Our dog Jasmine Marie, or the Jasmanian Devil, as we liked to call her, passed away on Sunday morning. My heart is breaking, I can’t stop crying. I’ve lost one of my best friends. People without pets, and even some who have pets but for whatever reason don’t get as attached to the critters, have a hard time understanding the bond between pets and their human pack. And that’s understandable, since dogs and cats don’t speak in a recognized language.
Jasmine was 13 years old. Thirteen. Based on her breed and size, she was doing pretty well. Depending on which age “calculator” or chart you read, in human years she was between 83 and 103. Generally, when I’ve found Airedale breed information, it puts their life expectancy around 11.
Jasmine’s regular vet would stop in at the shop from time to time to check on her, and she often introduced me as the owner of her favorite elderly Airedale. The pet food store knew Jasmine as the “aging Airedale” too. Even the two emergency vets this weekend said (other than the reason we were at the emergency vet) “she looks good for 103” and that she was living on borrowed time. The Goat and I knew that, but we were hoping, and often praying, that we had borrowed a bit more time.
Maybe her borrowed time came from her life before we got her. Maybe she didn’t really borrow it, maybe she made up for it? We got her through an Airedale rescue. She was 2 years old at the time – and technically, if you count the times she was being housed by the rescue, we were going to be her 5th home. Needless to say, it took her some time to realize that this was the end of the line, she was home. It took her about 2 or 3 years to understand that we were her pack, and to start showing doggie signs of affection for her pack.
It also explains her abandonment issues. We never kenneled her. We are not against kennels, and with the popular doggie daycares springing up everywhere, kennels are becoming much more fun, and more social events for dogs. However, Jasmine got so nervous in new places, and on longish car rides that her hair would fall out, she’d start to smell funny, she’d act nervous and twitchy, and she’d get protective of her leash and food. So it was just easier on all of us if we found house sitters. And from what we heard, she loved her house sitters, if you were lucky enough to be one of our house sitters, she considered you a friendly human and was always happy to see you.
Once she figured out that this was her forever home and she became “our dog”, her loyalty was fierce, and we developed quite a unique pack communication system. You see, Airedales are a working breed, which makes them smart, and active. Very active. This also gives them a personality that includes “working” and “off duty”. During the last year or so, she started spending more time “off duty” but she still had many jobs, at least in her opinion.
She seemed to think she was our dishwasher and pot scrubber – if you put dirty dishes in the sink she would bark at the sink. When we left pans or pots of food on the stovetop, she would bark at the stovetop. For the record, because not all human food is good for dogs, we didn’t often give in, the food was always repacked and placed in the magic box (refrigerator). If she was lucky, she’d get to clean the now empty pot. But she did get to clean our breakfast bowls and some of the dinner plates before we washed them. Again, human food isn’t always good for dogs, and she’d get very upset if we decided she wasn’t allowed to sample our dinner crumbs.
Jasmine was a thorough tissue patrol and pocket/purse inspector. We have a number of shirts, pants, and jackets with holes in the pockets because she’d decided she was going to get that dirty tissue. We would have to warn guests to hang up their purses, bags, or coats because if there was any lip balm, ointment, or tissue in it, she would find it. She also figured out how to open the lid on the bathroom trash can and grab all the dirty tissues she could. We had to keep the trash can in the corner, turned in so she couldn’t lift the hinged lid.
If you think Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” has a “spot”, you’ve never sat on our sofa. Jasmine had a spot. And when guests sat in it, we’d tell them not to give in, she was the dog, and could sit on the floor while they were here. but it never failed, by the end of the night she was either sitting on them, or behind them like a lumbar pillow. And honestly, the humans sometimes had no recollection of how or when she got there, she was so sneaky about it.
She loved acting as a yoga and physical therapy instructor. Both The Goat and I regularly stretch or have a routine of therapy type movements that we work through. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve done a downward facing dog with a dog under me. Every time The Goat would sit on the exercise ball to practice his balance, Jasmine would walk over and nudge him, as if trying to knock him off balance.
She seemed to think she was vital as an assistant to the cook – I don’t know how she could get anymore underfoot! She would often end up dusted in flour when I would bake. Her favorite place to lay down when I was cooking was right in front of the refrigerator, I would open the door and push her across the floor with it as I did. And I don’t know why, but every time, and I mean every time (including the Wednesday before she died), she would stand in the hallway and bark when ever I measured flour for bread. Just bread, and just flour. I don’t think I’ll ever figure that one out.
If it beeped, she barked. Smoke alarms, bread machines, certain pitched timers. And if she couldn’t figure out where the beeping was coming from, she would bark into the vent in the hallway, which then echoed her bark throughout the house.
Cardboard was her favorite toy and after dinner mint. She especially loved cardboard egg cartons and would toss them around and catch them for hours. Forget tossing a ball, toss her an egg carton and she was a puppy again. Our home often looked trashed due to the number of cardboard boxes strewn about. One day a few summers ago, our neighbor thought our yard had been vandalized, until she saw Jasmine running, furiously fast, in and out of the back door, carrying a different cardboard box each time. For some reason that day, Jasmine had decided that the boxes needed to be outside and she brought every one of them out!
Jasmine was my snuggle buddy. She was always there to snuggle up with, and she seemed to know when I needed her to do so. After my surgery in December, she let me use her as a leg prop and foot warmer. When we’d get sick, she’d check on us or sleep in the bed with us. I had a very difficult time Saturday night and all day Sunday as I cried and wept over her passing. Usually when I’m upset about something, I’d curl up on the floor or sofa next to her and cuddle or pet her, or even just put my hand on her belly to feel the rhythm of her breathing to help deal with my sadness. Sometimes, she even let me just hold her paw. But she was now the reason I was sad, and she wasn’t there to help calm me, I curled up in her spot on the sofa and cried harder over the current predicament.
The one job Jasmine took very seriously was “Resident Rodent and Pest Patrol”.And she was good at it. Just a week or two ago I found a dead, half eaten chipmunk by the peas. She was good at catching chipmunks. She could hear their chirping from across the yard. She also had a very particular bark that meant “There’s a critter under this rock/ paver/ board and I can’t lift it! Help!” Every time, when The Goat of I would go over to the object and lift it for her, she’d dive under it and catch the critter. The crunching of skulls was a bit disconcerting, but we got used to it. You could tell by how high her tail was, what stage of the hunt she was in. For example, in the photo above, a mid-height tail meant that she was patiently waiting, and it was just a matter of time before Jas chomped the little rodent.
The Goat came home one night a few years ago, and the sofa was in the middle of the living room, with me sprawled out across it looking exhausted, the pots and pans were all over the kitchen floor and counters, Jasmine’s food station was in the wrong place, and Jasmine was wagging her tail and smiling triumphantly at him.
“What happened here?” The Goat asked quizzically.
“We had a mouse.” I replied.
“Yep, had.” Jas caught it, it took less than 1/2 hour. It started in the cupboards, so I emptied them and let her crawl into them. Then the mouse ran out of the microwave cupboard, and under Jasmine’s food crate, so I moved the crate. Then the mouse ran into the living room. It kept hiding behind the sofa, so I pushed the sofa into the middle of the room. Then it ran under the sofa, so I lifted the sofa. After that it started running around the sofa in one direction, let’s say clockwise. After chasing it for about 2 revolutions around the sofa, Jasmine just stopped, turned around and waited for it to run right into her gaping jowls. And it did!
Jas was the best mouser around. We’d let her catch them, I mean, after all, Airedales were bred to be critter control. She was good at this part of being an Airedale, and we let her do it, and even praised her for it. I mean, after all, she kept our house mostly critter free. I say mostly, because some of the mice got smart and moved into the upper cupboards. But even then, she’d hear them and watch the cupboard and bark. Which told us where to set the traps, and often, when they were triggered.
She also cornered groundhogs, caught chipmunks and squirrels, she loved chasing rabbits and geese when we’d come across them, and she had been known to practically pluck birds right out of the air as they flew by. I once saw her bring down 3 robbins in one spectacular leap. She caught one in her mouth, and one under each of her two front paws. One of our housesitters took Jas for a walk. On that walk, she stuck her head into a shrub and when she pulled her head out of the shrub, there was a little mouse/rat/mole/shrew tail hanging out of her mouth. The dog sitter was stunned. It happened in an instant.
And in Jasmine’s opinion, feral cats were rodents. She wasn’t a fan of cats. But often she knew which ones were supposed to be there and which ones were wild, or didn’t belong in that particular place, and therefore, in her opinion, fair game for her. The vet and the vet techs new this too. I often heard them on the other side of the door notifying the other techs of our arrival, “Jasmine’s here. Round up the cats and lock their crates.” Ironically, she never really seemed to care about the office cats sitting on the desk however.
She was also my gardening buddy, and my worst garden pest. We never got blueberries from our 3 blueberry bushes. Oh, they flower and produce berries, but Jasmine ate them off the shrubs while still green. I also had to relocate my strawberries and asparagus because of her. She loved the brassica family too. She’d eat the broccoli and brussel sprout stalks right where they were planted. But I fell for it every year, because she’d let them get to the harvest point, and then start eating them, and since I rotate my crops, I always thought she hadn’t found them that year. But she always knew where they were…like me she was waiting for harvest time. The first year it happened, I thought we had rabbits. But then, I remembered that a rabbit would never survive in our yard.
She also ate the elderberries straight from the shrub, but that bush is so huge, I’d let her. The birds get the ones at the top, Jasmine got the ones at the bottom, and I get the ones in the middle. It was a silly system, but it worked, and we were all happy.
She also loved carrots and radishes. But she wouldn’t dig them up or eat the sprouts. She’d wait for me to pick them and put them in the basket next to me. Then she’d nonchalantly walk over and pick out one or two before I even noticed. Peas, cucumbers, and asparagus were also fair game, if you asked her. Don’t even get me started on squash and pumpkins!
I have stakes and cages around plants that don’t really need staked, just to protect them from the Jasmanian Devil as she hunted critters. The perennials in our yard I’ve chosen for their ability to be trounced by a bounding 65 pound dog. There is a worn in path around the perimeter of the fence. I keep the grass and plants around the fence trimmed so the rodents can’t hide there. There are a few holes we don’t bother to fill in because she just re-excavates them, fortunately most of them are out of the way and not likely to be tripping hazards.
It’s a wonder we ever got anything from our of our garden. Just last week I was thinning our carrots. Jasmine stood right next to me, and I mean right next to me, she was leaning against my leg. I was telling her all about the carrots and how if she lets them grow, she’ll be able to have yummy fresh carrots later in the year. As I was doing this, I was giving her the carrot seedlings I was thinning. She was eating them, as delicately as dog with teeth that big can eat tiny seedlings, and nuzzling my forearm. She smelled like dirt and sunshine. I remember this specifically, because I remember thinking how much of a pain she was in the garden, but how I’d miss her when she’s gone. Because let’s face it, we knew she was old. We just thought we had more time. She didn’t seem sick.
On occasion she got to go the my shop with me for the day. She usually only got to go when she had a vet appointment, our schedules were such that she would be home too long without a bathroom break, or when she was sick.
She was a pretty good shop dog. She got a little strange towards the end, because she wouldn’t lay down, but generally she would sleep behind the counter all day and most people didn’t even know she was there. Originally I had a baby gate to keep her behind the counter, but I quickly stopped needing that. She loved jumping up against the counter and greeting the UPS man.
Our original plan was to get her used to the shop enough so that when she started acting elderly and couldn’t be left alone too long, I could take her with me to the shop. We even had the counter built far enough from the wall so that both her and I could fit comfortable behind it. Sadly, we never truly got to that part of the old dog life.
The decision to have Jasmine put down came suddenly. We were completely unprepared. Yes, we knew she was old. But she seemed fine, old, but fine. She had a grand day on Friday – saw a former dog sitter on her walkie in the morning, had a shop day, ate some goose poop, was fed dinner in the human’s dinner pot, fell asleep in bed with the humans. A banner doggie day.
On Saturday, I got home around 5:30 and fed her. The Goat was away for the day. She was jumping around and excited for dinner, as always – and even more so since I was a few hours late with her food! I fed her, patted her, played with her for a few minutes and then went about my evening.
Around 6:30 I wondered where she was, as you may have gathered, she liked to always be near her humans and in our business, but she wasn’t. I went to check on her and found her outside trying to vomit, and bloated, severely bloated. My first thought was that she ate something she shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t locate any signs of the suspect item, no wrappers, empty containers, unusual items, half eaten plants, etc. And then there was the bloating. She’s never done that.
I started looking up poisoning in a number of dog care books in the house and on-line. But I didn’t know what she ate, so I couldn’t determine my best action. And her heart was racing and even I could tell she was warm. The ER vet in Pittsburgh is 45 minutes away, and Jasmine gets carsick, on top of the bloating and vomiting, that didn’t seem like a good option. Fortunately, I discovered that a local vet is open until midnight every day, just for emergencies. I called them. They couldn’t get me in until 8:30. I agreed, but was really worried, that was about an hour away.
I tried not to make Jasmine nervous, and as comfortable as possible. But I don’t know that I succeeded. There were paper towels all over the house, I had stopped trying to clean up the mess. She was pretty much dry-heaving at this point. About 8pm I couldn’t take it anymore, I thought she’d be better off in the waiting room of the vet’s office than under my care.
Our neighbor saw me carrying Jasmine to the car and offered to go to the vet with me (have you ever tried carrying a bloated 65 pound dog down steps?! I’m sure I looked panicked.). The Goat got home, saw my note and arrived at the vet’s around 9pm. The three of us were up there with her until about 10:30.
One of the theories was that she had had a tumor on her spleen, liver, stomach, or in that general area, and it burst. There were other theories, including food bloat. But even the vet said it would be unusual for a dog of her age who had never had food bloat to bloat. And with the fever and a heartbeat that was faster than even a sick cat, there was something more serious underlying the bloat.
We decided to leave her there overnight to see if she would improve with proper care (IV fluids, pain meds and antibiotics), and on the off chance that it was simply food bloat. The vet repeatedly told us they were concerned about her due to her advanced age. At 8 am on Sunday morning, the vet called, after his rounds, she hadn’t improved. We had to decide what to do. We opted to have her put to sleep.
Now, as we look back, if she did have a tumor, all the signs were there. We’re starting to wonder if she was sick for a long time and we were under the impression that it was just her age starting to present itself in the usual ways. She slept a lot, so do old dogs. She gained a bit of weight, mostly in her belly, so do old dogs. She was losing her hearing/sight, but we have to wonder now, was she losing her senses or was she just growing complacent due to the pain or growth in her belly? She was slowing down and having difficulty jumping and with steps, but so do old dogs. She stopped curling up in a ball on the floor and would simply plop down and sleep where she landed. We assumed this was because of her back legs not working quite as well. And as just mentioned, her back legs didn’t work quite like they used to, but that’s common in old dogs. She had become a bit poop incontinent. But so do old dogs.
Could we have been a better doggie parent and picked up on the signs? Maybe if she had been younger we would have. Maybe we should have suspected more, since the symptoms showed up rapidly, but again, we just thought she was getting old, and that she got old fast. That happens sometimes, especially in people and animals that live long lives. Was she in pain and we didn’t know it? I have to tell myself that if she was, it wasn’t so bad that she was miserable, because she still seemed happy, and was still playing in the yard, catching critters, stealing tissues, and walking The Goat daily.
Recently she had become extra snuggly and affectionate. She would walk over to us and nuzzle us for no reason. She had started sleeping in our bed, which she had stopped doing unless it was bitter cold, or one of us was sick. She would pace and had difficulty finding a place to lay down. On Friday, in the car on the ride home from the shop, I had to help her into the car, and then “placed” her in what looked like a comfortable position. She looked miserable the entire ride home. I kept my right hand on her belly the whole time, it seemed to comfort her as she slumped into the bucket seat. I drove slow so she wouldn’t get sick, and picked the route based on the turns and hills of the roads.
I realize this is an exceptionally long post. But I hope you’ve hung in there with me. I miss my girl. And I needed a way to share how much she meant to us. It’s hard to convey that unspoken bond between pets and their humans. We had this crazy beast for 11 years. That’s a long time. Many human relationships don’t last that long.
If you’re lucky enough to have a critter in your life that showers you with unconditional love and shares your life with you, pet it today, whisper some thanks into it’s ear, it will understand. If that special critter is no longer with you, be thankful that you got to experience that relationship. I believe that we’re supposed to take care of the critters of this planet, and I’m thankful that in return many of them have the innate desire to be part of a human pack and/or work for us. Jasmine’s crate is now empty, and I’ll miss her, but I like to think she knew she was part of our pack.