Butterscotch Miller

I really didn’t expect to be writing my third obituary in the last year and a half, but here I am.

Butters passed on his own rather unexpectedly. We knew he was very ill, but he was maintaining at the time. This is a brief essay about his life.

Our groomer rescued a pair of Wire Haired Fox Terriers and was given a surprise litter a few weeks later. I happened to mention how I liked this breed and a couple of months later a puppy was slipped into my office while I was at the desk. That was how I met Butters.

Being in my profession I thought I knew what I had gotten into. In reality, I had no idea. I got my first lesson when I brought him home for the first time. I took him out into the front yard, turned around to check on my other dogs and turned back to find no Butters. The neighbor had opened her front door and he had sprinted through their door, bound up their stairs and stood staring at me through the bannister. He had a look in his eyes that said, “let the adventures begin.” And they did.

Amazingly, he trained readily to the invisible fence and I discovered his intelligence in how rapidly he house trained and behaved in the house. As he approached adulthood, we moved to a new home in a new neighborhood. His yard was spacious with a wooded area on one side and a walking/biking trail passing in front along the longest border of the lot. Another invisible fence was installed, and once trained to it he was given the freedom of the yard. Boy, did he have fun. He felt that the yard was his kingdom and he was was responsible for patrolling it. He developed a little game where he would hide in the tall flowers by the front of the house, wait on a passing person walking a dog, and then sprinted up behind them barking madly in his high pitched tone.

Invariably, they would almost jump out of their skin. This would go on all day. In the winter he’d camp on his favorite chair with a complete view out the front window looking longingly at the trail.  I was quickly able to separate the true dog person in our neighborhood from the novice. The dog person, within weeks, would know Butter’s name and his game and they would remain on the lookout as they passed. Then when he attempted his tactics, they would talk to him, creating confusion which resulted in a little terrier wagging his stubby tail and enjoying the attention. The novice dog people would walk across the street avoiding him. Total lack of adventure.

He also had certain objects that he would chase down the yard, barking at incessantly.  He seemed to be fixated on school busses, large trucks, trucks or cars pulling trailers, and kids on scooters. I think he was like Don Quixote chasing windmills.

In between these adventures, he’d travel with me weekly to work where he’d terrorize whatever kennel tech had to bathe him. He really had most of them buffaloed, but a few figured out he was relatively harmless. Teenaged Sarah (our current practice manager) was the first to figure out his act. His groomer also had him pegged. Amber’s clippers moved so fast that he barely had time to realize what was going on. But he’d still snarl in the bath tub.

Because of his breed, he was a hunter by nature. He’d constantly patrol the yard for cats and run them out. My neighbor’s British Shorthair took great glee in tormenting him. The cat knew the fence boundaries and used them scientifically. Butters also had the uncanny habit of finding the aberrant skunk in the yard, resulting in multiple Dawn dish soap baths in the early morning hours. Now, that’s what I call fun! And of course there was the great possum caper.

Late one night Butters did not come when I called him. I went out and found him, by the woods, proudly dragging a possum. I checked the possum. He had obviously killed it. I took Butters inside and got a shovel to bury the possum and returned to no possum. Boy did I feel stupid.  But Butters didn’t, he just got another bath. So, a couple of summers later while entertaining friends and staff on our back deck, someone screeched that Butters had a dead animal in a dark corner. Blood was spattered on Butters and the deck. Several people checked it out and looked at me and said it was a possum. I didn’t move and said it would be fine.Jaws dropped as they just stared at me.  Sure enough, 10 minutes later the possum was gone!

Did I mention his anxieties?  He was a tail chaser and when he caught his own tail he would bite it. Self mutilation resulted in two surgical procedures to shorten his tail. He took Prozac his whole life with moderate results. This sounds silly, but it is really a terrible affliction. This problem resolved somewhat as he aged.

Despite his semi hyperactive lifestyle he was a great traveller. When he saw a packed suitcase placed in the car he knew he was going on a trip and jumped in the back seat and was asleep before we were out of the neighborhood. He’d snooze for up to 10 hours, occasionally getting up to check out the scenery, and then immediately go back to sleep. On arrival he was a completely different dog. He transformed into a quiet, observant, dog that never barked at anything including passing dogs. I suppose he just thought he was a visitor and had to be on his best behaviour. So, while the other dogs were left with the staff at the New Richmond hospital, Butters travelled with us everywhere. On arrival home, he’d jump out of the back seat and immediately start back into his yard patrols.

Butters lived with Charlie, my Cocker, and Maggie, my Wheaton terrier. Later, Sammy the Goldendoodle everyone loves, was adopted by us. They all lived together well. Charlie was euthanized a couple of years ago due to failed health and that seemed to have little effect on Butters. Then Brody, my son’s family dog, came to  live with us while I treated him for Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). Brody was eventually euthanized and again it seemed to have little effect on Butters. Shortly after losing Brody, all of Maggie's health problems caught up with her. We nursed her for weeks, but eventually she too had to be euthanized. So, we had suffered a lot of family pet loss over the last 3 years. Then within a week I noticed that Butters was not patrolling and his appetite was down. I took him to the office and after a complete workup, we found he was suffering from pancreatitis. This can create severe abdominal pain. X-rays also revealed a gallstone had formed. In dogs gallstones are rarely problematic, so after consulting with a specialist, I chose to not do surgery.  Besides by this time he was a surgical risk.

A few days passed and his appetite still waned and his breathing was getting heavy.  Back to the office for X-rays. Fluid was present in his lungs and now he had cardiac arrhythmias. I started to treat him for heart failure. I also added a second antibiotic. This antibiotic made him nauseous which led to disastrous results. I came home as I was going between offices and found that he had vomited throughout the house and was in severe respiratory distress with severe cardiac arrhythmias. He was turning blue. I rushed him to the New Richmond office and started him on massive amounts of IV diuretics to pull the fluid from his lungs. Within an hour he had significant improvement, so I took him home on injectable meds. Within 24 hours his respirations were normal and the crisis was over. I switched him over to oral heart meds.

So now, I was dealing with chronic pancreatitis and probable cardiomyopathy. Over the next several weeks we struggled with his doses and appetite, but eventually he was eating again.  

Finally, one evening I came home from work and fed the boys. Butters went out and actually did his routine of dog-walker chasing and barking, although a bit more feebly. Then he came in feeling rather proud and layed down to take a nap and never woke up. He simply died in his sleep. As grieved as I was, I also felt a little joy that he finished his life as he had began it, letting the neighborhood dogs know who ruled the roost.

So that was Butter’s life, tormenting neighborhood dogs, striking fear into kennel techs’ hearts, and following grandchildren around because he knew the benefits of their sloppy eating habits. He did love the grandchildren. I don’t know why he suddenly became very ill. I theorize that the loss of his housemates over a short period of time may have caused enough stress to allow these afflictions. If so, he kept the stress hidden. We’ll never know I suppose.

Throughout his life my staff all had this love/hate relationship with him. They’d complain about his attitudes, tail chasing, and cat tormenting. But I knew the love/hate was really all love. When he became ill, I could see the worry in their eyes and the extra time they’d spend with him. They all truly grieved at his loss and months later we still recall Butters’ stories that we shared together. We laugh as we remember and we all really, really miss that small bundle of energy.

We all love and miss you Butterscotch Miller and you will live in our hearts forever.

Dr. Jerry Miller


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