That was predictable…

Back at the beginning of the Great Plague many animal shelters and rescues couldn’t meet the demand of people wanting to bring a dog, cart, or other small animal into their homes. That’s a great problem to have if you’re in the business of trying to get animals off the street or out of hoarding situations. Even as it was happening, I imagined what the inevitable downstream consequences would look like. Based on a couple of online reports I’ve read, we have now arrived “downstream.”

The animals adopted en mass over the last few years are now being abandoned to shelters at growing rate. It was perfectly predictable if you operate from the assumption that human beings are the literal worst. Sure, people will want to blame going back to their in-person jobs and not having time. Others will blame inflation. Others will dream up whatever excuse allows them to sleep better at night after abandoning a creature that was entirely dependent on them for food, shelter, and protection.

Look, no one knows better than I do that situations change. Eleven years ago, I was hurtling towards Maryland one day ahead of my belongings with two dogs in the back seat and no housing locked in because most landlords didn’t want to rent to someone with pets. It was damned stressful, but putting Maggie and Winston out on the side of the road was never going to be an option. If that meant I had to drive further or pay more, that was just the price of doing business. 

I’m damned if I’m going to be lectured by anyone about vet bills being expensive. More than once I had to take out a loan to pay for treatment I couldn’t afford out of pocket. Conservatively, I’d estimate I’ve paid out $30,000 in vet bills and medication over the last decade. That’s before even figuring in the day-to-day costs like food, toys, and treats. I didn’t always pay the bill with a song in my heart, but I found a way to get it done even if that mean sacrificing other things I wanted or needed. 

I struggle mightily to think of a situation where I’d hand over one of these animals or where I wouldn’t go without or change my living situation if that’s what it took to make sure I was able to look after them. Hell, if I drop dead tomorrow there are provisions in place to make sure Jorah, Hershel, and George can live out their days in comfort and get whatever care they need for the rest of their natural lives. That’s the unspoken compact I made with them when I brought them home.

If you’re the kind of person who would just dump them off on the local shelter or rescue, hope someone else will do the hard work for you, and then wash your hands of the whole sorry state of affairs, well then Jesus… I don’t even want to know you.

The barking dog…

If I’m painfully honest, the first six months with Jorah was touch and go. There was a while there where I didn’t like him all that much. Housebreaking and cleaning up puppy accidents is one thing – doing it with a full-sized dog and the proportionally larger volume of liquid they hold is something altogether different. Mercifully somewhere around the five-month mark, everything started to click and he finally seemed to “get it.” Once we were over that hump, he has been a remarkably good dog – particularly considering I have no idea what his circumstances were until he was already half a year old.

The only thing I haven’t managed to get under control is the barking. Things in the back yard mostly get a pass, but if it’s something moving out front, he’s a shrill and persistent alarm until it has passed fully out of his line of sight. It’s a habit that ranges from annoying to near-rage inducing depending on the time and duration.

He sounds absolutely vicious and I don’t necessarily want to break him from being alert or alerting me to comings and goings along the frontal approaches. As far as that goes, I’m mostly happy for anyone who comes near to think he’s an absolute terror who will surely lunge for the throat. Still, though, I’d dearly like for him to tone it down just a little bit – or maybe give it a few barks and then go into standby mode for run of the mill things like the neighborhood joggers.

In reality, I’m well aware of my own limitations as a dog trainer. I’m a pushover and generally subscribe to a mostly benign philosophy of letting dogs be dogs and do their own thing (as long as their thing doesn’t include destroying the house or its contents). So, feel free to consider this one of those things I’ll bitch and complain about, but ultimately do little or nothing to change.

As it should be…

Three years ago tonight, I knew I had a very sick dog. I knew we’d run out of room to maneuver. Through surgeries, skin infections, ear infections, bad joints, and most of the other expected bulldog maladies, there was always the likelihood of a bit of improved quality of life on the other side of the visit to the vet’s office.

Three years ago, I knew that wasn’t the case any longer. Standing up under his own power required a herculean effort and the pain of it was written across his face. The one short step down to the porch was entirely beyond his power. I could have filled him with pain meds and hung on grimly for a few more days or maybe even a few more weeks, but nothing seems more cruel than forcing a loyal dog to suffer without hope of it gaining him better times ahead.

Instead, I laid awake a lot of the night and listened to the steady rhythm of his snoring. Most good clocks aren’t as well regulated in their timing. We should all be so fortunate to sleep as soundly as a bulldog.

I won’t relive the rest of the story here. After three years, the inevitable “tomorrow” is still raw. Maybe it always will be.

Maybe that’s as it should be. After all, Winston was a very, very good dog and I miss him.

Chonky…

Hershel had his annual checkup and got his rabies booster today. He wasn’t thrilled with the experience. He doesn’t like to leave the house. I guess despite the difference in species, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

Still, the techs all made over him. Thanks to the thin walls, I could hear everyone in the procedure room fawning over “the good looking chonky boy.” I know I’m biased, but he is a good looking cat.

Other than needing to cut a little weight and a bit of dry skin, he seems to be in fine shape. He won’t love it when I start cutting back at mealtime. God knows I’d think it was a terrible idea if someone did it to me.

It was actually kind of nice to go to a vet appointment for “normal” issues for a change. Given my track record with animals I won’t let myself get used to it, but it was an appreciated change of pace.

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.