We lost a good friend last night. Orion, our golden boy, the un-bribe-able guard dog, has left this world to guard, play and rest in a happier, pain-free place.
Orion was one of a litter of eight we found on the side of the road near our home one day in 2007. The pups had been starved and two nearly didn’t make it that first night. Orion was always a shy one, even then. He didn’t push through to get to food but neither was he listless like the two we were worried wouldn’t make it. He just hung back and calmly waited his turn. This is not usual behavior for an untrained pup. He seemed to have the patience of a saint right from the start.
I expected then that Orion’s beautiful golden coloring and white blaze on his nose would mean he would get placed immediately, but it took about a month. Then, apparently he and his new family were unhappy together because Orion came back to us after several months in that home. The family was unable to care for a puppy after all. They had named him “Night” despite his daylight coloring, but we already have Knightshade and couldn’t see having two “knights”. Since he’d had a chance to get used to Night, I wanted to keep the long “I” sound to make transition to a new name a little easier and chose “Orion.” Orion adapted quickly and showed himself to be highly intelligent and patient and compassionate with young humans. We placed him again in another home, but after only a few months, he came back to us again.
By this time, Orion’s naturally sweet, shy attitude became that of a resigned wallflower. He wouldn’t come forward for attention or treats even when called. He would hang back as if chastised though he’d done nothing wrong. I realised that Orion’s reticence had probably come from being “rejected” now four times – by us, by family 1, by us again, then by family 2 – he felt no one wanted him and had no place in this world. It was sad to see, and with other dogs in the pack, it was hard to show him much of any exclusive attention.
Then came the day that Chuck told him “alright, buddy, you’re here to stay. This is your home now and you’re not going anywhere.” There was an immediate change, a night and day difference! Orion’s perpetual hang-dog expression became hopeful and more often excited. He began to push through for his fair share of attention when we had excited crowding, though he was never aggressive. He again began to show his intelligence and wouldn’t be persuaded from it no matter what the rest of the pack was doing. When I told them to sit, the uber-excited take a minute to realise I’m serious, but Orion would sit immediately and calmly wait for instruction despite being bumped and jostled and sometimes forced to stand or be knocked over. He would quickly readjust and sit again, staring at me, waiting patiently. Orion was not to be distracted. I’ve never had another dog so incredibly easy to work with. He required no treats or extra attention to learn something new. He would get it in just a couple of tries and it almost always stuck right after the first, certainly by the second. Orion was something special.
One thing that never needed training was Orion’s guarding aptitude. A bizarre habit he had picked up was to bark at vultures in the sky. “Death from above” we called it and I truly think Orion thought so. It’s not typical for a dog to look up, much less to do it often enough to call warnings at every sighting. He even recognized when their shadows flew across the ground and knew exactly where it came from. He would chase within the confines of the fence and try to “bark them away.” We can only speculate what horror he might have seen to make him associate danger with a threat from the sky, but Orion’s warnings were always accurate, always of vultures, never any other bird.
Orion was also one who would always bark and threaten any potential human threat who came to the yard or the house. He had been known to threaten even those he knew from previous visits if they were acting “suspicious” and unsettled. We recently had a HVAC tech come by who tried to be friendly to the dogs through the fence. The tech even offered treats to help calm them to his presence, but Orion was having none of it. He didn’t even stop barking at the tech long enough to sniff at the treat. Good boy!
A couple years ago we noticed Orion was limping a lot and occasionally had trouble putting weight in either of his back legs. His hips appeared abnormally narrow so we assumed it was hip dysplasia but couldn’t afford the vet bill for a while. When we did get Orion to the vet for X-rays, they found he had blown both his knees! Poor guy. But at 7 ½ years old, it seems it would be more torture to try to put him through the exhaustive surgeries and recovery that would likely take 1-2 years including rehab with no guarantee of betterment at his age. We opted to put him on a joint and pain relief regimen and just try to keep him from overtaxing himself. Of course, you can’t explain that to a dog very well. When he became overexcited on a walk or guarding against a threat, he would force his legs to work like normal – never show weakness! He was better than before, but it was obvious to us the toll it took on him. He would be more sore than ever that night. He lost weight. We just tried to do what we could to make his life as comfortable as possible.
Unfortunately, Orion was also an escape artist. He would methodically chew through the wire fencing until he could get through and run free. Chuck would barricade the hole but eventually Orion would make another one. He would come back happily exhausted and sometimes half-covered in mud. He had a favorite mud hole that we suspect was his ultimate downfall. It seems someone set a trap.
Yesterday, Orion had let himself out of the yard again and we didn’t notice. When he came back, he was so covered in mud that the rest of the pack didn’t even recognize him. I noticed the that Orion was missing and worried he would come back and attack the “stranger dog.” He looked like a dark brindle, nothing at all like Orion’s usual pale golden coloring. We thought he was a stray, obviously hurting from some trauma, and desperately trying to sidle up to Chuck. It’s not unusual for a dog in need of care to just show up, so of course we would do what we could and try to find his owners. He was obvious wounded, but with so much dirt, we couldn’t even guess at the wounds much less the extent of them. Chuck decided the dog needed a bath before anything else and it took some scrubbing before enough of the dirt came off to see Orion showing through the mud. He had lots of scrapes, scratches and punctures. At first we thought of maybe a dog fight with a neighbor dog or something else but most of the punctures weren’t torn, he had scrapes inside his mouth, and there was more mud than blood… or so we thought.
We set Orion up on the bed with us so we could comfort him as much as possible. He was clean now and cried until the pain pills kicked in but he was obviously still in a lot of pain. Most of the wounds were punctures and scrapes but not consistent with an animal fight. It appeared he’d been caught in something and had to fight his way free of it. After about three hours, he vomited a fair amount of bog water. There were some bits of food and an object that might have been cloth, but mostly it was boggy water. I wondered if some might not have come from his lungs too since he was listless then and couldn’t even lift his head out of the boggy puddle he’d made on the towels, but there was no way to tell. A wound on a thigh never quite stopped oozing blood despite pressure so we have no idea how much blood he may have lost before he was able to get home. We cleaned up all his wounds as much as we could, but even when we thought the leg had stopped bleeding, he would then move the leg and there would be oozing blood again. His breathing became labored and Chuck didn’t think he would last the night. Indeed it seems he didn’t last another hour. Chuck moved Orion to the love seat where he often sleeps to clean up the vomit. Orion was listless and had trouble even standing when Chuck set him in the floor to rearrange the sheets on the loveseat for comfort. When Chuck put him up on the loveseat, he just flopped and didn’t even try to move in a better position for his wounds. A few minutes later, he began to cry-whine again and his eyes looked a bit glassy. It broke my heart to hear him and know there was nothing else we could do for him. I went to him and stroked the portion of his head that wasn’t scraped or punctured. He sighed and seemed to settle. I think now that’s when he left and I just didn’t realise it because when I checked on him a little while later, he wasn’t breathing and the body begun to cool already.
So now Orion is out of pain completely. No more limping, no more aching knees or wounds, and certainly no more labored breathing. He can rest easy now. I figure he’s probably standing guard at the gates to the other world, doing his duty and warning of vultures.
We miss you, golden boy!
It’s truly a dog’s life here at KnightHearth. My husband and I have independently, and frequently, commented “I want to come back as one of our dogs!” Life for our dogs is very low stress. We have 25 acres of mostly wooded lands to run, siblings to play, all day and night to sleep (when they’re not on guard duty), humans to love them (practically whenever the spring-loaded hind leg informs us there’s a belly-toll to be paid), and lots of games to play with us too! Read the rest of this entry »