Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The "C" Word

“The relationship between a dog and a human is always complicated. 
The two know each other in a way nobody else quite understands, 
a connection shrouded in personal 
history, temperament, experience, instinct, and love.” 
Jon Katz, A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me

Cancer has got to be one of the scariest words in the dictionary. For even the most Zen person on the planet, the life-altering “C” word can send any semblance of tranquility packing. The thing about cancer is it is an equal opportunity disease. It strikes babies and old people, moms, dads and children, cats and dogs alike. I’ve had experience with cancer as a caregiver. I’ve sat with friends during chemo treatments. I've cried at cancer-caused funerals and jumped for joy with cancer survivors. I have not, however, had a beloved pet diagnosed with the life-threatening disease. Maizey is the first. I pray she is the last. 

 As much as I love my pets, I’ve never had a problem knowing when it was time to let them go. They were old, or sick or in extreme pain. Cancer is a whole new ball game. As with humans, cancer is not always a death sentence. It often comes with options not just euthanasia. 

Maizey is 5 years old. When she started limping, it never occurred to us that she might have a life threatening illness. John assumed she had pulled a muscle or sprained her ankle jumping off the bed. After a few days the limp disappeared. 

But it didn’t stay gone. After the third time, John took Maizey to the vet for X-rays. Doodle Dog isn’t one of those dogs that shivers and quakes in fear when she goes to the vet. She assumes the role of “queen” wherever she goes and Merrill Animal Clinic is no exception. She starts barking as she walks in the door to announce her arrival. She demands the royal treatment and she gets it. The girls in the office know to usher her straight to the back. 

John is on a first name basis with Dr. Rogaski, Maizey’s Primary Care vet.  “Cathy” checked Maizey over from paw to shoulder, from the tip of her ears to the tip of her tail. Agreeing with John’s jumping off the bed assessment, Dr. Rogaski sent Maizey home with some pain meds and instructions to rest. 

“Yeh, right!” thought Maizey as she pranced out of the office into her awaiting V8 powered carriage. The idea of rest was met with the same disdain as the suggestion she could stand to lose a few pounds. Maizey took that advice with a side of cookies. 

Assured Maizey's limp was "just" a sprain, we quit worrying about it. There was no cause for alarm when Dr. Rogaski called a few days later to check on her. We were not prepared to hear that the x-rays showed a shadow near Maizey’s shoulder joint. She needed to see a specialist. The specialist took more x-rays, then a biopsy. The diagnosis we least wanted to hear turned out to be Grade 3 Osteo-sarcoma. 

That’s the way with cancer, it creeps up on you. 

The first thing you do when you find out you or someone you love has cancer is cry. Then you rage. Then you go into warrior mode and research your options. 
“The clearer your mind and heart are, the easier you learn. The more you learn about cancer and how to treat it, the wiser the decisions you will make about your dog’s treatment. The calmer you are, the more likely your dog will be calm, too.” dogcancerbook.com (page 22)
As a caregiver I learned the importance of taking an extra pair of ears with me when going to the doctor for test results. When your beloved pet is the patient it's even more essential to have someone else with you to pay close attention to the details. Maizey may be able to hear a boom boom from several miles away, but she paid no attention to the man in green scrubs foretelling her future. While the doctor rambled on about treatment, and cure percentages, Maizey slept. I did my best to keep breathing. John stared at the gray blob on the light screen behind the doctor. We barely heard “let’s schedule the surgery for Thursday.”  

It makes no difference if you google it or seek multiple opinions. The prognosis for dogs with osteosarcoma is not good. The life expectancy is low, the cost high and quality of life somewhere in the middle. 

“Osteosarcomas are highly aggressive tumors, characterized by painful local bone destruction and distant metastasis (spread to other organs) http://www.csuanimalcancercenter.org/assets/files/Osteosarcoma.pdf
The most often suggested treatment for Maizey included, without delay:
  • Amputate the leg to remove the primary tumor and source of pain. (According to the people we talked to, amputation is almost always well-tolerated by the patient. “Dogs with 3 legs can do virtually everything that 4-legged dogs can do."dogcancerbook.com 
  •  Follow up with chemo. ("Chemotherapy is unlikely to cure most dogs with osteosarcoma, but can prolong a good quality survival. Most dogs tolerate chemotherapy well, with some dogs experiencing mild, self-limiting side effects such as depressed appetite, nausea, occasional vomiting and diarrhea for a few days. Less than 5% of dogs will experience severe side effects requiring hospitalization."dogcancerbook.com 
  • While  euthanasia is the least desired option it must be factored into the quality vs quantity of life equation.
The most often suggested prognoses:
  • Do nothing - 3 months. 
  • Amputation alone - 8 months. 
  • Chemo - possible year, 2 at the most
I didn’t envy John’s choices. He’s the only one who knows Maizey’s idiosyncrasies.  He alone knows the state of his bank account. Maizey is depending on him. There is no easy answer. 

From a human point of view, the world began to spin like an unbalanced washing machine. But when you look at this dog, it's hard to imagine there's anything wrong with her. For now she continues to do the things a middle aged dog is supposed to do -- swim, chase cats, dine on cat poop, bark at the mailman, catch balls, take naps and demand the attention she is convinced she deserves. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ella Ella Bo Bella

"A true friend leaves paw prints on your heart."

In his book Going Home, Jon Katz writes, “Kids are the purest animal lovers in the world. Psychologists have long noted the power of animal friendships and fantasies in the development of children. So there are special challenges in talking to children about the death of a family pet.” (pg 129)

When it comes to balls, chew bones, treats, blankets, swimming, naps and playing with a certain 5 year old, Maizey can’t get enough. If the bond between John and Maizey is Gorilla Glue, then the bond between Maizey and Ella must be Silly Putty. It’s hard to know who loves this crazy dog more, John, his daughter, Ashley, or his granddaughter, Eleyiana. One thing’s for sure, Maizey does not lack for attention.

Eleyiana was a baby when she and Maizey met for the first time. It was love at first sight, on both sides. As Ella has grown, so has their relationship. It's as if time stands still between Ella’s visits. When she comes to Florida, the girl and the dog pick up where they left off. Throw Buddy into the mix and you’ve got a genuine 3-ring circus going on day and night. They play, swim, and sleep together. The noise level rises by several decibels. The barking, the running inside and out, the back door slamming are punctuated by high pitched squeals that only 5 year old girls can make. It’s a delight to see, but not so easy on the ears.

When Ella comes to town, John, aka GPa, prepares perhaps the best ever sleep over environment. He piles pillows and blankets on the bed, on the floor, and in a pink tent. It’s more a game of musical beds than first come first served. Ella might start out in the tent, but Maizey is there in the morning. Buddy can be found in a wooden, blanket-lined crib that looks out over the driveway or wedged into the tent with his lala. If Peppa Pig can be found under all the covers, she's usually a bit wet from dog drool. (Neither of our well-mannered dogs would try to eat Peppa. They do, however, like to toss her around.) John wakes up bleary eyed from lack of sleep. The day doesn't start until GPa gets coffee, Ella gets donuts and Maizey checks the perimeter for squirrels.

Ella’s most recent visit was the longest she's been here without her mom. Camp GPa lasted almost two weeks. In that time Ella mastered jumping onto a noodle in the middle of the pool; went to baseball games and saw fireworks; became an ace pooper scooper; learned how to give Maizey medicine stuffed steak and cheese; chased Buddy until he cried "Uncle" and collapsed. Mostly the 4 Muskateers swam -- in the morning, in the evening, in the rain. 

Stand Up for Someone with Cancer  Night
with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
Giving Maizey her medicine
Ella doesn’t know anything about cancer and tumors, but she does understand that Maizey is sick. GPa explained to her that Maizey wouldn’t be with us much longer. It helped that Ella has some experience and knows pets die and go to heaven. Along with all the fun times, Ella spent quiet times with Maizey, massaging and loving her. She said goodbye in her own way, the way children do, without a lot of drama. 

Sometimes a pat on the head, an extra piece of cheese, or sharing a nap is the best way to say "Goodbye. Thanks for being my friend. I love you.”

Monday, July 31, 2017

Along Came Buddy

"Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love, 
they depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces and old dog; 
it merely expand the heart."
Erica Jong

[Quite unexpectedly Suzi’s back and hind legs gave way. We rushed her to the emergency vet who did what emergency vets do — x-rays, pain meds, and charge an arm and a leg. In that situation, with no hesitation on my part, the arm and leg was exchanged for Care Credit. We left her overnight but when we returned the next morning, she had not improved. John and Jack and I cried as the vet quietly and lovingly ended Suzi’s pain. We left swearing we’d never get another dog. It just hurts too much to say goodbye.]

After a few months went by, each of us in our own way came to grips with losing Suzi. We gradually started talking about dogs again. We scanned Craig’s List for giveaways, traveled out of our way to pass by the Humane Society. We brought home a couple of adult dogs that didn’t work out. One bit the mailman. The other bit Maizey. Not good omens.

Welcome to our world, Tucker from Hoboken
You need a lab,” advised John. He backed up his suggestion with an ad for Yellow Lab puppies. Because Jack had been diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease,* we hoped to be able to train a puppy as a service dog. The timing was right. After a nod of approval, a phone call and a trip to GA, 8 week old “Tucker” came into our lives. On paper Tucker might belong to Jack, but we all fell instantly in love with a few pounds of white fur and feet that foreshadowed a big dog. Even Maizey. Jack changed Tucker’s name to My Buddy Boy, Buddy for short. 

As Buddy grew we began to wonder about his heritage. He’s got some yellow lab in him for sure, some boxer, perhaps, and unquestionably more than a little Georgia Bulldog. How could he not? He was born in Hoboken, GA, small town with a population of 528 people just NW of Brunswick. It’s a wonder he was named “Tucker” not Billy Bob.

In a twist of fate that could be considered Divine Intervention, Buddy began to look like Maizey. What are the chances? Twins, born by different mothers, in different states, two years apart? They are almost the same size, Buddy’s stockier. Webbed feet and the maize colored streak running down their backs is all either has to show of their Labrador heritage.  Maizey’s bark is a high-pitched thing that rattles the wine glasses. Buddy’s baby bark turned into a deep, bass WOOF. But they share the same enthusiasm for barking. 

Like human siblings Buddy and Maizey argue over toys, pout when they are told no, steal each other’s cookies. They sniff each other’s behind and clean each other’s ears. They've jointly declared dibs on the living room couch.They never turn down a ride in the car or an opportunity to chase the cats. Buddy was with us for less than 24 hours when he got his first lesson in cats — a claw to the left eye. Luckily no damage was done. Maizey, who has a few scars to show for it, has since taught Buddy how to get up close and personal with the cat by keeping his eyes closed. 

Buddy is two now. Elizabeth, the trainer from PetSmart, says he's an adult. That’s kind of hard to believe. He still carries his “lala” around, suckles it to fall asleep, whines (instead of asking nicely) to go out, jealously demands whatever attention Maizey gets and hides behind our legs if a stranger approaches. This action is now accompanied by the aforementioned WOOF! which may be all bluff, but sends mixed messages.

While it doesn’t slow down the game of tug go war the two dogs play with a well-worn, scraggily rope, I believe Buddy is aware something Maizey is sick. I see him sniffing her when she’s asleep. Could he be checking to make sure she’s still breathing like I do? I doubt he realizes that the charcoal broiled steak that’s added to his dinner every night is due to John sharing Maizey’s she’s-sick-so-she-can-have-whatever-she-wants diet. He does, however, sit patiently as Maizey is given her nightly dose of tramadol-laced cheese.  It’s hard to say no to his sad brown eyes and drool dripping jowls. 

One piece of cheese for Maizey. One for Buddy. One for Maizey. One for Buddy.

For all their extra sensory perception, in a dog’s brain extra cheese might just be the only good thing that comes from your best friend having cancer.

* Jack has since been told the ALZ diagnosis was incorrect. Buddy would never have made it as a service dog. Apparently we failed to socialize him enough, thus the scaredy dog persona.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Crazy Is as Crazy Does

"Animal lovers know that troubled creatures are sometimes the ones we love most."
Jon Katz*

We don’t call Maizey crazy for nothing. On her first visit to our vet, Dr. Barbara Kempf, took one look at Maizey twirling in circles and diagnosed her with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  She’s afraid of loud noises (thunder, fireworks). She doesn’t like change of any kind, being left behind, green beans, or knocks on the front door. Squirrels are her biggest nemesis. For obvious reasons, Maizey dislikes humping boy dogs that get a little too close to her behind. She’s kind of picky about her canine companions, immediately assuming the role of Alpha dog in any situation.

Maizey's list of likes would include treats, rawhide bones, orange balls and stuffed animals. She likes chewing on baseball caps, leather work gloves, and swim fins. The more expensive they are, the better they taste. Since she's been sick, Maizey likes her filet mignon cooked medium rare over a charcoal fire. She is partial to a freshly made bed with lots of blankets to burrow into. She has an affinity for pretty women and children. 

John might be Maizey’s truest friend but once she gives her approval you are forever in her heart. I have no doubt that even 5 years later if the Stevensons walked in the door, Maizey would jump into their arms and slather them with dog kisses.  Maizey prefers all the neighborhood dog walkers to their canine companions. When she sees someone heading in her direction she gets all excited, pulls on her leash like a Greyhound chasing a rabbit, and lets out some ferocious sounding barks. What sounds like, "I'm going to eat you," to a passerby is simply Maizey's way of saying hello. It didn't John long to figure out walking after dark would be best for everyone concerned. He knows she won’t hurt anybody, but others aren't so sure.

On her first night here Maizey saw a ghost. This may explain why she jumped out of the second story window. Over the years, many of us have sensed an other-worldly presence in this house. A shadow moving down the hall. Sometimes an eerie, unexplainable sensation. As a kid I was afraid to stay upstairs by myself. I still hate to go up there after dark so I am sure Maizey is not imagining things. On the other hand, the floating heads (all she can see inside the tinted windows) Maizey sees in passing SUVs is an indication of just how bonkers she is. 

 Maizey is ever on the lookout for squirrels that skitter along the back of the fence, “snakies” otherwise known as lizards that hide in the base of the bird feeder  the swimming pool net and most anything with wings. Besides ghosts, and floating heads, Maizey has been known to go berserk over Spanish moss hanging from the electric wires. On a moonless night the shadowy moss looks similar in size and shape to the owls that are scoping out the area for dinner. At dinner time owls are all business. They don’t like their hunt disturbed by a horse of dog barking loud enough to scare away yummy looking rodents. The taloned predators, who could easily scratch out Maizey's eyes with one swoop,  show no fear. They sit like statues on the wire or tree branches and do that owl thing with their heads, changing their focus from front to back. Spanish moss or the real thing, it makes no difference to Maizey. 

I don't think for one minute Maizey thinks she can catch an owl, or a squirrel. Sometimes she just likes to hear herself bark. 

Going Home, Finding Peace When Pets Die, Jon Katz. Random House, NY, pg xi

Random House, NY

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Love at First Bark

After years of having a dog, you know him. 
You know the meaning of his snuffs and grunts and barks. 
Every twitch of the ears is a question or a statement, 
every wag of the tail is an exclamation.
 Robert McCammon

John and Maizey became fast friends. Like the early days of any relationship, they were in separable. When John left the house, Maizey rode shotgun. When John went to work, Maizey lay in the shade while John climbed ladders and patched roofs. They went to the beach where Maizey dove into big waves, chased sand pipers, dug up fiddler crabs and, as most dogs love to do, rolled in stinky things.

With so much togetherness, Maizey and her master soon developed a language of their own. It didn’t take long for them to resemble an old married couple, where one finishes the other’s sentences. John is convinced Maizey knows English.  The conversations are peppered with 4 letter words on the part of the human, the twitch of a tail or refusal to budge on the part of the dog.  

“Wanna go in the car? John asks. Maizey stands at the door and barks her fool head off.
“Big Wave?" (Let's go to the beach.) Maizey stands at the door and barks her fool head off. 
"Squirrel!" (Let's go outside). Maizey stands at the door and barks her fool head off.
“Walka walka?” (Let's go for a walk) Maizey stands at the door and barks her fool head off.

John claims to know the nuances of certain barks. They all sound a like to me. Try as I may, when Maizey barks at me which causes my ear drums to rattle, all I hear is "feed me." Dinner. Cheese. Milk Bones. I try any/everything I can think of to quiet her.  John walks in and she stops barking. It's clear the dog thinks Grammy is an easy mark. 

I think she's probably right.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

American Fox Hound + American Bulldog = big holes in the back yard

7/19 Buddy stood next to my bed this morning until I got up. I followed him to the living room, where Maizey lay on the floor. Still. Too still. Scary still. I tried to get her to move. She lay there. I screamed. Jack came running. He scratched her tummy until her foot started moving. She groaned a little, not happy to be disturbed. Once I knew I she was okay I put my head on her chest and listened to her heart beat. Oh, Sweet Maizey Girl, I'm not ready to say goodbye," I cried. 

"She was faking," John informed me. "She does that when she doesn't want to go outside."
Who knew a dog could play possum?

_ _ _ 

"I have found that when you are deeply troubled there are things you get from 
the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source."
Doris Day

While Maizey spent her puppyhood with a loving family, we were all getting to know a sweet, gentle American Foxhound, named Suzi Q. We’d been without a dog since my father’s beloved Black Beauty passed away a few weeks before he did. My father, who  owned several dogs during his lifetime, believed the only way to get over the loss of one dog was to get another as soon as possible. Even though Dad was in the palpable process of dying he seemed to think we should go right out and find a new dog to love. I didn’t say no to my father often, but I knew I wasn’t up to the task of caring for Dad and a new dog. 

Getting another dog was not high on my priority list.  In the full throes of grief and house renovations, a dog would have complicated things. Yet anyone who's ever been pet hunting knows it only takes an itty bitty seed of an idea  —“hey, let’s go look at the Humane Society, or they’re giving away a litter of puppies on Craig’s List, or we need some cat food better stop at PetSmart, is it adoption day?”  — to throw all good sense out the window. Black Beauty had been gone for 4 months, Dad 3. It was time to follow Dad's advice.

A brown and black dog, with eyes that could melt butter, Suzi Q left a cage and the din of yelping dogs at the Humane Society, hopped into our car and didn’t look back. She wasn’t the best trained dog. I’m no Ceasar Milan, so some head butting was inevitable. Mostly, Suzi wanted what we wanted — love.  The kind of bond formed when a fur-covered, face-licking, dog meets ear-scratching, MilkBone treating ball-throwing humans. Suzi Q and the cats had a you-don’t bother us and we won’t bother you relationship. (I cannot say the same for Maizey).

John fell for Suzi as quickly as we did. But he was still on the lookout for “his” dog. He’d know it when he saw it. Meanwhile Maizey grew into the kind of dog that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stay in a box all day. Let’s just say she was a handful. The kind of handful a family knows, even if they love her to pieces, needs to be “re-homed.” A heart-breaking event for the Stevensons became the love story between John and Maizey. It also became a game of who can get in more trouble for Suzi or Maizey.

The children’s book, The Diggingest Dog comes to mind. And the thousand dollars we spent on training with a renowned handler who never met a dog or horse whose bad habits he couldn’t change into good manners. The dogs performed magnificently during our living room classes. Clicking our clickers to reinforce new behaviors, Jack and John and I were proud dog parents, but as soon as Bob and his pocketful of treats walked out the front door, the two dogs exchanged sidelong glances and went back to doing what they did best -- exactly what they wanted to do. Clicker be damned. "Puppy, puppy, puppy" calls were ignored. 

“Be the boss,” said Bob, the trainer.
 “Show me the treats,” snickered Suzi. 
"Yeh right," yawned Maizey.

Look at those innocent faces. What you can't see in this picture is the hole that goes halfway to China.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Little Background

"Petting, scratching and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart 
as deep meditation, and almost as good for the soul as prayer."
Dean Koontz

John was born with the soul of an ancient herdsman. He’s never met a winged, scaled or furred creature he didn’t need to bring home. He has whispered to horses, dogs, cats, gerbils and iguanas alike. By his own account  some of John's pets have included Rags the Turtle, Lovie the Iguana, Kong the Scorpion, Steve the Ray and Barry the Barracuda. when John was about 8 years old, he fed shivering, featherless, hatchlings with little chance of survival with an eye dropper round the clock. Even though his efforts proved futile (he buried the chicks in the same cloth-lined shoebox he kept beside his pillow) it was good training for Fred, aka the meanest parakeet in America (of which I have no memory.)

John was a toddler when I fell in love with a basket of Scottish Terrier puppies at a church bazaar. Never one to pass up a free offer or a soft, squiggly ball of fluff, I took one home, thinking, of course, the pup would grow into a beauty of a dog like her mother.  Pebbles quickly became a permanent member of our family.  As she grew, however, she began to resemble something closer to a groundhog than the stately Scotties I remembered my grandparents owning. Short and squat with a dull black bristly coat what Pebbles lacked in breeding, she made up for in heart.

What the hell is that? asked my husband when he came home from sea. He had not been consulted about this scruffy surprise. If he’d been home, he’d have voted for a big dog, a man’s dog. A German Shepherd, or a retriever. Something he could call Duke, who would come when called, sit when commanded, and fetch. Pebbles did none of these things, but even Jim grew to love her.  

In essence John and Pebbles grew up together.  When the rest of the family found it hard to get close to her, John always made room for her on his bed. In the days before flea collars, Trifexis and allergy medications, Pebbles regularly chewed all the hair off her backside. Shampooing her with tar based soap failed to stop the itching and added to her off-putting bouquet. But oh how we loved that dog. In fifteen years we had her, Pebbles never failed to keep up. She criss-crossed the country with us every time we moved from duty station to duty station. She he went on long jogs, combed the canyons, chased rabbits only asking for love in return. 

We had other dogs along the way. Dogs that didn’t quite work out. Dogs that jumped over 6 foot fences or refused to be tamed. When our family broke up, cats moved up to the top rung of the pet ladder.  But John never stopped yearning for a dog to call his own.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"Happiness starts with a wet nose and ends with a tail."

Maizey came to live with us on her first birthday.  A 48 pound Labrador with a stripe down her back the color of summer corn. Before I go any further, I need to clear up two things. One, although Maizey shares the house with Jack and I, our dog and two cats, she belongs to my son, John (aka Johnny, Johnson, or GPaw). Put another way, Maizey believes she owns the place and gives the humans permission to live here too.  

The second clarification is that even though the Craig’s List ad stated Maizey was a yellow lab, when she arrived she brought her DNA analysis with her. Technically speaking Maizey is mostly yellow lab as her coloring indicates. However, like the ancestry.com commercials where a simple mouth swab informs a women that she is mostly Native American, not of European descent,  Maizey’s ancestry is a hodgepodge of Labrador, American Bulldog, Bull Mastiff, and Corgi. She may look like a Lab, but her personality is all Bulldog. We would discover this soon enough.

According to  www.petmd.com the American Bulldog is “gentle, friendly, confident, dominant, loyal, assertive and energetic.”  The Bull Mastiff is “courageous, calm, powerful, devoted and protective.”  The Corgi is “friendly, protective, tenacious, bold, and outgoing.” The Labrador, is “trusting, agile, even-tempered, outgoing, intelligent, gentle, and kind.” Combine all those traits, with skin and food allergies, OCD, and fear of “boom booms” (which she can hear from miles away) and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what our Maizey is like. At any given moment she can demonstrate one or all of these possibilities, a veritable canine mulagatoni. 

On her first day here, Maizey jumped into the pool and had to be rescued (which told her new owner that with a little training she’d make a great “water” dog) dove from a two story window and took a self-walk through her new neighborhood, and bent the sides of her crate in an effort to let John know exactly who was boss.  It was a match made in heaven. Not without some head butting, leash pulling, owner cussing and ear piercing barks from the ownee. 

It’s been five years since Crazy Maizey moved into our home and hearts. I should have been writing about her that whole time. Sadly it’s taken the onset of Grade 3 osteo sarcoma in Maizey’s right shoulder for me to begin to document the love story between a man and his dog. The doctors tell us Maizey might have three months left. So far, except for an occasional limp and a lot of sleeping (which could be caused by pain medication), it’s hard to believe she’s even sick. This story will not have a happy ending. But it will be one that makes me smile thinking about how this big white dog came into our lives and rocked our world one bark at a time.