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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Since Saturday I’ve been in near constant pain. Ice, heat, icy hot, stretching, pain killers, alcohol, and the chiropractor seemed to all have minimal impact on correcting that issue. Even so, I’m feeling better tonight than Ive felt in six days.

“Why’s that?” you ask. Well, let me tell you. As I was hefting my 55 pound dog into the truck this morning, my back gave off three mighty pops. I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t hear it. Immediately afterwards, though, I could once again move my neck like a normal human being.

Sure, it’s not 100%, but in comparison to where I was before picking up the dog, there’s no contest.

If I’d have knowing doing squats with one flailing dog-weight clutched to my chest was the answer, we’d have had this all sorted out days ago and this little vacation week of mine would have been far more enjoyable.

Don’t think for a moment I’m not more than a little annoyed at how the whole thing has developed.

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.

Schlepping across Pennsylvania…

Almost two months ago I noticed that Maggie had started drinking approximately an Olympic sized swimming pool’s volume of water every day. I assumed it was a return of some of the symptoms that led us to her Cushing’s diagnosis. Several rounds of testing more or less proved that wasn’t the case. Her Cushing’s remains controlled, but there was bacterial growth in her urine sample – diagnosis: urinary tract or kidney infection.

After the first week of antibiotics there wasn’t much improvement, so they changed up the prescription to something a little more powerful. Two weeks of that showed some vague signs of at least getting her seemingly endless thirst under control. We’re almost through the second two-week round of antibiotics – for a total of five weeks under treatment.

Overall, she seems far better than she was two months ago. She’s not draining off a gallon of water every time I refill the bowl. She’s not struggling to get her feet under her to stand up and her back legs aren’t apt to fall out from under her every time she tries making a turn on an even remotely slick floor.

When we were in the worst of it, I scheduled an appointment with an internal medicine specialist – basically what I expected was a hail Mary play to find out if there was anything that the rest of us had missed and provide a fresh set of eyes to look over an increasingly thick medical record.

Having a dog that drinks non-stop in and of itself isn’t a huge deal when I’m mostly working from home. All that water has to end up somewhere, but it’s not hard to open the door every hour or two or even to get up in the middle of the night for a trip outside. Starting back to work in the office on a more regular basis created a bit of an issue. As much of a dog lover as I am, living with a critter that can’t help but pee all over the house or whatever room you’ve tried to waterproof isn’t a realistic option… and have you even looked at what getting a dog walked two or three times a day would cost?

I kept the appointment with internal medicine – knowing that if I cancelled and there was any backsliding, it would take a month or longer to get another appointment. I still want a set of fresh eyes to give her the once over and either confirm that we’re getting after the right problem or find out if there’s anything that can reasonably be done to coax a little more quality of life out of the situation. Maybe it’s overkill for a 13-year-old lab, but it’s why I went schlepping across Pennsylvania today.

Sleeping arrangements…

Maggie slept on my bed at night for most of her adult life until fairly recently. Usually over the course of the night she’d find her way to the floor and sometimes fine her way bac to the bed sometime in the early hours of the morning. A few times I’ve had to lift her up since her days of making the jump on her own seem to be over. In the last couple of months, she’s opted to stay put at floor level. I suspect getting herself back down for a late-night patrol was getting to be as hard on her joints as jumping up to the bed was. 

I’ve offered up steps and ramps, but even when lured with treats she doesn’t seem to have an interest. I’m not going to force the issue, so I suppose this is just the new normal night time arrangement. 

As much as I don’t miss the nightly barrage of dog breath and farting, there’s definitely part of me that misses the convoluted positions I’d need to get myself into so she could sprawl. I miss the regular head butts requesting a few more ear scratches before sleep came on.

Everyone trips over themselves to post cute puppy pictures and talk about the challenges housebreaking and training. Not many talk about the unique and often more trying experiences of making home comfortable for an aging dog. I guess those posts don’t translate as well to social media. They certainly don’t garner as many awws and likes. I have to think if more people did have those discussions, it would help an awful lot of people be better prepared for some of the harder moments of pet ownership. 

Sickly or otherwise…

I dropped my dear, sweet, elderly chocolate lab off for her next round of tests this morning. A series of x-rays shows that the swelling in her front leg is almost certainly a very large and somewhat inexplicable hygroma – basically her leg holding a whole lot of fluid. It seems to be disappearing as quickly as it came on. It’s looking far better this morning than it did on Friday afternoon.

The other test for today, the ACHT stimulation test, should optimally confirm what we suspect – that her body has built up a tolerance to the current dosage of Vetoryl that’s been holding the symptoms of Cushing’s at bay for the last year or so. If that’s the case, we should be able to adjust the dosage upwards and buy her some more time. That’s what passes for a best-case result with her these days.

At almost 13, fighting this kind of rear-guard action is probably as much as we can hope for. How it ends, of course, is inevitable for all of us, but as long as she’s in control of her mental and physical capacities – and not in pain – I’ll clear the decks to give her the quality life that she’s earned from our long years together.

Maggie is the kind of happy go lucky dog that will follow anyone anywhere. Hand over her leash and off she’ll go. Normally she goes without so much as a second look. This morning, while the tech was leading her back the hall to her room for the morning, my girl gave me a look over her shoulder, making sure I was still there. My breath caught and in that brief moment, I had “all the feels” watching her disappear into the back room.

I haven’t always been that maudlin. I suspect the endless flow of years continues to give me an enhanced perspective on just how quickly things can change regardless of how much time, money, or expertise you pour out. 

We should have results from the stim test tomorrow. For now, sickly or otherwise, I’m just awfully happy to have her home.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shipping. I know it’s the busiest shipping time of the year – and now it’s overlaid by the number of people who have increasingly turned to online shopping during this plague year. The big carriers – UPS, FedEx, USPS – are likely running near capacity and will be doing so for the next few weeks at least. I’m enough of a logistician to know that when you flood the pipeline, the amount of time to get things from Point A to Point B increases. Even in a low-defect environment (and I’m not conceding that delivery services are that even on their good days), an increased number of items means a correspondingly increased number of errors.  I’m a reasonably rational human being who understands these things… but that in no way means I’m not getting thoroughly annoyed by the number of packages in the last few weeks that seem to have been lost in transit or simply “disappeared” from tracking apps. 

2. Dog life. A certain short haired dog of mine decided earlier this week that he didn’t like going outside when temperatures were hovering at or below freezing. That led to an issue Tuesday night where he’d been “holding it” so long that he’d periodically dribble when he walked. Not cool. As a guy who once sequestered himself to the kitchen for six months to crack the code on housebreaking, I’m fairly certain a fit of willpower and determination will also see me through this phase too… even if that means carrying the fuzzy little bastard out the door over my shoulder like a 70-pound sack of squirming, unhappy potatoes.

3. Xfinity. I like to keep something streaming as background noise while I’m working from my home office. Usually that means one of the big news channels, but could be Futurama or Star Trek reruns when I get tired of hearing whatever stories the major news outlets are pimping on any given day. Increasingly, I’m met with buffering, dropped feeds, basically unwatchable content when signed in to Xfinity’s streaming website. Sure, I could just turn on the TV in the other room and boost the sound a bit, but that’s inconvenient for switching between channels as the mood strikes. Basic diagnostics show all speeds are great and I can’t come up with a reason there should be a problem, but there is one. I’d be considerably less aggrieved if this wasn’t part and parcel of the same Xfinity that wants to slap me with yet another regular charge for busting through their arbitrarily set data cap every month. Look, I don’t mind the cost of the service, but if you’re going to pillage me out of $250+ a month, I’d very much like to get the services for which I’m paying.

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.