Monthly Archives: December 2012

Home Alone, the Canine Version

Molly watching the world go by

Photo by Amy Houselog Turner

“I should set up a camera to see what my dogs do at home all day long.” I know I’m not alone in my thinking. We wave good-bye to our pups and shut the door behind us as we leave for the day. Will they be bored? Will they just sleep? Will they get into things they shouldn't?  For all we know, our dogs have thrown many a crazy puppy party in our absence. We want to know that our furry friends are unharmed and happy all day long. Luckily, Amy - my friend and the owner of True Dog Training - has several helpful tips to help ease our minds.

  1. Exercise your pup before you leave.  A tired dog is a happy dog. Take them on a run with you before work. Throw around the ball in your fenced-in yard. Get their blood pumping before you leave, so then they can crash and dream about how much fun their work-out with you was.
  2. Utilize food dispensing toys. Keep them busy! Stuff food dispensing toys with kibble, wet dog food, canned pumpkin/yogurt, apple sauce or bananas. Popular brands are Kong, Premier, and Busy Buddy.  You can create layers of dry kibble and mushy food and freeze the night before. Use your dog’s measured food and account for any extras by removing some kibble. Tug-A-Jug is another popular option.

home alone pic 1It is important to note that some dogs are resource guarders – they should not be allowed with other animals while eating. If you have multiple dogs, consider separating them with baby gates or crates if this is a concern.

  1. Leave out a basket of sturdy toys. A lot of dogs like to play and chew. Find some well-made tennis balls, antlers, or Nylabones. Never leave out toys that could be ingested or are a choking hazard.
  2. Play soft music or television.  Usually when you are home, dogs are used to the chatter of you and your family, or the television. Playing soothing music or keeping the tv on at a low volume could make them feel less alone when you are gone. Remember that dogs have very sensitive ears, so always test the volume and note their reaction.
  3. Leave the curtains or blinds open (…maybe). If the dog doesn't bark, growl, jump, or scratch the windows it should be fine for them to look out. If they stress in any way when you are home to sounds or sights, chances are they are doing it all day. This may make pups more edgy, grouchy and high-strung when you are home. Use baby gates, curtains or crates so they can't see those things (some dogs are truly more relaxed in a crate).

You know your dog(s) better than anyone. Be aware of their likes, dislikes, and what makes them uncomfortable. Make their time away from you a happy and safe one!

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A day in the life of a special (aka paralyzed) dog, as told by Duke

Duke asleep Okay, I’m awake. There are Mama’s feet right next to me…and her head back there - yup, she’s still sleeping. But it’s gotta be morning. I’m hungry, let’s go downstairs. I’ll just jump off the bed even though the alarm didn’t go off yet – maybe she feels like getting up early today. Here I go – PLOP… scoot scoot. Oh that damn baby gate again! Mama! There you are! Ready to eat breakf….ohh, you’re picking me up to go back in the bed. Alright, I’ll sleep again until you’re ready.

10 minutes later: Okay, I’m awake. There are Mama’s feet right next to me and the alarm hasn’t gone off yet. She’s gotta want to get up by now! PLOP. Let’s go! You move the baby gate, Mama, and I’ll skate down the stairs no problem. Hey she’s going for it! Yay breakfast!

Mama Mama foooddd!! Thump Thump Thump… flew down the steps - who needs working back legs for that? I will be a patient boy while you fill Molly and Theo’s bowl’s first, they are just little, I’m a big boy, I can wait…oohh fooooddd!! Good stuff.

Now she’s putting that padded black necklace on me again - outside time. So that must be the front harness, and I’ll patiently wait for her to click me into the rest of my pretty blue wheelchair. Up go my rear legs into the back slings. Despite my back legs being paralyzed, they move a lot when I’m in my Walkin’ Wheels  http://www.handicappedpets.com/adjustable-dog-wheelchairs.html A lot of people get excited when they see this, hoping it means a sign of healing, but really they are just common involuntary spasms http://www.christopherreeve.org/site/c.mtKZKgMWKwG/b.4453419/k.3757/Spasticity.htm

snowydukeI’m all strapped in! I’ll race to the door just in case she forgets that we’re headed outside. She clicks on my leash and yay we’re out the door. Unless I’m fenced in, with no other dogs around, Mama never lets me go off-leash. I had a tough time when I was a stray fending for myself for 18 months. I had to fight for food a lot, and other dogs and animals - even the tiny ones – make me very anxious now. If a random dog comes running up to me I will likely react quickly out of fear. So Mama likes to keep me close on a leash (and follow the law!)

Mmmmm fresh air. Love it. Mama will let me sniff the grass and trees for a few minutes, but then it’s time to express my bladder. I stand very still as she presses around my bladder for it to empty, since I can’t “water the fire hydrant” on my own. We do this at least twice a day. It doesn’t hurt, I just feel some pressure back there. We keep me as empty as possible as to avoid urinary tract infections (so far, so good!). I don’t have control over #2 either, but at least it comes out without any extra help - Mama just never knows when or where!  We enjoy the outdoors a little more, then head inside to my favorite Lhasa Apso siblings, Molly and Theo.

Once inside, Mama takes off my wheelchair and I’m free to scoot around the room. My upper body is that of The Hulk – I’m ripped. I cannot feel my back legs at all, and they just follow behind as I explore. When I get going really fast, my booty bumps against the floor and this has caused something called hygroma. According to my vet, Dr. Riordan, “Hygroma is a combination of a callus and a seroma. They occur over pressure points, in this case the point of the ischium (bone point of the rear end). There is scar tissue and fluid in them; however, drainage is not always the treatment. There is no 100% treatment as they tend to recur, and they can easily get infected if too much drainage is done. The good news is that they are not really painful, and usually don't interfere with other functions.” My booty gets measured every time I visit the vet, and it’s always been fine. I actually think the hygroma has now just turned into a big callus. And, I can’t feel anything back there anyway, so it’s all good.

I’m a good mopper. Because my back legs and my tummy are dusting the floor all the time, Mama makes sure to give me a bath once a week. Ugh. Not a fan. But, she’s usually pretty quick about it. Or, sometimes she takes a soapy washcloth to my belly. Important to stay clean, and I feel much better! I actually clean myself a lot, too. Even though I can’t feel my limbs, I lick them – I know they are part of me.

So, all of this came about because I was shot and thrown in a river. But I try not to focus on that, and neither does Mama. Even though she has to lift me up a lot (up the stairs, onto her bed), I think she tries to let me be as “normal” as a dog as possible. All of these unique things she does for me have become very routine for her and I think she would be lost without having to take extra-special care of me. I’ve heard her tell people that the rewards of caring for a special-needs dog are immeasurable. I feel lucky I could help her feel that kind of love!

Ooh, she’s turning off the lights downstairs, so that means we’re headed upstairs for the night. I’m over 60 pounds, but she’s used to hauling me around everywhere. Time to go to sleep on Mama’s bed, with my favorite fuzzy blanket… the other pups and I make sure she only has enough room to breathe and that’s it.  Don’t mind my snoring. I’ll be up again before the alarm!

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I believe in Dog.

Recently we were at an event and of course the subject of dogs came up. Three different men – big, strong, cigar-smoking, scotch drinking men – shared that they had recently lost their best buddies and they were suffering from the loss. One man was especially devastated because he’d “got a backup” to help soften the blow when his older dog died – and the “backup” fell ill unexpectedly so he lost both within a short period of time.

A married couple told me their eight year old pooch had to have surgery that left her unable to run the way she used to. They find it difficult to deny her joy and leave her home when they go for a run but they do, for her sake, even though it about kills them.

I understand. I bought my dream house a year after the two monsters in the photo came into my lifeLady and Bear. It's a turn of the (last) century American Foursquare. Four bedrooms upstairs, the usual living, dining, kitchen and parlor downstairs. Five years ago, when my heart dog Bear (on the right) was still with me, I made the decision to move my bed into what was supposed to be the dining room. He couldn’t manage the stairs anymore and since we’d slept together nearly every night of his nine years, I wasn’t about to leave him downstairs at bedtime.

After he left me the following year (May 2010), I moved the bed back upstairs. The habits that came with having him curled up on the floor next to the bed,  where my hand would rest in his thick fur through the night, were too difficult to relive each day, and put me off kilter in my sleep.

Chancey pants

Then Chance found me in May 2011. He was tied to a train track and hit by a train, so his mobility is challenged. For the first month or so, I carried my top-heavy 60 pound boy up and down the stairs each morning and each evening, and ended up with a raging case of tendonitis. Then I got smart (with his help) and realized if I put a sling under his back end, he managed just fine with the front end – too fine, actually – he had a tendency to want to fly down the stairs whether I was at the same speed or not!

But last fall, Bear’s ‘twin’ sister Lady who is almost 14, started having issues with her hips and climbing was clearly painful. So back downstairs came the bed, and we all sleep in the dining room again.

Why do I rearrange my life for them? These animals are not my ‘kids’, although I treat them that way. They are part of me. Bear was my heart. I turned to him for comfort and reassurance during some very rough times. Even though he was less than six months old when my mother died, he knew something bad was happening and made it his mission to distract me from my grief when he could, and squish into me with his warm, pudgy body when he couldn’t.

Lady is my soul – she’s the black furry mirror of my passion, my selfishness, my ego, my fiery temper – mitigated with a healthy dose of generosity for those that are smaller and weaker, and kindness to people who need a moment of grace. Chance is humor and perseverance,  a clown in a dog suit with strength of character and a spirit that just doesn’t quit.

They make us better people, these creatures we bring into our world. They improve our daily lives, but they also improve US. They teach us tolerance, and adaptability, and strength, and humor. They show us kindness, and patience, and forgiveness, and always love, each of the days we are lucky enough to share with them. Their joy is transferable, pulling us out of a bad day with their pure happiness to be alive. We care for them, yes, feeding and walking and scheduling vet appointments, but they take care of us equally. Their care is more constant and more true – and never resented as being inconvenient or expensive or messy.

Yes, I believe in Dog. I wouldn’t want to live in a home without them, much less a world without them.

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