maremma sheepdog
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cobweb

Blowing off the cobwebs

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Is this thing on? Can anyone hear me? Have I completely lost the legions of people who kept coming back here for more?

You know what I hate? Checking in on someone’s blog and seeing sporadic posts—one every three or four months— apologizing for being absent, for not writing, for not having anything to say.

Now look at my post history. I wrote something last July and then again in November when Shep got sick. It isn’t any better on my adventure blog, Our Great Escape.

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Shep gets famous

You already know him as the most beautiful dog on the internet.

Now Shep is getting his due.

I received an email last month from a gal who writes for the Atlantic Horse & Pony, a publication out of the homeland, Nova Scotia.

She was sourcing artwork for a piece on farm dogs and contacted me to use one of my many pictures of Shep to represent livestock guardian dogs.

Shep is a Maremma, a breed that originated in central Italy and is used to protect farm and ranch stock.

The Maremma is rare in North America, so hard to find that the American Kennel Club no longer recognizes the breed at show.

Yeah, who cares anyway, AKC?

Phphpt.

Shep turns heads.

Last month in Wisconsin, we were gassing up and the gal beside us wanted to take a picture of him. She said she works for Fetch Magazine and regularly takes pictures of dogs about town.

I don’t know if Shep ever showed up on their social media properties (I can’t find them) but I’m regularly stopped by people who just want to chat about my gorgeous dog.

In fact, I’ve had to teach My American about his breed in case he’s left alone to the mercy of the general public.

We stopped in Kennebunkport, ME, on Adventure 2012 and I ducked into the washroom, leaving him holding the leash. When I emerged from the potty cabin, MA and Shep were surrounded by people.

And there MA was … teaching some folks about the amazing Maremma while they cuddled, petted and loved my baby boy.

Anyhow, my complimentary copy of Horse & Pony arrived today and I wanted to share the story with you.

But you already know my dog rocks.

 

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Missing you

There are certain moments of the day I simply can’t do without.

And the past two days have been lessons in living without.

The thump of the tail on the floor when I call out his name in the morning.

His smiling face storming up the stairs when I get home after a day at the office.

Our nightly walks.

Our twice-daily feedings of his thyroid medication.

Oh, you thought this post was about My American. I miss him, too, but my dog has been — barring vacations and work trips when I’ve left him with sitters — my daily constant for the past seven years and change.

Last year, I wrote Why My Dog Rocks (some pictures are missing and this is a good reminder to get off my ass and fix them). So many people don’t understand the connection between dog and human and I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for them.

My Bubba is vacationing in Spokane with My American for a couple of weeks. I just returned from a week of telecommuting there and thought it would be best to leave him there. I travel to Toronto on business next week and wanted to leave him in a stress-free zone with someone who loves him as much as I do.

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What’s that?

Yes, it’s true.

See one of the bullet points in last year’s post?

  • He has made me a better judge of character. If you don’t love my dog and show him affection, I’m going to have trouble loving you.

My American loves my dog.

And Shep loves him back.

The majority of Shep’s days are behind him. He’s 10. In dog years, he’s an old, old man.

It’s my mission to ensure every day of his life is spent happy, content and loved. I know that’s happening in Spokane right now.

I just hope he knows how much I miss him.

The fright of my life

I had a hell of a fright yesterday.

Shep and I bundled up in the truck to head west in search of beautiful fall colours, especially a sunrise which is typically so striking in Calgary at this time of year.

We were a little late getting going, though, and missed the sunrise but for a few bursts of colour at Edworthy Park at the northwest end of the city.

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I had wanted to get all the way out to the Cochrane turnoff and capture the sun rising over some prairie fields. Ah, maybe next weekend we’ll try again.

As long as Shep is in decent enough shape, that is.

Yes … I have myself an injured pup.

We went onto Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, just north of Cochrane. It’s really quite a stunning little place. The lower end of the hill is littered with miniature water falls, brooks and creeks, bridges and falling leaves.

You can hear the rush of the water the second you step out of your vehicle in the parking lot.

We had some time to kill before our company arrived. We were meeting Dana and Tundra, who’d never been out to the area before … even though Dana grew up in Calgary.

You might recognize Dana’s name. She works for our veterinarian, Dr. Bill, at Westmount Animal Clinic in Kensington.

She’s also been a teammate, a landlady, a shoulder, a drinking buddy and a very close friend.

Shep and I went for a quick jaunt back up the road. I wanted to see if I could get some lively cow pictures, better than the ones I captured from my truck while they blocked the road upon our entry.

And that’s where our day turned scary.

Shep typically will leap over a cattle guard, as he did south of Vulcan this past spring. Whether it’s his age catching up to him or the fact he still had his leash on, he tried walking across the cattle guard.

He was hesitant at first and I should have told him to just stay there while I went a little ahead to talk to the cows.

He insisted on trying to walk across the cattle guard.

I heard a whimper behind me and saw my beloved dog with his hind legs fallen and stuck. I could see the panic in his eyes.

I dropped my camera to the ground, lifted his bum up and helped him out.

But then he wouldn’t put any weight on right hind leg. I screamed. He yelped.

OK, calm down, I thought. You freaking out isn’t going to help matters any at all.

I felt his leg, searching for any hint of a break … waiting for him to snap at me if it hurt too much.

Nothing.

OK, he still wasn’t putting any weight down. He was in the middle of the road and my truck was about 100 metres back that way.

Adrenalin is a funny thing, though. I scooped up my 110-pound dog and carried him to the side of the road.

I laid him down and with a speed unknown to any of my ball teammates in the past, I sprinted to my truck.

I jumped in and drove back to the spot where he lay, then leaped out of my truck, hoping that I would be able to lift him into it and speed back to the city.

My feet hit the ground and you know what? The fucker came running toward me.

My head went from ‘oh my God, I could kill you right now’ to ‘thank Christ, you’re OK’ in about two seconds.’

He had no problem jumping into the truck, while my head went back and forth between anger and relief.

Mostly relief … I swear.

The anger started to turn inwards, knowing I repeatedly promise to keep that dog safe from danger for every day I humanly can.

And I didn’t.

He recovered quickly and his spirits soared when he saw Dana’s truck pull into the parking lot and out jumped his best buddy Tundra.

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We walked and took pictures for a good long while, but we didn’t do any hills or anything overly strenuous … hell, Dana and I both getting up there, too!

It’s been more than a day since the fright and Shep is still pretty stiff from his trauma. He’s taking aspirin, ground up and mixed into an egg (spoiled, I know!).

Plus, I noticed a tremendous gash on the inside of his right hind that will require some nursing over the next few days.

A cone? That won’t stay on.

A Tensor bandage is doing for now.

But Shep is a fairly determined dog and when he wants to lick at something, he’ll get to it.

And thus, my task for the next few days is just keeping him away from that area.

I owe him as much.

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Why my dog rocks

What makes Shep so awesome? What is it about him that makes me disinterested in activities that don’t include him? Why do I feel awful when I leave him home for long periods of time unattended?

Shep and I celebrated our sixth anniversary together on May long weekend. I remember well our first weekend. We were both a little nervous, trying to establish our roles with each other.

In fact, he barfed on the floor next to the bed. Thank goodness I was spending the night at a friend’s place in Carstairs, where our time together began.

We struggled with each other over the next year, trying to earn a place in each other’s hearts and still not truly trusting each other. Was I only going to give him up like his last two families? Why the fuck won’t he eat what’s put in front of him?

We turned a corner in 2006, a story not meant for these spaces and one better kept between Shep, me and a few close friends in the know.

For you, here is why Shep rocks:

    • When I come home from being anywhere, he doesn’t leave my side for at least 10 minutes.
    • He knows how to be Srs Dog.

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  • He belches like a human … even comes over and sits beside me so he can share it with me.
  • When I’ve been spending too much time on my laptop, he lets me know by putting his head right on the keyboard. Or by using his snout to lift my hands off the keyboard.
  • He loves going to the vet. It’s true. His Auntie Dana works there. He knows he’ll see her and his best friend Tundra there.
  • We have hugs. He’s tall enough to stand on his hinds and put his forepaws on my shoulders.
  • I snap him off for putting his nose on the kitchen counter. He wags his tail anyway and it goes in this big circle that always makes me smile.
  • He is always surprised by his own farts. And he comes over to sit beside me so he can share them with me.
  • When he talks to me, it’s usually because there’s another dog in the near vicinity, like the toy dog upstairs or the chihuahua next door. And it’s half bark, half howl, kinda whiny, not at all fierce. For a big dog, he’s a wuss.
  • He knows how to be goofy dog.

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  • And he becomes a total baby during thunderstorms. I saw him try to hide under the bed once but there isn’t enough room. So, he cowers in the bathroom and whimpers. Big dog, my ass.
  • Chase is the most fun game. Ever. He doesn’t play fetch. It’s almost undignified for him. You threw the ball, you go get it. For chase, he assumes position and then runs speed laps around me. Then he gets bored and moves on.
  • His attention span makes me laugh. He seems to get bored easily. So do I. We’re perfect for each other.
  • He wants to be the That Guy at the dog park, running up to every dog and trying to make friends.
  • Patience is his biggest virtue. When the weather is crappy or I just don’t feel like going for a walk, he’s happy enough to just hang out.
  • He knows exactly what my ball bag means. He puts his face on his paws and gives me a look that says, ‘you’re going to be away all day and I’m going to miss you.’ At least, that’s what I think it means.
  • He knows exactly what filling my day pack means. And he gets so excited because he knows he’ll be spending the day in the mountains.
  • He’s the best inside spoon for cuddling. Ever.
  • He is simply the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen. People have stopped traffic to tell me as much. I kid you not.

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  • He has made me a better judge of character. If you don’t love my dog and show him affection, I’m going to have trouble loving you.
  • He is happiest when we are together. And so am I.
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My chubby buddy

Three years ago, my dog had a problem.

He was 130 lb., almost 20 lb. more than his breed’s healthy weight. He was lethargic and losing his hair in patches.
I was worried.
At the same time, I was not in a financial position to rush him off to the vet whenever I could.
As fate would happen, I slid into second base on opening night and busted my hand … really good. I broke the thumb off at the Bennett’s joint, tore the tendons in my hand and required surgery to put everything back together.
My friend, Dana, is a veterinarian technician. She was also my teammate. She not only handled me and my pain, getting me to emergency and back to the hospital for surgery, but she also kidnapped Shep for the weekend.
Knowing I was overnighting at Peter Lougheed, she took Shep into her home and made sure he was well taken care of.
She also seized the opportunity to get him in to see Dr. Bill and get his blood tested. Sure enough, his thyroid was out of whack.
He went on medication and, within days, he had his energy back. Inside of two months, he was back to a healthy weight.
Fast forward three years to Saturday afternoon and his annual blood test.

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Shep is a strange dog. He loves going to the vet. He knows his buddy Tundra will be there with Auntie Dana and he loves the attention he gets … from the girls at reception to Dr. Bill.

He’s just that kind of dog you can’t help but love.

So we stick around to watch Auntie Dana run the blood test.

It’s good news. His thyroid levels are high.

That means his dose of medication is too high, too.

So now we get to scale back on the amount of pills he has to take to keep everything regulated.

It’s funny, because that isn’t the kind of thing we can have control over. But, at the same time, I’m immensely proud of my boo for getting better.

He’s happy — at least I think so — and he’s healthy.

And because of the incredible love I’ve learned from him, I’ll always ensure he gets to do the things he loves … like heading for the hills for a good, long run.