Monday, December 25, 2017

Almanac. Chuck's Dog

I'm reposting this today, the 3-month anniversary of Duke's death. I changed by Facebook cover and profile picture for today. This is linked to my first post about Duke on Facebook.

What follows is a true story. It's about a dog named Duke. Other key players in this drama are Chuck-that's me, Leanne-my wife, Barb-my sister, and Ed-my brother-in-law.

Duke was a faithful companion for a decade. Early in our relationship, we got up at 3:00 a.m., M-F during the school year and walked about an hour each day. I'd drive 60 miles to work, teach, and drive 60 miles home. Duke was waiting for me at the door from the garage at least 90% of the time. 

He was my dog.

Warning! If you cry at movies or when you read books, get your tissues out for this blog post.

Chuck’s Dog

Life Before Duke
Neither my wife nor I had a dog when we got married. As soon as we moved into our first house—1973—we bought a puppy. It was a Sheltie/Chihuahua mix. Big eyes and ears. A great howler. We named her Taffy.
The first Taffy. Howling with Ed.
We adopted our first son, Steve, in 1976. Taffy was not happy with the demotion to last dog in the pack pecking order. She hung in there, however, until our organic son, Doug, was born in 1980. Being 5th in a five-dog pack was too much. When she began snapping at our youngest, we had to take her to the animal shelter.

The next two dogs were transients by there choice. Both escaped the confines of our quarter-acre fenced yard.

When Doug was at camp in the summer of 1989, we bought an AKC dachshund. The result of a breeding mistake between a standard and miniature, Taffy—creative naming, right?—was long, tan, and not too big. He was our dog for 16 years. He died just after Thanksgiving of 2005.

 We knew we wanted another dog, but we had no timeline for acquisition.

Taffy #2 Guarding the Backyard
Discovery Day
My sister and I went to a rescue dog adoption event at the PETCO in Rancho San Diego during the last week of 2005. There were many dogs. Most were yappy Chihuahua mixes or large breeds. One small black dog lay in a crate ignoring the cacophony around him. When we go to the end of the line, I asked the rescue dog lady if I could see him.

“There’s no little black dog,” my sister said.

“There’s one,” I replied.

Minutes later, I was walking the black dog on a makeshift leash. Duke was a dachshund mix. Long like a doxie with teeth like a Rottweiler. Go ahead and think about potential parents. I’ve done it hundreds of times.
Photos of Duke at the rescue event.
I called my wife, who came over during her lunch break. She sat with Bart—as we called him then. When she watched me walk him, she said, “He prances like he’s something special. We should name him Duke.”

I’d wanted a dog named Duke for a long time, so it was an easy call.

Duke’s left eyelid was turned under. The eyelashes were always in his eye. Part of the fee we paid included the operation to turn the lid out. The vet donated most of the cost of the surgery. We picked up a spayed Duke with no eyelashes in his eyes a little over a week later. Oh, yeah. Keep track of veterinary issues as we go along. Leave a lot of room on the list.

As we were putting Duke into his harness to ride in the car, we found out from one of the rescue crew that Duke normally held both urine and feces until he was out of his crate. If he couldn’t hold it, he always went in the same spot.

“Some of these dogs just let it go anywhere. They end up coated in the stuff,” was the final comment before we took off.

Speaking of car harnesses, I don’t think any dog should ride in a car without one on. This routine was soon a habit. Whenever we just stuck Duke in the back seat while we got the harness, he went to his side, sat, and waited to be hooked in place.
Duke and Hogan in my car. WITH HARNESSES ON. Duke was always behind the front passenger's seat, so I could turn my head and see him.
 Three vets agreed that Duke was about 18-months old when we got him. He was from Imperial County, California and had been rescued from the overflow—next to be euthanized—room of an animal shelter just outside El Centro.

The Friendship Begins
I’d just finished listening to Caesar Milan’s book on dog training while driving to and from Great Oak High when we got Duke. We adopted several of his techniques. The most important from our point of view are

  • Don’t let the dog go into your house the first time before you. You are the pack leader. The house is your den. As the alpha dog, go in first and invite the newbie in.
  • When the dog acts out, use your hand and “mom’s mouth.” Grab the dog at the base of the neck. Squeeze. Push the dog down to the ground. Hold him in place until he relaxes. Release your grip and move your hand to cover his eyes. Removing your hand is when it’s okay to get up.
  • Only high ranking dogs in the pack control food distribution. Keep reading for more about this.

The day we brought Duke home, I went in first. Once he was inside, we unleashed him. He sniffed around. We went to the doggie door. Three trips through with our help were all he needed to master the task. His first solo exit ended with him drinking out of the fishpond in our backyard.

BTW. Duke never defecated inside our house. He urinated maybe twice in spite of being trapped inside from 4:30 a.m., when I left for work, and 3:30 p.m. when I got home when Leanne forgot to open the doggie door before she left for work.

I took Duke to training at a reduced rate from PETCO. The most important things I learned there were
  • The size of the reward for obedience isn’t important to the dog.
  • The command “WAIT” is the best command in the world. STAY means don’t move until released. WAIT should have a released gesture or sound, but it’s a temporary position.

By the end of class, Duke could SIT, SHAKE, WAIT, ROLLOVER, and LAYDOWN. It was common for him to go through the whole list if you commended him to do any one of them while you were holding a treat.

He didn’t need much help with the leash. By the third or fourth walk, he’d go in front until the leash was tight. Then he’d slow down until the leash rested on his back. The only times he pulled on the leash were

  • When he saw a white pick-up truck. Silver was a trigger, too but no other color. Spotting one of those trucks ignited a sprint to the end of the leash and rotate 180-degrees when the leash tightened. I suspect he’d been abused by white pickup trucks in the fields around El Centro.
  • When, for some reason, he was done walking. At that point, he’d flop on his side and become dead weight. I’ve pulled him for several feet until it was obvious he wanted to turn around. Fortunately, that behavior was rare and ended quickly.

Speaking of walking, in his prime years, Duke and I would walk at least 25-miles per week. He never had much of a weight problem.

We bought disaster coverage insurance the first year we had Duke. It covered surgery, emergency rooms, and other major issues. Beginning the second year, we switched to a comprehensive plan through Banfield. Two free comprehensive exams, shots, free office visits per year. As you see, those coverages were good to have.

Banfield's clinic is inside Pet Smart. We walked to most vet visits. 

The first time he went to Banfield for his comprehensive, all the doctors, nurses, and assistants that day were females. When I picked him up, I saw an $8 charge for Aggression Management. When I asked, they explained that meant that they had to use multiple personnel to keep him from biting the vet and vet assistants. The boldface print in the first sentence explains why. Once Duke learned females weren't all bad, those charges stopped.

By the time Duke died, everyone in our Banfield was a fan of him and Hogan. In fact, when his primary care doctor moved out of state, she told me that she'd miss Duke and Hogan, "and not too many others. They're like family."

U.S. Letter Carriers & All Diesel Delivery Trucks

Most dogs don't like delivery people. The most reasonable explanation for that I've heard is that they approach the den but never enter. Dog's interpret that as a sign of aggression against the pack

Letter carriers were the favorite target. FedEx trucks on our street were almost always diesel. That noise ranked second. Squeaky brakes by any truck sparked at least token barking.

While both Duke and Hogan barked like crazy, Duke almost always initiated the full-volume vocal attack. He always hip-checked Hogan out of the window beside the door. The hip-check was an uncommon act but by Duke. Hogan always wiggled to the front of the line when ear scratching or other PDAs were handed out. 

Now, if it was food, Hogan didn't really stand a chance.

Duke loved the house I grew up in. It's in Spring Valley, California. The backyard is about one-quarter acre. It slopes slightly up to the back fence. Bancroft Drive runs on a berm above the back fence. 

People walked, jogged, and rode bicycles on Bancroft. That was unacceptable to Duke. He'd barrel out the back door and sprint up the slope, barking to beat the band. Hogan usually joined the defense move, but Duke always led the charge. It was amazing to see stubby little legs propelling a nearly flat black blur toward the fence.
Guarding mom's backyard at night from the safety of the lighted patio. Note the tail is in the take-off position! 
We’d had Duke for about a year when we adopted a second dog. Hogan was my organic son’s dog. Allergy issues were one reason for the adoption. Nice dog. Completely different personality from Duke. They were as different as black and white.

They became buddies. People asked if they were littermates. That I never understood. 

Hogan: Chihuahua and Jack Russell Terrier mix. Long legs. Can jump on a dining table and has for sweet foods.
Duke: Dauschund and ?? Had the canine teeth of a Rottweiler. Stubby legs. Long body. 

The biggest difference between the dogs was their response to the WAIT command. Hogan sits and trembles with anticipation. Duke stood or sat like the Sphinx a steely stare boring into the command-giver.

The Stare. This one is demanding a carrot.
When we got Duke home from the rescue people, we discovered that he hated females. This really upset my sister. If a female reached for him, he’d growl. I mentioned his teeth above. We were worried about this trait.

I must say that Duke ignored most people, tolerated some people, liked a few people, and loved me. Over the years his love list grew to include Leanne and Barb, but not many others. 

As a result of this serious difference in attitude and actions towards me, Ed began telling people, "That's Chuck's dog" when asked about Duke. Not "Leanne and Chuck's dog." Chuck's dog. Period. That never changed from either side of the relationship

My wife began feeding Duke. Put the food in the dish. Say WAIT. Put the food down and say OKAY while giving a hand signal. It didn’t take long for Duke to allow Leanne to pick him up. Well, to be honest, he never liked anyone to pick him up. Ever.

For my sister, she began putting her hands on Duke’s sides and saying, “Hug.” We began saying, “Hug,” whenever we picked him up. After about six months, my sister could pick him up. We left him with my sister while we traveled. After that week, Duke and my sister were best buddies. I’m not sure my brother-in-law ever made it all the way to the buddy category.
Saving the world from turtles in Barb's backyard.
The first day we had Duke home, he squeezed under the gate to our backyard. He went around the house. The college student who was renting a room found him on the front porch when she got home. I fixed the fence. Duke never left the house or yard after that to escape—except to chase a pickup truck or two.

Scary Times
The first scary time was a Sunday morning. Duke and I just finished our 2-mile+ walk. As we turned on to the path down the side of the house, I saw two large dogs skulking along the neighbor’s house.

Within seconds, Duke and I were in a pincer move by two Pit Bulls.

I grabbed Duke with my left arm and held him close to me while I pushed on one dog with my right hand, holding it away from Duke. The other dog grabbed Duke by the back of the neck.

I forgot the first dog and poked the attacking dog in the eye with my right hand, screaming all the while.

I heard a sound behind me, as did the Pit Bulls. My neighbor heard the screams and was waving a rake. The attackers loped away.

I shoved Duke through our gate to the backyard and started after the Pit Bulls. They were meandering down the sidewalk. I stopped to watch where they were headed. They caught my scent, turned around, and started toward me.

I took a step toward them, and they stopped.

I turned to head back to my house, and they resumed stalking me.

My neighbor moved between the dogs and me waving her rake from side to side.

The dogs turned and jogged away.

A door to one of the houses across the street opened and a woman stepped out. The Pit Bulls ran up their walk and past the woman into the house. She closed the door behind her.

I went to the end of her driveway.

“Your dogs just attacked me and my dog!”

“My dogs never leave the yard,” was her answer. She went back into her house.

I called animal control. They came out, examined the fence of the Pit Bull house, and required the owners to fix a gate latch and some loose fence boards.

I didn’t take Duke to the vet because, besides hiding in my closet after the ordeal, seemed to have no ill effects. A couple of weeks later, I was scratching Duke’s back and scab material flew out. The Pit Bull had drawn blood.

The second scary time was also on a walk, but this time we’d just turned up the hill at the end of our street. Duke stuck his nose into some appealing smell, yelped, leaped back, and collapsed. His back legs were limp.

I carried him to home, loaded him in the car, and drove straight to the vet. The doctor held him under his front legs and pulled his legs toward the examination table. Both feet clunked into the table’s edge.

“That shouldn’t happen,” the vet said. “Dogs will pull their legs up at first contact. I’m afraid this is related to his dachshund physique. Keep him in his crate for a week. You’ll have to carry him out to relieve himself. If he doesn’t improve bring him back.”

We did as directed. Within two days he was able to navigate the dog door. By the end of the week, he was his old self. We still don’t know what happened, but it never happened again.

The next crisis was another oddity. During one of his comprehensive examination, the blood work came back with a very high titer for a specific antibody. The vet ran the blood two more times, each with the same result. She sent a sample away for more analysis.

The diagnosis that came from the advanced analysis was vague. The vet researched the phenomenon. She couldn’t believe what she found as the most probable diagnosis.

After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of dogs and cats were shipped far from New Orleans because the owners had no way to take care of them. Their fleas and ticks traveled along.
There is a disease known as Ehrlichiosis that is carried by ticks. It’s very common in the southern U.S. Until Katrina, it was of little concern in California. Duke was diagnosed with the disease.

The vet called a colleague in New Orleans early in the process to ask about the course of the disease and treatments. Her friend reported that the symptoms and complications were so diverse that it was hard to say for certain. A round of antibiotics knocked down the infection, but his titers remained high the rest of his life.

 The Beginning of The End.
One day, I noticed a scaly crust on Duke’s abdomen. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. It’s a malfunction of the adrenal gland. Too much adrenalin is produced. Symptoms include the calcium crust, muscle loss, and extreme thirst among others. I rubbed DMSO on his abdomen daily for the last 19-months of his life. The DMSO carried the calcium back into his body. He smelled a lot like garlic for about an hour after each treatment, but he didn’t have scaly crust anymore.

Two comprehensive exams before he died, the vet heard a heart murmur. It got worse. His skeletal muscle degraded from the Cushing’s.

Duke was a smart dog. He never tried to get up on any furniture during his last couple of years. Early on, he’d sprint around the living room, banking off the sofa and love seat. He’d launch himself and land on our bed like a box of rocks. To this day, Hogan jumps onto the bed with grace and lands like a feather touching the covers.

Duke always came with a single whistle or the "snick" sound I made with my tongue. And, he recognized car sounds as mine or Leanne's vehicle. He lost his hearing very quickly about two months before the end. 

There was a window of maybe a month where more "snick"s or whistles were needed. But, he was deaf soon after I noticed any decline. 

The clincher was one day I came home from working with student writers in Ramona. Duke was at his post on the rug in the foyer, but he was sitting at attention while looking out the tall, skinny window next to the front door. That spot by the window was his letter carrier attack center.

I opened the door from the garage to the foyer. Hogan trotted over from the living room. Duke sat, ramrod straight, ears cocked, eyes out the window.

I "snick"ed.
Duke did nothing.
I whistled.
Duke did nothing.
I walked over to him.
He did nothing.
I squeezed his ear between my fingers, one of the things he loved best.
He gave a start, looked at me, turned, and leaned in for more squeezing and rubbing.

I made sure I did more ear scratching, squeezing, and rubbing after that.

Into the Sunset
He woke up his last day and couldn’t eat his food—too much of the masseter muscle had degraded. He and Hogan were at my sister’s because Leanne and I were visiting our granddaughters in Wisconsin. I came to pick the dogs up around 10:00.

Hogan was outside. That was his normal location at Barb’s house.

Duke was in his bed. Barb had covered him with a light blanket. When I came in, he barked twice. Struggled out of bed and managed to head in my direction.

Barb told me about breakfast.

By then, Duke’s breathing was shallow and labored. I called Leanne and took him straight to the vet. I did not put his car harness on. He didn't give me "the look" like he always did when we didn't strap in to ride in the car. I knew he was worse than I'd thought. I put him in the passenger seat, stroked his head, and scratched his ears while I drove.

When we got to the vet, I sat Duke on the asphalt and started walking. I looked behind me. For about five seconds, Duke pranced just like the day we adopted him.

He staggered. I picked him up and carried him inside. His breathing was labored. I was crying. Somehow I managed to convey to the reception desk that Duke was most likely dying.

Leanne arrived. They put Duke, Hogan, Leanne, and me in an exam room and blocked off the window in the door. We cried and hugged Duke for what seemed like a long time. One of the vet assistants took him in the back. The vet carried him back to us.

“He’s really in distress,” she said.

All I could do was nod.

Chuck’s dog died in my arms at 11:30 on November 15, 2017, while we told him how much we loved him through our tears. He was probably 11-years old. 

I mentioned the vets above. This day, our vet and I hugged as we cried unabashedly. I cannot thank her enough for her kindness toward Duke, Leanne, Hogan, and me that day. 

We got a sympathy card from Banfield a week after Duke died. I suspect that's SOP. Never-the-less, it was nice to see the vet's name and the others we'd come to know by name.

I hope all dogs go to heaven. I'm not convinced of the theological soundness of that position, but my next Timeless Truths blog, THURSDAY, is titled: Spiritual Lessons I Learned from My Dog.

It took me a long time to write the last 12 paragraphs. I had to stop five times because I was crying too hard to see the computer screen. Once, I picked up Hogan and hugged him through my tears and sobs. He licked my face, something Duke might have done to me 10-times in his life.
Clockwise from top left. First hat. On the old backyard steps at our house. With a chew toy--Duke's Godzilla teeth destroyed heady-duty Kongs in 3 months! At Crown Point. Rolling on the new artificial turf while it's warming in the driveway before installation. Sunning on the new steps in our backyard. Center: Chuck and Chuck's Dog taking a nap, which we both liked immensely! I still nap . . . bbut it's lonely without my dog .
I think Hogan misses Duke off and on.
I know that I miss Duke all the time. Because
I'm Chuck, and Duke was Chuck’s dog.

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

I'd appreciate your feedback as a comment on Blogger!


Follow A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer by Email