It was 18 years ago yesterday, the Saturday before Easter, when Paula and I walked into a pet shop at the East Towne Mall in Madison, WI and met Gus for the first time. We had a new home and decided that it was time that we add a dog to our lives. We had been advised against getting a dog from a pet store; however, when we walked in we told ourselves we were “just looking.” Paula’s boss at the time, Dr. Warner, had recommended we consider getting a Cairn Terrier. Since neither of us had seen many Cairn’s we wanted to at least see if the store had one that we could look at.
At 12 weeks of age Gus was already extremely cute, with lots of personality. Food was a major focus even then. Out of all the caged puppies, Gus was the only one with his muzzle buried in his dish eating, while every other puppy was trying to get the attention of the people in the store. We played with Gus in the introduction room and he was very alert and very interactive with us. It was at that point that I started calling him Gus. He just looked and acted like a Gus to me. Gus had helped us reach the conclusion that a Cairn Terrier was the breed for us, but we left him in the store because we did not want to get a pet store puppy.
During the next week we visited two local Cairn breeders and were not impressed with the dogs they had available. One was clearly a puppy mill and the other breeder only had a 5 month old, who was a bit too high strung for our tastes. While she was going to have a litter in June or July, we were impatient and wanted a puppy sooner rather than later.
The following weekend we went to the Humane Society looking for a dog, butjust could not find that special dog for us. We decided to stop by the pet store to see if they had anything new. As we walked back to the puppy cages, we saw him. Gus, was still there, as cute as ever, and on sale! After another visit with him in the introduction room, we were hooked. Gus went home with us on April 6th, 1991.
We wanted to raise Gus properly, so we went home with a crate, the appropriate chew toys, and copies of those “bad” books we no longer recommend. Gus adapted quite well as Paula and I read all we could about how to have a great puppy. He was not terribly brave about new things, he barked at trees and the packages that UPS left on the deck, but did wonderfully with the neighbor children. He loved sitting on our laps and playing with his pink, squeaky, hedgehog. We would roll on the floor laughing when he would really get it squeaking and then stop and sing to it.
Gus’ was an AKC registered puppy, even though he did come from a puppy mill. As such, he we had the option of registering his official AKC name. We came up with Laird Gustav MacMoose, an appropriate sounding name for a dog of Scottish descent.
We recognized the importance of training and enrolled Gus in a puppy kindergarten class with the local kennel club. It was at our very first class that the instructor told me to “alpha roll” Gus because he was trying to be dominant, and that was why he was not paying attention to me. Not knowing any better I followed the instructor’s advice and instantly had a terrified puppy on his back, thrashing about, growling and showing his teeth. It was at that point the instructor told me I must now grab his muzzle firmly and hold that mouth shut. Stupidly following her advice I tried to do precisely that when Gus taught me his first lesson. As I reached to grab his muzzle, Gus quickly and firmly sunk his teeth in the palm of my hand, causing me to immediately let go as I dripped blood all over the floor.
Sadly, our first night in puppy class setback the relationship between Gus and me for some time. We both had to learn to trust one another again and one way we did that was with rousing games of fetch up and down the hallway. Gus loved retrieving tennis balls, and when Paula or I would get home from work he was ready to play. I had a friend who was a member of a tennis club, and they gave us a bag full of tennis balls which we presented to Gus out on the front lawn one afternoon. We dumped all of those balls out on the lawn and he became enraptured with all of the fun spread out before him.
Early on Gus also discovered the joy in stealing. It started with socks and other things from the laundry basket. He would snatch something and then parade up and down in front of us, tail held high, just hoping we would play his game and chase him. When we got smart and started ignoring this behavior, and keeping stuff off the floor, Gus started stealing from unsuspecting visitors. More than once we had a repair person in the house and Gus would come parading past us with a screwdriver, a box of matches or something else he had snagged out of their tool box.
I can still remember Gus’ first thunderstorm. He must have been between 16 and 18 weeks old and was trembling, and acting very afraid. Since I didn’t know better, I sat with him on the kitchen floor, holding him, petting him, and talking to him in soothing tones. We made it through the first storm and after that he was still reactive but no longer trembling. We had one of the few dogs who rather than trying to hide from the storm, wanted to kill it. He would run from one end of the house to the other, barking, trying to find whatever it was that was causing all the ruckus. Gus would do the same if here were outside except he would always be looking at the sky trying to find his quarry. Nothing seemed to resolve his desire to kill the storm, so our move to Maine, where storms are much less frequent, was a blessing. Gus continued to react to thunderstorms until he was treated with acupuncture for his epilepsy when the reactions just stopped. Whether there was a connection or not, we will never know.
Gus never missed a meal or the opportunity to snag something that looked remotely edible. As a puppy he would cache some of his kibble. We lived in a bi-level house, and he would put a piece of kibble in the corner of each stair. He also did the same with rawhides, trying the hide them in the cracks around the cushions in the chairs.
We brought Shed home in the fall of 1991, as a friend for Gus and as help in keeping the little monster in line. The two of them became fast friends and every evening after dinner Paula and I would sit in the living room and watch Gus and Shed romp and chase each other around the sofa. This became to be known as the “Puppy Races.”
We also spent many hours out in our sunroom in McFarland, Shed and Gus by our feet, Gus snagging a cranberry muffin right from my hands. Lap time was also good and Gus liked nothing better than “head nuggies.” What I know about dogs and dog behavior suggests that a dog should hate head nuggies, but Gus couldn’t get enough of them.
The following year we enrolled both Gus and Shed in training classes with Patricia McConnell in Middleton, The classes emphasized training through positive reinforcement and we were all having fun. Paula would work with Shed and I’d work with Gus. We took basic and advanced classes and both dogs did very well. The only exercise where Gus followed his natural instincts rather than my recall cue was when I had to call him through a patch of biscuits scattered all over the floor. He eventually came but not before scarfing up every biscuit.
In the fall of 1995 we moved to Maine, with Gus, Shed, Queenie, Paula’s mom and my mom and dad. Gus seemed to settle in quite well. I enrolled him in many of the Green Acres classes that were being taught by Kate with assistance from me. He eventually became a certified TDI therapy dog.
Gus and I learned another great training lesson in 1996 thanks to our friend Kate. Gus and I were in an Intermediate class which was being taught outside. I was learning to be a trainer and was desperate that he do well. I put him on a stay at one end of our training field, walked to the other end and asked him to come to me. Gus came but he didn’t run enthusiastically, he walked as slowly as he could. After the class Kate took me aside and suggested that I needed to “lighten up.” She suggested I stop the training with Gus and just have some fun with him. That was the last formal training class Gus was in and we spent more time just playing fetch. I did teach him some “silly” tricks later with the clicker and he had a blast. Thanks to Kate and thanks to Gus I started on my path of learning to accept dogs for their unique personalities.
Gus still loved retrieving tennis balls, although due to my mistake in early training he was always a “two ball” dog. You had to show him you were going to throw the ball in your hand before he would give the ball in his mouth. He would have retrieved balls down in the field to the point of exhaustion and actually did so in great pain one day. He just kept going and we had no idea the little guy had broken his toe until a few days later.
On December 23rd, 1997 Gus had his first Grand Mal seizure and we begin our journey learning about epilepsy and how to treat it. If Gus were a human he would have been into extreme sports. He never did anything half way. When he had his bladder stone, it was huge, his epileptic seizures were all to the extreme. They were extreme in duration and grew to be extreme in frequency. At first, each one was frightening to Paula and me, but as we began to understand the disease we also became somewhat desensitized and learned to cope.
When conventional allopathic medicine did not bring Gus the relief we were looking for we began to explore alternatives. Paula went to a veterinary homeopathy seminar and we took Gus to Dr. Tobin for a consult. We continued to explore homeopathy at more seminars, treatments with Dr. Loops, and then treatments with Dr. Herman. We’d see some improvement for awhile, but never to the point where the seizures would stop. We tried acupuncture with Dr. Hanks and actually went about 6 weeks without a seizure. All of us were so optimistic we had Mark install gold beads at the acupuncture points to provide continuous stimulation, but a few weeks later the seizures returned to their quite regular, ten day frequency.
The last year of Gus’ life we also started to see some cognitive dysfunction. He would get confused and wasn’t as playful. He dearly loved to snuggle with Paula and would wake her up sometimes as early as 4AM to go out. She’d let him out and then they’d snuggle on the couch until the rest of us got up.
Gus lived with epilepsy for six years but during his last month his seizures started to get worse. He started to have cluster seizures and need Valium to get them to stop. His cognitive dysfunction was getting worse and more and more he seemed physically exhausted. Sadly I was away on July 10th, when it was clear the time had come. Our vet and friend Dr. Hanks helped Gus over the Rainbow Bridge in our family room, with Paula at his side.
Gus inspired me to start to learn about dog training and his behavioral quirks caused me to delve deeply into the idiosyncrasies of canine behavior. His unusual and frequent health problems were the reasons that Paula and I both started to explore complementary and alternative healthcare, to the benefit of Gus, ourselves and many others. Gus, you played with us, teased us, frustrated us, and loved us. You made us laugh and you made us cry, and taught us countless lessons about dogs, health and life. You enriched and influenced our lives in countless ways. You were “one of a kind” and will be sorely missed and always remembered lovingly. We patiently wait for the day we can all be reunited and once more we can give you the head “nuggies” you so loved. Like Toto to Dorothy, Gus was our companion on the road to our own personal and very wonderful Oz, Green Acres Kennel Shop. Thank you!
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