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.

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.

A rare moment of indecisiveness…

I’ll admit that a decade ago I picked the vet whose office location was the most convenient. I was just back to Maryland with a bulldog who at least once a month seemed to need to go to the vet immediately. Their office being between five and seven minutes from the house was a much appreciated convenience.

That office closed a few years ago and folded many of their clients, myself included, into their sister facility twenty-five minutes away. We’ve gotten good service there and I like my regular vet and the staff, but their fees tend towards eyewatering territory on a pretty regular basis.

I’m leaning towards transitioning the two youngest members of the household over to a different vet – one that’s still locally owned and operated (and presumably with lower costs for basic veterinary care). With Maggie’s long and complex history over the last several years, though, I expect to keep her with people who know the full back story until we’ve played that hand all the way through.

Part of the reason I liked the big corporate chain vet in the first place was having ready access to emergency and specialists “in the family.” With a host of them now sprung up within reasonable driving distance, I’m not sure that’s the selling point it was then. It feels likely that nothing more than the inertia of dealing with a known quantity is what really kept us where we’ve been this long.

Or not. I’m currently feeling mightily indecisive… and since a decision isn’t needed right the hell now, I’ll probably continue to dither for a bit yet.

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.

How to improve cubicle hell…

I was in the office today. Even five months into the Great Plague, the rhythms of the place carry on largely unchanged. With upwards of 70% of the staff working from home it has a bit of a ghost town feel… but the phones keep ringing, the email keeps flowing, the day-to-day work seems to be getting done, and ridiculous ideas continue to abound. If it weren’t for needing to pick up the phone instead of sticking your head over a cubicle wall, I’d honestly be hard pressed to know that today was any different than the before time. I suppose you can decide what to make of that information.

What I noticed most about the day, though, was the absence of periodic fuzzy interruptions throughout the day. I hadn’t noticed until now how much I’ve come to expect the cat to occasionally jump onto the keyboard or work through the next email one handed while one or both dogs lean in for ear scratches and ear rubs. Even with that, they’re among the least distracting coworkers I’ve ever had.

The golden age of working from home will end eventually – killed off by the unstoppable force of an employer who believe asses in seats equals productivity as much as by the immovable object of employees who equate working from home with a paid vacation day.

I’ve known for most of my working life that there’s very little I can do at the office that I couldn’t do from anywhere that has a reliable internet connection… but these last few months have only just reinforced that having the animals alongside makes the fuckery of the standard eight-hour work day infinitely more tolerable. If we’re all eventually going to be stuck back in cubicle hell eventually, adding some coworkers with wagging tails or a steady and reliable purr would be incredibly helpful.

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.

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.

Lumps and bumps…

Having an old dog means there’s really no end to the lumps and bumps you’re going to find on them today that weren’t there yesterday. I’m told fatty lipomas are particularly common in old Labrador’s – and Maggie has more than her share of those. As long as we confirm that they’re not malignant, I’m more or less happy to leave them be rather than subject her to an invasive surgery to correct something that’s basically cosmetic.

The story is a little different when it comes to the most recent tumor. This one is growing under her right eyelid and if left unchecked could cause damage to her eye. That falls well into the category of “not cosmetic.”

We schlepped over to the most local of the region’s specialty vet’s offices this morning to meet with the veterinary ophthalmologist for the first of what’s likely to be several consultative visits. They ran a few tests, poked and prodded, and looked deeply into her eyes… and confirmed that “yep, that’s a tumor and we should probably cut it off.” At least that part wasn’t a surprise.

Maggie’s overall prognosis is good. The procedure is fairly straightforward, so we’re not breaking new ground in veterinary medicine. That’s not to say the procedure is inexpensive, of course. It’s not the kind of vet’s office you ever walk into thinking that the visit is going to be budget friendly. It’s the price of progress. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

The only question now is whether I want to get another consult with the surgeons to see if taking off one of the large fatty masses on her shoulder is something we should think about adding in to the surgery. On a younger dog in my mind the decision would be a no brainer. With my girl pushing 12 now, I’m hesitant to take on anything invasive that isn’t strictly necessary.

At least I know what I’ll be spending the weekend pondering.

Updates on a chocolate lab…

A couple of weeks ago, I took Maggie in to the vet for her regular checkup. As they get older, I approach these visits with increasing trepidation with every dog – mostly out of the fear that the vet will find something that should have been obvious to me, but that I missed simply due to familiarity, or that the regular blood work will show something new having gone out of whack since the last visit. For better or worse old dogs are just like old cars or old people – sometimes shit just stops working for no other reason than it’s old and broken.

Given Maggie’s last six months and the extensive vetting she had to get over her stomach trouble, I had lots of tests forming the baseline. Some of them I was expecting to be bad just as a matter of course. Others I expected to have gotten worse over time. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Maggie’s blood work came back with all the key data points “in range.” Even if it’s being held there through the advanced application of chemistry, it was as good a result as I could have hoped for – and not the one I was expecting. At a minimum, I went into this series of tests assuming that we’d be dialing up her medication to hold the same ground.

There’s no hiding the gray in her muzzle. My girl is still and old dog. She’s still got Cushings. But for the time being it hasn’t gotten worse. It’s still being effectively managed with her current dose of medication. Believe me when I tell you I don’t take that for granted for even a moment, because I know just how quickly the opposite can become true.

Although Maggie’s checkup was mostly good news, we’re headed over to the veterinary ophthalmologist in two weeks to get some small lumps and bumps looked at. One is purely cosmetic and has been there for a few years now, though it’s gotten bigger and is prone to bleeding when she rubs it. The other, most likely a small benign tumor or skin tag, is starting to form on the inside of her eyelid. This new one is the most troublesome to me since it’s in direct contact with her eye, though I’d like to see them both gone for her comfort and my peace of mind.

The slightly abridged story of another sick dog…

Since I seem to be permanently destined to have at least one sick dog on the premises, I suppose it’s only fair that I throw out a little update on what we’ve been up to since late last Friday.

The short version is that over a span of about an hour on Friday night I watched my already sickly chocolate lab go from her normal self to drooling, vomiting, and blasting out unimaginably large quantities of liquefied, high pressure shit. I undertook the “40 minute” drive to the nearest emergency vet with great vigor and complete disregard for pesky details like traffic laws and personal safety. I was more or less convinced that by the time we got there, I’d be dropping her off for a necropsy rather than treatment. I never thought I’d be happy to hear a dog retching and hacking in the back seat. For Friday at least it was the sound of not being dead yet.

After 36 hours of treatment, blood tests, fists full of medication, an ultrasound, and round the clock monitoring, the official diagnosis is “we don’t really know.” The symptoms don’t really present as something directly related to her Cushing’s disease and the ultrasound didn’t show anything radically different than what we saw back in March. Inconclusive.

In the absence of a solid medical diagnosis, I’ve arrived at a speculative cause for all this last week’s problems. What I think happened is that sometime around 6:30 Friday night the dogs found something in the yard – perhaps a mushroom – and noshed on it. For Maggie, already compromised with Cushings and general old age, the result was sudden and violent illness.

The key to my speculation doesn’t actually involve Maggie at all, though. When I got home from the emergency vet around midnight Friday, Jorah’s crate floor was spotted with drops of something. At first I attributed those drops to a reversion to peeing in his crate, but a closer look showed that he too was drooling prodigiously. In Jorah’s case, though, it lasted just a few hours and dissipated. He never showed any signs of feeling badly otherwise, which I know from sitting up through the small hours of Saturday morning waiting to see if I needed to drag another dog in for heroic measures of treatment at weekend rates.

I talked to our regular vet last night and laid out the timeline of events, went over the details from the file, and presented my own observation of the events. Without being led there, his first opinion was that it sounded like they had both eaten something and promptly got sick in proportion to the strength of their respective systems. It’s not exactly a confirmation of my logic, but I was glad to see that his analysis of the available evidence mirrored my own. Unless something is proven otherwise, “ate something” is going to be the official story of what caused this week’s series of unpleasant events at Fortress Jeff.

With leaves coming down and the ground covered it’s going to be horribly difficult if not outright impossible to verify any of this. It’s going to be harder still to comb the area for anything that could further agitate the situation. Part of me knows we’ll be relying on some level of luck in avoiding future problems. It’s not optimal, but we’ve lived here a fairly long time now without something in the yard causing mayhem and chaos. One bad day out of 1200+ isn’t necessarily a cause for panic, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the compound with a new level of unease.