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Thank you, everyone, for all of your supportive notes. We wanted to use today’s post to answer some common questions from our readers about Natasha.
How are the dogs coping?
Dogs have an amazing ability to live in the now. They all spent time with Natasha in her last days and seemed to know quicker than the Hu-Dad that the end was near.
The Juniors – Cheoah, Frankie, and Typhoon – tend to be a tight-knit trio and interact primarily with each other. Of the three, Natasha was closest to Typhoon (her protege) and they could often be spotted doing play bows (as captured in this post which included the video below). He has been spotted a handful of times sniffing her favorite spots the last couple of days, but, otherwise, seems his usual goofy self.
Chief of Security Kiska, however, is different. When she first arrived at Chez Herd, she was a fragile dog who was scared of everything. Natasha’s strength was a natural attraction and Kiska rapidly became her shadow. In the last few months, the Chief of Security has taken a special interest in being Natasha’s protector and would always be found just a few feet away. She has spent a lot of time with the Hu-Dad in the last couple of days both being a comforter and receiving comfort. She seems to be doing fairly well but is obviously missing her rock. She continues to take her duties of security and choir mistress very seriously, so we will pay a great deal of attention to her over the coming days.
Kiska and Qannik are spending a lot of time hanging out together, so we think they are also helping each other.
Who will be the leader of the pack?
Who knows? Hu-Dad has long believed that decisions like that are best left to The Herd to decide.
Our last leadership change was August 23, 2006 – over a decade ago. Natasha adored her “Mama Bear,” but stepped immediately into the Queen’s role when Nikita passed. No one ever doubted that she was in charge and anyone who did quickly learned the basis of the “Evil” nickname.
Hu-Dad’s prediction is that this time will be far less dramatic or obvious. Of course, he also imagines that he is the actual leader of the pack, so maybe you can’t put much stock in his opinion.
From the outside looking in, many readers may think Kiska will step into the role, but we don’t think so. Some #2’s are just waiting for their opportunity to lead (like Natasha back in the Nikita days). Other #2’s are quite happy being a #2 – the enforcer of rules established by someone else. Kiska likes to follow someone of strength, which is why she admired Natasha so much. We don’t think she wants the responsibility.
None of the boys – Qannik, Frankie, or Typhoon – has ever shown much desire to lead. Frankie would be the most likely of the three, but is just too laid back to assert his will on others.
Which leaves Miss Cheoah. Cheesewhiz is already the de facto leader of the Juniors. She exudes confidence. On the other hand, she has never shown a strong desire to take charge and doesn’t spend any time correcting behaviors like Natasha did, though she does guide Typhoon’s development.
One likely scenario is that no pup steps forward as the leader. The pack is stable and mature (well, mostly – here is looking at you, Typhoon). A stable pack really does not need a firm canine leader, so things may move for quite some time in a loose fashion. That dynamic could change if a new dog were introduced to the pack, which brings us to . . .
Will a new member join The Herd?
Hu-Dad tells the story often of a little boy who approached the Jeep and asked, “Why do you have six Siberian Huskies?” Hu-Dad pointed at the full Jeep and answered, “Because I don’t have room for seven.”
Six is such a comfortable number for us and we will probably be back to that number when the right canine comes along.
Will a new addition be a rescue or a puppy?
Probably a rescue. With so many wonderful dogs in need, it is hard to resist that approach. Sadly, we receive a request about once a week to take in another Siberian Husky and have to turn down all of those requests. Perhaps, when the time is right, we will answer yes to one of those. And, of course, we will be in touch with the rescues that we have worked with in the past.
If we chose a rescue, the entire Herd gets a voice. Our obligations are always to the dogs that are already living at Chez Herd, so any addition has to fit in with everyone’s approval. Sometimes that takes quite a bit of effort.
We always tell the story of when we adopted Rusty. Nikita and Natasha met every single dog at a particular rescue – one or the other rejected each one. Finally, the director said there was one dog who was brand new to the rescue and had not even been tested yet. He was a silly red head named Rojo. Rojo stepped out the door, Natasha immediately dropped into a play bow and Rojo returned the play bow with a whoop of joy. Nikita sniffed and said he smelled ok (which, in Nikita speak, was approval). And so Rojo joined the Herd as Rusty.
(P.S. – Did you know we originally named him Boris? You know, Boris and Natasha (if you are too young to get that reference, Google it). Anyone who ever knew Rusty knew that Boris did not fit as a moniker. While trying to come up with a name, we kept referring to him as that Rust colored dog and the name stuck).
As for adding a puppy, who knows? Natasha was the last puppy in Chez Herd. Ok, fair enough, Typhoon is a perpetual puppy, but chronologically he is an adult and was an adult when he arrived at Chez Herd. Going the puppy route could be entertaining, but we would probably only work with one of the very high-quality breeders we already know. And since that takes a great deal of time and planning, a puppy is probably not the next dog.
With a couple of senior dogs in The Herd who would probably not approve of a rambunctious puppy, we will probably wait for that at some future date. And that waiting will allow us to plan better with a breeder.
Either way, Hu-Dad will have to practice his mantra to a newcomer – “I am bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than you.” One of those is even true. Typhoon doubts the whole sentence.
We save this question for last on purpose. We realize that some of you don’t want details and encourage you to just stop reading.
The short answer is nothing dramatic; Natasha just let us know it was time.
In the last two years, Natasha had two major surgeries – a 2014 TPLO surgery and a 2015 surgery to remove a nearly two-pound cancerous mass from her spleen and liver. Both surgeries took a great deal of work on her part to recuperate.
When we received the news about her cancer on July 14, 2015, we had to accept that the odds were against her, but decided to risk the surgery. A terrific surgeon from the Animal Hospital of Waynesville, Dr. Kristen Hammett, successfully removed the entire cancerous mass and saved 70% of the liver. We were given an incredible gift that day of extra time and committed to using that time to its fullest.
We also made the decision not to subject Natasha to any further dramatic procedures if cancer returned or if other major medical issues developed. We would treat for comfort and deal with minor issues, but, at her advanced age, it did not feel right to put her through more discomfort. (You can see our four question guide for Making Canine Medical Decisions at this link.)
So we enjoyed nearly fifteen more months than we had expected. Natasha received regular laser treatments and a few acupuncture treatments for her arthritis. She also received pain medications to help her cope with her arthritis and a liver medication to help her now smaller liver function normally.
A few weeks ago, at her last acupuncture treatment, we noted a slowed nerve response in a rear leg. A follow up with our regular vet showed nothing specific was wrong, but also confirmed that time was growing short. Her body was simply failing.
Her time in the yard grew increasingly shorter and she had to focus to maintain balance. Her zoomies of last week brought a smile because we had not seen it in so long, but also made us wonder if that was that final burst of energy we so often see. On Sunday, our walk in the park was cut short because she only wanted to walk a short distance.
Tuesday morning, Natasha showed a great disinterest in breakfast – a rarity for a dog who loved her meals. We spiked her meals with various enticing ingredients, but food consumption slowed.
Wednesday was a better day and we had hope. Natasha seemed to be rebounding a little and was eating some, albeit with raw salmon added. She asked to go outside several times, though only for a few minutes at a stretch.
Thursday morning, Natasha ignored raw salmon, peanut butter, popcorn, beef, chicken, liver, and anything else we could dream. She had little interest in going outside. She just wanted to sleep at Hu-Dad’s feet.
The answer had been given and we helped her the only way we knew how. Dogs give of themselves their entire lives and really only ask for one big favor at the end. As much as it hurts, it is the gift we must give.
Hu-Dad stretched out on the floor, cuddled her, and kissed her head as the veterinarian provided the magic medicine to cure all of her ills. She gently fell asleep like she had so many times, with her head nestled against Hu-Dad’s chest.
We celebrate her life every day. The pain is real, but we were so blessed to have her in our lives.
We hope these answers help you.
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