Schneider on the day we adopted him in Delaware
Schneider and I
Part 1; 2018
Schneider is a long-haired German Shepherd Dog and will be twelve on December 21, 2018. He came into our lives when he was three, in April of 2011.
He was a rescue and he came to us as already an EPI dog. He had been surrendered by his owner whose new wife could not tolerate his presence in the house, especially after she became pregnant. When they got married, Schneider had been confined to the basement, which is the only place in the house that the new wife would permit him. I believe this was the traumatic event that triggered the EPI. Can you imagine how unsettled and hurt a three-year-old German Shepherd Dog would feel to be confined in a basement after enjoying the run of the house with his loving master?
Anyway, when Schneider came to us, my wife Maya was alive, and he weighed 65 pounds. He had gone down to 44 pounds when he was rescued. He now weighs about 87, so you can imagine how skinny he was. We very quickly learned what his needs were and, with the assistance and caring of the Village Animal Clinic in Syosset, Long Island, took all the necessary steps to improve his well-being and bring him back to a stable, healthy dog.
When he came to live with us, we had a house in Queens, NY, and Schneider and I and my wife, sometimes all of us, sometimes just the two of us, frequently just the two of them, because I worked in Jamaica, and Maya worked at a real estate company in the area, would take long walks around the neighborhood, and usually, on a daily basis, in the evenings, we would all go to one of the wonderful parks close by.
(Schneider on one of the back paths of Kissena Park)
Maya would take him to the park in the morning, and we would go together in the evening. There were other dogs in those parks, but Schneider had never really been comfortable with other dogs, and would bark at them, and act quite aggressively. We tried to train this out of him, and used a very good dog trainer, but did not have much success. He made a couple of dog friends, but they were friends on his terms.
Then my wife died. Schneider looked after me during that terrible period. He really knew I needed him and he stepped in to take care of me and keep me on track. My daughter also took charge of me and my affairs and persuaded me to sell the house we had in Queens and move to Missouri, which is where Schneider and I live now, in our own much smaller three-bedroom house on a farm.
(Schneider on the patio of his new house)
I thought about sitting down to write this because I wanted to put down in detail exactly how Schneider lives, and I apologize if the above is too wordy, or uninteresting. So, here’s Schneider’s life:
Because he is a senior citizen, and has, on a couple of occasions, left a message on the living room floor, I close the bedroom door when we go to bed. If Schneider needs to go out, he will “Woof” me, or, if he senses that I’m awake, he’ll come and nudge me, and I take him to the back door, and let him out to his enclosed poop yard. Once he’s done what’s needed, he comes back inside, and gets a tiny treat; usually a small piece of dehydrated chicken or dehydrated liver, but very small. He gets this as a reward for doing what needed to be done and for coming back when he’s finished.
A word about his treats: I buy skinless, boneless chicken breasts in 5lb or 10lb bags. I take about four or five of them out of the bag and bring them to a boil for about five minutes just to make sure there’s no danger of salmonella poisoning. After they have been taken out of the water, I put them in the fridge overnight. Then I slice them as thinly as possible and dehydrate them for about 12 hours. They make nice crisp pieces, which break very easily into smaller pieces, and work very well as treats. As well as getting these treats after he has done his business, he gets two treats at night when we go to bed, together with a Krill oil capsule to keep his coat shiny.
When we get up in the morning, first thing is for Schneider to go out and do his thing. He pees and poops. Then he gets his breakfast. For breakfast he has 1 cup of Taste of the Wild Pacific Salmon Kibble with a heaping tablespoon of Fage plain 2% yoghurt and a teaspoon of TOTW canned food as a topper, and a teaspoon of 8x enzymes or 3 Creon capsules, opened and sprinkled on his food. A friend of mine, whose EPI animal died, sent me a large amount of Creon capsules, and I have been using them because they don’t require incubation. Of course, he gets a bowl of clean fresh water.
After breakfast, I go into my study, and go through my emails. I take a small bowl of either rice pudding or tapioca pudding, together with a cup of coffee. Schneider gets to do the pre-dishwashing with that bowl. I usually have about four teaspoons or so. And he doesn’t get any of the rice or the tapioca, just the custard it was in.
He gets to go out for another walk at about 11AM or so, except for two days a week when he does about a half to three-quarters of a mile around the perimeter of the 20-acre farm. He then is brushed. Around this time, he and I usually share a banana, 50-50.
For lunch, he gets a cup of kibble with either 1/3 small can of tuna, or two sardines, with some of the liquid from the can of whichever fish. He does love fish, by the way. He goes out again at about 3:00PM to relieve himself. Then around 4:30PM, he is taken out for a long walk with a teenager who lives with my daughter, Tonia. Sometimes he runs with the teen, sometimes he just walks. After that walk, he gets his dinner, one cup of kibble, together with some bones and meat bits that have been pressure-cooked and are soft enough to break with a spoon. If the bones don’t break, he doesn’t get them. These bones, either chicken or beef, are what is left over after I make a bone both in the pressure cooker. That broth is frozen in the ice cube tray and is used to moisten his meals, as well as to make delicious soup for the people who eat at my house.
My daughter and her partner, as well as the teen mentioned above, usually have dinner at my house. They live on the same farm as I do, only 300 meters or so across the hayfield. I have a big table, and it’s nice to have company, at least once a day. Schneider enjoys the company as well, and he gets to do the pre-dishwashing routine after all have eaten. He does not get a whole lot of food from the dinner plates; it is usually just a little sauce and some crumbs, of non-grain items. Of course, he also gets to lick out the ice-cream bowls when dessert is finished. He counts. He knows exactly who has eaten what and he expects to get their plates and bowls.
He gets to go out two or three times before we go to bed, and usually pees once or twice and poops at least once.
Occasionally he will counter-surf and grabs something he is not supposed to have. He has taken a loaf of French bread and eaten it, and I cannot think of leaving fruit or salad vegetables or any meat of any kind within his reach and going out of the room. And he still surprises me with his ability to reach things I think are safely out of his reach. Whenever he steals anything, and it is very rare, because I try and keep a hawk’s eye on him, or if, for some reason, he has a soft poop, I will give him a couple of Slippery Elm Bark capsules. Of course, he also receives a monthly dose of heartworm meds and flea & tick meds.
So far, so good. He is a happy, and healthy senior citizen, who gets more exercise than I do, and eats regularly and well, and we are very close to each other. I am his person, and I was from the very first time we met; he just came to me in the foster home where he was living and claimed me. That was it. I was his, and there was a great finality in that bonding. I adore him. And, as I say, when my wife died, he really looked after me and kept me going through that terrible period of my life.
He loves to go riding in the car, and I have a ramp for him to get up into the back seat. I do not take him out very often In the car, especially in the summer, but he comes out with me from time to time.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my boy, and if nothing else, I would like you take away from this little note that EPI is a manageable disorder, and you and your dog will, most probably, be able to enjoy many years together playing dog sports, chasing frisbees, performing agility trials and all the other things that happy, healthy, well-trained dogs are capable of doing.
Part 2; 2020
Intellectually, I understand that it was time for my beloved Schneider to cross the Rainbow Bridge. He had suddenly, and I mean, really suddenly, on a Sunday afternoon, lost the mobility of his hind legs. He had been having some trouble walking and sometimes stumbled a little, but generally he was quite active and mobile up to that point. This time, he went out to greet our guests and had to be held up. When he was brought back inside, he lay down and did not move for the remainder of the afternoon.
I picked him up with a towel and took him outside so he could relieve himself, and removed the towel so he would feel free to urinate, which he did. However, I had to use the towel under his belly to get him back inside. He lay on his bed and did not move for the balance of the day.
When it came time for bed, I used the towel again and helped him into the bedroom and lay him down on his bed. He did not move from the bed for the entire night and when I woke in the morning, he was in exactly the same position as when I lay him down at night. This, in itself was unusual, because he would usually get off his bed at the foot of my bed and go into his crate for a while. But not this time. I took him back into the dining room, prepared his breakfast, and took it to him, but he was not interested. I added his favorite dehydrated chicken breast treats as a topping and then I was able to persuade him, with the help of a spoon, to eat.
My wife and I had bought a dog wheelchair for our previous German Shepherd Dog, Jason, who suffered from degenerative myelopathy and also lost the use of his hind legs. He happily took to the wheelchair and we walked in our usual park with that until he died.
I changed some of the settings on the chair for Schneider because he was longer and taller than Jason. I don’t know if I did it properly, but I fit him in the chair almost the same as Jason had been in it. When we went out and I tried to have him walk, with his hind legs up in the straps, he looked at me as if to say: “What is this indignity you’re imposing on me?” He would not move, unless I dragged him using the top of the chair as a handle. So, I abandoned that idea.
My veterinarian had told me that she would come to the house after office hours when the time came. I told my daughter that it was time for him to be put to sleep and she called the vet to arrange for her to come. Instead of my own vet, she recommended a veterinarian who was specializing in euthanasia. She was a delightful person, and she and her father came to administer the necessary potions. Tonia and her partner Deb both came, and we all wept together as Schneider passed over. Tonia said that his demise was the most peaceful she had ever witnessed.
I am writing this at the height of the COVID-19 events, and I’m sure there are probably many people who are thinking that I am wasting my time writing about the death of a dog, and to some extent, they are correct. However, this dog was part of my family. My wife and I rescued Schneider after he had been placed with a rescue organization because the owner’s new wife became pregnant and told him that she did not want that “hair-generating monster” in her house with her new baby.
I guess that tells you all you need to know about her. Prior to the pregnancy, she had insisted that Schneider should live in their basement, which he did. When he arrived at the Mid Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue, he weighed less than forty pounds. There is a disorder known as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, commonly known by the acronym, EPI. There is no knowledge about why dogs are afflicted with this disease, but some researchers believe it may be caused by stress or continued psychological trauma. The result of the insufficiency is that the dog’s digestive system is disrupted. Digestive enzymes that are usually produced by the pancreas are not produced and, as a result, food passes through the digestive tract and is undigested, causing drastic weight loss and “cow patty” foul-smelling stools. The condition is relatively easily treated and, while there may be other disorders that arise concomitantly, simply adding enzymes to each meal the dog eats will usually stabilize the condition.
Schneider was three years old when we adopted him, and we treated the condition with the enzymes and kept him on a grain-free diet. Grain tends to stay in the intestines when there is any kind of digestive disorder and it may foment and cause other problems. Some people feed raw, and there is a great deal of discussion about what is best for the dog. We decided grain-free was the way to go, and that is what we fed him all the time he was with us.
Maya and I lived in Flushing, Queens, and we enjoyed taking Schneider, or as we called him, “The Pooh” out to some of the parks that are available in Queens. We also made some very good friends.
In 2016 my beloved wife, Maya, died of cancer. She underwent all kinds of treatment to try and diminish the onslaught of this terrible disease, but we were unable to stop its headlong rush. She had her first symptoms in 2014, at about the same time that I retired and it was really just downhill all the way from there, regardless of the sterling efforts made by her treatment team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
Tonia and Deb came to Flushing to see if they could help her and me. Maya died the morning after they arrived. It was almost as though she waited for them to come and then felt that she could pass over. They stayed for a while to help with the funeral arrangements, and then returned to Missouri.
As a result, it was just Schneider and me in a large, empty, three-storied house. Schneider was a wonderful support for me during this period. I don’t know if I could have survived without his support and assistance. If nothing else, I was responsible for him and had to devote the same amount of time to him that he had received previously. He was a rock for me.
Maya had worked as a real estate broker, and Tonia thought it would be a good idea if I were to sell the house and move, with Schneider, to the farm she had in Republic, Missouri, where I now live.
Needless to say, that was accomplished and for a couple of months The Pooh and I lived in an RV. It was relatively comfortable until it got too cold, and Tonia had us move into her house.
Meanwhile, we had started building my house, about 300 meters away from Tonia’s on the other side of the hayfield. It was completed in March of 2018 and Schneider and I moved in and were very comfortable. We even had a couple from Australia, one of my very dearest friends and her husband stay with us for about a week.
Schneider will always be with me, and I owe him so very much. It tore my heart out to have him go. He looked at me with his big, brown eyes as if to say: “Can’t you fix this for me so we can go out walking again?” As I wrote when I started this essay, intellectually I know that this was the right action to take. He is no longer in pain, I cannot say he is better off, because I find it hard to think that not having life is better than having life, regardless of the attendant problems. However, emotionally I am a complete wreck.
Today I cleaned up Schneider’s backyard and removed the last of his poop. I still have a lot of his hair that was saved from brushing and I want to have that spun into a yarn that I may use for a crocheting or knitting garment of some kind. I still have all of his toys. Some of the toys have been with us for the entire time he was with us. He did not destroy the toys, he groomed them. Occasionally one or two of them needed to be repaired, but generally, they are in very good shape.
(Schneider’s final portrait)
I now have a new companion. Boone is a chocolate Labrador, who will be two years old in about one month. He is delightful, full of energy, playful, willing to please, and a snuggler. He has taken some of Schneider’s toys, and may get to play with more of them. He is welcome to any of them that he wants. Tonia wasted no time in finding me another companion, and this boy is an excellent match. He is not a long-haired German Shepherd Dog, but he will find a place in my heart and my house in very short order.