I’m not a towering example of modern, overly emotional masculinity. I’m good at anger and its derivatives. I can even pull of contented without much trouble. The various subtile shades separating those two poles, though, mostly fall into the category of things that must be jammed down and best left unobserved by the outside world.
I had Maggie and Jorah out during my lunch break this morning. They were mostly out lazing around the yard – occasionally ginning up enough interest to chase off an intrusive bird or butterfly. Mostly they were content to lay around. I just happened to be looking in the right direction when Jorah plopped his chin down on Maggie’s back as they laid there in the sun. For the briefest of moments, it wasn’t Jorah I was seeing, but my dear old Winston. They’d laid in the same position for hours in the yard, looking out the sliding door, or piled together on the living room floor. It was the kind fo thing I’d seen a thousand time over the last ten years – but not once in the last six months.
It took my breath away.
At least it did before some dust or grit happened to blow into my eye and I had to struggle mightily not to make a spectacle of myself to any of the retired neighbors who happened to be nosy enough to wonder what I was doing home on a Monday. Even so, there may have been a little bit of emoting.
Winston’s been gone now almost seven months. The days are busy. The herd demands my attention. But there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of the snorting, shuffling bulldog who use to be with us. Most days now, it’s with a smile… though it turns out it can still be with big wet manly tears, too.
We were back to the vet this past Friday with Maggie. She has to stick around with them for a few hours for a bit of follow-up testing for her Cushing’s. There’s no remission or recovering from it, but symptoms are treatable, so finding the best course of treatment for her is important to me.
This last test shows that we have the meds dialed in to the point of “optimal control” for her ACTH levels – meaning we’re able to hold her cortisol levels more or less where they need to be to reduce the laundry list of Cushing’s symptoms. Under the circumstances, it’s just about the best possible outcome available.
It was a long six months in getting here – with three or four visits to the regular vet for testing, schlepping across Pennsylvania for an ultrasound, and several variations on the medication of choice to get things under control. It hasn’t been an inexpensive proposition, though I refuse to do the math on either the amount of time or money expended. I know I’m incredibly fortunate that neither one of those factors drive the train when deciding what’s best for my sweet, lazy chocolate lab.
The fact is, Maggie is an old dog. She’s coming up on her 11th birthday in October. I’m under no delusions about how this ends – for her, for me, or for any of us. For now I’ll appreciate that I, through the marvel of modern veterinary medicine, was able to buy her some more quality time. Beyond that, everything else is background noise.
So, Jorah has been part of the family now for a little shy of two months. Best estimates place him at just about eight months old. The shy, quiet little guy I met at the SPCA is now a ball of energy prepared to spring into a dead run at the first hint of an opportunity.
Blogs and Facebook posts are filled with tales of shelter dogs who fit seamlessly into the family – of the ones who seemed to have been there all along with the perfect manners and behavior. Jorah, isn’t one of those. He can be quite sweet when he wants to be. Lord knows he’s photogenic. But the fact remains, my new dog is kind of an asshole.
He enjoys laying on the cat and steamrolling over Maggie out in the yard. He likes to gnaw on any hand that gets close to his mouth. He’ll chew drawer pulls and insists on licking every single surface he can reach. About every third or fourth day he decides peeing in the house is just easier – which is why we are all still more or less living in two rooms with easily cleanable floors.
On good days, he’s a charmer and it’s really good. On bad days, I find myself frustrated that this is the first animal I’ve had who doesn’t just seem to naturally “get it” after a few months of persistence. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by a remarkably easy to get along with series of dogs in the past, but this one is putting me through my paces. It leaves me wondering if it’s just his nature, something about the six months before I got him, something I’ve changed, or if there’s another intangible at work.
We’ll get the job done. I have no doubt that I’m every bit and more stubborn than this little dog… but the envisioned quiet nights with two of them curled up snoozing in the living room feel as far off as they were on day one. And if I’m honest, that makes me just a little bit sad.
After six days of waiting impatiently, I got a call back from the emergency vet Maggie visited last week. The good news is that the tests they ran confirmed the preliminary diagnosis of a urinary tract infection. After the long and growing list of canine ailments I’ve dealt with over the years, a run of the mill UTI was just about as good an outcome as I could hope to have.
Because in this household we can’t do anything entirely basic, Mag’s urine culture showed that the E. coli bacteria causing the infection wasn’t likely to be fully treated by the particular antibiotic originally given. It did, fortunately, help alleviate the worst of it. Since I’m looking for knock-down, drag-out eradication, though, I’m more than happy to spring for the second 10-day course of targeted antibiotics. It’ll be a small price to pay to get my girl to a place where she’s a) more comfortable, b) not as likely to pee all over the house in the dead of night, and c) can resume her duties as my 70 pound live action foot warmer.
A few weeks ago I laughingly posted on Facebook about a meme showing the average dog owner spends $1000 a year on care and feeding. That sounds awfully low to me, even for a bare minimum of food and medical care. As the science of human medicine marches forward, veterinary medicine marches along a few steps away… with the a corresponding increases in price for the kind of services that owners can now expect and demand.
I’m very thankful that this time around, we didn’t have to chase down anything too dramatic or crash into an aggressive treatment plan. You’ll forgive me, I hope. “Normal” illnesses are still something of novelty here.
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.
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.
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.