Yukon was yet another animal found by my previous employer. She was pretty good at filling up our household! She lived far from the clinic in North Georgia and found Yukon laying near a tombstone in a graveyard in Elijay, Georgia, on Yukon Road…All of the first three dogs were named after the streets they were found on. Yukon was emaciated, absolutely covered in ticks, not neutered, no collar, no microchip, nothing. My rule of thumb has always been that if it is obvious that some effort was made to take good care of them, meaning they are spayed and neutered, in relatively good health and have some form of identification, then we would always try to find the original owner. In Yukon’s case, as with so many, it did not look as though returning him to where he came from was in his best interest. We like to think it was one of those tragic stories where he was laying by my master’s grave, but we will never know. He was a young dog, barely a year old and was likely just lost and happened to be resting there.
Now, of course we didn’t “need” him, but clearly, I LOVE BIG dogs and Grant and Maple were not exactly big, so I saw this as my chance to finally have a BIG dog! A few of the other staff were interested in adopting him as well, but I had first dibs, and it didn’t take more than a meet and greet with our crew to know we were keeping him. Oh, that first night home…the TICKS!!! They just kept falling off of him, it was so gross. The dog must have had 100 plus ticks on him.
Yukon and Grant became fast friends, in fact, Grant was the only dog that Yukon would wrestle and play with. No matter how many friends’ dogs we introduced Yukon to, he would not spar with any of them. Being a German Shepard, he was easy to train, and all three dogs learned basic and advanced obedience as well as agility training, we even dabbled with a splash of nose work but didn’t stick with it. Yukon loved big soccer balls from the start! We regularly purchased new ones as his jaws were so enormous, he could put his whole mouth around the ball and just puncture it! We went through a lot of soccer balls. He also liked to catch Frisbees! For such a big guy he was quite active and agile. He got along great with the cats, and they loved to snuggle into and groom his fuzzy coat.
All three of these dogs traveled home with us to visit family, it was amazing to have such a substantial pack of dogs and they were all welcomed wherever they went. It was really nice. Yukon was definitely the “good boy” of the two big boys however, and he got to go do a few things that Grant could not because Grant was naughtier! For example, he enjoyed the Atlanta Dogwood festival, Grant would have lifted his leg on every booth and piece of furniture and art for sale, but Corny was a perfect gentleman! He had many nicknames, Yukon Cornelius, Corny, or Nilius, the nicknames are endless here at our house. Remember Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph? Totally him, “sniff, sniff, sniff, nothing!” Haha!
I could walk all three of these guys in a perfect “heel” on my left and push the cats in the cat stroller at the same time! We taught them “left” and ”right” training commands and we would all turn a corner together it was quite cool to see! They were quite the team. Very intimidating crew and when our friend’s Old English Bulldog came over for us to pet sit, watch out, no one would enter our yard with these dogs! We were safe.
Yukon was also a really good patient. I can recall one day, just playing in the yard he sliced open his back paw pad on a slate flagstone on our sidewalk. Oh, the blood shed! This was my chance to learn to suture! I did as much as I could on my own to save money and to avoid carting the 100# dog up to the cat practice! The vet I worked with was like, “oh you can do it!” She literally folded up two towels, we took some old suture and she quickly reviewed “simple continuous” suture pattern. I did it side by side with her and then brought my example home and sat it beside me while I worked. We gave him some pain meds, cleaned the wound, and stitched him right up! What a very good boy!
I remember one day when Jake was mowing the grass in the backyard, a very brave UPS driver tried to deliver a package to our front door, the dogs were all on the back deck, until they weren’t! Jake looked up to see a man, outside of the fence of the front yard who had taken his shirt off and was waving it like a flag. Jake stopped mowing the grass and could hear the dogs barking. The three of them had pinned the UPS man on our front step. They didn’t bite him, but they sure as hell were not letting him leave! Jake came up to the front to diffuse the situation and the UPS man safely exited the yard. The guy who had take his shirt off was standing there talking to them and Grant came up and snatched the shirt out of his hands and started running around the yard with it playing keep away. They were a mess, but I never feared being alone in this house while those three beasts were on the job.
One morning, when he was only four years old, he went out the back door to pee, laid down and would not get back up. We hadn’t a clue what was wrong. He was to become the first of our dogs to have a major issue. I rushed him over to the super folks as Northlake Veterinary Surgery, at that time, they were still Northlake Veterinary Specialists and had an internist on site. Yukon’s ultrasound showed a ruptured splenic mass, and he needed emergency surgery. He was the first of what has become an absolutely horrible trend of ruptured spleens. It is a big dog thing, and we have lost multiple dogs to this now. So, he had surgery, and the biopsy results came back as an “undifferentiated sarcoma”. It was explained to me at the time that this meant the cancer cells were so immature they had not yet turned into a definitive type of cancer, so we had no idea what we were dealing with, how to treat it and he was given 3 months to live.
We spoiled him, he got all the frisbees and soccer balls we could buy, fed him the single most expensive prescription food Hill’s makes called n/d (neoplasia diet), we took hikes, went on our walks (he would carry the frisbees ALL THE WAY back home after we went to the field to play, so precious). And the months and years passed…we really do not know what happened, but we suspect we either got stupid lucky which is not our luck, or the samples got screwed up at the lab. Yukon lived to be about 11 years old with a whole host of other problems that got him. Grant later had a ruptured spleen and due to our success with Yukon we proceeded with Grant’s surgery with hope, but he only survived a few days post op.
Yukon had a chance to get old, not that I am convinced that is all that awesome, but it was better than being ripped away from us at age four! In his senior years he developed Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) an extremely common condition of German Shepard Dogs affecting the spine, this would slowly paralyze him over time. Our wonderful surgeon said to me regarding exercise and taking it easy. “If you were Yukon, wouldn’t you rather go out catching your frisbee versus living sedentary in a bubble?” Ok, ok, that made sense, we continued to play on! We were going to let him go out with a bang and a splash of acupuncture, Chinese tea pills and a whole host of other potions and antioxidants and joint support. You name it, he got it. There is a reason we didn’t go out and do much with our friends during these 20 years, we were busy nursing a home full of broken pets and that is where every dime went too!
But wait, there is more. Yukon developed ASS CANCER! Yep, that’s right, at this point, no holding back and being appropriate. It is a good thing he was such a cooperative patient because the vet visits and at home blood draws for rechecks, wow it was a lot. I will spare you the photos and boy do I have some doozies! I literally biopsied the mass at home, I applied lidocaine to the area, lanced it and squeezed out a whole bunch of delicious gunk (you vet techs out there get me, we like gross things), and sent off the sample. I forget what type of cancer it came back as at this point. It didn’t matter, he was eating and drinking and maintaining his weight, he just couldn’t easily defecate on his own once the masses got so large as they were obstructing his anus. So, guess what I did every night for 9 months? Came home from work, put his back legs in the bathtub, scooped out his poops and flushed them down, washed his tush and put on fresh pants! I swore I would not put him in piddle pants, but you can see from the photos that I could not avoid it. He was still playing with his soccer balls and could still catch a frisbee, how could I euthanize him? He struggled to stand up but once he was up, he was good to go! The Help ‘Em Up harness is a miracle device if there ever was one, it’s comfortable enough that they can stay in it long term, sleep in it and it is easily washable.
In writing this, I have of course reviewed old photos and videos. I have videos of all of the cats gathered around him on his last night, being headbutt by Mammas and Wiccas, a belly flop by Peaches, Hitch laying by his side, but I just don’t have any great pics of him with the cats, they were all friends though. Yukon was an amazing and handsome boy, and we were so lucky he was ours. I admired his resilience and devotion to our family. We miss you Nilius.