My Dear Departed Dog

UPDATE: Willow has passed away.

This is my P.B.D. (Plain Black Dog). There are many like her but this one is mine.

Info about my adventuring companion, her rescue and other interesting facts about her doggie self.

TL;DR – Found on the side of a road, rescued by friends, she is a happy girl, who loves everything but squirrels, has some spine and skin issues we’re dealing with, is very well-mannered and gentle and is up for anything at a moment’s notice.

Willow looking Majestic as fuck with Mt. Hood in the background
Looking Majestic in front of Mt. Hood

She was found by some close friends of mine in June 2010 as a free-roaming Navajo Rez dog on the side of the road with a broken back, starving and being shot at by some douche kids with a bb gun in Kayenta, AZ. My friends were on their way to their yearly volunteering stint at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah and so took the dog with them to get checked out by the Veterinarian there. They named her Willow after the town they were in, Kanab, a Paiute word meaning “place of willows.” After a few months of rest, recuperation and socialization with their pack in Portland, Oregon they called and said they had “just the dog” for me. We video chatted and this is a screenshot of how we first saw each other:

My first glimpse of her loveliness
My first glimpse of her gorgeous self (and her first video chat)

I picked her up and made her mine in October of 2010.

Since then she has lived on a farm where she has met horses, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, a few llamas, ducks, geese, turkeys and chickens among others.

Black dog nibbling corn cobs next to a 1000lb pig
He outweighs her by about 1000lbs !

It took her a few months to learn how (we needed a floaty vest at first) but she has now been swimming in lakes, rivers and streams all over from the Pacific Northwest all the way to Texas as well as the Pacific Ocean. From Western Canada to both sides of Baja California. She’s romped on hay bales, dashed around in sand and snow, over rocks and carefully (but not always successfully) around cacti and other sharp, spiky/stabby flora.

She can get comfortable anywhere. She’ll use rocks, bricks, logs and animals as a pillow and has no problem being used as a headrest herself.

Dog resting her head on various objects and and animals
She can get comfortable anywhere
Dog on top of a pile of hay bales
Chasing critters in the bales

Besides her farm and dog and cat friends she’s met a bear cub, foxes, a coyote or two, snakes, various corvids, seagulls and other wild, feral and semi-feral animals and never had a vet bill (or caused one) as a result. UPDATE: In June 2018 she was too curious with a large Southern Pacific Rattlesnake in the San Bernardino National Forest and it bit her, twice (one fang in her lip and a solid 2-fang bite on her throat) and it dumped a huge load of venom in her. Luckily she had been on the rattlesnake vaccine for a couple of years and I was able to get her down to a veterinarian in under an hour but it was still a close call. An overnight stay at the vet, IV’s, catheters, pain meds and a whole vial of VenomVet antivenin (over two IV sessions) and a $1700 bill later she was over the hump and on the mend. We’ve encountered other rattlesnakes since then and she seems to have learned her lesson.

All too often I find that I am humming or singing the Van Morrison classic “Brown Eyed Girl” to her, sometimes accompanied by the quizzical stares of other humans or animals within earshot. When we are out on a trail or in the wild her “trail name” is Piglet. Some of my “pet” (ha, get it?) names for her are Will (shortened version). Piglet or Biggus Piggus (she snorts…a lot – if you snort at her she will do the call-and-respond back-and-forth with you). Ghost Dog because she’s black and usually naked (no collar or tags that make sounds) and is a very quiet dog – you cannot see her at night even if she is standing right next to you. Deathbreath (she’s a dog and eats nasty stuff and has lax dental hygiene). Freakshow (when she’s acting like a freak of nature). Dork (when she’s being dorky). Speedbump (when she stops in the middle of a trail blocking the way so people MUST stop and pet her or when she lays down in some inappropriate spot because… Sun!) Itchy Bitch because of her skin issues and itching. And Poofter (because, well, you know, fur). Very, very rarely is she “Bad Dog.”

She started out perfect, perfect I tell you. Sadly, along the way, she has picked up some less-than-awesome habits from some of her doggie and human friends. If you have a crotch, she will sniff it (thanks Chuck the pitty in Portland – World’s Most Enthusiastic Crotch Sniffer). If you handle your food in a lazy manner and it swings (in your hand or on your plate) in the close vicinity of her face, her nose transforms, like a werewolf, into a gaping maw and poof, magically your food disappears. Neat trick Will. I do not have a cat so, obviously, cat food is a rare exotic treat whether it’s offered to her or not. If we’re visiting friends and they have cats the kitty food is put up and out-of-the-way between meals or else my little Deathbreath becomes Friskeysbreath. She also takes the scent camouflaging thing far too seriously. Given the chance she will find and roll in the stinkiest, nastiest stuff she can find. Maggot-infested dead things are a favorite although fresh dung of any type will do in a pinch. Many are the times she comes bounding up to me looking a little green and I find she has found a fresh collection of cow patties to gleefully bathe in. She got that habit from her good friend Dorian, another Portland doggie. Thanks D!

Dog coated in green-tinged cow poop
Dorian, freshly cow-pooped

Then, after such a glorious find, she celebrates by coming straight back to me to share in her latest scent-sation. It’s a good thing cows (and most other ungulates) are usually vegetarians or I can only imagine what that would smell like.

Due to the Vet’s best guess that she was about a year and a half old when he first saw her on July 27th, 2010, I’ve made the executive decision that her birthday is on January 27th. She is now a 13-year-old lady. Using the updated and generally agreed upon calculation of 10.5 dog years per human year for the first 2 years, then 4 dog years per human year for each year after she is now the equivalent of an 80 year old in human years!  Because of her difficult start in life and her medical issues though she looks and acts older.

In October of 2014 we had a scare and I almost made the decision to put her down. She started pain vocalizing whenever she jumped up into a car and had trouble walking up any sort of incline. She could walk down stairs and jump down out of automobiles just fine but would just whimper and sit down at car doors and at stairs or any incline for that matter. A trip to the vet and some x-rays revealed that she has Intervertebral Disc Disease.

Over a time span of three months we made some changes. After a couple of bouts of steroids to reduce the swelling, pain management when needed and a diet plan to cut her weight (she was not happy about that last part) we seemed to get a handle on it. We also reduced her activity level and stopped some of her less-than-helpful habits. She no longer automatically jumps up into/onto anything; truck, bed, couch, log, stump…you get the idea. If she feels up to it, she does. If she does not, she goes and sits by the item. If it is allowed I’ll lift her up. It also serves as another bonding ritual between man and beast. I still sometimes cringe when she jump up on certain things but pain is a natural limiter. She wouldn’t do it if she didn’t think she could and I’m happy to help her in any way I can. After all, she is my girl and adventure companion.

Another one of her issues is her skin. She seems to always have some skin annoyance or itchy spot(s) and she is fastidious about her grooming and so, sometimes, she works an itchy or hot spot until it is hairless and raw. Because of those issues we’ve tried different foods to see if any of them make a difference. So far, cutting out grains and extra sugar and carbs (like sweet potato) seems to make an improvement. She really likes certain flavors (duck, salmon, rabbit) over some of the more common ones (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb) but it seems the former are substantially more expensive than the latter. The two options I regularly switch between to give her a bit of variety are by Nature’s VarietyInstinct Limited Ingredient Grain-Free and their regular Grain-Free Dry Dog Food. On special occasions I might splurge on a small sack of the rabbit, duck, or salmon flavors although I go fishing several times a year out of Eureka, CA and so usually have lots of salmon, rock fish, halibut, tuna, squid and shark on hand and, as the only other member of my pack, she always gets some as well. If I can’t get Amazon to deliver to me on my travels or cannot find Nature’s Instinct locally the next brand I look for is Orijen. UPDATE: Willow has now been diagnosed with advanced kidney disease and has had to start on a totally new diet. Her old foods had crude protein amounts in the mid-to high 30% range and she loved them all. Her new option are less than half that. We have tried both Royal Canin and Hills Veterinary “kidney care” diets and, so far, she hates them all and is losing weight. At least there are some wet food options in the kidney care category so I can plop a little of that on the dry kibble and get her to eat sporadically.

Sadly (except to squirrels), nobody makes a squirrel-flavored dog food.

As a desert dog, moisture and humidity seem to play a part in her frequent outbreaks. Within a week of entering an arid environment her skin magically clears up. Conversely, within a week of coming back to Oregon or the Humboldt County area, she starts right back up with the itching and overly enthusiastic chewing.

UPDATE: With further testing (travels back and forth between humid and arid environments) I have become convinced that a high humidity content is the #1 cause of her skin issues. Her vet says that it is more likely the result of certain pollens from plants that thrive in those more humid environments. So, essentially, Willow seems to be allergic to California (me too for other reasons). As an extra-added bonus of this breakthrough discovery we will begin transitioning her away from the $3/lb dog food to something more reasonable. As soon as we have settled on a new brand and formula we will post that updated info here.

If you are lucky enough to meet her, please feel free to make “kissy-face” sounds, offer scratches anywhere on her body and she will love you forever. She would love to meet your animals and young children as well.