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Scott Rall: You are better safe than sorry

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors writer 

The old saying that “life is short” was real up close and personal to me this past week.

I have always thought of myself as a very good dog owner who pays lots of attention to his dogs and could see any changes in their behavior in short order.

Each dog is different and they all have their own personality. My dog Axel is one of those unusual sorts. When you let him out of his cage he spins in a circle one time. When you let him out to do his business he spins just that one time. When you go to feed him he will again spin one time.

It is not hard to tell if he is acting like his normal self. He is 4 years old and hunts as well as any dog I have owned. He starts out every hunt a little slow and cautious and will check with me a few times at the beginning of every hunt. I say to him, “It’s OK, go find me a bird,” and he is off to the races for the rest of the day. But he still needs that little reassurance at the beginning of every hunt.

This is just part of what makes Axel … well, Axel. I am very careful with my dogs. At the end of every hunt they get looked over for cuts or injuries and they get their eyes washed out with contact solution after every day in the field. There is often a few weed seeds that get under their inner eyelid that causes them discomfort. They can work them out on their own but I can imagine how much it must hurt, so I help flush out those seeds after every outing.

I once had a dog that got cut really bad and showed no signs of injury. This was over 15 years ago, and by the time I found it 24 hours later the cut had to be trimmed back and stitched by the vet. It was much more problematic than if I had seen and dealt with it right away.

Dogs will hunt themselves to death if you let them, and it is up to us to watch over them to see that they don’t overdo it.

I hunted Axel and Tracer on Saturday evening and we had a great outing and got two birds. Both dogs were acting normally. I loaded them into the truck the next morning for a morning hunt, but that hunt never materialized. Kirk Schnitker and I went wildflower seed hunting instead. We gathered up about three pounds of a native plant called wild licorice. Kirk headed back to the big city and I took the boys out later that same day for an evening hunt at about 5 p.m.

The dogs are with me almost all of the time in the fall, so a day in the truck was just a good rest for the hunt that was sure to follow. I opened the truck and two dogs jumped to the ground. I strapped on their remote collars and loaded the gun.

As we left the parking area and headed west into the wind, Axel was a little pokey. I thought not much of it since he starts out his hunting adventures a little on the slow side anyway. About 200 yards from the truck there was no Axel. I looked back and he was just sitting there looking at me. I called to him and he ran up to me and sat down again.

I checked his feet to see if he had cut his paw or had another injury and saw none. I checked his chest to see if that was injured and still nothing. We continued for only an additional short distance and I knew something was up and headed back to the truck. I thought I might have to carry him.

We got home and he would not eat or drink. This dog has never missed a meal. I watched him for a few more minutes and made that dreaded after-hour emergency call to my vet. I can only imagine what it is like to be on call all of the time.

I met him a short time later, and after an examination Axle had a temperature of 104.7 degrees. A dog’s normal temp is around 101.5 degrees. A complete blood profile was done and it was determined that he had a systemic infection. This type of infection does not have a specific site that the infection started in and for the most part is all over the body.

He went on fever reducers and strong antibiotics. By the next day his temperature was down one degree and it took almost five days before he started to return to normal. It was almost 10 days before he was his old spinning self again. I asked the vet if there was anything I could have done to prevent this issue and his response was no. It could have started by a weed scratch or a poke in his foot.

I asked the one big question. What if I had waited till morning to bring him in? The answer was that there was a chance that he might well have died. He might have made it till morning or even longer, but the chance he could have expired overnight sent a chill down my spine.

How can a dog be normal when you put him in the truck in the morning, be very sick six hours later and almost dead four hours after that? It was far to close for comfort for this guy. The moral of this story is pay close attention to your dogs. If something is wrong it will show up in the slightest changes in the dog’s behavior. Watch for these changes and deal with it immediately.

The other is to know your vet on a personal level. Carry the after-hours emergency number in your wallet and don’t be too cheap to call it. If I had tried to save a buck (waiting till morning so I did not have to pay the after-hours emergence fee) I would most likely have killed my dog. There are many good vets in our area and mine is Ross Dierks of Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Man and dogs have what I call an interdependent relationship. We need a dog and a dog needs us. I live for this man/dog relationship and feel that as a dog owner you have a responsibility that goes beyond filling a food dish.

Pay attention and make a serious situation like the one I had turn out with a happy, healthy dog in lap and not a cross in the back yard.