Cornfields Olderhill Black Pride – that’s her real name. She is our fourth German Shepherd and was the most difficult to train (simply because of her enormous energy), but nevertheless the most rewarding. When she joined our house as a pup, our older dogs lived happily with Jiggers the resident cat, but the best Zeta could manage was an uneasy truce.
Jiggers kept to the house or front garden and Zeta lived in the back. The only time she would tolerate Jiggers was when she snuggled up during thunder storms – as if this big black dog provided a kind of protection against the elements. Zeta has always been an outside dog – can’t bear to stay indoors even on the coldest night.
Just after she turned five, she was diagnosed with a tumour in her lower jaw. The options were to let her live out her remaining weeks (at most a couple of months) with her lower jaw intact, or remove half her jaw. Since it wouldn’t make any difference to her life expectancy we opted to leave things alone. Zeta seemed to live to “bite” and play – she always had something in her mouth and we could not deprive her of that.
We started her on supplements (olive leaf, green tea, you-name-it). We tried to use a bemer blanket on her but she wouldn’t sit still long enough. And we took her for what we thought was her last (also first) holiday at the sea. In public she was the perfectly behaved dog, but she soon made it clear to the easy-going surfer-dude dogs that this was her space now.
About three years later we had to remove most of her lower jaw. The tumour had grown too much. After surgery the biopsy was inconclusive, but we decided on a course of low-level chemotherapy just in case. Each week when we went for the chemo session she would leap into the car as if life was one big treat – even a visit to the animal hospital! I sat there with her and fed her anti-nausea tablets afterwards.
Zeta soon adapted to the loss of her jaw. It has made virtually no difference to the way she catches a ball or bites. In fact, she has kept her place at the top of the advanced dog training class. All that changed after the surgery was that she was suddenly less “driven”. For the first time ever she wanted to stop and sniff when we took her on walks. Suddenly she could find time to “smell the roses” instead of motoring on to the final destination oblivious to everything else.
Sadly, now, five years later, she is showing the first signs of decline. Although we had a couple more growths removed, we’ve finally reached the stage when the trauma of more anaesthetic is simply not worth it. Some days she has no appetite. Some days she doesn’t want to go for a run … or even a walk. Last week I got her to lie on the bemer blanket for twenty minutes. And most days in the morning when I open the back door, she is lying so still I have to check that she is still breathing. It’s hard to believe that this is the same dog that used to knock me over with her morning greeting.
She’s at dog training now. When she gets home I’ll hear that familiar splash as she plonks down on the top step of the pool and then there’ll be a trail of water through the house when she comes in to check up on me. She is still a sheepdog, after all, and one of the best.