Mary Morony, Author of Apron Strings, Done Growed Up and If It Ain't One Thing

Lessons Learned

It didn’t take a neurological degree in veterinary medicine to know something was very wrong when my beautiful black and white Great Dane’s gait changed. Hagar’s long, lanky, Jimmy Stewartesque swagger had morphed into a Rose Bowl Parade float with a right front flat. Two very expensive visits to the vet confirmed that something was indeed wrong.

My two and half-year-old darling dog has Wobbler’s Syndrome a neurological disorder where the vertebrae triangulate for reasons unknown. The triangulation eventually causes pinching of nerves and ultimately the spinal column. Although there are surgeries, laser treatments, and pharmacological avenues to alleviate symptoms, there is no known cure.

The prognosis is a shorter life span with paralysis a strong likelihood. Of course, I have just given you the worst-case scenario, because it’s the nature of a drama queen. Fortunately, it is not Hagar’s character.

He is decidedly unaffected by his disorder, and one could almost say oblivious. When we go for walks, he leads the way except down the drive where the gravel is thickest. It hurts his feet, but then it hurts his sister’s feet, too. He races to the various groundhog dens to check for activity as he always did, arriving first. While he may not tear around the woods with the abandoned he once employed, there is no discontent. When he does hang back or tires he comes alongside me making it know that it is time to get his back scratched— one of the distinct advantages of being and having a Great Dane—the perfect height for getting a back scratched in transit.

He has figured out how to conserve his energy so that when we near the end of the walk when we come out into a big field, he can race and romp with his sister with as much vigor and joy as always. If you didn’t know there was something wrong you couldn’t tell unless of course, you choose to focus on it.

Quite possibly Hagar thought I needed more than one lesson on this particular subject this time from the opposite vantage point. On our very next walk, we ran into a problem. The fences along our walk are electric high tensile cattle fence. Hagar has hit those fences a time or two and has developed a very healthy regard for them.

All of the gates along our walking path are electric wire strung across the opening with a hook on a spring to keep the wire taught and hot. The springs on most of these ‘gates’ are too tight for me to open quickly, so I take a stick along so that I can hold the wire up for the dogs to go under. Since Hagar has hit the fence on occasion, he is very cautious when approaching these gates. Trust would not be his first thought.

I lifted the wire. Two of the dogs ran right under. As luck would have it, Hagar had hung back. When I turned to coax him through, the wire slipped off the stick hitting him on the tail. Good Lord, you should have heard the wailing. He shrieked and whined like a ninny. I am almost certain he wasn’t shocked, just scared. The bad news, there were four more gates along the path to home.

At this point, Hagar’s abiding credo was you can fool me once, and that’s on you, but fool me twice, and that’s on me, so he was having nothing to do with any more of this going under the wire, period. If he was going home, I was going to have to open the gate wide. With the offending wire cleared from his path, he would then streak through it shrieking as if he had been hit with a hot poker, which is why I don’t believe he was shocked in the first place. We made it home, although, he whinged shamelessly through every gate since he was unable to take his focus off the earlier debacle. Who is being the drama queen now?

He absolutely refused to walk with me when I asked if anyone wanted to go a day later. Rather, he chose to stay at home and bark the entire time my other two dogs and I hiked around the farm. I could hear him for throughout our walk.

The next day I brought along a leash and lead my now recalcitrant walker through the first gate. That was all it took. He zipped under the wires without a second thought after that. He just needed a little patience to help him face his fears and poof in an instant they disappear.

If I can’t take my focus off my problems than all I need to apply is a little patience. I’m learning, but it is hard to teach this old dog new tricks.


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