Get ready for a long story . . . Frankie is a 10 1/2 year old, 52 lb., shepherd/husky mix. He came to us at 8 months with his mom. They were strays eating out of the dumpster next door. Frank’s mom was not kind to him and after about 4 months she disappeared despite our attempts to contain her – she scaled a 7ft chain-link fence. About that time Frank became a ‘fear biter’ of people, not other dogs. He has bitten two utility workers and a neighbor which ended in the cancellation of our home insurance (we got more at a higher cost.)
I should tell you that we have always had 4-5 dogs: 2 Goldens who just passed within the last 9 months & took my heart with them, several black lab mixes, 2 border collies mixes and a variety of foster dogs, some through Golden Treasures Rescue and many that we rescued and adopted out ourselves. We have fostered and placed over 175 dogs in their forever homes over 9 years. We stopped fostering in our home about 3 years ago, partially due to Frankie and our fatigue/burnout. (More about us later, but we started a nonprofit that provides short-term foster care for pets of women in domestic violence shelters. We sometimes foster a dog in a kennel in our garage for 1-3 days until it placed in a foster home.)
Our last male rescue – Simon – is a 70lb mixed hound dog (we rescued him at age 2 from a pound; we have had him 4 years.) He and Frankie fought for maybe 2 years and Frank has lost every time. The fights got progressively worse and Frank has had 2-3 major surgeries across his shoulders – one 18 inches wide – as a result of these fights. I have been in every one – if not, Simon would have killed him the last 3 times. Twice I have laid on Frankie holding his head from Simon shaking him to death while someone else got Simon to relax his jaw and get Frankie pulled away. By now you might think we are horrible, crazy dog owners and the only reason I tell you all this is for you to understand our environment. Our vet thought we should put down Simon as he is always the aggressor but he is always provoked by Frank’s growl.
Our dogs are our children – we have no human ones. We will not caste them aside or euthanize them unless there is no hope for improvement. We got a trainer to work with us and our goal was to protect Frankie as well as gain ‘top dog’ control of our pack of 5. This helped immensely. Frankie is never alone with Simon without Simon being muzzled, outside or in. We have a 3 story home and a hobby farm with a large (7 ft.!) enclosed fence attached to the home on either side. If I go to another floor, I either put Simon outside, muzzle him, or put him in ‘his room.’ Our goal is to keep Frankie safe. Believe it or not, Frank and Simon sleep together at night in the bed with one of us. Another dog sleep with them (on the floor) and the 4th dog sleeps in the other spouse’s bed. We have had one vacation since the turmoil with rank – we got married in 2010. We have one close friend who also fosters dogs and comes in to feed or put our dogs out if we are gone more than 8 hours. I work from home part-time as I am partially retired. My spouse, an attorney, works 50 hours + a week to support us with my SSA and pension. I a m the primary caregiver for all our pets which include 5 cats, 3 horse, 2 barn cats and the dogs. Five of our small pets are seniors; all the horses are 20 + (average life span is 30).
Again, I tell you all this so you can better understand the setting we are in. Frankie has panus but lost one eye in November 2012 to a rare benign eye tumor – the vet eye doc thought it was most likely cancer. After the first of the year, Franks began slowly losing vision in the other eye. Two months ago he was diagnosed with glaucoma and was totally blind at that point. Despite the drops to keep the pressure down, the vet says there is no return to vision. We are struggling to say the least.
We thought that a blind Frank would be a nightmare as he would bite everything and everyone. The opposite has occurred and he has mellowed, partly due to age. He is now scared much of the time, and sleeps like a baby when he is relaxed. Frank stays on our main floor with the other dogs until bedtime, but if I run up and down during the day, he wants to follow me so we have to close the baby gate at the bottom of the stairs. In the beginning of blindness, Frank fell down the stairs twice in a 12 hour period, so he is now only upstairs to sleep and if we are in the bath or another bedroom, his bedroom door must be closed as he will wander.
The other dogs pretty much ignore him, including Simon, but we have not relaxed our safety rules. They are never alone, yada, yada. Our 1st floor is an open floor plan with the steps in the middle, but Frankie seems to run into everything and gets lost between a plant stand and the window or behind my desk and the wall or around the kitchen table. His medical care includes Prozac, 3 eye drops, vitamin D and Reiki when we can afford it, about every 6-8 weeks. The Reiki seems to be less effective since the total blindness as the car trip is stressful for him. At the last eye vet appointment, I have never seen him shake so much in the building. On the way home he was fine.
Our only sharp corners are doorways. The objects are what he runs into. There are 2 upholstered chairs and a couch where he sleeps when we are home. Going outside involves two deck steps and a turn before he gets to concrete and grass. He usually finds his way back to the door and barks to come in if I am not watching him. However, one day recently we ‘hid’ under the back steps which used to be his cool (in the summer) private ‘getaway.’ I had to wait for him to come out. My spouse and I had been discussing divorce and the environment was stressful.
So there you are. Please help in anyway you can suggest. Lately it has been very difficult to get Frankie ‘settled,’ even if I am on the same floor but moving around. With spring, the other 3 dogs are out a couple hours in the day and it is often just me and Frank and he has become quite restless. I don’t know where to go next.
I am now using soothing music specifically to de-stress pets (from our holistic vet friend) and rainbow spray seems to help. I cannot tell much improvement with Rescue Remedy. His food is grain-free kibble with warm water. He eats fine and loves his biscuits for any positive activity – eye drops and when each dogs come in.