When we left him on the exam table, he looked like he was sleeping. We had folded the blanket around him until only his head was showing, like a swaddled baby. We had bought four plain cheeseburgers, but we hadn’t given them all to him. Mischa tucked the last one between his forelegs.
It had only been an hour.
We had made an appointment with our regular vet. It was two days ahead; not a long time as humans measure it. Something snapped open when I watched Tierce make his staggering, meandering away across the lawn. I went up to Mischa and said “I think we need to take him to the vet.” He agreed, so we went to Central Island Veterinary Emergency Hospital.
The vet on-call did an exam and then said, “We could give him pain meds, but there’s no guarantee they will work. We won’t know until they actually give them to him.”
“All I need is an unbiased opinion,” I said. “Is it time?”
“If it were my choice, I would euthanize him.”
“Thank you. That’s what I needed to hear.”
So it was done and done with as much help as we could give him to pass away swiftly and as painlessly as possible.
I could count on one hand the times I’ve seen Mischa cry in 18 years and still have fingers left over.
Before I go on, I’d just like to say that CIVEH has had a lot of flak thrown at it and, while some of it may be legitimate, they treated Tierce’s passing with compassion and respect. We are lucky to have an emergency vet outside of Victoria, B.C. (120 km away from Nanaimo) and I am so glad they were able to give Tierce peace from a body that no longer was his to command.
I chose the name ‘Tierce’ because it was my favourite game in the Society for Creative Anachronism. People stand in a circle by twos, one in front of the other. Two people are chosen. One person is ‘It’ and the other is ‘Tierce’. Tierce’s job is to run away from ‘It’ until they can manage to make it into the circle in front of one of the standing players. The game ends when Tierce can no longer fit into the inner circle. I figured this was a game that a Shiba would love playing.
Tierce was born March 30, 2007 and styled ‘Anautuk’s Game of Tierce’. He was a typical male Shiba puppy – happy, confident, over-the-top whether playing, fighting, chewing, or running around in circles when life was too crazy-awesome for him to deal with it in any other way.
Vancouver Island history was made when Tierce chewed through Mischa’s dialysis cord. Mischa was on peritoneal dialysis at the time and had a tube running from his peritoneal sac (the sac that houses all your organs and can also be used as a filter barrier for dialysis using a liquid solution pumped in and out overnight) out to where it could be attached to the tube of the dialysis pump.
We had decided that our 7-month-old puppy boy was being good enough to sleep with us on the bed. In the wee hours, Mischa was awoken by the alarm on the machine indicating a leak. Tierce was stretched out innocently on the bed, but the hundreds of gummy holes in the thick plastic tubing were a good indication of where the guilt lay. Mischa ended up being shipped down to Victoria for severe peritonitis and Tierce spent the rest of his nights safely in his crate for the next year before we tried the freedom-of-the-house experiment again.
Tierce went everywhere with us – to SCA events, kayaking, paddleboarding, cycling (he had his own trailer), family dinners, Christmases, Halloweens, fairs, festivals, events… anywhere dogs were welcome, he came along. I also enjoyed taking classes with him, from puppy obedience to tracking to conformation… we explored a wide variety of things.
Through Tierce, I learned what clicker training was (via Christina Young of Positive Dog and Robyn Andexser who then-owned Best Paw Forward) and when Tierce turned ON like the ball dropping at New Year’s, I knew I had a way to talk to him that he would actually listen to. Years later, I would graduate the Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner Program.
Tierce was also what I called our ‘aversion therapy dog’. Mischa, my husband, has experienced kidney failure, a transplant, three successive cancers, transplant failure, eventual bone death, leaving his left foot non-functional, neuropathy so severe he was in constant pain, and another transplant. Tierce was the only reason he got up in the morning while I was working. Despite the pain and the exhaustion and the despair, the dog still needed to be walked and cared for. So Mischa got up.
Only when he was recovering from an operation or, at times when Mischa was at his sickest, would Tierce permit more than close proximity for any length of time. If we moved from room to room, though, Tierce would inevitably follow. He used to sleep on our bed – not touching, but close enough.
Tierce was not an easy dog. As he grew older, he became extremely selective in his dog ‘friends’ and did not appreciate any ‘Don’t Worry! He’s Friendly’ canine interactions. He was a resource guarder who we had to feed separately so he wouldn’t bully Shimi out of her food. He did not like most small children. He had to be monitored, constantly, to ensure that he was not triggered to react or to engage in antisocial behaviour. The heavy socialization and training classes did pay off, but they never changed his essential nature.
Perhaps this is why we loved him so deeply. Nothing we got from Tierce was given to us; it was earned. He gave no quarter and asked none when he was pushed past his limits. Yet, when we learned how to talk with him and understand what he was saying, he could be tolerant past our expectations. With Tierce, I began to truly learn what it was to work with a dog. He would never be an Obedience Trial Champion or a Grand Champion Trick Dog, but he was willing to compromise.
Living with Tierce wasn’t all caution and snarls. When we protected his space and respected his boundaries, he could be the most amazing companion. He had terrific house manners and was generally invited back when he visited.
Raised in the SCA, Tierce became used to people in Elizabethan-era garb and plate mail, so the uniforms of police officers and Halloween costumes barely elicited an ear flick. Likewise, a puppyhood spent listening to the miniature sonic booms of rattan swords striking plywood shields inured him to sudden loud noises. Fireworks, sirens, people screaming, brakes screeching, gunfire from the local range were treated with the level of attention that frequent travellers to the Mainland pay to the BC Ferries emergency procedures announcements.
Perhaps that was why, if Hartwood had succeeded in its umpteenth baronial bid, Tierce may well have been elected its first Baron.
Now I’m going into SCA politics. Basically, the Society for Creative Anachronism is trying to recreate medieval life (as it should have been). Big on the fancy dress, modern medical care, and creative arts; small on the plague, serfs, and leprosy. To this end, groups are usually styled as ‘Shires’ or ‘Baronies’ and are contained within Kingdoms and sometimes Principalities within Kingdoms. Shires normally have Seneschals (Presidents) as their higher office, while Baronies – while still having a Seneschal – also have a Baronial couple as figureheads.
To watch Tierce run loose was one of the joys of my life. To see him throw off the constraints of our normal sojourns together and hurl himself through space temporarily allowed me to throw off the constraints of my worries about Mischa, my as-yet-undiagnosed ADHD, my galloping case of imposter syndrome and just live in the silver seconds of my dog running free.
Tierce wasn’t initially bought as a show dog, although his breeder allowed me to keep him open (unneutered) much later than my contract stated so that I could trot him around the ring. He became prey to allergies at around a year-and-a-half, so we decided to neuter him at two. I am glad that we waited because Tierce attained a structure and mass closer to his open male counterparts, although he had a permanently soft ‘neuter coat’. Once he attained seven years of age, however, he was considered a veteran dog by the Canadian Kennel Club and being neutered didn’t interfere with being entered in the Veteran’s classes of any show we attended.
This led to a highlight of my life that I never expected would happen.
Tierce won Best Veteran in Show.
I was all over the place – the show ring pokes my anxiety. I was wearing an ugly Christmas vest and a dog with a Santa hat on my head (it was ugly Christmas sweater day and I figured I’d go the extra mile).
Tierce did everything except trot. He bounced, he twirled, he barked at me, he play-bowed… and we won. I still think that Tierce won on sheer personality because the lineup of veteran dogs was formidable.
And thus came into being one of the best show pictures of all time.
Tierce had well over 16 good years. He lived the life every dog should: thoughtful breeding, a nurtured neonatalhood, carefully chosen owners, and an existence filled with interest, stimulation, social interaction, good food, water, and access to (and ample) medical care. I can look back on his life and feel that I did not fail him.
His death… I wish I had let myself see things sooner. I know it’s an old adage that most people regret not putting their dog down sooner, but it is no less true for that. It took me/us a couple of weeks to admit that we could no longer hold off the inevitability that, with the good breeding, invested stewardship, and veterinary care, Tierce had lived long enough to need this final decision made for him.
One of the shitty things about being an atheist (and I’m comfortable with this; I’m not looking for ‘reasons to believe’) is that I think that the evidence points to when we die, it’s done. What we were is gone and I don’t think there is a heaven. I wish I could believe in deities, divine intervention, the Rainbow Bridge, and somewhere I will see my dog again. The only comfort I have in myself is that as long as I am alive, Tierce is not entirely gone. Not touching, but close enough.