It is my understanding that traumatic events are often dealt with by talking about them to friends and strangers alike. No opinions, agenda, or B.S. here...just an account of what has been one of the toughest days of my life thus far.
The pain and grief I'm burdening my conscience with is more that anyone could possibly throw at me, so please save the "reply" button for support of my dog and not reiteration of what I now understand was terribly poor judgement on my (and only my) behalf. This morning I laid on the edge of a field in Jackson county Arkansas asking God and whoever else was listening why it had to end this way. On the week that Ace will age out of the Derby, I watched the life quickly slip from his eyes as I stripped my waders and clothes off trying to warm him while my hunting partner was running for the Argo.
We've been after the ducks pretty hard so far this season, and this morning was no different than normal. Picking up birds until about 8:30 when the "faucet" seems to shut off. Except, the faucet opened up on a buckbrush hole around 9:00 and two of us headed over to slip in and get in on the action. Even being his first season to hunt, 30 something days into it, he's really added "duck dawg" to his short, but respectable resume', dotted with some derby points and Q placements. While most of our spots have platforms or at least logs to get the dogs out of the water, this "makeshift" hunt had no decent place for a dog to stand. Seeing the sheer number of birds and knowing that we only needed a few, I figured 30 minutes tops...surely he can stand in knee deep water for that long. About 45 minutes into it he had just made a retrieve and I noticed a strange grunt/moan on the return that I've never heard before. As he came to heel, and another group was making a pass, he continued to make the sound. As he's not a "whiner" when birds are working, I gave a "quiet-nick". Continues to make the sound. Now I'm scratching my head. Knowing that he'll air even in swimming water, I rule that out. I chalk it up to "he's cold" and say "let's call it, my dog's getting chilly". As we're easing out, he becomes disoriented and begins to just tread water. I walk over and ease on his collar to pull him along. When his legs floated up to the sides, I knew we were in deep kim shi. Hypothermia was rapidly draining his time with us, as his core body temp continued to plummet. When I let go of his collar to pick him up, he sunk (head and all). Now I've heard of people doing amazing things in times of extreme duress (single person flips over car that is trapping someone, etc.), but I have never made it through 250 yards of beaver-run, smart-weed filled stump hole filled buck brush in under 20 minutes with my shotgun and blind bag. This morning I did that plus a 67 pound lab in 5. By the time I got to dry ground he was limp and unable to support his own head. I stripped my jacket, outershirt, and fleece to wrap and then curled up next to him while my partner (75 yards behind me without carrying a dog) was making to to shore to get the Argo. He had his first seizure on the edge of the field, gasping for breath, foaming at the mouth, and contracting every muscle in his body. As his eyes rolled back I pleaded with him "I'm so sorry buddy, I never meant for it to end this way"..."I never would have done this to you on purpose"....this was 10 minutes from the time he picked up the last bird. And I prayed for the first time in a long time. The selfish grief that burned from the fact that I was losing my first "real" dog and best friend was sickly overshadowed by the anguish that I felt from seeing the pain in Ace's eyes. That image raises the hair on my neck as I type this and will likely haunt me for many years to come. Argo pulls up and I hop in, with him in my lap, wrapped in my jacket, and I take the longest 1/2 mile ride to the truck that I'll ever take. Get to the truck, start engine, petal to the floor trying to get warmed up so that the heat kicks in. Lay Ace in the passenger floorboard and use everything dry that I had (handlers jackets, frogg toggs, gloves, etc) to get the water off. Then pile on my bibs, coat, and fleece to keep him warm. Second seizure hits as my buddy climbs into the driver's seat for the 45 minute ride to Jonesboro, where we have no clue how to find a vet on Sunday morning. Was going to give him some Coke to provide a shot of glucose, only to find out that his jaws were locked shut, front teeth piercing through his bottom lip from the seizures. Totally immobile and unresponsive, I pinch, pull, and pat to keep him from shutting those eyes. Notice that his gums are solid white. A few times he takes "his dying breath" and I jackleg attempt canine CPR. 10 minutes from Jonesboro and we get a call from the vet who responded to a page from his answering service. He's 15 minutes away, so I wait out another of the 5 longest minutes of my life in the parking lot. He pulls up, unlocks the doors, and I carry Ace in with the gut feeling that this would be his last vet visit. I prayed again for the second time in a long time. What happened in the next 4 hours is nothing short of a sho' nuff' miracle. I usually don't buy that cheesy crap, but I "seen it with my own eyes". With a core body temp of 84 degrees at the vet (so we'll call it close to 80 before the 100 mph heater wide open truck ride), a blur of heated tables, blankets, heating pads, warm saline solution through an IV began. 2 hours into it, we got to 90 degrees. He began to shiver (which was a good sign), and opened his eyes. At 2.5 hours, he picked up his head and took a drunken look around. At 3 hours, we were at 94 and and eased outside to relieve the bladder (another good sign that the kidneys were functioning). At 3.5 hours he ate a high-protein tube of some honey-substance. At 4 hours he was at 97 and I was hauling to Memphis with him asleep in the back seat, destined for the emergency clinic. Out of the back seat in Memphis he's got pep in his step to air and meet the awaiting staff with vet chart faxes in hand. He leveled out a 101.5 for tonight and is resting while fluids are administered. And while this seems to be the happy ending, I'm fully aware that he's not out of the woods yet. A condition known as D.I.C. (can't give you the true acronym, but the slang is Death Is Coming) were clotting ability is reduced is a definite possibility, along with a string of other ailments, including kidney, heart, lung failure, and the potential for his "internal temp regulators" to spike and throw him into HYPERthermia in the near future are all very real threats. But that's tomorrow. For tonight, my dog is alive. And in better condition than he was on the edge of that field this morning.
What did I learn?
-You cannot leave a dog in the water, even for a short amount of time. They need a place to get out and shake the excess water.
-I've always been a critic of dog vests...not no mo'. After the ass-chewing I got from the vet, I got a good list of reasons to use a vest.
-You've got to listen to your dog. Generally, they'll show/tell you that something's wrong.
-There could easily be more than coincidence relating the request for divine intervention and the honest-to-goodness miracle that I witnessed today.
The deepest and most sincere Thank You from the bottom of my heart (and Ace's) goes out to everyone that has played a role in today and the upcoming days (you know who you are).