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Gracefully Walking Your Dog Through the Aging Process by Laurie Duperier

 

 

This is a great article with precious advices from Laurie Duperier that she wrote for the NoVa Dog Magazine.

Laurie Plessala Duperier is an author and expert on caring for aging dogs. Living with Gunny, her soul mate, changed her life and taught her almost everything she knows about everything. Before devoting herself to dogs, she was an international lawyer. Later she ran Gunny’s Rainbow, a warm water healing facility in Bethesda, for 8 years. You can learn about The Endless Path, the book she wrote with Gunny, at theendlesspath.com. It is widely available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.

 

 

These days, our animal companions are living longer than ever. But many of those last years can prove quite challenging given the rate of cancer, heart problems, degenerative diseases, and orthopedic ailments that our older dogs face—just like the aging human population. The tests, treatment options, and supportive therapies can seem overwhelming when your dog experiences a significant health problem. The costs can be staggering. And while we all want our animal companions to stay with us as long as possible, what most of us really want is for them to be happy and have quality of life all the days that they are here.

I spent the better part of the last 12 years tending to elderly and dying dogs, both my own and others’. For eight years I ran Gunny’s Rainbow, a warm water healing facility in Bethesda, and specialized in supporting geriatric dogs and their people. While I started out swimming with all kinds of dogs, from young ones looking for exercise to surgical rehabbers to geriatrics, over time I focused exclusively on the seniors, knowing there were other swim options for the younger pups.
Fundamentally, old dogs are my calling and my passion. I love them—they are my life coaches! In fact, I first built Gunny’s Rainbow for my elderly dog, Gunny, who you can probably guess I named the place after.

I could write a book about all that I learned from the dogs, their humans, and some very committed and knowledgeable specialists and holistic practitioners. In fact, I am going to write that book! But for now, I want to share some of what I learned about supporting an older dog with significant spinal or orthopedic issues, which is more common among large breeds than small, although they can affect any canine.

Sometimes Less is More

When your dog starts to limp or acts tired during or after playtime or retrieving, rein in the activity. This is a sign of discomfort—not just being older. Their big canine hearts sometimes want to do more than their aging bodies can handle. Consider several 15-minute walks instead of one or two 20- to 30-minute ones. After all, for most dogs, the only thing better than two walks is three!
You may also need to limit retrieving the ball for extended periods, even when the drive is there and they want to go go go. Just like people who have arthritis, moderate exercise several times a day is much better than a long marathon session that over-stresses their muscles and joints.
Last but not least, do not ask your elderly dog to be a “weekend warrior.” Asking them to go for a long 45-minute walk on a nice day when they are only accustomed to short ones can do more harm than good.

Water is Magic
While weight-bearing exercise has its place, for an old dog with disk disease, degenerative myelopathy, or arthritis, it is weightless aerobic exercise that can really make the difference.
The benefits of water exercise are well-documented and numerous. Swimming or walking on an underwater treadmill allows your dog to work his muscles and joints without the concussive impact of paws on pavement, which can be painful. The hydrostatic pressure of the water helps with joint pain if they stay in the water long enough. If you can find a facility with water upwards of 87 degrees, your dog can get a lot of pain relief from the heat penetrating his joints. When you reduce their pain, dogs can use their muscles and joints more easily, which of course helps them walk better. Even if your dog was not a water fan earlier in life, consider giving it a try. The ability to move without pain can make almost any old dog a fan of water exercise.

As important as those physical benefits are, the mental and emotional benefits are no less impressive. I cannot count the number of retrievers I saw who literally “came back to life” at being able to retrieve a ball for their mom or dad, often for the first time in years. They are proud and happy to feel like a “big young dog” again. One of the reasons for that is biochemical: just like us, when dogs get their heartrates up, they release endorphins, dopamine, seratonin, and other feel-good chemicals that lift negative feelings and improve their mood. Think about it. Your 13-year-old dog likely doesn’t run anymore or really get her heart rate up, and that means she’s not getting good aerobic exercise. Exercising in water allows a dog to do that safely (assuming they have no underlying heart condition), so it is both a physical and psychological win.

 

Do Not Wait to Address Aging Issues
Many times I silently lamented that someone waited so long to bring their dog to swim. If only they had come 6 months or a year earlier, when their dog had more muscle, I could have helped more. Just like your grandmother no longer builds significant muscle, your 13-year-old dog is unlikely to bulk up again once that strength is gone. The name of the game, especially for degenerative conditions like disk disease and arthritis, is to maintain muscle mass for as long as you can. You can do that in two ways: by easing their physical pain so they can comfortably exercise, and by getting the right kind of exercise.

These days there are so many options, both holistic and traditional, to help your senior dog. Explore them all, and don’t be discouraged if a particular treatment doesn’t work, since medical care is not “one size fits all.” Try something else! Some options cost very little, like making Golden Paste (a natural anti-inflammatory made from turmeric). Some are relatively expensive, like regular acupuncture or chiropractic care. And there are exciting new things out there like CBD oil made from hemp or cannabis, which can help ease pain. Be aware of what’s out there!
Also, talk to your vet. Go see a neurologist, orthopedic surgeon, or rehabilitation therapist. Consult a holistic practitioner. But definitely don’t postpone the issue until your dog can no longer get up on his own, or falls down constantly. Generally, these issues will not get better with time—only worse. However, with patience and determination, my experience is that you can find a combination of therapies that helps your dog.

The Small Stuff Matters
Be mindful of details when it comes to your elderly dog. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

1. Keep your dog’s nails trimmed short so they can get all the way up on their paws and are not shifting their weight back to the weaker hind end.

2. Cut the hair in between the paws on their feet. When they’re walking around with hair covering their paw pads, it is like being on ice skates on a slippery hardwood floor. Paw pad traction helps their stability.

3. Invest in carpet squares, runners, or yoga mats and put them on stairs and on slick surfaces where your dog walks. It is easy to strain a groin muscle if they go splat with their hind legs out, and very tough to fully recover from that.

4. Get a harness to help them off the floor and/or a sling to support them going up and down stairs. Going down stairs is very dangerous for a dog with hind end weakness because they end up descending like a runaway train and can really injure themselves. Fall prevention is obviously preferable to recovering from a fall.

5. Be sure that your dog is eating a low to no carbohydrate diet and getting appropriate supplements like fish oil, Vitamin E, and Vitamin B if appropriate.

6. Learn some basic massage, stretching, and passive range of motion techniques to help keep your dog limber and her muscles more supple and comfortable.

Do not confuse incontinence with end of life. Many dogs with disk disease become fecal incontinent and sometimes urinary incontinent. It is a nerve conduction issue. It is not painful, nor is it a quality of life issue if you keep your dog clean, use diapers as necessary, or (even better) learn how to stimulate them to poop so they don’t have accidents when left unattended. It isn’t hard, and your vet can show you how. We think nothing of buying grandma Depends diapers at the grocery store, and we generally don’t ever talk about euthanizing her. So please learn the same caretaking skills and invest in the same types of products for your dog. He doesn’t want to poop in the house any more than you want him to. And remember that your fuzzy companion is often sensitive, so not making a fuss about an accident goes a long way to making them feel okay about what’s happening.

My beloved Gunny lived for 14 years, 9 months, and 5 days. I treasure each and every one of them, even the really hard days. Unfortunately, I learned a lot of things the hard way, so I want to make it easier for you to enjoy the time with your elderly dog. It is in that spirit I hope to share what I learned from all the dogs in my life and the people who came with them! ND

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Is swimming therapeutic for senior dogs?

 

 

Doctors and physical therapists often recommend swimming as a low-impact exercise for people recovering from injuries or as a way for older individuals to stay active. Swimming is said to be easy on our joints, while building up endurance and muscle strength. In fact, you work almost every muscle in your body when you swim, making it a wonderful workout. But, does swimming provide similar benefits for dogs? According to Dr. Stephanie Liff, a practicing veterinarian and owner of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in Brooklyn, N.Y., the answer is yes.

“Just like for people, swimming is a low-impact form of exercise that can be very useful to pets,” says Dr. Liff. “It can help with healing and rehabilitation post-orthopedic or neurological surgery, or can be used for weight loss in pets that have arthritis or other limitations that make exercise difficult.”

Almost any dog can benefit from the exercise swimming provides, but Dr. Liff says it’s especially useful for senior canines or younger pets with disabilities.

 

It’s important to note that if your dog is healing from an injury or illness, you should definitely check with your vet to make sure it’s safe for him to swim. “There is an appropriate time postoperatively to start swimming, which is after all wounds and incisions have healed, and the sutures or staples are removed,” Dr. Liff explains. And in some cases, swimming might not be the best option. “Many pets with a dermatologic disease should avoid public water sources, or in some cases, should not be exposed to swimming due to open sores, etc.,” she adds. “Also, dogs with ear infections should not swim while being treated.”

For dogs that get the go-ahead to swim, make sure they don’t overdo it. Some canine companions don’t know when to stop. Dr. Liff says it’s important to start slowly and watch your dog for signs of overexertion. “Just like with any exercise, it is important to consult your veterinarian before starting a new program,” she advises. “Also, since it is exercise and can lead to muscle exertion, you can see soreness after swimming, so monitor your pet and adjust the duration of the exercise as needed.”

 

Depending on where you live, you may have several choices when it comes to where your dog swims: creeks, lakes, the ocean, a dog swim center, or even your own backyard pool. All of these vary in depth, strength, temperature, and, of course, water quality. There’s always a chance with public bodies of water that your dog could pick up an infection, such as giardia (an intestinal infection that spreads through contaminated food or water). If your dog has a compromised immune system, it might be best to avoid letting him swim in public bodies of water. “In terms of therapy, the location does not matter, but, of course, safety is maximized by a controlled environment, which the river or ocean may not provide, depending on other factors,” Dr. Liff explains.

If your dog goes swimming in a pool, make sure there is an easy way for him to get out, such as stairs, to prevent possible drowning. If there’s a risk that your pup could venture into deeper water, like in an ocean or lake, have him wear a dog life jacket.

Keep in mind that all dogs are not natural swimmers, and some really do not like water, so introduce your canine companion to swimming slowly and safely to avoid accidents. Dr. Liff cautions that no dog should swim without a human closely observing him.

 

From American Kennel Club

Writer:  Kristina Lotz

 

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What if?

I used to be really good at being funny and write about funny stuff.  For as long as I remember, I always had sentences dancing in my head that I could not wait to write down. I remember a long time ago, like a century ago, when my 2nd grade teacher kept me in the classroom alone to write what was called in French “a redaction”, like a short essay because she thought my parents were writing it for me. They did not.

Anyway, my brain has always been very busy with words, and then Jackson died in September 2016  my brain went MIA, like frozen. And then, I was only able to write when something bad was happening. I love to be funny, and where was my darn sense of humor? MIA? Hello, I want it back.

So this post is not sad. Some could think it is, but it’s really not. I am GOOD!

This is just what I experienced in the last three months.  I always had kind of a sixth sense. Knowing things before they happened or feeling things which were not tangible.

Years ago I remember having a dream about a dog and seeing her sleeping under one of my trees in my yard, and leaves falling over her body – except that it was Spring and as far as I know leaves don’t fall in Spring, right? – I emailed my friend who was in France and he answered me back the same day to let me know that his girl has passed away the day before. That’s me… I can’t give you the lottery numbers but I feel things before they happen.

So, yes if you read previous posts, you must know that at least one of my dogs came back after he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. His name was Zeus, and then I  fell in love with another black lab. His name was Jackson. His death at 6 and half destroyed me for a long time.

And then, there was Maia. Maia has never been my heart dog. We were girlfriends but we got so close. Three years of chemotherapy and cancer will do that to you.

I deliberately chose to put Maia to sleep on December 18, 2017 because I wanted her to leave before cancer took over her body and I was okay with it. It was my choice.

And that’s when the story started….  Last January, I went to pick up her ashes in Virginia, and I was okay.

I was driving on the beltway, listening to some French music, and then the music stopped, and Maia started barking through the radio, and it was not a happy bark, like Zeus years ago. I almost got into an accident, because she did freak me out!

Maia was not my heart dog, but she sure is around even though she is not here physically!  Every morning, when she was alive, she was by my front door waiting to go to the pool with me. When she passed, she was still by my front door. Every morning,  she was there. It was just like a black cloud by my door. I can’t describe it better than that. A foggy black shape by my front door.

But it did not stop there. If you know me, you know that I have a Zeke in my life, and my Zeke is contained to my kitchen when I am not around, with a live cam monitoring him. I check on him on a regular basis. Hey, one day, I was having a manicure, and when I checked on him, I saw him ripping off one of my kitchen cabinet doors. I never screamed so much at him, but he did not care. I never left a nails salon so fast with only one hand done. When I got home, he was still chewing on my cabinet door….

So, that day, I saw something on his dog bed, and I could not figure out what it was, so when I don’t know…. I rush home. It was Maia’s ashes. Her box stays in my bedroom on a shelf, and it’s heavy…. Another day, I came home, and when I went to my bedroom, all the cards and notes that friends wrote to me when she passed were all over my floor. Those cards were safely stored under her ashes at all time. And I am not even talking about Maia’s barking at the pools. Kelly heard her too. Frustrating bark when we were in the pools area.

What was she upset about?

I was at loss and emailed the animal communicator I used on Maia a year earlier and who was amazing. At the same time, I talked about it with one of my clients, Zoey’s Mom, and she gave me a suggestion, and yes, Maia, I am so sorry for being so thick! She told me “Maybe Maia wants to be with you the way she was before. Maybe she doesn’t want to stay home when you go to the pools.”

The same day, I went home and got an email from the animal communicator telling me: “Maia wants you to take her to the pools every day the way you did it when she was alive. She belongs there.”

So…. every day, I take my girl to the pools. She stays on my desk by the computer. Every night, she goes home with me, and goes back to my bedroom. Since I have been doing this, she has been quiet, so I do believe she is now at peace. What she did not get was that location did not matter, it was just geography… Wherever I was, she was with me. How could she have missed that? It’s just geography. But every morning, I carry her in a bag, and every night I take her home in the same bag. Maia’s wishes….

I am finishing writing this post today, March 31st. It was the day she was diagnosed with Lymphoma 3 years ago. It was a long journey…. And the journey goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

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The two faces of Maia

Maia died a month ago yesterday. It seems like an eternity as well as yesterday. I managed to let her go the best possible way: when she was still feeling good and surrounded by her oncologist, Dr. Beck, who had been like a lighthouse in the middle of a storm, storm meaning Lymphoma. She left quietly, and yes, I realized, thanks to a wise friend, that cancer did not win. Maia did. Maia left before cancer crippled her, before it was too late. and I am so relieved to have been able to do that for her.

I lost four of my labs from cancer in a year and half, and it has always been emergencies, and emergencies suck big time. Tidal waves that left you all bruised, broken and not sure you can still breathe on your own. Maia gave me some peace. Don’t get me wrong. If someone talks to me about her when I don’t expect it, tears can still run uncontrolled, but when it’s my choice, I can now talk about her with words without breaking down.

I started a journal when she was diagnosed with Lymphoma on March 31, 2015 until December 18, 2017. There are many gaps in it, mostly while she was twice in remission and when I wanted to believe that she will be in the 5% who got into remission like forever. Gaps meaning quiet time, enjoying every minute with her.

With Maia, I learned to live life like there was no tomorrow, enjoying every minute of every day. I read that poem a long time ago, but until Maia, I did not realize it was written for us.

My Heart Has A Tail

I made a discovery, just today;
something so amazing in every way.
It was when you bounded towards my face,
kissing and wriggling all over the place.
And I held you very, very close to me,
experiencing euphoria, endlessly.
It seemed that all at once, our hearts became one
and together we were having so much fun.
I could no longer keep my perspective;
the two of us became almost reflexive.
Yet when I see you running around,
you don’t need words to make a sound.
I know that you love me very much
with a loyalty no human can touch.
That’s why I believe you’ve become my heart
and no one earthly force can keep us apart.
We understand each other so very well;
Surely my heart has a tail, or can’t you tell?

While I was driving to the Hope Center in Vienna that morning of December 18th, she was quietly in the back of my truck, happy. Now and then, I was scratching her head. That morning, I knew I was driving there for the last time. I knew it was the day, and I was silently crying in order not to worry her. She was always as worried about me that I was worried about her. We were quite a pair. Amazingly, there were no regrets, not thinking of the last walk around the lake that we would not take or the last swim she would not get at the pool. We had a very long goodbye, and I had no regrets. And she did not have either. I do believe she knew. As a matter of fact, I believe she was to one to tell me it was time.

Maia had two faces: Before and After cancer. Don’t get me wrong I am not going to thank cancer to have revealed the second face of Maia, but yes, if cancer had not crossed our path, the ride would have been smooth, sweet, but not memorable. Cancer woke up Maia, and she become that other being who knew what she wanted and was asking for it. From the dog who never barked, she became the barker in chief, and you know what? It was a promotion. She finally knew what she wanted and she was letting me know. She could get mad. She had feelings and she was showing them. You go girl!

BC (Before cancer), Maia hated the water. It was too wet for her. Seriously. She was also the dog who never retrieved.  Not completely true. Even BC, there was some competition in my girl. If I were throwing a ball (safest thing for me to throw. I suck with Frisbees! Like you have no idea…. no idea except if you check out my roof, then you will see the story of the Frisbees and me.), so yes if I were throwing a ball, she wanted to get it before anyone else, but once she had it, she had no more interest in it, and was dropping it wherever…. like saying to the others “now you can have it, I don’t care. I was the one to have it FIRST!”

AC  was another story. Maia loved to swim, and totally hated if one of my crew was coming for a swim. Gosh, she was letting me know loudly how disapproving she was about the whole thing. The pool was her place. Every morning, she was waiting by the front door by 8:30 like I could forget to take her with me? Cancer made us so close that yes, my heart has a tail. With the remaining of my pack, we had special time one on one, but Maia became the shadow of my shadow or did I become the shadow of her shadow?

I just realized this past month what was the most amazing part of our relationship and silly of me not to realize it until she was gone. We were communicating. Animal communication? I don’t think I am communicating with the remaining of my pack but with Maia what was it? You could call it telepathy. I knew what she wanted. I knew if she wanted to go for a walk, or what she would want to eat that specific day. (Maia developed anorexia during cancer, and it was a challenge sometime to figure out what would be the food of the day), but in the last months of her life, it became crystal clear.

The last few weeks of her life, it just did not feel right to leave her at the pool like I used to  when I was running errands, so everywhere I went, she went as well. She became picky with her food, but I always knew what she would eat or not eat that day. I would pick random stuff knowing that it would be the only thing she would want to eat, and she did. I knew what she wanted at any minute of the day. Until now, I did not realize how deep our connection was. She was making me feel what she was feeling.  That’s how deep we connected.

She was not my heart dog. Jackson was. At the same time she was so much more. She was my best friend.

When I came back home that Monday (note for myself: Mondays are not good dog days. Three of my dogs and Maia died on a Monday.), my dogs did not really care, but why would they have? Maia never really interfered with them. She was always with me. But Milou, the evil cat, did. Maia was the only living being that he loved. When Maia was home, Milou was always, absolutely always with her. Sleeping on the same bed, hanging out on the couch, Milou was always there. He took it badly. He was looking for her everywhere, meowing around the house, not eating (and when we knew Milou, you knew that starvation was not really his thing!) and then we had a talk: I made him smell Maia’s collar, and some of her hair. I told him she was gone but was she?

Zeus, one of my labs from the past, came back to me twice after his death, and each time, I did not expect it. He just came back. I wrote a column about it, so I won’t bore you with it here, but the thing with Maia is that she is around. Her dog bed by the fireplace stays untouched. Milou the cat who used to love to be on that bed with her, lies down by the bed but not on her bed. Yesterday, I gave a chew to Zeke and he went straight to Maia’s bed to savor it, and stopped right there before jumping on it, and made a fast U turn and crashed on the rug. I do believe she is still on the bed, and they know it.

A few mornings ago, I saw her by the front door, the way she used to wait to go to the pool. It was a blurry black shape for a few seconds. It came and went, and came back, and was gone again. Same at the pool, when I go to the pool area, a few times, I heard her bark, and rushed back to the store front. You can also call me crazy. It’s okay. I believe that I reached a degree of communication with her that I have never reached with anyone else. So yes, my heart has a tail or can’t you tell?

 

 

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Animal communicator, etc….

I just removed this specific post. I had two bad experiences with an animal communicator, and I thought until a few days ago that the third one was amazing…. It was not.

She was half dog communicator, and half psychic I guess. Not sure about the animal communicator part, but the psychic part was like the wires were not connected properly. She told me that one specific dog will have a very long life, and that there would not be anymore cancer in my crew. Two months later, the one who was supposed to have a very, very, very long life, dropped dead from cancer, hemangiosarcoma to be precise.

At the time where that woman came to my house, Zoe must already have cancer blossoming in her body since it had time to spread all over. Therefore, I am removing this post. I should have brought them tons of treats. It would have been more useful.

 

 

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It was all about having fun….

I might recycle myself and start writing pet obituaries…. I just seem to excel in it!

Yes, I lost another one! It’s quite ironic as a matter of fact when you know – of course you don’t – how paranoid I am with them. They eat the best food, get bottled water, and they all end up dying of cancer. Seriously? I am really starting to question what I do? Does it make any difference from fancy grain free food vs Iams to name one? And don’t get me wrong here. I hate Iams.

jackJackson just died on me. No, he did not die on me. I put him to sleep. A week ago, I was posting on my FB page that Jack was working really hard at dying from something else than cancer. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Take that cancer! My boy is a cancer survivor. I am sure that in the long run cancer would have taken over his body or at least the left side of his body, but he was doing well with his “cancer diet”, his supplements and his broccoli. He was doing fine. Then, he had that leg infection, and no I did not notice it. You see it was on his “good” front leg. Last Sunday, he went swimming and he was fine.  But I am rewinding the film right now, and Monday morning, yes I was in a rush because I was taking Maia to chemotherapy, but I snapped a few pictures of Jackson gulping down his breakfast, and when I enlarged the picture, his right front leg was a bit swollen, not like it was 4 hours later, but it was a bit swollen. and I did not notice it because I was in a rush. Would it have make a difference? I am not sure. The oncologist had given him a two week life expectancy three weeks ago, so he beat that one! Because he was my extraordinary dog. He was a lot like his Mom. Those two were all about retrieving and eating and swimming.

STA72267 Perfect labs. Jackson…. was my kid. I witnessed his birth, and I was his Mom after the first month. Lola took really good care of her kids for one month, and then I had to take the relay. She was still around, but she was like “you wanted the kids…. You take care of them NOW!” and I did. The bags under my eyes are called “my mutts”. For the first year of their lives (Lola had five kids: 3 boys and 2 girls) each time they were barking at night, I was getting up to let them go pee. My vet was telling me to ignore them, but it was easier to let them go out than hearing them bark for half an hour. So, yes, I might have spoiled them a bit, because you see, they were and they are my kids (I mean the three remaining!). I am not sure what I am going to do with the three left…. Should I put them under a bubble? Two had already died: George at 3 and half, and Jack last Monday. Each time one of my kids dies, it takes a part of my heart, and I am not sure how many times a heart can be broken.

IMG_3385I am not sure yet how to be in a “Jackless” life. You see I wake up in the morning and the first minute, I wonder why I am so sad, and then I remember. He was my boy. He was the one who was grabbing my hand with his paw when we went on car rides. He was the one who was hugging me every 3 minutes each time we went for a walk just the two of us. He was the one who made my feet his pillow, and to tell you the truth my feet are quite lonely these days.

I always said that labs are my kind of dogs – and I do love every dog – but labs have a sense of humor. Jackson had a very sophisticated one. For seven years, I blocked my fridge (because he knew how to open it), I carefully put everything away from his reach, I am conditioned now. I surprise myself putting the French baguette on the fridge (not that I eat much these days) and then I realized why? He is not there to steal it from me.

Last week, he suddenly disappeared on me in the house, and I thought “what could he have stolen?” because I am so careful around him. Guess what? He stole a cat food can and was enjoying it on my bed. That’s the place where he always took his stolen food! The metallic can was totally flattened. That was my boy! I am telling you!

Three years ago, I realized that he was not with us (meaning at that time my six other dogs – 2016 is the year where the number of dogs was drastically reduced thanks to cancer! -). I went downstairs, and saw him throwing up in my living room. Sue me. I had received a medication for Maia who had a high Ph. in her urine. I did not open the box, and left it on the microwave oven. Jack took it, opened the box, broke the bottle, and swallowed 200 bitter pills (why do I know they were bitter? Because I tasted them!), and then he threw up…. He was at the emergency within half an hour, and no one had a clue what would happen because no other dogs had ever had the bad taste of  swallowing that many pills. They did find a lab who swallowed 100. He made it. Jack spent three days at the emergency, but he made it. After he got home, my main concern was how to keep him safe. I became very disciplined and stored everything at higher levels that he could not reach even though he was a big boy.

jacknewtoyBut Jack was so much more than I could ever describe. I remember the first sentences of “Love Story”. And his story could start that way: Jack loved me, he loved Frisbee (even though I sucked at throwing them, and he got so mad at me so many times for the Frisbees to land on the roof! My roof is like a Frisbee cemetery!), swimming, food, walking, my feet, swimming, my feet, and just me. He had always been very protective of me, and I just feel suddenly fragile without him. He was the one to inspect the whole backyard first thing in the morning, running around the fence, barking at anything which moved. He was the one who was kicking out anyone on the couch sitting next to me without even moving his butt. Michael Jackson mastered the moon walk, Jackson mastered the couch kick out thing.

For the last six years, the mutts have been good with the Christmas tree but last year Jackson decided to eat a glass ornament on my bed and bleed all over my mattress. He was fine…. thanks to the spinach. Spinach is the best thing you can give to your dog if he eats anything sharp. I mean, do still go to the emergency but I have my whole pantry full of spinach cans, like it’s going to be of any use now. Maybe I should put them on Craigslist….. “Spinach cans to give away.”

I loved him from the minute he was born until the second he dropped dead. I am not just sure how to handle a “Jackless life”. Not sure about that one.

But I do believe we become energy…. And I know that somewhere over the rainbow, my Jackson is having a ball. I loved you to the moon and back Jack, and I will always do until I drop dead….. IMG_4282

 

 

 

 

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You got me at Hello…..

7 and half years ago, you were born. You were the third one, and the biggest one, and I immediately fell in love with you. You had that big pudgy face. Your eyes were not open yet. It took over a week before I could see them, but from the minute you were born, I was under your spell.

The girls (my daughters) always said from Day 1 that you had me wrapped around you paw. And it was the truth. Whatever wrong you did, I always found you excuses. You just had to look at me with those big eyes. You immediately or almost immediately took over my feet. They were the best pillows for your head. I first named you “Boubou”, and then you became Jackson because I met a long time before another Jackson, another black lab, who was not mine, but decided one day, I was his.

In my dreams, we were going to grow old together. There is not one evening or one morning when you are not in bed with me, your head on my shoulders, looking at me with those big eyes, and what can I say? I am a sucker and I melt.

jackSo, yes, you were supposed to get older, white all over, and there would be nothing better than snuggling with you at night or in the morning. You had all the Zeus’ habits (Zeus was my heart dog…. until you came into the picture, or maybe even after your Mom came into the picture, who knows?)

I loved you for your look (I might be vain there!) as well as your attitude. I always said that labs are my dogs because they have a sense of humor than no other dogs have (and I love any dogs from mutts to …. almost anything!) but you were the perfect lab, and you still are until you will drop dead, or until I decide for you, because I love you THAT MUCH, that it’s time for you to cross the Rainbow Bridge and go back with your Mom, Lola, and your brother, George. That’s how much I love you. If I could drive to the moon and back to make you feel whole again, I would. I would do anything to make you grow old by me….. but I can’t.

jacknewtoyAnd yes, it sucks. It sucks real bad. No dog should go at 7. I know that most likely you won’t be home for Christmas. When I think how worried I was about the Christmas tree and how to protect the Christmas GLASS ornaments from you. Last year, I almost got a heart attack after you decided to chew on a glass ornament, ruin my mattress with your blood, and after dragging your sorry butt to the emergency and heard that you would be okay.

In the seven years of your life, you drove me crazy so many times, but I wish so bad that I could have signed up for another 7 years. With all the crap you dumped on me, I would have signed up in a second for another 7 years of crap, and love, so much love between us.

Until not long ago, I did not realize how protective you were of me and the mutts (meaning your brother and sisters). First thing in the morning, you go to the backyard all around the fence to be sure it’s safe, and then once, you figured out that there is no trespasser, you come back to me.

When you are in my or should I say “your” truck, you are so overly protective of it. You would bite anyone who would approach it. And then the couch thing. If anyone is sitting next to me, I have no idea how you do it, but you manage to get rid of “the person” in no time, swiftly moving your butt around without even moving it. You mastered the art of getting rid of anyone on that couch besides me. And I love you for that too, Jackson.

You started limping in April, and I was concerned, like I am always concerned when one of you is not doing well, but you got better after being on an anti inflammatory thing (metacam to be accurate). We did X-rays, and no, you had nothing wrong in your bones. And then it started again, and again, and I failed you. When the vet did not find anything wrong, I should have gone to a higher level, and I did not. You see, I had no clue that you could have some kind of cancer without pain, and obviously you have never been in pain.

So, this is a message for everyone with a lame dog: IF YOU HAVE A LAME DOG FOR MORE THAN TWO WEEKS, GO TO A SPECIALIST, INTERNIST, WHOEVER BUT DO NOT WAIT.

I screwed up. I waited, and waited, thinking, as I was told, that it was most likely a soft tissue injury when it was a tumor growing into your nerves. And I had no clue.

Now it’s too late. You had a MRI, the tumor took over your body. One day, you will wake up and won’t be able to stand up, and because I love you that much, it will be the day where I will put you to sleep.

So after, all the sleepless nights, and worries, after the hope I had in the last 24 hours with that surgeon who was doing laser surgery on those tumors, after hearing the words “four to six weeks” I knew your story was going to an end, and yes you got me at hello, and youjack will get me at goodbye as well.

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Roasted chicken and swimming every day of your life, Jackson

 

Yes, that’s what you get at my home if you are diagnosed with cancer, and if your name is Jackson, and if you love swimming and roasted chicken.

So, do I see a line forming in from of my home? Just kidding.

jacknewtoyJackson, Jackson it’s my boy. He is Lola’s boy. He is crazy about swimming like her. When he goes to my car, most of the time it’s for swimming so he gets so excited. Today, it was not for swimming. Yesterday it was not for swimming. As soon as we get into the truck, he starts talking like “Could you rush woman? I am so ready to swim!”. Yesterday, we went to see Dr. Bradley, one of the best orthopedics surgeon around here. He did all the TPLO surgeries on my dogs for the last 16 years, and I trust him, because he is not about surgery, he is about what is best for the dog. And he doesn’t give you any crap. He just tells you the stuff like it is. I never needed anything sugar coated.

So yesterday, after seeing Jack, he told me that most likely, he had a nerve sheath tumor. Wow! That was a new one! Never got that one before. He kept Jack for a MRI but then called me two hours later to tell me that his MRI machine was freaking broken so I needed to pick up my boy. Jack was supposed to go back on Wednesday, but I don’t think I have ever been an ostrich in any previous lives, so waiting that long to know what was going on was not my thing, so with the amazing help of my vet, Dr. Greenblat (he is next door to the pool), I saw today a neurologist (and on top of it she was a lab person!) and then Jack had a MRI.

Diagnosis: nerve sheath tumor or in plain freaking English: sarcoma. With steroids and radiation: up to six months. With amputation of his front leg: up to a year. Like I am going to cut off his leg for six more months? No way, because it’s all about them, and it has always been. They need to have fun. They need to be able to walk, run, swim, and have fun! That’s what life is all about for Labrador retrievers. So this is the plan: roasted chicken + swim + steroids + radiation.

If this world is just the best video game in the universe, I have a message for the alien kids playing the game: I AM NOT PLAYING ANYMORE.IMAG013

It had not hit me yet that he might not be here for Christmas. Yeah, Jack, how cool is that? You won’t be able to eat a glass Christmas ornament and then ending up at the emergency. By Christmas you might already have a ball with your Mom, and your brother over the rainbow bridge, and laugh at me while I will probably be crying! “Hey Mom, this is cool over there, there is no cancer. I can swim, run, have a ball, PAIN FREE.”

thankfulThere is a picture with a quote that I love,  saying “that one day you will miss your crowded bed”. I miss it already. Jackson is  one of my “kids”. He was born the third after George (who had the bad taste of dying on me at 3 and half on Labor Day weekend in 2012),  and he was just my boy. I can’t imagine life without him, but I know that most likely it will happen pretty fast. So for the time being, Jack, I swear you are going to have a ball every single day of your life: roasted chicken and swimming and car rides. Last June, when his Mom, Lola, was dying of cancer, I took her for many rides in my truck because that’s what she liked, and it’s going to take me a lot of time before I remove her nose art on my passenger window.

I wish I could write about fun stuff, because I do love to write about goofy dogs and fun stuff, but this is my life, right now: I lost a dog from kidney failure in March, Lola from cancer on June 27th, Charlie the cat on July 1st, then Maia got out of remission from Lymphoma a week later, and we are having chemo every week like for the next six months, and then Jackson…. So, no, right now, I can’t talk about anything else. But I swear to you Jackson, whatever your life expectancy is between three to six months, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A BLAST. Why? Because I said so.

 

 

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What if…..

Spiritual but not religious….. but then Zeus barked at me a year after his death. I was not the only one to witness it. You see Zeus died on August 27, 2009. For the last four years of his life, he was getting Reiki every Thursday at 10:00am in Virginia, and I swear he knew that it was Thursday and it was our time together.  Zeus died…. A year later, Pouch, our Golden retriever, was diagnosed with Lymphocytic leukemia, cancer in one word. I thought he might benefit from Reiki, so I took an appointment for him. It was a Thursday at 10:00am, I guess nobody took Zeus’ spot. Yes, it was eerie to go back one year after his death. I had been at that place so often.  As a matter of fact, I won’t be ever able to go back there. Too many ghosts now. Zeus, Pouch, Lola, Buddy…..

 

Anyway, when we left the place, it was Pouch, me and Jessica, my daughter. She was playing with her Ipod and suddenly when we were leaving the parking lot, I heard some barking, and asked her how she was making her Ipod bark. She had to remove her ear things and screamed at me: “Mom stop! You must have hit a dog!” Pouch, our Golden, was on his four legs listening to the bark as well. Except that there was no dog under my car, there was no dog anywhere. The bark was coming from my truck but at the same time from far away. It was Zeus’ bark. He barked at me for over a mile after we left the place, and then it was a deafening silence. What was the purpose? Why was he barking at me? From where? Was it to tell me: “Hey bitch this was my spot, it was our time together. You can’t rob us from that moment.” Or was it just to say hi?

 

zeusrainbowZeus stayed quiet after that for a long time, then on August 27, 2012, around 9:00 something am, my door bell rang. I lived in the middle of nowhere, so I was quite surprised that someone got to my door so early. I opened it…. No one. I closed it. The door bell rang again. So, I left the door a bit ajar with my mutts barking all over. I thought it might have been a mischievous woodpecker. The door bell rang twice more, and then it never happened ever again. I was texting my daughter about it, and of course, I might be slow some time, Jessica screamed at me (meaning she texted me in capital letters!) “MOM THIS IS ZEUS’ DEATH ANNIVERSARY.” And yes, he died around 9:15am on that day. Was it a warning? That ring bell froze my blood afterwards. You see two days later, my beautiful and sweet 3 and half year old black lab, George, was put to sleep out of the blue from Lyme nephritis. He was fine until his last evening. ccgeorge

So, was Zeus trying to warn me that something was off? I never heard from Zeus ever again. It will be four years this year. The thing is I was not even thinking about him that morning, and the time before, yes it was sad to go back to a place where I had been so many times but I was not looking for any sign, so why?

So yes, my dogs could be over the rainbow bridge, and I do hope that they are and that at one point, I will see them again, but….. spiritual but not religious…. What if we were just the most sophisticated game in the universe and that freaking alien kids are having a lot of fun with me and my love for my dogs…. and my friends? So the dogs get cancer, and the friends all die from heart attacks….   Not bad. Sorry Matt Damon but this has been my theory for a long time….. Just the most sophisticated game in the universe…..

 

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Seriously?

My daughter, not long ago, was commenting on my relationship with the mutts, and was telling me “Can’t you diversify your language? “Seriously” is probably the word you say the most!” She is a teacher, so she has a way to be kind of judgemental!

My answer was: “Seriously?” And I saw in her eyes that she thought I was a totally helpless cause!

Yes, “seriously” comes back very often in my mouth as well as in my mutts’ mouths! I love with labs! Sue me! So yes, labs have a sense of humor and can also be as judgmental as my 3rd grade teacher daughter. “Your Honor, I am not the only one to say this. They talk back, and yes they do!”

I always say that labs are my kind of dogs because I really do believe that they are probably one of the few  – or only – breed(s) with a sense of humor. I had many other dogs in my life before, but labs are just my kind of dogs!

jacknewtoyJackson is probably the one who says the most “Seriously?”. It happens almost on a daily basis, and he is screaming it at me. Jackson has a passion for his Frisbee or any Frisbee. And I just plain suck at throwing a Frisbee. I do. I am totally aware of it, and I take responsibility for all the Frisbees which landed on my roof and are staying there as witnesses of my useless way of throwing it. We had one left, yesterday, and the last one landed on the roof. I think Jackson was speechless for a minute, then he thought it so loud that I heard it: “Seriously????” So, we went to PetSmart to get a new one. If you were around that area yesterday evening, and saw a black lab dragging a flying woman behind him, that was me! I felt so guilty that I decided to buy a few. I swear, he was not the one to put them in the basket. He just sat there waiting for me to fill up the cart with like 6 Frisbees, then he must have thought that we were safe for a week. Seriously?IMG_4282

 

 

 

IMG_3898Jackson’s sister, Sophie, is the one who always, always, always wants to have the last word, and I am not kidding. Sophie has always been a smart ass, and it takes one to know one! When Sophie was a pup, she was half dog, and half monkey. After I was tucking them in bed – matter of speaking – but my five kids were in a big playpen, I just had to turn my back 10 seconds and Sophie was already out of the playpen. Sophie is smart. Most likely the smartest dog I have ever had. You can almost hear her brain work. I swear!

Sophie is a challenge any time of the day…. or night. She is like a prodigy kid, bored in her regular IMG_4055life, so she is taking it out on her brother, Max. She loves to terrorize Max. When Max goes out in the yard, Sophie is just right on top of him, grabbing him by his neck and dragging him around the yard. Hold your horses here! She is not hurting him, but yes Sophie could be a bully! So, Max, my little boy, my perfect lab, Max in one word, doesn’t want to go to the yard when Sophie is around. And Sophie being Sophie got it right away. So Sophie went to hide behind a tree. And Max being Max seeing the yard from the deck thought it was Sophie’s safe. But as soon as he was on the grass, she was jumping on him and having her way with him, and I was like: “Seriously?”

Sophie is throwing it right back at me. When I leave the house, very often, Max (the baby of the family) is having a tantrum, and Sophie, being Sophie, she just wants to help, right? So while Max is squealing at the thought that I am leaving without him, she grabs him by the neck to pull him away from the door. When I say “Sophie, NO!”, she looks at me like “Seriously?”

 

IMG_3903Max, it’s another story. Max was the runt of the litter, Max is the baby, Max is the one who hashibiscus tantrums, but Max also loves my hibiscus bush! I love hibiscus flowers, so yes I always have one on the deck. I guard that hibiscus like a hawk! I mean it. Max knows it, so now when Max goes outside, he doesn’t even stop, he grabs whatever he can grab: a leaf, half of a flower, or even a whole flower, and I scream at him “Max, seriously?” Don’t panic. Hibiscus flowers are okay to eat, but don’t ever say that to your dog, or you can remove hibiscus from your flowers list.

 

 

 

 

 

Then comes Zoe….. Zoe is the last one of the mutts or siblings. Zoe has a lot, and I mean a lot of blonde moments. Not her fault. That’s just the way she is wired. When I fixed their meals, as soon as the bowls are out, she start jumping and screaming, and I mean screaming. While Zoe screams I would never ever cross a bridge in fear of the bridge collapsing! I am talking about the resonance thing which can makes things collapse. That’s what I fear when Zoe screams, so I face her, and say: (yeah, yeah, yeah!) “SEROUSLY?”1350

“Seriously” can be said in so many tones: amused, serious, mad, gentle, sweet. Just the tone of your voice made it have so many different values!

And then, came Maia, my beautiful sweet girl who became a diva while fighting cancer. Maia doesn’t drink from the dogs’ bowl of water. I have to hold a bowl with cold fresh water from the water cooler and wait for my girl to decide if she wants to drink or not. If she perceives any stress in me, she won’t drink, so yes sometimes I can start to get upset and “Maia, seriously?”

So yes, we use a lot of “Seriously” in our home. The labs use it, and I do too. Funny I have two cats (don’t even ask….). I am not a cat person, but my daughters got cats, and at one point in their lives, moved out and kind of forgot the cats behind. My two cats, I guess they are my cats now, don’t give a rat about the “Seriously” thing, so it might just be a dog thing! Seriously? charlie