Canine Musings


Casey Fyfe… wondering just when that cookie is going to end up in his mouth

I’ve been thinking about our dogs a lot lately.

Not for any particular reason.

Other than the fact I haven’t slept well in a few days thanks to a pathetic cold so I’ve been up a lot during the night.

And the fact that Harry seems a bit ‘off’ and Casey almost turned blue on our walk in the cold yesterday.

Dogs with Laryngeal Paralysis usually do much better in the cool temps, and that has been the case with Casey but he was just too hopped up yesterday.


Casey kiss a few years ago… do not try this at home. These are professionally trained Casey-handlers!

And when he’s excited and goofy and hopped up there is no calming him down.

Because he’s Casey.



And also because he’s a Labrador Retriever.

Which got me thinking some more.

Many dog breeds are so unique in their traits its astounding. And many are bred for very specific purposes.

dog sledding

Fabulous experience riding the sled with Dona driving and Lynn riding up front!

Not that every husky will want to pull a sled, or every German Shorthair will be a marvel with the ducks, or every Jack Russell Terrier will outsmart their owner and take off on them at high speeds, or every Chihuahua will shiver and tremble and quake as they cling to your arms 23 out of 24 hours every day.

Okay, no, wait… every Chihuahua will do that.

So I’ve been thinking about breed traits and where the Fyfe Canines fit into all of this.


Campfire Casey a couple of summers ago

Like most Retrievers, Casey is kind and loyal. He’s the only dog who wanted to take on a Grizzly bear a few years ago to protect his Dad.

He is energetic, always hungry, easily excited, a great swimmer, an obsessed master at retrieving tennis balls, good with every other dog he’s met, a fantastic shed-hunter and goofy to a fault.

And sometimes he does things that are just bat-shit crazy.


Yeah… Casey’s hole.

Like the hole he dug 2 summers ago.

And then I think, well, I’ve certainly done crazy things in my life.

Why did I think it was important to steal a stop sign with friends one time?

Why did I drive to Banff in the middle of the night to look for summer work?

Why on Earth did I buy a Fiero?????


Sometimes I wonder why I do the things I do…

Sometimes there are no answers.


Alistair and Casey getting psyched up for their first Agility Trials at a Dog Days of Summer

We just want Casey to be happy.

Maybe a little less excited to see us because one time he could get so worked up that his flopping laryngeal fold won’t open and he won’t be able to breathe.

But how do you suppress a Retriever’s happiness to see you?

Or a Springer Spaniel’s competitive intensity coupled with her need to be a princess?


The Princess a few years ago

I admire Cleo’s competitive nature. She tries harder than anyone to get that damned tennis ball but Casey’s intuitive natural ability usually leads him to it first.

And if Cleo does get it its game over because she usually runs off and lays on top of it.

Like many spaniels, Cleo is friendly with other dogs but she also is independent.

They will all take off with us on hikes together but she is often on her own- digging a hole or playing in the creek.

I get that.

I like visiting with people but I’m totally fine being on my own up at our ranch in the middle of nowhere.

I respect her Spaniel stick-to-it-ness, like when she came to my clinic to be put down years ago.

She maybe started whipping out the fancy tricks because she probably perceived that most of us were sad and/or crying. Many spaniels are very in tune with their humans.


One of Cleo’s many tricks, standing and sometimes walking on her hind limbs. It saved her bacon many years ago…

And I respect our husky’s wariness.

And his trust.

And his need to follow closely behind me when we hike or snowshoe. An in-bred instinct to herd, or know where the herd is at all times.


Harry keeping close tabs on his Mummy

He has an intensity about him, like many huskies do, that makes him seem stand-off-ish to some but once you get a moment alone with him and he can sniff you up and down you will see his soft, sweet side come out.

Like many working breeds Harry is very stoic.

He made the tiniest of barely-audible whimpers when my neighbors helped release him from a leg-hold trap that had pinned him down a few years ago.

He never complained during his year as a Medical Exercise dog at my vet school-  he was poked, prodded, shaved, injected, palpated, all by inexperienced hands.

And he doesn’t complain now with 2 fairly weak knees and arthritic joints and maybe something else going on.


Harry the husky, preferring more winter naps than romps these days

I’d like to say I see some of that in myself.

When I leapt off my runaway horse on one of my first riding dates with Alistair and broke a chunk off of my collar bone (not to mention the bleeding nose & cuts to my face), I got my ass back on that horse and rode the 2 hour ride back to the farm.

Yes, it may have been because his ex-wife and her new boyfriend were along on this ride and my terrier-like stubbornness and pride were present but after my initial tears I wasn’t going to let anyone hear me complaining.

Which, in the end, was kind of funny and I like being funny.

Being funny is a large part of what UB, our mixed breed is all about.


What? Did somebody say, ‘kibbies?’

He’s the only dog we have actually done a DNA test on and he is part Boston Terrier and part Cocker Spaniel.

He has spaniel independence and terrier seriousness.

But he also has a light-hearted, energetic, athletic, happy approach to life.

If the butterfly is there, you should chase it.

If the Mummy’s lap is empty, you should sit in it.


Campfire UB

If the blind dog needs someone to lay with her, you should do it.


Loki and UB this summer, cuddle buddies all the way

His approach to everything- elk herding, running, attacking Casey, sleeping, eating, barking at badgers or Grizzly Bears, chasing kitty cats, making fun of Subarus- is done at full tilt. There is nothing half-assed about this boy and sometimes his recklessness gets the best of him.

Like mine has with me over the years.

Climbing the 3rd tallest Ferris Wheel in the world in the middle of the night in Japan was a great idea!

Until we got up there…

And the one dog who is for certain a pure bred has her own characteristics that are true to the Boston Terrier breed.


Our stubborn, defiant, charming, loving, bossy-pants Boston Terrier, Loki

Blind, with a luxating patella and knobby dew claw, Loki still tries to run the show around here.

She is the one dog who gave Casey a serious run for his money with that tennis ball when she could see.

She is bossy and set in her ways.

She growled at Gampy the other morning because he dared to take her from her warm, comfy slumberland to go outside for piddles in the snow.

She tosses her empty food dish towards us, as if we don’t notice that it is empty.

And yet she always wants to be with us, right next to us, on top of us, under the covers with us.


Loki “helping” Gampy at crib

I have a bit of a stubborn streak in me so I appreciate her in-charge attitude.

I play nicely with the other kids but I like it to be my game.

Like the whole Dog Days of Summer thing… I only did it because the local hospital board said I couldn’t do a canine walkathon at their annual medical open house.

I, like Loki, am not someone who does well with the words, “you can’t.”

dog days

Dog Days of Summer, the early days

So I created an annual event of my own that turned out to be an enormous success and had amazing attendance each year, which the medical clinic couldn’t even compete with.


A variety of breeds bred for different things, competing at the Dog Days of Summer Dog Show a couple of years ago.

There are so many different dog breeds out there and they all have some special capabilities and strengths.

And different owners have different expectations and their own talents for training and sharing.

We can learn a lot from our barking, tail-wagging, slobbery, snoring, farting, hoop-jumping, happy, forgiving, ball-chasing, duck-hunting, sled-pulling, keg-wearing, shivering companions.

And different breeds can do different things.

I’m not saying you should train your ShihTsu to pull a sled or that Min Pins will make excellent therapy dogs or that an Akita should run Flyball, but each dog, like each of us, is an individual.

With no expectations and just the request that everyone get along (and donate reproductive organs at the door) the Fyfe misfits will continue to make me smile.

And think.

And giggle.

And reflect.


Loki, helping with laundry


The Princess, crippled by the booties and lovely tartan jacket Lynnie put on her… poor thing was paralyzed until she was able to tear the jacket off!


Ball-chasing with Whitney back in the day, before UB moved in and when Loki still had vision


UB: “Are you coming, Mummy?”






















Captain CrazyPants (or, the case for Casey)



The Fyfe dogs aren’t trained.

In fact, they’re all a bit on the crazy side.

The 5 of them are a rag-tag motley crew of misfits who ended up here by various means with questionable pasts.

Especially Casey.

If you’ve met him, you’re already nodding your head. Especially my brother and his 3 sons who were cheerfully mauled by our excited Labrador after they ignored my one request: Do not open the kennel door until I get home.

Physical and mental scars are what remain of Casey’s big chase of the 2 older boys. My only answer to them is: “Danny did it. Danny let the dogs out.”

We keep waiting for Casey to mature and ‘grow out of’ his insane need to be with us, on top of us, licking us, loving us. I think we waited too long, though, because its too late to train him to be anything other than what he is. Its endearing, as long as you’re not knocked over into a mud puddle, trying to whack him with your crutches after you just had ACL surgery (true story). (And kind of funny picturing Casey deftly deke each swipe Alistair took at him).

We cut Casey some slack, though.

I met him in vet school, as residents were parading this cute little 3 month-old black lab puppy around in their arms. He couldn’t walk on his own because his owner had beat the snot out of him, fracturing both of his femurs in several places.

One of the surgeons said it had to have been a baseball bat or something similar to create such fractures.

I watched my arm go up in the air as the residents said they could try to save this puppy only if someone volunteered to take him home when he was well.


After several months and several surgeries with hardware inserted into his limbs, happy young Casey came home to the Fyfe Farm. I have a bit of guilt over the fact I didn’t visit him that much during his surgeries and infections because I didn’t want to fall in love with him and have him end up breaking my heart if things “didn’t work out.”

They did work out and Casey hasn’t looked back.

I have learned a lot about forgiveness from this dog because he has never, ever shown any ill will towards people. The only time he’s ever shown any aggression was when he was protecting his Dad from a grizzly bear who stood 10 feet away. We didn’t know he could growl until then. One could say that’s because he’s not so smart but I choose to say that’s because he’s a good old boy.

He and Loki were young pups and besties together. Its amazing revisiting old pictures of them in their healthy young bodies, knowing they are very different bodies now.


Bodies that don’t jump as high as they used to. Bodies that need anti-inflammatories regularly to enable easy movement. Bodies that don’t see because the cataracts have taken over. Bodies that sound like Darth Vader because of a floppy laryngeal fold that could become life threatening at any time if the other fold decides to become paralyzed.

Casey’s larynx has been like this for a few  months. If it stays one-sided, he’s good to go as long as you don’t mind the raspy breathing. If he would settle down and move more slowly he might be able to breathe better but as I’ve said, he isn’t slowing down.

There is a surgery but it would essentially open up the passage to his trachea, allowing food or water to get into his lungs if he gulped it down (which he does). That leads to ‘aspiration pneumonia’, which isn’t cool for anyone and is also life-threatening. So we don’t do the surgery unless the paralysis becomes bilateral, or two-sided. Which would definitely lead to aspiration pneumonia.

So what do you do?

Alistair and I both know Casey has had a fabulous life as a Fyfe. We’ve figured out and learned to manage his terrible allergies to chicken and he’s been able to eat every body part or bone of every animal carcass he can find here in the forests of Montana. He’s been boating, “shed”-hunting, trail riding and hiking and he even has a trophy from an Agility Trial he ran with his Dad.


He’s more grey each year but then so am I. Part of my reluctance to accept that my companions are aging is that it means I am aging along with them.

I don’t jump as high as I used to. I take anti-inflammatories fairly regularly for my knees. Its just that they seem to age faster because a year for them is like six or seven for us. What happens gradually to my body is happening right before my eyes to Casey and Loki. And Boomer. And Harry. Fyfe’s Farm for Wayward Pets is becoming Fyfe’s Senior Citizen Central.

Which is why we don’t train our dogs to do anything but be themselves. My only rule is “donate your reproductive organs at the door and get along.” And they have, and they do.

I will do what is right by my old friends when it is time. Like I had to with Oscar. It will break my heart, as I always worried Casey would, but it won’t be about me at that point.

Incidentally, going through my old pictures, I found one of a very young Oscar with a very young Whitney. It makes my heart happy and sad at the same time, which is fine by me. 013

So, if you visit us, know that you will be leapt upon by Casey and his merry band of buddies. You might get muddy and you have to listen to his croaking bark as he yelps for whatever reason he’s yelping. Expect cheerful, non-trained behavior and feel free to leap and jump along with them. Love and be loved, don’t open the kennel door without me, and get along.