In my work as a shepherdess, I have a number of coworkers of different species. From the llamas who protect our flock, to the cats who keep the barns free of mice, and the dogs who help us move our sheep from place to place, I depend on a team of creatures great and small to help me keep things going. I form friendships and attachments, even as I know that they will be fleeting — none of the animals I work with will likely outlive me. Since we’ve been shepherding for over seventeen years, we’ve seen these good friends come and go, and while we celebrate the new faces, it’s always hard to move on when we lose one.
My usual morning routine includes letting the dogs out at about 5:30 a.m. I then slide back into bed for another hour or so of sleep before truly starting my day. Yesterday morning was pretty much like any other: the dogs each took their turn outside to do their business and then settled into their usual morning haunts — Lisa in the dining room, and Coda and Chance in the bedroom with me. All of our dogs are getting on in age; Lisa is the oldest at 13, Coda is 12, and Chance, 9. Because Lisa can no longer take the stairs, she long ago decided to stay in the dining room after her first outing of the day, waiting to greet me when I come downstairs about two hours later.
As I came downstairs yesterday morning, I could tell that Lisa was not her usual self. Instead of getting up to greet me, she stayed where she was until I called her name and came near. As I reached out to pet her, she got up unsteadily, and I knew immediately that something was off. But because Lisa is older and sometimes develops stiff joints as she waits for me, I made a mental note to watch her as we made our way outside after breakfast. While we were still in the house, I noticed that her back end was wiggly rather than stiff. Then she vomited, although there was little in her stomach after the long night. All of that got me worried.
As I made coffee and more symptoms occurred, I realized that Lisa was having a stroke. It isn’t such a hard thing to figure out, especially because I’m used to watching for neurological symptoms in our sheep. Lisa began to tilt her head and show weakness on her right side. Soon she could no longer walk without falling, nor stand in place without sliding into a lopsided sit. Her eyes twitched as she looked up at me, and she seemed confused at any command. We returned to the training of her puppy days, when I would give her a verbal command and then a “cheat” hand signal that reminded her what I was asking her to do. She complied easily — and that also had me a bit worried, knowing Lisa’s sometimes independent temperament.
I got my morning chores done in record time and carried Lisa to the truck for a trip to our vet, who confirmed my diagnosis. They checked for high blood pressure as a possible cause, but it was normal. I was told that many dogs bounce back quite well after a stroke, so there was nothing to do but wait to see how things progressed and how she would be doing after 72 hours. My vet said that time would likely make it obvious whether my good friend would survive this or not. I took her home to wait it out and made her comfortable in her usual spot in the dining room.
By yesterday afternoon, Lisa was still losing ground, but peacefully. No longer able to stand for even a short time, she curled up and began to drool over her front legs and curled tail. When the other two dogs and I went out for a bit of exercise, I carried Lisa out and set her under the crab apple tree where she had a good view of the chickens. She has always loved to harass the chickens, and even though she was much less menacing this time, I could see that she was enjoying the shade of the tree and the breeze blowing through the yard. I felt that she was happy, and that was all I could ask for at that point.
I don’t know where this journey of ours will lead. Lisa came to us from Texas almost fourteen years ago as our first herding dog. It turned out that she wasn’t much of a herder, but of the three dogs, she is probably the friendliest with people. She likes nothing better than to stick her nose between your knees and have you rub the entire length of her body — and if you can’t figure this out for yourself, she will help you with the details. Even in her current confused state, she still falls into this longstanding habit. Although it might not initially seem so, my friend is still in there — and I hope she will bounce back so that we can keep her with us for at least a little while longer.