Autumn now and here come the leaves, rain and frost. With the end of daylight savings time, the days seem shorter by half. Rocky doesn't like it. He wonders why it takes us so long to get up and out in the mornings and why I don't get home until it's well past dark.

His anxiety is getting the better of him and he's starting to knock things over again. He had a bout of this earlier in the summer but it had stopped. Now it's back with a vengeance. He goes from room to room finding tipable items. In the kitchen, it's the plastic chair. In the bathroom, it's the portable heater (unplugged). In the annex, it's the big plastic container holding the dog food. In the living room, he knocks over coffee tables, chairs, baby gates, more chairs. He pulls the blanket off the couch. He pushes the cheap computer speakers off the end table.

He must have compiled a list of things that need to be knocked over on a daily basis. Everyone needs a job and he figures this is his.

Today I found my laptop on the floor, external hard drive beside it and now he's starting to chew on the things he knocks over.

I may have to get a script for Prozac. One for him, two for me. One for him, three for me.

I'm not sure what Smitten does as Rocky makes his rounds. One time when Rocky knocked over the dog food container, the lid actually came off and Smitty gorged herself and then had several episodes of diarrhea throughout the night and the following day. Aside from that incident, though, I don't think she does much. She knows that Rocky is slightly to moderately cuckoo and should generally be left to his own devices when he goes on his knockabouts. She's a smart dog.

Throughout the weeks they've been together, there have been signs that they might even like each other. They've slept beside each other in the same bed a couple of times, actually touching. As crazy as this sounds, none of our other dogs have ever voluntarily slept beside each other and the only times they got close to one another was when I pushed them together for photographs. They were like siblings that didn't want to get each others germs.

I sometimes wonder if Smitty looks at Rocky and sees an old man? Do dogs have a sense of age? Does she look at him and think "Stinky old fart" (which he does, a lot) or does she think "Male dog. I can handle that" (which she totally does)? Does she consider him a companion or a slow moving obstacle or competition? Not that Rocky is much competition these days, ailments and all.

Rocky has never been an example of health. I took him out of Toronto Animal Services because he was fading away in there, literally dying from a combination of illnesses, low immunity and anxiety. I took him home so that he wouldn't have to spend his last few weeks in a cage and didn't expect him to last more than a couple of months. Now it's almost four years later. Rocky has never been an example of health but he is an example of stubborn survival.


This past August, though, while getting an injection of cartrophen for his arthritic knees, the vet discovered a swollen lymph node on Rocky's hind right leg. Tests were done and when the results came back a couple of weeks later indicating lymphoma, Rocky's glands on both legs and at his neck were already swollen. We had to wait another three weeks for an appointment with the oncologist and by then the swellings were egg sized.

They tell us that chemotherapy doesn't hit dogs as badly as it does for people. Unless someone has surveyed chemo dogs to get their commentary on this, I'm not sure how this opinion can be confirmed. Dogs are stoic. They don't usually complain, at least not in ways we can easily sense. You hit a dog on the head, the dog will likely shake it off and still love you. You hit a person on the head and there'll likely be a lot of yelling then cops, court, possibly jail time - it gets messy. Similarily, you give a person chemo and there's a lot of visible suffering but when a dog gets chemo, who really knows how they feel?

Rocky gets chemo. Despite the risk of side effects, I wasn't going to just let him die. And, as well, there was no way I going to lose two dogs in two months. So, Rocky gets chemo, at first weekly but now bi-weekly. He doesn't complain, not that I can tell. The first couple of treatments, though, was touch and go. He started vomiting and then had diarrhea so bad he ended up at the clinic for two overnights on I.V. I almost stopped it but the oncologist reduced the dosages and added prescription meds to plug Rocky up and there have been no further episodes ... yet.

Part of the drug regimen initially included prednisone. Prednisone reduces swelling in cancer cells, maybe kills them. It also makes dogs thirsty and then they pee. Rocky peed like a garden hose. I wish I'd taken photos. He'd start on the sidewalk in front of my house and then walk and pee the half block to the corner. His pee zigzagged across the sidewalk. It was very decorative.

One afternoon after a walk with Rocky, I had already brought him back inside and was moving some garbage cans around in the front yard when a woman approached, yelling. Her behaviour was erratic, which is not necessarily out of the norm for my neighbourhood, so I ignored her. She was obviously off her meds. Then I realized she was yelling at me.

OCD woman: yelling yelling yelling

Me: Huh?

OCD woman: yelling yelling yelling

Me: Wha?

OCD woman: yelling yelling yelling

Me: Hold on. Be civil. If you're not going to stop yelling there's no point me listening to you.

She's red in the face, all bug eyed.

OCD woman: Was that your dog?

Me: What?

OCD woman: Was that your dog that pissed all over my sidewalk?

Me: Your sidewalk?

OCD woman: In front of my yard.

Me: Possibly.

OCD woman: If your dog does that again ... I've got cameras installed ... if I see you or your wife's dog ... I'm going to call the police.

Me: Go ahead. There's no law against dogs pissing in public.

OCD woman: I keep my sidewalk clean. I clean it every day. I wash it. I don't want any of that filth on my sidewalk.

The woman is right about "her" sidewalk. It is immaculate. If a leaf falls on it or a speck of dirt or an ant crawls across it, she scurries out with a hose and broom. She gets the cleanest sidewalk in Parkdale award fer sure.

OCD woman: If I see your dog around my yard again I'm going to get all my friends ... and I've got a lot of friends ... to come over here and ...

Me: And what? Look, everyone around here has a dog. Everyone. When dogs go for walks they piss. That's what they do. They piss in front of my yard. They piss in front of your yard.

OCD woman: I ... I ... I don't like the way your dog pisses.

Me: It evaporates and it's not against the law.

OCD woman: I ... I ... I ... your other dog, the one your wife walks. You two let it shit in my front yard and you didn't pick it up. That's against the law!

Three things:

1. Elizabeth is religious about picking up after Smitten

2. Smitten, like many dogs, only poops in certain locations and refuses to poop anywhere else. Smitten's location is at a park.

3. I don't really understand why this woman would make up a fantasy in order to convince me of some wrongdoing on my part and then include me in the scene of the fantasy like maybe I'd forgotten about this event that never occurred. And that's when I realized this woman was quite crazy. Or a bad liar.

Me: That never happened and you know it. But look, since you feel so strongly about this, I'll make sure my dog doesn't pee in front of your yard in the future.

That seemed to appease the woman. She walked away with a huge look of satisfaction on her face.

Rocky doesn't get to pee in front of the woman's house anymore but every morning as I walk by her place, I look down at the sidewalk and see the puddles and streams left behind by all the dozens of other dogs in the neighbourhood and I think about her seething with frustration and anger as she stares out at a world of pissers from behind her window.

So, anyway, all of Rocky's lymphatic swelling has disappeared. While his cancer may or may not be in remission, the oncologists says this is about as good as it gets. We're halfway through the treatment at this point.


The average life expectancy of a dog after a lymphoma diagnosis even with chemo is only one year. As part of the protocol, Rocky had to undergo a heart exam as one of the chemo drugs can have a negative impact on the heart. It was discovered in the exam that Rocky's got dilated cardiomyopathy - the same thing that killed Stella. His is in the early stages and there aren't any symptoms yet but DCM will eventually kill a dog. Or the cancer might get him first. Or the arthritis might get so bad in his legs that he can no longer walk. Or on one of his knockabouts he might knock over something or chew through something that ends up seriously injuring him. Or the OCD woman might throw rat poison laced hot dogs on the sidewalk one day.

But when I am at home and Rocky is lying beside me, snoring, he is oblivious to the dangers. I've seen him shiver a few times inside the house so I put a sweater on him. Recently, we had him up at a cottage in beautiful Picton where there were no lights at night and the clouds obscured the moon and Rocky stepped outside and stood there, not able to see with his soft focus eyes and not able to hear through the blustering wind with his almost deaf ears. The ground was uneven beneath his feet and he would wobble in his steps.

In his movements, it was apparent that Rocky was old but mostly, I saw it in his demeanor. He was not the overconfident blunderbuss he used to be. He was unsure about his new environment. He doubted his ability to overcome all things. When the wind blew strong, he looked at me with uncertainty in his eyes. When the rain sprinkled, he walked back to the door and wanted to go inside.

And then the next morning, outside again for his morning walk, I stood back, a few meters away and saw Rocky standing in the front yard of the cottage. The big sky and open expanse of earth made him look small. He was an old, almost frail dog now. The look on his face which once seemed serious, almost threatening, now seemed concerned, worried. I took him back inside. I lifted him up onto the couch and he settled into sleep.



12 Comments to “The end of autumn”

  1. i don't know when these pictures were taken, but he looks really good for an old man. Distinguished. Genteal.

  2. Biscuit says:

    gosh i hope his cancer is gone, or at least stays suppressed, and that his anxiety settles down. such a sweet nutty boy.

    you must be awfully tempted to go out and piss on the old bag's sidewalk yourself.

  3. Fred says:

    Hi Falen, Rocky does a pretty good of looking good lying down or sometimes even standing but when he moves, that's when you notice. He's starting to walk like a puppy, kind of off kilter and tripping every so often.

    Biscuit, it was minus 3 outside this morning and that kook was out there hosing down her sidewalk. She suffers enough on her own.

  4. Nancy says:

    That's the thing that hurt so much as my Kaylie (may she RIP) aged .. watching the once uber-confident, assertive queen-b. turn into a tottery, wobbly dog that needed constant support.

    The Kipling poem (Do not give your heart to a dog to tear) is always in the back of my mind these days - I lost Kaylie in August, around age 15-16, and my other lab is turning 12 this year, and is quite senile (barking at walls, forgetting why he needed to go out to the yard, etc)...

  5. Fred says:

    Thanks, Nancy. I never read that poem before. It's wonderful. And it's interesting, the poem seems to lend evidence to the theory that despite all our scientific gains since Kipling's time, we don't seem to have extended the lifespans of our dogs by much if at all.

  6. Joanne says:

    I am so glad you are back...coming to this page and waiting to see what you have written is like waiting to open a Christmas present. Very exciting. As for the lady with the sidewalk...all you can do is wonder (and pity) at someone whose existence is defined by how clean her sidewalk is. Too bad she can't experience living with an animal to whom you are the centre of the universe. I cannot wait at night to get home from work and see my kids. Every day they are equally thrilled to see me. Too bad she is so mean in her soul and so obssessed by such an insignificant act, that she won't allow herself to experience that. I have known people like that, who are so afraid that an animal will dirty or damage their possessions and in the process of protesting their material things, they sit alone in their madness and miserableness... As I was typing Roy just threw up on a somewhat expensive rug..I can always get another rug, I can never get another Roy.

  7. Fred says:

    Hi Joanne, glad to be back and thanks. Hope your rug turns out okay.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Rocky is such a sweetheart...he reminds me of the doberman I had some twenty-odd years ago (god that makes me feel old). He's very lucky you took him home that day four years ago...you gave him a second chance he wouldn't have had otherwise.

    As for OCD woman, if it were me, I would make sure Rocky pissed on 'her' sidewalk at least twice a day...but I guess you're right to give her a wide berth...who knows what a nutbar like that will do next? If you can't have some compassion for an old dog who can't control where he pees and you care more about a slab of concrete than a living creature, what the hell are you good for and why are you still on this earth?

    Btw, I love the last picture... so cute.

  9. Lynda says:

    Great pics, Fred. I hope you get a lot more time to spend with Rocky. I'm always thinking about you.

    Lynda
    xoxo

  10. Anne says:

    I'm sure when that lady is old and frail, i'm betting she isn't wishing she spent more time cleaning her sidewalk
    but hell, it's her life and she can waste it however she wants

    good karma to you and Rocky. Old dogs are the best and the hardest at the same time

  11. Miz Minka says:

    Hi Fred, discovering that you're blogging again is like an early Christmas present! I love your photography and your writing. I hope Rocky's journey to the end is peaceful, and that you will have no regrets. You've done a wonderful thing taking care of this goofball for so many more years than even you expected.

    As soon as I get home from work, I'm going to take my pound dog for a walk -- so I can watch her do a "hand stand" while she pees because the grass is damp!

    Blessings to you from Central Califreakia.

  12. Wonderful post, Fred. I'm so sorry to hear about Rocky, but they never live long enough, do they? All we can do is enjoy the time we have with them...and laugh our a$$ets off at people like OCD lady. Please, may my world never get that small. Big hugs to Rocky and Smitten (I'm a huge Beardie fan).

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The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

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