition, the potential for it to get even more dire overnight, the vet’s concerns about safety, and a lack of experience with horses, horse-sitter Spring agreed to monitor him for the evening, see what the morning brought, and administer any necessary medications.

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Looking better than he felt, but I can see the tension in his face.

The morning brought a tired but comfortable Spot who was beginning to pick at his food. A daily dose of Banamine (a powerful anti-inflammatory for horses) and some good old-fashioned TLC did the trick and got him through the next three days until T and N were home Monday night. You should have seen the hug the old guy got from T. Good thing he was stronger by then or she might have knocked him over.

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Starting to feel better.

Tuesday morning Nevada was pacing the fence line of his paddock when the rest of us were turned out on the morning pasture. T opened the gate and he trotted out to meet us. I tried to maintain the alpha position I’d established during his week of absence but it didn’t last long. He had me back in my 2IC (that’s second in command if you’re wondering) position before lunch, and you know, under the circumstances, I didn’t mind.

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Always reminding me who’s boss.

Tuesday was Spot’s first day without Banamine and that night we all held our breath. Would the pain return? Was some strangulating mass just waiting for the medicine to stop so that it could rear its ugly head again? He went into his paddock for the night, T dewormed him, put him on a natural anti-inflammatory, gave him magnesium to get everything to relax, some probiotic to make sure the digestive system was healthy, and we all hoped for the best. He was still there in the morning and, with the exception of one mild colicky episode about a week later, he’s seemed his old self ever since. Actually, a little better than his old self; the supplements have made him more limber and a little more spry. Stoic old Appy, no one even knew he was hurting.

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Spot leads us to the alfalfa patch at the very back of the property. Feeling fine.

It’s been two and a half months since the day we thought we were going to say goodbye to our benevolent leader. I’d say we’re out of the woods but, since we live on the prairie, I suppose that’s a given.

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Still the ‘three’ amigos.

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Senior? Who, Me?

I went to the vet yesterday for a routine exam and the 3-year rabies vaccination that I need to cross into the United States. The bill read “Examination (Senior)” and said I’d received a “Canine Geriatric Profile”. Ack! When did that happen? With five years between Logan and me, I’ve always been the pup, the youngster, the kid. I guess I kind of lost track of time. I’m about to head into the double digits!

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Time sure flies.

On the plus side, I had a put-it-on-the-fridge-worthy blood panel result for a dog my age. Kidneys, heart, liver, thyroid, red & white blood cells, blood sugar, all solidly in the normal range. I’ve even lost just over a kilo since I was last in. But the senior thing has me a bit freaked out. I know I’m not quite the bundle of energy I used to be, but geriatric?

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Waiting to go for a walk in Kananaskis. And who’s the old guy?

I hope it’s true that you’re only as old as you feel because that would make me six or seven at best. Although I do feel a bit older than that hanging out with my new friend, Ria. She’s three and a half and, man, that girl has some energy. Ria is a new member of the G & S family so you’ll be seeing more of her on Fur-idays in the future. Maybe I can even persuade her to write a guest blog. (Everyone who’d like to hear from Ria, raise your paws!)

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Ria and me at the Chestermere off-leash.

I’ve long striven to become more human. In fact, I’m hoping that my only-doggedness will help me progress in my endeavour (good human word, don’t you think?) Without the constant presence of another dog to pull me into canine-type behaviour, I’m hoping I can fine tune my being-human skills. If I can manage it, do you think I’d live longer? I know I can’t expect the 70-80 years that a human lives (man, that sounds like a long time to a dog), but maybe 20?

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Me in 2011. I admit I’m looking a little more “frosted” these days.

If you don’t think it’s possible, just check out this list on Wikipedia. The Guinness record holder for the oldest dog was a guy named Bluey who, and this is the cool part, was an Australian Cattle Dog! Pretty sure that’s what I am, or half anyway. I know, I know, it’s the quality of the days rather than the quantity, but there’s no harm in setting the bar high, is there?

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Frosted but fresh!

There was one bit of bad news from Dr. Julie today. I have to go back to have a lump removed from my leg. It’s nothing scary at this point but she’s concerned that it could develop into something and I trust her completely. Best get it gone. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to medical procedures, but they tell me I’ll be sleeping so I’m not too concerned. The part that does concern me is the no food or water after midnight the previous day. No breakfast?! They won’t need to sedate me. I’ll pass out from starvation!

Well, I’m still a little tired from yesterday’s activities and T’s taking me for a walk in a little while so I think I’ll climb into my favourite bed for a nap. Oops, that sounded a bit geriatric, didn’t it?

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I’m not old, I’m just relaxed.

Tribute to a Trail Dog

In nature, canine types are not friends of equine types, largely because they think we taste good. The whole horse-and-hound pairing was invented and popularized by humans. I’m a little less dog-friendly than many of my friends, maybe because I tend to be the smallest in most herds and therefore perceived as the easiest prey. Dogs who have proven themselves to be trustworthy are fine, but any newcomers best be prepared to be chased. I once put the run on a chocolate lab named Jonah who attempted to escape through a gate she didn’t fit through. T rescued her, which was good since I found out later she was a sweetheart and had no interest in gnawing on my legs. Although, she did like my hoof trimmings, but then they all do. It used to give me the creeps to see them chewing on what used to be attached to me but I’ve gotten over it. It’s really just excess, like the hair I shed in spring. They can have it.

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Logan keeping me company on my first ride out of the arena.

Which brings me to Logan. He was another of the good dogs, one of the best maybe. I came to the farm in the spring of 2004 and he came the following January. We spent a lot of years together. I initially greeted him like I do all unknown canines, with a lowered head and flattened ears, but he quickly proved himself a good-natured beast. He liked to nip at our heels occasionally, but not in an effort to have a taste but rather to move us around. His Border Collie herding instincts were strong and he was quick to jump in and assist whenever the humans were moving us from one place to another, like through a gate. His efforts once cost him five teeth when he tried to put the moves on a cantankerous mare named Willow. The rest of us would just lift a foot and flick an ear in his direction, a peaceful “bugger off”, but Willow added bite to her bark. Didn’t stop Logan though. He continued to herd until this year, when his reduced reflexes and stability kept him at a distance.

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He never nipped when we were being ridden.

Although an avid barn dog, where we horses really got in our Logan time was out on the trail. He was trail dog extraordinaire. We did some long treks back in the day, and he’d keep up and then some. His normal position was right behind the last horse in the ride, but he’d often wander off the trail to take a dip in a creek or explore an interesting smell, increasing his total mileage for the day. He had tender paws on more than one occasion after a particularly long day over rough terrain, but did he complain? Never. At the end of most trail days you’d find him curled up in the shade near the horse trailer or wrapped in a blanket on a cool, autumn day.

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End of ride on a hot day.

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End of ride on a cold day.

We horses were sorry to see the premature end of Logan’s days on the trail. In 2011, Chico joined the family and he was a terrible influence on reliable Logan. The two of them were off in the woods chasing all sorts of varmints sending T and Nollind backtracking and whistling and waiting. I remember Logan’s (and Chico’s) last trail day very clearly. The six of us set out on a big loop at Etherington Creek. The dogs were pretty good all day, until we were almost back at camp. Chico spotted a deer and was off and running with Logan hot on his heels. The baying of the hounds faded into the distance as we followed as far as we could on the trail. T and Nollind were angry but also worried when the boys were gone a long time. They eventually returned, as they always did, but that was the last trail ride for those two. In 2012, dogs were left in the front of the trailer when we went to the mountains. As it turned out, it was probably best for Logan anyway, given the arthritis that started developing in his right leg around that time.

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On the trail in Kananaskis Country.

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Always keen to participate in a little rule breaking. 

Logan continued to join us on prairie excursions close to home for the next couple of years but, by the fall of 2014, he had trouble keeping up and making it home. The last time he came with us, he was on three legs at the halfway-home mark so Nollind dismounted, thinking he’d have Rosa carry the poor guy home. We’ve all seen the pictures of the cowboy with the dog riding in the saddle with him, well that dog wasn’t Logan and that dog had probably learned to do it as a pup. And Rosa’s expression was a lot like Logan’s … “What the?!” Just imagine two sets of buggy, brown eyes and you’ll have an idea of how things went. Logan limped home on his own steam. The next time we rode out, the heartbreaking sound of a dog left behind echoed from inside the house.

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Having trouble keeping up to Gidget and Judy in the fall of 2014.

We’re missing him at the barn these days. It became his thing, what he could still do, this past summer. Whenever T was out feeding or grooming or riding, he was never far away, sniffing around or just lying there watching the happenings of the farm. I could see the changes this fall, in his energy, his mobility. We animals sense these things before humans. For a short time in September, we thought we were going to lose both of our old campaigners, Logan and Nevada. But Nevada’s near-death experience is a tale for another time.

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Family photo when we were all a lot younger.

As for Logan, farewell awesome trail dog and keen-if-not-effective herder. This pony won’t soon forget you.