Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I have lost to February

There's a Dar Williams song called February, about lost love using February's horrible oppressive coldness juxtaposed against the cooling of a love affair. While the topic of the song isn't really relevant, I always think of one lyric.

"and we'll gather all our arms can carry, I have lost to February".

I have a lot of anxiety about another February, because last one was pretty bleak.

February 1st: It became clear that Guinness was succumbing to his cancer
February 5th: I said goodbye to my Big Man.
February 12th: I went to the hospital-discovering I was in preterm labor
February 14th: Valentines Day in the hospital, waiting to see if the doctors would be unable to stop my labor
February 15th: Made it to 34 weeks, at which point they would no longer try to stop my labor if things continued
February 16th: Sent home from the hospital on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy.

And then the long agony of waiting began. Each Friday, I could mark another week of my pregnancy. Another week of growth and development, another week where the NICU might not be an inevitability. The remainder of the month was filled with anxiety and the exquisite boredom of bedrest. Suddenly all I wanted to do was laundry. I spent hours feeling minor contractions, counting their duration. Hoping they wouldn't quicken.

With Zoe's illness, I will feel a lot better once February is over. It feels like a cursed month.

I remember you, Big Guy.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Old Dogs

Zoe had something that looked an awful lot like a seizure yesterday. She was at work with me, getting a CBC done to check for adverse effects from the chemo. Yeah, she's got cancer. Again.

Zoe had an anal sac adenocarcinoma removed in 2009, and had chemo in 2010. She has been cancer free since then, and by 2013 I had gotten pretty lax in checking her remaining anal sac. It is standard of care to only remove one anal sac, because the morbidity associated with the removal tends to be higher with bilateral removal, and it rarely metastasizes to the other anal sac. So, we've blithely gone along, and I had finally stopped worrying so much about the remaining one. I had her at work with me in November, and figured, better check. And there was a new mass, in the other side. Lucky us.

She had surgery that day. She refluxed after anesthesia and had horrible esophagitis, which kept her from eating normally for about three weeks. We started chemo in December, and she's had three treatments. The oncologist said she expected we could gain at least a year with chemo, plus "she just looks like the kind of dog who could go on for awhile". She doesn't look 14, I guess.

Having old dogs is a unique sort of horrible at times.  I feel for my friends who've never had an old dog, but will soon. It's a lot of worry. A lot of guessing. A lot of negotiating with fate. Before Guinness got melanoma, I spent a lot of time wondering if his kidneys or his neurological condition would decline faster, and which would ultimately be his demise. Turned out, whammo, cancer. That bastard that just couldn't leave well enough alone.

Now with Zoe, I wonder if chemo is more harm than good. She's always had a good quality of life, even during her last bout. She had some bad days just post-surgery. On the third day after chemo, she'd always look at her dinner skeptically, as if it wasn't quite worth it. But it was short lived. This round, I thought the esophagitis was going to be the end, I've never had a dog so miserable. Once that healed, and it didn't look like she'd strictured, I was hopeful that treating her was the right thing to do. But she's older now, and the chemo seems to take more out of her. Plus, I think it's much harder on her to be in the hospital all day than it was. And yesterday, that seizure came from nowhere.

So I will watch her. If it happens again, I will not scramble to do tests, and I will consider stopping the chemo. I have my syringe of diazepam at home in case she needs it.  I will try to do the best for her like I tried to do the best for Guinness. I won't cut her life short, but I will not let her suffer any more than is absolutely necessary, and I will try not to prolong out of selfishness. Today she ate her breakfast, she played with the boys, and she's sleeping on her bed.  I will watch her, and hope she will tell me what she needs.

Friday, January 3, 2014

New year. Humility. Parenting. Etc.

Oy 2013. Great and terrible. On the one hand, I had a baby. I weathered pre-term labor, kept pregnant til term, delivered my baby without any unwanted intervention (oh, I WANTED that epidural, believe you me). I've nursed him exclusively for nine months (with bites of solid food for the past two). I've gone back to work and weathered the stress of working motherhood. I've battled some PPA. I have a wonderful son whom I adore.

If only the little bugger would sleep...I kid not, there is nothing to make you crazier than sleeplessness. The arguments around sleep training infants. The middle of the night fights over who will get up this time. Being pinched and poked by a baby in your sleep. Joy. It's crazy-making, arguing with yourself (and others) over your methods. Co-sleeping or not. CIO vs WIO. Any method you choose, someone will tell you that you are damaging your baby. Super fun.

I pretty much found my school of thought on dog training and stuck w it, sure I add more tools to the toolbox, but I believe in relationship-based and positive training and don't question. If only I could find a sleep-coaching method I believe it so thoroughly.

It's funny, being a vet and being a dog person, I see a lot of posts on my feeds discussing people's opinions on not having kids. I get it, not everyone is a kid person, and more power to you! I feel encouraging people to have kids who don't want them is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, a parent knows how hard it is, why would you want someone to go through that if they have no inclination? So for my friends who have had someone imply or outright state they are going to be sorry if they don't have kids some day, I call bullshit. If you don't want to, don't. You'll have a lovely and fulfilling life without them.

That being said, I do resent the implication that I've sold out or bought in to some paradigm because I had a baby. Life is full of compromise, and yes, you compromise big time to have a kid. I can't travel 6 hours for three day agility trials right now. I'm lucky if I get a daily shower, so my dogs aren't getting daily hour long training sessions. Loving your child is not better or worse than loving  your animals. But it is different. It is a different feeling, a different love. To me, it's an experience I wouldn't miss out on. Again, not better, or worse, just different. Amazing. And maddening. And a whole body, visceral, primal, aching emotion that I have never felt for another living being. It's just what it is.

However, you childless folks get to sleep, so I sort of hate you for that.

The terrible-I still miss my Guinness. It's been almost 11 months. I think about him daily, especially around the holidays. I miss his sweet face, and his soft presence.

I miss my normal body. I feel ponderous, tired, slow, lumbering, slothful.

I miss feeling like rest and relaxation were acceptable and not slacking off on my parenting duties.

I miss feeling competent at work rather than always feeling like I'm playing catch up after being gone so long between work weeks.

We'll see about 2014. I've got some goals. #1 is get healthy, which I haven't fully defined yet, but I will. #2 is improve relationships with my primary people, especially my son as I learn to parent. #3 is develop at my chosen profession. #4 is continue to improve with my hobbies, including agility. I need to fully flesh out these goals and make a plan. Easy to say, harder to do. I need a nap.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June?!? Agility and dog-raising vs. kid-raising.

WTF it's June? How can this be???

So starting private agility lessons with the Aussies tomorrow, and since it is best to have a game plan, let's see if I can find some objectives...

1. agility?

No srsly....

Remind Zig how to perform obstacles
Handling-crosses esp front crosses, serpentines, threadles?
Distance (someday?)


Didn't get finished until post lesson. Mostly an evaluation of our skill set, as it's a new instructor to us. Not surprisingly, I got lost on course, Griff was steady but slow in his weaves, and Zig was a bit all over the place...She wants us working on weaves until next week, which is good but also frustrating that after all the weave pole practice we've done we are still pokey....well, Zig's not pokey he's just looking for his reward to come out of my hand...I swear I toss them usually!

A friend asked me today whether I saw big differences between being a parent to an infant and raising dogs. Now, I've been a parent for a whole 10 weeks, but so far here are my thoughts on the difference, or lack thereof.

1. With dogs/puppies, you worry about rewarding inappropriate or undesirable behavior, like crate-barking. With infants, you comfort any crying without worrying about whether that is "reinforcing" for the baby. They simply aren't developmentally ready for anything else. They are more like 1 week old pups than 8 week old, just operating on a basic needs level.

2. My dogs and I quickly develop a partnership, they have responsibilities in the relationship as well. Not so much with a baby.

3. If something happened to me tomorrow, I'm sure my family would provide loving homes for my dogs. They might not be exactly the same as the one I provide, but their needs would be met, and I think they'd probably be pretty happy. It's difficult to say the same about an infant. Of course he would be cared for, but the loss of his mama, especially as he's breastfed, would be more impactful I think.

4. I now have one more creature that I would throw myself in front of in case of runaway train or zombie attack.
Zig supervises tummy time. 

We'll see how my perspective changes as he ages.

Thankfully, the dogs have adapted very nicely to his presence. The boys are up with me in the night, sitting at the foot of the rocker while I feed him, checking on him when he cries, that sort of thing. I'm pleased, because quite honestly I didn't do as great of a job socializing Zig to kids when he was little as I should have. I just didn't have that many kids around and I didn't feel comfortable stalking playgrounds in the neighborhood-someone would have called the cops!

Friday, May 31, 2013


As I type this, Zig is sitting in his kennel yipping like a jackal.

What with pregnancy, the bed rest that ended the last 5 weeks of pregnancy, and childbirth, we've all taken a few steps back in many ways around here. I'm completely and totally out of shape. It's pathetic. It's not as bad as when pregnancy started to make me out of breath, but not being able to do much for over a month before K was born has left me pretty weak. The dogs haven't gotten nearly the training and attention they should for the past few months, and it is starting to show. Probably most for Zig, since he's the youngest.

In general the worst offences are various forms of barking in the house/kennel/at nothing. My poor mail person must think these guys are vicious beasties. Luckily usually K can sleep through barking, but excessive barking is like fingers on the chalkboard to me. We are going to have to especially work on Zig's kennel barking. It's complete frustration-I know you're leaving or doing something without me and I don't like it.

I've been trying to get the boys back in agility, and even had a private lesson tentatively scheduled. I had to reschedule, and now the instructor isn't responding to my contacts. This is so frustrating, no? Just when you take a step forward...But I'd really like to get going and maybe, maybe trial once this summer. Griff especially sort of has a time constraint.

I did take the dogs to the beach for memorial day...Difficult to get decent shots but I got a few of general rough housing.

 Zoe always gets in the middle of the threesome...

Now to try and make some headway, both for me and dogs. Anyone know a good post-partum get in shape program? How about an agility shape-up?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bowie McGuinness, CGC. February 1998-February 5th, 2013

Guinness was just a quiet black dog in the shelter. I went "just to look", with my mom who was visiting me in Providence as a belated birthday present. The Providence Animal Rescue League was a small cramped chaotic city shelter. Dogs were in small runs, it was hard to distinguish one from the other, really. Everything was "lab mix" or "shepherd mix".

I had considered several different dog acquisition avenues when our landlord said we could have a dog. Great Dane rescue wouldn't adopt to an owner without a fenced in yard. Bulldog rescue didn't have any in the Rhode Island area for adoption. My mom and I were just looking, just looking. She pointed to a large black dog, sitting quietly in his kennel. I was honestly not too interested, but since he was large and young, and my mom liked the look of him, I had them get him out of his kennel. There were no greeting rooms, they pretty much just brought him to the middle of the kennels. His name had been Mickey. His family had moved to Florida, where apparently, they didn't allow dogs.

He was a big boy, all right. I somehow found myself on the floor, and he gently placed his 85 pound self square in my lap. Then a rough looking man in overalls and a wife beater asked gruffly "you gonna take that dog?" Without thinking, I clutched at him and said "yes!" That was it.

He had no idea how to walk on a leash politely, which meant I spent the first few months getting drug around everywhere. We had no yard, so he had to be walked. He had leash aggression. He ate anything he could get ahold of. He also never barked, except at our upstairs neighbor, who we later learned was crazy. He was huge and black and no one would come near him. In the early days, he would look hopefully as strangers passed us on the street, then seem dejected when no one came to say hello. He was always happy to see people. But after awhile, he seemed resigned to being thought scary. He was always very self-possessed, and nothing made him down for long.

I remember when we tried to throw a Halloween party and leave him kenneled in my room, not sure how he would respond to the chaos. He barked so loudly I was afraid the neighbors would complain, so I brought him out on a leash. I was apprehensive about the drunk people making him nervous. He made the rounds, assessed the snack table, then curled up on the futon and accepted treats as folks came by. He never seemed alarmed. He was the best party host for that year. He also made the rounds of Thayer Street with us, stopping at Spike's Junkyard Dog for a hotdog, and the guys in the ice cream store invited him in for a vanilla cone. He ate half a cake that his Lo had hidden under her bed. I always felt safe, even with terrible people living next door.

We moved back to Portland. He hated flying, so once we arrived, I promised him never again. He came with me to work at dog daycare. He raised puppies there. He came with me to teach puppy classes and raised puppies there. I remember two tiny black pug puppies who were terrified of the other pups. Guinn laid down, and they decided the mountain wasn't too scary. Pretty soon, one was on his head, the other playing near his tail. He never moved.

He became a blood donor at Dove Lewis. He was so excited to go. He never wanted the toy, but he would eat as much as they gave him.

He did many bad things, too. He chased squirrels. He chased horses. He ran away, all the time. He ate anything he could. He peed over the balcony onto the floor below at my parents house. He peed on the Xmas tree.

He was my running buddy, til arthritis ended our running duo. He tried agility for me, but thought it was a very inefficient way to get from one place to another. "Go thru the tunnel? Why, when I can go around all those obstacles straight to the treat?" One time at a doggy Halloween party, they had bobbing for tennis balls in one pool, and bobbing for hot dogs in another. Guinn put his head into the pool and hoovered as many hot dog chunks as he could, not stopping to breathe. We had to pull him away so he wouldn't drown.

When I went to vet school, Guinness became the demo dog for every lab we had requiring a canine volunteer. Physical exams, blood draws, cardio lab, anatomy lab...he was happy to be handled if it meant a visit and treats. He scammed pizza from vet students, a lot. He developed a spindle cell sarcoma that was removed. He developed unexplained neurologic disease, for which he underwent water treadmill therapy to strengthen his hindlimbs and assist with proprioception. Again, he'd do anything for treats, even water which he hated.

My senior year, he developed an intramuscular sarcoma that appeared very histologically aggressive. He had an entire muscle in his leg removed, a large skin graft, got a Pseudomonas infection, spent a week in the hospital. He was a great patient until you put him in a kennel. He broke out of the ICU and went wandering to find the technician in the night. He developed a slough from extravascular administration of antibiotics in his other front leg and wore two full leg bandages for weeks. In July after graduation and months after surgery, he threw a clot to his front leg and I thought we were toast, but he recovered after 24 hours in the hospital again. He never was aggressive or even resistant to treatment, but by the end of vet school he hated hospitals. I promised him then I'd never leave him in one again.

The last years of his life, he got steadily weaker in the hind legs. He developed kidney insufficiency, and GI troubles, and I started cooking for him. He ate chicken and potatoes the last year of his life. His meals generally cost more than mine. As he aged, he lost muscle mass, and took on the look of a little old man, but always was dignified. Always genteel.

In September of 2012, I was two months pregnant, and sick all the time. We went out one day, and when we came home that afternoon, we gave G some water outside. John noticed blood in it. I examined G's mouth, and found the mass. No oral mass in a dog is ever good. I took a biopsy with a scissors. No anesthesia since he was so good. Sent it in. Amelanotic melanoma. Crappy prognosis, even with surgery. And I had promised him no hospitals. So I watched him, and tried to make sure he enjoyed himself as much as he could. I had to be so careful with what I fed him, which was so hard for him. He wanted ice cream and hamburgers but his GI tract couldn't handle that anymore.

I knew it was a race...I didn't think the baby would be born before I lost him. I wished, I wished, but with such a crappy form of cancer, it was unlikely. The oral mass didn't grow too fast, but it did steadily increase in size. Then I found two lymph nodes in his neck, mildly enlarged. I thought about xraying for lung mets, decided it wouldn't help me to know. He had a bout with HGE, he fell in January and couldn't walk for a day, but he bounced back from each. He was weak and tired, he slept a lot, he hated to be left. He had always been so confident, this was hard to see.

Finally, those lymph nodes that had been slightly enlarged became one huge mass in his neck, overnight. Literally, I came home to a softball sized mass where only the day before there had been two small nodes. The lymphatic drainage was occluded from his neck-his face got swollen. This was Thursday. Friday it got slightly less swollen. Saturday was my baby shower, and he looked a bit better. I had brought drugs home from work, but I was hoping for another respite. Sunday the swelling came back a bit. Monday, it was definite. Monday night, he just couldn't rest his big head comfortably. I thought maybe I could get thru my work week, but Tuesday morning, I looked at him and knew I couldn't leave him again.

I called my mom, who helped me pick him. My dad whom he loved. John was there. He got a hamburger. He got treats. My mom fed him an ice cream cone while I gave him a sedative. He acted like it was a party for him, seemed so happy to see everyone. He went from eating ice cream to snoring. No hospital. My parents loved on him and left the room. John held off for me so I could place a butterfly needle, then left. Just me and my big dog. I told him I loved him, that he was so good, that he could be done and rest now. He left so peacefully, so quickly. He was tired. He was 15 years old.

He was just a big black dog.

He was the best dog.