The Beginning A Good Dog Story
As a dog trainer, I have shared my life with many dogs. I have had the good fortune to have had one amazing dog who took my life on unanticipated adventures and taught me to embrace life with all of my heart. Fabulous Earl is my German Shorthaired Pointer. The following is his life story, as I know it.
In 2009 I made the move onto my farm property on Vancouver Island. I soon lost my best dog, a german shorthaired pointer named Merlin, to cancer. My friend, Larissa, ran a dog rescue. It wasn’t long after Merlin’s demise that she called me, wondering if I could foster a German Shorthaired Pointer. The dog in question, Earl had been picked up by the Vancouver City Pound 6 times. The owners only came to bail him out 5 times. For Earl, stealing bananas and other delicacies from the open air markets of Commercial Drive in Vancouver was a good way to spend lonely days. At least one Italian shop owner disagreed with his criminal activities.
I agreed to take Earl as a foster only. I would train him up and then we’d work to find him a perfect home. When Earl arrived, he was a gangly, skinny, enthusiastic adolescent dog of about 2 or 3 years. Earl had enthusiasm and zest. He came with a blanket that he would whip about his head until his entire head was completely concealed. He would then run around play biting anyone within reach. Earl would jump up on visitors in a frenzied greeting ritual.
The King Of Thieves
Within days, it became apparent that Earl had a coffee addiction that might have been worse than my own. I had a Ford E350 15 passenger bus in those days. I used it to drive around, picking up dogs between Campbell River and Comox, and taking them on mountain hikes. 15 dogs could play and run off energy at lakes and rivers where we would bother no one.
I typically started the day at the Mcdonald’s drive through in Campbell River, where I would pick up a large coffee. After the first time I did this with Earl, I went to take my coffee from the built in cup holder in the console of the bus. My hand clutched air. I could smell the coffee. Did it spill somehow? I pulled over and looked on the floor. My coffee had clearly vanished, leaving only its wonderful scent. I looked in the rear view mirror and frowned.
There was my large, delicious cup of coffee between Earls front paws as he lay stretched along the plush bench seat. The plastic lid sat on the seat beside him as if he had carefully taken it off before beginning to lap up the still hot coffee out the cup. I had to laugh. I quickly turned the bus around and went back to McDonald’s and ordered another coffee, and after that I always ordered an extra cup to pour a little into for Earl.
For a few years, we did hikes together. Earl stopped jumping up on people, but he was still the worst food thief I ever met. A bunch of bananas carelessly left on the counter would be surreptitiously be taken onto the couch. There they would peeled and devoured, one by one until they were nothing but a neat pile of banana peels. Not only theft but robbery too. Earl would snatch a sandwich held carelessly in hand. Any attempts to hold onto it were met by threatening teeth on one’s wrist and hard eyes. This dog had learned some bad habits, and also did not trust humans on any level.
I found out Earl had been bounced through a series of foster homes. I knew changing his home again would cause him to trust people even less. Like any reactive dog, Earl would respond to change with even more aggression. He was a good dog. He deserved better. I would keep him and we would muddle through together.
One day, trick dog performer, Kyra Sundance invited me to come to her Trick Dog Instructor’s workshop in California. Tricks had always been a passion of mine, so I was eager to attend. I would bring Earl and work him through the program. Over the 3 day course, Earl learn 48 different tricks. He was exhausted at the end of each day. He was finally calm and attentive and interested in working with me. When I came home, I collected equipment and then began teaching trick dog courses. Earl was my demo dog and was my right hand man. Whether it was demonstrating hoop jumps, fetching beverages or playing a toy piano, Earl was happy to work.
Earl became an important part of every aspect of my life. He always liked to sleep with his his head on a pillow and I had to wake him up and tell him to move over at least once in the night. He always responded by getting up and moving over. When you take time to teach a dog the meaning of such words, they appreciate the communication and are happy to comply. Earl even liked to hug people that were special to him, something he learned from watching people greet one another.
Earl came to work with me and helped other dogs learn they didn’t have to react to other dogs. He eventually grew to dislike this work and one day he flat out refused the come with me on a call. So I retired him from helping with this aspect of my work. The other dogs were more patient with it and were happy to come.
Earl enjoyed hiking and running with his many dog friends in the mountains, and playing and swimming at the beach where we now reside in the winter months. He loved children and other animals. He enjoyed travelling and exploring and he especially loved seeing Gavin, Kelsea and Morgan my grandson, George. Earl made every effort to hang out with them and play with them when we visited on our travels. George was one of his favorite people in the world, and he’d follow him around the acreage, a true playmate.
After that first year, I invited my graduate students to form a performing trick dog team. We had all kinds of dogs on the team. There was an Entlebucher, 2 Basset Hounds, a Black Lab, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Dog, and a special reserve mix from Alberta. Alice and Esta made guest appearances. it would clearly demonstrate that force- free dog training could work with any dog. The team performed at events up and down Vancouver Island. Earl worked hard and perform up to 20 tricks in any show.
Earl also learned to herd goats. I had trained Esta the finer points of goat herding, and I knew Earl could learn this skill too. He was as good at herding as any border collie.
In 2020 Covid Arrived
2020 brought shutdowns of all public events. There was nowhere to perform anymore so the team floundered. Esta and then ALice passed on in old age. Earl was still my stalwart companion, but as the years progressed, he stopped wanting to join in on hikes. He preferred to stay and sleep in the xTerra while everyone else went hiking. He was a senior. So I kind of expected that.
A few years ago Earl developed a strange, retching cough. His huge, loud bark gradually became a hoarse whisper. The vet said it was due to a condition known as laryngeal paralysis which would proceed and get worse. In February this year it did. A short walk ended with Earl gasping for breath. Dr.Topic said Earl would have to stop walking and would change out his collar for a harness. We stopped walking any distances. Then one day Earl gasped for breath and collapsed on the ground. I was relieved when he got his breath back as I comforted him.
Dr Topic recommended a course of Doxepin and gave me some injections for breathing crisis emergencies. Earl did well for a few months until last night. Last night was his last breathing crisis.
The Last Stand
I am still pretty shaken. I gave him some subcutaneous injections to help open his larynx. After an hour and a half, Earl was obviously higher than a kite and exhausted. At least he wasn’t struggling to breathe anymore. We live at the end of a short lane, and we had walked to the beginning of the lane when he suddenly started gasping for breath and looked for me and then collapsed as I comforted him.
I sat with him for a while and comforted him and then ran to get his emergency meds. When I got back I gave him one injection and waited for 15 minutes for it to take effect. When nothing was changing I gave him another one. I sat with him in the lane for another 1/2 an hour comforting him as he gasped for breath. His tongue and gums were blue. It was awful. I finally thought to go and get the xTerra, where he would be more comfortable and not in the middle of the lane. So I got it and I managed to get his 75 lb hulk into it.
Earl struggled to breathe for another 45 minutes before finally succumbing to exhaustion and drugs. The pink colour finally came back to his mouth again. But he is still in the xTerra and I don’t want to move him until he is feeling better. I can’t let him go through that again. It was so horrible. I am going to let him go at 2:45 today. My heart is broken. The only bad part of having a good dog is this. They never live long enough.