Nana and the Chocolate Pups The following story was written to a friend and copied to RR-FOLK, the ridgeback internet group, on December 22, 1999:

Nana and the Chocolate Pups


Here is our Christmas 1999 rescue story. About two months ago Elizabeth Akers was contacted by the Modesto, California, shelter and told that they had a Ridgeback bitch. Elizabeth arranged for someone to visit (Modesto is more than two hours away from where Elizabeth lives). This person checked out the dog and found her to be a mix, very old, and not appearing to be in very good health. Wanting to get 'in' with the Modesto shelter (who have been reluctant to even tell us when RRs come their way), Elizabeth agreed to take her and the bitch was picked up and transported to Concord and lodged in the boarding kennel that Elizabeth uses for rescue dogs waiting new homes.

On November 7 at the BARRC Fun Day, Elizabeth came to me and said that she had just had a call from the boarding kennel and the bitch had given birth to puppies. This came as a complete surprise to everyone and Elizabeth was at a loss about what to do with a litter of puppies. This is something we know how to do, so Cheri and I volunteered to take Nana (as she was being called) and five puppies to our house, where we would raise them until they were old enough to be desexed and placed in homes.

We started by taking Nana and the five puppies to the Emergency Vet because two of the puppies were injured. The litter had been born during the night in a kennel run where there was some exposed cyclone fence wire and two had been injured. During the first day we had them, these two puppies died, leaving Nana and three little mixed-breed bitch puppies.

Nana is probably more than ten years old, and appears to be a mix of RR and Cheasapeake Bay Retriver; there may also be some German Shephard. She has a Chessie-type coat and a spectular ridge. She has rear dew claws, single on the left leg and double on the right. The puppies look a lot like Laborador Retrievers, and are all quite chocolate in color, with one being lighter than the others. Two of the puppies have single rear dew claws, not articulated, and one has double rear dew claws, with one on each foot being fully articulated. I have never seen double rear dew claws before, but I can see now why they are required for Bernese Mountain Dogs and Great Pyrenees--a foot with double dew claws looks a lot like a snowshoe!

The puppies are now six weeks old and are the cutest things you can imagine. We named them Hershey, Mocha, and Cocoa. Hershey and Cocoa have very nice ridges. They are very unlike Ridgeback puppies in behavior, and don't even have the characteristic 'puppy breath' that we are accostomed to.

Nana is an excellent mother. She has also inserted herself completely into our home and gets along very will with our other dogs, from 12-year old Morganna right down to 8-month old Leelu. At first she would come into the house in the carpeted rooms but was afraid to walk on the slick floors (linoleum in the utility hall and Spanish tile in the kitchen and main hallway). She clearly suffers from arthritic pain (as I do!) and was very tentative about walking on surfaces where the footing was not secure. However, as she has become accostomed to the house, she has overcome this fear and will now go everywhere. She was quick to find the dog door from the back bathroom of our home into the back yard and made regular use of it from the start. She has also begun to make regular use of our couchs and last night at 2 am crawled up on the foot of our bed.

We began to give Nana glucosamine and chondroitin a couple of weeks ago and Rimadyl only a few days ago. This has had an amazing effect on her and we now see her actually trotting around the house and yard.

One of the chocolate puppies (Cocoa) already has a home and I am certain the other two will be quickly snapped up. As for Nana, she has already found her forever home--Cheri and I have bonded with her and hope she will consent to spend her final years as a member of our family.


P.S. (September 2, 2002): When Nana first joined us, we didn't think she would live very long. However, the glucosamine/chondroitin and Rimadyl had a very beneficial effect. However, we soon discovered another problem--mammary cancer. Shortly after the three chocolate puppies went to their new homes, we took Nana to our vet (Bishop Ranch Veterinary Clinic) and had her cancer removed. At the same time, she was spayed and a very serious ear infection was treated. Nana pulled through all of this like a trooper.

At first, Nana was very circumspect with our other dogs. She never made eye contact or challenged their place in the pack hierarchy. In fact, she seemed not even to be a part of the pack. At night, all of our dogs sleep in our room, either in crates or on cozy cups on the floor at the foot of our bed. However, for the first year, Nana remained in the living room when we all retired to the bedroom. One day, after about a year, Nana joined the rest of the family and began to speep in our bedroom.

Other changes occured. During her second year with us, the pack structure changed substantially because two of our oldest dogs, Morganna and Bruiser, both passed away. Also during this time, Marley came back to live with us full time and we kept Hadley and Uno from two of our litters. So by the end of her second year, Nana found herself with greater seniority in the pack than all of our house dogs except 11-year old Boz and 8-year old Murphy. This had a dramatic effect on how she interacts. She now engages in play with Uno and Hadley, and even with Marley and Murphy. The only dog with whom I have not seen Nana play is Boz, now 12 years old and the clear alpha bitch of the family.

We still have no idea how old Nana is. Her eyes are very clear, but she has no incisors on either the top or bottom of her mouth--they have all been worn down to the gum line. She limps after rising because of a long-ago injury to her cruciate ligament, and she still have bouts of trouble with ear infections. However, she is not fully integrated into the Camelot canine family--three years after she volunteered for service. Following is a photo of Nana in September, 2002:

P.P.S. (February 2007): Over the next four years, Nana continued to be an integral part of our family. Gradually the dogs who had been in our home when she joined left or died. First it was Morganna, then Bruiser, then Boz, then Murphy, then Marley and finally Uma. Dawn, Uno and Rosie left to live with other friends. Finally Nana was the "alpha bitch". But by then she was too old to exert any authority, if she ever would have had the inclination to do so. The household became populated by younger dogs and these younger dogs all gave Nana their respect by seeking her out every morning to give her lip licks.

Starting in about 2004, Nana's arthritis began to really bother her and there were times when we thought the end had come. However, by virtue of diligent care, she pulled through many crises. At one point when she could no longer walk well enough to get outside to relieve herself, we had to relegate her to a kennel run for more than a month. Many days I had to mop up urine in the morning because she just could not get out the dog door to do her business outside. That was when Cheri thought of taking her for acupuncture treatments. Nana had four treatments over a month. At the same time, we switched her from Rimadyl to Metacam. Either the acupuncture or the new NSAID did the trick and she was back on her feet living a more or less normal life.

For the last 18 months she waged a battle with a persistent urinary tract disease. We could beat it down with various antibiotics, but we could never eradicate it. We went through a whole series of antibiotics and finally hit on a regimen of one week of Ciprofloxacin and three weeks off. This worked pretty well. The Cipro was hard on her and she gradually suffered from loss of appetite and lethargy during the week of treatment. But then she would rebound and even leap up in the air when it was dinner time. Following is Nana's last photo, taken on her favorite rug in January, 2007:

But eventually she stopped recovering and in mid-January she began to have trouble even getting up from her bed to go out to eat. For a couple of weeks we brought her "breakfast in bed" and helped her get to the yard for potty break. But eventually even that got to be too hard for her. Finally, on February 16, 2007, our vet visited our home and she and Cheri assisted Nana over the Rainbow Bridge. She had a great last seven years.

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