Nobody can figure out what's wrong with him.
It started slowly, four years ago, when I noticed that Wolfie had lost some stamina. He still ran flat out, stretching his long legs as far as they would go, covering amazing amounts of ground in a few seconds. But he didn't do it for quite as long as before.
The vet diagnosed anaplasmosis, a tick-borne disease, and treated him with antibiotics, which are normally quite effective. In Wolfie's case, however, they weren't, so we treated him again. Nothing much changed, but he was fine in all other respects--shiny black coat, good appetite, a friend to all.
Time passed and--so gradually that I often wondered if I was imagining it--Wolfie's energy continued to decrease. He was, after all, five years old--not a puppy anymore. Still, he should have been in his prime, so I had him checked again. All tests came back clear but, just in case, the vet prescribed a third course of antibiotics.
Then about a year ago, one day when he had stopped to feast on some deer poop in the field, I called him and as he ran towards me I noticed a slight limp on his right foreleg. The next day, it was gone. I had forgotten all about it when, a week later, the limp came back, and this time it was more pronounced.
In the following weeks I paid close attention to that foreleg, trying to figure out what triggered the limp. Often, he'd be fine at the start of a walk but limping at the end, but other days he would start off limping and improve by the time we got back home. Cold weather, warm weather, shifts in barometric pressure--none of it seemed linked to the limp, which came and went according to its own mysterious rhythms.
One thing was certain: it was getting worse. On the day when I saw Wolfie holding up his big paw and hobbling on three legs, I rushed him to the vet. She noticed considerable muscle loss on his right side, and I made an appointment to have him sedated and x-rayed. While he was under, the vet also drew blood for more tests.
The good news was that his skeleton was in perfect order for a seven-year-old dog, and his blood tests showed no indication of disease. The bad news: we still had no explanation for the limp. The vet consulted various specialists, who were as baffled as she and could only recommend cat-scans and sonograms as the next step. She put him on a drug for nerve pain, and when he showed no improvement, on an anti-inflammatory. Nothing changed, except that the limp got worse.
Now, on good days he puts weight on all four legs, though with a noticeable limp. And by the end of the walk he's lagging behind--a new experience for me (all my dogs, without exception, have been forgers). On bad days he hops pathetically on three legs, coming down heavily on his good side--thump, thump, thump--so that it hurts to watch him and I take him home after a few minutes and make him lie down and, just to make myself feel better, give him a massage.
Our walks have not only grown shorter, but I've also relaxed all my obedience-school notions about not allowing the dog to sniff, etc. Now, as we amble out of the cottage, I indicate the general direction for the day--into the woods and towards the open field, or towards the beehives, or on the paved road--and then give Wolfie free rein, so to speak, to stop and sniff and mark (without lifting his leg, which he can't do these days) to his heart's content, and then go on until a new smell catches his attention.
He's still big and black and shiny-coated. If you come to the house he will hop over to you and greet you like a long-lost friend and lash you with his wagging tail. He still hasn't given up hopes, despite their mutual neutered status, of having children with Bisou.
We've had to find a new vet since our move, and we're going to him for a second opinion next week. I'm hoping that, when I report back to you, I'll have a different story to tell.