A Picnic in the Park

Hogan and Dusty enjoyed watching the seagulls and the squirrels. (They barked only at the squirrels.)

Hogan and Dusty enjoyed watching the seagulls and the squirrels. (They barked only at the squirrels.)

Yesterday we decided to do something different, so after work, we packed up the dogs, their food, some wieners, buns, and salad, and headed down to the Ajax waterfront. After a decent walk, we unloaded the car, set up a big pen for the dogs (and us), lay out a blanket, and played a game while waiting for the Hibachi to heat up. The dogs seemed a little confused at first, but Hogan quickly settled in, and the other two eventually followed suit. It was a nice break for us from the everyday, and I think the dogs agreed!

Hogan never takes long to get comfortable anywhere.

Hogan never takes long to get comfortable anywhere.

Cora didn't want to be far from the cooler!

Cora didn’t want to be far from the cooler!

Cora and Dusty supervised the cooking of the hot dogs.

Cora and Dusty supervised the cooking of the hot dogs.

Dusty spent a good part of the evening just looking handsome. It's his most important job in our house.

Dusty spent a good part of the evening just looking handsome. It’s his most important job in our house.

Hogan moved from the blanket to a spot under the chair for a while.

Hogan moved from the blanket to a spot under the chair for a while.

My pretty girl

My pretty girl

My boys

My boys

All packed up and ready to go...till next time!

All packed up and ready to go…till next time!

Cora: Less Fearful than Ever!

I haven’t updated on Cora in a while, but I keep meaning to. Time slips away all too easily.

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly "scary" person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly “scary” person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Last summer, we took our scaredy-dog off the clomipramine she was on for anxiety. We slowly lowered her dose by 10 mg every week, and since we weren’t seeing any less anxiety with each tablet less, we figured it was okay to take her right off them.

In the past six months or so, Cora has made great strides. She is so close to appearing to be a “normal” dog that some people who had never met her before have been surprised to learn of how she cowered in her crate on the day we first saw her at an adoption event at PetSmart; how until very recently she hid in her “safe spot” in our house the entire time we had guests; how it took her well over a year to approach people whom she saw in our home regularly (including my mom and friends we played cards with weekly); how her fear was so incredibly bad at times that our “eat anything” beagle girl wouldn’t even take a treat from some people….

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

 

 

 

Yeah, she’s not really that dog anymore. We’ve had Cora for three years and one month, and she has finally emerged from her shell, although somewhat tentatively. There’s no denying that she is still cautious, but in recent months, Cora has joined her brothers, Dusty and Hogan, at the door when the doorbell rings, nearly always comes out of hiding within an hour or so of guests coming in, sniffs strangers on our walks and has even let some pet her, and, most surprising, has found her voice! We’ve heard Cora bark while awake only a handful of times in three years (we can definitely count her barks on our fingers), but two weekends ago, she barked three times in normal situations in which a dog would bark. It was shocking to hear her voice (which sounds so much like Dusty’s)! She hasn’t barked since, and because the boys both bark too much, we can’t say we’re terribly disappointed she hasn’t taken up the habit. Nevertheless, I will never discourage that in her.

She still has her "safe spot," but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

She still has her “safe spot,” but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

So it has been an eventful several months in our household. Cora is a very happy girl now. She is in her twilight years to be sure, but she still has so much life in her, and it’s been incredibly heartwarming to watch her seek it out from deep within, dust off the bad history with big sweeps of her tail, and make the most of what she has left.

And we couldn’t be happier to be the ones sharing this glorious time in her life with her!

Life is looking bright....

Life is looking bright….

To read more about Cora’s journey from fearful dog to normal dog, click on the “fearful dog” link below.

A Successful Return to Agility Trialing

Yesterday we attended our first agility trial of the year. And I’m so glad we did! Dusty and Hogan both had perfect runs and Q’d (qualified), meaning both of them are now out of Starter Jumpers and moving on to Advanced Jumpers!

We drove an hour and a half each way to get to the agility trial, and between them, the boys ran a total of 59.46 seconds, but the early Sunday-morning wake-up and the long drive were well worth that minute! Dusty won the 10″ Specials class with a great time of 23.3 seconds, and Hogan came in second with a time of 36.16 seconds (45 seconds were allotted). My boys did me proud!

Hogan and Dusty wearing their ribbons proudly, supported by their loving sister, Cora.

Hogan and Dusty wearing their ribbons proudly, supported by their loving sister, Cora.

I’ve been taking Hogan to a different agility class, this one at Dogs on Campus in Oshawa, and I think it’s been good for both me and him. Hogan’s confidence and motivation seem to be increasing in the new class, which is great to see. I really like both of our trainers, and I’ve learned different things from each of them. I’m still not a great handler or trainer (I’m too uncoordinated, I think), but I do have fun challenging myself to learn these things.

But, more important, I think the dogs really enjoy it. And while they may not care that they earned these ribbons, I know that they are being exposed to a variety of situations and events and have richer, more full lives for it. That’s what really means the most.

The video below shows our two runs and, since I didn’t want Cora to feel left out, includes her craziness at bedtime a couple of nights ago. Under her shy, frightened exterior lives a kooky little girl. Between the three of them, we have a whole lot of laughter and joy in our home!

The Way Each Day Ends

Algonquin ParkLife’s truths don’t get much more basic than this: no matter how my day is going, I always know it will end with my hands on the dog’s dick.

This is the side of pet ownership no one tells you about, the harsh reality of aging, illness, or injury, when they’re dependent on you in ways you never foresaw. My 13-year-old Westie, for example, is dependent on me to catheterize him daily. Sometimes twice.

Let’s start at the beginning. About 12 years ago, a man with whom I worked asked around the office if anyone could take a male, year-old West Highland Terrier. He had been bought as a gift for their son by the parents of an adolescent boy, a latchkey kid as we used to say. The kid, apparently, went home each day from school and ignored Angus (because it is law that every Westie be given an appropriately Scottish-sounding name), who was left in a crate for hours on end. My colleague was friends with the parents.

Laddie

Laddie

On a whim I, with a Scottish background and a fondness for the Westie on Hamish McBeth (whose name was Jock) and without one lick of experience as a dog owner, said I would take him. Hey, free Westie, right?

A few days later, I came home from an errand to find my boyfriend and my new dog peering out the back door at me. The latter was a foot high, was fringed in spiky white fur, and had an oversized dark nose pressed against the patio door glass. He had the biggest, pinkest ears I’d ever seen. My first thought was, “Oh, lord, what have I done?”

I had no idea what to do with a dog. I loved animals, but until then I’d stuck to cats. I didn’t even particularly like dogs. A couple of my friends had them, and they seemed like high-maintenance over-emoters with foul hygiene and questionable dietary habits.

Laddie, as he soon became, turned out to be the easiest dog a person could own. He was perfectly housebroken, came when called, and was completely nonchalant with dogs of all sizes and temperaments. He didn’t chew up much besides a shoe or two, didn’t dig in the yard, and was, frankly, hilarious. I watched more than once as he cannily tricked other, much larger dogs out of their choicest bones, and then ran away hell for leather, stubby legs pumping, pink ears flapping, the spoils of his escapades gripped tightly in his pointy little teeth. We took him to the dog park, the bookstore, the beach, outdoor cafés, and on a road trip to Nova Scotia. He slept on our bed, right up at the top near our heads, between us. He didn’t even shed. He was a perfect companion.

God, how I fell in love with Laddie.

Laddie loves the snow!

Laddie loves the snow!

Then one day maybe eight or so years later, we woke up to find a turd on the pillow. He had trouble getting up on the big, high bed himself, but he’d never had trouble getting down. He had until then spent every night of his life with us happily snoring in the middle of the king-size bed and had never had even the minorest of accidents. But, hey, if you’ll pardon the obvious pun, shit happens, and we didn’t think much of it. Until it happened again. He was none too happy when he had to start sleeping on the floor.

Another day, we noticed he was having trouble getting up the stairs. His nails had always grown, as my mom would say, higgledy-piggledy, shooting off in strange directions, brittle of texture and prone to breaking, and he did suffer from the traditional Westie dry skin at times, but he’d otherwise been perfectly healthy.

Our vet told us that he had some sort of spinal problem, some numbness or other and that, eventually, he would no longer be able to pee, become toxic, and die. We got a new vet.

My Laddie

My Laddie

It was another year or so before he started peeing inside. I didn’t make the connection until I took him to the new, kinder, more empathetic vet, who told me that he wasn’t peeing exactly; rather, the dreaded time had come. He could no longer use the muscle we all use to expel urine. His bladder was full to bursting, stretched beyond its normal size, and urine was leaking out because it had nowhere to go.

I stood in that office and sobbed as the kindly Dr. Dave offered one weird ray of hope. I could catheterize him, he said, but I’d have to do it every day. I couldn’t even imagine such a thing was possible, and I left in tears with Laddie by my side, completely at a loss as to what to do. I had to make a decision, though, and fast. The good doc had drained his bladder, but he’d need it done again in a day.

By this time, Laddie’s mobility was compromised significantly, but he was still the plucky Westie he’d always been. He would still barrel out into the backyard at the first sign of a squirrel, although now his back legs sometimes failed to share his enthusiasm and gave out on him halfway to the fence. The daily walks he once pestered us for unmercifully were no longer a possibility, but he gave them up with much greater grace than he’d shown when we kicked him out of bed. He was still my Laddie, and I couldn’t imagine not having him around.

I wasn’t even at the car before I turned around and went back into the clinic.

“Okay,” I said to Dr. Dave, wiping my streaming eyes on one sleeve and hitching a breath. “You may as well show me how.”

So he put Laddie on his exam table and showed me how to unsheathe the little guy’s penis and insert a long, slender catheter as far as it would go. “You can’t screw it up,” he said, but I had my doubts. Every time—every single time—anyone has ever said to me, “You can’t miss it,” I’ve missed it. But okay, I’d try. Dr. Dave had sealed my resolve with a few simple words: “There’s no medical reason to put him down.”

Laddie and me at Algonquin Park

Laddie and me at Algonquin Park

So that was it—he was still the same Laddie, I was still responsible for his quality of life, and there was no medical reason to put him down. The decision was made.

I took Laddie home. The first few days, it was a two-person job, but we managed. We even managed the odd time when poor Laddie would poop while we were at it, much to our disgust and his embarrassment.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that it’s actually an easy one-person job once you get the hang of it. Left hand for unsheathing, right hand for insertion, a few pulls on the plunger of a syringe that I then empty into the second sink. Then I rinse Laddie’s feet, hoist him onto a towel on the floor, coil up the catheter, and turn my disposable rubber gloves inside out, and then chuck it all in the garbage. Then I pour bleach down the sink, and get out the Mr. Clean. I scrub the sink with that, and then spray Lysol everywhere, and then I give Laddie his treat. Every day, sometimes twice. It’s a delicate balance between making sure he’s never uncomfortably full of pee and trying to keep from introducing infection. We’ve had our fair share of those, but he still responds well to antibiotics, and they clear up quickly. For the most part, the whole process hasn’t seemed to bother him much. When “our time” approaches, he comes over to me and turns around, offering me his back to be picked up and hoisted into the sink.

The catheters plus the tube of topical anesthetic/lube cost me about $130 a month. His occasional antibiotic prescriptions and accompanying vet visits cost anywhere from $75 to $200, maybe every four to six months. That’s in addition to the usual heartworm meds and shots. My “free” dog is no longer cheap. Dr. Dave says I could send him for an MRI that would cost more than $5,000, but he doesn’t think it would bring us a solution, and he’s doubtful it would even bring a diagnosis. I haven’t done it, and I don’t plan to. Sometimes things just are what they are.

“Am I cruel to keep doing this?” I asked Dr. Dave at one appointment.

“It’s only cruel not to,” he said.

Laddie’s not in pain; of that I am certain. He’s still a great friend. He still wants treats, still chases squirrels, and is still the smartest dog I’ve ever met. We just do what we gotta do.

I can think of far worse ways for my days to end.

The New-Dog “Guilt”

 

Our pretty girl

Our pretty girl

The very month that I began this blog, I started to write an article about the guilt I felt adopting another dog (or in my case, three dogs) after having lost our beloved Roxie.

The blog went up in September 2011. That post still hasn’t been written.

Every time I tried, I cried. And, really, I ultimately found it hard to dig that deep.

She was so tiny when we got her.

She was so tiny when we got her.

Today it is easier, I think, because there is no longer any feeling of guilt. We certainly didn’t try to replace Roxie. (In fact, we couldn’t have adopted three dogs more different from her!) And when we got Cora, Dusty, and Hogan, deep down inside, I told myself that I wouldn’t love them as much as I loved Roxie. That I couldn’t love any dog as much as I loved Roxie.

What I have learned in the nearly three years of having my dogs is that one love isn’t really comparable to another or measurable against another. I cannot say with certainty that I loved Roxie more than I love these three—they most certainly have my heart today. But I did love Roxie differently.

Our family six months after Roxie joined us.

Our family, complete.

Roxie learning to go down stairs.

Roxie learning to go down stairs.

Roxie was the dog who completed our family. My stepson was five when we got her. They grew up together. She was the dog I had when I chose not to have children of my own, when I decided my stepson and Roxie satisfied my maternal instinct and that I had to look no further for that sort of fulfilment. Roxie became my surrogate baby. She loved to go for walks, chase toys, tear out stuffing, and hunt for hidden hot dogs (her favourite stuffed toys), but she also loved to be carried and cuddled and coddled.

Justin with Scratch and Roxie.

Justin with Scratch (my parents’ dog) and Roxie.

At the age of four, she was diagnosed with degenerative disks in her spine. We were told that if we kept letting her do stairs, jump on furniture, chase a ball, etc., she’d be paralyzed by the time she was ten. Roxie at that time was a Frisbee dog. She loved nothing more than catching a Frisbee mid-air. We decided that quality of life was for her; quantity was for us. Roxie deserved a quality life, and that’s what we gave her. (Enter monthly chiropractic treatments, because we really didn’t want to give up quantity, either!)

Roxie just enjoying the outdoors.

Roxie just enjoying the outdoors.

She was the best gift-opener!

She was the best gift-opener!

For nearly eleven years, we played fetch with Roxie from the time we got home from work till the time we went to bed. She had energy coming out the wazoo and almost every night would wake me at 3 a.m., pretending she needed to go outside but, really, she just wanted to play some more. Who needed a baby when my pup did the 3 a.m. wake-ups?

She loved our neighbours' pool and jumped into it from the ground one day, surprising all of us.

She loved our neighbours’ pool and jumped into it from the ground one day, surprising all of us.

Around the age of twelve, Roxie, our non-stop-playful Jack Russell terrier, started to slow down. By thirteen, she couldn’t do the stairs anymore, but she still loved to go for her walks, and we’d often still walk three kilometres or more a day. She was fifteen when we made that awful decision to let her leave this world and her pain behind. She went for four very short walks that day.

Age 13, still enjoying the snow!

Age 13, still enjoying the snow!

Our Frisbee-loving girl

Our Frisbee-loving girl in her prime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We still grieve for Roxie; in fact, I am having a hard time seeing my computer screen through my tears as I write this. Roxie will never leave our hearts. But I think our hearts just grew bigger when we adopted Cora, Dusty, and Hogan. There is plenty of room in there for four dogs. In fact, there is room for a whole lot more. I know I would—and someday will—grieve the loss of any of these dogs just as deeply as I have grieved for Roxie. No dog can replace another, but every one can leave a mark.

Once she stopped being able to do stairs, Wes built her this ramp. It was carpeted, lighted, and covered from the elements. One side was Plexiglas so she had natural daylight.

Once she stopped being able to do stairs, Wes built her this ramp. It was carpeted, lighted, and covered from the elements. One side was Plexiglas so she had natural daylight.

Her hair got crazy once in a while between haircuts!

Her hair got crazy once in a while between haircuts!

As for guilt? What is there to feel guilty about? Roxie knew love. Whole-hearted love. Unconditional love. Perhaps unreasonable love in the eyes of non-dog people. I have not taken anything away from her by loving Cora, Dusty, and Hogan. I have simply honoured her memory by demonstrating that the joy she gave me in her fifteen years was absolutely worth the pain of her inevitable loss. By adopting again, I said to Roxie, “I’d do it all over again, baby.” And that’s what I’m doing.

Roxie as I'll always remember her--bathed in sunlight, cherished, happy, loved beyond reason.

Roxie as I’ll always remember her–bathed in sunlight, cherished, happy, loved beyond reason.