Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mostly-Wordless Wednesday

"Everything is not enough.  Nothing is too much too bear.
Where you've been is good and gone.  All you keep's the getting there."
-Townes Van Zandt

Friday, October 11, 2013

New Adventures

Cadence is now well past the 12-week point after his fibrocartilaginous embolism - past the point where the neurologist told us to expect the most improvement to happen.

So how is he?

He walks kind of funny.  We've finally put our finger on what he's doing - it seems like he would prefer not to trot (he CAN trot, and actually looks quite normal doing it, but it must be harder for him to get those neurons firing the right way to trot).  So, in order to compensate, he takes an exaggerated step with his rear legs, often swinging them out to avoid interfering with his front.  I think that is causing him to walk at a "pace" (both legs on one side moving forward at the same time), and creates the impression that his hip sort of "dips" with each step.  It looks weird, but so far he is able to maintain it no matter the distance or terrain, and doesn't worsen.

He is a bit clumsy at times.  It seems like he can do just about anything I've thrown at him - dog walk planks, standing on various-sized platforms, foot targeting, spinning, weaving, jumping.  But sometimes he falls walking across the linoleum floor in the kitchen.

The toughest, and most surprising, thing though has been the blow this has all had to his confidence.  He has always been a careful guy who sometimes needed to check things out before feeling comfortable, but he has always been one to recover quickly and to not give up.  But since his FCE, he has had occasional episodes of anxiety when out in the world.  Sometimes on a walk, he will put on the brakes, flatten, tuck his tail between his legs, and turn away.  Not all the time.  Not predictably.  And not paired with anything I can identify going on with him or the environment.  This kills me to watch.

This shouldn't be directly caused by the FCE, but clearly they are linked.  His rehab vet thinks that maybe it worries him that he isn't as comfortable in his own body right now.  Things work differently and take more effort, and some times maybe that just stresses him out.  We hope if he continues to get more comfortable learning how to move again, that this anxiety will pass as well.  We hope it is temporary.

So, I find places where he can run off leash with the other dogs (legally and safely) and let him practice negotiating the terrain on his own.  I schedule hiking dates with his favorite doggie-friends.  I let him pick a different route on the trail if one feels better to him.  I sit down on the trail with him until he feels OK again.  I hide treats among the grass and leaves and let him use his nose to track him down.  I ask him to do his favorite tricks.  We bring his best friend Maebe along for support.  I give him some natural supplements that are supposed to calm, and spray his walking harness with a "calming" spray.

He'll go weeks with no episodes and I will think he's gotten his courage back, then out of nowhere will have a little meltdown in the middle of the block.  I like to think we're making progress.  I hope we are.

At home, he is still my happy little lap dog who just can never get close enough to me or get enough chest rubs, and who makes me smile every time I look at him.  He swims, wrestles and plays chase with Maebe, and loves learning.  We do mini agility courses with low jumps, low contacts, and spread-apart weaves in the back yard.  He's working on some freestyle moves, even though I don't know that I will be putting dancing shoes on anytime soon.  He loves shaping exercises and figures the new tricks out as fast as always.  We're planning on taking a nose work class this winter.  And we're still going to physical therapy weekly, and hoping for some more progress.

We are no longer doing therapy dog visits, on account of the slippery wood floors and stairs at the facility we visited.  I also don't want to add stress on top of whatever is triggering his sudden bouts of anxiety.

Fate is coming with me to his agility class now.  I admit, that was bittersweet at first for me.  I adore her, love training her, and can't wait to compete with her, but at the same time it was hard to get used to not being there with him.

I want so much for him, but I am realizing that is about me - that he is actually happy with this quieter world.  He has all he has ever asked for.

And he is still the most handsome, charming man ever.  Maybe I am the only one who is wildly entertained by watching him stand in a glass box filled with water, but to see what a character he is, watch video of him waiting for the underwater treadmill to fill.  He loves water, and likes his treadmill sessions, but he does not enjoy the sensation of water slowly creeping up on him, and does his best to keep his tail and feet dry as long as possible.  It has become a regular source of entertainment for us and the staff.  I swear he is not doing what it looks like he is doing!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mostly-Wordless Wednesday

"When there's a disappointment, I don't know if it's the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure."
-Pema Chödron

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cadence's Re-Check

Cadence had his re-check with his rehabilitation vet last night.  It looks like he is definitely making some progress.  He performed much better on his neurological exam, especially the proprioceptive positioning test (or "foot flipping" test).  A month ago, when his right rear foot was turned over so he was standing on the top of his foot, my stomach sunk as I watched him continue to stand for what seemed like an eternity before realizing his foot was upside down.  Last night, he righted it instantly.  She also was able to elicit some spinal reflexes, which we couldn't before (though that may have been due to his high level of stress at the first visit).  Now that he equates rehab with peanut butter, he is a more compliant patient there.

His right leg muscles are still needing to develop more, but they have made improvement and are getting closer to being in symmetry with his left leg again.

For now the plan is continued rehab exercises at home, and we will continue with the underwater treadmill weekly and swimming when we can.

Functionally, he is doing pretty well.  Trotting at a slow speed seems to be mentally taxing for him right now and we believe this why he starts pacing, but we have some new ideas to work on that.  I'm trying to accept that he may always look slightly "goofy" when he walks, swinging that right leg out, but I'm gaining optimism that it won't really be limiting.

A few seconds of treadmill fun:

Friday, August 30, 2013

I've Got This . . .

Today I took Cadence outside to do some variations on our post-FCE rehab exercises.  I had some fitness discs set up to do some body awareness work with him.  As I had just been doing some contact training with Fate, I still had the teeter plank set up between two raised tables out in the yard.  Cadence had been doing OK walking along a plank on the ground, so we decided that if he was doing well with his exercises, we would see if he could walk across the elevated plank.  Of course, Lowell and I would be on either side of him, he would be on leash, have his assistive harness on, and would do it in a controlled manner. 

Cadence had other ideas.  Apparently bored with his exercise discs, this is what he did to my surprise, then horror, then delight . . .

After that excitement, we continued with the original plan.  Gave him a little bit of a new challenge with the discs today but he handled it pretty well:

Afterwards we did some post-FCE agility rehab:

It was a good day.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Old Dogs and Wine . . . Just Get Better With Age

Finally getting around to posting this - this was my favorite run from CPE Nationals this June with my 11-year old border collie, Django.  This Snooker run was our last run of the weekend.  I had worried a bit going in to Nationals about how well Django could hold up to three days of trialing at his age, but it turned out I had nothing to worry about.  We may not be the fastest out there these days, but we sure are happy together.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Here Comes a Comeback . . .

At CPE Nationals in June, I bought myself a silver bracelet with pawprints and the words "Overcome Every Obstacle" inscribed on it.  I thought of the training obstacles we all face, whether it is getting reliable contacts, combatting ring nerves (ours or our dog's), or keeping jump bars up.  At the time, Cadence was at a point where I was starting to enter him in trials regularly - not just one run here or there at a random trial - and I was so proud of the progress we had made as a team.  We had overcome so many of our training obstacles and in the process had formed a special relationship that I can't really describe.

Before the month was out, he had his "spinal stroke," and suddenly there was a new obstacle to overcome.  I wear that bracelet every day.

The neurologist told me Cadence could continue to play agility.  Right now, I disagree.  He doesn't have the coordination in his rear leg to safely do a dogwalk, teeter, or probably a tire safely.  But the rehab vet told us there was no reason we couldn't start to play around to see what he can do.  So we did . . .

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cadence Week 1 FCE Rehab: Don't Stop . . .

Now that Cadence has been diagnosed with a fibrocartilaginous embolism, we've been able to start him on some physical therapy, with hopes of restoring as much function as possible.  What has at least been nice is being able to return him to some activity.  As we initially assumed it was an injury, he was being rested at first, which wasn't making any of us happy at all.  This week, in addition to his rehab exercises, we have him up to walking over a mile at a time, and he has been able to run and play in the yard with Maebe again.  He even had a play date with one of his favorite girlfriends, Scarlett, and was able to play chase around the yard with her with no problem.

It's hard to say whether his gait is improving yet, but I think he has shown some improvement in his coordination.  Last week, when I asked him to walk across a dog walk plank (flat on the ground), he had trouble keeping his feet on it, but now he can walk across and even turn around. 

One thing this experience has driven home to me is the importance of doing body awareness and strengthening exercises even/especially with our healthy dogs.  All the exercises given to us by the rehab place were ones that I have done with Cadence regularly for years anyway.  So, I'm not having to train a new behavior in order to do the rehab, and I have a pretty good idea what his baseline pre-FCE was. 

Here is a video of what Cadence looks like walking today.  The very clinical term that one of our vets used to describe it is "wonky":

More interesting though, I think, is watching his progress over the last week with his exercises.  The determination on his face at about 1:57 of the video makes me smile every time:

"Why not think about times to come? . . . "

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Lightning Strike

A few weeks ago, on a leisurely evening stroll around our neighborhood, Cadence suddenly began walking funny on his right rear leg.  It didn't go away.

For a few weeks, we chased a series of red herrings, trying to figure out what was causing his gait abnormality.  Chiropractors, radiology specialists, rehab vets all weighed in, and were all rather perplexed. Finally we found ourselves at a veterinary neurology clinic last Friday having an MRI performed.

He has been diagnosed with a "very mild" fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE).  Similar to a stroke, some spinal fluid has found its way into a blood vessel and blocked it, causing some rear limb dysfunction.  Most dogs with this condition experience some degree of paralysis.  For Cadence, his symptoms are at least only a gait abnormality when he walks, and some lack of coordination in the rear.  The neurologist thought that your average pet dog owner would not even notice it.  It seems more significant than that to me.

We're told this is about as predictable as being hit by lightning.  It isn't genetic.  It wasn't caused by trauma.  Having x-rayed and imaged just about every bone in his body now, we have confirmed that structually he is fit and sound.  Oddly enough, FCE tends to happen in younger dogs, often aged 3 to 6, who are active, healthy, and athletic.  Like Cadence.

The good news is that he is not in pain, and he will not get worse.  What remains to be seen though is how much functioning he will regain.

He had his first of what will be ongoing weekly visits to a veterinary rehab facility yesterday.  We have an assortment of exercises to work on daily to improve his body awareness and coordination.  We are going to do everything we can to get him in as good shape as possible.  We aren't giving up.

So this isn't what we expected, but this is our journey now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Don't Stop Believin'

One year ago, after a miserably failed attempt to attend CPE Nationals in New York, I accepted with some sadness the fact that Django and I had probably competed in our last major agility event.  He is definitely in the double digits now (we assume about 11), and though he has had no issues, I know that eventually he will be nearing the end of his agility days.  I had decided to not even try to qualify for 2013, but continued to run him in the trials we entered with Maebe as she worked towards getting her necessary Q's.  Suddenly in December I realized that a) he was still running well, and b) he was getting close to qualifying.  So, we entered a flurry of end-of-the-year trials, during which he even unexpectedly got his CATCH-3 title, and in March, I decided to fill out a second entry form with his name on it.

A few months later, we were on our way to our fifth CPE National event in Springfield, Ohio, and I couldn't have been more grateful.  We spent three days playing together, and every run was like a joyful dance with a dear loved one.  I could talk about Q rates, course times, etc. but all I cared about every time we stepped to the line was his happy face.

I had concerns about running him for three days, but he only improved with each and every run.  I don't know that Django is one of those dogs that loves agility.  He likes it fine, but I know he loves me and is happy to do anything I ask.  He asks for so little, and having three days that were just about him and me was a great gift for both of us.

As we walked our final Snooker course, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" was playing on the stereo in the neighboring ring.  The song continued to ring through my head as we ran the course - his best run of the entire weekend - and when we ran to the table to end the course, I took a second to kiss my teammate with tears in my eyes.

Maybe this was our last Nationals.  Time has to catch up eventually.  But I've thought that for about four years now.  Who knows.  What I know is we were given another chance to let go, celebrate, and enjoy the dance, which is what we did - what Django always does.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sick Days

I've been home sick on the couch for the last three days with an annoying cold bug.  As all of us are usually on the go all day long, this forced down time has taken some adjustment.  People often talk of their pets' skills of empathy, and how they take care of them and watch over them at times of injury or illness.  Here is what I've learned about my furry nurses' caretaking styles:

Fate: "You aren't feeling well?  Then you just lay down and I will lay down COMPLETELY on top of you and not move for hours to make sure that you don't get up and overdo it.  You just lay there and get some rest."  Like everything she does, Fate throws her entire heart and soul into nap time on the couch and does it with great enthusiasm, something I didn't realize was possible.

Cadence: "I can see that you are sick, and I'm worried about you and so I need comforting.  Could you pet me and make me feel better?  Don't stop - it upsets me.  Did you just cough?!?  Hold me closer."  He is a sensitive guy, if a bit needy.

Jade is the pro, curling up alongside me and there for the long haul.  Of course, 13-year old Jade doesn't care to move for much these days, so this pace suits him well.

Tristan (not surprisingly) and Django (surprisingly) just sort of look at me like "Well, let us know when you are ready to do something again" and go off on their own.  They at least have the courtesy to not be too demanding for attention in the meantime.

All are better than Maebe, whose caretaking strategy is to sit on my head and try incessantly to lick my face.

Meanwhile the cats figure that since I'm home from work anyway, perhaps I could start serving lunch in addition to their morning and evening meals.

Fortunately for me, my human counterpart has better nursing skills than all of them.  Hoping we all get out for a nice spring walk soon before we all go stir crazy.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Twist of Fate

Early this fall, we were talking with a friend who was contemplating a third dog, and she asked if we thought we'd ever get a sixth dog.  Our answer was a simple "no."  It seemed pretty clear.  Sure, there would be the logistics - we'd need to get another crate in the van and the house, need to buy more food, dog supplies, heart worm medications, etc.  But mostly, I told her, we have such a nice balance with our five.  I couldn't imagine finding a sixth dog that could fit in seamlessly with our combination, who were all coexisting well, and who we were able to balance our time with according to all their needs.

Then in early October I got an e-mail.  Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances, none of which were her fault, Cadence's littermate was needing a new home.  Would we be interested?  As anyone who knows me or reads my blog is well aware, I adore Cadence - am hopelessly smitten over him - and the thought of having his sister was appealing.  Especially when I looked at her photos, with the same bright eyes and happy expression that melt my heart daily - it was tempting, but we responded, thank you, but we just can't right now.

To make a long story short, about a month or so later we were driving to Canada to bring her home.  It is hard to explain what changed, but we came to believe that she was meant to be with us.  We've never gone wrong following our hearts, and we've come to trust the way our pets have all found us, whether we were looking for them at the time or not.  And so we settled on her new name:  Fate.

She settled into our household like she had been there all along.  We have never had such an easy transition introducing a new pet to the family.  Within an hour of arriving home, she was crashed on "her" spot on the couch and everyone was out and relaxed together.

Fate truly loves life, and is the happiest thing we've ever seen.  No matter what we are going to do, it is her favorite thing ever, whether we are going for a run, doing some training, taking a walk, or curling up with a book on the couch.  Her enthusiasm is infectious, if a bit loud at times.  (We were thinking of naming her Aria originally, which also would have been a fitting name given her impressive "singing" ability.)

Having two littermates now, it is fun to see their similarities and differences.  Both are incredible cuddlers, and are on either side of your lap as soon as you sit down, each nudging an arm for some petting.  Both have a lot of drive, but are sensitive at the same time.  Both love snow and make synchronized "snow angel dogs" in the yard after every snowfall.  And, if her one splash in the pond during a November run is any indication, both will be obsessed water dogs.

They also complement each other nicely in training.  Cadence is like the "head" of the two - he is smart, thoughtful, and a problem solver.  He picks things up quickly, thinks things through, and is a blast to clicker-train as he is so operant and clever and offers behaviors readily.  Fate, on the other hand, is all "heart."  She is full of joy and never gives up and would work and work and work all day doing anything you asked of her.  They are very fun, and I am loving the different things they teach me about training every day.

So, we are looking forward to many adventures ahead with our newest addition.  Funny how the right thing finds you when you didn't even know you were looking for it.  Welcome home, Fate.