Guest Blogs

Hallie: A journey up the stairs and into 15 minutes of fame

15 Aug 2022 | Written by By Paul Phillips

Black Labrador dog looking directly at the camera with a 'Go-Pro' camera mounted on her collar. She is stood on a paved patio.

As I write this I know I’m being watched. If I get up from my seat I know I will be followed. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

My ‘stalker’ is a Labrador called Hallie and it’s pretty remarkable that she’s here to do any ‘stalking’ at all. 

On December 2nd last year she was diagnosed with a terminal liver condition and her days were literally numbered by a vet. Hallie had been unwell for a couple of days – listless, quite sad and, most worryingly of all, off her food. Donald Trump’s obsession with his hair has nothing on Hallie’s devotion to food, I can assure you. 

I managed to get an emergency appointment with the vet and things moved pretty quickly downhill from there. The vet carried out what’s called a ‘full panel of bloodwork’ alongside scans to find out what was wrong with Hallie. She was anaesthetised for the procedure and I returned home to wait for a phone call from the vet.

Several hours later (it felt like years) I was back at the surgery. The vet had a sheet of paper with Hallie’s test results. The blood tests had identified abnormalities in the four liver enzymes. One of them was so far off the scale that the test had to be dramatically diluted just to get a reading. I heard the vet say ‘a normal level is 80. Hallie’s is 2500.’ I’m still not sure what those figures mean but I suspect they weren’t anything to celebrate.

It was at this point that I started to regret my earlier statement to the vet that I wanted Hallie’s prognosis to be spelt out in very plain terms. 

I was told that she might only have days – perhaps a week or two.  Surgery was not a realistic option as Hallie was nearly 12 and there was no guarantee that it would change much. I was given some liver supplement tablets and a box of painkillers to help make her a little more comfortable.

Hallie’s stomach had been shorn for the scans and I remember thinking that I’d have to wrap her in one of my fleeces for the drive home. It was snowing at the time. 

I made her as comfortable as possible at home. She was still groggy from the anaesthetic; I was just numb from the whole experience. I busied myself by letting the family and close friends know what had happened. It seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.

But…. seven months on and Hallie is still with us. Quite a bit thinner, a little doddery but battling on. Everyone who knows her – including the vet – is quite amazed at her resilience. 

Black Labrador dog sat on sofa with her owner, a man with fair hair in a white t-shirt. Both are looking at the camera.

Hallie has been with me for nearly five years. She belonged to a friend whose circumstances had changed to such an extent that she asked if I would take Hallie on. A few months earlier my golden Lab Tess had died. I’d bred Tess from her mother Tilly so you could say I was used to having a Labrador about. There was a dog-shaped hole in my life and I was more than happy to let Hallie fill it.

By the way, if you think Hallie is an odd name for a dog I’d just like to point out that her registered pedigree name is ‘Dinky Doo.’ I’ll leave that there.

I’d known her since she was a pup and had looked after her on several occasions so it wasn’t a massive step to become her new owner. She settled more or less straight away. 

I live in a small village where nearly everyone knows everyone – and their dogs, of course. Hallie and I were quickly linked together and I just loved having a dog to walk the country lanes again. It’s strange doing that without a dog and, if you believe the posts on the village Facebook page, a little suspicious as well, apparently. 

Hallie has the sort of temperament that draws people to her. I used to take her to the care home where my father was existing (I use the term deliberately) as a form of dementia tightened its cruel grip. Many of the other residents loved seeing her and Hallie just somehow knew who to approach and who to leave alone. She’d put her head in the lap of anyone who wanted to pet her. 

She does have some very odd behaviours though. She’ll become frantic at the sight of umbrellas going up or going down, she’ll bark at the moon or the sun peeking out from behind a cloud. And as for vapour trails in the sky……

She was fit and healthy and only once (before last December) did I have to take her to the vet other than for her annual check-up and jabs. That ‘once’ led to an appearance on PBS News in the US.

Black and white image of a black Labrador sat on wooden decking, looking off to the right of the camera.

A friend of mine – the UK correspondent for PBS News – had been commissioned to do a story about dogs in lockdown. There were lots of strands to the story; the huge increase in people buying dogs, the rising number of thefts as prices rose and the effect on dogs of having their owners with them 24/7 as working from home became the norm for those who could. 

I told my friend about a very odd incident with Hallie. She wasn’t allowed upstairs and she never seemed to be bothered about that. Until, that is, one night when I was woken by her pacing up and down the hallway, scratching the floor and whining. 

I got up to find out what was wrong. I took her out in case she had tummy trouble but it wasn’t that. She just wouldn’t settle, so I spent the rest of the night on the sofa with her. 

The next night exactly the same thing happened and I was worried something could be really wrong. I phoned the vet who thought it would be a sign of early-onset dementia or a problem with Hallie’s eyesight. I arranged to take her to the surgery the next day.

The night before the appointment, desperate for undisturbed sleep, I decided to take Hallie’s bed upstairs and let her lie next to me. Funnily enough, she was fine. She didn’t stir all night. She’s slept there ever since.

I still took her to the vet and told him what had happened the night before. He raised an eyebrow but took her off to be examined anyway. A few minutes later he’d come to a conclusion. Hallie was fine but had ‘suffered’ a bout of ‘madam-itis.’ She’d wanted to be upstairs and this was her way of achieving that.

There is a reasonably serious point here. Dog owners are probably well aware of separation anxiety when they leave their pet alone but according to the vet, lockdown had caused a variation – anxiety about possibly being separated from an owner who is with their dog all the time.

So it was that Hallie appeared on American TV. You can see the film here: http://bitly.ws/svEH

Back to the present and the burning question about how Hallie is still soldiering on. Well, she’s on daily medication and her diet has been changed from any form of dog food to mostly fresh chicken, rice, pasta, eggs and very low-fat sausages which are used to hide her pills.  

My partner and I haven’t been anywhere together since Hallie’s diagnosis. We can’t take her with us and we won’t leave her with anyone in case the inevitable happens. 

It is inevitable, but the timing is anyone’s guess. Hallie can’t tell us and there have been a few times in the past months that we have come close to making THE call to the vet. She always manages to rally somehow.

She’s watching me at the moment. I just wish I could know what she is thinking. 

Are you a pet-lover? What behaviours do you love about your furry friends? Let us know in the comments!

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