Mr. Tuffy Bear arrived in late summer of 2000 at age 5 or 6, as the latest in a series of foster 'Dales...having been discarded by his owners because he had become too ill to work at his job (hunting coyotes on a cattle ranch). Though he was "tough" in a quiet sort of way, I never got around to changing his call name from the rather silly "Tuffy", since I did not expect him to stay. I did add "Mr." to his moniker, though, since it seemed more fitting for such a polite and dignified pooch.
It was no wonder they had thrown him away: upon arrival, he was matted, ears draining pus, bloody and raw gums, broken and worn teeth, and had an old, improperly managed fractured leg, hip dysplasia, an embedded 2" mesquite thorn in his chest, low thyroid, bilious vomiting syndrome, and a heart murmur. That was just for starters.
He likely had had little or no vet care for the first part of his life. About the only "gift" was that, despite a lifetime outdoors in Texas, he was heartworm-negative. He was so depressed and withdrawn, we thought he was stone deaf (you could drop a frying pan 6" from him, and he wouldn't even flinch).
As it were, he and I were *both* at the low point in our lives, so I think he assumed we'd be a good fit. And he would have been hard to place, since he was older (~6) and medical "special needs". So, he unpacked his old suitcase and never left.
Well, with intensive medical care and love, he eventually came around to his quiet and gentle self, though he was never as high-drive or boisterous as his brat sister (who was ~1 and a half when he moved in). In many ways, he was a perfect "foil" for her intensity. I still laugh when I think of all the times "non-dog" strangers asked me if Moxie and he were "related" (though they were both unmistakably Airedales, it's pretty obvious they don't share many genes...). Despite their different personalities and temperaments, they were great pals, playing together and sharing everything in their lives.
Although he had been neglected, I don't think he had been abused. Though always a bit shy with strangers, he never showed any fear or aggression towards any one or any dog. He always showed great fondness for children and puppies, so I am pretty sure he had been around both during his early life.
Although he quickly gained free access to the house, he was at first a bit timid about using the furniture. If I entered a room while he was on a chair/bed/sofa, he would say, "Uh Oh, I've been busted", and quietly jump off (even though I never asked). Eventually, he learned that he could sleep anywhere he was comfy. When he could still manage it, his favorite sleeping spot was smack in the middle of my bed as I left for work every day, after he had "arranged" the covers to be "just so". He also cherished the sofa and, when his hips couldn't handle that, his selection of soft and Kuranda dog beds around the house. He always got first choice, though he was always a gentleman about it, and never used his size or authority to exploit the subject.
For a ranch dog, he was NO trouble, ever -- he never needed crating (though he crate-trained easily), never soiled in the house, walked perfectly on a leash, was always a perfect gentleman with every dog and human he met, and exuded every day a quiet sort of "Zen" that convinced me he had been a Buddhist in a former life. He was always a "trooper", calmly submitting to all the things that dogs need to endure at some point, whether grooming (his soft, "wheaten" coat required intensive maintenance), medication dosing, or medical procedures. His only canine vices were a fondness for digging himself "hot weather holes" in the yard, and a taste for grass grazing, with its expected digestive consequences.
At the beginning, he was fearful of both thunderstorms and the vacuum cleaner, but as the years progressed, he snored through storms and I had to vacuum *around* him, since he often didn't trouble himself to get out of the way.
He loved to go for car rides, whether to the dog park, to Home Depot, or to any human or doggy destination. I once confidently strode into an office supply store with him, only to be told by an employee that dogs weren't allowed in the store. I looked the man in the eye and calmly stated, "But this isn't a dog, this is an Airedale." "OK", he said, and we finished our shopping.
Over the years, Mr. T developed new medical issues (including a bone tumor scare that thankfully turned out to be benign), and his heart condition and arthritis progressed. My vet was wonderful, expertly managing his many needs with the newest treatments and an ungodly dose of TLC. I owe Mr. T's 9 years of happy life to him and his staff.
Mr. T relished his role as Moxie's "booster club" president when she and I took up companion events, accompanying us whenever possible to classes, matches and shows, right up to the week he died. When I first started Moxie in tracking, Mr. T would "bat cleanup", re-walking the track with me to pick up flags and (most importantly) any food drops that she had missed.
Even though he had slowed down considerably in the past few months, he still enjoyed the car rides, the outings, the attention, the treats, and the change of scenery. Ever the "country dawg", he always especially hated to leave agility classes on Wednesday nights. His appetite remained strong, his spirit upbeat, and his comfort level quite good. But I promised him long ago that I would not let him suffer unnecessarily.
As the Spring of 2009 passed, we were nearing the end -- dwindling appetite in particular. This proved to be as ominous as one would expect for a chow-hound Airedale. Dietary discretion was *never* his strong suit. He once dug out and consumed an entire rotten chicken carcass (with bones!) that the movers had packed and NOT labeled. By the time Mr. T discovered it, it had been sitting at room temp for days, and the only traces left several hours later when the crime was detected were the plastic container and the shredded moving carton. And then there was the "death by chocolate" adventure, the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" mess (an entire bottle of V8 on the dining room rug), etc. Well, he was a TOUGH old Airedale with a cast iron stomach, for sure.
Since he was never one to enjoy the heat, we knew he couldn't survive another summer. We did everything possible to accommodate his needs and maintain his quality of life, and he was getting by OK. As recently as the day before he died, he still savored his cool morning walk around the block to sniff and explore. Our walks had grown shorter and slower, with frequent pauses to rest and sip water, but he was very happy to do it.
Sadly, on May 30, 2009, he had not been himself on his morning walk, and I just knew something was wrong. Upon our return, he very abruptly developed acute vestibular syndrome and became incapacitated. Although younger, healthy dogs sometimes recover, this was his way of telling us it was time. My vet had to cover the clinic on a busy Saturday until late afternoon, and a house call just wasn't feasible. So, Moxie and I took him to the clinic, and he crossed the Bridge in my arms. It was very fast and peaceful. I guess he just didn't want that last haircut I was planning to give him that day. He never did enjoy that grooming thing. <weak attempt to smile>
It was not unexpected, of course, but it was quite sudden. It's all still a bit unbelievable. Despite all the time I had to mentally prepare, this has still ripped out my heart.
I am comforted to know that we were able to ease him along surrounded by folks who loved and cared for him, rather than in unfamiliar surroundings with strangers. I am overjoyed to know that he is now running, pain free and with a strong heart, chasing possums and coyotes, and raiding the chicken coop.
My dear, old, sweet, quiet, gracious, gentle, brave, tough, fuzzy, old, special "Honey Bear", "Boo Bear", "Mr. Tuffy Bear" -- 1994 - May 30, 2009 (3 months shy of his 9th "rebirthday"). You truly were "TFAOTP" (The Finest Animal on the Planet). With your "enlarged" and "big" heart, you always were and will be my "heart dog".
We will miss you always.
Wait for us, sweet dude.
Thanks for letting me share, and if life ever delivers you a broken down, sick, old Airedale, please consider opening your home and heart to these special creatures,
Ronna and (an equally bereft) Moxie, CDX, RE, MXP2, MJP2, NFP
Click here to find out how.