Ever have one of those dogs? The kind that sears themselves onto your heart forever. The loss of them is still with you years later. One that acts as the plumb line for all dogs that come after. I had one of those dogs. I'll try to dig up a picture of her soon but she was gorgeous. Like I had strangers stopping me to ask about her gorgeous. She was a Belgian Sheepdog and chocolate Lab mix. I got her at a gas station. She was only about 6 or 7 weeks old and in obvious need of dewormer. Dry coat, swollen belly but nothing that couldn't be fixed up quick. I was a Vet. Assisting student at the time (took that class half days during my senior year of high school). When she was less than six months old I noticed that she seemed to have difficulty getting up when she was laying down. At that point in my education I was doing an internship with an equine vet who took some x-rays of her hips for me. He said it was the worst case of hip dysplasia that he'd ever seen (this guy was about 70 years old and as far as I know had been a vet practically his whole life). This problem earned her the nickname "Little Miss No Hips" from one of the vets I worked with later. She essentially had no ball and no socket, just two malformed bones that kind of met amidst the muscle. I took it as a death sentence for her, my heart broke. If she was experiencing pain and trouble moving at this age how long would I have her and what would her life be like? And I knew, also, that it would be me that ended her life. No natural causes for her. No peaceful passing in her sleep. Those hips would kill her and it was killing me.
Ruffian had a thing or two to teach me though. I named her after a famous racehorse (ironically, one who died when she was three after badly breaking a leg in a race), a filly who broke or tied the speed record in every single race she ran. She was huge, dark and was nothing but heart. My Ruffian was no different. She didn't let those bum hips stop her. I quickly began to realize that, had it not been for those hips, she would have made an excellent police dog. She had more work drive than any dog I've ever met. She was always "on", always looking for the next job to do, always looking out for people, always on patrol. She had a wicked weakness for weeds. She would sit behind you as you pulled weeds just waiting for you to toss them in a pile so she could catch them in mid air and rip it to shreds. She once tried to "protect" a women we didn't know in a park, she was being tickled by a friend which made her scream. Ruffian thought the woman was in danger, it was all I could to drag her away while she lunged and barked at the man doing the tickling.
She was also (with the exception of a horrible recall if she was after something - squirrel, coyote, whatever) incredibly intelligent and obedient. If she was begging for what I was eating, I gave her a bite and she spit it out (say, like it's lettuce or something she doesn't like) if I pointed to it and said "eat that" she give me a look like "do I have to?" and then she'd eat it, every time. If she loved you she'd split herself in two doing what you asked of her. She was also incredibly accident and illness prone. Her file at the clinic was an inch thick. The darn dog got strep throat for cryin' out loud! I can't even remember the number of times that she needed stitches. And she always fell for it when her best friend "Duke" (a Shih Tzu mix) would take her out in the woods and get her lost. Whenever Duke was around and Ruffian wasn't I knew it was time to hit the woods and go find her. The only time she could have been considered a typical "dumb dog". I could go on and on (because my super power is making a short story long) but I have other things to write about tonight. By now you might be wondering what happened to her. Or maybe you're just waiting for me to shut up or curious how long I can go on and on about a dog.
One day a friend and I were on a hike and I noticed that Ruffian was walking beside me. Beside me?! The dog who never wanted you to forget that SHE was the leader of the pack. The dog who only ever held a heel when she was actually in her obedience class. She was walking next to me. That was all it took. I took her into the clinic where I worked at the time and the doc ran blood. The results were devastating. Worse than finding out about her hips. Much worse. She had a condition called glomerulonephritis. Essentially her kidneys were shot. Just like that. My gorgeous, driven, healthy "baby" was given two weeks to live. I did everything I could for her and she gave everything she had right back. Two months later, after kicking this disease's butt so far, she developed bronchitis and that finished her poor kidneys off. I knew then that I couldn't ask anymore of her. No more pills. No more pain. I took her to Burger King and ordered her a burger then took her to the park and burned an entire roll of film on her (this was before digital or it would probably be hundreds of shots I took that day). The vet I worked for met me at home, it was a gorgeous day, couldn't ask for better, and outside on a blanket while I gave her a hug he gave her The Shot and she slipped peacefully away. So it wasn't her hips that did her in but it was still me that had to call an end to her life. That sucks. There's just no other way to say it. I still miss her and every dog I have in my life now will be compared to her.