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.

Impatiently waiting…

I should start by confessing that I’m almost use to confronting all manner of canine medical problems. It’s one of the less charming, but utterly unavoidable side effects of living with an English bulldog. It’s just something you come to expect. I’m not entirely sure he can surprise me anymore. Usually my response is more of a “Oh, he’s broken again.”

It’s when the Labrador retriever pulls up with the medical mystery, I’m admittedly taken completely by surprise. She’s been a mercifully healthy dog and I’m more than appreciative of having at least one that doesn’t need nearly continuous medical supervision.

Unfortunately last week I discovered Maggie had a lump about the size of half a golf ball under the skin just below her ribcage. A trip to the vet and biopsy obviously followed – and in the meantime I’ve been spending the time keeping my mind off it as much as possible. Patience, as we know, is not one of my great virtues. Since I don’t run my own diagnostic lab, of course, there’s nothing for it but to wait and see what results come back.

I’ll do it, but I will in no way commit myself to doing it patiently.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Coat blowing. I dearly love my ever-loyal, if somewhat ditzy, chocolate labrador. She is the operative definition of a kind and loving soul. But honest to whatever God there is in heaven if she doesn’t stop blowing her winter coat soon I’m going to lose what small slivers of sanity I have managed to hang on to lo these many years. It’s like the whole bleeding house is covered in a fine, slightly fluffy film of dog.

2. The other email. Without delving into any specific details, I have an alternate email address that occasionally gets used for work. In part it’s annoying because I can’t access this account from my desk. Fortunately, almost no one ever uses that address so it’s not completely inconvenient. That being said, if you don’t log into the damned thing about once a week, you start getting nasty messages from the Great Email Monitor threatening to cut off your access. Once they do that you’ve got to start from scratch setting up a new account, which could take as long as 247 work days to complete. Since I really do need this account for about one message ever 8-10 weeks it effectively just creates a barely essential pain in the ass that requires me to set up a calendar reminder to schlep next door once a week to log in, look at an empty inbox, and ensure that the account stays active for another week. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for being only slightly vexed (but not at all surprised) by such a patently inefficient process.

3. Acting surprised. A major musician has died under unclear or suspicious circumstances. I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised that a music superstar might have succumbed to the effects of legal and/or illegal medications. It’s not like this is the first time music and drugs march down the same road. It’s the fact that anyone from fans to media pontificators can pretend such events are anything other than “as expected” that’s farcical. A man is dead and that’s sad enough in its own right, but when it’s self-inflicted I have a hard time finding it an outright tragedy.

Gotcha…

Hard as it might be to believe, seven years have passed since I brought home a diminutive chocolate Labrador puppy that had spent the first weeks of her life in a Millington, Tennessee garage. Mama didn’t make it through the birthing process and the room full of pups was bound for the local shelter sooner rather than later. Hand feeding and the constant upkeep of the small herd had proved too much for the resident humans to manage any longer.

MaggieAs these stories so often start, I wasn’t planning on getting another dog. Actually I was, but I wanted to get through Christmas before starting the search in earnest. Dragging a two month old dog on one of my transcontinental road trips wasn’t high on my list of things to do. Or it wasn’t until a colleague of mine at the time posted a sign offering “free to a good home” and then proceeded to tell me the backstory.

In one of the better snap decisions I’ve ever made, I told the boss I was going to have a look at these dogs and I might be late coming back from lunch. Even at that I hadn’t planned to come back with a dog that day. I really just wanted to look things over. It was supposed to be a start to the “looking” process, not an acquisition. That’s what it was, or rather what it started out as – right up to the point where the door to the garage opened and an army of wagging tails charged out.

There was a lone chocolate in that sea of black. Unlike the others, she didn’t rush out into the room. While her litter-mates sought to occupy every bit of space simultaneously, she hung back – not quite cowering in the presence of the unfamiliar, but in no hurry to greet it either. She was satisfied to find a quiet spot away from the maelstrom and observe. Maybe that’s why the tumblers clicked home. I scooped her up for a closer inspection. With a sniff she seemed satisfied and promptly fell asleep tucked under my arm like a fuzzy football. Some decisions are made for you.

My lunch that day ended up taking a bit longer than planned, although the boss didn’t seem to mind since he went home with a lab of his own later that afternoon. All told, I think my office ended up taking in four or five pups from that litter, but I’ll forever think that my girl was the best of them.

Stuck…

Maggie and Winston are two of the great joys of my life. With a few exceptions they’ve been around longer than most of the people I know and frankly I’d rather spend time hanging out with them than most two legged critters. For all the medical bills, late night trips to 1931518_140947123584_1995326_nemergency vets, special foods, and number of times I’ve nearly killed myself stepping barefoot on a toy or pile of sick in the middle of the night, I can’t imagine a time when there won’t be dogs in my home.

With as much affection and regard as I hold for these noble animals, it’s helpful to be reminded from time to time that while dogs can give us the impression of being surprisingly smart and adaptive, they can also be incredibly stupid creatures. Take for instance, my Maggie – the sweetest, most gently disposed Labrador God ever put on this green earth. Since she was a puppy she’s had an innate ability to almost predict my thoughts – which way I’m going to turn, what room I’m headed to, or when dinner is about to be served. This morning, though, I woke up to find she has chewed through my comforter at some point in the night and somehow managed to get her head stuck in the resulting hole. I wish I had the wherewithal at 5AM to snap a picture because it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever actually seen in person… a 50 pound lab wearing what amounted to a queen sized barber’s cape with a tell-tale look of guilt on her fuzzy little face.

This can only mean at some point in the early hours of the morning, the thought that this was a good idea when through her baseball sized brain. Apparently she’s not as good at independent decision-making as I’d been giving her credit for being. Instead, it just makes me wonder what else she’s up to while I’m catching a few hours of shuteye. Then again, it’s probably one of those things I’m better off not knowing.

Dog days…

After a ridiculous amount of time in and out of the vet’s office, tests, retests, and the some more tests, the results are somewhat less conclusive than I would have hoped. The bottom line is this: Despite higher than normal protein levels in her urine, there doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with Maggie. She’s behaving normally and has no ill effects in terms of kidney, liver, or heart function. The phrase the vet used this morning was that it seemed likely that Maggie just has “an unusually high baseline on these tests.” I’m pretty sure that’s veterinary medicine’s way of saying the numbers aren’t right, but we have no idea why, but I let the nice vet off the hook without asking too many questions. As long as my pup is in good health and not from something causing long term damage, I’m content to leave well enough alone.

For now, I’m going to do some tinkering what her food and retry all these tests in six months to see if anything has changed. It’s not exactly the clean bill of health I usually look for from the vet, but at this point, but it seems like as good a negotiated settlement as I’m likely to get this time around. I’m mostly just pleased that we were able to rule out most of the worst case scenarios. Even so, this last week has been a bothersome reminder that I’m the single parent to two middle-aged children now. Neither one of them are pups anymore, regardless of how I still think of them in my own head. I’m not sure I like that at all.

Escape artist or Why buying a steam cleaner was a money saver

Maggie has once again proven her mettle as an escape artist in training. This afternoon she defeated her crate… At least I can say it wasn’t the zip tied sides that failed. This time she sprung the bottom latch of the only door that will open and jammed herself through the gap. It seems like an impossibly small opening when you pause to consider that Maggie is now probably 20 inches at the shoulder and easily running on 50 pounds.

The first time you clean watery poo out of the carpet, it’s all about the poor sick dog. The third time you do it, the sick pup act has lost its charm. Add to that an area rug with its corner shredded and you really begin to question your sanity. We’re reaching the point where something is going to have to give. Poo or no, she’s going to have to stay in her crate while I’m not here. The 3-year-old carpet is in rough enough shape without her helping it along any further… and destroying things is a new trick altogether. I suppose it’s time to start looking at those industrial strength billeted aluminum crates they use for military working dogs. Summer down here is going to be too hot for me to be comfortable leaving a dog outside all day and the garage gets even hotter than the outside during the day. So yeah, I’m not quite at my wits end, but there is a definite steep upwards trend in my frustration level.

Since the zip ties seem to be out of chewing reach (in theory) the next step is adding a padlock on the non-zip tied door. If she gets past that, I’m going to be out of ideas… and that’s not a position I really want to be in.