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Archive for the ‘Life with pets’ Category

My mom, 86, has been writing poetry all her life. One of her most memorable (to me) was for my 16th birthday. She managed to work in the title of every song listed in January 1968 as among the top 50. These included “Hey Jude,” “Light My Fire,” “Born To Be Wild,” “Those Were The Days,” “Dance To The Music” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” Quite a feat!

Her latest is about Brownie, my dog who died recently at age 16. It’s called, “Brownie’s Song.”

Brownie went to Heaven
Though we begged her not to go –
Linda tried and Grandma cried
Because we love her so…
People say our dead stay near,
In mind and soul and heart –
But words don’t help you very much
When it comes time to part.

We’ll dream of all the good times
She gave to us so sweetly
To let us know just how it feels
When we are loved – completely.

Her big brown eyes and
Wide, wide smiles
Would greet us at the door –
To show how much she loved us –
Overjoyed to wait no more…

Her tail was always wagging –
Sometimes her body too –
Brownie’s way to say “I love you”
Clearly meant for only you.

We knew from the beginning
Brownie was a friend so rare,
Now evermore we’ll miss her
No other “friend” will ever compare.

 

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The end came like a guillotine.DSCN0001a

In January, the vet said Brownie, 16, was in the final stage of congestive heart failure. This was in addition to a heart murmur, arthritis and serious losses of sight and hearing. A matter of months now, the vet told me.

Nine pills daily of five different kinds eased her pain and slowed her decline to a very gradual descent. We kept making new normals out of incremental adjustments: shorter walks, then none; no more steep stairs. I disguised the bitter taste of her pain pills with liver sausage, peanut butter or hot dog pieces.

She still enjoyed her life. She ate with gusto, played with the cat and pestered visitors for attention. By June, I began daring to hope that Brownie might enjoy one more summer.

I watched closely for signs of impending heart failure. At night, I counted her respirations during 60 seconds of deep sleep. Twelve a minute, fifteen a minute – when that number spiked, accompanied by coughing fits, it would be a matter of hours.

But it wasn’t heart failure that killed her.

One morning, she collapsed after her back legs gave out. She got up on her feet, but could barely move, and listed a bit to one side. She managed to get to the back yard for a potty break, but lost her balance and fell over while shaking away a gnat that had started buzzing around her head. She had to be carried up the stairs.

I called the vet. She said Brownie’s weakened heart would be even more stressed by the failure of her back legs. I decided it was time. The vet said she’d come over at noon.

For the next few hours, I tried to distract myself or petted Brownie. I didn’t want to hover or brood enough to arouse anxiety in her. I swept and vacuumed dog hair from the floors and rugs, realizing that for once this chore wasn’t annoying. I told her she was going to a place with a huge back yard bordered by a big lake, how there’d be lots of dogs and cats to play with, that she’d get to eat peanut butter smeared on everything and never have to have her nails trimmed. I thought about how she used to love rolling in the sand at the beach or grabbing one end of a four- or five-foot-long branch during a walk and trot proudly along with the other end dragging on the ground. No weeny sticks for her.

BrownieWhen the vet and an assistant arrived, Brownie got to her feet and followed me to the front door. They spread a white blanket on the living room floor and I guided her to it. The assistant enveloped her in a firm hug and I stroked her ears while the vet inserted a needle into a front leg. Brownie’s heart stopped after 15 quiet seconds. They gently wrapped her in the blanket. I helped carry her body out to their SUV. Then, just hours after she’d collapsed, I went back inside the house for the first time without Brownie there waiting for me.

This new reality will keep smacking me in the face for a while. Time to feed Brownie – nope. She needs her next round of pills – nope. She should go out once more before bed – nope.

On my first morning without her, I woke up thinking I’d heard her give a single bark. It was her time-for-my-breakfast signal.

The trickiest part of loving a pet is giving them as much good time as possible, but not waiting too long when they’re merely surviving. What comforts me is the relief of knowing Brownie was spared last moments full of pain and panic while in the throes of a final crisis. Instead, she enjoyed a chicken bratwurst I fed her piece by piece, followed by respectful attention from her last two visitors.

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DSCN0001aIt’s been four months since Brownie, now almost 14 years old, started laser therapy for torn ligaments in her back right knee and pain from arthritis. The results have been excellent.

When we started, she could barely touch that paw to the ground, much less put any weight on it. Now she’s running around the yard, chasing the cats through the house (don’t worry, they all enjoy it), jumping up on the couch and bed and clambering up and down stairs unless I can head her off first.

It took longer than surgery would have and cost even more. It also required a demanding regimen of three visits a week for the first month, then two a week for the second month, then once a week. We’re now down to one visit about every three weeks. She’s also able to skip the twice-weekly injections of pain medicine prescribed initially, and needs a Rimadyl only occasionally.

Her first sessions were difficult. She was lifted onto a waist-high table and made to lay down while the technician moved the laser wand over her spine, knees, hips and shoulders. Being up on the table terrified her; she trembled the whole time and had to be held down. It was not fun for anybody.

Another technician discovered Brownie would cooperate happily if allowed to stretch out on a comforter laid on the floor (and bribed with lots of liver treats). After that, she was relaxed and content during each 40- to 50-minute session.

It’s not easy to find a vet who offers laser therapy. Brownie gets hers at Vale Park Animal Hospital in Valparaiso, Ind. They’ve also used it a couple of times on some slow-healing wounds acquired by one of my cats during a nighttime encounter with something hostile. The wounds shrank drastically and healed quickly after that.

If your pet is too old or not healthy enough for surgery, or if you simply prefer a gentler, non-invasive treatment, I highly recommend it. I started as a doubter, worrying that it was just some New-Agey alternative that had been marketed before its effectiveness was known. Watching Brownie trotting along on her walks, even pulling on the leash in her enthusiasm, has settled those doubts.

 

 

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Good news about the miniature pinscher (like the one pictured at right) who spent all day tied to a tree in his owner’s front yard: He’s not there anymore.

Not coincidentally, I haven’t seen any sign of the coyote who kept appearing in that yard to sniff around the tree and rope. Just sheer luck kept that dog from becoming a meal.

The neighbors and I don’t know where the dog went, but we hope it’s in a better home. We also hope no other dog replaces it. We’re enjoying quiet relief from the minpin’s frequent barking and yowling, as well as peace of mind from not having to worry about his exposure to coyotes, thunderstorms, the coming winter weather and an angry owner swatting at him with a rolled-up newspaper (for barking) while he cowered at the end of his rope.

 

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Sadie, pictured at right, needs a new home. She lives with Doug and Michelle, two caring, experienced dog owners who brought her home from a shelter as a puppy about eight months ago. 

They wanted their two young children to know the pleasures of a canine companion, and Doug hoped for a jogging partner. The shelter told them Sadie is a labrador retriever/blue heeler mix. Doug and Michelle used to have a lab and know people with blue heelers. They thought they knew what to expect.

Sadie, however, has an energy level that is off the charts and the attention span of a gnat. A five-mile jog doesn’t even wind her. After a 12-mile jaunt, she did lie down for a bit afterwards, but seemed fully recharged again all too soon. Their route takes them past a construction site, where Sadie enjoys choosing a chunk of concrete almost as big as her head to hold in her mouth while she runs. The extra weight doesn’t slow her down.

At home, she is a nonstop whirlwind, chewing on every item and surface and nipping at anyone who moves. She didn’t make it through puppy class; the instructor had to banish her for uncontrollable barking at her fellow puppies. She played happily with them during free time, but could not sit still or be quiet long enough for instruction.

Doug and Michelle are exhausted, their kids are wary of the dog and Sadie no doubt is frustrated. They’ve started putting the word out with friends, family and vet that Sadie needs a different home, probably one with fenced acreage, other dogs and people who have the time, knowledge and patience to cope with her high-energy challenges.

Sadie lives in Northwest Indiana near Lake Michigan. She’s a good swimmer and loves the beach. If you know of a good home for Sadie, please email me at lgibson150@gmail.com. I’ll pass your info to Doug and Michelle.

 

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This is the fourth week of Brownie’s three-times-a-week laser therapy treatments for arthritis and a torn ligament. Just last week, unable to see improvement, I began to wonder if the expense and inconvenience were worth it.

This week, she started to put weight on her injured back leg, which had been dangling uselessly since she tore the ligaments in her back-right knee. We’ve started going for short walks, and she’s felt good enough to repeatedly initiate play sessions with a 90-pound doberman who was boarding with us for a few days. I hated to have to put a stop to that, but couldn’t risk letting her chase or be chased on a bum leg.

The picture above, taken off the Internet, shows what a session is like with a dog about Brownie’s size. The vet tech puts a comforter on the floor for Brownie, who gets very anxious and antsy if lifted onto a table. Brownie can stand, sit or lie down, as she likes, while the vet tech gets down on the floor with her and maneuvers herself around to reach whatever spot is being treated. My mother and I sit right there in a couple of chairs, petting Brownie and gently holding her in place if she gets restless. The vet tech simply moves the head of the laser back and forth and around whatever area is being targeted for five minutes, close enough to ruffle Brownie’s fur but without any pressure. In Brownie’s case, the tech treats her back knees, hips, one shoulder and part of her spine.

It’s likely that a combination of laser treatments, bi-weekly pain shots and special joint-boosting treats have led to this improvement as their effects accumulated over the past month. The techs say most dogs grow to enjoy and look forward to their laser treatments, but Brownie isn’t one of them. She cooperates, but remains very anxious about car travel and vet visits. We’ve added a Busy Bone treat to her car trips, in addition to a tranquilizer and a personal transportation aide (Mom) to hold her steady and pet her while I drive.

Laser treatments aren’t easy to find around here, as not many vets want to invest $40,000 in one machine. We go to Vale Park Animal Hospital in Valparaiso, Indiana, and patients come from all over Northwest Indiana for laser treatments there. At our next session, we’ll meet with the vet to map out what’s next for Brownie.

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You might remember reading about Louie, the sickly Doberman who boarded with me all of last November (“With a little help from his friends,” Dec. 1, 2011).

He started his stay then as a 59-pound weakling who couldn’t have kicked sand in his own face. He left a month later about 20 pounds heavier and without the diarrhea that had plagued him.

Louie, pictured here, was back recently for a brief stay, and he has blossomed. He probably weighs about 90 pounds – sleek, not skinny. His coat gleams. The hair has grown back on his ears, which previously were leathery and dotted with scabs from scratching.

As before, Louie still has devoted owners, good vet care and high-quality food. So what has changed?

We’ll never know for sure, but it might be that his household has settled into a less stressful, more predictable routine. His family had been coping with a loved one who had a fatal illness. Louie thrives on attention and affection, and now that circumstances allow his family to relax, he’s probably getting more. He’s happy, handsome and healthy.

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