Friday, July 29, 2011

Introducing Wave

wave2 This is admittedly pretty old news by now, but we’ve just been letting our new addition settle in to the household gradually before introducing him to the blogosphere.

After our cat, Milo, died in May, we sort of thought we would not get another cat for a while.  We decided that River would now be an only cat, and after he passed, we would probably adopt two littermates together. 

River had other ideas though.  In the days after Milo’s passing, he searched through the house and howled incessantly.  He was restless, needy, lonely, and inconsolable.  On top of our already broken hearts, it was gut-wrenching listening to his cries of despair as well, and not knowing how to comfort him.  We pet and cuddled him more, pulled out more cat toys, played with him more, but everyone who knew us said the same thing: “That cat needs a friend.”

River loved Milo so much that I thought showing up with a new cat would be like trying to replace a grieving person’s lost spouse.  Over time we realized that even though we’d never find another Milo, perhaps River, and we, would benefit from some more feline companionship.

So, we decided to visit the Humane Society of Huron Valley one Saturday afternoon, “just to look.”  We told the greeter that we were interested in an adult cat, not a kitten, but that we weren’t determined to necessarily get one – we needed to find the absolute right one.

Well, “Vinnie the Paw” made that decision for us.  We entered the first communal cat room, Lowell picked up a cat feather toy, and a chubby grey and white cat launched himself from his perch and immediately started playing.  Most cats remained curled in the beds.  A few showed passing interest in us and the toy, then moved on.  But Vinnie played with us, curled up on our laps, rubbed against us, and didn’t leave our sides for the entire 45 minutes we were there.  OK, we decided that was settled, grabbed his adoption card, and headed up front to fill out the paperwork.

Vinnie was recovering from a nasty upper respiratory infection, so he spent the first few weeks in our house isolated from River until we were sure he was no longer contagious.  Every day we would spend quiet time with just him, and discovered just what a delightful personality he has.  He is very affectionate, and demands attention by sitting up and waving his paws in the air.  It was a trait that we immediately found endearing, and earned him his name:  Wave.  Just so happens that it goes quite nicely with River.

Over the next month or two, we gradually integrated him into the household, and were relieved to find that he and River are quite compatible.  They will never be constant companions like River and Milo were, but they seem to enjoy one another’s presence and frequently hang out together.  At night, I catch them snuggled together at the foot of the bed.  Wave seems perfectly at home in his new forever home, and much to our relief, River’s mood and behavior returned to normal.

It is slightly disconcerting, and completely coincidental, that we ended up with another grey and white cat.  Sure, Milo had long fur, and had a creamy tan color blended in with his grey, but it is similar enough to be a little creepy the first few times we would spot Wave out of the corner of our eye, perched in a spot where Milo used to frequent.  But he is very much his own character, and we feel very fortunate that we found each other at a time when we all were in need of a little more love and nurturing.  Welcome home, Wave.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

DSA Camp 2011

django camp Last week marked our tenth year in a row of attending Dog Scout Camp in St. Helen, MI in July.  As always, it was a wonderful week spent with our dogs and with good friends.  We had the opportunity to do a lot of good training with the dogs, and to just relax and enjoy ourselves while hiking the trails or sitting around the campfire.



Cadence made me very proud this week, showing me just how much he Cade hiking has learned and matured over the last year.  After all our work on recalls, I finally took a leap of faith and let him off leash on our morning runs and hikes.  He amazed me by staying basically by my side the entire time.  He would run up ahead with Django and Maebe occasionally, but always came back to check in, and always waited and came back to me when I asked him to. 

We also worked a lot on recalls and stays at the beach.  Swimming is unbelievably reinforcing for him, so I used the Premack Principle quite a bit – if he came out when I asked, he could get back in and swim some more.  I am still doing most of this work on a long line, but I did test it off-leash a couple times and he did come out of deep water when I called.  This was a drastic difference from last year, when he was oblivious to everything once near the water. 

cade DW He also got to play agility, rally-o, and “agilure” (lure coursing with some low jumps and tunnels).  He did great, was very focused and had a very good time.  At the end of the week, he had earned three agility badges, the beginning Rally badge, Agilure, Hiking, Beach Buddies, and Fine Art of Shaping badges.  He also finished a 10-mile hike for his next Pack Dog title. 

jade rally The four older dogs continued to make us proud also.  Maebe got her Hiking and Beach Buddies badges, Django got Advanced Rally, Tristan got Boating Safety, and even Jade, less than two weeks post-op, got his Advanced Rally badge.  Doing the Rally course with my older guy was one of the highpoints of the entire week.



 T hikingSome of my favorite times at camp though are spent just quietly hiking the trails or sitting by the campfire.  We figure we must have hiked the main trail at camp hundreds of times over the years, and it always brings us joy to watch the dogs happily bounding up the trail then back to us, having the time of their lives.  After Tristan’s long spring of injuries and Jade’s ordeal with laryngeal paralysis, we were especially delighted to have the two of them with us on our hikes again.

Oh, and Cadence made a lot of new lady friends.  For some reason, the girls do seem to like him.  I don’t think his ego really needs quite so much encouragement, but it is pretty cute to watch them flirt!  My favorite was watching him play with a tiny Pom who was smitten with him:


 saige2 saige3 saige4 saige5

In addition to time spent with the dogs, I am always grateful for the opportunity to spend time with friends and to make new ones.  I am always amazed by the displays of generosity and kindness that I encounter at camp, and this year was especially noteworthy in that respect.  It is amazing how when we focus on noticing and rewarding positive behavior, how contagious that is, and how it not only affects our interactions with our dogs but with other people as well. 

All in all, it was a perfect week, and we already can’t wait until next year.wet maebe

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Deep Breath of Relief

This spring, we started to notice that our 11-year old Lab mix, Jade, was developing a hoarse sound to his bark, and was beginning to pant heavily upon exertion. The panting eventually grew to have a very rough sound to it (what I learned is called “respiratory stridor”), and he was getting tired faster and faster with any exercise. After losing Milo to a heart condition, I was growing afraid that Jade may have developed congestive heart failure, and so we took him in for an exam with our regular veterinarian.

Since we were preparing ourselves for the worst, we were a bit relieved when our vet told us that his heart sounded fine, but that she suspected laryngeal paralysis. This is a neurologic condition, common in Labradors especially, where they can no longer control the nerves in the larynx, and so are unable to control the cartilage that closes and opens in their trachea, thereby controlling their airway. She described it as constantly breathing through a straw – they struggle to take in a full breath of air. Sometimes the condition goes undiagnosed until a dog is in an acute respiratory crisis, so we were glad that we had addressed this early on.

268100_2048743189982_1586533506_32027987_7844879_n There isn’t a cure for the condition, but there is a treatment, known as a unilateral tie-back surgery. The cartilage on one side of the trachea is tied back, keeping the airway partially open at all times. The surgery is highly successful, and owners report extremely high levels of satisfaction after having it performed. The dogs immediately can breathe better, and return to a much higher quality of life.

Last week, we took Jade to see Dr. Bryden Stanley at Michigan State University. Dr. Stanley is a veterinary surgeon and leading researcher in laryngeal paralysis. She explained that they are finding that this is actually part of a larger neurologic condition, which they have termed Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Paralysis Polyneuropathy (GOLPP). Oftentimes, the disease will progress to involve lack of function in the rear legs and eventually rear end paralysis. It is not painful, and dogs are reported to be bright and active the entire time. With a tie-back surgery performed, the respiratory symptoms will be alleviated, and she gives a prognosis of 2-5 more years.

Jade stayed for tests at MSU and then underwent surgery on Thursday. All went fine. Dr. Stanley, who has done the surgery many times, told us this was the easiest and fastest one she has ever done because Jade is so lean and healthy – she said it was like looking at an anatomy textbook. We picked him up Friday, and he is doing great. He has been comfortable and pain free the entire time, his incisions are healing nicely, his attitude and appetite are great, and he can take a deep breath again! He will no longer be able to bark - another side effect of the surgery - which is weird and kind of sad, but again, there are much worse side effects.

So, the bad news – we are awaiting nerve biopsy results from his rear legs, but it is likely that the neuropathy has started to and will continue to spread. He has lost muscle mass in his rear, and there have been a few instances recently that seem to indicate a slight lack of coordination in his rear. His neurologic exam at MSU was clear, but we suspect something may be beginning. Hopefully the onset will be slow though, and overall Jade is in excellent health, so we are quite optimistic.

The procedure and condition also put him at increased risk of aspiration pneumonia, as his airway is partially open. He underwent swallowing tests at MSU also, and his esophageal function was good, so that reduces his risk a bit. Some of the GOLPP dogs already have swallowing issues which complicates matters more. For a while he will have to be hand-fed “meatballs” of soft food, and he has to eat in an elevated position from now on. He can only be walked on harness, and he can’t retrieve in water anymore, though we were told it is OK for him to swim as long as he keeps his head well above water.

So, we’re all adjusting to the diagnosis, but doing just fine. He’s going on 12 years old, and inevitably something was going to catch up with him eventually, so we can take this. We have every reason to hope for quite a bit more time with him, and that he will be able to be his active, crazy self again now that he can breathe better.

If you aren’t familiar with GOLPP, please check out the MSU website. Since learning about this, I have heard of so many dogs who were misdiagnosed for years until they were in acute crisis or it was too late. Untreated, it is an awful disorder that can continually restrict the dog’s airway and potentially cause asphyxiation. But, there are good options once identified, and it is definitely something to learn about and be aware of if your dog starts to change behavior, tire faster, pant louder, etc. I am grateful, as always, that we have access to such wonderful veterinary care here in Michigan, and have taken much comfort in these past weeks knowing Jade is in good hands.

It is hard seeing my first dog get older, but I’m treasuring these senior years with him as well. As I sat petting him this weekend, an old Grateful Dead song came on the radio, and I caught one of the lyrics for the first time:

“Oh well, a touch of grey kind of suits you anyway . . .”

Your golden years do suit you well, Jade. We will get by.