Flex, telling her story …

Years ago I worked with a dog and her person. It was a pretty standard introduction.

Hello, I just adopted a dog from a rescue, and I would like to learn how to work with her. She is a mature female, she apparently ran around on a bunch of land all day while her original family was at work, and then they didn’t want her anymore. I think she may have chased some cows, but I’m not sure. They think she is Chow Chow and Labrador cross.

I LOVE when people call and say “I want to learn”, it lets me know that these are the people who have an understanding that it is not ‘putting behaviors’ on a dog, but rather the Handler learning how to teach and learning how to understand their new dog better.

When I first met Flex, she was a bit over weight, but not overly so for an older female. Her new Handler wanted to learn how to walk her in the neighborhood, how to hike safety with her, and how to introduce her to new dogs. Fair enough.

She had a bunch of sweetness in her, but also an edge that was hard to place. From the first day I met her I had a feeling something was not right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Her and I worked well together, she was willing and curious, and seemed to enjoy our time together.

She was loved, well taken care of, went traveling, on outings, and had a nice house and yard. I set them up with a dog walker for more outings and exercise, and saw them about once a month. But she was a dog that was not easy or as straight forward as previously thought.

She presented with fence barking, fear of getting into a car, opinions of some other dogs, not able to handle the social pressure of trail hiking, and some odd destructive behaviors. For some time I would get calls about Flex. Mostly during the day, but some in the evening. The ‘I’ turned to ‘We’ as there was a new significant other.

We need to learn how to deter her from chewing through dry wall. We need to learn how to teach her that it is okay if my friends to come over. We need to teach her that walking past another dog is okay.

And I still had that feeling I couldn’t put my finger on. For who she was, what her life had been, the new skills she learned, Flex was awesome. She was the dog not of their dreams, but they loved her and decided that she was where she was supposed to be. Her life was good.

I told them to get a full health check up for Flex, with blood work. I just had a feeling. Their veterinary told them that would be nonsense, learn how to be a leader, learn to have control, say NO for gods sake.

Then I started to receive calls late in the night, and into the wee hours of the morning, this went on for weeks. And I kept saying, please, please, please go to your veterinarian and get blood work done. If they don’t want to do it I can suggest someone else. Each call had a unique story.

Flex is chewing through the wall.

Flex ate the sleeve of my leather jacket.

Flex is panting and we have four fans going but I can’t seem to get her any relief.

Flex is waking me up four times a night to go outside and then she just digs.

Flex is barking until all hours of the morning.

And I kept saying, please go to your veterinarian, this is not behavioral this is medical, this is about her health, and there is nothing I can do for her. And their veterinarian turned them away again, nonsense, your dog needs to learn how to behave is all.

Finally, after I had had too many 3am calls I told the ‘We’ that I would take her in, they are missing what is going on. They agreed to take her in in the morning, to a new veterinarian. After blood work, x-rays, and several calls, the news was dire, and Flex had maybe hours to live. Her health reached such a state that there was no coming back. She was in horrific pain, and it wasn’t one thing wrong, but pretty much everything.

I received a call that ‘We’ had euthanized Flex, her state of health was unbelievably bad. They were so upset, so sad, and so flattened by this. The dog not of their dreams and yet she occupied the most compassionate and loved place in their hearts to the very end.

They really were incredible people to Flex, this I have no doubt. But sometimes what is lost is the ability to see beyond a behavior to what is driving it. They asked for help and were turned away, a dismissal, a bit of shaming, and a bit of intimidation. It was truly not their fault, they were trying, and they were not heard.

I tell Flex’s story because this has played out every year over the past decade and a half, and only the names and breeds change. Health drives behavior. Period. And if what I see behaviorally does not make sense, I do not hesitate to say, please, please, please, get a second opinion.

I work and teach dogs every single day of the week. Lots of puppies, lots of dogs, I am grateful. And then, every once in a while I meet a dog and I get a feeling. It can be from how they move, what they are looking at, their gestures, their way of responding to me or not, and a host of other things.

Flex taught me a lot, she taught many of us a lot. Never dismiss what you are feeling at a gut level. If we all listen, with honest unfiltered ears, we can hear what needs to be heard. So be that person for your dog. When they need your help they will let you know, and then you need to stand up for them.


12 Comments Add yours

  1. cj says:

    Why do we feel the need for permission from the Doctor to advocate for our dogs’ health? It should be enough just to say, “I’m not sure, but please check.” This made me sad, their vet not listening. And sadder still that their trust cost Flex her life.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      CJ, I’m not sure it cost her her life, I think she had underlying issues since the day they got her, that determined her fate, but her pain and suffering could have been greatly diminished if she had been seen earlier.

      The unfortunate side to this story is that this happens all of the time. Either a persons words are dismissed, ignored, or a person is taught how to not trust their instincts. And worst yet, some people get so burned out on being shamed or intimidated for their choices, they just don’t take their dogs in anymore, I see that A LOT. Nancy

      1. SH says:

        Some of this is caused because vets are shamed a dozen times a day for asking for tests… Half the time if the result doesn’t identify a problem owners are upset with the vet. I have actually had owned tell me they wouldn’t pay for negative test results!

      2. Nancy Tanner says:

        SH, you are implying that you are a veterinarian. As a veterinarian you stand in a position of education, to give information, to be a partner in health care, to help medically, and to help your clients find the best options for their pet. If a client is inappropriate with you, in a professional position it would hardly be warranted to play the tit for tat game. Through education, and information we can all do better.

        Maybe unbeknownst to you, shaming, intimidation, and humiliation are alive and well in your profession. It wasn’t just this client, it happens more often than I would feel would be necessary. Perhaps you would like to tell me what clinic you work at.

  2. What were the medical issues Flex suffered from?

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      She had a host of everything. Tumors in her spleen, many. Bladder stones, a tumor in her heart that was rupturing, renal failure, infections in the bowel, and a bunch of other ‘smaller stuff’ none of which she could have survived. They were all probably there to some degree when she was adopted, and perhaps that is why she was put up fr adoption int he first place, the original owners might have known how bad things were or how expensive it could become, and it didn’t take long for them to manifest into something big.

  3. Jane says:

    Thank you for that story.

  4. Nikki S says:

    Yes, I also have seen the shaming. I am a huge advocate for myself with my own dr’s and I was surprised how hard it was to stand my ground and get the blood test for Bella. That thyro panel test did not show anything significant. Her seizure 7 months later in some ways was a health “gift”, even then her blood work came back normal. I turned to all of my dog health books and looked up epilepsy (she didn’t have that diagnosis) and checked out what was recommended. Went on my way with Chinese herbs and vitamins, determined that she wouldn’t have another seizure if I had anything to do with it. That was the path that worked…. But it was one of a lot of hope, gut instinct and watching her eyes. They would get a certain look and I knew she would need more calming support. I am sorry for Flex and her people. That is a hard journey. I feel in many ways that I am just lucky. The hardest part….trying to explain this to a vet. I have stopped trying. There is one Chiropractor vet that knows what we have done, and for her I am eternally grateful!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      I remember you going through all of this. It is good you are persistent, curious, and have good instincts… Bella is better off for it!

  5. Teresa Tanner says:

    Beautiful story and thank you for the reminder, to trust our instincts. It is surprising that a veterinarian would miss the opportunity to make money. That sounds harsh, but that is their business.

  6. mtwaggin says:

    Have shared this and hope it goes viral! I am so blessed to have vets that are so willing to work with me to figure out what is wrong when something changes. Sometimes we don’t find anything (rarely) but I also have been blessed with a circle of dog friends that work tirelessly with me to get through behaviors or health and often have suggestions of things that my vet and I didn’t think of. Yes, Nancy YOU are one of those. I have such a hard time believing that a vet wouldn’t even bother to do a blood test and xrays – regardless, usually they err the other way (will continue to run test, do procedures and never ever find the issue) but if they won’t listen to you about your gut and running simple tests like that THOSE are not vets anyone should be going to! It truly is a fine line.

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