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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Wishful Peeing

We used to take Cricket on two mile walks around our old neighborhood and, yes, the first ten times she peed there may have been some actual liquid coming out, but by the thirteenth time? No. And yet, she’d still squat down to leave her message, even if not a drop of pee could be produced. This is wishful peeing.

The search for pee mail begins

The search for pee mail begins

This could be a good spot

This could be a good spot

Ideally Cricket would know ahead of time how many messages she will need to leave, and be able to control how much pee to leave for each message, but she’s not that forward thinking. She’s also not the one who decides when the walks will happen, or where the walks will take her. And no one can really know ahead of time how many pee mails she will need to answer.

So many messages, so little pee left in the tank

So many messages, so little pee left in the tank

            Dogs use pee as a complex messaging system. I can’t say that I understand how the system works. My nose is not attuned to the specific notes they can pick up that tell them: Pug, after breakfast, eats dry food, misses her Mommy. But each message is more than just a simple ID card; it must be ever changing, or else they wouldn’t keep rechecking. Cricket sniffs Butterfly’s butt a few times a day for new information, and she certainly doesn’t need her basic info anymore.

Here Cricket can both rest, and sniff, at the same time

Here Cricket can both rest, and sniff, at the same time

Maybe there are pee Haiku where the dog is expressing joy at being outdoors and seeing a butterfly, or grief at having missed her friend by just seconds. Some dogs may pee in sonnets, of love for the Chihuahua down the road with the hand knitted sweater who always smells of butterscotch and rosemary. And some would ramble on, and go off on tangents, and repeat themselves with endless references to chicken treats lost in puddles never to be eaten again.

            There is a whole world of literature hidden in dog urine. Maybe some day scientists will find a way to decipher the code and open us to the wonder that is pee.

            When we were finally able to go on a long walk again, recently, after a summer of heat and rain and just general grumpiness on my part, I realized that Butterfly has learned all about pee mail and leaving an endless trail of messages along the way. I couldn’t keep count of the number of pees my two dogs attempted to leave, but it became clear early on that there was very little liquid being deposited, if any, after the first few messages.

"is this a good place to pee?"

“Is this a good place to pee?”

"Or this?"

“Or this?”

            My girls seem very happy with themselves when they squat for the fifteenth time along the route, but I just wonder how exquisitely sensitive a dog’s nose would have to be to recognize that a message had been left at all.

            “It’s the thought that counts,” Mom said. I think she also said this when my brother brought a pancake as a present to a friend’s birthday party in high school, and it turned out that she was right. The laugh made all the difference.

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I want to live at Dogtown

There was a show on the National Geographic channel a few years ago set at an Animal Sanctuary in Utah called “Best Friends.” They have separate enclosures for birds and cats and rabbits and horses and pigs, and the section for dogs is called Dogtown.

dogtown

The show focused on their work with last chance dogs, and how they try to give them better lives. Each dog has a team of veterinarians and groomers and trainers and volunteers looking out for them, and coming up with creative ideas for how to help them with problems other shelters couldn’t solve. So a half-blind, ten year old dog, who couldn’t walk on a leash, had people brainstorming ways to help him live his best possible life. And, if they couldn’t find him a forever home, he would always have a home at the sanctuary.

The Dogtown staff

The Dogtown staff

Dogtown represents the kind of safety net I wish we all had, pets and humans alike, because the volunteers and groomers and vets and trainers at Dogtown seemed to be infused with a level of compassion and persistence you don’t find in regular life. The problem is that most shelters are not Dogtown. Some have the compassion, but not the skill, or they have the volunteers, but not the money, or the space.

            The shelter where we got Butterfly subsidizes her medical care, and sends buses to pick up dogs from puppy mills all the time, but they have no mandate to train the dogs, or help them overcome social deficits. Their goal is to send the dogs out to new homes as soon as possible.

My Butterfly, with her Duckie

My Butterfly, with her Duckie

Dogtown, the TV show, went into different aspects of dog rescue work: fostering, volunteering, emergency interventions off site, veterinary care and training. And I kept wanting to be part of what they were doing. They made it look possible, even when they were crying, or struggling to come up with answers. I imagined myself in all of the different jobs, but I couldn’t quite believe I’d be up to the challenge. I don’t think I would be good at short term foster care, for example. My heart would keep breaking without enough time to heal in between dogs. I know myself well enough to know I don’t have the Teflon for that.

            I’ve wanted to work with dogs for a long time. When I was in my early twenties, I volunteered at a small no kill shelter, because I thought it might be something I’d be good at. But the established volunteers made me feel like I was in the way and they were doing me a favor by letting me help out with the cats. Dogs were too advanced for a beginner like me, they said. I started to believe that my need to be helpful was actually selfish and a character flaw.

            Recently, after watching repeats of old episodes of Dogtown, I was inspired to look into volunteering again, and found a class advertized at a nearby shelter. Mom wrote to them to ask for information and the email they sent back said that we could take their class in how to volunteer, but we’d be damn lucky if they had an actual spot for us in their schedule, ever. I’m paraphrasing. But the message I heard was, of course you want to volunteer with dogs, so does everyone else. What makes you so special?

            My dream would be to have my own menagerie of dogs to take care of at my own home, without other people around to tell me I’m not good enough. I’d need more money, and time to make sure the dogs have all of the love and medical care and training they need to thrive. I think I could be good at that.

Butterfly and Cricket

Butterfly and Cricket

My Dina

My Dina

Delilah

Delilah

and one of her many puppies

and one of her many puppies

Rachel dog, my first babysitter

Rachel dog, my first babysitter

Teddy, the Therapy Dog

My therapist has a miniature Poodle named Teddy, and he is her assistant therapist. He comes out of the office to get me from the waiting room, either barking at me or nosing my leg, depending on his mood, and then he does his Gumby-like stretch to relieve the stress of his very difficult job. He is my yoga guru; he does not seem to have bones at all.

Teddy, analyzing the depths of my soul

Teddy, analyzing the depths of my soul

Teddy, analyzing the smells I brought with me from home

Teddy, analyzing the smells I brought with me from home

Teddy is eight and a half years old and I have known him since he was a ball of puppy fluff. He was shy at first. He slept on his Mom’s lap or looked at me with suspicion. I spent a large part of two years in therapy working on my relationship with Teddy. If I was too eager to pick Teddy up early on, he would let me know, by backing up and walking away. But the next week he’d let me try again. And if I overcorrected, by not reaching out at all, he’d take a step closer to let me know he was willing to be addressed. He worked with me, and the more carefully I listened to his cues, the better he liked me and rewarded me, with attention and kisses.

Baby Teddy looked something like this

Baby Teddy looked something like this

Teddy is the reason I looked for a Poodle mix when it was time to get a new dog. Before I met him, Poodles looked too frou frou to me, with those strange dog show haircuts (pompoms on the tush, etc) and prissy bows and ribbons in their hair. But Teddy had a puppy hair cut that made him look like a real dog. He gets his hair cut every four or five weeks, because his groomer is something of a tyrant about inappropriate hair length for miniature Poodles, but also because his hair starts to cover his eyes and his black eyes are impossible to see through the poof of black hair.

            When I brought Cricket home, six years ago, one of the first places she went was to therapy to meet Teddy. I brought all of her paraphernalia with me in the equivalent of a diaper bag. There was a wee wee pad, poopie bags, paper towels, water, tissues, a chew toy, a soft toy, and treats. Cricket fell in love with Teddy, and with my therapist, right away. She tried to jump onto both of their laps and sniff all of Teddy’s toys and every corner of the room. Teddy took to hiding behind his Mom’s wicker chair so that Cricket couldn’t sniff his butt. He had to growl at her, to warn her away, because she wasn’t listening to his cues and taking it slow. Cricket is not good at adapting to other people’s rules.

Puppy Cricket, the menace

Puppy Cricket, the menace

Teddy prefers when I don’t bring my dogs. He likes to sit on my lap, facing me. He sits like a little gentleman, and leans into scratchies, until I have to hold him up, like the leaning tower of puppy. He is starting to get some grey hair on his chin, but he’s still mostly black velvet and very amenable to being scratched.

He has a “little” sister, an eighty pound Golden Retriever, who comes galloping up the stairs to visit the office sometimes. I’ll have Teddy on my lap and his sister next to me, giving me her closed-eyed smile while she gets her scratches. This is my idea of effective therapy.

Teddy's sister smiles like this Golden, and thinks we should have therapy outdoors.

Teddy’s sister smiles like this Golden, and thinks we should have therapy outdoors.

Butterfly’s Echo

              Recently, we took Butterfly in for her six month echocardiogram. When we adopted her at the end of 2012, she was diagnosed with a heart problem that could, potentially, develop into congestive heart failure. I worry each time she coughs, because the original vet told me that coughing could be a sign of heart failure. And I worry about the lumps and bumps on her skin, because I don’t want to assume that something is benign and then find out that I left a tumor growing inside of my baby until it was too late. I just can’t believe that she is as healthy as she seems.

Butterfly's First Day Home

Butterfly’s First Day Home

The echocardiograms are subsidized by the shelter where we adopted her, and they also cover her wellness visits, so we scheduled both at the same time.

We took her for her 10:30 AM appointment and she was seen almost immediately by the cardiologist. He said, basically, that her prolapsed valve was a tiny bit worse, but she had no signs of congestive heart failure. I told him how much she had improved since November: she can run, and jump, and stand straight up on her back legs, to beg for food. He just smiled and patted her head, and the appointment was over.

When we asked at the front desk about Butterfly’s wellness visit, they said she was scheduled for 12:45 PM, in two hours, so not at the same time, as we’d been told. We were wondering if we should go home for lunch and come back, but the woman at the desk said there was only one dog ahead of us and it would be a short wait.

We sat on the wooden benches against the walls of the waiting room, which were comfortable for the first twenty minutes, and then not. Butterfly was stunned from her ordeal. She still had goop on her belly from the test, and she was almost dead weight in my arms again, the way she’d been way back when we first adopted her. I held her on my lap and gave her scratches and talked to her. We tried the dog cookies they had in a jar on the counter, but she wasn’t interested. I hadn’t thought to bring chicken treats with me.

I felt awful leaving Cricket home alone. Cricket found it shocking herself. But she didn’t need to sit in a waiting room swirling with various diseases. And, as we sat there waiting, I was relieved to have left her home, because she would have been barking her head off.

My poor lonely Cricket

My poor lonely Cricket

The waiting room was full. There were a lot of newly adopted puppies getting their shots or being treated for kennel cough. There was a Cocker Spaniel with a big, red growth on his ear and a cone on his head to keep him from biting it, again. And there was an Australian Cattle Dog mix, named Bandit, who jumped up and shed all over me and gave me kisses. He had epilepsy and was there to get more medication for his seizures. It was an odd coincidence, because I’d just been told that my abnormal EEG could mean that I was having partial seizures. I tried to ask Bandit what it felt like to have epilepsy, but he was too busy giving me kisses.

An hour along, Butterfly was back to full strength and up to visiting the other dogs, and peeing on the floor, but Mom was getting antsy. She went up to the front desk to ask when we’d be going in and they told her there had been twelve emergencies, and they all took precedence over a wellness visit. But, the woman at the desk told her, there was only one more dog ahead of us.

Our choices were to believe her and stay, or be circumspect, reschedule the appointment, and go home. I really wanted to take Butterfly to Cricket’s vet instead, but it was so much more expensive. The shelter’s medical care was subsidized, so instead of paying $350 for an echo, we paid $50 and there was no charge for her wellness visit. We decided to wait.

There was a pug in the waiting room with her dad, and she was there for an echo too. She already had congestive heart failure and took daily meds to help control it, but her dad said that if he saw her trying to run after a squirrel in the yard, he’d run screaming, “No!” because if she exerts herself too much, she faints.

I felt guilty, and lucky, that my Butterfly wasn’t in her situation, yet.

After the pug left, more puppies came in for their shots, including two white toy poodles, with their ears died pink and blue to identify which one was the boy and which one was the girl.

The long wait was starting to get to me, but I felt guilty for complaining when all of these other dogs were coming in with emergencies, and I wasn’t paying much for help. I do okay with feeling worthy of care when I’m alone, but when it feels like someone else might need things more than I do, I struggle. I almost lose track of myself, and disappear. I couldn’t force myself to go up to the front desk and ask about Butterfly’s appointment, even after two hours, and then three. I left it to Mom to be the assertive one.

It’s been a relief to see Butterfly finding her voice lately. She barks when her sister leaves the room, or when she thinks she’s missing something exciting. She demands attention and expresses frustration when it is not forthcoming. I wanted this for her, but I’m not the one who taught her, Cricket did. Maybe I can get Cricket to give me lessons too.

My assertive girls

My assertive girls

By the time we went in for the wellness visit, we’d been in the waiting room for four hours, and when the general veterinarian looked at Butterfly’s chart, she found out that she only needed one booster; the rest weren’t due until November.

Since we were there anyway, I took the opportunity to point out to the vet all of the various lumps and bumps on Butterfly’s skin. She did a needle aspiration on the largest lump and showed me how the pus came up through the needle. It was a sebaceous cyst, she said, and nothing to worry about.

We were done within minutes of stepping into the examining room. We were exhausted, and starving, but relieved.

When we finally got home, Cricket was crazed and jumping all over us as if we’d been gone for months. She sniffed Butterfly for signs of where she’d been and then carefully sniffed my pant leg for the smells of other dogs, of which there were many. My clothes, covered in dog hair, went straight into the laundry basket and I went into the shower. After we’d all calmed down and eaten a late lunch, we settled down for a nap. Butterfly fell asleep at my side right away, but Cricket ran back and forth from Mom’s room to mine every few minutes, to sniff her sister for signs of where she’d been, still shocked that Butterfly had dared to go on an exciting adventure without her mentor.

Butterfly and her suspicious mentor

Butterfly and her suspicious mentor