Many people knew Gus and many have asked how Gus died and why he died so young. After all… 6 years and 3 months is not very old for a Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog.
Some folks have been reluctant to ask thinking that it will bother us. It has been only two days since his death. Yes it is still fresh and painful but in fact, we do not mind them asking at all. Many of these folks are, after all, part of a network of wonderful people that we have met due to our shared love of dogs in general and Pyrs in particular. It is a network derived from a series of events inspired by Gus. That, and his memory, is the lasting legacy that Gus gave us.
Sadly, there is no definitive cause of death to report. His autopsy did not reveal any growths or masses or tumors or the like. All of his organs were shutting down. He was hemorrhaging in some places but clotting in others, kidney in particular. He was going into a septic state near the end. The doctors suspect that it could have been some type of cancer of the lining of the intestine. We may never know more than that.
We can tell you that the past 6 or 7 weeks have been intense with emotions vacillating between elation and despair as Gus' condition changed for better then for worse then better again. With every temporary improvement we had new hope and continued treating whatever new symptom appeared.
He first presented with loss of appetite and lethargy plus a small increase in temperature. Breathing was shallow and rapid. An allergic reaction to something unknown or ulcer of the stomach were suspected, especially since he loved to eat grass... a sure sign of a GI problem we were told. That was treated with antibiotics. Also meds to coat his stomach were prescribed since it may have been irritated. He had also shown lameness in his right hind leg but that was considered to be a coincidence. He was screened for Lyme and other diseases and had full blood work done. All results were negative. Two days into the antibiotics diarrhea became a big issue. Back to the vet we went for additional drugs to deal with the diarrhea.
But he began to eat again, something he had not done for almost 2 weeks. By now he had lost 15 pounds. Gus loved chicken. So Hickory smoked chicken thighs from our Big Green Egg became the order of the day. Kibble was out. Our Vet put him on a special diet of high carbohydrate food to allow him to regain weight. Both kibble and canned. Gus ate some of the canned food but preferred kibble. Now kibble was back in.
Although we were able to provide some drugs in liquid form, Gus was becoming increasing tired of us poking pills down his throat and he finally told us, as a Pyr certainly can, that he was not going to tolerate it any more. Of course that resulted in another visit to the vet to "learn" how to do it correctly. Result? Great Pyr 1... Vet No Score! So now we began crushing the tablets and mixing them with the liquid meds.
We were joyous... his appetite had returned and there was marked improvement. A few days after the antibiotics were finished he crashed again. No appetite and lethargic. The shallow, rapid breathing continued as it had been for weeks. And now add a serious fever.
So once again we traveled back to the vet for more screening blood work. He was hemorrhaging. His red blood cells dropped from 55% to 31%. White cell count was up. Fighting some type of infection or inflammation. Internal bleeding or Cancer was suspected. X-rays and ultrasound revealed nothing. An autoimmune disorder was suspected... something referred to as Immune medial haemolytic anaemia, where the immune system destroys red blood cells.
We now added steroids to the treatment regime. I gave injections twice daily for over a week. Plus we were still delivering other meds by crushing and mixing in watered down vanilla yougert. Gus seemed to like that at least a bit. Cheryl became very proficient at creating the concoction and delivering it to a somewhat reluctant Gus, while I held him. The shallow, rapid breathing continued. A week later there was slight improvement. He had gained back 5 pounds and red blood cells increased to 35%.
But Gus had not responded as well as expected to the steroids so we began to wean him off. Sometimes he would eat... sometimes he wouldn't. One day he would look better. Next day he would look like hell. His eyes told us everything. He was declining. We could see that. But we were still holding out hope that we could find a cause and a cure. He had additional tests for pancreas and cortisol levels to determine Addison's disease. That was his last visit to the vet on Tuesday, Aug 14. We purchased additional liquid antibiotics that day and that evening Gus was not too happy about taking them... but he did. We could see his continued decline.
At 4 am Gus wanted out. I took him to his kennel and he did not want to return, so I left him out there where he could be in his favourite environment, overlooking the forest behind his kennel. The next morning, he was gagging and gasping with very heavy breathing. He was pacing then lying down and then pacing again. There was evidence of a tiny amount of blood on his paw that had dripped from his mouth. We called the vet. We made the painful decision to end it. We did not want to transport him. We wanted him to pass peacefully in familiar surroundings. The vet came to us.
In the 20 minutes it took for the vet to arrive, Cheryl and I stayed with Gus, caressing him, petting him and saying our quiet goodbyes. He was bleeding more heavily now. He was very weak and barely hanging on, but in true Pyr style he was our guardian to the end. As the vet's car rolled down the driveway, Gus sprang to his feet and gave his last defiant, warning bark. He then paced a moment before settling into his favourite corner where he could look out to see the road.
I held his beautiful head in my hands and caressed him. Cheryl was there as well, stroking his beautiful fur. As the vet did her job, he looked into my eyes for what seemed like forever. I was the very last thing he saw. He went quietly and peacefully. It is one of the most difficult things that Cheryl and I have ever had to do. But it was time. And it was the final kindness that we could provide him.
I have hugged, patted, stroked, massaged and groomed Gus thousands of times. But there are two most memorable times that my hands have touched a Pyr. The first was over six years ago when we were given the honour to be allowed to hold a newborn puppy only a few hours old. I will never forget that and I thank Lois McIntosh at Limberlost Kennels for providing such an amazing experience. The next time was at 11 AM on Wednesday August 15, 2012.
After only 2 days, his memory is so fresh and the pain that accompanies it even more so. We know that in time the pain will disappear but the beautiful memory of our most beautiful boy will remain.
There are three types of people in the world... people who own a Pyr, people who don't own a Pyr and people who did. We are now all three.
Although we are not yet ready, Gus will not be our last Pyr. In time we will once again have a beautiful Pyr in our lives.
Let's return Home from How Gus Died.
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