Our 2020 Tragedy

As 2020 comes to a close, I am looking back on a year that I don’t think any of us saw coming. If you know me well, you know I’m a planner. I like to have at least a framework plan of how things will go; deviations from the plan aren’t my favorite. This year has taught me just how little control I actually have over my life, but that it’s okay because what really matters is the who, not the how. In that spirit of appreciation, I am going to share our biggest tragedy of 2020 to date (not a challenge, universe!!!).

If you have burning questions, please feel free to email me at nat@livestockguardians.net as I’ll be turning the comments off on this post.







We lost Duke this year.

It was very stressful, and I just haven’t been ready to talk about it until now.

Here’s the quick version of events that led to Duke leaving:
1. Wade and Duke got into a disagreement over who should be the lead dog.
2. A week or so later, Duke developed a seroma the size of a large honeydew melon on his right shoulder.
3. Duke was treated by our vet, had a drain put in (twice), Clindamycin antibiotic, cleaning and rotating the drain BID x 3 weeks.
4. Duke started coughing while in the house to keep the drain clean. He was stressed being inside* and went off food around half-way through his confinement. Duke lost 10% of his bodyweight in a week and a half.
5. Upon removal of the drain, I requested a chest x-ray just to make sure his lungs were clear.
6. They were not clear. They have cloudy spots that resembled snowflakes (a common sign of cancer growth).
7. I cried, a lot. My vet said “let’s give him a week without the antibiotics and recheck.” So we did.
8. Oddly enough, after being off of the Clindamycin for a week, the white snowflakes on the chest x-ray looked significantly reduced.
9. We started Duke on some prednisone and re-checked in ten days.
10. Hallelujah! The x-ray was CLEAR after the steroids. Everything we could see looked normal.
11. I weaned him off the prednisone, and all was right in the world. Duke was regrowing his hair on his shoulder and happy to be outside.
12. Two months later, the cough returned. I started the prednisone back up and made an appointment with the vet (it was a week out).
13. As we walked into the exam room a week later, Duke dropped to the ground, appeared to have a seizure. I called for the vet, told Duke everything was going to be okay, and he was immediately taken to the back of the clinic. They worked on him, gave pain meds, oxygen, etc. But Duke didn’t come back to me.
14. My Vet came back into the exam room with “Bad and worse news.” “We’ve stopped breathing, and his pleural cavity appears to be filled with blood.” That means he bled out internally- it wasn’t a seizure.
15. I asked for a complete necropsy to track down where the cancer came from, since primary lung cancer is so rare in dogs (it’s usually another type of cancer that metastasized, like from the bone or other vital organs).
16. I picked Duke up in a black bag later that day and we buried him in his favorite spot on the property.
17. Then we waited 3 weeks for the necropsy labs to be told “No cancerous cells were identified.” WHAT?
18. Another 2 weeks, the lab returned “Plant material in masses from the lung tissue.” DOUBLE WHAT?
19. So in the end, Duke didn’t have cancer. He had grass seeds in his lungs that had been slowly encased with scar tissue. Like a bunch of fibrous pearls in his lungs.

Grass seed inhalation is not necessarily rare, it was my vet’s initial differential diagnosis to cancer in the first x-ray. However, it’s certainly not common with the types of grasses on my property. Turns out, these were cheat grass seeds Duke must have inhaled in the first 20 months of his life before he came to live with me.

This is good news genetically-speaking, since inhaling grass seed is not a heritable trait that could affect any of Duke’s offspring. However, the outcome is tragic for Duke and for our family. We still miss him every day, and even though he was “just a dog” he was OUR dog. We remember him in his glory days before he fell sick, as an impressive beast and worthy opponent to any threat dumb enough to challenge his territory or wards.

*Duke was uncomfortable and stressed being in the house because he was not raised with any training to prepare him for an injury or illness as a puppy. This is why we are ADAMANT about how we raise our pups in the short time they are here, and encourage our clients to keep up the socialization and training at home. Working dogs CAN be comfortable in other environments- that’s our job as their humans to encourage and prepare them for, even if the need never arises.

So what does this mean going forward?


It means that we will not have any more Duke pups. I didn’t have the presence of mind to have Duke collected before he fell ill. His line will continue in Wade, but at this time we don’t have a female to breed him to. This leaves the Sarplaninac program here in a bit of a frozen animation state. When we are able to locate a Sarplaninac female of substance and temperament we want, we will move forward once again. Wade is fully health tested (PennHIP, OFA Elbow/Cardiac/Patella, DNA clear for DM) and passed with flying colors, now we need the same in a female. We will wait for the right girl.