2 posts categorized "Dogs"

June 04, 2011

The Last Cookie Dance

The Last Cookie Dance

By Brunonia Barry

  Byzy in his wheelchair

A few weeks ago, we hosted a sweet sixteen party for our Golden Retriever, Byzantium. The cake was made of hamburger and Charlie Bears (tiny dog biscuits), and the guests included his first girlfriend, a Portuguese Water Dog named Roberta, who looks incredibly youthful for her thirteen years, though we suspect she may have had a bit of work done.

Byzy, of course, has never had any plastic surgery whatsoever and doesn’t look a day over ten. The last time we took him in for a checkup, our regular vet was on vacation, and we saw someone new. At the end of the examination, the new vet declared Byzy “quite a specimen.”

In addition to being a specimen, our dog is a local celebrity. Byzy was the inspiration for the dog of the same name in The Lace Reader, a canine who hails from a line of feral Golden Retriever cave-dwelling warriors that protect the inhabitants of Yellow Dog Island. The idea of Golden Retrievers as warriors seems to greatly amuse most of my readers who always ask about the real Byzy. When I tell them he’s sixteen, they look amazed. Their next question is usually “What do you feed him?” 

“Far too much,” I answer. But hey, our puppy loves food. And he is sixteen, for God’s sake, and still here, so keep your judgments to yourselves. I don’t say that last part aloud, of course. I love my readers too much to be so rude.

Byzy has had only one severe health problem in his long life. One morning a few years back, he was acting lethargic and dazed. Since we were scheduled to leave for Italy on a book tour three days later, we took him to the vet to have him checked, something we might not have done so quickly if we hadn’t been leaving town. It was a good thing we did. He had a tumor in his spleen that required immediate surgery. While we sat in the waiting room stunned and worried, Byzy had his spleen removed. Two days later, he was dancing for cookies. 

Byzy’s cookie dance is a carefully choreographed little number that begins with a bouncy hop as both of his front feet leave the ground. That step is followed by rapid head shaking, some additional hopping, and a bit of subtle growling. The end of his routine is punctuated by one sharp, quick bark followed by thirty seconds of quiet but intense staring. If, after thirty seconds, a cookie has not been proffered, the dance routine is repeated until the desired results are achieved.  

Though we know we spoil him, we can’t help it. We love the cookie dance. It is hilarious. And so, two weeks ago, when it suddenly stopped, we were concerned. He didn’t get up with us that morning. When we were in the kitchen making breakfast, he didn’t join us.

Worried, we went to the front hallway where he always sleeps. He stood up to greet us and promptly fell down. We helped him up. He fell again. We weren’t too concerned at first because Byzy has a bit of hip dysplasia which is common to aging Golden Retrievers, and he sometimes has difficulty getting up in the morning. When things didn’t improve as the day went on, we scheduled an appointment with the vet. Byzy’s back legs didn’t seem to be working. We lifted him with a towel-sling and carried him to the car. By the time we arrived at the vet’s office, both Byzy and I were shaking.

The vet stood him up, then curled Byzy’s back paws under, one at a time, watching to see how long it took for him to straighten them. He passed the test easily with his left hind foot, giving the vet a haughty WTF look, but when his right paw was curled under, Byzy just stood there. He didn’t seem to know that there was anything wrong until he lost his balance and began to collapse. The vet eased him down to the floor.

The diagnosis was neurological. Byzy’s brain was no longer sending signals to his right hind leg. He wasn’t in pain, he was simply surprised every time he fell.

“What can we do?” We asked.

“There isn’t much you can do. He’s comfortable, he’s happy, . . . and he’s a fighter,” the vet told us. “Enjoy your time with him.”

Determined to do just that, we took him home.

The next day, we discovered Handicapped Pets in Nashua, New Hampshire. What a great company! We bought Byzy a “wheelchair” that supports his back legs while at the same time keeping them moving.

The brochure said that it was possible for the chair to have a restorative power and that it could help improve the functioning of injured legs. My husband read that part aloud and looked at me hopefully. “Maybe it’s just an injury,” he said. “Maybe he will spontaneously heal.”

“Maybe he will,” I said, but my voice lacked conviction.

Whether restorative or not, the wheelchair has worked wonders. It took a few days of adjustment, both for Byzy and for us (you try lifting a 90 lb. dog and holding him up while struggling to adjust a web of snaps and clips). Once we got the routine down (it required cookies) and installed a ramp, Byzy began bombing around our back yard, tearing through flower beds, shredding tulips and peonies and anything else in his path. We were delighted.

We have now established a new ritual: Byzy rolls through the house, down the ramp, and into the back yard. When we come back inside, we disconnect him from the wheelchair. He stands for a few minutes, then collapses. He sleeps for most of the day, which is nothing new. Byzy’s favorite activity has always been sleeping, unless there was something more interesting to do like walking, swimming, or eating. Eating beats sleeping every time.  

It was eating that inspired what I am now referring to as the Memorial Day Miracle. Byzy was sleeping in the front hall. We were grilling steaks. All of a sudden, Byzy, sans wheelchair, came jogging though the doorway and onto the porch as if nothing had ever been wrong with him. He demanded our steaks. He had attitude. He did his cookie dance.

A minute later, he collapsed. We cut up some steak and hand fed it to him. I cried with joy to have shared that inspirational “last dance.” It’s imprinted on my heart.

We knew it couldn’t last, and it didn’t. But it was great!

We understand that this neurological damage will progress in the same way that these things invariably do. But for now, we are taking our vet’s advice. We are enjoying our sweet sixteen year old for a while longer. Our fighter. Our specimen. Who dances for cookies…and steaks.

Do you have a beloved pet who inspires you?




December 24, 2010

Christmas Goes to the Dogs

by Diane Chamberlain

Mr and mrs santa clause (ben and chapel) - Copy
For decades now, I've made my dogs a part of my Christmas card greetings. Since my blog post falls on Christmas Eve, I thought it would be fitting to share a few of the pictures that have graced my cards over the years.

The pix above I call "Mr and Mrs Santa Paws." My two sweet goldens, Chapel and Ben, posed obediently for my Christmas cards for more than a decade. (Outtakes from this photo shoot are at the end of this post). Chapel and Ben were simply the finest dogs I've ever had the privilege to know. They were as close as this picture implies. They had so many adventures together: escaping from every fenced-in yard, killing a possum on my deck (the possum was only playing dead, as I discovered when I went to scoop him up), swimming in the ocean and tearing through the woods, but what they loved best was cuddling together. When Ben's time ran out (and I promise this is the only sad thing I'll write in this post), I remembered reading something in an Ann Landers column. She said that when dogs were very close, it was a good idea to have both dogs present when one was (euphemistically) put to sleep. So Chapel accompanied Ben and me to the vet, who thought the idea was a little ridiculous. While Ben lay breathing heavily on the floor, Chapel leaped happily around the room, sniffing the corners and wagging her tail. "She's totally oblivious," said the vet, and I thought he was right. But suddenly Chapel stopped her prancing and looked at Ben. She walked over to him, lay down right next to him, muzzle to muzzle, and stayed with him while the vet did what he had to do. She never searched the house for Ben. She knew where he was, and I was so glad she'd been with Ben and me that day.

That doesn't mean I suddenly began treating her with respect when it came to Christmas card pictures. When Rheumatoid Arthritis was making a mess out of my joints (before the good drugs came along and I discovered 'better living through chemistry'), I bought a mobility scooter to help me get around. I adored my scooter, thus I subjected poor Chapel to the most humiliating card yet. That dog was one good sport, even winking at the camera.


When Chapel went to the Rainbow Bridge, I knew it would take a BIG dog to fill her paws. That's when I got Bruin, the Bernese Mountain Dog. Bruin was a stunner. He was bred to be a show dog, but he had a low sperm count (shh) and so the breeder needed a home for him. The problem was, he'd spent his first three years in a kennel and by the time I got him, he was the world's most neurotic dog. Berners usually bond with one person and that bond is like super glue. He wanted to be in my lap at all times. If I went out of town, he mourned. He was terrified of being left alone. But I was divorced at the time and I loved his company, so it all worked out for the best. Xmas4

    Unfortunately, big dogs are often short-lived, but since I promised no more sadness, we'll move right along! I decided to downsize after Bruin. RA and a few other considerations made a big dog more difficult for me, so a friend took me to meet a 6 month old Sheltie she'd heard needed a home. I'd formerly thought of Shelties as a waste of fur. Compared to Goldens and Bernese Mountain Dogs, they didn't seem to have much to recommend them. I humored my friend by going to meet the 6 month old pup the breeder had named Bluesman for his Bi-Blue coat. I sat on the floor and Bluesman gingerly came close enough for me to scratch his chest. He looked at me with his one brown/one blue eyes and seemed to be promising me a big-dog personality in his kind of funny looking little body. It was a total con job, but I surrendered to his adorableness. I changed his name to Keeper, after my book Keeper of the Light. It took Keeper a while to warm up to me. Where I couldn't detach Bruin from my lap, I couldn't get Keeper to pay any attention to me whatsoever.    "He hates me," I told my friend. I began feeding him by hand, one piece of kibble at a time. That did the trick and he soon became my little shadow. It took him a while to turn into the beautiful boy he is today, though. One of my friends, looking from my Christmas card with Bruin to my card with Keeper, said "From the sublime to the ridiculous." That still makes me laugh. 

Diane and keeper

I thought Keeper might be a little lonely for a canine companion--or maybe I just didn't feel I had quite enough dog yet. I was in a serious relationship by then and John, who had lived for many years with up to twenty Bernese Mountain Dogs/puppies at a time, begged me not to do it. But when I brought home Jet, Keeper's brother from another litter, John was instantly won over. Where Keeper is reserved, Jet is outgoing.  Keeper believes in conserving his energy. He stands in one place and watches Jet run around the house like a little madman. When Jet runs down the stairs to greet me, Keeper waits at the top. Why make the trip for nothing? They get along beautifully, though. The only member of the household who doesn't love them is Rhonda the Roomba, who constantly shouts at me from wherever she is stuck "Clean Roomba's Brushes Now!"

Diane Jet Keeper

Finally, here are the promised outtakes from Chapel and Ben's stint as Mr and Mrs Santa Paws. They were never so happy to hear their release command "Okay!" as they were that day!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

2 outtakes


Outtake smaller