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The last dog days for Princess

November 29, 2009
Messenger News

My Princess had lost the man who loved and supported her. She had been taken from her home, imprisoned without the medication needed to treat her chronic illness and set for execution.

Supporters wanted to save her, but no sanctuary could be found.

That's where I came in. I offered her a place to spend the remaining days of her life.

Those days are quickly coming to an end.

Princess was rescued from euthanasia four years ago by Illinois-based Keeshond Rescue of the Central States.

Even with the assistance of a breed rescue group, it isn't easy to find a home for an old, chronically ill dog. Without pills to treat her hypothyroidism, Princess had gained a great deal of weight, was extremely lethargic and mostly bald. Her owner had been moved into a nursing home, his children didn't want her, and she was shunted off to an animal shelter in Milwaukee. She, like many Keeshonden, hated being caged and, on top of her other off-putting physical conditions, had managed to scrape shreds of skin off her snout as she tried to escape her shelter kennel.

Rescue group members who could normally have been counted on to take in the old girl had houses filled to capacity. I was a known commodity to KRCS. I had taken in three other ancient, ailing Keeshonden. That's the nice way of saying they knew a sucker when they met one.

An exchange of e-mails enticed me to drive to the Quad Cities and meet a couple who unloaded from their Mini Cooper the saddest Keeshond I have ever seen. It was hard to tell if she was actually alive. She was a large, gray, nearly naked lump of dog. No tail-wagging or barking. She barely raised her head when transferred from their car to mine.

When Princess arrived at her new home, she settled in on a dog bed in the living room. And I do mean settled in. She was afraid to walk - anywhere. All the flooring was too slippery for the unsteady Keeshond nicknamed "Big Girl."

I dutifully went to Menards and bought a set of inexpensive floor runners to create a pathway that led to the back door and her food dish. Even then, it took some coaxing to get her to move.

Princess was put back on her medication, allowing her to lose weight, gain energy and restore her Keeshond coat. A Keeshond's silver-and-black double coat is accented with a huge ruff, akin to a lion's mane. Eventually, Princess was back on her feet - literally - and raced around the house, shaking her ruff if someone petted her and messed up her lush 'do.

She had once been accustomed to being adored and waited upon, and a healthy Princess made it clear that she expected no less in her new surroundings. Don't feel like petting Princess? Too bad. She pushed and pushed and pushed herself against you until you acquiesced. Not really dinner time? There'd better be a small treat to tide her over. She was the sovereign - a point she made crystal clear to her human and canine housemates.

But time has a way of wearing us all down. Slowly, at first. She didn't always hear the back door open. Sometimes, a treat tossed on the floor in front of her was nearly impossible for her to find. Increasingly, Princess struggled to get her back end off the floor.

In true Keeshond fashion, she's never lost her appetite. Keeshonden love to eat, and for Princess, every meal brings unmistakable outbursts of pure joy at having yet another dish of the same food she's eaten twice a day for the last four years.

Last week, an apparent urinary tract infection turned out to be more serious. Radiographs showed a mass. At 15 years old, she was not a good candidate for surgery or chemotherapy.

So the decision was made, with Dr. Mike's blessing, to put an end to Princess's reign. But I couldn't bring myself to put her down before Thanksgiving. He assured me that waiting until December wouldn't be unduly cruel.

It's odd to have to choose a day to kill a beloved companion. But my last three rescue Keeshonden's lives have ended in December. To borrow from Ecclesiastes, to everything there is a season, including a time to die. It seems right to me that she should go in December, too, as if that will somehow mystically link her to the others.

In reality, they're linked in another way. Every one that dies takes with it another piece of my heart.

Barbara Wallace Hughes is the managing editor of The Messenger.



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