My White Wolves, II
I am sorry for the delay in posting this sequel to my blog about my white shepherd, Shadow, but I’ve had some pain issues that limited my time at the computer. I am having a better day , so I am going to see if I can tell Tristan’s story. After Shadow’s death, I was not sure I’d ever be ready to adopt another shepherd. Several months later, that wound was still very raw, but I did want to take in another dog, knowing how many there are in desperate need of good homes. So I finally decided to adopt a dog unlikely to find a family. I began to check the Echo White Shepherds Rescue page and there I found Tristan, then called Hank. He did not sound as if people would be banging down the doors to adopt him for he was nine, which is elderly for a shepherd, and not in good health, so skinny you could count his ribs and unsteady on his feet; his coat was also very thin in patches. All in all, he looked rather bedraggled. I contacted Joan, the woman who’d rescued him from a high-kill FLA shelter, and she told me his sad story. She pulled him from the shelter on his very last day and the shelter staff tried to talk her out of taking him, suggesting she take a younger, healthier dog. Luckily for Tristan, she paid them no heed; I came to consider her Tris’s Echo Angel and I daresay he’d have agreed with me.
We did not know his history, of course; he’d been found as a stray. He was so emaciated that he may have been on his own for quite a while; either that or he’d been owned by someone who’d not bothered to feed him very often. His behavior made it obvious that he’d not been an indoor dog, probably chained up in a backyard, the sad fate of far too many dogs. Joan was able to find someone who agreed to take him in temporarily as a foster; she had half a dozen dogs at her own house then, so there was simply no room. My main concern was that he was friendly with other dogs, as I still had my poodle, Chelsea, and Joan was able to assure me that he was getting along well with his foster family’s dog. So I applied, was approved, and then we set about planning to get Tristan from FLA to NJ.
What followed was a fascinating odyssey. Echo White Shepherd Rescue—an amazing organization—lined up thirteen kind-hearted volunteers, each one to drive Tris for an hour or two. They kept me informed of his progress and I shared it on Facebook: He is now in SC, he has reached Raleigh, etc. His pilgrimage was followed with great enthusiasm, and I could only marvel that this dog, who’d come within an hour of being euthanized, was now being cheered on by people all over the globe. One of my readers said it was like tracking Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, but my favorite comment came from my Australian friend, Glenne, who said it was like passing the Olympic Torch. My friend Rachael and I drove down to MD to meet his final escorts, a delightful couple named Lizbeth and Paul. Tristan must have been bewildered, but I was told he’d endured the travel with equanimity, and when we were ready to go, he hopped willingly into the back seat of my car. We then drove right into a monsoon, the most intense rainstorm I’d encountered in years, so bad we had to keep pulling off the road since at times I could not even be sure we were still on it. I could only hope that this was not an ill omen.
My new shepherd was now renamed Tristan; surely no one is surprised that I picked a medieval name? He showed himself to be friendly to Chelsea, who was used to living with dogs who towered above her like redwood trees dwarfing a sapling. A visit to my vet revealed that he weighed only sixty-four pounds, had some arthritis in his spine, and was likely between eight and nine years old. I would later learn that he was fearful of thunderstorms and whenever he’d creep to my side and tremble as the heavens roared overhead, I felt such sadness, imaging how terrifying it must have been for him in FLA, a state that has some of the most savage storms in the country.
He was quite intelligent, as most shepherds are, although he was not at all interested in the traditional dog obedience class; I suspect he found it boring to keep walking in circles and repeating the same commands. I eventually took him for private lessons and there he excelled. For probably the first time in years, he was getting enough to eat and he began to thrive. His limp disappeared and his skimpy coat became so plush and thick that a polar bear might well have envied it. And to my surprise, this frail senior citizen morphed into Godzilla, going from that emaciated sixty-four pounds to a robust ninety-five pounds, increasing his body weight by fully a third. I hope to be able to add a few photos, as my blog is still balking at that. I would like to share one of Tristan and Holly and one of Tris, looking like the lord of the manor.
Tristan loved to play with toys, perhaps because he’d never had any, his favorite being a stuffed duck that my friend Jim kindly sent him—addressed to Tristan Penman! He loved riding in the car, going for walks in the woods, and catching balls or toys in his mouth; no matter how high they were thrown, he never missed a single one. He was not pals with my poodle, Chelsea, but they got along well. She was quite ill by then, for she’d gone into kidney failure the same week that Shadow had died, and there was only so much the vet could do. She died in May and Tristan became an only child—until I was browsing Petfinder in December and came across a little spaniel up for adoption at Last Chance Ranch in Quakertown, PA.
It was love at first sight and I was delighted when they approved me to adopt her. She’d been found wandering the streets of Philadelphia, with no collar or microchip, and when no one came to claim her, she was turned over to Last Chance. She was still so friendly and trusting that we assumed she could not have been on her own for too long, but the rest of her history remains a mystery. I decided Tristan was too old for a two hundred mile round trip, and so I left him home when I drove up to get Holly, thinking there’d be no trouble since he’d been fine with Chelsea. It did not quite turn out that way, though.
I knew that dogs should meet on neutral ground, so I parked by a small park across the street from my house, then went to introduce Tristan to his new roommate. Holly was very friendly. He was not. He did not growl. He did not bristle or stiffen. There were no overt signs of hostility. But I was picking up a bad vibe. So did Holly, for she suddenly shrieked and dove under the car. Once I got them into the house, I put her in Tristan’s crate, which he’d only used for the first few days. I was quite upset, for I was already smitten with this little girl and did not want to have to return her to the rescue group. Yet unless I could be sure she’d be safe with Tristan, I’d have no choice.
Tristan had apparently decided he liked being an only child, for he regarded this interloper quite coolly. He’d showed no signs of aggression, though, so I soon felt it was safe to let them interact under my supervision. What followed was hilarious. Spaniels are sweet dogs, if not considered the sharpest knives in the drawer, but Holly was blessed with brains as well as beauty, and she set about winning him over. Tristan would be lying on his bed and she’d come over to snuggle next to him. He’d get up and stalk away, for all the world like an elderly uncle who does not want to babysit the kids. She was not daunted by his rejections, continued her campaign. When he felt she was being too pushy, he’d give a low, warning growl. She’d immediately flip over onto her back in the submissive puppy pose and bat those long golden lashes up at him. Watching, I would think, “Tristan, you’re toast.” And sure enough, in less than a week, she had him right where she wanted him, under one of her feathery, delicate paws. He was too old and too large for them to be genuine playmates, but their mutual affection was quite touching and I am sure they enjoyed each other’s company. As much as dogs bond with people, most of them need time with their own tribe, too.
Those of you who have friended me on Facebook already know the end of Tristan’s story. My vet had been treating his arthritis of the spine, using acupuncture and chiropractic as well as more traditional methods. But in November of 2012, he suddenly began to experience considerable pain in his spine. Nothing seemed to help. I did not realize how serious it was, though, until he started to have difficulty walking. To show you what an excellent doctor my friend John Phillips is, he diagnosed Tristan’s condition as a collapse of his spinal column, and that from three thousand miles away in England. He was right. My vet tried a massive dose of steroids as a Hail Mary pass, to no avail. Tristan died on November 16, 2012. I’d only had him for twenty months, but it was a comfort to know that those were probably the best months of his life.
March 9, 2016