Melvin is allergic to most things. Trees (not all of them but I’m not a Dendrologist so I’m not even sure which tree is which), most grasses (extra challenging since he needs to go to the bathroom with his feet on the ground, outdoors), mold, certain pollens and some leaves. Since we don’t live in a bubble, he is exposed to all these things daily. Fall is much worse than Summer, Winter is much better than Spring. For his outdoor allergies he gets a monthly allergy shot, administered by me. When I get the kit out each month he immediately sits and waits for his shot (and subsequent treat). He graciously accepts this weapon against the madness. He’s been getting the shots for about two years now and it took about six months for them to show signs of helping. Our vet ordered up the testing, arranged for vials to be shipped and gave plenty of instruction before handing over the box of needles. The first shot I gave to him on my own took 37 minutes — 36 of them were spent staring at him, then the needle, then him, then the needle.
Due to his outdoor allergies I’ve come to realize that Melvin also tends to be allergic to many ‘green’ cleaners. He’s also allergic to dust mites (I vacuum daily and wash his bedding several times a week with baby detergent) and has a red/itchy reaction to many scented products (air fresheners, fabric freshener, carpet cleaner).
As complicated as the above sounds, nothing was as labor intensive as his food allergies. It took months to figure out he was allergic to protein. We tried every prescription food known to man. Every trial we did was daunting and each gave him the runs and itchies. For those of you who have never done a food trial, you have to limit the dog to the food you are testing and only that food. No treats, no anything that can compromise the test. Otherwise, if the dog has a reaction, you won’t know for certain what it was. In or around the sixth month we found ZD Ultra. The protien is pre-digested (of course my vision of how this is done includeds a different dog eating the food first then throwing it up but I’m pretty sure that is incorrect); Melvin’s stomach tolerates it well and his skin is unaffected by it’s consumption. Check, check!
Next up, one year and 100 boxes later, we find the one treat he can have!
In the process of building the house I’ve taken Melvin over to the new neighborhood a few times so he could sniff out the lay of the new land. He’s been a bit hyper during all the visits, which is why I suppose most vets and behaviorist suggest you take these pre-trips whenever possible. I can say with certainty that the home builders/contractors feel that Melvin is a force to be reckoned with. Most do not know that he’s friendly as they have taken off running into the closest vacant home at the sight of him barreling towards them.
Today was his first visit inside the new house. As you can see from the blurry photo below he found it nearly impossible to be still long enough to be photographed. I also had to snap shots of how a large dog manages to lay down on a bucket seat. I’m not sure he could look more uncomfortable but he stayed that way the whole trip. Please note the large cargo area behind him that is intentionally blanketed for his comfort.
In a previous post I mentioned that Melvin’s hair started falling out. The poor thing was losing fur at a rapid pace and he had the brightest pink, most inflamed skin I’d ever seen. He looked massively sunburned. I was afraid to touch him for fear I’d cause him pain. He was diagnosed with Mange, something he probably picked up during his days of running wild. It’s pretty much like finding out your child has lice, you worry you’ll be judge on their living conditions. Mange was the salt on the proverbial allergy wound. He itched so much and without fur it was so much easier for him puncture his skin which led to infections. Over the four-month course of treatment Melvin was on various medications and we went to the vet regularly for check-ups and baths. His healing was slow but the vet helped to keep him as comfortable as possible. With the Mange and allergies it was a complicated choreography of how to perfectly balance all the medications. Add to that he got an internal parasite during his treatment and it all just seemed hurtful. At some point in the middle of it all the vet shared something profound with me. She told me with certainty that had Melvin not been rescued by LRR and then by me, someone less committed would have decided to put him down. She knew my conviction, whatever he needed he would get but I suddenly worried that I was torturing him in the process. Her point was not that at all, more so that most would not have committed to the extent he needed. I understood what she was saying. There are some months that Melvin’s medical costs are a third of the monthly household expenses.
There have been plenty of times that I’ve wondered how anyone could ever give him up but those moments are quickly replaced with my eternal gratitude that he is mine now. Melvin’s health issues are a bit of the worst-case-scenario of what someone will face with a rescue. Most of you will do the one to two vet visits a year and all will be easy. Unconditional love for animals comes in many forms, from patience with the language barriers to unexpected health or behavioural issues. In the end we are all perfectly imperfect.
Most people I know talk to their dogs. I do. Our dogs wag at the sound of our voice and I think we as humans are hopeful that our four-legged-friends somehow understand. Especially when we are conveying bad news. “I’ll be back this evening”. “The storm will pass”. “You can’t sleep in the baby’s room, you’ll wake her up”. They don’t understand. Literally, they do not understand the words we’ve strung together but often we speak to them to make ourselves feel better.
Some of my talking has paid off. I stay things out loud to Melvin. ‘Upstairs’ (when that is where I’m going), ‘front door/garage door’ (depending on where we are going to depart for our walks), ‘your room’ (his room for when we were showing the house), ‘walk’, ‘red bone’ (Kong), ‘dinner’ and ‘kitchen’. After months of doing this, I can now say “get red bone and bring to kitchen”. He does it immediately. If red bone happens to be upstairs and he looks at me in confusion when he can’t find it on the main floor I say ‘upstairs’ and off his goes. When I say ‘walk’ he spins and waits for me to inform him which door we are leaving through. Commands he understands, likely because there is a benefit to him!
We are moving, there are boxes everywhere. Stress is in abundance. I have spent hours telling Melvin about the new house and specifically the large fenced in yard that is all his (slight lie about the full ownership). He shows no signs of understanding. He does not like the boxes. He does not enjoy the new furniture configuration (stacked and pushed into corners). His normal traffic pattern is disrupted and he can’t see out of many of the windows anymore. My words mean nothing. I know why I am stressed about the move but he does not have a clue as to what is going on. He is unhappy. I know it will get better but until it does, he get’s extra walks. I get him out of stress central whenever possible. I hide treats behind the boxes, in some way I hope he thinks the box itself left it for him. I am keeping the bedroom as is for him until he leaves the day of the move and then I will pack it up. He deserves one room for respite.
Melvin after a marathon day of packing.
When you adopt a dog, one of the questions on the application is about how much you expect you’ll have to pay annually for the dog’s health and vet expenses. The question is designed to ensure you’ve factored in the costs for vaccinations, heartworm and flea prevention and general wellness visits. To this day, I have no idea how much a healthy dog’s annual vet bills are. Most dogs go to the vet 1-2 a year (although the owner might go more often to pick up various supplies). Melvin goes to the vet at the very least monthly and takes upwards of 5 prescriptions on a daily basis. I cannot stress enough how important finding the right vet can be.
I got Melvin on a Saturday and took him to my vet’s practice on Monday. This appointment was to drop Melvin’s historical vet records off and to have my vet look him over for a general wellness visit. We would also discuss the results of the allergy testing that LRR had done. The first thing I suggested when the vet was looking him over was that he desperately needed a bath, he was a yellow lab but was more mud colored at the time. The vet chuckled. Melvin wasn’t dirty, he had yeast infections on his skin. The vet confirmed this with a skin scrapping and prescribed medication for him.
Over the next two weeks, his yeast infection cleared up but as he became more comfortable in his new home, his allergies took on a life of their own. He was itching to the point of blood. I had to put baby socks on him to try to prevent some of the damage he was willing to do to himself. Then his hair started falling out. I had no idea why. Although his tail would wag his body with the joy of his new life, he was at the same time physically miserable. I tried to figure out what in the house could be causing a spike in his itching. Maybe he was allergic to me!
Through his entire health ordeal, Melvin would stand as a symbol for never being the victim. He chose happiness over suffering every time. Our vet took on Melvin’s issue with a vengeance that I am forever grateful for. The year that followed is something I liken to conquering Everest. It seems insurmountable but you refuse to give up.
Max and Melvin ended up having two months together. To this day, I see things in Melvin that Max used to do and I know that in the short time they were together, Max was able to bestow some great wisdom onto Melvin. The day we put Max down the vet came to the house and Melvin went to stay at the vet. I thought it would better for everyone that way. I won’t dwell on those moments with Max, they were some of the most difficult hours of my life.
When evening rolled around that day my sister suggested it was time to go get Melvin. I was overcome with worry that Melvin wouldn’t work out, that we wouldn’t bond, that I would never love him the way I should. The reality of that moment was I was filled with so much grief and love for Max, I thought maybe Melvin would feel like a stranger (him to me and me to him).
It was closing time at the vet when we arrived and immediately each person in the practice came out for hugs, tears and condolences. We were all standing around chatting when the waiting room door flung open and like a horse out of a starting gate Melvin came barreling through the doorway, weaving in and out of obstacles and between each person until he got to me. In a room of 15 people he b-lined for (and into) me. All 97 pounds. On one of my saddest days, he flung joy upon me. I never doubted our connection again. At that moment one thing was certain, we had rescued each other.
During the first month with Melvin two issues arose. The first was Melvin got jealous when I focused on Max. When I would pet Max, Melvin would charge him and try to move him out-of-the-way. It was the only time that Melvin would push the boundaries with Max. It made me nervous, mostly because I knew I needed to deal with it productively and when it first happened my initial thought was (“don’t hurt my boy”). But they were both my boys and fear was not going to overcome the issue. Max did some of the training; he would issue the signal that he would not tolerate his behaviour. After the first few times it happened, I took over that role. It took some time but eventually we found our way. I also made time for each of them, Max would get some one-on-one time while Melvin was in the crate and Melvin would get some time while Max was napping.
The second issue was a bit more disconcerting. I awoke one night to Melvin standing over Max, growling. It was almost a snarl. Max was sound asleep. I had no idea what was happening but I put Melvin in the crate that night until I could sort it out. Melvin had started with a behaviorist (more on that later) so I called her the next morning to get her thoughts on what had happened. She informed me that dogs in a pack (mind you a wild pack) will often take down the weak, wounded or aging pack members as a way of keeping the pack strong and agile. She felt Melvin sensed Max was not well and it was instinctual for him to address it. I hung up the phone in shock, feeling as though I’d adopted a wildebeest. I was worried that Melvin would try to ‘take down Max’. I then of course cried. I couldn’t bear the idea of losing Max and I was not exactly seeking any validation of the situation. After the flood of emotion, I came to my senses. Melvin was not a beast, he was a dog. If that was what he was doing (I hoped it wasn’t) then I couldn’t blame him for genetics. I would do as I had been, be vigilant and diligent. I was the pack leader and under no circumstance was anyone going to be taken down.
Rescuing a dog means you rescue all of them. Often their past is a mystery. I don’t know much about his life before me but I know Melvin’s original owners would leave the house and put Melvin (then Riley) outside. They had no fence. He would wander around their town like a stray so the ‘wild pack mentality’ was pretty logical for what his life had been like. The last time animal control picked him up (again), his family said they didn’t want him back. They claimed he was ‘too itchy’.
There was reason for his quirks and they weren’t his fault but they were his and mine to work out.