Wrinkly dog gets comfortable in her own skin

Fawkes the Shar-Pei dog wearing a tag on her collar
Fawkes was miserable with patchy skin, painful paws and a double dose of eye issues, but today she feels so much better.
By Sarah Thornton

Comfort and relaxation weren’t things that came easy to Fawkes. Her skin was itchy, and her fur was patchy and thin. So it was hard to lie down for any length of time before she had to get up again to scratch and relieve the discomfort. Her claws had gone untrimmed, so her dewclaws grew around into the pads of her paws. Walking was unbearable. Even her eyes caused her problems; they were always dry, and the lids turned inward, irritating them constantly.

[Itchy Dog: Causes and Treatment]

On top of her physical discomfort (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, given all of it), Fawkes was also on edge around people. She didn’t want to be touched, and veterinary handling especially stressed her out. She also guarded her food and reacted quickly with a growl or snap if anyone tried to take it from her.

She’s named after the phoenix in the Harry Potter novels, a mythical bird who symbolizes rebirth and renewal. Fawkes certainly needed a fresh start and a rebirth of sorts. She would need time, patience and a whole lot of medical care just to breathe a sigh of relief. So, from the shelter she was originally brought in to, Fawkes got a ride to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where she would get all the TLC she needed.

Shar-pei on the road to recovery

Getting an initial exam on Fawkes was tricky. She couldn’t walk very far — it took her nearly 20 minutes to walk as many feet — and she was not comfortable loading into a car when she first arrived. So veterinary staff came to her. Caregivers had set up Fawkes in the kitchen of her building, so her skin wouldn’t become more irritated by the desert sand outside. But even in her own space, she couldn’t handle the veterinary attention. And no one wanted to upset her more than she already was.

Instead, since it was already clear she would need surgery for her eyelids and overgrown nails, veterinarians decided to use that time to do a more thorough examination, as well. It turned out there was even more going on with Fawkes than originally thought.

Much of Fawkes’ patchy skin came down to allergies, which could be treated with a special diet, regular baths and monthly allergy injections. But vets also found — and removed — a spot that a biopsy confirmed to be melanoma. She also had corneal ulcers and scarring, and veterinarians were concerned that if she couldn’t handle daily eyedrops, she would need to have both eyes removed. And finally, her floppy ears would need weekly cleaning.

It was still a long road to recovery for Fawkes. But coming out of her surgery with a treatment plan, a prescription for pain meds and her new food was the first big step.

A spoon full of peanut butter

One thing that proved invaluable to caregivers working with Fawkes was her love of food. As long as she didn’t think someone was going to take it from her, she was easily distracted by tasty treats.

For baths, as soon as Fawkes was OK climbing the ramp into the large tub, it was smooth (though slow) sailing. With a frozen treat spread across a licky mat, she spends the whole time lapping up the yummy stuff while Julie Henderson, a local volunteer in charge of her baths, lathers her up with gentle oatmeal shampoo.

“She’s always been great,” Julie says. “I don’t wash her face, and for a while we weren’t doing her chest or front legs because she has problems with her feet. Now, I rinse the shampoo down on her feet, and she will let me touch them a little bit.”

[Behind the scenes at Dogtown: Grooming and bathing dogs]

While the bath is happening, caregiver Jacquie Bushway Speer takes advantage of Fawkes’ focus on her food to handle some of her other medications. When Fawkes tilts her head to the left, Jacquie gets eyedrops in her right eye and cleans out that ear. When she tilts her head to the right, her left eye and ear get the same treatment.

By the time Fawkes is finishing her snack, her eyedrops are done, her ears are clean, and Julie is ready to rinse her. “We’ve got it timed pretty well,” she says. “The amount of time that Fawkes is actually in the bath is under 10 minutes. Then she’s done, and we dry her off as best we can — she said ‘no’ to the dryer.”

On non-bath days, Fawkes’ caregivers use a spoonful of peanut butter to get her to tilt her head back and forth for eyedrops. Not only is it super cute and a good time for Fawkes, but it also helps her bond with the people around her. And it saved her eyes.

“Slowly, slowly, we got her skin under control,” Jacquie says. “Things were working, and we were starting to see changes. Her feet were doing a lot better, too. Then, we started introducing her to some people.”

A big sigh of relief

Fawkes met a couple of local volunteers who fell in love with her wrinkly face and started taking her on extended sleepovers to their home. They worked with her on getting into the car and basic cues like “sit,” as well as built up her stamina on walks. Fawkes was feeling good, and she settled into the home environment with ease.

“They’ve done a lot of work with her,” says Jacquie. “It’s all about being very consistent with her, day after day. Every time they have her in, she makes progress.”

Fawkes has gone from uncomfortably trudging just a few feet on her walks to mile-long hikes, even occasionally picking up the pace to a light trot. She’s getting in and out of the car with no problem, and she enjoys the ride. She’s even learning that a soft scratch on the back from a human friend feels good.

“I know she’s feeling good,” Jacquie says, smiling. “She can sleep; she can relax. She’s not hurting anymore. … She’s Fawkes, and we’ve learned to respect her. We’ll never push it with her; we never want to put her in an uncomfortable position. But with time, she’s made huge progress, and that’s been kind of fun.”

Fawkes has gotten the renewal and fresh start she desperately needed. The only thing that would make her life even sweeter is a home of her own. Until then, she’s thriving at her home-between-homes. And when she’s had a long day of cleaning up after any spilled meals in her Dogtown kitchen — or she’s just feeling a little sleepy — she can snuggle up in her bed and heave a big sigh of relief before drifting off into a restful slumber.

Be a hero to a homeless pet

Open your heart and home to a dog or cat in need. You might just fall in love.

Adopt or foster a pet

Read more

Veterinarian is a senior dog’s prescription for the good life

Sweet lullabies help puppy heal and find a home

Rallying for Fergus