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Some of you may have read about how, during the Irma evacuation, Zeus became a celebrity at the hotel where we sheltered in place. Zeus is a 210-lb. Great Dane. Even other Great Dane owners utter, “Dude, that’s a big dog.” His chest has a breadth and depth that hint that Granny Dane may have had a dalliance with a mastiff. He’s gentle (mostly), loyal, and fearless. He may not be a good bomb dog or schutzhund, but if you were heading into clash with a shield wall, or chasing off the raiders harrying your cattle, he’d be your top pick.
He is very much my dog. When I go out on the deck to read or have a cigar, he comes out with me and suns. If the heat becomes too oppressive, he scratches on the door to go back in, but always, always settles where he can keep an eye on me. Despite the size of his breadbox-sized head, he’s got an itty-bitty brain. Not as trainable as my German Shepherd Dogs, but he usually intuits what I want and is remarkably obedient.
I mentioned that all the flight crews—okay, stewardesses—at our Irma evacuation hotel thought he was awesome. And I humbly accepted the mantle of “the Great Dane guy.”
But. During the course of our stay, he started having problems. He’d stumble walking on or off a curb. One time he walked headfirst into one of those waist high pilons one sees in front of buildings these days. What the hell, Buddy? I was worried he was having a series of strokes and losing it, a little bit.
All these occurrences happened at night. During the day, he seemed good to go. Until the day that he stumbled coming off a curb in broad daylight. I stopped him, had him sit, and gave him a good chest scratch/pet. And then I saw it. His one good eye had a cataract burgeoning in it.
For the last couple of years, he’s had a cataract in his left eye, that has expanded until he is effectively blind in that eye. I never got it treated because it doesn’t affect his quality of life, and he’s going to be 10 years old soon. Not thrilled about spending three grand on a medical procedure for a dog that should’ve dropped dead three to four years ago. Great Dane lifespans are usually only four to six years, because they’re so big, their hearts give out. My Dane would make Clifford the Big Red Dog lose bladder control, and he’s pushing 10. Go figure.
Now that both eyes are shot, I’ll spend the dough for the surgery. Not happily. Last coupla/three days I’ve been coaching him up: Okay, Buddy, massive heart attack in 3…2…1, and nothing. Dagnabbit.
Last Saturday night, Zeus fell off the jetty and into the bay. He loves walking out onto the jetty and putting his nose into the wind. He stands there with that big, mailbox-sized head pointed into the air, and I know from the expression on his ghost face that he’s in another place, that I have no chance of seeing, smelling, or sensing.
I was at a friend’s house, getting ready to grill some meat. My wife had gone home for some random reason (probably to pick up more wine). I received a frantic phone call, “Zeus fell off the jetty, get here now!” One of my daughters had taken the big fella out. Zeus was putting his nose into the wind, didn’t see the edge of the jetty, and fell in the freezing (thanks, Irma) water. My daughter immediately jumped in after him, but the shock of falling off the jetty, and his inability to trust his own senses had made him lock up. He wasn’t going nowhere for nobody. I got there, jumped in the water, and I got him calmed down. We were able to walk out. Usually, the water in the bay only goes three to four feet deep, so it wasn’t a crisis or anything. I had to speak soothingly to Zeus and maybe muscle him a little bit to get him headed in the right direction. Walking him to our boat ramp would’ve meant circumnavigating our jetty, so we walked him to the neighbor’s boat ramp and up. The daughter and I gave him a fresh water rinse (pro tip: Anything that goes into saltwater, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, gets a fresh water rinse immediately on coming back to dry land. Trust me on this.), then she escorted him inside. I took a fresh water rinse (in my case, shower vs. hose) and returned to our dinner engagement.
Serendipitously but scarily, our dinner engagement was with one of my wife’s best friends, who is the premier veterinarian ophthalmic surgeon in south Florida (I know, right?). I had been telling her about Zeus’s newest complication when I got the call that he’d fallen off the jetty. In the manner of doctors and vets that don’t want to but must deliver bad news, she said, “You know, there aren’t many good outcomes for dogs of his age and his weight and procedures requiring general anesthesia.”
Doesn’t matter, baby. He’s a war dog. He deserves his dignity. He can’t live like this. He’ll either pull through or he won’t.
Note: I’m writing this with no internet (thanks, Irma). If Zeus undergoes surgery before we get internet back, I’ll update this post. If he has the surgery after I get internet and post this this, I’ll write a new post.