As I was finally nodding off the other night around 2:00, our dog, Barry, suddenly thrust himself to his feet and stood rigid alongside my side of the bed. I assumed he felt cold from the central air running and wanted to curl up at the foot of the bed. I stroked his neck and back and told him that it was okay if he wanted to get on the bed. But in the dim light entering the room from a street light, his left side lost strength and he softly rolled to the floor.
Barry is an energetic, athletic, intelligent, 60-lb., five-year-old golden lab mix. What he is mixed with, could be husky or even coyote. We are not sure. He has a coyote-ness to his bark and a howl. He has been a destructive chewer in his earlier years… wooden staircase spindles, newel post, leather sectional, toys, stuffed toys, pens, and pencils. Occasionally he still nabs an overlooked kid’s toy and gnarls it to bits when we are away, but it serves as an incentive for our kids to pick up their toys. He always has chewed things when we were away. He has separation anxiety.
The anxiety may be due to his early life in a no-kill animal shelter. He was adopted as a pup by a family with an expecting mother. When the baby was born, as puppies are apt to do, Barry barked. This created a problem. He was returned to the shelter. I adopted him and Bert. Bert is almost a year older golden lab mix of a bigger build who had spent most of his first year-and-a-half of life in the shelter. Bert is a calmer, affectionate dog, who thinks he is a 90-lb. lap dog.
Bert and Barry have been good friends and playmates since I brought them home from The A.R.K. They run and wrestle outdoors for play and wrestle indoors as they compete for two large Nylabones. They seem a healthy, happy, Purina Dog Chow eating pair of canines.
But Barry was suddenly anything but healthy the other night. He knew I was there beside him as I rolled him back to a position where he was resting on his belly. I petted him and soothed him, before waking my wife to tell her that something was wrong with Barry. She flipped on a night light. She joined me as we pet Barry and let him know that we were there.
Barry was rigid and panting through a closed mouth. His pupils were dilated, but it could have been due to the low level of light in the room. My wife and I talked about calling the vet, but with me being unemployed we could ill afford a bill from the vet. So we started trying to assess his status.
I lifted him to his feet. To our surprise he stood weakly and stayed on his feet. Barry still seemed rigid. Next we asked him if he wanted to go outside. That usually perks him up. He took a few staggering steps and stayed on his feet. Meanwhile I had moved to the top of the staircase and was considering what would be the easiest way to carry him down the stairs. He and Bert proceeded down the stairs. Barry haltingly, but under his own power. He remained unsteady as I slipped collars and leashes on him and Bert.
We plunged into the darkness, the three of us. Barry staggered around the yard as I asked him if he needed to go to the bathroom. He lowered his back legs almost to the ground and then lifted slightly and peed. Still shaky he walked about thirty feet and pooped. Afterward he took a few more shaky steps. Suddenly he started to lunge full strength, trying to pull me down the sidewalk for a nighttime walk. Just as quickly as his weakness came on, it left. He has been fine since then.
My wife and I think he had a slight stroke. I had heard of transient ischemic attack, a warning stroke that gives temporary stroke symptoms which lasts on average five minutes. It results in no lasting damage. Another thought was he had tensed up from needing to go to the bathroom, but he had been taken outside around midnight and routinely makes it through the night without accident. I plan to take him to the vet as soon as I can afford it. I have another job interview on Wednesday. Hopefully, I get the job and start soon.
People with pets know that they are family members in their own ways. They are friends to take a walk with, exercise with, spend time with, relax with. Unfortunately, pets have short lifespans compared to their human owners. Pets almost always die before their owners. It is a part of pet ownership, many do not want to think of. When a pet’s health fails, the anxiety can be just as great as if another family member’s health was failing. When a pet dies, the grief can be deep and lasting.
For now, Barry is back to being himself. We watch him more closely now. Wondering. Looking for him first thing in the morning, if he is not sleeping nearby. Taking time to pet him and Bert a few more times during the day than we had before. Enjoying the walks with them with greater depth. We make sure they both know they are appreciated.
This scare of the other night reminded my wife and I, that for the dogs and the family, it’s more than a dog’s life.