Saturday, July 30, 2011

A fantabulous day

A beautiful drive on a glorious day

I didn't expect it to be a great day.  I was up in the night with Charley, who was wandering around in a daze.  I took her outside and she stood with her head pressed to the wall of the house.  Oh no, I thought, she's in trouble again.  I led her back in, gave her a tramadol (pain killer)....and amazingly, she went right to sleep and was fine in the morning.

Some time ago, I had made a commitment to take a potential piggy foster for Hearts on Noses down to Central Saanich to meet one of our adopters and her piggies.  With Charley being ill, and Pepper coming in, I was hesitant to go, knowing I would be away several hours.  But, hey, sometimes you just have to trust your gut and go.  So I took each dog for a morning walk, arranged for a neighbour to check on them and let them out for a pee (thanks, Mary),  put the cat in the bedroom and Pepper in the mudroom, and gave Charley and Sadie the run of the rest of the house.   I had done several departures yesterday, leaving Pepper for a half hour at a time and she handled them beautifully, but it is too soon to trust them together unsupervised for half a day.

It was a gorgeous day - hot and sunny with lots of blue sky.     I arranged to meet the potential foster in Duncan, twenty minutes south of me, and she suggested we take her car .  I must confess...she didn't have to twist my arm very hard:

Wow - I haven't been in a convertible since I was 17.  And that is...well....let just say it is many decades ago. The trip from here to there is a lengthy drive via the Malahat - a beautiful stretch of mountain road with ocean views.  I thoroughly enjoyed it! 

The piggy adopter we were visiting, Dawn,  is also in a beautiful locale, with mountain and ocean views beyond endless fields.  And I got my piggy fix.  Dawn adopted Ruby through Hearts on Noses in February of this year.  She (Ruby the pig, not Dawn!) had been found running down a road all by herself, and no one had ever claimed her from animal control, who then contacted the sanctuary. She wasn't in great shape.  Fortunately, Dawn had recently filled in an application and undergone a home visit and so was preapproved, just waiting for a piggy in need.

And so it is a story with a happy ending.  And here's the proof.

Ruby, happy and healthy at last.


Not only that, but Dawn's daughter, who lives on the next acreage, also adopted two pigs in need.  Olie was a very young piglet found abandoned in a residence in the city, with a sibling who sadly did not make it.  Olie was a pretty sickly little guy at first, taken from his mama too young and then left to die.  You would never guess his rough start by looking at him today at about eight months old:

Speedy Olie

Blowing bubbles in his pool

And Gracie was also just a baby when her owner on the island decided she no longer wanted her and put up an online classified to just give her away like an old television set or a bag of used clothes. 

I'm doing just fine now, thank you.

All three piggies live a life of luxury now, with fresh straw and hay, good feed and treats, pasture to munch and warm beds at night. Their tails never stopped wagging from the time we arrived until the time we left; they are very happy, content pigs.

A content Ruby, about to roll over for a belly rub

Waggy tailed Olie

A swallow has built her nest in one of the piggy houses, and baby birds have hatched.  I caught her on the fence, waiting to feed them as soon as we retreated. 

A drive back across the Malahat hampered only by a lengthy traffic jam, and five hours after I left home I was back.  The dogs were all fine, though Pepper was starving and the cat was pissed off at being confined.  A lovely breeze came up and I again took each of the dogs for a little walk after dinner, and now they lie at my feet - the perfect end to a perfect day.

Hmmph - personally, I thought it was kinda boring.

Yeah, being locked up so a dorky dog can't eat me is no fun.

I'm sick.  My mama's not supposed to leave me!

Boring, boring, boring.

After spending time with the piggies today, and thinking how much the little ones remind me of my days fostering the ten babes of Scotch and Soda, I suddenly realized..... I completely forgot to wish Tom, Toddy, Lizzie, Rob Roy, Rickey, Derby, Spritzer, Swizzle, Whisper, and Fizzy a very happy 4th birthday this past Thursday! I'm such a bad former piggy foster mama! Happy birthday, little pigs!

It's about time!  When are you sending our presents?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Oh My Goodness......

Pepper has a VOICE!!
She has been completely silent until now.  But I guess I was too slow preparing dinner for the canine crew (it is a bit complicated and time consuming, as all three dogs currently have different needs and different pills/supplements).  I was standing at the counter, the dogs behind me, when all of a sudden


Very loud, very deep, very demanding. 

Okay, Pepper, dinner is coming.  Right away, ma'am.  As soon as I scrape myself and your food off the ceiling.

Canine Puzzles

Charley's final blood test came back and all is clear - we were concerned her symptoms might indicate neuro-cryptococcosis, but she tested negative.  So that brings us back to either the brain tumor, or a stroke.  However, strokes are quite rare in dogs, and she didn't show other typical symptoms such as head tilting, eating from only one side of the bowl, or any loss of bladder control as would usually happen during a stroke of sufficient magnitude to affect her so severely.

There are two types of strokes - those in which the blood flow to the brain is impeded (ischemic) and those in which there is actual bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic).  When we look at the causes of each kind of stroke, we have already tested for most of them - such things as kidney problems, diabetes, infection, high blood pressure, etc.  By the time we eliminate the causes that don't fit, we are left with one thing which can be the cause of either ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes - tumors.  So, whether her problems were caused directly by a tumor in the brain, or by a tumor somewhere in the body that led to a stroke,  is somewhat immaterial.  What remains to be seen is whether it recurs.  Tumors can shift, brains do accomodate, a blood vessel that is squeezed by a tumor can become functional again as the person moves about - at least for a while, until it grows some more.  So the prognosis is unknown - she could go tomorrow or she could be here for another year or more.

And medical tests are imperfect.  It is entirely possible that it was some sort of bacterial infection despite the results of the blood and urine tests, and that the drugs she is presently on are wiping it out - because today, our Charley is almost 100% back to how she was before this all went south.  She is walking as stable as she ever walks (which hasn't been great for quite some time), she is no longer bumping or stumbling, she managed a walk around the 'half-block" (ie, using the back lane) today, and she appears to have regained her vision or at least much of it. 

It is a puzzle.  All we can do is continue to give her the very best care we can and to love her forever.

As for Pepper, she and the cat have made their peace after two or three chasing incidents.  Pepper was just curious about this little furry thing running past, and now that Allie understands she means no harm, she has stopped hiding and is strutting her stuff right past Pepper's nose without incident.

Pepper is somewhat restless and still waiting for her former mama to come for her - she checks the window, goes to the door, goes to the gate.  But she will settle in time, and she is certainly an easy dog to have around.  Today we took two walks around the neighbourhood - the first just around the block, and the second one to the beach and back.  She was pretty tired at the end of the second one, but does walk beautifully on leash after the first block of trying to drag me into the bushes.  She is, for sure, part hound!!

The Puzzle with Pepper is also health related.  At certain angles she is nothing but skin and bone, but she has a big pot belly and is constantly hungry.  Okay, the hound in her may also be why she is always checking out the kitchen - but combined with the enormous quantity of water she drinks and copious peeing, as well as other symptoms, Cushings comes to mind. On the other hand, if she has been malnourished and dehydrated, she may simply need time to rehydrate and fill out.  In fact, her drinking is quite a bit less today than yesterday, when she went through several litres of water.  Today I have only refilled the dishes once so far. I am feeding her small amounts of homecooked chicken and rice (with digestive enzymes and probiotics added) every three hours.  Tonight I will start introducing her to top quality dog food as well .  Hopefully she will start to fill out, and those huge, runny, corn-filled poops will become much more 'normal and easier to clean up!! Sometime next week she will likely have a vet check and then we will have a better idea of her needs and her future.

Sadie and Allie would like you to know that they are both doing well (although Sadie did have another exercise-induced collapse the other day, after a fairly short and not very fast walk).  They think they should each have extra treats to compensate for the attention being given to Charley and Pepper.  I dunno....what do you think?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Would you like a little Pepper with that?

This is Pepper. Pepper is a hound/shepherd cross. She is in her sixteenth year. She was adopted from the Cowichan and District SPCA a few years ago, but her adopter fell on hard times and has recently been living in a car. Yesterday, she brought Pepper to the SPCA, no longer able to look after her.

The SPCA is full to the brim, and a week or so ago, I told them to call me if a dog came in suitable for me to foster - easygoing, good with dogs and cats. So they did.

When I got the call about Pepper, I agreed to meet her but also knew I would have to be strong enough to say "no" given Charley's recent health problems. (Charley, by the way, is becoming very adept at finding her way around without her vision, and at the moment is almost as steady as before the neurological incident. ).

So, I put on my suit of armor, and locked my emotions up in the closet, and headed off to meet Pepper, fully expecting to give my regrets and come home without her.

Well! Ms. Pepper had other ideas. All she had to do was bat these big eyes at me


and give me a big smiley face

Hai!  I'm really a very happy girl!

and follow me outside, where she immediately had a nice long pee and a poop (just to show me what a GOOD girl she is) and I was a goner.

Okay, she is also very quiet, very well behaved, and about the same size as Charley without all the fur - not too much to handle.

Maybe if I lie really quietly, they'll let me stay.

Charley's nose is a bit out of joint, as it always is when I first bring another dog home, but she's okay with it.

Sadie is quite content to have another pal to mooch with (as long as she continues to get her fair share of the goodies):

Yum!  We like cheese and crackers too!

And Allie hasn't quite made up her mind yet.

Hmmph!  A hound!  She brought in a Hound!

(It didn't help that Pepper chased her - but that was Allie's own fault as she was pulling her usual stunt of sneaking up on a sleeping dog and whapping the back end!)

Pepper is very bony and skinny, with some lumps and bumps. She's drinking a ton and peeing a river, which may just be anxiety or even just from recovering from hunger and dehydration. However, if it continues the SPCA will have the vet check for other causes once she has had a chance to rest and settle a bit. Despite the health concerns, she is agile, able to climb up and down stairs with no problem and only needed the tiniest bit of help to jump into the van. She was happy to lie at my feet while I read for a couple of hours this afternoon, but does get restless at times -likely wondering when she is going "home".

Today and tomorrow I shall stick close to her to allow her to bond. I started the 5x5 process (leaving her for five minutes five times) today to get her accustomed to my coming and going, and tomorrow I shall walk her around the block to begin teaching her the smells of the neighbourhood. At the moment, I am also taking her into the yard for a few minutes every hour - once she got into the house, she didn't want to leave again! Now we are going in and out, in and out, to make sure she knows that this door is always open to her.

Pepper in back yard

On back porch - Can I go back in now, please?

I think I'm gonna like it here!

I'm quite sure she will have me wrapped around her paw in no time.

Bringing a foster dog into the house is a bit like bringing home a book from the library - you can't tell from the cover what truly lies within. I look forward to watching Pepper's story unfold.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Reprieve for Charley

In the past, with dogs who have needed help to pass, I have always had a sense of certainty. Something told me the dog was ready to go, that it was time. With Charley, I did not have that certainty. Over the past twenty-four hours, in moments when her ears pricked up as I entered a room, or she rubbed her head against my knee, or pranced two or three steps toward me with a happy grin on her face, she wasn’t ready to go. And in moments when she stood pressing her head against the wall, or falling onto her side, or spread eagled on the kitchen mat looking at me with despair and helplessness, perhaps she was.

But for today, at this moment in time, she will continue to breathe in the summer air, to receive pats and cuddles, to be handfed if necessary and guided by my hand when she needs it. It may be that my vet will be returning for a final time tomorrow, or next week, or next month. But for now, it is not time.

My vet gave her a thorough check up. In all likelihood, Charley has a lesion/tumor in the frontal lobes. Her pupils are non-responsive to light (though she did flinch and jerk away when the light was shone in her right eye), and her blink reflex is negligible. She does track movement some of the time, but that may be in response to scent rather than sight. There are other signs of problems, too, suggesting a lack of connection between the brain and the body.  We took a blood sample to check for infection, liver enzymes, etc.  (I’ll have the results on that tomorrow) and she has been started on some medications for pain, infection, and diarrhea. Her last  blood test was only about four months ago, and it was clear. If nothing new shows on this blood test, then that will help solidify the frontal lobe lesion diagnosis. For that, the future is bleak.

There are some who will say I should have let her go – that a dog who staggers, falls down, is lost, gets trapped in corners should be released. Had I let her go, there would be some who would say there was no need to end her life, that it was for my convenience, that such problems can be managed. They are welcome to their opinions; may their certainty be present in their decisions with their own animal companions. But the decision that was made today is between my vet, myself, Charley and the Great Spirit. It is a decision the vet and I are comfortable with, and I think Charley is, too. In true Charley form, she was the only one of my critters who met the vet at the door and stuck around to say goodbye when she left! 

I have always said I would rather help a dog to pass a week too early than a day too late. May I have the wisdom to know when it is time, and not leave it a day too late.

Rock on, Charley girl, you are very much loved.

Monday, July 25, 2011


The cycle of life is all around us – birth, growth, death, birth, growth, death. It marches across my heart, sometimes tiptoeing, gently caressing my soul with love, other times stomping on it with hobnail boots. Unpredictable and spontaneous, yet predictable and certain; we know that death will come, but we don’t know just when. And we know there will be new life, but its magic always takes us by surprise.

I stand on my back deck early this summer’s morning, inhaling life around me, my heart so very full. In a tall tree near the ferry dock an eagle cries, and from the telephone post nearest the house a flicker calls to its mate. Over the fence I see apples and pears ripening on the neighbour’s trees, and in my yard my scarlet runners wind their way up the lattice at the back of my vegetable bed.

 The baby sparrows in the birdhouse under the eaves chirp noisily as their father, one eye on me, cautiously flies to them with grubs in his beak. The babies are nearly ready to fly, each to begin its solo adventure into the world.

 By my feet, my dog Charley breathes in the scent of grass and flowers and birds and fruit, on what may be her last full day on earth. It is three days since she was taken ill – a neurological event that left her unable to walk on tangled legs, unable to see through clouded eyes, unable to eat without assistance. In the past two days, she showed little improvement. And so last night I made the appointment for our vet to come to her one final time.

 But this morning Charley suddenly arose, and softly padded after me as I made my way outside. Now, she lies quietly beside me as I sip my cup of coffee and watch the morning awaken. Perhaps she will rally enough to welcome many more mornings with me; or perhaps this is her swan song.

 I realize, as I survey the world around me, that life is not linear or cyclical as my initial thoughts suggest. Yes, our time on earth begins with birth and ends with death, but it is not a straight progression. Towards the end, especially, it is often one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back. The cliché ‘dancing with death’ comes to mind. My Charley is doing a passionate tango with death. As the conductor of her music, I have the power to halt her dance at any time, or the power to let it continue, albeit under watchful eye, until the cosmic force that governs all births and deaths decides that it is truly time for her to move along.

 Perhaps the baby birds will fly tomorrow. Perhaps my Charley will not die tomorrow. Perhaps.

(c) JFB 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And another pupdate - ZUKE!

Foster dog Lucy's one little dark pup, the 'reverse brindle' boy with a great big personality and a ton of energy, has grown into another big beautiful boy.  This was Zuke (with his mama Lucy) at about 6 weeks:

Zuke, age 6 weeks, with Lucy

And a few other puppy pics of him from about 4-6 weeks:

At the time of his six week photoshoot, I describe him as " a perpetual whirlwind, a cheeky, mouthy, rambunctious, never-slow-down pup. He is a chewer, a puller, a nipper, a jumper, a pouncer, a humper, a tugger-of-tails, a chomper-of-toes, a mischievous, devilish, smart-as-a-whip little pup." (You can read more about him here ). 

He's also the pup who managed to get in an accident at about four and a half months and ended up with pelvic damage.  He has obviously fully recuperated and his exuberant personality remains intact!  In fact, one of his favourite activities is jumping on the trampoline with his two-legged brothers:

His mom, Elizabeth, has this to say about Zuke:

He is ADORABLE. He talks, goes crazy to lick any exposed skin, and is better than any of the boys at digging holes. Zuke will dig a hole anywhere. He watches the chickens, then has to out do them. He is a friendly boy, gets along with all creatures. I found him underneath a German Shepard one day. They were both calm and the German Shepard let him go when I asked nicely. "Not everyone wants to play, Zuke" I said. He nodded and we went and played with his girlfriend down the road.
Zuke is a big boy. We figure he must be all of 80 lbs. He eats a lot but runs it off. Our neighbor also takes him out with his two Samoyed dogs. Socialization has not been a problem. He loves the cats and the rabbits and I think the chickens too. I usually have five or six children with me on our walks and Zuke looks over all of us, running back and forth to keep everyone together.

Here's some more photos of him - as Elizabeth has found out, very dark dogs are hard to photograph.  Whirlwind dark dogs are even harder to photograph! 

Now that's a happy dog!
Thanks, Elizabeth - he sure looks good!  Looks like he has some lab in there, yet also resembles Hubbard, Fitz, and Major Bo in many ways.  Four big boys - - any updates from the girls or the short legged boys??????

(Photos used with permission)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Be careful what you wish for!

I like structure, predictability, a sense of certainty in my day.  While the unexpected magic moment of a beautiful sunset or animal sighting or colourful flower pleases me no end, generally I get into routines and stick to them. 

But as surely as washing my car is certain to bring rain, becoming complacent is certain to bring change.  Sadie's maladies aside, life with two old dogs was becoming too mundane for me.   Except for our short little walks each day, hours go by when I don't see Sadie or Charley as they choose to snooze away the day in the mudroom or bedroom or lying on the spare room futon.  At times I feel dogless -  such a change from  when Oliver, Belle, Caleb, or Lucy, all 'velcro dogs', lived here and followed me everywhere.  Even my recent guest, Sam, trotted around with me from room to room, being ever helpful in his own 'stay alert, don't trip over me' sort of way.  I miss that.  I even mentioned to several friends that life was too quiet and dull and slow now - I needed a dog who needs a bit more of my attention.

I should learn to keep my mouth shut. Or at least not to let the Great Spirit, or whatever cosmic force governs our lives, hear me say things as dumb as "I need a dog who needs more of me!"
I got one.  But it wasn't what I expected.  And it wasn't a cause for celebration.

Sometime Friday afternoon, Charley had some sort of neurological episode which has left her either unable to see, or unable to make the cerebral connection between what her eyes see and  what her body needs to do.

Charley, who had been doing so very well for the past several months, suddenly looked like a staggering drunk.  Her front paws crossed continually,  she fell over at the slightest attempt to redirect her, and she walked straight into walls and furniture and people and critters.  She was panting softly, her respirations were shallow, her heart was racing.  Finally she collapsed in a state of semi-consciousness, and there she lay.  I called my mobile vet, fully expecting that we would be saying goodbye to her.

By the time the vet got to me, Charley had rallied a bit.  She was resting comfortably, was very calm, took water and broth when offered to her, she even expressed interest in some dinner when I fed Sadie.    We decided to ride it out for a day or two.  The vet suspects she may have either had a stroke or, more likely, has a  cerebral tumor- given what appears to be a loss of vision and the lack of front end neurological control.   Or it could be something like Cushings disease,  or a rapid escalation of degenerative myelopathy  (Charley was tentatively diagnosed with this after a very mild but similar incident three or four years ago, and in line with her ever-weakening back end and dragging rear paws).  Unlike vestibular disease, she has no head tilt, does not turn in circles or hug the walls, and has no rapid eye movements.

Today, she is a bit more stable and more alert, but no more focused.  She is still crashing blindly (and sometimes with great force) into walls and fences and furniture, and standing with her head pressed against things, which the vet says may be an indicator of pain the the frontal lobes. She continues to eat and drink just fine (with help), and is on pain killers which seem to help.  She  must be led in and out on leash, helped to navigate the household obstacles, and frequently moved out of corners.  In many ways, she reminds me very much of Oliver in the very advanced stages of Canine Cognitive Disorder, except that this came on so suddenly. 

We shall deal with it  day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and make whatever decisions are in Charley's best interest.

In the course of twenty four hours, my life with the critters went from predictable and undemanding to high alert - needing to be constantly aware of Charley's whereabouts, helping her negotiate even the simplest of tasks (like guiding her head to her food dish), finding new ways to communicate with her.

So now I have one dog who has recently lost her hearing, and another who seems unable to see.  And I'm a slow learner - I keep using verbal commands with the one who is deaf, and hand gestures with the one who cannot see.  My life is challenging once again.

I should be careful what I wish for.


Note to Elizabeth:  I received your update on Zuke - thanks! - and emailed back for permission to post the photo.  However, your emails are bouncing back (mail box full perhaps?), so please email me if this is okay.  Looking forward to more photos, too! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where does time go?

Granddog Becky, Summer 2011 (Age 13)

The week with my daughter and granddog visiting ended Saturday;  this afternoon my sister arrives for a visit.  One thing about living in a seaside village on a beautiful island - I'm never short of company! 

Between Sunday and Tuesday, I had great plans to do some significant housework, gardening, paperwork and other catch-up stuff, and I also had a column to write and photos to edit.  Unfortunately I  picked up some books I wanted to read it is Wednesday and none of the things on my 'to do' list have been done with the exception of the column my friend Liz and I co-author, which we actually got in two days before our deadline.  It really helps to have a co-writer - when one of us is procrastinating, the other holds her accountable!  As I also supply the paper with photos, I did edit a few I wanted to submit with the column, but still have about two hundred new ones of park and beach to go through.

The visit with my daughter involved a trip to Parksville, and we had fun with Sadie and Becky on the vast, beautiful sand beaches there.  Do these look like happy dogs to you?

Sadie and Becky on Parksville beach
Happy Becky

Happy Becky running on beach

Such a good dog!

Aack - sand on my tongue and wind in my furs!!!

I have to laugh at the way Becky runs (that's okay - Becky probably laughs at the way I run, too) - she is like a rocking horse - both front legs up, both back legs up, both front legs up, both back legs up...

Like any grandma, my camera is always out when the grandkid(dog) is around.

Ears up!

And like any good grandma, I have to spoil the grandkid(dog) while she's here - a new piece of bling ID for her collar, and a flying squirrel as she really likes the one I keep here for visiting dogs. Her paw on her squirrel definitely says "MINE!":

New bling AND a flying squirrel! Thanks, Grandma Jean!

And now I better get the spare room prepared, give the rest of the house a lick and a promise, and run out for some groceries and dog food -- if I don't get sidetracked by the new hatch of sparrows that were born in the birdhouse under my shed roof a couple of days ago. Baby squeeks and wide open beaks and busy parent birds are sooooo entertaining!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Major Bo - all grown up!

It's another pupdate!  Bo is the pup whose placement was meant to be - the pup whose petfinder picture of him sitting on a pink and white striped quilt caught the attention of the couple whose daughter had long ago been comforted by that very same quilt.  If you missed the story of The Magic of the Quilt, you'll find it here.

This was Bo (now called Major, Major Bo, or Major Bo Jangles!) at about 6 weeks:

Bo, six weeks

And this is Major Bo now, at nine months!

Major Bo in a field of daisies, 9 months

Major Bo and his stick

Beautiful Major Bo Jangles, 9 months

Gerri and Don, Major Bo's folks, have this to say about him:
Major is truly a wonderful dog. We were just down at Mill bay beach, and he was rescuing logs and seaweed from the ocean. He is becoming a very strong and confident swimmer. I wonder if that could be the Newfie in him? As for looks he could pass for a very handsome Belgian Shepherd, and even the trainers at agility stated they were sure he had some Belgian Shepherd in him. All I know is that he is the most loyal, loving being in our lives.
His face sure looks like there's some shepherd in there, especially in that photo with the stick! Thanks for the pupdate, Gerri and Don.

Another big boy - that's three for three. I'd sure love to see how the smaller, short-legged pups turned out (hint, hint, if any of their adopters are reading this!).