October 7, 2007-September 27, 2017
Phoebe was born in the “A” litter, and her registered name was RayneTree’s Amulet. How did she get the call name of Phoebe? Two reasons–at the time of her birth, Pat and I were watching the TV series Charmed. One of the witches in the series was called Phoebe. At the same time, I was writing my first book in The Dreaming series with the title Walks Through Mist. The main character’s name was, well, I’m certain you’ve guessed by now, Phoebe. My character Phoebe was from the 17th century, and she had been accused of being a witch.
When I first brought Phoebe home, she had that mischievous look on her face, and a spunky little nose. I immediately said she must be a witch, and Phoebe became her name. She came home to her new big brother Saber, who is also a Belgian sheepdog. At the time of her arrival, he was a year and five-months old. Close in age, they played with each other and loved to hike.
At the same time, Phoebe and Saber’s relationship was a little different than best of buddies. They acted more like brother and sister. They would snark and snarl at one another, sometimes to the point where they sounded ferocious, but there was never any seriousness behind the actions. They loved each other but didn’t want to admit it, so you see why I say it was more like a brother/sister relationship.
Phoebe also loved our son Bryan. Since he was away at college most of the time, she would get super excited when he came home for visits. She had a unique dog smile. One could hear her smile through her breathing. When Bryan came home, her smile grew ear to ear. I often joked that she was president of the Bryan fan club.
Saber taught Phoebe his favorite game of Frisbee. Unlike her brother, Phoebe wasn’t a natural, but she learned. Much faster than Saber, she enjoyed teasing him by stealing his Frisbee. More often than not, she loved perching on the hill while Saber played, keeping watch of all that went on in the area.
As Phoebe grew, she developed the glossiest black coat of any Belgian that I had seen. In late 2009 and early 2010, our area got hit with one snowstorm after another. Both of the Belgians loved playing in the deep snow. The joyful highlights were attempting to take walks during these times. Phoebe, especially, loved to pull. She didn’t seem to realize that the poor humans only had two legs and would go slipping and sliding.
Phoebe enjoyed hiking at the Civil War battlefields, the local trails, Crabtree Falls, and Shenandoah National Park. A trail that she frequently hiked and seemed to be her favorite was Humpback Rocks, a short, but exhausting climbing trail. But then, I honestly think it was her favorite because Bryan was home at those times and accompanied us.
At home, her preferred spot was on the couch with her head resting on the arm, sometimes with a favorite toy. She often slept with a toy. She especially relished a stuffed squirrel that she had found on a walk. I presumed some child or dog had lost it. I washed it, and it was her favorite for the longest time.
Over the years, I had switched from mostly walking the Belgians along the local road to a more isolated spot a couple of miles from our home. The dogs loved the area. Generally, it’s very peaceful, but with its many hills the walk can be strenuous. At first, because of the isolation, I only walked the area on the weekends when Pat would also be joining us.
As time went on, I began going there more often until it became our regular walking area. Sometimes, I would have to resort to our old stomping ground, such as when the weather (for example, more than a couple inches of snow) made finding a parking place difficult. Eventually I got to know the few people who lived in the area, and so did Phoebe. She formed lasting relationships with nearly everyone because for a Belgian, she was very social.
On our walks, we have seen horses, cattle, wild turkeys, deer, foxes, and bears. With a high prey drive, Phoebe was often difficult to contain. At home, she chased cars that drove along the neighbor’s driveway from a safe vantage point behind a fence.
One of the few people who lives in the area where we walked had two standard poodles. They were sweet dogs, but allowed to roam free. One time, Phoebe managed to pull the leash out of my hand, chased the poodles up their lane, and vanished out of sight. Before Saber and I could catch up with her, she returned to us out of breath and smiling a huge grin.
On another walk, Phoebe yelped. Apparently she had somehow scraped her eye on a stick. By the time we returned home, she kept squinting. Since the incident happened on a Saturday, the regular vet was only open for a few more minutes. I gave them a call and was informed on what signs to look for. As it turned out, a trip to the emergency vet became necessary. She had scratched her cornea and was given antibiotics. Fortunately, she quickly recovered without any apparent damage.
In June 2012, the Belgians set off on an adventure when they accompanied us on a trip to North Carolina. Phoebe loved the hikes in the mountains. She had her photo taken along with Saber on Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. We had frequently taken such trips with our previous Belgian, Magic. I’m sorry that we didn’t experience more such journeys with Phoebe.
Another time, I took the Belgians to New Jersey to visit a friend. There they got to meet my friend’s greyhound, Dodge. While they enjoyed the visit, they were eager to return home to Pat.
On one Christmas, Bryan gave me the most wonderful present. A friend of his is an excellent artist, and I received a large painting of Saber and Phoebe. The painting captured both of their smiles and is proudly displayed near my desk.
In May 2016, Pat and I traveled to Scotland. We left the dogs at a kennel, one we had used before, and absolutely loved. Upon our return, Phoebe started developing quirks. Sometimes, she would get slightly picky about her food. Nothing serious, and even though she had never been fussy before, we never really gave it a thought. Then in June, she vomited a few times. I made an appointment with the vet. By the time the appointment came around, she was fine and I canceled.
In late July and early August, she became finicky again. In the beginning, it wasn’t serious, but enough to be noticed. My brother Steve and his wife Andrea came for a visit. Phoebe greeted them like her usual energetic self. Later in the week, Saber and Phoebe even joined us for a hike when we toured the Chancellorsville battlefield. But by the end of the week, Phoebe refused to eat and had little energy.
Andrea joined me in taking her to the vet, while Pat entertained Steve. Our regular vet was off that day, and the on-call vet suggested that she had just become “picky.” Her bloodwork revealed something more ominous. She was slightly anemic and her platelets were low. Ehrilichiosis was suspected, and Phoebe began a 30-day round of doxycycline. With the treatment, Phoebe started feeling better and she returned to her normal self.
Two weeks after the doxycycline treatment was finished, she relapsed. The results of more bloodwork showed she was no longer anemic, but her platelets still remained quite low. Doxycline was prescribed for a longer period. Like before, she rebounded. She seemed fine through the rest of the year and into early 2017.
In January we got a little snow, which the Belgians loved. We also had one of our bathrooms remodeled. Phoebe enjoyed flirting with the workers, which was her typical behavior. Over the next few months, Phoebe remained mostly normal. At times, she seemed a little picky about her food, but nothing serious. She also occasionally slowed on our walks, but again, nothing that seemed extreme.
Our regular vet left the practice we had been going to, but one of my past favorite vets started working once a month for a nearby clinic (she worked at a shelter, which made her inaccessible in the meantime). To be on the safe side, I made an appointment for the first day she was available.
During the first part of April, Pat had a conference in New Mexico. Within a couple of days of his leaving, Phoebe stopped eating. I made an appointment with a vet that I would be able to see sooner. Phoebe’s bloodwork returned, showing that she had kidney failure. The vet immediately recommended Hill’s kidney diet. I’m not a fan of any of the Hill’s foods and said “no.” I made an appointment with a holistic vet who was two hours away.
Upon visiting the holistic vet, I knew we were in good hands. She thoroughly examined Phoebe, checked all of her previous records, and bloodwork. She also showed me how to give Phoebe subcutaneous fluids. I had given fluids to Magic, but only for a short time. The vet reminded me the treatment would be for the long term.
After receiving the fluids, Phoebe felt better almost instantly. She had good days and bad, but day-to-day living was part of the illness. Her jet black fur remained that way, except for her legs and chest. For the most part, she retained her spunk. She got a few more tests taken at a local vet. One showed that her kidney problems may have been caused by Lyme. At best, the cause was guesswork, but she returned to another month of antibiotics. This time, amoxicillin, so it would be easier on her sensitive stomach.
Later in the month, she went to the vet we had wanted to see originally. She was given acupuncture and cold laser treatments. She was all smiles afterward, and she definitely began to have more good days than bad. Giving Phoebe subcutaneous fluids in the beginning was stress filled. She never wanted to lie still for me, so I had to wait until Pat was home to help. She progressed enough that I was able to give her fluids every other day, rather than daily.
Phoebe also required several medications. I had to space them throughout the day to keep them from interfering with each other. One was a phosphate binder. It was required because Phoebe hadn’t read the rule book about eating a low phosphorus diet. The first holistic vet said the most important thing to remember was to keep her eating. To do this required a combination of dehydrated dog food, canned, frozen, freeze dried, as well as home cooked food such as eggs, chicken, etc. From nearly the beginning of her illness, she seemed to require something “smelly,” such as beef liver or heart, chicken gizzards, or beef tongue to stimulate her appetite.
Over the next few months, she went through several periods where she refused to eat. Each time, I thought we had reached the end. I’d tell Phoebe to give me a sign of what I should do. Almost immediately, she would give me a look as if to say, “I’m not done yet,” and started gobbling down her food again. Sometimes, she would even regain the weight she had lost.
In July, we remodeled our kitchen. Unlike the previous job, Phoebe became more reserved and didn’t flirt with the workers. Fortunately, she didn’t have any added issues during this time, but her health continued its slow deterioration. I had learned to give her subcutaneous fluids on my own and returned to a daily regimen. She got to the point where she couldn’t keep up on walks, so I walked her separately from Saber, which more often than not meant a more local one, rather than in the isolated area that she loved so much.
Over the same months, the hill where I would often see the poodles grew quieter, until I no longer heard either of them bark. After about a month of silence, I learned both had passed away. As Saber and I walked by, I could still hear them bark a greeting in my head. I told them Phoebe would likely be joining them soon and hoped they would watch over her when the time came.
Phoebe’s energy continued to decline. She never seemed to really suffer any serious pain, but she slept more, sometimes to where she was so motionless that I had to check to see if she was still breathing. Then, in September, her spirit revived. Pat and I took her for walks in the area she loved. On one of the walks, I noticed that she had an ear infection.
The following day, we were off to the vet again. Her ears were cleaned and antibiotics given. Our follow-up appointment would be in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, she continued to be fine for a few days, but then her appetite waned once more, along with most of her energy. I continued to tell Phoebe to let me know, and once more, she told me that it wasn’t time yet. But this time, her protest had been much less vocal than on previous occasions, and the following day, she stopped eating. The life continued to drain from her eyes, and her follow-up appointment became the time to say “goodbye.” Her spirit had essentially left us.
On the day before the appointment, I took her to the area she loved, so she could see a special friend there. We had a short walk, and my friend had her chance to say goodbye. On the following morning before Phoebe’s appointment, I drove her to the area once again. I let her walk up the first hill at her own pace. She loved it and managed more than I expected. She wanted to continue on.
A bit nervous, I told her that we would walk downhill to the easier section and we could continue on if she wanted. She did. While she didn’t go a lot further, I could tell she was taking in everything she loved about the place for one last time.
During her appointment, I remained with her the entire time. I brushed her soft fur and held her until she finally slept. The day after her passing Saber refused to play Frisbee and went on the hill where Phoebe used to sit–something he had never done before. Since then, I’ve occasionally heard her and felt her fleeting presence. Nearly everyone who has passed me in the area where she walked has stopped and asked about her. In my heart, I know she runs free like she couldn’t in her ailing months, barks with the poodles, and perches on the hill where she watches over all of us.