We got Trusty in 2005. We had recently had to put down our dog Princess because she was suffering from senile dementia and she had become aggressive. It was heart breaking because Princess was physically in good shape but her mind went. We didn’t get Trusty right away. Losing Princess was traumatic and it took time for us to get up the courage to try again. Eventually we found Trusty.
Why a bull terrier? I did an on line thing to help you pick the perfect breed and given our lifestyle and expectations a bull terrier came up as our first choice.She was from championship purebred line with multiple blue ribbons. She was “pet quality”. That was plenty good enough for us.
Trusty was three months old when we got her. She was such a sweet little girl. She was bright and curious and wanted to please. We kept her in the kitchen at first. That didn’t last long. She picked up the whole housebreaking thing almost immediately and she hated being away from us. Within a week the barrier came down and she spent the rest of her days always nearby if we had a choice.
We didn’t plan on having two dogs. Trusty got out of the yard and she came home with Fred. After some investigation, we determined Fred was in an unhappy place and his people gladly turned him over to us. Fred was the perfect foil to Trusty. Where he was energetic and dominant, she was calm and easy going. Both dogs went through three levels of obedience training with us. Fred only tried for it when he could get treats. Trusty just loved getting it right.
Trusty also did agility for a while. She loved agility and we went once a week for several months. One day, for reasons I do not understand, she abruptly decided she had had enough of this. I suspect she hated how the border collies could always beat her no matter how hard she tried. Whatever it was, we had two sessions where she simply refused to do anything so we quit going. If we were out somewhere where agility equipment was available, she would willing go through a few rounds but then move along. We were so done with that.
In 2009 we sold our house and spent five years traveling all over North America in a travel trailer. It was glorious fun. The dogs were excellent companions and loved the travel. When we picked out our rig we deliberately chose a truck with room for the dogs to ride with us in the cab. We are dog people. We rarely go anywhere without our dogs and we miss them when they are not with us. Traveling including stops at as many dog parks as possible and many roadside pee breaks, some quite memorable. The back seat of our truck was their kennel for the most part. We were very careful about heat. We rarely used the crates but if the dogs could not be left in the truck or trailer, they went into their crates. We also attended as many dog oriented activities like the Great Canadian Dog Party and the Appalachacola’s Wooffest. Both dogs enjoyed these doggy outing but Trusty enjoyed them much more than Fred.
Trusty was a happy dog. That was her main attribute. She wasn’t good at doing tricks and nor did she like to do things just for the sake of doing them. She needed to understand why something was important before she would do it. Rules she didn’t care for, she would ignore, but only when we weren’t looking. Trusty loved little kids and was very protective of them. If she saw a child alone she would get upset and panic and whine and fuss until she saw a parent nearby. Unlike Fred, she could be trusted not to snatch delicious things. Kids were too important for that.
Trusty was a loving little soul as well. I never knew dog who loved other animals the way she did. But her absolutely special favourite love was horses. When she saw a horse, she fell apart. Fortunately horses seemed to like her.
There was one thing more than anything else that Trusty loved. She loved it when people stopped and admired her and she was especially happy if they wanted to take her picture. Oh she would preen and pose and be so happy. Love me! I am beautiful and I know it. For some reason Japanese tourists found her especially attractive and always wanted pictures with her. There are pictures of her all over Japan I’m sure.
Fred was a swimmer and he would swim every possible chance he got. Trusty would only swim if it was really hot and she needed to cool off. She never stayed for long in the water. She hated cold, really hated it. I would often put on a little coat and boots so she was warm enough in the trailer. When I bought her a raised bed so she was off the cold floor, she soon figured out how to shove the bed so it was over the vent and the furnace could blow up under her bed to warm it for her. She really hated snow which is why I think she loved traveling south in winter. Both dogs loved the beach and we had many wonderful winters wandering beaches where dogs are welcome on the east, west and especially the Gulf coast. Trusty loved a nice long walk on the beach. I would say “Do you want to go to the beach?” and both dogs would lose it and race to the vehicle at top speed.
It was at the beach this winter that I first noticed the change in her. I know I was thinking last fall that she seemed kind of depressed. I figured getting to the beach would cheer her up. It didn’t. She acted confused and frightened by the beach. Instead of participating she would stand and cock her head left and right, stare off into space, give a funny shake and then let her head droop. It would pass but afterward she would be remain confused and she would tire quickly and walks became a drag. After one of these episodes she would often attach herself to the nearest pair of legs and follow them even if they were not her own people. More than once I didn’t notice she was following someone else. I would find her halfway down the beach with perfect strangers acting totally and hopelessly confused. I stopped letting her go off leash unless we were alone on the beach. She found it a comfort attaching herself to our friend Jack Rudloe. Jack was not disturbed by her hanging so close to him. I started always walking her with the leash on. One time she got confused and jumped in the car with perfect strangers and I had to drag her out by force.
In this set of pictures she is having one of her episodes.
Here she is exhibiting her ‘attach onto the nearest set of leg’ behaviour.
At the time I put her strange behaviour down to aging and maybe going deaf and blind. Yet, she seemed okay a lot of the time. She had some good days at the beach where she would run and play freely but she lacked her energetic interest in life. She seemed mostly quietly content. I noticed she was sleeping a lot more. She would sleep deeply for eight or nine hours. I also would find her under the table stuck or hiding from something. I don’t know what was going on with her. We once spent most of the afternoon hunting for her everywhere thinking she had gotten out of the fence and wandered off, which was very much not like her. We found her hiding in a space under the table, sound asleep. She didn’t wake up and notice us calling her. We made a trip to a vet down there but he couldn’t find anything specific and put it down to aging.
We got back to our home in Manitoba and I was hoping she would improve. She didn’t. New symptoms appeared. She began pacing at odd hours. On the one hand she would sleep for eight or nine hours without waking, deeply deeply asleep and hard to wake. On the other hand she would pace up and down, up and down, up and down. When she was awake she would often wander about aimlessly or stand without moving and cock her head to one side and the other and back again, droop, shiver and then look all confused. I was no longer seeing her happy expression. Every once in a while we would see a peek of the old Trusty. It became rare and I treasured those moments and would tell myself she was fine. Mostly I saw only the confused and unhappy dog.
Trusty also began to ask to go in and out repeatedly over and over and over again. It began to drive us nuts. It was hard to get any work done. She would stand next to us, let out this loud sharp bark to go out, she would go out and then bark to come back in. Literally two minutes later she would repeat the performance. While she was out she would forget to pee and then have an accident in the house. She previously had a really superior stomach clock and in the past she would bark at Dick when it was 4:00pm. She used to always get it within a few minutes except during the period after the changeover between daylight savings and standard or when our travels took us over a time zone. She lost this. We found ourselves getting impatient with her. This made her worse. She wanted to please us. She knew she wasn’t pleasing us. She didn’t understand why. Her solution was to withdraw and do more sleeping.
In May she started a new behaviour. She had always been prone to eating strange things but she began turning walks into battles to eat weeds. If there was any grass or weeds nearby she would stop walking and try to eat them. In the past we had the command “OFF!” and she would stop and drop it. The command no longer worked. The result was she would often eat something noxious and then get sick and vomit. She began fighting me when it was time to trim her nails and those paw pad callouses we had always struggled with on her paws got worse. She would no longer let me soak her feet in epsom salts to soften the callouses and trim them. Her nails got long. It became a battle to trim them and she was a strong dog.
She began passing gas that was so stinky you could hardly stand to be in the room with her. Her breath was often really foul as well. To me it smelled ketosic like she was dehydrated. Sometimes she would start drinking and then do her head tilt thing and forget to finish. When we went for a walk I would keep her on the leash and make her walk in the middle of the road where she couldn’t get at any weeds. Otherwise we didn’t walk. We fought. We started skipping walks which broke my heart. Sometimes we would take Fred and she would sleep through the walk preparations and still be asleep when we got back.
By June we were no longer including her in activities because it was too hard on her and us. We also couldn’t leave her alone because she would start eating things, or have an accident or walk herself into a corner and get stuck and cry. I put it down to canine dementia. She was nearly twelve years old. I read about accommodations for this and tried to institute them. It didn’t help. Trusty continued downhill at a far faster pace than dementia would suggest.
Whereas before we saw the old happy Trusty for at least a few hours a day, it now was down to 20 minutes of time each day with the old happy Trusty and the rest of the time just this sad confused strange little dog. It was heartbreaking to see her stand and then tilt her head from one side to the other several times as if trying to figure out what was going on. And then she would stand there in total confusion. She would walk up to us and bump us again and again. After these sessions of confusion, she would sometimes just stare at me with this sad sad look. She also stopped eating. She would often simply refuse her food. She would stand over it and sway her head back and forth and then walk away. Two or three days later she would get aggressive and wolf down both her food and Fred’s, driving his away from his dish with unusual force. Fred began acting afraid of her and started avoiding her. He also stopped eating and would look at his bowl with longing but be afraid to go forward and take his food because of anticipating an attack. We started feeding him outside so he could eat in peace. Yet, just when I was at my wits end with her she would have a few good minutes and our Trusty Dog was back.
The end came this past weekend. She ate something, who knows what. And she was sick all night. Diarrhea and vomiting, and it was a horrible mess. Plus both her eyes were full of white puss and her nose was streaming. I am very glad about one thing. I gave her a warm bath and very gently cleaned her up. I rinsed all the crud from her eyes and the white part was bright red. I put in some antihistamine drops and the red eased up very quickly and she seemed to find relief. For a short time after her bath she perked up. Even so we knew it was time.
We took her into the vet on Monday. I can’t describe how hard this is. At first the vet suggested, since Trusty’s physical shape was so good, that we try fancy dog food and maybe some medication for doggy dementia. I found myself in tears and I described how bad this poor little dog had gotten. How we only saw our Trusty for 20 minutes a day now and how it was getting worse. During all this Trusty just stood there, acting like her confused self. The vet watched this and he agreed it was time.
One very nice thing happened. The window to the office was low down and a horse was being brought in. Trusty became aware of the horse and she got up on the window and made her happy whine. A horse was nearby! In her last minutes she was happy. And then she went back to the head tilt, head tilt, and standing confused. She was gone soon afterward.
I was horribly upset with myself afterward and filled with guilt and regret. I cried and cried. Maybe I had pushed her too soon. Maybe my poor Trusty could have had more good times. Maybe I was cruel and selfish to not try to do more for her. I had another dog years before and I had waited far too long to put her down. I swore I would never let a dog suffer again like that. The dog would be put down as soon as quality of life was gone and not prolong the suffering. Yet maybe I had pushed Trusty too fast. Maybe she could have had a few more weeks. Maybe we should or could have done some tests and figured out what the issue was and fixed it.
I had a dream about her the first night after I killed her. She came to me and put her head down and asked me to look inside. I could see into her brain and I could see strange sparks and misfirings. And then she looked up at me, so tired and so unhappy, and she gave me a nose touch. I watched her run off in a meadow. There was a human of some sort with her and she was happy now. She did her happy bouncy jumping move, the move I had not seen in a long time and she was gone, following this figure. It was someone she knew and trusted. I am not sure who. We had a friend who died a few years ago who really liked Trusty even though she was not a dog person. Maybe it was her. I like to think so. Maybe it was an angel. Why shouldn’t dogs have a guardian angel?
Looking at all of Trusty’s pictures and preparing this farewell has given me sense of calm and peace with our decision to euthanize her. I don’t know for sure what was wrong with her. We did not pay for many expensive tests to try to find out why she deteriorated as quickly as she did. I don’t think it would have helped anyway. I no longer think it was canine dementia. More reading since that vivid dream has led me to think Trusty actually had some form of epilepsy. She was not having full blown grand mal seizures. She was having focal seizures or what would be called in people petite mal. When she paused and titled her head one way and then the other, dropped her head and gave a shiver that was probably a seizure. Maybe she had a brain tumour that was progressing. Maybe it was genetic. Purebred and line bred dogs sometimes have recessive diseases brought to the fore. It is a risk taken to improve the breed. The late onset suggests that was not it and it was more likely something acquired with age. Since we didn’t pay for a necropsy we will never know. I have known humans with epilepsy and they describe the after seizure period of confusion and exhaustion and sometimes head pain. Poor Trusty was suffering even if she was not in pain.
Trusty had a good life with us. She got to see and do many more things than most dogs do. She was loved and she had so much fun in her all too brief doggy life.
Good bye happy sweet kind soul. You will be sorely missed. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you. I’m sorry you couldn’t live forever.
“Our dogs want to please us, but keeping them alive for ourselves is a poor return for the love and joy they have given us. Letting them go with dignity when they are ready is a small but significant repayment for their devotion.” Maryann Szalka