Joey the Brave

It’s been a stressful day at Writing with Labradors and the result of this is that my blog post about the Wellington Congress has been postponed in favour of the story of Joey the Brave, hero of the great Millennium Oak Wood battle of 2019.

Walking my dogs can be a slightly complicated matter these days, since Joey and Oscar have very different needs. Joey, at almost thirteen and with severe arthritis, and let us be honest, a bit of extra weight, cannot go the distance with one year old Oscar who can run all day. At the same time, the dogs love to be together and when I leave the house with Oscar, Joey will scrabble at the front door to try to join us.

My solution to this is to take Oscar on a long walk daily, and then to take the two of them out together two or three times a week, to a spot where Oscar can race around and Joey can just mooch. Beaches are good for this, but for a short trip I often drive up to Millennium Oak Wood which is a park in Douglas.

The park is usually packed with dog walkers. You get to know some of them by sight, usually finding out the names of dogs before owners. Most are very friendly. Some will be kept on the lead, a bit more wary. Since Oscar came on the scene, I’m very conscious that he can be a bit boisterous and always keep treats and the lead to hand in case he upsets another dog.

I’ve heard stories of dogs being attacked by other dogs and have always considered myself very lucky that in all my years as a dog owner it has never happened to me. Today it did.

The dog was off the lead and his owner a fair way off, absorbed in her mobile phone. I’m guessing that her dog had never been aggressive before or presumably she’d have been more wary. The dog, which looked like a collie cross of some kind, was bouncy and definitely interested in Oscar. There was a lot of leaping around, as there often is, but no barking and no sign of aggression. And then quite suddenly, with no warning, the dog went for Oscar, its teeth at his neck, and pinned him to the ground.

It was one of those moments when time goes slowly. I was moving towards them, running and yelling. The dog’s owner was shouting although she made no attempt to move towards her dog to haul it off. I think I’d decided to give the dog a kick to try to scare it off, but I had no time to do so.

Something large and yellow and far too fat to run went past me at high speed and crashed into the dog, teeth bared and snarling. The collie let go of Oscar, who was yelping in pain, and turned, suddenly realising that our local pensioner had his teeth around its leg. It panicked, backed off, and finally ran to its shrieking owner.

I was kneeling down, trying to check if Oscar was injured, when I realised that the dog owner had taken off at a run, with her dog, out of the gate of the park. I will never understand why she didn’t stop to check that we were all right. Somebody else did, a really nice young guy with a huge dog, who walked me back to the car park to check we were all right. By the time we got there, Joey could barely walk, his back leg dragging after his unexpected charge. I wish I’d thought to ask the young man’s name, he was such a star.

Back home, and Joey was dosed with extra painkillers and given lots of love and praise. Oscar was definitely jumpy for a bit but is calm now. He’s not hurt, I think his very solid collar took the worst of it, there were marks on that. I’m a bit worried about how he’ll be the next time I take him out but I’m sure he’ll settle. Joey was uncomfortable for a while but has settled down and is snoring peacefully.

Joey and Oscar don’t tend to share a bed any more; they’re just too big and it wouldn’t be comfortable. But adorably, this afternoon when they got back, Oscar clung to Joey as if he was a puppy again. And Joey let him.

I’m so thankful that it wasn’t worse, and so grateful for the young man who helped us. Writing with Labradors reports that the company is intact, with only slight damage. Their report is as follows:

At approximately 16.00 hours the enemy attacked an outpost guarded by Lieutenant Oscar. For a short time it looked as though the lieutenant might be overwhelmed, but a surprise attack led by Colonel Joey caused the enemy to retreat in disarray. The commander-in-chief commends the bravery of Colonel Joey who will be mentioned in dispatches.

All troops have been checked over by the regimental surgeon and pronounced fit for duty, after some rest.

Joey the Labrador

I thought long and hard about sharing our experience with Joey the Labrador during the past 72 hours. Part of me thought it was too cold and contrived to talk about that many tears and that much stress on a blog post.  The other part of me is aware that since I started Writing with Labradors just over a year ago, hundreds of people have not only read, but interacted with me about my writing, my life and more than anything else, my dogs.  Toby and Joey, my elderly labradors, have become firm favourites with a large number of people and our new arrival, Oscar, has been hugely popular.

Eventually I’ve decided to share.  The story isn’t over yet, we’re still up in the air and we’re hoping for a good outcome but we still don’t know for sure. But my beautiful Joey has given us a major fright and I can’t go on sharing pretty photos of them all without telling the story.

About 48 hours ago, Joey’s back legs suddenly stopped working. This isn’t uncommon with labradors; Toby has bad arthritis and falls over occasionally, although much less so since we started giving him joint supplements. But with Joey it was sudden and shocking and he seemed in agony.

We’ve been backwards and forwards to the vet several times. Yesterday morning he couldn’t get up at all and we cried, all of us, on and off, waiting for the vet to open, knowing that the time might have come, far too soon and totally out of the blue, to say goodbye to a beloved member of our family. Joey is twelve and not the oldest of our dogs and to be honest we didn’t expect it to be him.

It took three of us; my husband, my son and myself to get him into the car and down to the vet. My daughter stayed at home, crying over the other two dogs. We promised her that if it was bad news we’d make sure she had time to say goodbye.

The vet, who is fabulous, came out of the surgery to examine Joey in the back of the car. He was fairly relaxed, wagging his tail. Eventually she asked us to get him down and on his feet if possible so that she could check his reflexes. I felt a bit sick, knowing how painful it was going to be for him, but Jon and Richard did it and he stood there, letting her move his legs about.

“It doesn’t seem neurological,” the vet said, finally. She sounded slightly surprised. Joey looked up at her intently. Then he gave a little woof and went for a walk.

Joey wasn’t on a lead. He couldn’t walk; it seemed superfluous. We all stood there watching him in some surprise for a minute. My brain came back online first.

“He’s not going to stop,” I said.

Nobody moved or spoke.

“He’s going,” I said, starting to move. I had flip flops on and I couldn’t run.

“He can’t run,” Richard said, watching him.

“He’s bloody running,” I said, tripping over my own feet.

At that point, the wisdom of taking an active nineteen year old became obvious as Jon raced across the car park and caught Joey on the curb before he went into the road.

Having rediscovered his legs, Joey tripped around the car park (on a lead) did what he needed to do and came home with us. So far the vet has diagnosed a severe arthritic flare up, probably exacerbated by an injury (chasing a new puppy around possibly?)

Joey is home now. Yesterday he was not running around, or even walking. He was clearly in pain but he could get up and down when he needed to and he’s got a shedload of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. His tail is still wagging.

This morning, Joey came out into the front garden. It seemed difficult for him and he flopped down again and wouldn’t move. I was starting to get anxious again, it was a long time since he’d done a wee, but nothing shifted him. Nothing until Jon came past with Oscar on a lead, taking him for his morning walk. Suddenly Joey was up and at the gate, looking expectant. I got the point and got his lead. Outside the garden, we didn’t go far, but just watching him mooch around on his feet and behaving normally was a joy.

Oscar curled up with Joey
Oscar cuddling Joey

Oscar has been unbelievable with him. At first he seemed confused that his friend wouldn’t play but now he’s just cuddled up to him, happy to be close.

By this evening, Joey was almost back to his old self. He has started requesting to go for a walk, only very short ones to the end of the road and back, but so much more than we expected. This evening at feeding time, we found him sitting at the top of the three steps to the utility room. While Anya and I were still working out how to get him down without hurting him he stood up and walked down them as though he’d never been injured.

Writing with Labradors is in shock. It’s one thing to know that your old boys are getting on. It’s another to find yourself face to face with the reality of losing a dog that you adore. We still don’t know the long term prognosis for Joey although it’s looking very good at the moment. But it has given us a reality check.

The boys enjoying the sun this afternoon

I love my dogs. There is no part of me, that is ready to say goodbye to any one of them although when the time comes I will do the right thing. In the meantime I feel as though I’ve just both dodged a bullet and had a rehearsal for what might happen in the future.

 

Writing with Labradors. They don’t live forever but while they’re with me, I love them to bits.