Originally posted on Y360 30th November 2006
Reposted on Multiply 25th February 2008
This is the last, but by no means least, of the tales of the crazy canines who shared my life back in the Eighties. I have already written about BEN and TARA. This final tale concerns the other of the two Afghan hounds. Her full kennel-club registered name was Sargon Cleopatra, but to us she was Saga.
Like the other two, she was a rescue case. She was the first of the three to arrive in our house and was little more than a puppy. She was probably the runt of the litter, her coat never grew to full length, best it ever got was about half the length of a normal Afghan's coat, but just as thick. She had been starved and left outside in all weathers. She was a mess and totally untrained when she arrived. Now, although she was the first Afghan I had owned, I knew all about them, as my mom had kept Afghans for many years previous. I knew that the breed in general are stubborn and wilful and difficult to train. Saga was ten times worse because she had been allowed to go untrained well past the time it should have started. It was a long, long process. As she was the first dog in the house that me and Vicky were still in the process of renovating at that time, I decided I would train her to sleep in the kitchen, which as part of the renovation was quite large. That lasted less than one night. As soon as I had put her in her bed and gone upstairs, the howling started. Ever hear an Afghan howl? No? Well, it's very loud and wolflike (it had a certain musical quality I came to love). The neighbours were going to love this!! I went downstairs, calmed her, set her on her bed, and went back upstairs. Cue the howling again. Came down, calmed her, went upstairs. More howling. Fearing a riot by the neighbours I suggested she come and sleep in the bedroom with us until she had settled in. Fatal mistake. As soon as the door to the stairs was open.......whoosh!! I got up there to find her sprawled full-length on the bed (an Afghan full-length being about the same head-to-toe length as me). It was only a temporary measure, not for long. Yeah, right. That was her sleeping place for the next year or so. To make things worse, in the night she would brace those long legs against the wall and push, forcing Vicky across past the middle of the bed, in turn forcing me to roll further over. I frequently woke up balanced precariously on the edge of the bed (please, no jokes about 'dropping off' LOL). I got used to it after a while.
The other problem was her destructiveness during the day. When we had first heard of Saga needing a good home, we were unsure as both of us were working. We spoke to local vets and asked their advice. They were not totally against the idea, stating it's better to give the dog a loving home, even if during the day she would be alone. After weighing the alternatives (IE she would be put to sleep) there wasn't really any choice to make. It must have been the boredom and loneliness during the day that caused her to be so destructive. At first we had let her have full run of the downstairs part of the house. She scratched the paint off many painted surfaces, she chewed up one of the chairs (the one she is lying on in the photo, this became HER chair, no-one else was allowed on it) and, worst crime of all....she ate a large part of my treasured record collection, including some rare vinyl that even today I have never been able to replace. I would come home to find chunks of vinyl all over the place, but amazingly, the album covers virtually intact!! We tried keeping her in the kitchen, thinking it would help to minimise damage. She ate part of several cupboard doors. And when she discovered tins of dog food in the lower cupboards she would help herself. Afghans have the longest, sharpest fangs of any breed. She could chew her way into tins of food, no problem. Of course, she didn't really care about the inconvenience of the vets fees and she always managed to slice the insides of her mouth open on the serrated tin. End result that all supplies of food, both dog and human were placed in the high cupboards well out of reach. It was beginning to put a strain on us, as she was single-houndedly wrecking the place. I knew we would get there eventually, but didn’t think the house could take it!! So, back to the vet we went. We told him all the problems we were having. His advice: get another dog. Hmmmmm, wasn’t sure about that. Get an older dog that's fully house trained, it will have a calming influence on Saga. And it would also give her company during the day and make her less destructive. I had my doubts, but as providence would have it, at that time we heard about Ben…….and things kinda sorted them selves out. If you’ve read about Ben already, you’ll know he was a crossbreed, mainly collie. It worked a treat. In no time Saga had calmed down a lot, stopped destroying things and peace (of a sort) finally reigned in our house. I say ‘of a sort’ because with Saga around , peace was a relative term. As I described in Ben’s tale, she and Ben loved to have wrestling matches. Another favourite pastime of Saga’s was what I dubbed ‘The Wall Of Death’. She would race round and round the living-room without touching the floor, just leaping from one piece of furniture to the next. Now, you may think this would cause destruction galore, but no. Firstly Saga, even for an Afghan (known for being lightweight dogs) was very light on her feet, and also had extraordinary reflexes that stopped her colliding with anything breakable. It had to be seen to be believed. Friends would sit with open mouths, totally dumbfounded by what they were seeing. That was almost as much fun as watching Saga. But despite all of this, I loved that dog very much. She was extremely affectionate. If she was in trouble, she would sit with her head on my knee, looking up at me with her big brown eyes, the tip of her tail a blur of motion. I just couldn’t be mad at her. When she wanted some love, she would climb onto my lap and curl up into a remarkably small ball and lie there being fussed for hours. If I stopped, she would keep nudging me with her nose until I started again. Sometimes I would play a game, pretending not to notice. She would dig her nose under my arm and then flip it quite powerfully, as if to say “Hello!! I want attention!!”
Her skills at escapology were also amazing. When she first arrived, the fences around the back-garden were five feet high. No problem for Saga, she was over them in no time. I had to increase the height several times before she finally admitted defeat when the fence reached a height of around eight feet. Then she tried a different tactic. She chewed her way through the wood of the fence. So, I then had to attach chicken-wire to it to stop her doing that. Finally, she she admitted defeat. Here are a couple of episodes involving Saga that stand out in my memory:
The first one is when Saga began to show signs of discomfort when being fussed, then she wouldn’t be fussed at all and started to get quite snappy. At first, I couldn’t understand why. Then one day, while trying to groom her large clumps of her fur came out in my hand. Underneath were sores on her skin. Obviously, there was something serious going on here. We took her to the vet, who examined her and thought it was a skin disease. He treated her with tablets and creams, but after several weeks it was obviously not working. Back we went to the vet. He tried a barrage of other tests, but eventually had to admit that he was baffled by it. Her condition was getting progressively worse, more of her fur was falling out and the sores on her skin were getting bigger. She was a real mess, and in a lot of pain. The vet said if a diagnosis couldn’t be found soon, he would have to consider having her put to sleep, as he thought she would be suffering too much. He suggested one last thing to try, that we take her to the Vetinary Teaching hospital at Cambridge, where there were several canine experts who may be able to track down the problem. But, he warned us, it would probably be very expensive. We were willing to give it a go. So we contacted the hospital and booked an appointment with one of the specialists. We drove down a couple of days later. It was a long drive and it was mid-winter. Saga was wrapped in several blankets in the back of the car. She looked such a pitiful sight, shivering a lot and looking mournful. We arrived at the clinic and took her in to see the expert. He went over the history and examined her. He said he wanted to keep her in overnight to run a full set of tests, we could come back for her tomorrow. I looked at her poor pathetic figure as I left, sure I wasn’t going to see her again. We went back the following day and went in to see the specialist again. To my relief, there was Saga. He told us he had found the cause of them problem. Hell, I thought, no wonder you’re the expert, that was quick!! The problem?? Deficiency of a certain hormone. The cure? HRT!! I couldn’t believe it, after all that!! Well, he prescribed the HRT tablets, which she would have to take for the rest of her life, and off we went, feeling much happier. It took a couple of months for Saga to recover fully, during which time she had to have daily iodine-solution baths to keep the open sores on her skin from getting infected until healed. I had to wear thick gloves when bathing her, as it obviously was really painful for her, and she would snap at my hands as I bathed her. Finally the sores healed and her coat grew back to it’s usual length.
The other story is about another of Saga’s escape attempts. As I mentioned before, Afghans are very fast runners, basically being Greyhounds in winter coats. If they get out they are very difficult to get back. One time we were having work done on the rear of the house, so the back gate was open often, but instructions were given to the builders to close it before opening any of the house doors. Of course, one of the workmen forgot, leaving the gate open and then opening the back-door to the house. Saga was out like a shot, and seeing the gate open shot off like a rocket. I ran off in hot pursuit. She went along two side-streets, then onto a busy main road. I couldn’t get anywhere close to her, she was just too fast. I could see her getting further and further ahead. I knew I had no chance of catching her. I thought this time I had lost her. In desperation, I flagged down a passing car. The driver asked what was wrong. I pointed at the now tiny dot in the distance “I need you to get me in front of that dog, please!!” I said, jumping in. The guy looked totally amazed. Not what he was expecting. He put his foot on the gas, and we caught up and passed her. I told the driver to stop, and we waited until she came level with the car. Shouting my thanks, I leapt out. Saga was so totally stunned by my sudden appearance, she stopped dead in her tracks and sat down. I grabbed her before she decided to run again. Then I realised something. In my haste to go after her, I had forgotten to pick up her lead!! Realising the inevitable, I picked Saga up and slung her over my shoulders, carrying her like a sack of potatoes. Forelegs and head on one shoulder, hind-legs on the other shoulder. It was a walk of about two miles or so home, with this bony hound slung over my shoulder, with her wagging tail whipping me around one ear, and the occasional lick of her tongue in the other ear. As if to say “Look, I was just exploring, ok? I’m not gonna be in any trouble am I?” And she knew only too well I wouldn’t be mad at her.