Do you have the saying “It never rains, but it pours” in the USA or is it something I brought over from England? If you haven’t come across it before, it means that when one thing goes wrong other things often follow. In our case, we were recently devastated by the loss of our old dog and my faithful companion, Mikey, but only two weeks later, we have had to let Hobo, our oldest Great Pyrenees, go. When we took Hobo from the GP rescue group 5 years ago in TN, we weren’t sure how old he was, but we knew that he wasn’t a youngster (maybe around 7 or even more?). He was always a little less athletic than the other GPs and tended to be the one that stayed behind to watch the stock when the others ran out to confront the danger. Hobo was extremely gentle and sweet with all his human family, but food was always an issue for him, leading to fights with our other male GP, Woody. However after we solved the feeding issue by removing the “free-choice” food and going to a set feed time (see tip at end of post), Woody and Hobo became fast friends.
I had been concerned about Hobo’s welfare for a little while, because he seemed to be even more stiff and possibly in pain (hard to tell sometimes with GPs, they are such a stoic breed), despite having a new shelter with a soft straw bed for this winter and glucosamine/MSM and fish oil each day (see tip at end of post). I was considering trying to find an indoor home for him so he could have even more comfort, but quality of life is always an issue with outdoor working dogs. Their roaming lifestyle, their pack of dogs and family of sheep, horses and chickens is all they have ever known and losing all that is traumatic for them. I wonder, does anyone else have any thoughts on how to take best care of working dogs in their older years?
That decision was taken out of my hands when I went out one morning and found Hobo lying in the pasture. He was not complaining and was happy to see me, but was unable to use his back legs. After consulting with the vet and giving Hobo multiple shots of SOD (superoxide dismutase, a terrific free-radical scavenger that I use on the animals for pain, inflammation and to enhance the effects of other drugs), we were unable to restore any function to his legs and decided that we couldn’t let him suffer any more. So we then had yet another trip to the vets to fulfill our responsibility to a beloved pet. I can honestly say that it doesn’t get any easier. I sometimes think that I am too soft to be a farmer, but every day I get up and do it all over again. We are giving Woody extra loving as he seems to miss his friend.
Tip: It is generally recommended that livestock guardians (like Great Pyrenees) do better and there are fewer fights when dried food is fed free-choice, but Hobo always protected food, not just his own food (we would put out multiple bowls of food), but any bowl he happened to be near and even empty bowls. So after years of following the accepted advice, I decided to rethink the issue. What worked for us and our three GPs was feeding night and morning with one bowl for each dog. In each bowl I put dried food and split a can of wet dog food between the three, making a gravy with boiling water and the can scrapings. This was, for the dogs, a deliciously smelly and tempting treat and every last morsel would be eaten in a short space of time. I make sure that I adjust the amount of dried dog food for each dog, according their size, appetite and weather conditions (more in cold, wet weather) so that everything is eaten in one sitting. At first I tied each dog up with their food in a different places near the barn so that they couldn’t mess with anyone else’s food and removed the bowls immediately after they had stopped eating (even if some was left). Now the dogs know the routine, eat everything as it is put down and there hasn’t been a single growl, let alone fight, since.
This method has the additional benefits of stopping waste (Woody buries excess food for later) and there are no losses to chickens, crows and ravens. The savings in dry food more than covers the cost of the can of wet food. Also I no longer give special dog versions of joint supplements, which are very expensive. I go to Costco and buy big containers of Glucosamine/MSM and fish oil, sold for humans, when they are on sale and hide the equivalent human-size dose of each under lumps of canned dog meat. Almost without exception, the tablets disappear along with the meat. This has, by the way, got the blessing of our vet, he feels that doggy doses of these supplements are often inadequate, particularly for the big breeds.