October 2019 was a dark time for us and especially for our Leonberger Bronco. At the beginning of October, he had to amputate a toe due to a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, then he developed large ulcerous sores that would not heal, perhaps related to the surgery. Then on October 20 an EF3 Tornado ravaged our neighborhood. Our chimney was smashed, our roof was damaged, and we needed a new roof, a new fence, garage door, wiring in the attic and a new grill and outdoor furniture. However, compared to many of our neighbors we were lucky. As you can see below our neighbor was not as lucky.
We had no power for almost a week and due to the rubble it was very difficult to leave the house. We had no internet, no air conditioning, and it was hot. Perhaps because of this situation Bronco had a heart failure a week after the tornado, and it was bad. We thought that was the end of our 12-year-old Leonberger. However, as you will see in the extract below from my book, Bronco recovered miraculously. He still had eight more wonderful months to give us.
We don’t know if the heat had anything to do with it, but about a week after the tornado, Bronco developed congestive heart failure.
As a result, he could no longer walk. The veterinary cardiologist at the surgical center told us that Bronco was not in good shape, but we all agreed that we should give him a chance to recover.
We bought Help ’Em Up harnesses for him, but more often we used a smaller sling to help him stand up. We also treated his heart with various medications. Since our veterinarian’s office had been destroyed by the tornado, we took him to the veterinary surgical center (where he had his toe amputated) for bandage changes. After a few visits, the technicians suggested that we do it at home to save time and money. More important, it would be easier on Bronco. So they gave us instructions, and we started doing it at home.
But changing Bronco’s bandages wasn’t as easy as just rolling out some gauze and tape. First we had to clean the sores with chlorhexidine, an antiseptic solution. Then we had to apply a healing ointment, such as manuka honey or QuickDerm. This involved spreading it on an Adaptic pad (breathable and nonstick), then wrapping the pad with a Telfa pad (or gauze pad). After that came the soft bandage, then the outer bandage, then something sticky to hold it all together. The latter was necessary because bandages easily slip off dog hair.
I did most of the bandage changes, but Claudia and the children helped, and even Rollo, (our Australian Shepherd), helped. He was very curious: he stood by and watched everything I did as if he were checking to see that I didn’t forget anything. He loved Bronco’s bandage changes and seemed to think that they were very interesting. It was never a problem—except for the time he drank the chlorhexidine.
We called our veterinarian’s office, and the technicians told us that the chlorhexidine was probably not harmful to Rollo. Chlorhexidine is a type of salt, and unless it’s ingested in large quantities, it’s nontoxic—unlike peroxide.
During this period, we gave Bronco a lot of attention. We slept next to him at night and petted him a lot. He needed help to get up, and we were ready to do that at any time. Sometimes he just wanted to walk around. Sometimes he wanted water, and sometimes he wanted to go out in the backyard to pee or just lie in the grass.
In the beginning it was Claudia who did most of the caretaking. But I took early retirement in November, and I started taking over the night duty. Bronco came to expect constant company, which was okay with us, even though at times it was very tiring. For example, if I was petting him and stopped doing so, he would whine or bark and essentially order me to continue.
At the same time, taking care of him was an amazing experience for me. Bronco usually slept on his dog bed next to the sofa, and I slept on the sofa next to him. When he wanted something, he sat up and looked at me. He did not make a sound. I would wake up, probably because I could feel him staring at me. I would open my eyes, and there would be Bronco’s big beautiful face looking down at me, his gentle expression asking for help. I would get up and help him with whatever he needed.
Bronco was able to communicate what he wanted just by looking at me. It felt like I could understand what he was thinking and feeling even though he couldn’t speak. It almost felt as if he were becoming an extension of me, or maybe the other way around, I was becoming an extension of him. We were two very close buddies who understood each other. They say that a dog is man’s best friend, but for us it was not just a cute cliché. We were best friends.
The veterinarians advised us not to take Bronco out for walks until he was in better condition. But one day he lay at the front door, scratching it and whining. I could clearly see that he wanted to go out. So I took him on a very slow walk. We walked, then he rested; he sniffed his surroundings, and I brought water for him to drink. Along the way we met a woman who looked him and said, “What a beautiful dog.” You can see in the photo below, taken during that walk, that he was old and tired, but he was still beautiful.
This warmed my heart. The woman asked what kind of dog he was, and she appeared to be really interested and impressed. It was the first time Bronco had been out walking in perhaps a month, and after all we’d been through, I have to admit I needed the experience, and Bronco did, too. After that, we started taking short walks every now and then, and when we were finished, Claudia would pick us up in the car.
After a while, Bronco was able to get around on his own and even go to the bathroom on his own, and his sore got closer to healing. In fact, he recovered almost miraculously. We were extremely happy about this, and it made everyone’s lives easier.
We had been planning a big family vacation for several months, which Claudia and I had considered canceling. It was a one-week cruise along the Mississippi River, and it was scheduled for December of 2019. Because of Bronco’s improvement, we decided to go. But we had learned our lesson: while we were gone, a friend of ours lived in our house and watched our dogs. We showed her how to change Bronco’s bandage, and that arrangement worked out well.
Bronco had a tough October followed by a difficult but successful recovery. Taking into account his other health scares, including heatstroke and the freak accident with the metal rod when he was young, our veterinarian told us that Bronco must have nine lives, like a cat.