A blog about my life with dogs.......

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Let it snow!

Enjoying the fresh snow in the yard

     The recent snowfall has been much appreciated around here. It's not even spring yet, and I'm sick of mud. Mud has its place. In the garden I often find a good laugh in it, but all over my yard, the dog park, the dogs paws.....It gets old fast. So long as my dogs have fur, and I've got boots and a warm coat I say the snow can stay(until actual spring).
Snow day in the yard. Woof!

     Speaking of gardens, the green house is officially open. I've planted a few edible greens, and some experiments. Flowers mostly. Tomorrow I will plant more, and every week until the green house is full and too hot to hang out in. Each morning Comet, Bugsy and I drive to the farm to water the green house, check the progress of the plants and go for a walk around the farm. We walk through the grassy field where Harry is buried. We walk though an empty barn and the boys sniff hale bales where mice have likely been snuggling. We walk near the edge of the horse pasture and the boys get a whiff of the manure they wish they were rolling in. We cut through an old cattle lot that is now used for storage and found a dead raccoon. The dogs were thrilled! Luckily, they were both leashed so, as with the horse poo, I was able to keep them from rolling in it. I would love to let them run free, but as Comet has gotten older his wander lust has only increased. Bugsy, who has very good recall, and generally wants to be around me more then anything, has a difficult time with recall on the farm. He yearns to herd the livestock, and he will fence run with the neighbor dogs until I come and snatch him up. It's a terrible sight, him running the fence over and over again, drool dripping, mouth open panting wildly because, by the time I get there to stop him, he has run so fast and furiously that he looks as though he might collapse. The two dogs inside the fence take turns running it, and Bugsy still wins the race from side to side each time.
               I keep them on leash. If they are being well behaved I use the 15ft retractable leashes.

Comet running in the yard.
Ruff play in the yard
Oh geez. I love that ridiculous face.
 I've been running into lots of people asking questions about raw feeding lately. Also, talking to people who are having troubles with the kibble diets they are currently feeding. If you are thinking about feeding raw, I encourage you to take the leap! Remember, the reading list at the bottom of the page has some useful recommendations. My Pet Carnivore also has a good list of information sources on their website. Here's a few shots of what the pet crew has been eating this month.

Salmon dinner for Bugsy, Comet, Quimby and Purr-C.

 The meat scissors in the photo to the right are a great tool.They come in especially useful for the meals I make for Purr-C cat who refuses to gnaw on large chunks. 

 After a week of salmon, with an occasional veggie meal thrown in, I have now begun to feed lamb.
In the snow, Comet working on a chunk of lamb.
2 smoked beef rib bones. Not raw, but they dogs love them as a special treat.

A royal dog whose theft was punishable by death-

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another day

The house seems so quiet. 

     It's been a long time since I've lived with just two cats and two dogs. The house seems so quiet and everyone's needs are met with time to spare. Last night I broke my pizza crust into 3 pieces, to then look down at only 2 dogs drooling over my 3 crusts. Harry is gone and it hurts me that we will never walk together again. While my hurt is still alive it is dulled by an acceptance that washes over me more each day. I have a feeling that all is right. Harry suffers no more and a tension that was weighing me down has been taken away. Harry, his memory, lives on and is cherished. Each time I have lost a dog, upon the day or days immediately following I have felt a weary, sorrowful pain that draws this thought to my mind......."This is to much, I want not to feel this sorrow again, no more dogs will come into this house. No more dogs." Then, as time marches on, this feeling becomes so clearly ludicrous. Now my heart swells to know that Harry has left an open spot for some new homeless wanderer to come in, someday, to warm my heart and warm the spot left empty on the couch.
Marilda, trying to get Bugsy to play with her.
       Matilda is still coming over to play. Craig has become a much appreciated dog sitter during my overnight shifts and Matilda stays over with him and the boys. When I come home from work in the morning she is here and we can cuddle and nap and play and play some more. Matilda's potty training is coming along well and she is making leaps and strides with the boys. Bugsy has played with her on 2 occasions now! Comet, is still very patient and playful with her. Matilda, is growing in confidence and has moved from the outer circle, where she would bark at the boys while they play, to dashing in and out and sometimes outright jumping into the middle of the teeth wrestling between Comet and Bugsy. Clearly, her confidence is growing.

Here is some pictures of the 3 of them playing together.

After a rousing bit of play all 3 relax in close proximity of each other. This shows me that they are bonding. Bugsy could have easily gotten up and walked away, but instead laid near Matilda. Maybe, just maybe she's becoming a friend of his after all.    

Friday, February 10, 2012

The end of a good life

     Yesterday morning I called the vet. I requested that Harry be put to sleep due to his discomfort level, trouble breathing, and the knowledge that we could not beat cancer. I asked the vet to come to my home. When the phone rang this morning, it was the front desk of the vet clinic calling to say the vet was one his way and would arrive in 10 minutes. My heart pounded against the walls of my chest. My eyes welled up. I let Comet and Bugsy outside, then put them in the garage.

     Harry and I have been hanging out all morning. We were inseparable since I made the decision, even before I called the clinic. Heck, we've been inseparable since the start. I sat for hours with Harry on the couch for the second morning in a row, his head on my lap my hand very gently stroking his ears, his belly, his back. Every now and again I would say out loud "remember when......" and starting tearing up, sobbing. No human could understand my whimpering. Could Harry?

He had a beef femur with Comet and Bugsy last night and then he laid in bed with me as he had so many nights before. I woke up in the morning and massaged his sore legs before encouraging us both out of bed. I fed him cheddar and hot dogs with his butternut squash and beef for breakfast. We had a short walk late morning when the sun had warmed things up a little bit. Harry is happy, I'm sure, that he doesn't have to tolerate the cold that is coming in this evening. I had laid out towels, and an old blanket on the couch and like I said we just stayed there, I sat, he laid down. Once we snuggled in that was it, neither of us was going anywhere. When the call came, like I said,  I hustled the boys to the garage. I had the cats already confined to the office. I didn't want any trouble. I just wanted to sit with my dog, tell him he was a good boy and let him go .

     I sat with him until the truck pulled in. When I got up to answer the door Harry didn't move an inch. Harry did not get up to see who was at the door, give them a sniff, a bark or a tail wag. After 24 hours of happy Harry the thought had crossed my mind , is it too soon? Is this a mistake? Am I really sure? I always came to the same answer. Better not to wait until the pain and suffering is too great. Enough is enough. In my learning of death and dieing I have come to know that the dieing have sudden bursts of energy in which they may get up and do things they haven't been able to do in some time. They may surprise people, and then disappoint them when they are not in fact better, then they return to the suffering they were in the day before. I consider it a blessing that his last 48 hours were lived in minimal pain, and no stress. It gives me comfort to know that his last moments with us were as joyful and peaceful as I could make them for him. The vet said "owwwwwhhh" upon seeing Harry, who still did not get up despite this man in his living room. Harry not getting up was also a gift to me, reminding me that this decision was the right choice for both of us.

      I held him next to me, both of us on our couch as the vet administered the lethal injection. He went peacefully without a whimper and settled his head onto my lap for one last time. I dropped tears as the vet checked his heart rate, then confirmed he was gone. I asked him if he minded please showing himself out.

     After saying another goodbye I let the boys, now just Comet and Bugsy, back in. They sniffed Harry's lifeless body. I could see no clear understanding, no empathy, no sadness, no sign that they understood what had changed. Still, I am glad I gave them this chance to see that he was gone. To sniff that he was gone. I wont speculate on what they think. In the last month this house has had several losses. Craig and Matilda may come and visit once or twice, but Harry will not be back. I needed to try to give them this piece of information.

     I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him to the car. He had lost so much weight he wasn't nearly as difficult to carry as I had imagined. My mother greeted me at the farm house and we drove out behind the barn where so many loved animals have been buried. Harry loved the farm. We buried him in the grassy field where he used to run.
     I have a memory of Harry and I, one of those pure joy moments between a person and dog. It must have been September and the two of us hadn't yet been together very long. We still lived in Minneapolis. The two of us explored the neighborhood in a way new to me, in the way a person and a dog explores together. Wondering around. Finding dead squirrels. Sniffing smelly garbage. We looked for new ways to walk to the near by park. It wasn't a "nice" neighborhood per-say and sometimes we crossed paths with shady characters. But I was never afraid because I had MY DOG with me.

     We come close to the park at sunset and the sidewalk ends near a hill that slopes down into the park. That hill and the grassy open area below it are awash with dandelion puffs. "Lets go!" I cry and the two of us run in a zig zag pattern down the hill kicking up as many puffs as we can in the process. We run circles in them when we reach the bottom and when we are out of breath, or when I am, I pet his head tell him "Good boy! Com'on buddy, lets go." and we keep on walking, down the path and through the park; stopping for Harry to pee on all the trees that come across our path. Harry is happy. I am happy. We are a perfect pair.

     For those of you who read regularly, you know that Harry's full name is Aquarius. On his adoption papers it says "Aquarius, Harry for short". I mostly called him Harry, sometimes I called him Buddy, but occasionally I would call him Aquarius and it always made me get this song in my head.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Beside myself. Beside Harry.

I am beside myself. Right at this moment Matilda, who is here visiting, and Harry are cuddling again(as shown in this picture) on his new Crypton dog bed. But instead of hearing Matilda snoring, I am hearing Harry struggling to breathe. Before it was panting, something the vet told me to expect, but now it is just struggling. Earlier in the day it was panting, but as the day goes on the problem increases. I have worked 40 hours in the past 2 and a half days, and have had my mother and Craig looking over the dogs for me as I care for my clients at work, one of whom is dieing and is herself struggling to breathe. I just tried to call the vet, who I guess closes early on Wednesdays. In this moment, this thing I was so optimistic to battle against just a few days ago seems like it has already won. Will this labored breathing pass in a few minutes and my sudden urge to call the vet and end his pain subside? Has Harry been suffering all this time I have been away at work and I didn't know? Should I pay the fees to have the vet take my call as an emergency??

I decided to lay on the floor next to him for a while and massage his sore legs.

The phone rings, a visitor arrives, a game of fetch breaks out in the basement. Little Matilda trying to steal the ball from the mouths of the big dogs and Harry's labored breathing has stopped, his panting comes off and on but the worst of the day has past for now. I am relieved and emotionally exhausted. Advocating for one who can't communicate their desires, speaking and acting on the best interest of another, it is a daunting task.

Harry ate well this evening, but after dinner he began to limp. So I'm laying out all the cold hard facts. Here I have an old dog who is a little hard of hearing, has some sight loss and cataracts, arthritis, mobility issues including limping and stiffness, excessive weight loss, terminal cancerous tumors, as well as panting and wheezing fits that come and go (the later of which is difficult for me to bear). Harry has brief moments of happiness, most notably when his favorite people show up, meal time and when he gets pizza crusts as a snack. Now only sometimes does he really seem to enjoy his walks.
Wow it seems like this all came on so fast.

So, I'm going to spoil him rotten, snuggle close with him at night and lay next to him on the floor now and then. I'm going to feed him his favorites, make doubly sure the other dogs don't bump into him and take him for a last visit to the farm. I'm going to call the vet and see if they make home visits. I know I will cry, I'm not going to try to pretend I'm a tough-guy even in the public land of blogs. I'm going to cross my fingers, my heart and wish on a star that Harry might go peacefully in his sleep this night or the next. I'm going to admit to myself, and to you blog readers, that I can't read enough books, have enough special diet plans or daily routines and regimens to save an old dog from terminal cancer. I'm going to do whats tough for me and easier on Harry because a slow death is peace for no one, least of all the dieing. 

Here's a photo I took this week of Harry enjoying a jar of peanut butter. This is an occasional treat at my house. Any time I finish a jar of peanut butter I put it in the freezer, then when I have enough for each dog to have one they get a jar to lick clean. They love it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cheer Up Buttercup....

On the home front......
     It's muddy as Iowa in April around here. But this is Iowa in February. Humbug. Bugsy and Comet have settled into a new routine with me and have stopped looking for Craig's car to come driving in at its usual times. My overnight shifts(I work 2pm to 9am shifts at least once or more a week, getting paid to sleep makes it worth my while) at work have me looking at my options,.....keep my mom on dog sitting duty? Or pay somebody to come to the house? Bugsy and Comet can settle in to being left overnight without me pretty easily so long as someone comes once at night to let them out and I head home first thing in the morning. Harry is another story, he needs to be let out to pee often and his panting and odd breathing last night had me tense with worry. Will we really battle this longer than the vet anticipated as I blogged hopefully yesterday? Or will we give in sooner than later to ensure he is not in pain? To ensure that he is not suffering....  I am watching him vigilantly, searching for answers in his face and body language. Today when I wanted to groom him the first gentle touch of my hand made him wince, reminding me of his delicacy.  Then later he wanted to keep on walking on our walk longer than anticipated, and kept on when I stopped. He looked back at me like "What, you want to stop now? This is just getting good!". At meal times he acts like a young dog again, if only for a few moments, doing little old man jumps as I walk to pick up his bowl from the counter and set it down to him. I'm doing my best to look at the positives. I have the power to keep him from being in long term pain. I have the knowledge that his body is fighting a disease that is devastating. I have the power to research holistic methods to help is body fight this, and to help his body be comfortable and pain free. I have the ability to take him out of pain and suffering if I must. I have the priveledge of knowing that I am doing all I can. I have had the luxury of spending years with a dog I love, who has taught me many lessons about dogs and about life. I am so lucky he has been with me on this journey, he has done a great job being not just my dog, my travel companion and my teacher, but being my very first dog that was all my own. Good boy, Harry. Good boy.

 Okay, so lets try to think positive, happy thoughts.....

A few of my favorite things.....
This buff is a dog walking must. I love love love it. It is cozy and cute and keeps my neck warm on long cold dog walks, it also can cover my head if I forgot my hat, or go under my hat for an extra layer if the wind is blowing.
Crypton Dog beds! I bought one for Harry so he could stay comfy without having to jump on the furniture, then I bought another one, and I'm gonna buy another one. I can tell the dogs love them because they are often choosing the beds over the furniture! Plus they look great and are easy to clean.
The suitcase bed, you saw it in the first pictures of Matilda is such a great craft idea. Didn't she look super cute in it?
Whole whiting fish from MPC. They are so easy to feed!

This video is great. If this doesn't make you smile nothing will! 

     I'm still missing Matilda. I heard today she is on day 3 of no accidents in her new house! Good girl! Go 'Tilda! Bugsy, doesn't miss her at all. With time, he might have come around to her, but when she came near to him he walked the other way(yes literally). When she tried to tug on a toy he had in his mouth, play bowed and tried to get him to play with her, Bugsy dropped the toy and ignored her completely. If Matilda bumped into him, climbed on him, or just annoyed him too much he would make this evil snarling face at her that said "You better get away from me!" and she would. So, I'm sure Bugsy is pleased with her absence. Like I said, I still miss her. But I'm consoling myself with the wonderful care I am taking of the pets I do have......and maybe doing a little dreaming of the puppy I will have someday......What might it be?
 A Corgi???? Border Collie? or maybe a Newfoundland?
An English Shepard? Wire haired terrier? or how about a Jack Russel?
Cairn Terriers are so cute! Brussels Griffins are to die for with those little mustache faces!
Or try a Boston Terrier again?
A pure bred Great Pyrenees! Maybe another Aussie!
A handsome Tibetan Mastiff! A Bernese Mountain dog! A cattle dog!??!?!!!?!?!
Oh! What about a good ole one of a kind mutt?!?!?! 
Oh the possibilities.

For now I will love every moment with the pets I have and feel humbled by the knowledge that their time with us is so small but their impact on us so very large.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I miss Ms. Matilda Marie.        


Matilda sniffs Quimby cat
 The funny thing about the first picture of Matilda and Quimby is that be she appears to be sniffing Quimby's face. I was oblivious to the infection but clearly Ms. Matilda knew that Quimby was not alright. She is sniffing the exact spot where Quimby later had an abscess rupture and purge foul smelling puss, requiring a trip to the vet and a regime of antibiotics. Had I taken note of Quimby's face at the time this picture was taken, I may have been able to stop the infection before it got out of control and required a costly trip to the vet.

Cute as buttons!

'Tilda working on a lamb breast bone

And then there was three.......

Comet enjoying the brand new sheets I put on my bed.

     It's been too long since the last post to tell you all that has happened here at our little homestead. There have been a lot of changes and I wish I could say they were happy and exciting. Earthquakes have shaken his life and Craig has left the house, with him he took Matilda. I would have put up a fight over her, as much as that little wiggle worm farted and as loud as she snored, I love her. I put a whole lot of research into finding her, and preparations into bringing her into our home, and training with her while she was here. It just isn't fair, but I think, it is right. What makes it right? The very sad news that Harry has cancer. (also unfair!) So, faced with the difficult decision whether to claim Matilda as my very own and be solo responsible for proper care, veterinary and otherwise of 4 dogs including one with a terminal illness......I just had to let her go. Craig wanted her, and maybe needed her. I wanted her too. In the end, faced with the choice of keeping her to myself or letting her go, I made the painful decision that if indeed he was as committed to her as I would be the only sensible thing was to let her go so I can focus on caring for Harry. Craig calls me regularly with updates and it sounds like she is enjoying a huge yard that no other dog has pooped on in years. (Fresh Grass! Wahoo!) Sigh. It all happened so fast, I wonder if she will come back to us,.... the world works in mysterious ways. Who knows what the cards have in store. 

    Harry is doing very well today. Only a few days ago we were at the vet where I described the many symptoms I have witnessed in the last 2 months. Coughing fits, weakness, not wanting to move off the couch even to go outside and pee, his teeth (which looked horrible when I adopted him, his mouth was full of life long damage) and mouth seemed off to me somehow like he was preparing to lose teeth, then he fell while walking on flat land,..... also I thought I felt  lumps on his throat. I kept asking people if they could feel it, "that's normal" more than 1 dog owner responded or "don't they all feel like that?". I just didn't think Harry's neck had felt like that before. Then when I tugged on his collar one day trying to get him outside he had a coughing fit. The vet said that he was surprised I had noticed the growths because they are still small, but small as they are they were more places than I had realized. He has small growths on his throat, shoulders and thighs. He had also lost weight since his last visit even though his activity level had decreased and his food amount stayed the same. The vet said frankly "looks like Lymphoma".

     I thought I was prepared for this. Lumps mean cancer, right? The thought had crossed my mind. His quality of life had taken a down turn and before I was even setting the vet appointment I was building plans in my head for how I can best handle this situation,.....How can I best advocate for my best friend?.....How can I keep him from suffering?
     I decided to keep a pain and happiness journal. Everyday keeping track of if Harry seems content or uncomfortable, is he moving around or does he have to be coaxed or even carried? Is he eating well? Does he seem happy? Grumpy? This was the plan in my head when I walked into the vet, but I was hoping they would say, "Looks like an infection , here is an antibiotic." Done and done. No such luck. They did not recommend a biopsy or chemo and I didn't argue.

     I had also decided that Harry has had a good life, and a life that was suitably long and maybe even longer that I know. Having been adopted at the guesstimated age of 7 years, what if he is really 16? I chose before I heard the diagnosis that a major treatment program for a disease he may be diagnosed with is out of the question. My priority is keeping him happy and comfortable and not to extend his life if it is lacking in quality. This has been a difficult decision, but was made easier by the fact that I have been watching the suffering of a dieing person in my life for months now, I have watched her quality of life slip down to nothing, and seen her gasp for breath, struggle and cry out in pain. These experiences however difficult have helped me to become steadfast in this difficult decision to accept Harry's fate rather that fight against it with chemical treatments. I expressed my desires to the vet who has recommended antibiotic and prednisone to reduce swelling and a cortizone and antibiotic shot which he said could help him "feel like a puppy again".

     I would not say Harry feels like a puppy again(-Oh, what was he like as a puppy? Where did he live? Did he have a family who loved him and he was lost from them later in life? Was he outdoors in the difficult Minnesota winters? Did he sleep on the foot of someones bed? Did he ever chew up shoes? Did he ever like chew toys? When he was young did he jump up on people?-) But I would say he is having more happy and spry moments. After a long pee on a tree today he ran up to me with his tail held high and confident, his mouth open, happy and relaxed. It made me tear up.

Now that we know the end is near some things have changed. 
(the vet said 4 days-4 months, with luck and healthy habits we will beat that)

*No more walking ditches or slopes for PT - Continuing walks as usual, just no extra things that may make him fall

*No more watching his weight, a few extra treats and a bowl that's a little extra full is just fine now that we have no worries about him carrying extra weight long term on arthritic legs.

*I make sure to keep a water bowl and doggy bed in every room so he has easy access to drinking water and a comfy spot to rest. This disease and the medicine are likely to make him very thirsty.

*With Craig gone, there is plenty of room in the bed for snuggling so he can feel free to hop in bed with me more often :) 

*No more collar -he really has no opportunity to wander off so I don't think we need it and I don't want it rubbing on his tumors/growths/swelling and making him uncomfortable.

     Also, I am paying ever more close attention to his diet, with portions ,as I said, I will allow some luxury, but content is ever more important. As fate would have it, I had ordered to arrive the day of the vet appointment "The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care" which has a very useful chapter on cancer and lots of suggestions for additions of foods and herbs to assist with healing and comfort.  Other books I am reading this week are Speaking for Spot and Your Dogs Best Health by Doctor Nancy Kay. Once I've finished reading them if I am convinced you ought to read them too (and I bet I will be!) I will add them to the reading list at the bottom of the blog page.

Some new things I have been adding/incorperating to the diet are
*plain greek yogurt
*organic dried culinary sage
*organic carrot juice
*organic kefir
*organic cider vinegar

      I would love to share photos of the new foods with you(and I will) but in the bustle of moving things around in the house the necessary cord to attach the camera to the computer has gone missing. Opps!
Fortunately my 'smart' phone can e-mail pictures to me so I do have a few to share!

Comet, Bugsy and I taking a hiking break to listen to an owl.

 About a week ago we had a lovely snow fall here in Iowa and the boys and I hit the trail to enjoy the sites and sounds of snow falling in the woods.

Investigation a hallow tree.