An update on the herd…

Editorial Note: I stumbled on a few “Ask Me Anything” questions I got a few months ago and had completely forgotten about. Over the next week or two, I’ll do my best to work them in to the schedule.

Tonight’s AMA question comes from someone I’ll Identify as LS. LS asks, “Update on the pet situation, please! Now that the intro period is over, how are Maggie and Winston and Hershel getting along? How have you and the dogs had to adjust your routines for the cat? Is there a pecking order? How can you tell?”

Maggie, although the youngest of the two dogs, is generally the pace setter. She’s the one who most often engages the cat – although it’s not so much an effort to play as an ongoing uncertainty and fascination with the creature that has access not just to the horizontal space in the house, but also operates on the vertical axis. Her main role seems to be one of investigating all the things that go “bump” when Hershel is up and moving. By contrast, Winston is his truly ambivalent self in their interactions.

I should say that Winston is ambivalent up to a point. He’s the grand old man of the house – with arthritic joints and plates and pins holding him together, he doesn’t generally appreciate the rough and tumble moments. That hasn’t stopped Hershel from wanting to pounce and play, but his efforts are usually met with a growl or with Winston’s best impression of a charging bull. I don’t expect that’s surprising from a very senior bulldog.

For all of his innate cat tendencies, Hershel has very much assumed the role of “third dog” in the household and is often found following along behind the other two. The best example probably comes each morning when I’m leaving for work. Maggie and Winston have always gotten a treat – a peanut butter Kong or other tasty morsel – when I leave. It became such a fixture of the schedule that they sit patiently at the laundry room door until it’s disbursed. It took a few months for Hershel to catch on to the program, but now he’s sitting right along with them waiting for his. I didn’t set out to turn him doggo, but at least in some respects that’s what’s become of him.

At best, they get along like all three have been together all their lives. At worst, they tolerate each other. Generally I’ve come to the conclusion that they’ve all more or less decided that they’re part of the same pack. Mercifully, there’s been minimal adjustment to the household routine – the only exception being the baby gate that keeps the litter box from becoming an open buffet for a particularly ill-disciplined chocolate lab. The gate is a nuisance, but what it prevents is undoubtedly worth the effort.

Is there a moral to the story? Hard to say, really. Dogs and cats can apparently live together just fine. I’m sure that has as much to do with the temperament of the individual animals as it does with anything else so I won’t take any credit there. The whole lot of them are badly trained and entirely spoiled – which is 100% my fault, of course. I find, though, that each one of them is completely endearing for their own particular set of reasons and take absolutely no steps to correct their behavior in any way.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The bulldog whine. I don’t know where it came from but for the last few weeks Winston has been a whiner. Whines while I’m fixing his food. Whines when he wants an ear scratch. And whines at four in the morning because he’s bored. It only seems unusual because for most of his life, Winston has been a remarkably quiet dog – aside from the expected bulldog snoring and snorting. If he were doing it to get my attention when he needed to go out that would be one thing, but as far as I can tell it’s mostly just because he’s awake and thinks everyone else should be too.

2. Begging. I’ve had a bitch of a week. I’m getting my ass kicked from pillar to post and it’s not over yet. In the 30 minutes I try to squeeze in a lunch and some time to mentally reset, I’m sorry I don’t want to run the gauntlet of “spare a dollar” panhandlers sitting outside my favorite gas station/sandwich shop. I’m sure they all have very sad stories and they’re all very deserving people, but I’m busting my ass over here in the hopes that it’ll keep the rest of me above water. My observation has been they’re mostly just sitting on theirs looking for someone else to pay the bill. Fuck that noise.

3. Indoor voices. If you work in a relatively confined space with twenty other people, it might be a good idea to go ahead and use your indoor voice. If your indoor voice proves insufficient to carry all the way across the room to your intended recipient, that would be a good time to get up out of your swivel chair and walk over to continue your conversation at an appropriate volume. Or you could just shout at each other. Either way.

Doctor’s orders…

After spending the better part of an hour this morning with the orthopedic surgeon, he basically confirmed what was a foregone conclusion. Winston has a complete tear in his cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL). The only interesting bit I gleaned from the appointment was that the tear most likely occurred long before he started showing signs of it two weeks ago. His knee is already showing signs of scar tissue filling in and trying to stabilize the joint. That’s the good news.

For the moment, as long as he’s taking anti-inflammatory and not putting any undue strain on his leg, he’s getting along without any real sign of trouble. The bad news is that he can’t stay on the anti-inflammatory indefinitely. When that prescription runs out in a few weeks, we’ll have to make a judgment call on how severely his range of motion is effected, how much pain he’s in, and how much his quality of life is disturbed. For the moment, we keep him medicated and keep him relatively calm (which isn’t particularly hard with a bulldog).

For now, all options remain on the table – from basic medication and plenty of rest to the repeat of the TPLO surgery he had on the opposite leg three years ago. I wish there was something more definitive to report this evening. As you can probably well imagine, I’m not at my best when dealing with the vagaries of time and a whole lot of “maybe.”

Tales of a Sickly Bulldog #487…

English bulldogs are freaks of nature. I mean that in the nicest way possible, but the fact remains that anatomically they’re a creation that would not exist in nature. That’s what makes them endearing to “bulldog people,” but it’s also what makes them prone to all manner of genetic illness.

Currently, my Winston is battling another skin infection. That’s nothing unusual. Bulldogs seem born with skin problems that only get worse as they age. At nearly seven, my boy isn’t a youngster by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been dealing with skin troubles with him since he was 2. The challenge this time is that the bacteria causing the infection has progressively gotten more resistant to typical antibiotic treatments. In fact we’re basically down to the last one that the vet considers reasonably “safe.” Beyond minocycline there are two others we could have used, but their side effects in dogs are generally worse than what they cure. Other options include a couple of daily IV therapies, but those have the unfortunate side effect of destroying the kidneys while they save the skin. That didn’t sound like a worthwhile trade off.

The long term prognosis for Winston fighting off this particular infection is officially “We’ll see how things look after he’s run the full three week course of antibiotics.” That’s not what I wanted to hear, but if there’s anything I appreciate in a vet it’s giving me an unpleasant truth head on and then working into what options are left from there.

Winston has come through infections before, he’s come back better than I could have hoped from leg surgery, he even fought off a MRSI about 18 months ago. I also know each infection and operation and round of meds take their toll. I’m not ready to start thinking about the decisions I’ll need to make if the options box dwindles down to medicine-induced kidney failure or an infection that will slowly spread across every inch of his skin and make him miserable in the process. We’re not there yet, but the vet’s Very Serious Voice on the phone this afternoon told me that we’re not as far off from there as I’d like to be.

All I can really say as we sit and wait is that I’m determined he’s not going to be left to suffer out of my own misguided desire to keep him around forever. But we’re not there yet and I’ll just have to burn that bridge when we get to it.

Needy…

I’m hopelessly devoted to the dogs. It’s safe to say that there are human children in Ceciltucky who are more poorly cared for then these two fur balls. Even so, it would occasionally be nice to take a step backwards without needing to check my six. I only bring it up because Maggie has been exceptionally needy this afternoon. And by needy, I mean attached to my hip even more than usual. That’s not an exaggeration. Every time I move, she adjusts so that some part of her is in direct contact with me. It’s sweet, but more than a bit inconvenient.

Winston, bless my stoic descendent of British fighting dogs, is mostly happy just to lay in front of the couch protecting his marrow bone and casting an occasional look around the room to make sure everyone is still there. George, being a tortoise, could care less. At the moment, he’s under his heat lamp looking very much like a round, shiny rock. It’s for the best. I’m not sure I could manage with three that need undivided attention.

This post would be longer, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to type anything coherent with one hand while the other is occupied with playing tug and dispensing ear scratches…

The kids…

Where I have little to no patience for human beings (regardless of whether they be large or small), I have a decided soft spot for most of the other members of the animal kingdom. I’d rather spend a day with dogs, horses, turtles, or dolphins than I would 99.999999% of the people on the planet. After living with myself for 35 years, I suspect I’m uniquely unsuited for the role of parent by aptitude, attitude, and general level of interest. I don’t have human children and I’m completely at peace with that decision. Kids 2Whatever nurturing instinct other people have for small humans, I seem to have for animals.

Where most people in my age bracket are lavishing time and attention on their kids, for me it’s the dogs. Sir Winston, my medical misfit, will turn six in January. He’s my special needs child if there ever was one. With a host of ointments, salves, and balms for his skin, drops for his ears, a prescription diet, and a bionic leg, like me, he’s alive mostly because of the wonder of modern medicine. He’s well into middle age for a bulldog and seems to be happy enough passing his time sprawled out across the middle of the living room floor. He still has an occasional surge of the old energy that’s really something to see, but more and more he’s simply the grand old man of the house, content to watch the world pass by through the glass of the back door.

Lady Margaret, the only chocolate in a litter of black labs, clearly follows in the footsteps of her older brother. By that I mean she is possibly the most atypical Labrador retriever I’ve ever met in my life. I won’t say that she’s lazy, but she is definitely laid back. Where other people complain that labs are overly excitable bundles of energy, she’s only really bothered when the doorbell rings or someone gets too close to her yard without seeking permission first. Maggie turns five in October, so it’s safe to say she’s well past the point where I need to worry about the rambunctious puppy stages.

The two of them really have been nearly inseparable since the day I accidentally brought Maggie home. Aside from a few random days and the occasional vacation, they’ve both been pretty inseparable from me, too. They’re the closest thing to kids I ever plan on having… and they have the added benefit of never wanting to go to college, or get married, or borrow the car. Now if I could just come up with a way to claim them as dependents, I’ll be all set.

This has been the final edition of “You Ask, I Write” for August. Thanks for playing.

Day without dogs…

Last night was the first time since I moved back to Maryland that I was home and the dogs weren’t. I’m not going to lie. It felt unnatural. I’ve had at least one of the furry brutes around for the better part of the last six years and a night without snorting, endless trips outside, slobber-covered toys dropped in my lap, and a constant attached at the hip presence Dogsjust felt odd. I’ve apparently grown rather fond of fighting a 70 pound chocolate lab for bed space and covers.

Sure, they’re a tremendous hassle with vet bills, specialized food, and a battalion’s worth of “stuff” that goes with them everywhere, but they’re my hassle. I won’t pretend that it’s not nice to have a break from the regular schedule of feeding, watering, chasing, fetching, farting, and drooling, but I’ll be glad to have the heathens back at the end of the week.