Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Barley's Dark Days

With two days left in February, it might be a little early to celebrate, but it seems we have made it through Barley's dark days without incident.

The face of a happy dog.
Barley's face and constantly wagging tail seem to reveal a happy dog, but for some reason in February something dark lurks beneath the surface.

On February 21, 2011, less than two months after I brought Barley home, she ate sugar-free gum.  In the amount of time it took me to dry my hair, she had swallowed half of a package of Orbit--wrappers and all.  Luckily, I had just seen a story on Good Morning America about a puppy that had died after eating sugar-free gum.  Apparently, the sweetener xylitol can mess up a dog's blood sugar and causes hypoglycemia, which can cause seizures and all kinds of other scary things for your pet.  Just a few pieces can be fatal.  So, as soon as I saw that she had gotten into it, we rushed to our vet.  Almost $300 later, the vet had induced vomiting, monitored blood sugar all day, and given her fluids, and a few days later we had follow up blood work to make sure there was no liver damage.

Exactly one year and one day later, Barley poisoned herself again.  This time by eating Aleve in the short time it took me to shower.  The vet didn't open for another 30 minutes, and I wasn't sure how quickly we had to act--with the gum I knew it had to be fast, and I figured medication was probably similar.  I'd since learned how to induce vomiting myself--a little hydrogen peroxide in her belly and the little pills were in puddles in the backyard.  The vet told me to give Barley a 10mg Pepcid AC tablet every 12 hours for the next week, just in case the pills had irritated her stomach lining.  Luckily, she came out of that one no worse for the wear, either.

This year, I was determined that we'd make it through Barley's dark days with no incidents.  Usually, when I shower in the morning, she curls back up in bed with a toy and waits for her breakfast.  There were a few days this month when she refused to hop in bed, so I shut her in the crate since she was clearly plotting something naughty.  I was not going to give her the freedom to get into things that could hurt her.  (I've also done a pretty good job of dog-proofing my apartment after two years of adventures with Barley.)

It looks like we're in the clear.  Barley ate something this afternoon--I was scooping the litter box and came out of the bathroom just in time to catch her in the spare bedroom (her spot for chewing things she shouldn't) swallowing something.  Luckily, all of the chocolate, medications, and other known poisons were hidden (and I quit buying gum after the Great Gum Incident of 2011), so I'm fairly confident whatever it was won't kill her.  A little later, I caught her eating a dead flower that had fallen off of one of my plants, so maybe it was just one of those.

Keep your fingers crossed that my crazy girl survives our third year together without any poison attempts!  I want to continue seeing this goofy dog every day for a long, long time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Adventures in Agility

Owning my dog is emotionally exhausting sometimes.  Tonight, I'm not even sure why I'm so exhausted.  Last week, class was excellent and compared to most other weeks tonight's class deserved a standing ovation, but it took everything I had not to burst into tears in tonight's class.

Things started off well enough.  When we walked in, we had to walk in close proximity to an overly excited boxer and Barley didn't bat an eyelash.  Then we had to walk by the keeshond that Barley decided she no longer liked a couple weeks ago, who was out in the lobby drinking peroxide to help her throw up three sticks of cheese she ate--plastic wrappers and all--before class.  Barley sat nicely while I talked to the keeshond's owner.  I was optimistic that our 2+ mile walk before class had set us up for success in class.

I'm trying to remind myself that Barley really wasn't that naughty.  While we waited for our different stations to be set up, Barley did a nice down-stay while I chatted with our black lab friend's mom and another woman who has a handsome dog that's almost all white with a few black patches and looks kind of American Bulldog-ish.  Once we started getting instructions, though, Bar decided she was no longer interested in lounging around and waiting and decided to bark at the black and white pup.  The first time, we walked away and refocused and went back to listening to our instructions (I'm convinced Barley chooses these opportunities to be naughty so that I have absolutely no clue which direction I'm supposed to be going and she is the one that looks good on the course).

My frustration set in when Barley decided to bark at her new nemesis in class (I guess if the keeshond couldn't be in class she figured she needed to pick on someone) a second time.  I started to have Barley do her doggie push-ups, which usually work even more effectively than walking away to refocus, and one of our other classmates had to chime in with her opinion on how I should be handling Barley (her opinion was that we should be walking away), which caused our trainer to second her opinion and Barley and I had to switch gears and walk away in mid push-up.

When we walked away, our classmate--who claims to be an animal behaviorist (but doesn't train at our training center) and novelist (and is generally someone I really like and find interesting)--followed us and continued to tell me what I should be doing with Barley: "Keep her mind working." "Have her look at you." "If she doesn't look at you when you tell her to, pivot around in front of her so she has no choice."  "When she wants to bark at another dog, walk away with her."  "I'm going to walk by with my dog now, keep her focused on you. . . . . That was very nice."

I am always open to suggestions for getting Barley to behave when we encounter new problems, and I appreciate her advice, but I know my dog.  While this woman clearly knows dogs, she's only known my dog for a few months--and has seen her for 1 hour a week during that time period.  I have been working with my dog every single day for almost two years on her reactivity.  I know what gets her focused on me and what doesn't. I clearly had just done what she suggested minutes before--and it didn't work.  And, she has seen me pivot in front of Barley when she doesn't listen to the "watch" command and has seen me spend 95% of instruction time every week for the last 14 weeks telling Barley to watch.  It was just frustrating, and even when Barley's wearing her crazy pants to class, usually agility is my one hour a week that I count on to be fun.

Between Soth's health problems and more excessively needy/entitled/disrespectful students than usual this semester, I've been overly stressed and tonight just added to it.  I tried running away to my parents' house this past weekend to escape for a couple days, but I came home to an inbox full of emails from students, my favorite of which included the sentence "I hope you've had a good weekend, young lady," and the little bit of pampering I got from my mama this weekend went out the window.

Barley loves to snuggle with her best friend, my parent's sweet girl Maz.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that someday soon the snow, rain, cold, and wind will temporarily disappear long enough that Barley and I can go on an adventure to one of our favorite parks--we might need a princess day or at least a good romp at the arboretum.  Even though we're less than a mile below our walking goal for the month with three more days to go (we've totally kicked butt in this short month!), we're getting bored with our neighborhood routine and desperately need to be in the woods for a little while.

*Soth Update*
Sothy had a rough weekend--possibly my fault for loading him up in the car and making him run away with me or possibly just a normal FLUTD outbreak.  He was really fussy (especially on the drive down--Thank God I have plenty of Carbon Leaf songs on the iPod because that's all that will really calm him down)and the blood was back.  Since we got back yesterday evening, though, things seemed to have cleared right up again.  I'm hoping it was just one of the bouts of FLUTD and we're back to more days without pain or blood and his little bladder will have more time heal from the inflammation.  Tomorrow, I have to call the vet to schedule his vaccinations, so we'll probably get an official medical update sometime next week or the week after.
Sothy loves to lounge on the heating pad on rough days.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Learning to Like My Dog

From the moment I took Barley out of the kennel at the APL, I loved her.  She's goofy and happy and affectionate and fluffy.  It's hard not to love her.

But, at times, it's been hard to like her.  The first time I saw her lunge and heard her snarl at another dog, I was terrified (actually, it was probably more like the first 50 times I experienced this that I was terrified).  Then we met our wonderful trainer and she helped me understand my dog.  She helped me understand how eager my dog is to please me and how she's not a mean dog, she's a reactive dog who needs a little more space to feel comfortable.  Probably the best way to explain what I learned about my dog is with this poster I saw online:
Barley wants to behave and wants to get along with other dogs--she has a handful of dogs that she loves romping around with--but she gets nervous when other dogs get excited; usually, it's high-energy or yappy dogs that set her off; if a dog sits calmly and quietly while we walk by, Barley's golden--she's alert with her ears and tail stiff, but she doesn't lunge or growl or bark.  As soon as another dog starts running or barking, she loses her mind; if I can anticipate it before it happens, I can give her commands to keep her on track, but it's not always that easy.  Our agility trainer pointed us to an article that also explains our life pretty well as well as our training struggles, but it's pretty lengthy and doesn't have cute pictures to illustrate it.

We've come a long way, and now as long as I walk with a bag full of treats (a.k.a. my pocket full of sunshine), we can usually take excellent walks in the neighborhood without having any issues.  Sometimes, we take a few steps backwards, though.

On Monday night, we had a rough night in class.  Our agility classes are six-week sessions, so the sixth week is always a practice course--the trainer sets up a jump sequence and a couple other obstacles (this time it was just a long, curved tunnel and 5 regular jumps, one double jump, and a table).  Jump sequences are hard for me because class is at 8:15 p.m. on the day I have the most classes and I struggle with remember my left from my right when I'm not tired!  But, when we practice at home or in small groups in class, Barley usually does pretty well and humors me.
Seriously, look at all these little lines!  how am I supposed to remember this at the end of the day?

We so need this t-shirt (but I probably should limit myself to the 3 border collie tees I already have!)
During the practice course, I always kind of expect Barley to go nuts for a minute--she doesn't get a lot of opportunity to just run, so having 3/4 of a huge gym to herself has got to be tempting, and I feel kind of bad stopping her when she's having fun, and after she gets the crazy out of her system, she usually refocuses and works well.  This week, she was not interested in focusing or working or paying any attention to me.  (Luckily, the gates were closed all the way, so she was contained this time!)  Twice, at the instruction of our trainer, I had to sit down in the middle of the course because Barley was not responding to my commands to come front or heel and could not have cared less if I tried to run away from her.  So, our trainer said to sit down so she'd think I wasn't interested in chasing her--it worked; she ran right up to me and dropped to the floor for a belly rub.  Eventually, she did was she was supposed to, but we did not have our best runs ever on the course.

The on-course woes were nothing compared to our off-course problems, though.

Our biggest problem was Barley's vendetta against the keeshond in class.  We took a class with the keeshond in the summer and despite her bounciness and barkiness, Barley did well with her.  Occasionally, she'd let out a bark, but our trainer taught us doggy pushups (down-sit-down. sit-stand-sit, stand-down-stand, etc.) to get her refocused.  But we were also taking two classes during the summer session, so we were in formal training twice a week and had just finished training for the CGC test and were training for TDI and hiking 3-5 miles a day; I wasn't teaching in the summer, so Barley had my undivided attention all day, every day and we trained hard.  During the school year, we still train, but not as much and we don't have time for 3-5 miles every single day, so she's not going to be as focused then, especially after spending 7 hours in her crate on Mondays before class.  So, the keeshond's owner has repeatedly asked me if Barley's ok since she's a little more obstinate in this class than she was in our previous class together.

During the sixth week, we all sit in chairs in a small part of the room while the course is set up on the other side of the gate.  Barley and I usually sit as far over as we can get so that there's only one dog beside us and the wall on the other side, and usually the other dog is our black lab sorta friend from the last session who is insanely calm and falls asleep during class while waiting her turn, so Barley is usually excited but not reactive as long as I make her think while she waits.  This week, though, the keeshond beat us to the wall, and we ended up between her and the lab.  Barley decided that was not going to work.  While I was chatting with the lab's owner, Barley leapt into the keeshond owner's lap to get to her dog.  I snatched her away, walked a couple laps to get her focused again, and went back to our chair.  We did some pushups.  She was good for a few minutes.  Then it happened again.  The keeshond's owner moved her chair.  Barley barked at the keeshond one more time during the night, but we spent the rest of the night doing pushups and playing the your choice game (with the treats on the paws) while waiting our turn.

It was a frustrating night to say the least.  I get so confident in our ability to function around other dogs--and maybe that's the problem, maybe I get too comfortable and don't give Barley  enough reassurance--then we have nights like this where she has a relapse and other people in class look at us like we shouldn't be there.  When we first started training, I didn't think we'd ever be able to be around other dogs, especially in a high-energy setting like agility class, so I know we've come along way.  But, Monday night made me remember how hard our first year together was and it was just frustrating and embarrassing and for a little bit it was hard to remember that I genuinely like my dog and wouldn't want to have a different dog even if that meant we weren't constantly training.

Luckily, Valentine's Day showed up just in time and made me reflect on even more of the reasons I have the best dog I could have possibly picked out.  I got a dog that keeps me on my toes and loves me no matter how cranky and irrational I get at times.

Our yellow cute stuff heart was nowhere to be found

*Quick Soth Update* I don't want to jinx anything, but for the last several days (maybe 5?) Soth has been mostly using his box and the only place he's gone out of the box is the bathtub (which I will take over the alternatives of my shoes, bills, printer, purses, jackets, etc.) AND the biggest news there hasn't been ANY trace of blood in the puddles in the tub.  He's not acting uncomfortable or crying much at all.  I'm not going to get my hopes up that he's cured--he's still only going a tiny amount at a time and he's still going really really really frequently, so I'm pretty sure when we go to the vet in a couple weeks she'll still find that Soth's bladder is small and hard, but if there's not blood in his urine then the inflammation has gone down and he's not in much pain.  We can deal with a small bladder if he's not in pain--it might be inconvenient, but it's not anything we can't live with.  So, fingers crossed that the inflammation doesn't come back!
Sweet one decided to cuddle while I typed this.
 *Resolution Update* We've walked 27.81 miles, so we have 16.69 miles to meet our minimum goal of 44.5 miles this month--and 13 days to do that in!  No sweat!

So, I'll leave you with a couple of the "best" shots from the Valentine's photoshoot I forced Barley to do--I thought it was only appropriate to have a picture of us with the PhotoBooth lovestruck effect on Valentine's Day, but Barley wasn't as interested in that idea as I was--I am the only one feeling the love.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Responsible Pet Owners Month

According to my Honey Badger Calendar, Monday was the start of Responsible Pet Owners Month.  Usually, it doesn't seem too hard to be a responsible pet owner because I adore my pets.  When Barley and I passed the CGC test in May, I had to sign a Responsible Dog Owner's Pledge.  There's not a single part of the pledge that I find hard to keep up with.
Usually, it doesn't seem too hard to be a responsible pet owner because I adore my pets.  When Barley and I passed the CGC test in May, I had to sign a Responsible Dog Owner's Pledge.  There's not a single part of the pledge that I find hard to keep up with--even the regular bathing part despite Barley's hatred of the tub.
This is the face I got last night when I said, "Do you want a bath tomorrow?"
But, lately, with Soth's health, I find myself wondering what the responsible thing to do is.  The vet called right before they closed on Wednesday evening with the results of the culture from the cells from his bladder.

The good news is that there isn't terrible news.  The bad news is there really isn't good news, either.  The culture didn't show malignant cells, but it did show atypical cells.  Atypical cells can show up where there's cancer or they can show up in perfectly healthy bladders.  So, there's not really any clear answer to why his bladder refused to distend and take in more of the saline solution.  

Our options right now are to do nothing, to do an ultrasound and see if anything like a stone or a tumor shows up, or to cut into his bladder and do exploratory surgery.  Exploratory surgery is the absolute last option because the vet and I decided that we don't want to add any more trauma to an already stressed area.  The ultrasound doesn't sound like a terrible choice, but it's another $100 added to a ton of money that I've already poured into medications, tests, foods that have not worked or not given us any results; just like there wasn't any guaranteee that the culture of the bladder cells would give us any answers, there's no guarantee that an ultrasound will tell us anything.  And, if it does and there's something in there, then there's probably surgery involved and I don't have the money or the time from work to stay home and take care of him if that's the case.

So, after the vet and I talked for some time, we decided that for now, we'll wait.  Even though the bladder didn't take in a lot of solution, it did get a little flushing.  And, they gave him an anti-inflammatory, which we hadn't done before, so who knows how that will affect him.

He has his appointment for his vaccinations the first week of March, so we're going to wait until then and evaluate how he's doing.  If he hasn't lost more weight and isn't acting uncomfortable (other than the constant urge to pee), then we'll probably continue waiting and watching.  But, if he continues to lose weight over the next few weeks or his behavior starts to change, we'll schedule the ultrasound and then I'll have a week of spring break to play nurse if necessary.

So, I just find myself questioning the responsible thing to do with my little cat.  Clearly, it's not responsible to run myself into financial ruin by having test after test done.  It also doesn't feel responsible to make him endure test after test or procedure after procedure when for the most part he acts like a healthy, happy kitty; he lives to eat, he loves to chase ribbons and jingle balls, he loves jumping and climbing onto furniture I don't want him jumping on, he loves sleeping in warm cozy places.
He knows jumping on top of the bookshelf and curling up dangerously close to my pet art wall makes me absolutely batty.
He also knows that curling up in my duffle bag makes me crazy, but he looks terribly cute when he does it.
But I also worry that it's not responsible to postpone the ultrasound if there's something awful growing inside of Soth that could be removed.  I'm not really sure that there's a right answer to this one, so I'm just going to hope that there's not a wrong answer, either.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Post-anethesia picture of Soth to prove he's alive and well before I go on and on about how bad today was.
I had a plan for today.  The plan was to wake up, get ready for work like usual, take Soth to the vet (we decided start with the less invasive procedure and flush his bladder out), and then since I'd be out of the house earlier than usual I planned to drop by the post office to mail my best friend a "puppy shower" package for the new puppy he brings home in 3 weeks.  On the way to work, I was going to swing by McDonald's and get a southern style chicken biscuit for breakfast and still get to work early enough to finish up some grading before my first class.  After work, I was going to swing by the store to get bread and milk, then walk my dog, and then go pick up my sweet kitty with his newly flushed bladder.

The plan fell apart.  Every last part of it, except for the waking up an hour earlier than usual, getting Soth to the vet, and walking Barley.

I left the vet, feeling really good about the care my little love was going to get because everyone at the vet's office loves my pets almost as much as I do.  I got stopped by a train on the way to the post office, but I had plenty of time for that kind of delay.  Then, I got to the post office at 8:22 to find that the post office didn't open until 8:30.  Kink in the plan #1.

I'm not good at sitting still in the car when I'm not going anywhere, so I decided to just rearrange that to be part off my after-work errands.   I went to McDonald's and knew that my chicken biscuit would make life right because, after all, I'd been craving it for days.   I pull up to the drive-thru speaker and notice there are no southern style chicken biscuits on the menu.  I ask about them just to be sure.  Kink in the plan #2. I ordered two bacon biscuits that had so little bacon in them that they just tasted like plain old biscuits.

I did finish grading, but barely because someone stopped by my office to chat for 20 minutes because she noticed that I was in earlier than usual.  Kink in the plan #3.

I went to teach my first class, which went well; they're one of my favorite groups of students because they are excited and they participate.  But I got back in my office to discover Kink in the plan #4.  The vet called to tell me they were done with the procedure, Soth was waking up just fine, but that the procedure hadn't gone as planned and to call her when I had a chance because they wanted to see if they could send some cells to be tested for malignancy.

Soth with two of my childhood stuffed cats
I am not a cat person.  I have always been a dog person, probably because that's what I grew up with; I had pound purries when I was little and loved my Marshmallow and Marmalade, my white and orange pound purries, but I was always satisfied with a dog.  My grandma had a cat, so I still got a kitten fix when he was a baby and once he was grown up and cranky I had more confirmation that I preferred dogs.  But when my friends went off on fun new adventures and I was left in New Mexico, 2000 miles from my family, I needed a pet and a cat seemed like the easiest thing to convince my "no pets" landlord to let me have.  From the moment I saw my little cat, I fell in love with him and I have been crazy about my cat every since.  During some awards show, the songwriter (I think) for Crazy Heart (I think) thanked his wife in his acceptance speech (normally I don't pay attention to these things, but since he was from New Mexico, I listened for a minute) and he told her that he "loved her more than rainbows."  I thought that was such a beautiful idea that I have told Soth I love him more than rainbows every day when I leave for work and every night before we go to sleep ever since then.  Nobody else, not even Barley, gets told that.  (Barley does get told that I love her more than zombies love brains, so don't feel like she's getting left out or anything.)  So, that was not the voicemail I wanted to come back to after a good class.

Soth in the meet-and-greet room on adoption day!
I am a hypochondriac.  So, when I listened to a voicemail telling me things hadn't gone as well as hoped, I freaked out.  But since I still had to be at work for a few more hours, I tried to be calm and called the vet back.  Kink in the plan #5.  She was in surgery and had to call me back.  What was supposed to be 20 minutes of waiting turned into an hour, in which time I drank enough coffee that I really needed to run down the hall to the bathroom but was certain that she'd call the second I left my office and imagined 1000 different awful things she wanted to tell me about my baby boy.

Another of my favorite Sothy pictures.
My most favorite Soth picture.
When our vet called back, she told me that the catheter was put in place just fine, but that when she went to flush the bladder the bladder wouldn't distend.  The point of this procedure was to flush his baldder with a lot of saline and then pull the saline back out to try to get out whatever grit, crystals, etc. had built up in there.  They were going to also have some stuff in there that would coat the bladder lining and help with inflammation.  Then hopefully his problems would be solved.  But since NOTHING is ever easy with my pets, that wasn't in the cards for us today.  The vet was supposed to be able to put 10-15cc of saline solution into his bladder, but Soth's bladder was so tiny and so hardened that she could only get 3cc in before it wouldn't expand anymore.  The solution she did get in and then remove again was full of blood.  So, she got some cells out of the bladder and we're sending them off to be cultured to make sure there isn't a malignancy aka the c word that I can't bring myself to say.  Our other option was to schedule an ultrasound at the sister vet's office to see if we could see a tumor in there, but if we had found something we'd need to get a cell sample anyway, so I figured why not skip that step for now.  Another possibility is that his bladder has built up like a scar tissue because of the irritation and that's why it's so hard and not stretchy.  So, after today, the problems aren't gone and we still don't have any answers.  Results should be back from the lab before the end of the week.  So, please, send prayers, good vibes, good-health-for-cats dances, or whatever else you might believe in out into the universe for my little kitten caboodle because I need him to be ok.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Brain Freeze

Even though it was cold and snowy again today, I decided to man up and take Barley for a walk this morning since the temperature was still in the double digits and the feels-like temp was at least on the positive side of the thermometer.   My new coffee pot with a stainless steel thermal carafe helped me make that decision, too, because I knew that the coffee I had left would still be piping hot by the time we got back in.

Apparently this was the day for everyone to be out.  Our apartment manager was out cleaning her car off and we had to stop for a minute to chat (it is really hard to be friendly when your nose is freezing off).  Then the old man who has a crush on me was also getting into his car and wanted to stop and talk.  I let Barley get away with not heeling so that it would look like she was dragging me away and would make me seem less rude when I didn't stop to talk to him, too.

Then our walk got off to a normal start for the first quarter of a mile.  There were few cars out and about because the roads were not very clear and once we left our complex there were very few people around.  Until we turned onto the third street of our walk . . .

We rounded the corner and I heard a whistle and looked to see where it had come from.  There are several dogs that live at that corner and I was afraid that one of them was charging in our direction.  Instead, to my surprise and horror, was a person in a snowman costume!  It was barreling through one of the yards across the street.  I quickly looked away and Barley and I picked up the pace.  When we got to the end of the street, my original plan was to turn around, but a quick glance over my shoulder showed me that Frosty was right where we would be walking.  So we added another block to our neighborhood loop.

Of course, Frosty had taken the same loop, but in the reverse direction, so we ended up having to cross paths after all.  Barley had no idea what to make of Frosty.  She started to pull me in the direction of Frosty and was wagging her tail like crazy with her ears perked up.  Then she'd dodge to the side and duck behind me. Luckily, we passed the snowman without incident.

Here's a picture from the Star Beacon, our local newspaper, website from last year's Winterfest.  This year's costume was a little different, but you'll get the idea.
Since I was still bundled up several hours later and Barley still had plenty of energy, we went on another short walk this evening.  It was much less eventful although there were two other people out walking their dogs.  Barley did well with passing in relatively close proximity to one of them and hardly paid any attention to the barking bulldog that was across the street from us.  Success!

We also saw these little wooden snowman decorations on the light poles that we had missed in our excitement over seeing a moving snowman earlier in the day, which reminded me that today was our town's Winterfest. (I told you my town was like Star's Hollow in Gilmore Girls.)  With a little research after our walk, I discovered that Frosty was actually Lake Effect Louie and was probably off to go line up for the parade that started about the time we got home from our walk.

New Year's Resolution Progress: 3.5 miles down, 41 miles to go.  This is totally doable, right?