On dogs that go thump in the night…

I don’t regret anything about my life with dogs. Sure, I wish vet bills were lower and the floor wasn’t constantly covered in shed fur, but on balance, I’d much rather have a house filled with dogs than a house filled with people. Even with that preference, that’s not to say there aren’t moments where I wonder what the hell we’re about.

Sunday morning, at our usual well before dawn wake up time, Maggie took a header while transitioning from the bedroom carpet to the living room wood. She was fully splayed – exactly like something you might see in a cartoon – with one paw slid out in each of the cardinal directions. She tried to get up, fell back down, tried again, and fell again. You’ll never convince me dogs don’t emote. Her face was the perfect picture of embarrassment and feeling sorry for herself. 

I was able to scoot her towards one of the area rugs, where I hoped her scrambling might find some purchase… and also where she would be less likely to tear the hell out of the floor. Look, I’m as big a dog lover as anyone, but that doesn’t mean I want to destroy the house in the process. Fortunately, with the rug giving a bit of extra traction, she slowly managed to get her feet under her. 

Mag’s has had a weak front right ankle for years. I have no idea what caused the original injury, but every so often she pulls up lame and refuses to do more than balance using that paw. She spent most of the rest of the day hobbling around the house. That’s no mean feat when you realize how much of the place is covered with wood, tile, or basically surfaces just made to slide on. 

By last night she was getting around fairly well. This morning was more of the same, so I’m hoping she’s on the mend without needing an unscheduled trip to the vet. 

My girl is going on 13 this year. She’s already far exceeded the average life expectancy of a dog following a Cushing’s diagnosis. Add in the two most recent rounds of violent digestive illness and I’m surprised (and a little impressed) that she’s still getting around at all. I know she’s not indestructible or immortal, but I could have done without yesterday’s reminder of just how elderly she really is.

I’m not sure there’s really a point to this post, aside from telling you to give your critters an extra pat on the head or chin scratch tonight. You’ll be glad you did.

On the day after…

Maggie has been home from her adventure at the emergency vet’s office for a little more than 24 hours now. She’s sleepy after a day of being poked and prodded on top of not feeling well – and I think she wishes Jorah would leave her alone to rest quietly, but she’s even putting up with his periodic efforts to annoy her. I think she’s reached the point in her recovery where the biggest issue is her obvious disgust at how little boiled chicken and rice is put in her bowl at meal time. 

After loads of bloodwork, a few x-rays, and plenty of diagnostic back and forth with the vets, it seems the final reason for violent sickness is going to be “unknown.” Off the record, both the vets and I agree that the most likely cause is having found and devoured something tasty, but moderately toxic while patrolling the yard. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to live with a Labrador, you’ll understand that “she probably ate something” is a perfectly reasonable rationale for illness. 

I never rest well when any of these fuzzy little bastards is sick, so hopefully this one is well and truly on the mend… again.

Going around the clock…

The last time saw all 24 hours on the clock would probably have been the stretch between June 9th and 10th in 2004. That night I waited in a line that eventually snaked halfway to the Washington Monument for the chance to slowly shuffle through the Capitol rotunda and pay my respects to Ronald Reagan. That night, I got in line around 8 PM and came down the west steps of the Capitol just as the sun was starting to come up. I got back to my apartment in Columbia around 7:30 that morning and promptly collapsed on the couch, staying there until after noon. It was a long day.

Today was another one of those long days. It started with frantic cleaning and the realization that the resident Labrador was getting sick faster than I could clean up after her. Then a high speed drive across northern Delaware to the new and improved emergency vet (followed by an attempt to clean whatever the tarp didn’t contain during our trip. Then two hours of waiting in the parking lot while the medicos made their preliminary evaluation and we reached collective agreement that she’d be better off with some professional oversight if only for the next half a day. I managed to get home at just about the time I’d usually be getting out of bed. Of course, trash needed emptied – because my God, the smell – and a mop run over things on more time before even thinking about laying down.

I tried to sleep. I really wanted to. I think between fits and starts I probably snuck in an hour or maybe 90 minutes of shut eye, but the habit of being awake in the early hours of the morning proved to be too strong to dispense with in just one night. So here I am, blurry eyed, fueled by caffeine, and trying hard now to stay awake in the hopes that tonight everything will get back on schedule.

How well that sought after night of rest comes to pass depends almost entirely on the always temperamental gastrointestinal tract of a certain, recently troublesome, chocolate Labrador.

Wish us luck.

Not quite a teenager…

I’m an early riser. I like to blame the yearly days of my career when crawling out of bed at four in the morning was the only way to (usually) beat the worst of the day’s traffic heading into DC. That old 6:30 AM – 3:00 PM is still my favorite, though I haven’t worked it in years because various bosses have seemed to want people in their cubes as late into the afternoon as possible. From my seat, it’s always been the earlier in the day you can get out of the office, the better the day overall. 

As much as I want to blame a job I haven’t had for almost 15 years for doing this to me, I really do like the mornings. It’s a few hours of enjoying the world before other people wake up and ruin the experience.

Maggie, an ever loyal and supportive chocolate lab, is usually game for being awake and moving. She’s never far from my side, gamely following along whether it’s cooking breakfast, sitting with a steaming cup of coffee on the porch on a cool fall morning, or working through email long before the sun’s up. Jorah, though, couldn’t be more of a contrast – a case study in “not a morning person.” He’ll grudgingly get up at 4:30 for the promise of breakfast, but lately he’s added a new trick to his repertoire.

After breakfast has been served and he’s patrolled the house while I’m showering, Jorah sneaks back to bed. Any of the five dog beds aren’t good enough, of course. He finds is way to my bed before burrowing into the covers and catching another hour or 90 minutes of sleep before really coming out to start his day.

We’ll see if this is a short-lived fluke or if it’s going to become part of his established routine. The only thing that’s certain is that the youngest member of the household appears to not share a love of mornings with the rest of us. Thank God he’s still fully supportive of our geriatric bedtime, so it’s not quite like having my own teenager.

They’re all dog days…

Wednesday was allegedly “International Dog Day.” I have no idea what duly constituted international body anoints these days, but that’s not the point.

I was happy to see Facebook filled with dogs of all shapes and sizes. For a few minutes it shouted down the rest of the abject asshattery that fills social media, which was nice.

My only real objection to this state of affairs is that I’ve never needed a special day to recognize dogs. Here at Fortress Jeff, every day is a celebration of these stalwart creatures whose ancestors long ago chose to throw their lot in with humanity. Given how many people seem to treat dogs so shabbily, I’m quite sure we got the better part of that bargain.

There’s no day that hasn’t been made better just by having the presence of these fuzzy hoodlum in my home. They’ve paid back every minute spent scrubbing it steam cleaning a hundred times over. I can’t even begrudge them the accumulated veterinary bills.

In a contest between dogs and people for my love and adoration, the dogs are going to win every time. I’m not even sorry about that. In fact, I tend to question the judgement of anyone who has spent time with both people and dogs and doesn’t agree. 

A bloody mess…

The morning feeding here starts most every morning at 5:30. It’s usually a completely uneventful part of the day. Today it wasn’t, of course. It was a bloodbath.

For the prior 24 hours Maggie had been growing a fearsome looking lump under her incision. It was worrying enough that I changed her follow up appointment to this afternoon rather than waiting for Thursday, when it was originally scheduled. We fell seven hours short of that appointment when she dove into her breakfast and the dam broke – leaving a trail of blood tinged fluid dripping down her shoulder and quickly spattering the floor.

“Not good,” my initial early morning response. Maggie didn’t seem bothered at all. She didn’t even slow up on inhaling her breakfast.

Over the next three hours, what I’ve now learned is a common post operative condition called a seroma, steadily grew smaller as the fluid continued to drain – mostly into the kitchen floor. I’ve mopped today. A lot.

Our vet assured me this is all fairly normal. He was happy enough with her progress to take her sutures out, and advising “just let it drain” while handing over another 10 days worth of antibiotics just to ward off any future issues.

So here we all are, confined once again to the kitchen in an effort to keep random canine bodily fluids from soaking in to more sensitive parts of the house. I can only hope this iteration won’t take nine months.

I’m happy my girl is on the mend… though I wish it would involve just a little less oozing.

Do not resuscitate…

One of the convenient features of the Great Plague is that more places will just email you things that usually have to be filled out in their office so you can take care of them at home. Anything that removes that human to human interface is a net good overall in my book. Look, I know some of you out there thrive on this human contact foolishness, but in a lot of ways I feel like I’m over here living my best life in a world finally designed for avoiding people.

The joy of being able to dispense with a bit of one-on-one human interaction this morning was tempered somewhat because I was filling out Maggie’s pre-surgery paperwork. The 4-page packet included basics like my contact information, what medication she’s currently on, and a summary of the procedure and expected costs for my initials.

This particular pre-surgical packet also included, what I can only think of as “advance directive for dogs.” The vet wants to know just how heroic the measures should get if something goes horrendously wrong during the procedure. The forms I’ve seen in the past include everything from the standard do not resuscitate, to providing CPR, to using electrical defibrillators and even more invasive options. Since this surgery is being taken care of at the local vet’s office rather than one of the big emergency clinics we frequent, we were limited to DNR or performing basic CPR.

I’ve probably filled out a dozen or two of these forms over the years – mostly for myself, but more than a few for the animals. My own advanced directive is relatively straight forward and I’ve passed it out to a slew of doctors over the years – CPR is fine. Machines are fine. But the moment we hit the point where my big beautiful brain is damaged or I’m alive only by virtue of the machines, go ahead and pull the plug. I’d like to hold out for the point where the techies can download my consciousness into a computer, but if that’s not an option feel free to let me go. 

With the animals, though, the temptation for me is to keep them with me at all costs using whatever tools veterinary medicine can bring to bear. I always resist the strong temptation to tell the vet to be heroic, though. It’s not the easy choice, but it’s the right one. 

My life with dogs…

I was talking with a friend of mine last night – and by talking, I mean keeping up a decade old text conversation – and mentioned if I ever write another book I’m pretty sure its title is going to be My Life with Dogs and Other Things that will Fucking Bankrupt You.

Here’s the backstory:

Maggie has had a fatty lipoma on her shoulder for the last five years. We’ve treated it as a cosmetic thing up to now, but it’s finally grown to the point where the medicos tell me it needs to come out – or at the very least be “de-bulked.” For the last year or so I’ve been rolling the dice in determining if we’d go to surgery or if an old dog with Cushing Syndrome would make it to the point where surgery was necessary. Doc tells me where at that point now. The good news is that means my girl is relatively healthy. The bad news is it means we’re putting her under the knife fairly soon.

I talked to Maggie’s vet last night. Given her age and the general presentation of Cushing, I was prepared to hear that the results of her bloodwork were all over the map. They weren’t. Everything was basically where it should be for a dog whose disease is well controlled. So, small mercies there. In trying to decide how to approach the lipoma on her neck/shoulder, we also did a series of chest x-rays – mostly a due diligence to see if benign had become something more problematic or infiltrated her chest wall. The pictures show that it hasn’t.

The only minor pre-surgical issue we have was a slight presence of bacteria in her urine. It could easily be something that was introduced during the collection process, but in an abundance of caution prior to putting a decent incision into my girl, we’re starting a course of antibiotics to make sure all is clear before she heads in for surgery.

The doc did give me the option of taking Maggie in for an MRI – which would give a far more detailed view of the mass than simple, old fashioned x-rays. If I thought we were looking at something more involved than removing a large, but reasonably simple lipoma, I’d have probably given it more consideration, even knowing it would end up being a $2,000+ bill. I appreciate that this vet walks me through all available options, but doesn’t attempt to push in the direction of the more expensive tests. Even as he was discussing the MRI, he was clear that level of diagnostic testing was probably overkill in Maggie’s case.

I’m working with the scheduler to get a time for surgery and Maggie is getting an extra ration of cheese to hide her enormous antibiotic capsule. All that’s left to do now is wait and see how it goes. I’m sure that won’t cause any gnashing to teeth because I’m well known for my patience and low key approach to animal care.

There’s never an entirely clean bill of health…

We’re back from Jorah’s first adult trip to the vet. Weighing in at 60 pounds on the nose, he’s nominally “full grown.”

His side-eye is strong.

I was optimistic (foolishly) that this visit would be just the usual weigh in, vaccinations, and pats on the head (for him, not me). We managed all that, of course, but because he’s one of my dogs, there was something a little extra. I’ll never be the kind of guy who has perfectly healthy dogs, it seems.

I asked the vet about a “spot” on Jorah’s leg. I’ve never managed to catch him licking it or even found it damp, but it looks very much like a areas on his right foreleg that’s been licked incessantly. With a diagnosis of “nothing obvious” we arrived home with three weeks worth of prednisone and two weeks worth of cephalexin and the vague hope that a course of steropids and antibiotics would work their magic.

If they don’t, we came home with a cone of shame too… but I promised my boy we’d only go there in extremis.

They’re all good dogs…

I got a note from an old friend that he had to put down his dog a week or so ago. That’s normal cause for sadness, but I felt it particularly because his dog, Smokey, was one of Maggie’s littermates. I’m about as jaded and cynical as they come, but if you think things didn’t get a little “watery” on the homestead for a little while, you’ve completely misread me.

I don’t think I’d seen Smokey in more than a decade. That was just a fact of space and time and not in any way relevant. Smokey was a good dog. They’re all good dogs.

Knowing that he’s gone is an unwelcome reminder of the all too brief time we have with these furry critters who share our homes… and that my sweet, unflappable Mags and I have run out a lot more of our time together than we have left to go.

Give your good doggo a scratch on the head for Smokey tonight. You’ll be glad you did.