It was 45 degrees Celsius. About 6pm, Friday night.
I was out with the eldest boy at his tutoring lesson.
My husband noticed that our eldest dog, Fergus, was jumping into the water bowl. He was jumping at the water and splashing it onto himself but didn’t appear to be able to drink.
My husband attended to Fergus, thinking that he had heatstroke. Maybe he had forgotten to drink during the heat of the day? He’s 11.5 years and sometimes we wonder if dogs can get dementia.
My husband poured buckets of water on to Fergus and tried to get him to drink. His tongue wasn’t working and he couldn’t stand properly. He couldn’t hold his head up. He grunted and convulsed.
When I came home I syringed water into his mouth. He did his best to swallow the water but I wondered how much he was getting, and worried that he would aspirate it. It was awful to see him in so much distress. At midnight I wondered whether he would be alive in the morning. Our youngest boy was inconsolable, and I sat with him until 1 am. I wondered whether I should sit with Fergus throughout the night to comfort him through what might be his last moments. Although I have had many dogs I have never seen a dog through to the end. I didn’t know what I should do. I observed him for a while. Fergus was doing his best to make himself comfortable. It was heartbreaking seeing him shuffle between the back door for reassurance and the concrete to get cool. He would try his best to drink. I went to bed thinking he would not be alive in the morning.
But he was. His condition hadn’t changed, but he was alive. I rang the vet as soon as they opened and was able to get an 11am appointment.
My husband went into the yard at 10am to mow the lawn. As he was doing his pre mowing inspection, he found the head of a critter, and a small amount of skin and gizzards. He thought it was a lizard. I had to do the gruesome identification of the corpse. Definitely a snake. A snake with no scales. We went to the font of all wisdom – Google. It was a death adder.
Fergus the Fearless had been bitten by a death adder. He had also killed it and eaten it. We didn’t think of a snake bite. Now it all made sense.
Fergus 1, death adder 0 – sort of, it wasn’t a resounding victory.
Everyone in the waiting room at the vet was astounded he was still alive. The vet was astounded he was still alive. She said “they call it a death adder for a good reason”. She scooped Fergus up and took him to put him on a drip. She has been practicing as a vet in this area for 30 years and she has never seen a death adder bite. There is no anti-venene for dogs with death adder bites. The look on her face communicated that this may not end well. We knew.
I have lived in the mountains for 25 years. I have never seen a death adder, not in the yard or in the bush. I was angry – how dare a death adder come into our yard. I warned the neighbours about the presence of death adders, to watch their kids and their pets. There is no way that Fergus would leave a snake untouched, anything that moves is fair game for Fergus. We prepared the kids for the worst, moped around all weekend, and waited. The vet updated us twice per day over the weekend via SMS. “Fergus is happy in himself, but he still can’t drink or lift his head”.
Our neighbours occasionally call out over the fence, shaking their heads, “Fergus is showing his age”.
I have worried about dementia because he will do random barking at 11pm, 2am, or 4am. The sort of bark that doesn’t mean anything, a low and constant short sharp ‘woof’. I know this old fella’s barks. The high pitched bark he uses when he’s excited about something. And he is easily excited – a critter to chase, something in his street, unknown people in the neighbouring yards. He has a high idle speed and is constantly on alert. When I take him to the vet, we have to wait outside because everything at the vet is exciting and the pitch of his bark is more than most humans can bear. He also thinks he is 10 times his size, and takes on dogs the size of small ponies. Brave but not always smart.
Fergus is a fox terrier, but mostly we call him a ‘fox terror’. I grew up with a foxie. So, when I was offered a foxie pup by a work colleague, I jumped at it. He was the smallest of the litter but definitely the most handsome.
My then colleague, who lives just up the road, asked us to mind his dogs on occasion (Fergus’ brother and mother). Well, it didn’t work out well. Apart from our eldest boy being enthralled by having three foxies in the yard, Fergus couldn’t stand having his relatives on his patch. He was openly aggressive towards them. The other problem was that Fergus’ brother taught Fergus how to take washing off the line. Fergus as a pup never damaged anything – ever. He was the most amazing pup I’ve ever had. The bike pedals, the pot plants, the washing were completely untouched.
When we were thinking of getting another dog, when Fergus was 7, we had to think long and hard about how to do that. It seemed to us that Fergus needed a companion, he was moping around all day. To our surprise Fergus was like a mother to the baby Bella, and it gave him a new lease on life, he had purpose and he was invigorated. And when Bella turned out to be a yard wrecker of extraordinary magnitude, Fergus would walk away and leave her to get roused on all by herself. He almost seemed to sigh and roll his eyes at her. Bella and Fergus don’t always get on, they have certainly had their fights. But when Fergus escapes through the holes she digs for him (the dynamic duo specialising in escapology), she sits on the back deck and howls until he returns.
He is the master escape artist, He can fit through the smallest hole, contorting his body to get through it. Many times we have come home to a howling Bella and a missing Fergus. And roamed the streets, until he has been found. We have met quite a few people from far afield who ring to say “we have your dog here, he was trying to get into our back yard”. Fergus doesn’t have a homing device. He keeps pushing on to the next adventure, no looking back. He never escaped before we got Bella, he just didn’t think of it. He was a back door dog, patiently waiting for one of the humans to come to the back door to give him some attention.
His two knee caps on his rear legs are loose, he has arthritis in those. Luxating patella I think they call it. He had an operation when he was a young fella to stitch one knee cap back into place after a slide and a fall off the back deck in one of his frenzied moments. I don’t who is madder, the kids or the foxie, but together they would make a whirlwind of activity. Fergus loves getting squirted with the hose. He also loves bubbles.
Fergus is definitely an outdoors dog. We tried to keep him inside overnight, but he never got the hang of it. The urge to pee on things was too great. So he was banished to a life in the kennel and yard. But he does love to run the gauntlet, getting his pointy nose through the back door to conduct an exploratory mission for food and just to check that there are no critters in the house.
When we got the call Monday afternoon that we could pick him up, I thought that he must be well.
He was not well. He was shaking all over, his head drooped, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. He looked like he had aged 5 years. He took 20 steps and had to lay down to rest. But he could drink somewhat well so at least he would survive the hot hot days of our Summer. I thought “oh well, if this is the best that he will be, then it’s ok”. I thought that we would care for him and nurture him until the end of his days. He did however make an effort to chase some birds off the back deck not more than 5 minutes after being home, so Fergus was still in this weak and feeble body. He positioned himself at the back door.
I smiled as I thought that his ratting days were over. Fergus is the best ratter. He leaves their carcass at the back door for me to dispose of after he has carried it around in his mouth for a few hours and rolled on top of it. Fergus loves being a stinky dog.
When I took Fergus back to the vet on Thursday of the same week, she was amazed. She had to euthanise a dog in the appointment before ours, and I could see the sadness in her face, but she brightened when she saw Fergus. He had made a complete recovery. He was alert and spritely, his head held high.
Now, several weeks down the track, it’s like “what snake bite?”. He has the happiest waggiest tail I have ever seen.
Would he do it again?
Without a second of hesitation. I doubt that he associates his pain and suffering with the nasty little critter that dared to come into his yard. He is a dog of small brain but big heart.
And we love him.