April 8th, 1998. That’s the day I met Rusty. I remember the date because his owners said it was his birthday. He was one year old. They’d brought him in to the vet I worked for to be euthanized. Who euthanizes a dog on his damn birthday?
I held the trembling little dog on the slick tabletop as he was examined. He had Demodectic mange, was covered in red oozing sores, had goopy eyes, and stank. They weren’t interested in any more dips, the only treatment this vet offered, even though it was outdated and other more reliable and less toxic methods were available. They’d had enough. The kids didn’t like him, they didn’t like him. He was “stinky”. All agreed on euthanasia, and the owners didn’t want to be present.
So he was handed over to me to stick in a cage upstairs until the mad morning rush was over and the doc could euthanize him in private. I remember so clearly when the decision was made. I looked down, and made eye contact. Those gummy brown eyes, so full of sadness and suffering, looked back at me and I saw quite clearly the plea for help. I shook my head and stuck the little dog in a cage and went on about my business.
But I couldn’t concentrate. Those eyes, and the message in them, haunted me. I saw in them a strong spirit, willing to fight, along with the knowledge that he had no allies, and no one loved him. He was all alone in an uncaring world. So when lunchtime came I asked for custody of him. I knew there was a great dachshund rescue in North Carolina. Easter weekend approached, and Friday was my last day of work. My last act there was to scoop up the sick little dog, wrap him in a blue blanket, and take him home to a house full of Akitas who would just as soon kill him as look at him.
I introduced Rusty to my stud dog, Gunner, who immediately took him under protection. One problem conquered. I made a few phone calls, but got nowhere with the upcoming holidays.
When I woke the next morning, everything had changed. Rusty was MY dog now. Suddenly, and somewhat unwillingly, I had become responsible for the future of this sad sick little animal. I kept him through the weekend, bathed him, and spent hours online researching cures for this mange.
I decided he needed a good Holistic vet. The one I worked for was far too willing to stick a needle into his vein. I found several listed online, and one name caught my eye. Angel. I believe in signs. A vet named Angel was ninety minutes away, further than the other two, but something inside me said “This dog needs an angel”, and here was one! So I called and made an appointment.
We arrived and met the vet, who hugged the stinky little dog and admired him. She could see the same weakness of body contrasting with the strength of spirit I’d seen, and she agreed he needed a chance. I’d been toying with the concept of a raw diet for my dogs for some time, and this seemed like a good opportunity to test it. I mentioned it to her, cringing inside as I awaited the condemning reply. Instead I heard “Raw diet? Cool!” She not only agreed, she was enthused!
So we chatted for a time as she completed her examination and skin scraping. We agreed on a course of antibiotics to cure the staph infection. We agreed not to subject him to surgery to neuter him, and she gave me a Chinese medicine preparation to add to his food.
I came home, did more research, and went shopping for him. By nightfall I had a plan, a refrigerator full of nutritious groceries and raw meat and bones, and even a tiny food processor for preparing his meals.
Rusty improved immediately. His skin cleared, his teeth, which had considerable plaque, cleaned themselves as he crunched his bones. His eyes brightened, and the sweetest most energetic little dog emerged. He was a hoot, bold, playing tag with a house full of Akitas and a grumpy cat. He held his own, and added a new dimension to our lives. Who knew I’d love a little dog so much?
On a sudden whim I gave him a Reiki Master attunement. Rusty’s crate was under a small table and I was attuning a Reiki Grid to Master level. He was interested, very interested, so I asked, he answered, and it was done.
In time he was pronounced clear of the demodex. We neutered him, then handled the expected flare-up in quick fashion, and he thrived. He’d go to dog shows with me and hang out with Gunner. One of his favorite things to do was to rush to the end of his lead barking his head off at some big dog, then rush back to stand between Gunner’s front feet and dare the other dog to approach. At 28 inches tall and 118 pounds, no one approached Gunner, and Rusty’s ego grew.
After a year or two, Rusty started having seizures, full blown epileptic seizures. Angel diagnosed him with idiopathic epilepsy, and outlined treatment options. For whatever reason, I flatly refused the usual arsenal of drugs for him. I hated the side effects, and didn’t want him on them. Angel gave me syringes filled with valium to give him to stop them. He usually had clusters, so they had to be stopped or he would continue to seize and die.
I learned to chart moon phases. I learned that Rusty seized with the full moon and the new moon, and rarely any other time. I learned to keep one eye on him during these times, and he learned when he was going to seize, and he always came to me. And so we managed them nicely with few scares. I hated the term “idiopathic”, was determined to find the cause of his epilepsy.
A few years later I read an article about dryer sheets. It was one of those sensational articles that blamed every disease and condition known to man on the darned things. You know the type I’m speaking of. I generally ignore them, but something made me think, and neurotoxic side effects were at the top of the lengthy list. I thought, what the hell, it’s easy enough to try!
So, I stopped using dryer sheets, and started using vinegar to soften my clothes. Rusty stopped seizing. He STOPPED seizing! It WAS the dryer sheets! We’d won, again! In time I learned that it was likely the fragrance oils in the dryer sheets that caused the seizures. When he got too close to scented products, he’d seize. So I systematically eliminated all scented products from my home. You have no idea how many products we use day to day have artificial scents in them!
After a while Rusty developed cervical problems. He’d have severe muscle spasms in his neck, probably caused by rough housing these big Akitas. It was so hard on him. These spells could last for weeks. I’d have to put him on strong anti inflammatories and muscle relaxers. I hated the muscle relaxers. In order for them to stop the spasms he needed a pretty high dose, and that made him drunk, wobbly, and grumpy. He’d growl at the other dogs, and they’d retaliate. He’d get grabbed by a pissed off Akita and then I had to treat the new injury and the infection that always resulted. This dog had no immune system. This would not do!
Enter herbs. I’d been using herbs all along with Rusty and my other dogs. I was largely self-taught, and by now had a good enough repertoire that I could figure most things out. Lobellia had been mentioned to me by another herbalist to use on myself when I suffered from kidney stones. It was good for spasms. I’d also met and grown to know Solomon’s Seal.
So I mixed up a formula for Rusty the next time he started having spasms. I started giving it to him on the second day, and by nightfall had him completely off the muscle relaxers. Amazing! Another victory for us.
Our next challenge began when I went to feed Rusty a treat one day and he grabbed at air beside my hand, then nosed until he located my hand and took his treat. What? Angel saw deficits in his vision, and we were sent to a board certified eye specialist, who diagnosed Progressive Retinal Atrophy. I’d heard of it, as my Akitas were subject to develop the disease, and were examined annually. Rusty was going blind!
How would we be able to deal with this? How could a blind dog possibly navigate these steep hills and sudden drops to the creek? I dived in and read everything I could find on it, and got a second dachshund, Bella, as a companion for him and as a guide. Rusty quickly learned to follow the sound of the bell on her collar. All my dogs were belled with different sounding ones so he could recognize each of them. This worked amazingly well, and I eventually lost my fears of him getting lost. He knew his way around familiar territory, and would simply track me or one of the other dogs when on unfamiliar ground.
And then on a spring morning the worst happened. Scooter, my Akita with a reactive temperament, decided Rusty was too close to his bone and grabbed Rusty and shook him. One of my other Akitas, StarBaby, burst through the storm door and saved his life. Rusty had severe punctures and deep bruising on his neck, one shoulder, and one side.
I rushed him to his doc and they took him into surgery. He was already developing a severe infection that would progress to gangrene, and later sepsis. Rusty spent five agonizing days in intensive care, enduring multiple surgeries to try and keep up with the advancing gangrene. Several times they thought he would die, and each time he somehow managed to pull through. His doc, Iain, a partner at the office who already had a great track record with my dogs as a “miracle man” performed miracle after miracle. Rusty lost a great deal of muscle on the right side of his neck, and on his left shoulder. He ended up with a huge wound that was too large to close, extending from his spine to below the elbow on one side, and most of his lower neck on the other.
They allowed me to come in and do Reiki. I did a healing attunement after surgery, and the next day my friend Linda came and we redid Rusty’s Reiki Master attunement. The infection was clearing with the antibiotics, but he was weak, so weak, and his bloodwork looked like he was “dead on paper.” I looked into his eyes and did not see defeat. I saw spirit, just like the first time I met him, so I took him home.
By nightfall he’d eaten a little and had peed, even to lifting his leg, when I took him outside. His recovery was long but unremarkable, and in time we had out little friend back.
A year later Angel heard a heart murmur when she did his annual exam. Heart failure is common in the breed, and I suspected that the bacteria from the gangrene had attacked the heart valves, damaging the mitral valves. Rusty was going into heart failure
Again I researched herbs, and came up with a daily supplement of hawthorn berries, rose petals, motherwort, and others mixed into a paste with almonds. He ate that daily. He did well. Eventually he developed a cough, and the first signs of fluid buildup in his lungs. I used diuretic herbs, and decreased the fish in his diet to eliminate salt, and upped his daily fish oil capsules. This bought us more months, that turned into years.
Finally his heart reached the point where the herbs weren’t enough, and his docs put him on lasix and Enalapryl. He bounced back! His cough got much better and he regained some energy. We watched as Rusty began to decline, ever so slowly and gracefully. His walk was slower, he was almost completely blind now, and he’d lost much of his hearing.
Still, he went with us on our walks daily, up the road or down to the creek he’d toddle, slowly. We’d wait, he’d join us. We continued to enjoy each others’ company.
Then came the day he choked shortly after eating, aspirated, and got himself into real trouble. He recovered from that incident, but it was evident his abdomen was now filling with fluid. A call to Angel was in order. She tripled his lasix. It helped, but not enough. His quality of life dropped significantly in just a few days. I knew his time was near, but gave him time because I knew it sometimes took days for the lasix to clear the fluid. It didn’t clear.
Sunday afternoon, August 7th, he made it to the water bucket to drink. He aspirated water, and no longer had the strength to clear his lungs. He died with me sitting beside him, beaming him Reiki one last time, for his highest good…..for his transition.
As his spirit left that worn out little body a small dachshund puppy appeared, jumping up to lick my face in absolute joy. Rusty was free at last, and was letting me know how happy he was, and thanking me for sharing his journey. A journey that lasted 13 years, 3 months, and 29 days.
What a ride.
The next day I was returning from shopping and saw a hawk sitting on a wire above the road. He took off and flew in front of me, escorting me around a curve, his shadow right in front of the car until he swooped up and landed on a limb. I waved as I went by.
Rusty made it.