A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rowdy - the story of a good dog

In 2005, I was the Executive Director for Noah's Ark CARE, as well as a foster home for dogs.  Our President and Vet called me one day, and asked if I would be willing to go pick up a dog.  Reports were that she was starving, left to run loose, and being attacked by other dogs.  The owner didn't want to surrender her, but would give her to a good home.  Evidently, she didn't want her to be put in the foster system.

So, I went and I told what I thought was a lie.  My story was that I wanted a companion for my Rottie male.  He has hip dysplasia, and needs a buddy who is submissive, and kind.  The owner agreed to let me meet the dog, so I drove over.

When I arrived, I saw this fumbling franken dog.  Her feet were too big, her legs too slim, her belly was huge, but her sholder was dainty.  Over all that though, I fell in love with her "teddy bear" eyes.  She had the biggest sweetest kindest eyes of any dog I have met.  Before I even met the owner, the dog spotted me, and came running across the pasture to get attention.  When I reached down to pet her, I felt nothing but skin and bones.

The dog's name was Rowdy.  The owner bred agility Australian Shepherds, and had 11 dogs of her own.  Rowdy had been her husband's dog, but her husband had passed away a year before.  She was "about 4 or so" years old.  I took her home, thinking the whole time that this dog was lucky to still be up and moving.  She was so skinny, but it was hidden under her long winter hair.

At that time I lived in an above the garage apartment, on the second floor.  To get Rowdy inside, we had to go up the stairs.  Rowdy didn't get the whole idea of stairs, so I had to carry her.  I wasn't sure I would be able to carry a Rottweiler cross up a flight of stairs, but then I picked her up.  I lifted her easily, and would guess her weight to be around 35 to 40 pounds.  There was loose skin, and her hair was dry and disgusting, but under all that was sharp bones and angles.  There was no DOG to this dog!

Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was assess her health.  If she had a medical problem that lead to the weight loss, we needed to get that addressed quickly.  This poor thing didn't have a lot of time left at this weight.  I offered her a small bowl of wet food.  A proper amount for a starving dog.  Her reaction was the most shocking.

She didn't dive in like most starving dogs.  Instead, she backed away scared.  She was terrified of Suzie, my mature rottie - and experienced foster dog rehabilitator - even though Suzie was simply laying on the bed looking at her.  I moved her food to a corner, and stood "guard" to see what she would do.  That was what she needed.  Once she felt secure, she scarfed that food up in seconds.  Through out the next few weeks we fed her small amounts many times each day, and she began to fill in.  I also realized that much of her problem wasn't just being submissive.... some one had beat this dog severely.

A few days after she arrived, my cat knocked over a glass next to my computer.  I leaped up, shouting "NO!" at the cat.  A few feet away, Rowdy was moving across the room.  When I yelled, she threw herself on her side, and began to urinate.  Submissive urination it's called, and usually stops by the time a dog is 2 years old, and mature.  For a 4 year old dog to do that was odd.  But when I actually LOOKED at her, that was the worst.

Rowdy was terrified!  I yelled, and she was sure that her world was about to end.  She lay there in fear, shivering, and wide eyed.  When I walked over to reassure her, she flinched from my presence, and whimpered just before I touched her.

Jae arrived only a few weeks after Rowdy did, and the bond was immediate.  She loved him, and he was so smitten with her.  But if he moved to fast, she would throw herself belly up and urinate.  We learned to use other words besides "no" in her presence, because any sternness with that word, and she would panic.

It took us awhile, but she soon learned that punishment was a stern voice, and not a hard hit.  But her problems weren't over.  As she gained weight, other health issues began to show up.  First it was her hips.  Her range of motion wasn't right.  When she was checked out, it was determined that she has hip dysplasia.  It was minor, and not unexpected in a dog of such "quality" breeding, but arthritis had already started to set in, and was affecting her mobility.  Shortly after that, her knees began to show problems.  She had an old ACL tear in both hind legs, with her left being the worse.  We discussed surgery, but it was decided that we needed to get her to full weight first.  The unspoken understanding was that with multiple medical issues, her adoption chances were low.

My rescue is not a non-kill rescue.  Rather, we took over the city pound, which meant that many dogs coming into the rescue were seriously hurt (hit by car, etc) or had aggression issues that make them unadoptable.  Because the rescue was the city pound, we had certain legal obligations that meant some dogs just couldn't be adopted out for liability issues.  Many of those we placed in no-kill rescues, but others were humanely euthanized.  Rowdy was on a path to the last.

But Jae loved her.  He was completely smitten with her, and hadn't had a dog of his own in so long.  The first time I had mentioned that we could probably list her for adoption soon, he asked me to put it off.  When it began to look like she wouldn't be adoptable, he didn't say a thing, but his whole body said that he dreaded the thought of his baby girl being put to sleep.  When we learned that her hips AND knees were bad, I made the "offhand" comment that I had a pack of "broken" dogs, we'd be a good home for something like her.  Of course, I had 4 dogs at that time.  One was blind, and one had severe hip dysplasia, one was old, and the last was perfectly healthy.  Rowdy would fit right in, wouldn't she?

Jae lept on that.  He never would SAY it, but I could tell that he wanted this dog.  Yet, 5 dogs is a LOT of dog.  I reminded him that 2 of those dogs were seniors.  Calvin was an 9 year old Rottweiler - a breed that is only expected to live to be 8, and Hobbes was 11.  Little did I know that Calvin would live to be 14, and Hobbes was a lively 17.

So when Rowdy was at her proper and healthy weight, and the seizures started, the decision was easy.  She was Jae's dog officially. 

The seizures started mildly.  A twitch here, something strange overnight there.  But they got more frequent and stronger.  It took a while before we actually saw a seizure thought.  We just knew something wasn't right.  Rowdy would wander into the other room, and come back dazed.  We would wake up to her scratching the wall, and find her sitting up dazed.  But then, she seized in front of Jae.  That seizure would have been considered "strong" but looking back it was one of her "little ones".  She had a 15 second grand maul seizure.  As she came out of the seizure, she began snapping at anything that touched her.  The chair, the floor, it didn't matter, she was scared, and reacting. 

Rowdy was put on Phenobarbital, which helped but didn't completely stop the seizures.  After the required time, we did blood work, and raised her dose.  That made no change, so we repeated the process 4 times, until we were mostly controlling the seizures. At this time, it was found that her seizures were caused by an old brain injury.  Trauma to the back of her head.  From her history, reactions, and medical diagnosis, we are pretty sure that she was kicked hard in the back of the head (amongst other places).  This poor dog was suffering from the "love" her people had given her in the past.

Over the next 5 years her seizures became a challenge to battle.  From 1 phenobarb twice daily, to 2, then up to 3.  When she still had breakthrough seizures, we added potassium bromide.  When she STILL had breakthrough seizures, we tested her thyroid, and found that out of whack, and added more meds.  Every morning and evening Rowdy got 4 pills.  If we missed her meds, she came and told us.  She had a small pharmacy of her own.

But it was worth it.  Once she learned what real love is, Rowdy gave it with out question.  She would lay next to one of us, and just look up at us for hours, as happy as could be.  She wanted nothing more then simply to have a hand on her head.  Her body failed her, so she was never an active dog, but she made sure to get her attention when ever she wanted it.  If you ignored her, she would "sing" until you would love her.  When she was bad (she loved to get into the garbage!) a simple "no" would make her sulk, but she no longer feared punishment.  And a truck ride was the best thing in the world!

Never mind that she couldn't get IN the truck on her own.  Jae had to lift her in.  Her ideal weight was around 85 pounds, but her broken body, and an effect of all her medication meant that she was always over weight.  Rowdy averaged 94 pounds, and spent much of her life on a diet.  We tried to keep her weight down, knowing that it was best for her joints, but some how she just stayed fat.  I always said that at least she had enough food to BE fat, and hoped that she had forgotten the time in her life when she survived on dropped horse food, and scavenged cow poop.

And Rowdy was a hoarder.  She would steal dirty clothes from the hamper, and cuddle them all night.  She would grab a spoon or fork from a plate, and "bury" it in the sofa.  But dirty clothes were her favorite.  I would wake up at night to some noise, only to find that she was rummaging through the hamper looking for something special.  Dirty socks, sweaty shirts.  The stinkier the better!  Then she would go back for another until she had made a bed of dirty clothes, and fall asleep covered in the smells of her people.

I always said though, that we were killing her kindly.  Between her medications, her lack of exercise, and her weight problem, she would never live to a ripe old age, but I hoped that her life would be good.  Last night, she wasn't quite right.  She kept trying to choke.  Not constantly, but enough that I noticed it, and thought I might have the vet see her today.  She seemed to want attention, so I sat on the floor and loved on her.  She ate it up.  When I went to bed, she was laying at the foot of the bed looking up at me.  I leaned over and petted her again, and she seemed like it made her happy.  She sighed contentedly and went to sleep.

When we woke up this morning, she was dead.  She passed away in her sleep, laying on my dirty blanket, with her head on Jae's dirty shirt.  She was about 10 years old, maybe more, and 6 of those years she knew love.  I will miss her.  She will be buried at home, with our other beloved pets, and forever have a place in my heart.  Rowdy taught me that no matter how bad things were, you should always look at the good in life.  She loved unconditionally, and lived for the little things in life.  She was all that a good dog should be.  I didn't expect to lose her so soon, but I knew that I wouldn't have that much time left with her.  Looking back, I'm just glad that I talked myself into keep "just one more".  She was so worth it.
Rowdy in her favorite place, head on my shoe, dirty towel close by, and where everyone has to pass by her.


  1. I am sorry for your loss - what an amazing story of a resilient dog!

  2. Am crying with joy for Rowdy's life with you and sadness that she is gone. But it was a wonderful way for a wonderful dog to go. My Aussie Rosie's story is very similar.
    Bless you!

  3. Oh, the hits just keep coming don't they? I'm so sorry for you! Rowdy sounds like an amazing girl and yall were so lucky to have found each other.

  4. I keep having to remind myself that when you have as many animals as I do, that you will have more losses. We have 8 cats, 5 dogs, and 26 horses now. I have old ones in each group (a 17 year old cat, a 12 year old Rottie, a couple of 21 year old mares) so I know it will happen. I've accepted that they don't live as long as I will, and that I have to simply enjoy the time I have with them. Doesn't really make it any easier though.

    But as Jae said, Rowdy wouldn't have lived out the week if I hadn't picked her up. She should have been put down at the rescue. Many people would have euthanized her when the meds didn't work, let alone with her biting problem post seizure. We simply learned to deal with it all. A few seconds of "watch your hands" was worth it for the days upon days of her teddy bear eyes, and to feel her rest her head against my leg while I worked.

    It's hard to put my time with Rowdy into words. She never really "did" anything. She just loved. She loved people, she loved cats, she loved other dogs, and she even loved the horses when they would stand still. She would rest her head on them, or rub against them. Anything that might love her, she made sure to love it first. Granted, she was about as stupid as dogs come.... she would get lost in her own house, or get scared at the barn, and go the wrong way home. She got stuck in the bathroom countless times because she would shut herself in. Silly things like that. But she had a heart of gold.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss. Its always hard to loss them. I think I read that you don't have any (human) children so in a way that makes the loss harder.

  6. I'm sure she loved every minute she was with you, once she realized she was safe, possibly even sooner, and I'm sure she would have thanked you with words (maybe the last sigh was that) for taking care of her.

  7. So sorry for your loss. I'm sure she passed at peace and feeling love and loved.

  8. I've very sorry to hear of this loss in your life. You gave her a dignified life and a safe place to be a happy dog for as long as God's plan was.

  9. I'm so sorry for your loss. Sounds like Rowdy found the right humans. Thanks for sharing her story

  10. I am so sorry! At least she did know that humans can be kind and loving. Thank you for caring for her.