It gives me great pleasure to write Coonhound Rescue that Gigi begins her 4th year of retirement in Florida. Weíve been a little out of touch these past couple of years in Florida during the fall because of hurricanes and their aftermath. Thereís a lot to bring up to date.
Before Gigi had been with me for a year, she went through 3 hurricanes here in central Florida. Charlie tracked about 20 miles to the west of us so problems from that storm were confined to losing a bunch of electronics due to a lightning strike. The next two, Frances and Jeanne, each gave us hurricane force winds for about 2.5 days and tropical storm force winds for over 3. The dogs and I moved into my new house, a wind resistant structure that was complete except for kitchen appliances and other finishing touches. The two older dogs, which included Gigi, were clearly apprehensive, as was I. The two younger ones, Daisy Mae (my other Black and Tan) and Mary Christmas (Gigiís daughter) were more on edge for being cooped up in a shuttered house with no view. During the storm, the wind blew the back door open. Both Daisy Mae and Mary C took off into the wind and rain. Daisy Mae came back in about 20 minutes without Mary C. My first thought was that she had fallen into the Indian River because we always walk the road along it. The Indian River was just wild with waves. If Mary C had fallen in there, she would certainly have been injured if not drowned. While I was out in hurricane force winds looking for her, my neighbors came out to help. They found Mary C swimming in a neighborís pool. The fence was down, giving her accidental access. She was in no danger; sheís a strong swimmer. I never would have thought to look there for her there though. If she had been there for hours, the outcome would have been far different. After that, I fixed the door so wind would not blow it open and the rest of the storm was much less eventful, at least as far as the dogs were concerned.
The worst part of hurricanes is the days or weeks afterwards without electricity. This was particularly hard for Gigi and Flair, my two older dogs. Worse yet was all the rotting food in garbage cans along the street waiting for pickupĖpickup that was delayed for 2 weeks. This was the food jettisoned to the curb after power to refrigerators was off long enough for frozen food to thaw and cold food to spoil. Gigi greeted garbage cans as an old and familiar friend. She introduced the other three dogs to her old friends . . .walking the dogs and keeping them out of the garbage (successfully most but not all the time) was a most forgettable post hurricane experience.
Those 6 weeks in the fall of 2004 were the lowest point of dog ownership for me. It was all work and no fun. But we got through it ok. A lot of people couldnít handle their dogs very well during those horrible weeks and ended up dropping them at the humane society or county Ďshelterí and forgetting their way back to it when conditions improved. It never crossed my mind to do that. I thought about leaving, particularly about going to the mountains in North Carolina. But with gas short and the threat of another storm (that was Ivan, which eventually went ashore in Pensacola), a trip just didnít seem possible. Having been through these conditions once, Iím probably likely to cope with a second experience with a lot less trouble and anxiety. Last year during Hurricane Wilma, the dogs were a whole lot more content in the new house that has become familiar to them, and the winds didnít last as long.
From the description on the rescue web site, it didnít seem Gigi would be much for adventure. When she had the puppy 2 months after she arrived here, she began to write her own lifeís story and not follow a script. From the start, she was a good car rider. Sheís calm, enjoys putting only her nose out the window and doesnít compete with any of the other dogs for the preferred front seat. She was good on a day trip around central Florida after she weaned Mary Christmas. I decided the first summer after I got her to take her to North Carolina when I visited family up there in the mountains. She did the trip like a champ and has been to North Carolina mountains 3 times to stay in the familyís home there.
Watching her in the mountains, itís easy to believe she must have had prior experience there. Sheís more animated, more curious in a knowledgeable way about scents. It seems more than Ďchanneling ancestral memories.í It was during the first trip up there in summer of 2004 that she came out of the shell she brought with her from rescue.
The first trip was not without incident. Both she and Mary Christmas were taken from the front yard on Independence Day. Later that afternoon, she turned up standing outside the door of the country club on the other side of the lake. Like Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire, she was lost and again Ďrelying on the kindness of strangers.í They came through for her. She still had her collar on (with the name tag). Although it was my Florida address, the staff at the club recognized the name and called me locally to pick her up. I was looking all over the opposite end of the lake, where, if she had wandered off, she likely would have been. But Mary Christmas was not with her when I picked her up at the club.
The convoluted story of Mary Cís return unfolded over the next couple of days. Three young guys working on a house a couple of doors down from ours picked up the dogs that morning. One of the guys was a local at the lake. They went to his house with the dogs before deciding that they really didnít want a toothless old coon hound. They dumped her down the road from the country club. One of the guys kept the cute little lab like puppy. The local at the lake apparently felt some remorse and called my house in Florida to say he had seen my dogs. He gave me the number of the two other guys. While I never talked to them, I talked to a secondís mother and explained why I was looking to speak with her son. She talked to me about how much she loved her dog and the next morning about 7:15, after almost exactly 2 days absence, the purloined puppy came bounding up the porch stairs. First, she jumped up on me. Then she went inside and nuzzled noses with her mother, jumped on Daisy Mae and then ran to her food bowl. It was empty and she looked at me like I was such a slacker. It was a tense 2 days waiting. Those of you who know that puppies wander might be thinking Mary C just went camping in the mountains for a couple of nights. Thatís unlikely. The night before she returned, there was one of the worst storms I remember. It lasted for hours. When the puppy returned, she was clean and dry. She was also too hoarse to bark. She hadnít been camping. Iím sure during this first extended separation from her mother, she barked as only a coon hound can bark and that guy figured if he gave her back, heíd get some sleep, finally.
I donít know if youíd call what these dudes did a prank or a crime. Iím just glad to have both the dogs returned. Even if they werenít thinking when they took the dogs, they did the right thing not to harm them and to make it possible for me to get Gigi back after dumping her (by leaving Gigiís collar on her) and by returning Mary C to the top of the driveway unharmed. She also still had her collar on. [Postscript: I intended to get Mary C microchipped before the trip but ran out of time before we left. She was micro chipped on the second day after we returned.]
Subsequent trips to North Carolina were much less eventful. In July, 2005, we went to Saluda Coon Dog Day in Saluda, North Carolina. This is an event that includes a 3 k run in the morning as a benefit for the Tryon Medical Center. If you have dogs on leashes, you can walk or run the course though Saluda and then around the outskirts of town. Itís well worth a couple of hours. Gigi was too old to walk the 3 k, but Mary C and Daisy Mae, the queen coon hound in my house, made the trek with me. In the middle of the day, a parade humorously highlights stereotypes of Southern rural culture. Coon hounds ride floats, on top of the fire engine and just about anyplace else a coon hound might enjoy the view. Thereís even a queen dog float. They had an ancient labrador retriever made up as a b/t coon hound as the queen dog of the parade. (Satire is a prominent ingredient in the parade.) After the parade and lunch, there is an AKC sanctioned coon dog event. If youíre interested in coon hounds, especially black and tan hounds, this is worth the trip to Saluda.
One of my reasons for going to Saluda was to talk to knowledgeable people about Gigiís age. Because she has so few teeth, the usual way of guessing age isnít useful. One of the breeders said ďSheís at least 10 years old.Ē That was the age my vet gave. Given that Iíll probably have only a general idea about it when I have to decide about medical treatments, Iíve become a bit less concerned about her age. Iíve tried to make decisions with the other information I have.
That trip last summer was Gigiís last road trip. She and Flair are getting too old for 12 hr drives. It was a good that we traveled when we did. Those were opportunities that, had they been neglected, would not have come again.
Gigi has made herself part of the routine in the house. Sheís learned to enjoy sailing. She greets neighbors who visit and then stands close to them waiting for a dog biscuit and a scratch on the ear or under the chin. Unlike the younger dogs, sheís less demanding of attention but usually gets more than her fair share before the visit is over.
Gigiís relationship with her puppy, Mary Christmas, continues even as the puppy approaches three years of age. The two sleep close to each otherĖside by side when itís cool. Mary C gets to eat from Gigiís bowl (after Mary C has sucked down her own food). Gigi is protective of her food with the other dogs, but not her puppy. It would be better if she also kept Mary C out of her food, too, because Mary C is obese because of the unnecessary sharing. If Mary C gets frightened, she runs to her mama. When visitor dogs come over, Gigi keeps a wary eye on the other dog and will bark and growl if the play becomes too intense. As Gigi has grown older and Mary C has grown up, Mary C spends most of her active time with the other dogs closer to her age. She no longer waits to go outside with Gigi. Other than running (literally) though, the two of them continue as a subunit among the dogs in the house and neighborhood.
These two dogs have changed my opinion about mother-puppy affection. My parents told me (when I got my first dog as a 9 year old) that mother dogs didnít feel the same way about puppies as people did about their children. They didnít want us to think weíd stolen a puppy from its mother. But dogs can maintain strong inter generational bonds.
When I got Gigi, she had some health issues. Iíve spent some time and some money getting them straightened out. First, she needed to be spayed. Mary Cís arrival delayed that for several months. After spaying, when her mammary tissue deflated, I felt two nodes in Gigiís breast tissue. Those were removed. They werenít malignant, but were a type of tumor that often transforms if left in place. Sheís grown one more node since then, but at her age sheís no candidate for surgery unless the node starts growing rapidly.
Her worst health problem so far has been her bad teeth and their likely role in keeping her terrible ear infections going. In Aug, 2004, after 2 unsuccessful attempts to treat her ear infection with the usual medications, she developed serious ear infections that the medication didnít even control. When the vet looked her over (and it was one of the worst cases theyíd seen), he also looked at her teeth. He suggested that a couple of abscessed teeth might be the real culprit. So first he took those out. They were so far gone, he was pulling rotten chunks. That dental surgery was just a week before the hurricanes started rolling through. After the surgery, she began to take Cipro for the ear infections. This treatment was the most successful up to that time. Infection in her right ear cleared up and has not returned. In her left ear, infection diminished significantly and remained minimal for almost 9 months. One of the other benefits of tooth extraction was that Gigiís drooling stopped. (It was after the surgery that I read that excessive drooling is often a symptom of tooth or gum infection. It was certainly the case with Gigi.) She was on Cipro all through the month and half of hurricane visits in 2004. Perhaps the treatment could have been permanently effectively if Gigi had been in air conditioning and there had not been the distractions for me associated with the clean up after the storms.
But the ear infection in her left ear came and went in 2005. In January of 2006, I took her into the vets because an ear infection was getting out of control (again). I asked the vet why, on the 4th or 5th attempt, we were giving the dog stock medications that failed. I asked if they didnít have tests to culture the micro organisms to determine what antibiotics would be effective because Gigiís bacteria were obviously resistant to at least 2 antibiotics commonly given to dogs by vets. When I was in school, this used to be called Ďtesting a sensitivity spectrum.í The vet said they could do that, and it was now called Ďculture and sensitivity testing.í The test was only $35, about the cost of one bottle of the patent medicine and ear wash. When the results came back, Gigi got an antibiotic treatment with Zenoquin, an antibiotic in a different class from those in the patent medicines. She also got ear drops of similar antibiotics. This new medication worked slowly and steadily. After 3 months, the infection was finally gone. It has stayed away all summer. Itís been months since Gigi would just stand up and shakr her head and groan.
I did a lot of reading to try to get rid of Gigiís infection so hereís some advice for those facing a similar problem:
1. Ear infections are not just part of life for floppy eared dogs. None of my other dogs have had chronic ear infections. And that includes Mary C, who got an ear infection before she was weaned, probably from her mother. I was able to get rid of it with simple medications and ear wash.
2. Itís cheaper and easier to use patent medicines first on an ear infection. They are effective most of the time. If you get a dog (maybe a rescue dog), patent medicines and the usual treatments should be your first attempt to control the ear infection.
3. If youíve followed your vetís instructions, and gone the full time specified (which may be weeks) and the infection returns, then it my opinion itís time to try culture and sensitivity testing. It will be more expensive initially. But not more expensive that the usual patent medicines used ineffectively two, three or more times until the infection becomes so bad you have to try something new. Having said that, if I ever get another rescue dog with an ear infection as bad as Gigiís was, Iíd probably do the culture and sensitivity initially just to be sure subsequent treatment was effective.
4. It will likely take weeks, maybe months of treatment to get rid of a chronic ear infection, especially if it is a bad one to start out with.
The benefits of getting rid of Gigiís ear infection are worth the effort. Sheís a lot more comfortable. Sheís not drooling anymore, and my furniture is cleaner because of no more fluids from her ears cause stains. (Iím being diplomatic in describing Gigiís runny ears and the ensuing stains, so donít underestimate how much nicer things have become.)
This summer, Gigiís age has caused her to develop uremia. Her slow and enlarged heart is showing its age. Maybe she had heart worms earlier in her life or maybes he just had too many puppies. Managing her uremia has been fairly straight forward. Sheís gets lot of water with her food and is on thyroid hormone augmentation. Itís not an expensive treatment, just 2 pills twice a day. It has helped a lot.
Some of you might be wondering if itís worth it to go to so much trouble for a old dog. Itís a lot like finding a battered, garishly painted old dresser in a trash pile. Upon stripping, you find itís a solid walnut antique that looks like a million dollars when refinished as natural wood. Gigi was a diamond in the rough when I got her. I just had to fix her up a bit to bring out all the quality underneath her scruffy exterior. Iím glad Iíve had her these 3 eventful years, and I would not have traded the experience with Gigi for another. Itís obvious how much difference it makes to her. When I first got her, sheíd just stand and watch me put her food bowl down. Sheís walk over and eat, then go lie down. Now she has her happy dance when Iím putting her meal down that says, Life is Good. Sheís part of the circus here. Sheís become much more than the porch dog I thought sheíd be.
Thereís one more reason why Gigi became special to me. About the end of her first year with me, I was playing with Daisy Mae when a neighborís dog started to menace me and Daisy Mae. She was mostly just jealous. She was a rescue dog who had been in the neighborhood only a few months and she was still acting like a junk yard dog. Gigi got between me and the nasty mutt, who then jumped on Gigi and chewed her up pretty good before I could get them apart. My neighbor (a different one from the nasty dogís owner) exhibiting his strange sense of humor, noted that Gigi was gumming to my defense (a reference to her lack of teeth). As far as I was concerned, though, her loyalty earned mine in return. A few days later, I was out walking with my dogs again when the same nasty mutt came charging down the lane and took a flying leap toward us. Then something happened. This time, nasty mutt had a mid air collision with my right foot, which planted squarely on her breast bone. She ricocheted about 6 feet and landed on her back. She retreated deliberately and now all I have to do is look at her directly and she acts nice. If you get an old sick dog thatís still willing to put herself in harmís way for you, how could you not take care of her in return?
Itís unlikely Iíll have Gigi for another 3 years. There should be little doubt that Gigiís uremia is a signal of her bodyís active and orderly process of putting its affairs in order so that when death comes, it will not be prolonged or overly onerous. At the level of her mentality, sheís not a part of this at all. She continues her usual daily habits, although a bit more slowly or not as often. As I write, sheís right behind my chair, her usual spot while I work. Sheís ready to join in anything that goes on, attentive to me as I work, and ready, if necessary to protect. What else could you ask for in a companion dog?
Page last updated on 23 October 2006