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Posts Tagged ‘Appalachian Porch Hound Post Script’

Toby and Me: Requiem for An Appalachian Porch Hound

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 25, 2018

I started writing this requiem in April of 2017, while watching Marley and Me (by accident) with Toby. I had read the book many years before. On this particular afternoon we were both home alone and I happened to flip channels just as the movie started….and I was sucked in. Looking over at Toby towards the end of the movie I knew that when the time came, I would be a wreck. That being the case, I decided to start on this post while we were still in the good times. When there were changes in our life together or if I was worried about him, I would come back to this post and tinker with it add in more details. It helped me focus on one thing – writing – instead of a dread of what was to come. There are less than a handful of things that could bring me to tears, the one sure thing is a dying dog. Especially, MY dog. My best friend and my most loyal associate – Tobias J. Dog. Readers encountered Toby many times here over the years….

I had too many chances to practice our end. Toby had a 1.5 pound tumor removed from his front leg and chest in January 2015. He barely survived that. I barely survived that. We both fought hard during his recovery to get him back to his prime form. He had a smaller tumor removed from his rear leg in August of 2015. Both times he had very bumpy convalescences. Toby does not do well with pain medications and he does not do well with being dependent. The same for me.

Our toughest challenge was December of 2016. After a two month stint of CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin being sick, I came home one Friday afternoon, looking forward to a house with no impaired inhabitants and an opportunity to catch up a gigantic backlog of work in my office. Instead, I found Toby lying in vomit on the floor having what looked like a seizure. I could see he was dying. I was not ready for that. It took about 3 hours to get into the vet, by that time, he was no longer rolling his eyes but could not walk.

As I carried him through the door I thought the odds of putting him down were against his favor. He had other plans. At the vet, I was told he had Old Dog Vestibular Disease, which mirrors a stroke. He was given some anti-nausea medication and a very poor prognosis. If I could get Toby to eat, he would probably live. If not, his stomach would twist and that would be that. Toby going an hour without wanting food was nearly unheard of, so I figured he would be back on track within a day. I was wrong. I spent the next several days carrying Toby outside to go to bathroom and helping him stay upright. During the night I slept with him on the floor or a couch to be ready to get him out the door when he needed it. When I went upstairs, Toby did not attempt to follow…. and that never happens – he is always in line of sight of me. That was a very bad sign. VERY BAD. I could always count on him being within five feet in most circumstances unless food, a fetching lass or a squirrel is nearby.

The bigger concern was food consumption. He would not eat. No ice cream. No steak. After a few days a bit of a hamburger. I did do some research and found a vet prescribed “crack-like” wet dog food that was considered a sure thing. Not quite (it smelled atrocious) but he ate some. After two days he started to get back on his feet like a drunken sailor. Then Toby decided that the wanted to go back to a steak only diet. (“Tobias, T-Bone does not stand for Toby bone”). That lasted a few more days. After two weeks he was back to about 85% of his old self and after a few months, 88%. He had taken a hit and the biggest damage was to his “irrational exuberance”. His back legs never got back to normal. Over the course of 2017, his hind legs started to fade due to old age and neurological damage. We saw the intensity of his many interests fade with one exception, he became even more of a food mooch. His ability to continually place himself in the path of CMH Spouse causing near fatal falls (daily) increased exponentially – increasing the likelihood of one accidental death (CMH Spouse) and one murder (CMH Tobias) ten-fold. As the year progressed we also saw a 420% increase in Bambi slides on any non carpeted surface and non-controlled falls down stairs. For me, barely accepting my own ungraceful aging, facing Toby’s mortality daily was increasingly demoralizing. While his mind and spirit were still strong his self-sufficiency and rock solid self-esteem was in a rapid decline.

As 2018 progressed we added daily pooping inside the house, often twice per day, sometimes thrice. The year 2018 has been an absolutely painful year for our family and the decline of my old friend was draining in many ways. Some days, I just hoped Toby would die soon. I did not want hime gone but it was painful to experience him descending into decrepitness. I felt guilty about my thoughts but it was hard to see him suffer while my heart and soul were running on fumes for related and unrelated reasons. The daily addition of poop to scoop inside our house combined with daily carpet cleaning usually right after I let him back inside or when returning from a five-minute walk was demoralizing to both of us. On occasion, I found him trying to eat the evidence. He could not stand or walk on our wood or tile floors so we kept adding more and more rugs to each of the rooms so he could move around the house without wiping out. We had a vet visit in February which showed a major increase in negative liver and kidney values and a decline in his neurological function in his hind quarters. There was a pretty good chance either of this ailments could be related to a tumor of some sort. As I talked about the struggles in our household some people told me to just put Toby down (the vet never suggested that). I knew his time was limited and I was waiting for a sign that he was ready or that it was the right time. In the back of my mind, I was hoping he could make it to his sixteenth birthday (120 in dog years) which was either March or May. His mind and spirit were still there but we were watching his body rapidly declining. He never expressed any pain and any trial of pain medication seemed to make him worse. He could half-heartily wag his tag and never at full arch. His tail was no longer the constantly curled, spring-like whip of his first 15 years. I noticed that he did not bark any more and vocalized less…but his eyes were bright and his “smile” was often wide. At night, with a lot of effort, he would find a way to make sure he was touching a part of me with part of him.

In May of 2018, we got to the point where he could not meander upstairs on his own, without falling back to the bottom four times. He could not travel down the stairs with any controlled direction. Then he could not sleep without falling off the bed several times. After two weeks of sleep deprivation, a child with croup twice, me with pneumonia and having stepped in poop at least three times, it was time for a dreaded change. At the end of May, he was exiled to sleeping in my first floor office at night. The door is mostly glass so I could see his face reflect the absolute betrayal he felt. After fourteen plus years of devoted loyalty: sleeping with me most of that time while enduring girlfriends, my extended disappearances to the antipodes, a wife that came with her own dog and then a child with an aptitude for stepping on him like a cushion – I had finally failed the pact of our pack. The year 2018 (so far) has been among my lowest of years, this moment of first exiling him in the office was the nadir of nadirs. My greatest best friend had decompensated from the epitome of vigor and the supreme example of the finest Appalachian Porch Hound of our era to an Appalling Poop Hound. There was nothing I could do to slow or stop the decline. And I had nothing left in me to fight it or to fight hard for him. As we entered June, he had two more vestibular attacks which lasted hours instead of days. He somehow rebounded slightly better than before each time and he had some semi-OK days. On some days it looked like he might rally for a run at 2019, on other days not so much. Through all of this he was still the greatest food mooch of all time. Over the last year he had dropped from 66 to 57 pounds but could still eat all day if allowed….and he tried.

But let’s journey back to the beginning before detailing the end. Born in March or May 2002, I know little about his first 18 months of life. I do know he was in at least eight foster homes before we crossed paths. I know he is was a non graduate of the Chillicothe Correctional Center’s Dog socialization program. I know he had a serial adopter named T****** (name hidden to protect her stupidity) that went back and forth on committing to him as a long-term dog and at one point had a boyfriend determined to transform Toby into a spike collared fighter. Throughout 2003, a co-worker pestered me about adopting this dog. He was in bad straits. No one would take him. I saw a photo of him in his spiked collar looking like a beast and gave a firm thumbs down. He was too big and a brute. I did not have time for a dog between work, graduate school, freelance writing, traveling and the occasional girlfriend, I was not home long enough to socialize anything, including myself on more than a few occasions. By February of 2004, I had finished school and was in between projects so I finally relented to foster Toby for two weeks. I would give his current foster a short break and could test the idea of sharing my living space with another creature (human or canine).

On a Friday night of President’s Day weekend (3 day weekend for me as a government drone), he walked into my house as if he owned it. I had a dog crate from a previous shared custody canine, a few hand me down dog items and an open mind. I discovered that what I had been told – he can’t be walked was largely true. I discovered this by having him pull, tug and generally drag me down my street with the strength of a full dog sled team. After a couple of weeks, it turned into a controlled drag with an occasional yanking out of my arm sockets. On our first night together, he crated without incident then proceeded to cry non stop for two hours. When I let him out, he pretended to head for the kitchen to get a drink then did a 180 and ran at high-speed before vaulting 5 feet high and 10-12 feet long to land in the middle of my bed. Once he spot was secure, he refused to move. That was a routine we maintained for the better part of our time together. Some nights I would hear the run, then a whoosh in the air and wait for him to land sprawled out next to me, mostly missing my body by 1/2 millimeter or less.

After the previous foster opted to extend to two week “break” to disappearing, I found myself with a long-term foster dog. I set about going to as many dog adoption events as I could take Toby to find him a proper home. Each was a disaster. He was so excited to be in those environments. He would tug, bark, whine and generally act like an enhanced version of the spirited freak he is. On only one occasion did he calm down. A woman walked toward us that must have looked similar to someone in his past because he instantly sat still and behaved in a very calm manner with only a slightly panting tongue and very big smile. I was certain she must be a long-lost owner. I was sure she was a perfect fit for him, something that could finally tame this savage beast. But she just looked (I was acting well-behaved too and maybe a bit puppy eyed) at both of us, made a face and could not get away from both of us fast enough. In my mind I thought she mouthed freak(s). We shared that rejection together which completed our bond. I was still determined to find his “real” home with someone who was home much more often than me and ideally had a child or ten to burn off some of his boundless energies.

Things did not get much better from there. I took him to an area of the park where dog owners hung out for bonding and socializing. Some dude with a giant dog started yelling – “get that Pit Bull away from here”. I looked around trying to find where the offending dog was and watched the dog in my custody running to the fray. When I retrieved Toby, I had a few choice words with this guy. This would not be the first time or the last time Toby was labeled a pit bull.

I then set Toby up with a perfect foster match. I was going to Europe for a couple of weeks and had a co-worker with acres of property and two playful dogs. I asked if Toby could stay with them while I was gone, and in the hour I stayed with them after Toby was dropped off I watched him run and play with his tongue hanging out non stop. He was in dog heaven and I pulled aways with a light heart and a smile on my face. When I returned stateside I called to check up on him (wanting to know when I should bring the rest of his things and seal the deal) and found out that while he was not a bother, he had “no personality” and I should probably come get him the next day. No personality! There are a lot of things this dog lacked: boundaries, obedience, any sense of pain, no limits to appetite, etc., but this dog was all personality.

Not long after, his previous foster asked for a week to have him back to try to “reconcile her mixed feelings” about keeping Toby. She seemed to like him and had another dog just like Toby but after a few days she asked if I could come back and get him because she was worried that he might have an expressed anal gland. WTF lady. This was also the foster whose boyfriend put a spiked collar on Toby and tried to turn him into a fighting dog. While he looks tough, the only thing this dog has ever been hardcore about is mooching. Bringing him home, I noticed no anal gland issues but I did some quick calculating and figured he was overdue for rabies and other vaccines and other needed check ups. The foster organization was out of money so I took him to a hospital that had treated him in the past. They had a few hand written records on him from one previous visit (he was neutered and had a minor surgery at the same time). The notes suggested him might be a Basenji and lab mix. Looking at the online information about that breed it seemed like a stretch but many years later when I found an audio file of a Basenji bark, I heard some similarity and found myself smirking. Toby has a very special, persistent, annoying bark that he uses when he is not getting something he wants, it was spot on to a Basenji.

At that point, doing some more calculation, I figured since I had this dog for over six months, his prospects were not looking good and mine were fading fast (the job I went to school for and wanted more than anything, was not going to happen). I was 2 points short on my immigration points paperwork to Australia and 5 points short for New Zealand. I called the foster person I could track down (they were beyond bankrupt) and told them I would consider my paid vet bill their adoption fees. Toby and I were finally legitimate.

Over time I realized we had a lot in common. We were both outcasts, misfits, misunderstood and always underestimated. Neither of use felt completely at ease as part of a pack or tribe. Toby and I were a pretty good fit.

Later on down the road, I decided to have his DNA tested to determine his true pedigree. When the vet called with the results, he was a bit embarrassed. He said the outcome we had did not happen often but Toby was inconclusive on every marker. He was sorry that I did not get a good return on my investment, but I was. Toby was a true Heinz 57 or by other words a bona fide Appalachian Porch Hound (Google that term and you will find most links lead to Tobias).

As time went on we had a good number of adventures, many of them road trips. Since I was gone from home for long periods of time, I often took him with me when I was out and about town. He loved to have his head out the window and when we got to our destination, he loved to run as fast as he could and as far as he could. Here are a few of our adventures as documented on this very blog.

Our two week road trip across America

The only dog in Columbus to have a beer named after him

Rockmill Brewery and a Dog Day Afternoon
(Note: while Matt and I were hiking, Toby in his bliss got too excited and tried to eat a small tree, while pulling it away from him, he scratched me and I have still a small scar on my hand to this day, that will always remind me our time there.

Important Research Work

If you dig through over twelve years of posts on this blog you will find a lot of mentions of Toby – often as a research assistant. For a dog that could not find a home, he certainly found many fans and even appeared in Columbus Monthly.

As a general rule I write about what I really, really like. He is like no other dog I have ever met. I would not describe him as a good dog, although he was not bad. I would never describe him as obedient but I rarely describe myself that way either. The most defining aspects to his “essence” for lack of a better term would be a profound spirit and a deep loyalty to me. I have always had low expectations for people and ultimately, if I look at my life to date, the thing I have prized (and wanted) the most in people and rarely found has been loyalty. I always had Toby’s loyalty, unless there was food to be stolen, but even I could respect that. If I get an ounce of loyalty I will give a pound back. When Toby and I were in West Virginia with my dad, on his last trip “to the hills” before heading to a new type of destruction in Honduras, we spent the night in a high-end cabin owned by a lifelong friend of my dad’s. We were surrounded by manly men. Toby was allowed in (although a “real dog” would have slept outside) but he had to stay in the kitchen. Come midnight when we all crawled into bed upstairs I started to hear the whimper on the kitchen. I knew who it was. It got louder and more frequent. I took a pillow and a sheet and slept next to that poor dog on the hard, cold tile floor until the good old boys found me there in the morning. And they watched the same dog then abandon me the second he heard a package of bacon open.

Toby played an important part in my life in many ways. Toby saved my life on one occasion, but that is a very, very long story with a lot of appendices, notations and more than a few theories so we will skip those details. Paying attention to how Toby felt about a few of my girlfriends could have saved me (and them) from misspent time. Toby was important in many more ways but the critical lesson was learning to share my space and having an opportunity to be accountable to someone other than myself. He gave me a lot when I gave him a home. The most important lessons I learned from my special needs dog were the skills I would need to help my special needs child as a human father.

I was glad that he was around to see me get married and to have some time with my son. I do wish CMH Griffin could have experienced CMH Tobias at his prime – they would have both been a true match for each other. I wish my boy could have fully experienced Toby as I did so he would have a template for a dog that would be a good fit for him or any boy with a curious disposition, thirst for adventure and general disdain of pack mentality. Toby lived long past his prime, probably out of loyalty to me. I did not want to wish for his death but I impatiently waited for it. Even when he was 14 1/2, he was still spry and vibrant and described by a vet as an “exceptional dog” (at least physically). He was and will always be, exceptional.

From November 2017 to today (I watched and hoped for him to decide it was time to go): his walks became shorter; he stopped running and/or showing interest in squirrels, (but could always rally for one good bark at a dog or cat); he slept in later. He lost more bits of his lifestyle. Starting in May 2018 he stopped trying to climb the steps and then he stopped trying to do a controlled fall down them. Then he stopped expecting to be carried upstairs to sleep. He stopped whimpering if he could not be in the same room as us….as me. He stopped ambling to the door when someone came home. Car rides were now a horror for him, not a treat. He lost the essentials to his life and our lives with him. His tail lost it’s spring like curl and whip like speed stopped wagging and shifted to a sag. However, he never stopped being a mooch. He lost most of what made him – Toby, but he only lost an ounce of his intense spirit and none of his loyalty.

As June began there were a few nights I was sure were his last. I stayed up as late as I could each night so he could go outside to pee or poop. As July, started to beckon, on a Friday afternoon his bladder started to fail and his hind legs increased their ineffective flailing. This could not go on, for either of us. He stopped wanting to walk farther than one pee and one sniff and even those were more out of habit than a need to mark territory. At this point he could linger on few weeks or maybe a month of existence or I could pick a day for his departure while a little bit of his essence was left and his spirit not completely broken. I decided we would put him down at home so he would not have to be stressed by a trip to the vet and have a hospital be his last sight and smell before passing. Also, I did not want him to bambi fall across the slick tile floor of the vet as his last act of living. As a family money is very tight for us right now but the cost of dying at home was worth it. All of the home vet services were busy and while our regular vet does not do home visits, they must have felt sorry for me (I did mention that we only live 150 yards away), so they said they could do it but the earliest they could schedule would be Monday (about 52 hours later). After we made arrangements I was not sure Toby would make it to Monday or not. He rallied strong on Sunday and was pampered to the extreme for his final 48 hours. I pulled out our old adventure sleeping bag and we tried to sleep on it the last two nights before his time to go. Maybe he knew what I knew but he did not show it. He even managed to not poop in the house during his last 24 hours. His final meals and snacks were filled with brisket, donuts, ice cream, pizza and meatballs. Waiting at the door to let in our vet in to end Toby’s life by my own choice made every second feel like a century. The only plus in the situation was being able to cry in the privacy of my own home away from any witnesses.

I miss my friend and he leaves a tear in my heart that will not be mended. He headed for Porch Hound Heaven at 1:44 pm, Monday June 25th.

R.I.P. Toby (Tobias J. Dog) March or May 2002 to June 25th, 2018


Porch Hound Post Script:

The dog socialization program continues at Chillicothe Correctional Institution where select inmate handlers work 1-on-1 with dogs and puppies to learn basic commands. The prison coordinates with DASH (Danielle’s Animal Safe Haven) a 100% volunteer based non-profit 501c3 rescue. If you want to make a Donation to Dash in honor of the most notorious of Appalachian Porchhounds here is the -> LINK.

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