Old dogs…

People will spend a lot of time telling you about the trials and tribulations of life with a new puppy. Poke around Google and the internet is littered with Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to the foibles of puppy ownership.

You’ve got to dig a little deeper to find the blogs and message boards that talk about what it’s like to live with an elderly or ailing dog. It’s not the wide-eyed adorableness and puppy breath side of having pets. It’s the astronomical vet bills, fists full of medications, and a body slowly wearing out even when the spirit is still more than willing.

Old pets are heartbreaking not just because we can sense that our time together is growing short, but also because their compressed life cycle points us inexorably towards our own fate at some point in the future. It’s one of the reasons I’m always a little bit perplexed by people who give up and give away their old pets. They have no sense of the broader context of life.

My dear sweet Maggie had a bad morning today. After years of perfect behavior, I knew she was embarrassed and upset. I could read it all over her face – and especially in her eyes. Climbing out of bed to scrub the bedroom carpet wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do today, but looking at those cloudy brown eyes I couldn’t even bring myself to scold her. Going on 11 years together she’s earned the benefit of a few hundred doubts.

Maybe this morning was a one off. Maybe it’s a warning sign of things to come. I’m trying not to let the first thoughts of my sleep addled brain read too much into it. I hope beyond measure this isn’t something that will become the new normal… but if it does, we’ll cope. Maggie is the grand dame of the family I got to pick for myself. She’s entitled to expect that level of effort in her golden years.

I wrote most of this before seeing the bloody urine this evening that set my alarm bells clanging – and before I took off to the local emergency vet to have my girl checked over. Maybe I’m paranoid or at least a bit too cautious. I’ve also seen how fast things can go bad and when warning signs start stacking up, it’s not the moment to prioritize time or money.

The better part of a month…

Jorah has been part of the household now for a few days shy of a month. He’s weighing in at a svelte 36 pounds and based on some best guess work from me and the vet, we’re estimating his age at about 7 months.
He’s loaded with good dog tendencies. He’s remarkably calm and takes guidance well. He wants to please… but remains very much a work in progress. We’re still spending our “family time” quarantined to the kitchen and laundry room with their blessed solid surface floors for easy clean ups. Given the option he still like sneaking off to pee in front of the washer or dryer… a habit we’re combating largely by a combination of keeping him leashed to me or crated when I can’t keep eyes on him every moment. Eventually I’m sure he’ll catch on to the whole idea that “out” should be a consistent thing, but just now he has some stubborn “teenage” dog streak and the lessons seem to be going slowly. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the living room, with its comfortable furniture and giant TV that I haven’t used in weeks. The sacrifices we make…
He likes to eat grass and sticks and rocks. The rocks are probably the most troubling in terms of the damage they can do to teeth and the digestive system. We spend a lot of time in the yard with my fingers jammed in his mouth, muttering “drop the damned rock.” I’m sure that’s not the best training strategy. This week he’s decided he also likes eating charred remnants out of the fire pit. Those he’s crushed and swallowed long before I can get to him. So that’s a thing that happens now as well.
I’m doing my best to remember that he really is still very much a puppy (despite his size) and that the transition from living at the shelter to the domestic bliss of Fortress Jeff has got to be a challenging one. I’ll admit, too, that I’m a bit of a shit when it comes to proper training techniques, so there’s a fair amount of blame for me in all this. Still, I missed the stage of middle of the night bathroom breaks and teething so on the whole I’m getting the better end of this deal.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t gone to bed more than once in the last few weeks wondering why the hell I got another dog – and a young, energetic one at that. Those feelings are mostly contained to the days when I’ve spent all day at work and he’s spent all day getting rested up.  All things considered, Jorah is a remarkably good boy who has come a long way towards fitting into the household. Now that I’ve said that, I fully expect he’ll spring the door on his crate tomorrow and demolish the entire house. 

Comfort over style…

I’m old enough now that even the name of the process you go through to train a puppy not to piss all over the house has changed to something kinder and gentler. What we use to call housebreaking has transitioned to house training. I’m not sure the process is any different, but I suppose we’re all supposed to go along with the semantic shift where “breaking” is too fraught with negative overtones… or at least that’s how it seems on the internet.

In any case, the last week and a half has been all about housebreaking. Even though Jorah is six months old and rapidly headed towards seven, he’s effectively a brand new puppy when it comes to knowing the finer points of living in a home. That’s fine. We can deal with that. At least he’s got a six month old bladder and doesn’t need to go out every 30 minutes.

The biggest issue has been that we’re all effectively reduced to living in the kitchen – surrounded by easy to clean and sanitize hard surfaces to mitigate the inevitable accidents. It’s a fine arrangement if you’re a dog and have beds, food, water, and everything you might need. It’s less fine if you’re me and might want to sit down on something other than a hard wooden chair. 

Friday evening, in a fit of comfort over style, I moved my spare recliner into the kitchen. And yes, I just unabashedly admitted that I do, indeed, have a spare recliner. It’s not quite as comfortable as the one in the living room, but in comparison to sitting at the kitchen table it’s a blessed relief. 

It took me a few hours sitting in the kitchen on Friday night to realize the room I’m now complaining about being stuck in is easily twice the size of my entire first “adult” apartment in southern Maryland. Its two rooms and three quarters bath maybe accounted for something like 250 square feet. That’s probably a generous estimate through the rose-colored remembrance of times long passed.

Look, I’d still like to get to the point where I can safely use the living room again, but I appreciate the little bit of perspective reminding me that I’ve had it far worse, for much less payback.  

Sorting the schedule…

Still trying to get the new morning routine down. Getting out of the house in the morning has temporarily become an Overlord level planning effort. But this was the first day of needing to be up and out of the house while running against the clock. I presume with repetition we’ll all get a little better at that.

Perhaps the more difficult part is now that we have the new pup along, the order of operations has changed. Instead of showering first while Maggie lays around in bed for another 30 minutes, it’s straight up and outside, then feeding, then shit, shower, and shave, then more outside, and so on. Getting my still sleep-addled head around these nuances is, at best, a work in progress.

If it were a person throwing my well established routine out of sync like this, they’d be cancelled immediately… but since the cause has four legs and an endless supply of adorable looks, Jorah gets a pass. And some ear scratches and belly rubs, probably.

Crate…

I worked from home half a day today (the other half given over to Jorah’s first vet visit). Most of the work today consisted of cleaning three days of backlog email out of my inbox, so it wasn’t exactly heavy lifting. It did, however, mean that I had to do some reading for comprehension… and that trying to keep one eye on that and one on a creature who’s still trying to learn the house rules was going to end in badness on both sides.

Enter the crate. It’s a big crate. Probably sized for something more like a great dane than a 35 pound puppy. I was determined to let our new boy ride out the four hours unassisted – but next to a very relaxed lab who loves sleeping all day while I’m at the office. Aside from the a few short bouts of whining about 90 minutes in, Jorah took to the experience as well as anyone could expect.

It’s going to be harder – on both me and him – when I actually head back to the office and he’s left to his own devices for the entire day. I know that means housebreaking is most likely going to take a giant step backwards… but balanced against having an entire room chewed to hell by a pup who has no problem vaulting gates or scaling exercise pens, it’s just going to have to be what it is.

I’ll be able to check in during the day with the laundry / dog room camera, but I’m really not sure if knowing I can follow along the entire day live on camera is something that will make the whole experience worse or better. Worse, I assume, since it means being able to see everything but do absolutely nothing about it. That level of voyeurism is decidedly not one of my favorite things.

Dog people of the internet…

So I was reading things on the internet. Yeah, I know I should just stop right there. For all the good that it can provide, the loudest voices on the internet seem to be those of judgmental twats who have nothing better to do than tell everyone exactly how they should be living and why they’re wrong if they don’t.

Hell, maybe I’m one of them, but at least I’m polite enough to keep my judgements safely locked up here so that people have to make an effort to get to them instead of just spewing myself all over Reddit.

It’s been over a decade since I had a puppy in the house. Most care and feeding issues are falling-off-a-log kind of things, but I wanted to get a better feel for how working adults take care of their new canine friends when they, you know, have to go to the job that pays the bills and buys the kibble.

According to a never ending list of sanctimonious asshats on Reddit, the only acceptable things for someone employed to do is to 1) Quit your job and stay home 24/7; 2) Move in with someone who is willing to stay home 24/7; 3) Hire a dog walker to come to your house twice a day for 30 minutes while you’re at work; or 4) Enroll your new dog in day care.

Any deviation from one of those four approved courses of action will find you condemned as a heretic and only slightly better than someone who raises fighting dogs for a living.

But, look, here’s the thing… I’m old enough to remember a time when dog wakers were a thing that only the rare city yuppies and the occasional actor or actress had. I’m old enough to remember a time when there was no such thing as “doggy daycare.” And I’m certainly old and experienced enough to know that having a job and having a dog is not mutually exclusive, regardless of what the dog people of the internet tell you.

There’s very little that I won’t do for my animals and I agree that in an ideal world, dogs would have their people with them all day every day and be able to come and go as they please. We, of course, live in the real world, where on average the dog who has to spend a little more time between bathroom breaks indoors instead of out is still far ahead of the one who spends months or years sitting in a shelter. The dog people of the internet, though, do seem to have an unhealthy fixation with the ideal.

It’s one of many cases where I am happy to invite the people of the internet to bugger right off.

Minutes and feet…

I’ve missed a couple of regularly scheduled posts this week. I’d feel badly about that, but at least in part it stems from the introduction of a new puppy here on the homestead. To be honest, after a decade of having grown dogs, I’d forgotten (or perhaps mentally blocked out) just how much work goes in to sharing your space with a young dog.

The nice people at the Delaware SPCA put Jorah’s (formerly Sonny’s) age at about 4 months. He’s old enough to have his adult teeth, so he’s not a “puppy puppy,” but still young – even if he’s not quite full of energy. Actually, the opposite is mostly true. The boy like’s his sleep… and for that I am very thankful.

We survived the first 36 hours together – no accidents, no problems interacting with Maggie or Hershel, and he took to the crate like a dog who has spent a lot of his young life in cages of one sort or another. Being a shelter dog, I don’t guess that should come as a surprise, really.

We had out first “moment” this morning, though, with me trying to get through the normal Saturday morning routine of opening the mail, paying bills, and basically tending the behind the scenes items that keep the household running. Jorah, tethered to the desk and only a few feet away was determined to chew my chair, the desk, his leash, the bed, and generally anything except the small mountain of toys assembled to distract him so I could get in a few minutes of work.

That’s all the long way of saying Jorah is now getting some quality time back in his crate while I write this.

I’m not complaining here. Given the start he had in life, I’m amazed he’s as good a dog as he is. He’s got all the potential in the world and now I need to keep reminding myself that this is a process where success is measured in minutes and feet, not hours and miles.