Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Topher Story

Today, I thought we’d do something a little different. Instead of a writing post, I am going to tell you the story of my mongrel crossbreed, Topher and why I tell people he’s a horrible animal and that he makes my life a living hell. This article started life as an email sent to the pound I got Topher from—though my friends liked it so much, I thought I would share it here:

Topher was one of nine pups, brought to YAPS from Yarrabah in early 2011. Their mother looked something like a brindle German Sheppard—though it was hard to tell, as she was half bald with mange. The pups were five weeks old when I first saw Topher, and she had already abandoned them. The nine of them lived in a pen, outside, in some plastic kennels because YAPS, like so many no kill shelters, is desperately underfunded and has too many dogs.

I chose Topher because he was the quietest and when I picked him up, he sighed and rested his head on my chest, listening to my heartbeat. I fell in love. That ended a week later, when I finally went to pick him up and I heard him scream for the first time.

Yarrabah is a remote aboriginal community. So saying Topher’s mother was ‘part German Sheppard’ is really a joke. There are feral dogs everywhere, most of them descendant from herding dogs or pig dogs. However there hasn’t been a purebred in Yarrabah.... ever. It’s probably 30 generations since there was a ‘breed’ in his lineage. However it’s likely his father had a decent amount of dingo in him, because the sound coming from that 6 week out puppy was nothing like a dog could make.

It wasn’t a whine. It wasn’t even a howl (though he can howl and dingo howls make dog howls sound like goddamn sneezes). It was an extended shriek. A hysterical, unending scream, like a car-crash and a fire alarm had a baby and the baby hated you.

Topher was the most disastrous, nightmarish puppy I have ever known. But what triggered all this screaming? A lack of physical contact. Yes, if I wasn’t physically touching him at all times, he would become an air-raid siren. However he would enthusiastically bite anyone who picked him up. I spent several months living on the floor to keep him quiet. We bled constantly, he bit anything that passed by his face.

Despite having raised three other dogs to be perfectly behaved, well adjusted animals in the past—including Pheonix, who had been badly abused and came to me extremely aggressive and depressed—nothing I did with Topher seemed to work. Determined not to be defeated by a creature that occasionally ate lint, I persevered.

He hated going outside and after several months of him lying prone, letting me physically drag him around the block like he was dead, I gave up on walkies. The neighbours were becoming suspicious.

He ate well, but remained as skinny as an anorexic greyhound but despite several vet visits where he metamorphasized into a hysterical octopus on crack, I was assured he was a healthy, if utterly psychotic, puppy. He was desexed on the earliest possible day the vet was willing to do the procedure in the hope it would calm him down. It didn’t.

He loved banana more than life itself and while he refused to eat bread, pasta or rice leftovers, no one could eat fruit without giving him some. He continued to be slightly thinner than a skeleton and I began to get paranoid someone would call the RSPCA. He also had mange from his mother—dermodectic, not sarcoptic—and a severe allergy to mosquito bites, so his fur was patchy and he looked badly abused. Eukanuba puppy food and every mange cure known to man did nothing to help.

Despite refusing to leave the house, Topher found he quite liked the treadmill and began running a few kilometres a day while I watched TV. He loved trips in the car too, until anyone attempted to leave it, or get him out of it, when he would become a hysterical screaming crack octopus again. It was just as well, as he looked awful.

Every week we brought home piles of new toys to keep him entertained and happy, until the house resembled a very messy day care centre. Whenever Topher destroyed a toy, the little toy pieces would become ‘new toys’ and he would become distraught at any attempts to throw them out.

We moved to Brisbane in October of 2011 and after the mange finally cleared up, Topher began limping. After another hysterical octopus vet visit where the attending vet called him ‘deranged and psychotic’, we found out that both his knees dislocate and the vet suggested surgery. $7000 surgery.

I was told, by many people, that a bullet only costs a dollar.

Why would I spend $7000 on an animal? A feral mongrel, no less. A new dog would be cheaper. Even a pedigree from a breeder would be cheaper. There were plenty of people willing to tell me they would never spend that much on a pet.

It never even crossed my mind. After numerous expensive vet visits where I pointlessly assured vets he was ‘not always this mental’ we found a medication that keeps him pain free and walking comfortably without invasive surgery. There may still be surgery later, but it’s been a long time since he limped at all now.

And, as I had always hoped, on his first birthday, he mellowed out completely. He still has oodles of toys, he’s still as thin as a greyhound and he still hates going outside, but he walks on a lead like a normal dog now. I work from home, so he’s always with me, but these days he’s equally happy to sleep in another room while I work—rather than glued to my leg, shrieking hysterically when I go to the bathroom.

I can’t even imagine how he would have survived in Yarrabah. I suspect it would be physically impossible for him to exist without a couch to sleep on and a kong toy to occasionally drop between my legs into the toilet.

I’d give up my house and live in my car before I gave up Topher. These days people say he’s beautiful and ask what breed he is. I say he’s a ‘some kind of horrible mongrel’ and they look horrified. Topher knows exactly what sort of dog he is. He’s my dog, and he’s never going to be any other kind.

Oh, and for the record? He still rests his head on my chest, listened to my heart, and sighs.

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