The barking dog…

If I’m painfully honest, the first six months with Jorah was touch and go. There was a while there where I didn’t like him all that much. Housebreaking and cleaning up puppy accidents is one thing – doing it with a full-sized dog and the proportionally larger volume of liquid they hold is something altogether different. Mercifully somewhere around the five-month mark, everything started to click and he finally seemed to “get it.” Once we were over that hump, he has been a remarkably good dog – particularly considering I have no idea what his circumstances were until he was already half a year old.

The only thing I haven’t managed to get under control is the barking. Things in the back yard mostly get a pass, but if it’s something moving out front, he’s a shrill and persistent alarm until it has passed fully out of his line of sight. It’s a habit that ranges from annoying to near-rage inducing depending on the time and duration.

He sounds absolutely vicious and I don’t necessarily want to break him from being alert or alerting me to comings and goings along the frontal approaches. As far as that goes, I’m mostly happy for anyone who comes near to think he’s an absolute terror who will surely lunge for the throat. Still, though, I’d dearly like for him to tone it down just a little bit – or maybe give it a few barks and then go into standby mode for run of the mill things like the neighborhood joggers.

In reality, I’m well aware of my own limitations as a dog trainer. I’m a pushover and generally subscribe to a mostly benign philosophy of letting dogs be dogs and do their own thing (as long as their thing doesn’t include destroying the house or its contents). So, feel free to consider this one of those things I’ll bitch and complain about, but ultimately do little or nothing to change.

Emotional support human…

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been spending a bit more time in the office than I have been since the outbreak of the Great Plague. What I’ve observed in that time is that Jorah, my wonderfully loyal, if slightly neurotic dog, has unexpectedly developed an ability to tell the difference between my go to work khaki pants and my stay home jeans. 

On mornings when I’m working from home, Jorah joins me in the kitchen while I’m having my coffee and puttering around. He’ll stay put there until we head back to the sunroom to get the telework day properly started. For days I’m scheduled to schlep over to the office, instead of hanging out with me and making himself comfortable on his bed in the kitchen, he detours back the hall and sprawls out on my bed. He’ll stay there until it’s time for me to leave… When I’ll usually have to lure him out with a peanut butter stuffed Kong before I head out for the day.

The only real difference between home days and office days is the pants I wear. If I pull on a pair of jeans, all is well. If I pull on my khakis, the fuzzy little bastard pouts… as if spending all day in cubicle hell is somehow my idea of a good time. I think the implication here is pretty clear. I’m going to have to declare myself his emotional support human and just start toting him along wherever I go and can avoid having him abandon me on what are already the worst days of the week.

As it should be…

Three years ago tonight, I knew I had a very sick dog. I knew we’d run out of room to maneuver. Through surgeries, skin infections, ear infections, bad joints, and most of the other expected bulldog maladies, there was always the likelihood of a bit of improved quality of life on the other side of the visit to the vet’s office.

Three years ago, I knew that wasn’t the case any longer. Standing up under his own power required a herculean effort and the pain of it was written across his face. The one short step down to the porch was entirely beyond his power. I could have filled him with pain meds and hung on grimly for a few more days or maybe even a few more weeks, but nothing seems more cruel than forcing a loyal dog to suffer without hope of it gaining him better times ahead.

Instead, I laid awake a lot of the night and listened to the steady rhythm of his snoring. Most good clocks aren’t as well regulated in their timing. We should all be so fortunate to sleep as soundly as a bulldog.

I won’t relive the rest of the story here. After three years, the inevitable “tomorrow” is still raw. Maybe it always will be.

Maybe that’s as it should be. After all, Winston was a very, very good dog and I miss him.

He’s not a road dog…

During their formative years, Maggie and Winston got bundled off to various kennels and pet sitters a fair number of times due to my travel schedule for work. They knew exactly what my suitcase meant and weren’t fans. It’s appearance on the bed triggered immediate low level stress responses and minor spazzing out. 

In preparing for my brief Christmas trip to western Maryland, there has been no such response from Jorah. I don’t guess there’s any reason there would be. I haven’t traveled for work in a decade. He’s a product of the plague era where I’ve barely left the house let alone gone away overnight. 

Mags and Win loved being in the truck. Travel is something that Jorah just endures. He’s even wary and neurotic once we’re settled in at the destination. He spent most of the trip laying behind my legs or on my feet and looking generally put out. I don’t think we’re at any risk of him thinking getting there is half the fun. Especially when he seems to think being there isn’t much fun either.

I’m sure it’s something he’d get better at with time and practice, but since that would mean I need to be on the road too, it’s more likely that he’ll always just enjoy being home more than anywhere else. It’s surely an interspecies case of the apple not falling far from the tree.

Observations from an unpleasant week…

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one here when I say that I don’t, as a general rule, like new things. I like the same meals I’ve been eating for decades. Every object in the household has its place and should be in it. I mostly can’t control what happens outside the doors here, but what happens inside is done with good order and discipline. I suppose it’s the kind of thing that could make a person hard to live with, but the animals don’t seem to mind, so all is well.

Over this last week we’ve been adjusting, by necessity, to the new order of things. From that, I’ve made a few observations.

The most surprising of the bunch, is just how much water Maggie was taking in every day. I was refilling their gallon bowl at least three times a day. Now I’m averaging about a quarter of that. No wonder she wanted to go outside every two hours. I knew she was a thirsty girl these last few months, but the slow upwards creep of her water intake just didn’t seem overly alarming – except in retrospect. As always, hindsight is a bitch like that.

Jorah, fierce guardian and barker at of anything that moves in the yard or on the street has become terribly fearful of the backyard at night. For most of the last week he’s had to be trussed up in full harness and nearly carried outside for his pre-bedtime bathroom break. For these last two years, I had no idea that he was relying on a security blanket the approximate size and shape of a labrador retriever to cover him while charging off to bark at and chase anything that rustled during his nightly rounds.

The cat, not surprisingly, seems to be the most adaptive of us all. Hershel was back in the warm embrace of his own daily routine inside 48 hours. A week along, I’m quite convinced he’s starting to throw the stink eye at the rest of us who are still deviating, even if only slightly.

We’re still very much in a transitional mode here, but our wild ride over the last week is starting to settle into a new and slightly different rhythm. The sooner that comes together, the better, because new sucks.

Thoughts on the day after…

Being a multi-animal household, I always have an interest in how they get along. Some simply mesh better than others – and knowing who needs to be fed separately or who’s apt to pick a fight over a certain toy can be awfully critical information to have at your fingertips. It’s not hard to sort out what’s what when you live with them day in and day out over a period of years. Getting it sorted, though, doesn’t take nearly that much time.

As for my crew, Hershel and Maggie regularly palled around, by which I mean you’d often catch them napping together in the living room. Even if occasionally he’d give her a quick bite seemingly out of nowhere, she mostly put up with it. They seemed to have their own kind of bond, but it was proof enough to me that cats and dogs can happily live together. Hershel’s the one who’s going to spend the next few days wandering around the house trying to figure things out. 

Maggie and Jorah’s relationship is a bit of a different story. They occupied the same space, interacted tangentially, and were mostly happy to do their own thing. It was a bit like observing two people who could be perfectly civil to one another without really being friends. With almost ten years between their individual stage of life, that was always easy enough to write off to the age gap. He seems to be happy enough mostly keeping to the well established routine.

Winston, gone now for the better part of three years, was always Maggie’s alter ego. They were unquestionably a pair, inseparable except in the ultimate extreme. She took losing him every bit as hard as I did.

I’m utterly unqualified to speculate on what’s beyond the veil that both Winston and Maggie have now passed through and that waits for us all. If there is something other than the end of consciousness and the return of energy to the universe, I’d hope they manage to find one another again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a church for something other than a wedding or a funeral, but I vaguely remember some debate on whether or not animals go to the Christian heaven. Something about them not having the ability to “accept salvation.” Let me just go on the record here and now by saying that if there is, in fact, some echo of consciousness that carries on after life and it resides forever somewhere posted “no dogs allowed,” I want no part of it. 

I’ll happily take my chances going wherever it is they go.

A very good girl…

I remember the day I brought Maggie home like it was yesterday. I wasn’t even looking to add another dog at that point. It was a few weeks before Christmas and I didn’t want the inevitable headache of taking a puppy on a 1600-mile round trip drive. Then a friend at the office put up a “free puppies” sign. Mama had died giving birth and the large litter was eating the family out of house and home. It was a fire sale – everything must go – before they were dropped off at the shelter. Surely there wasn’t any harm in going to take a look. As I recall, people from our office ended up taking some if not all of that litter.

I came back after lunch that day with a sleepy chocolate lab snuggled down inside my coat. For the next almost 14 years, she was my shadow. Through the successes and failures of life, tens of thousands of road miles, changes of jobs, changes of houses, there she was with a wagging tail and a smile on her face. Maggie was one of the most consistently happy dogs I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

For the last few years, though, Maggie was also a very sick dog. Sometimes it felt like we were keeping her together with bubblegum and bailing twine, but she was always game for another trip to the vet and eager to greet everyone there. As long as she was up for pressing on, there wasn’t a test or procedure I was unwilling to try or a specialist I wasn’t willing to meet. Over the last week, despite some new meds, I watched that old spark slowly fade away. 

There’s more we could have done. The vet would have pumped her full of more meds if I’d have asked for them. It would have been so easy to go down the road of calling for extraordinary measures, but she deserved better. She deserved to meet the end walking in under her own power and while she still had some of the old nobility about her.

I couldn’t ask her to suffer so I didn’t have to – not after so long together, not when she’s done everything I’ve ever asked of her and so much more. 

From start to finish Maggie was a very good girl – a once in a lifetime dog. 

My life was incalculably better because she was part of it and is now the darker for her absence. I’m going to miss her terribly.

Another vetting…

Yesterday Maggie and I swung by the vet so they could pull another urine sample. I’m expecting the culture to tell us one of two things: 1) Maggie’s UTI has cleared and the infection wasn’t what has been causing her wildly increased drinking and peeing or 2) Six weeks of progressively more aggressive antibiotics have failed to overcome the infection.

If it’s the former, the consulting internal medicine doc we saw last month has already proposed a preliminary course of action based on treatment to roll back a worsening of Cushing’s symptoms that isn’t indicated by the basic test of cortisol levels. I expect at least another trip to Malvern if that’s the result. If it’s the latter, well, we’ll have to see what’s left in the options box if this particular infection is truly uncontrollable with antibiotics.

I’m in the rather odd position of actively hoping that her Cushing’s has gotten worse. It’s at least the enemy I know – one that we’ve had good success wrestling into an uneasy truce if not submission over the last couple of years. It’s at least a fighting chance for some improvement. The same doesn’t seem to be true if we’re dealing with an unchecked infection.

There’s not much to do now until we see what we’re dealing with. It’s one of those rare times when I wish I was just a little more low strung and zen.

Because common treatments just won’t do…

Good news: After almost three months of flailing around trying to sort out why a certain elderly chocolate lab is drinking approximately 87 gallons of water a day, we have a preliminary diagnosis and presumed way ahead. Her most recent culture came back from the boffins and they confirmed that she was dealing with a bladder infection (although that diagnosis doesn’t completely rule out needing to eventually reevaluate how we’re treating her for Cushing’s). 

Bad news: According to the vet, the strain of bacteria we’re after is “extremely resistant” to almost all antibiotics. 

So, in the finest tradition of every dog I’ve ever had, we’re tipping into the more exotic options because the common treatments just won’t do. The antibiotic the doc thinks she’ll respond to is no longer on the market – or at least not produced in quantity for human consumption. Apparently when used in humans it has a bit of an unfortunate side effect of screwing with our bone marrow. The vet encouragingly warned that I should “definitely wear rubber gloves when handling that stuff.” That’s comforting.

Since the drug we need isn’t mass produced, Maggie’s vet very helpfully called the prescription into a local compounding pharmacy so they can whip up the 84 pill, two-week course of treatment. As troubled a medical history as I saw living with a bulldog, this is the first time I’ve ever needed to hire our own pharmacy. You’ll forgive me if I still question the reason of people who like having new experiences. Like this, they often feel like opportunities I’d be perfectly happy to avoid. 

I did talk to the pharmacy yesterday afternoon. They wisely wanted payment before they start mixing up whatever witches brew they’re working on. I suspect their business is one people appreciate up front, but blanch at patronizing when the bill comes due. Better for everyone this way.

I begrudge these animals nothing, but there are many days when I can’t help but consider how lucky we are in this household that there are no college funds to raise, daughters who will eventually want to get married, or anyone buying designer clothes.

Breaking up… sort of…

I did it. I told our current vet that although I’ve been happy with their service, I’m leaving to pursue less expensive basic medical care for two of the three furry little hooligans who share my house. Maggie will be staying put for the time being. With her thickening medical record and established relationship with the primary doc and specialists, I don’t want to rock that particular boat by reading someone new into the project at this late stage. George, of course, gets his own once a year trip to the local exotic vet practice.

Jorah is due for his annual checkup and vaccinations in a few weeks, so there wasn’t much room to put off decisions any longer. Thanks to the internet, I think I have our new vet (or vets, plural, since they’re a multi-person practice) picked out. It’s still a twenty-five-minute drive (but what isn’t when you decide to live in the middle of nowhere). Their online reviews seem impressive enough. They have on-site hydrotherapy, which is nice if I ever need to go that route again. They also have offer self-contained boarding, day care and grooming. I’m not altogether a fan of boarding, and it’s been a rare enough event that I’ve ever had to leave a critter behind, but I appreciate having the option bolted on to the medical facility.

If I’m 100% honest, I’m not sure this place will be much cheaper than where we’re leaving. They’ve got a whole lot of infrastructure that needs to be paid for and kept up. It’s definitely not the old-fashioned country vet I thought I wanted for them. What it does have, beyond the obvious, is the virtue of being open for 12 hours on weekdays and 10 hours on both Saturday and Sunday.  That’s the kind of thing that could save a guy at least a couple of emergency vet visits over the course of an average pet lifetime. I’m probably willing to pay a little bit of a premium for that… so we’re going to give this outfit a test run starting in July and see how it goes.