Duncan had been doing really well since we’d changed his meds after he went into status in February. Wednesday, March 6, would have been 21 days seizure free. That morning started like any other. We played outside before breakfast. Duncan and Kodiak had a game of chase, and then while Kodiak was harassing Reyna, Duncan stole her basketball. After breakfast, we had a bit of a cuddle on the couch and I headed off to work. There was no indication of how the day was going to end.
When I got home, I didn’t pay attention to who was (or wasn’t) in the kitchen window barking and howling hello. As I came up the front steps, I heard Kodiak give three of his seizure-alert barks. I still don’t know how he understood to do that, but I’ll always be grateful for that little bit of warning. As I looked through the door window, I could see Duncan on his bed. I could only see his back legs, but it was obvious that he wasn’t in the middle of a seizure. From that distance, I couldn’t see if he was breathing, but I knew something was wrong. I got inside the house and before I put my bag down I knew he was gone. I did have a faint hope that maybe he had just seized and there was still something I could do for him, but when I touched him it was obvious he’d been gone for several hours.
John came over to help me take care of Duncan. We did a plaster-of-paris paw print and put Duncan in my truck (thankfully, it was cold night) for transport the next morning. I took Duncan to the vet school early Thursday. They did a full necropsy and will hopefully be able to tell me what killed my boy. We’re working on the assumption that he had one last seizure, but the physical evidence doesn’t really indicate a standard grand mal. I just don’t understand how he could survive 80 minutes of seizing three weeks prior and then die so suddenly. The neurologist said it’s extremely rare for a dog to die from a single seizure like that, but unless there’s some internal physical indication, we may never know what really happened. It’s entirely possible that his enormous heart just gave out. If nothing else, I hope the vet school can learn something from Duncan’s necropsy that may let them help another dog in the future.
Reyna and Kodiak have been quieter than usual the last few days, but I hope that witnessing Duncan’s passing and spending time with him before I got home gives them some doggy understanding that helps them deal with the loss.
Duncan was an absolutely wonderful dog. When he first joined our family, I really wasn’t planning to do much with him beyond basic obedience (he was such a good puppy I even forgot to take him to class for several months) – after all, I got him to keep Reyna busy, and I still say he’s the best toy I ever bought her.
As time passed, though, I realized Duncan had more smarts than he’d been letting on. He went from general obedience classes to doing musical freestyle, sheep herding, rally, tricks and agility. He was even entered in a draft test scheduled for next weekend. Duncan was never the fastest dog or the most graceful, but he was willing to try anything I asked of him. One thing he never could figure out, though, was how to find “hidden” treats. I swear, I could toss a handful of hotdog pieces on the ground in front of him, he’d eat maybe two or three, and then he’d look at me as if to ask, “Where are the rest of them?” Such a gooberhead.
Duncan was the dog you could take anywhere. He had the sweetest temperament you could want, which was a good thing in a 120lb German shepherd. His appearance could be intimidating, but pretty much everyone who met him loved him. It usually took him a bit to warm up to new people, but once you were a friend, you were a friend for life. He traveled wonderfully once he decided that pottying in strange places really was okay. He was very much a Mama’s Boy and did not like being left alone, but he would wait quietly if necessary. I remember taking him for a walk with Brian and Marie and asking Marie to hold him while I used the restroom. When I came out, he was sitting exactly where I’d left him, staring towards the building. Marie said people had asked if they could pet him, but when they tried, he would just shift his position to keep watch on where I’d gone.
Reyna has never been a cuddler, but Duncan more than made up for that. As a pup, he always wanted to be in my lap. It wasn’t too long before he got so big that I couldn’t breathe when he sat in my lap, so we compromised – he could put his head and front legs in my lap, but everything else had to be beside me. We spent many evenings curled up on the couch, Duncan’s head resting in my lap while he snoozed. He would often wake up, give me a kiss, and doze off again.
Duncan was a genuinely happy dog and easily the best kisser around. He might forget to walk calmly on the leash at times, but that was because he was so eager to see everything (and occasionally to get to the truck and go home). He loved to talk and sing. He could be trusted off leash anywhere. He had no interest in running off, but he did love to explore. I always laughed when we were out at Dad’s, because Reyna would position herself where she could see me but Duncan always had to check things out. He would go inspect something of interest and then come back and make sure Reyna and I were where he’d left us.
When it came to guard dog work, Duncan took a laid-back approach. He generally let Reyna handle it, but he was always willing to provide back-up. One of my neighbors commented that because Duncan barked so rarely, when he did bark they paid attention. If Reyna wasn’t around, though, Duncan easily took over guard duty. On walks, Duncan would put himself between me and the stranger, but he never showed any signs of aggression (or of even being concerned). His size and color was certainly enough of a deterrent for anyone who might be thinking bad thoughts. The only time I ever saw any aggression from him was when a strange dog had the nerve to put her paws on me. We were at John’s and we were talking with his neighbor. John had just finished saying how good natured Duncan was when the neighbor’s dog, Cheyenne, jumped up on me. That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen Duncan move. He lit into Cheyenne for all he was worth – although he didn’t hurt her - and she certainly didn’t try to jump on me again.
Duncan got along with just about every dog he met (except maybe Cheyenne) and he was even good with little dogs, but he absolutely loved Reyna. She could do anything she wanted to him and he’d take it with a smile. They would wrestle and roughhouse and sound like they were mauling each other, but they were the best of friends. Reyna and Duncan would often rest near each other, even with other options available, and they were always thrilled to see the other come home. When Kodiak joined us, the pack dynamic changed a bit but nothing could change the friendship between Duncan and Reyna.
Kodiak was a rambunctious little pup and Duncan was very tolerant of his bad behavior. As Kodiak got older, he started randomly snarking at Duncan. It was always obvious that Duncan could have put Kodiak down in a heartbeat if he’d wanted to, but he would just turn his head or put me between them and wait for Kodiak to get a grip. The boys absolutely loved to play a game of chase. They would chase each other around the yard at full speed. Poor Duncan, Kodiak was so much faster that he could run laps around Duncan. That never stopped Duncan from enjoying the game, though. At times, Duncan would actually start planning his route – he would watch Kodiak run the circles and instead of following directly he would go straight across the yard to cut off Kodiak’s path. The boys also loved to sing together. I need to go through my video clips and see if there’s a second album by Big D and Lil’ K that can be released posthumously.
VALOR agility was a wonderful thing for Duncan. Interestingly enough, I looked into it because I thought it might be good for Kodiak. I wanted to check it out before starting with Kodiak, so I took Duncan for some lessons. Turns out he was a natural at the jumpers courses. Jumps and tunnels were his thing.
Duncan's face as a puppy was so dark it was sometimes hard to see his eyes. His face eventually lightened up, and a lot of the black became a brown mask around his eyes.
This is one of my all-time favorite photos of Reyna and Duncan, taken in the woods behind my house.
This was taken at the SPCA dog walk several years ago. I saw it happening and could only hope the photographer managed to catch it. I love that Duncan actually looks offended.
When Duncan was a young pup, one of his favorite activities was pushing the ottoman around the living room. I don't remember when he outgrew that, but its probably just as well, since it would have really freaked out Kodiak.
Duncan was so tolerant of Kodiak taking up space on his bed. Even after he started snarking at Duncan, Kodiak still loved to share bed space.
This was a common sight on walks. No matter where we went or what interesting things might be found, Duncan and Reyna were most often side-by-side.
Duncan was perfectly happy pulling a cart. As big as he was, he barely even noticed these light-weight training carts.
After the status episode in February, Kodiak became particularly sweet towards Duncan. He would often give Duncan a few sniffs and licks.
Isn't this a great photo? We were doing a musical freestyle demo for the local GSD club and I was thrilled to discover the photographer caught this. We've got focus, we've got matching steps, and we have an awesome red bow tie!
This was the last photo ever taken of Duncan. We were at the draft workshop in Virginia, prepping for the upcoming draft test. Duncan blissfully ignored me during the basic obedience portion, but his focus returned once he was hitched to the cart. It was so cold that I swear Duncan's ears were shivering. He happily moaned his abuse to anyone he thought might listen.
There’s no doubt that Duncan had a great life; he packed a lot into the seven and a half years he was with us and he will be remembered by a lot of people. It’s grossly unfair that this horrible disease took him so soon, but I know he is healthy again. He brought joy and happiness into my life, introduced me to activities and people I might not otherwise know, and expressed his love every day. No matter what was happening, I could count on kisses from Duncan. His passing has left a huge hole that will not easily be filled.
Duncan, my sweet boy, you will be forever loved and missed.