Today I wanted to write at length about our big old black lab mix Logan.
In September of 2013 we euthanized our longtime mixed herding dog Rocket after he had contracted bone cancer and undergone a hind-leg amputation. He had about a year after the amputation and continued in good spirits to the end. Putting him down was emotionally very difficult for me as he had been my primary social companion for about six years, and he was an extremely intelligent animal with a large and continually expanding vocabulary.
We put him down just before I met my birth mother in person for the first time when she came out to meet me and visit later that month.
Vivian and I began to discuss the possibility of another dog sometime the next spring, probably around my March birthday. Sometime in May or June 2014 we went to an animal adoption event on the Eastside, possibly in Bellevue. We had thought about looking for a German Shepherd or similar dog but the adoption expenses for the puppies available at the event were higher than we desired and so we kept looking. We did not really intend to pick a dog that day. Our thought was more that by attending we could familiarize ourselves with the way these events work.
We noticed an older dog, a large black dog that appeared to be a lab/shepherd mix. He was evidently depressed, non-interactive and lying flat in his cage showing little interest in the proceedings and attracting no notice. I was interested in his apparent calm and so we took him for a short walk, and he demonstrated good knowledge of basic commands.
Unexpectedly we decided to take him home that day. Later we found that black dogs, especially larger older black dogs, have very low rates of placement from shelters, apparently because of concern about shedding in indoor environments.
The shelter told us that he had been found feral in the woods in Snohomish County and that they estimated he had been in the woods for a couple of months. He had a chip when he was found but the number recorded in association with the chip did not produce any response when called. The shelter would not disclose the name of his former family to us.
The adoption fee was about $150 which was supposed to cover exams and meds needed when he came out of the woods. I am skeptical that he received this care because as soon as we got him home, we observed worms in his stool and took him in for treatment.
He did not seem to know what furniture was for when indoors and he had clearly been subject to hose discipline, leaving him fearful of running water and bathing for the rest of his life. Over time he came to understand that couches were softer than the floor and would climb up on them. He was always resistant to certain expressions of physical affection and reluctant to maintain physical contact with us. However as soon as he walked in the door, our tiny longhaired tortie cat Lark nose-touched him and then headbutted him, expressing immediate affection and acceptance. He reciprocated kindly and patiently, and I never saw him express a dominant motion toward her. He was always extremely phobic of loud noises such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, and gunfire.
He would alert on pickup trucks and especially on trucks driven by women. Taken all together, we suspect that in his former life he had been an outside dog and probably one in a rural environment.
Sometime before late June Vivian and I sat on the porch trying to come up with a name for him. I wanted to name him “Kuma”, “Bear” in Japanese and the nickname of then-rookie Japanese Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. I suggested it for that reason and because the big black dog looked somewhat like a bear. Vivian then suggested “Wolverine”, thinking it was the same as a wolf and also due to the popularity of the Marvel comics superhero character Wolverine and portrayed by Hugh Jackman. I chuckled and pointed out that a wolverine really doesn’t look much like a dog. However, I noted, the character’s given name is “Logan”.
As soon as I said that word, the dog, who had been lying disinterestedly on the porch, thumped his tail and put his head up. He got up and came over to us and continued to respond very directly to the word “Logan”. He clearly understood it to be his name. We can’t ever know if that was the name he had previously, of course, or if it merely sounded similar enough to his original name, but in effect he named himself.
The first time we went through a thunderstorm with him he was completely inconsolable and it was a trying experience for all of us. Over time we learned to give him benadryl to settle him down during noise events and he did begin to ease up in his phobia about it after a few years.
He also had significant separation anxiety and would not accept caging, crating, or being consigned to a small room. He managed to claw his way out of both a portable cage kennel and an airline large-dog transport container, thankfully not while in cargo. Several doors in the house show significant clawing and chewing from early in his time with us.
The worst thunderstorm related event was on an afternoon when I had intended to go to an afternoon Mariners game that Kuma was starting. As I showered at about 11am during the storm, he whimpered and yipped and whined outside the closed bathroom door, eventually hurling himself against it and attacking the molding outside the door with such intensity that I had to refinish the molding to a height of about three feet. In the end with him experiencing such fear and anxiety I stayed home and watched the game from the couch with Logan by my side. That game, on August 12, 2015, would prove to be the best game that Hisashi Iwakuma ever threw, a no-hitter against Baltimore with no runs and three walks allowed, two in the fourth inning and one in the eighth.
After a few of these extreme reactions we began to wonder why he was experiencing such strong fears and anxieties. We easily related his separation anxiety to the loss of his prior family, but did not have a clear hypothesis for his extreme reaction to storms in particular. After thinking about it for a while we formed an untestable hypothesis that fits the information we were given by the shelter, as sketchy and questionable as it may be. It may have taken us some time to come up with it – I note it in a blog post from the following April, in 2015.
We adopted him in May or June. We were told that he had been in the woods in Snohomish County for an unknown length of time, possibly two months. His chip appeared to be associated with an active number but that number never produced a response.
On March 22, 2014, an enormous landslide took out a suburban neighborhood in unincorporated Snohomish County as well as other buildings within the mile-long slide. If we adopted Logan within a month or so of May 22, which seems likely – our first vet bill associated with Logan appears to be for deworming meds in late June, 2014 – then the timeline for his ferality, the lack of phone response, and as well a possible explanation for both his phobic response to storms and his frantic separation anxiety seems within reach. We will never really know, of course. But it’s certainly a possible explanation.
After he bonded with us some of that anxiety diminished over time. He appeared to be affected by the lower-spine and rear-leg issues that can affect shepherds and one of the types of dog he was always eager to interact with were shepherds. I formed the hypothesis that his mother may have been a shepherd or that he was raised in a dog population that included shepherds.
He was only ever interested in playing with balls, stuffed animals, rope tugs, and chew toys were not of much interest to him. He was very strongly treat motivated and once he’d begun to interact with us on a basis of verbality he quickly acquired a limited functional vocabulary of his own. A tail thump or vigorous wag meant “yes”, an eye roll or redirected gaze away meant “no.” A single quick lip smack meant either “yes I am hungry,” or “I want a treat”. He would sit just outside the kitchen and gaze meaningfully at the treats stored on top of the refrigerator until asked “Do you want a treat?” The query would produce a lipsmack and a more pointed look at the treat container, followed by a look back to his interlocutor to observe if the intended effect had been accomplished.
As he aged and his rear legs developed issues we stopped bringing balls for him to chase. About three times he developed a rear leg injury that produced a yip and persistent limping. Twice these were diagnosed by two separate vets as canine cruciate ligament tears requiring surgery and we were advised that left untreated the other leg’s CCL would fail and this eighty to ninety-pound dog would be left unable to climb or descend stairs. By the third time it happened we did not even seek a diagnosis, we just let him heal on his own as he had the other two times.
He was unfailingly cheerful and kind and developed many human friendships in the area, especially with our neighbors David and Dot. Dot adopted an energetic pup named Scout and I would occasionally walk her together with Logan. She adored him and he found her a bit rambunctious for his elderly self. He would take the time to try to calm her down when she was smaller. By the time she was larger she did not try to wrestle with him anymore but always became nearly uncontrollable with excitement when she would see him.
He did have a tendency to bark when on leash and seeing another dog. Sometimes this would lead to escalations in behavior in both dogs and I took to walking him in a harness so that I could haul him up and away. The only times I ever saw him act in aggression were when he interpreted another dog’s behavior as an attack, and he was impressively frightening in these moments. I assume that this likely represented adaptive behavior from his time in the woods, but it may well have been encouraged in his time as a rural outdoors animal as well.
I wanted to take the time to write as much of this down as I could today because yesterday at about 2 pm we euthanized him. He weighed a bit less than 84 pounds at the end; his preferred healthy weight was about 89 pounds. He fell ill just about a month ago with what we took for a flu or something along those lines and had taken to not eating and drinking. Vivian and I had ourselves fallen ill in mid-January, the week of the 19th, with several successive illnesses (flu, possible food poisoning, another flu) which actually may have delayed us getting him to the vet by a few days. It was a little weird that all three of us were coughing and sleeping all day in discomfort.
We were finally able to get him in for treatment on the 24th of January and he was held overnight for rehydration and to give him antibiotics to bring his fever down. On the 27th we took him in again for swelling in his forelegs and for some different medications. At this point everyone involved still thought we were looking at a conventional transmissive illness although we were uncertain how he might have been exposed to it as he typically did not have any social time with other dogs.
On the 2nd of February we started a second round of 10-day antibiotics as his cough had not lessened over the prior treatment, and again on the 12th. On that day I specifically asked for an x-ray and the x-ray clearly showed a large mass in Logan’s right lung which seemed likely to be a cancerous tumor. We waited two more days, until Friday the 15th and brought him in again to attempt to get the mass lab analyzed for cancer and to get non-x-ray imaging (ultrasound). We ten took him home to observe his resting over the next couple days to see if his breathing worsened or not. That afternoon I had a conversation with the primary vet on Logan’s case and he advised me that while they would not have the labs back until after the weekend he strongly suspected the growth as cancer and that it would rapidly worsen and that it was time for us to begin considering euthanasia.
This aligned well with what my own non-professional research seemed to indicate, and I let Viv know about it as soon as she returned from an errand.
By this time Logan was refusing medication and nearly all food and had noticeably lost weight. He was disoriented and anxious when medicated and as we were expecting that the medication would not relieve his symptoms in any case we stopped trying to give them to him.
His frequency of coughing was a fit every hour to forty-five minutes, usually a set of three or four coughs. This appeared to produce fluid or phlegm that he would then swallow.
The next day, Saturday the 16th, Viv offered him cool boiled and shredded chicken in a light chicken broth and he greedily ate a few bites and lapped at the broth. A moment later he began to vomit, producing a mix of blood, broth and phlegm. We brought him in again and were advised that the blood might not be from his lung or his stomach but to watch for more blood.
That afternoon he began producing more bloody vomit as well as significant amounts of just blood when he coughed. I advised the vet via phone and he seemed to think that was effectively definitive. I wanted to wait until the lab results returned to be certain. The doctor advised me that even if the tumor was not cancerous the recovery process would be challenging for the dog and we should still consider euthanasia as the best option.
Logan’s breathing and coughing continued to worsen Saturday night the 16th and through Sunday the 17th into Sunday night. I called Monday the 18th seeking the lab results but they would not be available until Tuesday the 19th. Overnight Monday into Tuesday was difficult for all three of us and at around midnight Vivian shifted to the floor to sleep next to the dog. His coughing and breathing had continued to worsen, and he was coughing for about five minutes every half-hour and often producing blood.
Monday afternoon we took him for his last, very short walk, to our neighbor David’s place. David and Logan were good friends and Logan would often pull to visit David on our walks. Logan’s other neighbor friend was Dot and she was able to come by and visit him at our home on Monday evening at about 6.
Early Tuesday morning we were advised that the lab results were positive for cancer and so we made arrangements with the vet to have an in-home euthanasia, which we did. They came at about 2pm and we put him to sleep on the floor of our media room. I helped them put his body into a heavy plastic bag and together with them we put him into their vehicle.
We opted for the private cremation and a container return and hope to have him back home with us shortly.