A Tail of Love & Loss
After waiting about 6 months for Chester to get well and strong enough to be rehomed, here he was, ‘struttin his stuff’ – head held high, sashaying towards me at Inverness railway station – like some fashion model who’d been asked if she’d lost weight. He was gorgeous – and he knew it – in a “I’m ready for my close up Mr DeMille”, kinda way. He’d spent a very comfortable night, squashing Claire in the single bed of the overnight Highland sleeper train. I burst into tears of joy, overwhelmed, not knowing then how this handsome, exuberant boy, would change our life overnight.
Chester was completely deaf. He’d gone through years of pain from either inappropriate or no treatment, from reoccurring ear infections. The result being that he couldn’t enter the vets unless sedated, and any attempt to touch him from the shoulders upward, resulted in him grabbing your hand, out of fear of being in more pain. He never broke the skin, despite the trauma he’d been through. All the inside of his ears had been removed and sown closed.
I’d always used hand commands, plus a whistle to recall my dogs. Snow, heavy rain and trees absorb most of the sound, so a very rotund woman jumping up and down, in a bright red Berghaus jacket, waving her arms about, is also a great ‘return beacon’ for an adventurous lost dog. On leaving the house, I always leave a sock or other item of clothing with my dogs. By the time your smell has faded, you’ll be back home and it will reduce your dogs stress levels while alone. This is particularly important in hearing or sight-impaired dogs.
My beloved Chester was completely mental. In all honesty, there was no other way to describe him. I’d only had a Weimaraner (who’d died a year before) and a field lab before (my beloved Penny). So, owning a Vizsla turned out to be quite a rude awakening. I discovered that this breed just ‘runs’, for no apparent reason – as if on speed. Within 2 hours of owning him, I thought he was dead (don’t think I’ve ever told Sue or Claire this before – so keep it to yourselves).
We owned a house in the Culbin forest in the Scottish Highlands, in 1/3 of an acre of ground. I also owned a private skin clinic next door, in an acre of ground, backing onto the forest. We thought it best to let Chester ‘expend some energy’ after his long trip. He ran…… and ran…..and ran…..and ran………… and ran in circles and figure of eights round the trees, covering the whole acre of ground – for about 15 mins, non stop. We looked at each other, slightly worried, wondering what we had taken on, and having a “WTF” moment. It culminated in him suddenly changing direction on a pin head (as they do) and knocking himself unconscious, by running into a strainer post ! My 1st thought was, “That’s a good start – I’ve waited 6 months for this dog, and now I’ve killed him”. He came round, got up – and started running again ! – dog nose what we’d taken on. Before Claire had left him with us, I remember my husband asking, “What age do they calm down and grow up?” “Oh, they NEVER grow up, Ian” Claire replied. Chester was already 6 I think – he hadn’t ‘grown up’ the day his back legs packed in, and we said a tearful goodbye, 5 years later.
Knowing a bit about acoustics (I was a nurse on ENT), and the use of tuning forks to assess hearing levels, I went out to buy a whistle. We had a great hunting, shooting and fishing shop in Forres (sadly no more), where I bought 6 different whistles. Chester could pick up only one of them, if his skull was pointing in the direction of the sound. He clearly picked up the vibration in one of his facial or skull bones. It’s an interesting test – try it yourself if your dog is profoundly deaf. Make sure he doesn’t see you, blow the whistle and see him look up. Better to jump about so he can see you afterwards, as he may not be able to assess the direction of the sound, despite feeling it. My current dog (lab and ex gun dog) is low tone deaf due to the guns, but can hear you yell, the tones of opera or the scrunching of a crisp packet. However, he has no way to assess the direction of the sound, so often runs off in the opposite direction, or will just trot home if he loses sight of you. He also has cataracts in both eyes, which doesn’t help.
Chester kept launching himself at my face initially, giving me a black eye and almost breaking my nose on 2 occasions – this had to stop ! Having arthritis, I was also frightened of him knocking me off my feet. I learnt that putting my hand in his face, or turning round stopped this behaviour within less than 2 weeks.
On a very windy day, two weeks after getting him, we were both avalanched by very dry snow from the top of a 40 foot pine tree. I was buried, and got out to find him missing. Two hours of blowing the whistle had nearly deafened me, but the snow absorbed all the sound. Then I saw what I thought was a deer in the distance – however, it was ‘my dear Chester’. Learning from this, I attached quite a large bell to his collar, which meant I could sometimes hear him, even if I couldn’t see him in the woods.
As I said earlier, you couldn’t really stroke him. You have a Vizsla, right? How sucky-uppy are these dogs for love and attention? I started by just stroking a very low part of his chest, when he came over and sat in front of me. Never did I approach him nor stroke him in his bed – if he wanted attention, he had to come to me for it. As time went on I was able to stroke higher up his chest, ‘scrub’ him round the head, and quickly grab hold of his collar without being grabbed or bitten by him. I frequently gently touched and looked in his ears, giving him a treat each time. It took about 3 months to gain his complete trust. Then one day, he rolled on his back, waggled his legs in the air and invited us to rub his tummy – we both cried !
The only heart breaking thing was, Penny rejected Chester from day one. She adored Fergus my Weimaraner, and they were ‘bessie mates’. There was nothing I could do to get her to have anything to do with Chester. She was such a placid dog that it was shocking to see. Penny never hurt him, but growled every time he went near her. Chester tried every play position known to dog, in an attempt to be loved by Penny, but to no avail. Bless him, he never gave up trying to be part of Penny’s family. After 6 months, one day Penny suddenly fell in love with Chester – I remember the day well, and am now shedding a few tears, remembering the relief and joy I felt. They were inseparable after that, and she would ‘seek him out’ when told to ‘go find Chester’, and would return home with him in tow.
Getting Chester to trust the vet was a long haul. I’m bossy, and I instructed the vet how things were gonna pan out – I’m a nurse, that’s what we’re like. We’d had mostly ‘partly used’ animals over the years – ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats etc. They’d made enough money out of us already, so a bit of ‘free compliance’ was in their interest. The week after I got Chester, I took him to the vets. He stayed in the car and John Donald (the best vet ever) was invited to visit Chester in the back of my car, to introduce himself. There was nothing wrong with Chester, but there was no way I was going to sedate him to take him the vets. We went often, initially walking round the car park, trotting in the back door, sitting in the waiting room, chatting to staff and eventually through the front door (after only a month). Trotting round and exploring all the rooms – including the treatment rooms, many biscuits were to be found. Everyone loved him, fed him treats and he came to love the vets. When passing he knew the route and wanted to call in for attention and food.
The day he needed to be seen for treatment, about 6 months later (he had what the vet thought was a cancerous growth on his tail, but which turned out to be an ingrown ball of hairs), he dragged me through the door and straight in to see John. The first thing John ever said to me when he was able to look into Chester’s ears was, “Wow, this must be Mr White’s work – I’d know it any where !” Very strange when you realise that Chester was operated on in Kent, and I live about 12 hours drive from there. He loved the vets and I never experienced any problems. Cubes of cheese are always a good emergency stand by too.
To make life easier, I’d recommend a flashing LED collar for sight or hearing impaired dogs, as it takes some of the stress out of owning one – especially in the winter. My husband invented and made them for our dogs, more than ten years before they hit the shops – but wouldn’t patent it ! We only get about 5 hours of daylight up here in the winter, and it’s pitch black about 3.30pm. I slice and cook pig or ox liver in the oven, dry it out and carry it as treats. If your dog can’t hear you, it can sure as hell smell you from a long way off.
Oh boy, I’ve cried a lot writing this info, but found it very cathartic. Though, I felt more tears of joy, rather than from loss. Plus, I am always amazed at how resilient and good tempered a horrendously abused dog turns out to be.
And shall I tell you a secret? Chester was the love of my life, and despite the fact he died many years ago now, he’s still my screen saver ! Change your life for the better – rescue a Vizsla !
Incredibly proud and honoured to have been allowed to be – ‘Chester’s Mam’