Raven

I lost my little girl on June 4th. She was twelve and a half years old, the youngest dog to leave for the Bridge.

She had a cough for a while. It would come and go, happening most often when she was excited. I took her to the vet, who thought it might be laryngeal paralysis – correctable with surgery.

On the last day of May, in the morning, thirty minutes after playing with Seelie in the living room, Raven went into severe respiratory distress. It was a flashback to Phoenix last October – same horribly pale gums, same heavy breathing, same worried expression.

I took her to the emergency vet, a full-service hospital luckily only five minutes from home. They put her on oxygen, discovered muffled heart sounds, did an ultrasound, and found fluid built up in the pericardial sac that encloses the heart. They also found a mass on her heart.

The vet recommended using a needle to aspirate the fluid, which would give Raven immediate relief. We did that. The vet also recommended a consultation with a cardiologist, explaining a surgery to establish a pericardial window, which would prevent the fluid buildup from happening again.

Raven stayed at the hospital overnight. I did research in the meantime, and took June 1st off from work. Research indicated that a mass on the heart was almost always hemangiosarcoma – an aggressive, rapidly spreading blood vessel cancer, fairly common in Aussies and what likely killed Phoenix.

Surgery was out of the question. I saw no point in putting her through that when she could bleed out from anywhere in her body the next day.

I brought her home, knowing she could have anywhere from hours to months left.

I am so glad I did. She felt much better, and had a wonderful day on Tuesday. She went on her park adventure with Merlin and George, and I have a wonderful picture of her smiling at the camera. George told me she was playing When I got home from work, all of us played together in the living room.

Raven and Merlin on June 2.

Raven and Merlin on June 2.

On Wednesday, when I got home from work, her energy level was a bit lower. She ate dinner, but wouldn’t take a treat later on – a warning sign from a dog who never refused food. I watched her carefully, checking on her in the middle of the night.

We all played outside on Thursday afternoon. I put the other dogs inside, and sat with her for a while on the deck. Later on, she ate two bites of her dinner, then moved away from it, sat in an unnatural position, and looked at me.

It was time.

I made several phone calls… friends and family who knew her well and deserved to know. We went to the hospital, and about an hour later she went to sleep in my arms and didn’t wake up.

The hardest part is making the final decision. I’m glad she helped by letting me know how she felt; dogs tend to be rather stoic, or at least my herding dogs do, so she likely felt worse than she let on. It was all made harder by the fact that the impending loss represented an end to a chapter of my life. My last Aussie gone, a tie to past friends and agility classes and my competitions with Kestry about to be broken.

I’ve moved my large canvas pictures of Raven and Phoenix to the walls above the television so I can more easily see them every time I walk through the room. There’s an empty spot at my feet when I eat dinner. I keep almost calling her when the boys come in at night. Her ashes are in an urn on a shelf, along with Phoenix, Kestry, Panda, and Wolf.

Just the three boys now.

Raven on June 4.

Raven on June 4.

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Progress

Merlin’s been with me for almost four months. He’s changed so much in such a short time – he’s more confident, happier, feeling secure enough to start asserting himself.

When we first started training, Merlin wouldn’t take any food. I used a ball or a frisbee as a reward – which wasn’t very effective, since the urge to play overrode his ability to learn. Now Merlin will work for treats, and is relaxed enough to try new things. I can use food to lure him into wrapping around a traffic cone, which is a great exercise for increasing flexibility. He’ll go over a jump and through a tunnel. He’s learning to offer behaviors, and is beginning to be willing to take some risks.

Merlin spent his first five years in a kennel run. In many ways, he’s a puppy in a six-year-old body. It’s a joy to watch his life expanding. He’s going on ‘park adventures’ with my friend the dog walker, months before I thought he’d be able to.

We’ve had our first battle of wills. Merlin’s started refusing to come inside from the yard, instead insisting that I come outside and throw the ball for him. I simply close the door, let him ‘kangaroo’ in front of it (he can jump really high), then open it and give him the opportunity to come in. So far he won’t give in; I have to get his collar and meet him in the middle of the yard, calling him to me. He does come to me at that point, and I can get his collar on him. I keep it lighthearted and fun, and we go inside with his tail wagging, until the next time.

A friend of mine came over the other day, her two wonderfully dog-savvy children with her. Merlin chose to stay in the living room with us; he was nervous, but wanted to engage with everyone. After we’d done some agility in the yard with Seelie and Gryphon, Merlin played with the kids. They’d throw a ball, he chase it down, bring it most of the way back, and wait eagerly for them to throw again, his entire focus on them. Watching my big puppy play with them was a bittersweet moment; I was so happy for him but at the same time wished for his sake his life had been different.

If his life had been different, he likely wouldn’t be part of mine. I hope we have many years of enriching experiences ahead for us.

Raccoon

The woods behind my house lead down to a large pond, surrounded by more woods. We get lots of animals hanging out on the property: tons of birds, deer, raccoon, snakes, frogs, toads, squirrels, fishers, and the occasional fox and coyote passing through. I haven’t seen any bears, although something’s been out there recently that has the dogs reluctant to stay out in the yard for too long.

I feed the birds year-round. I hang a feeder outside the sliding glass door to the deck, and also toss seed on the deck floor for the ground feeders. The squirrels have a feeder party every morning, and lately there’s been a raccoon hanging out on the deck at night.

I first found out about the raccoon several nights ago, courtesy of Seelie, just as I was falling asleep. The raccoon-presence-announcement went something like this: grr-rrr-rrr… bark! Bark! GRR – BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!

Needless to say, this was not particularly conducive to a good night’s sleep, especially not with a 5 a.m. wake up call. After several more such heads-up moments, I decided I needed to introduce Seelie to the raccoon. This meant going into the kitchen and turning on the outside light on the deck, where we could see the raccoon standing on her hind legs, just able to grasp the bird feeder and pull it close enough for her to get at the seeds. She may be the same raccoon who used to visit last year, since she was not at all bothered by the light or our presence.

Seelie stood next to me, growling, so I decided to start talking. I talked to the raccoon (I did not open the door!), and included Seelie in the conversation. Seelie stayed quiet, but kept looking from the raccoon to me and back, clearly thinking something was very, very wrong with me. I told Seelie the raccoon should have a name, and for some reason ‘Chloe’ popped into my head. I used to know a dog named Chloe, a little Panda-clone my friends adopted from North Shore Animal League. I’d gone along with them for the ride. Chloe had such big feet as a tiny puppy, we were sure she was a Chesapeake Bay retriever mix. She maxed out somewhere around twenty-five pounds.

Seelie’s been much quieter about the nightly visitor since Chloe got her name. The raccoon seems very comfortable hanging out with us; the other night Seelie was growling a bit, so I checked the deck and saw that Chloe was curled up in one corner, looking very relaxed. I don’t really want her to move in, so I got a flashlight, opened the sliding glass door slightly, and shined the light on her face, talking to her. Her reaction was to stare at me for a moment, then heave a huge sigh and settle back down, looking just like one of the dogs.

Now I bring the bird feeder in at night.

What’s Next?

I started this blog about my dogs at the urging of a colleague who has participated in the Slice of Life challenge in the past. I’m really glad I did… it’s been a great experience and I intend to continue writing about my pack, although probably not daily!

Since today is the last day of the challenge, I decided to think about my goals with the dogs over the next few months.

For Raven, staying healthy and happy. At 12, she still runs and plays. She goes on park adventures with George three times a week, and I’m hoping spring will eventually arrive and I’ll get her out more too.

For Gryphon, more hiking, which is his favorite thing in the world, and more agility. I want to continue discovering what makes this dog tick, how he thinks, why one day agility is a blast and the next he’s checked out and wants no part of it.

For Seelie, serious competition training. We’re entered in a trial in early May. If we can get his weaves down, we’ll be able to enter multiple classes per trial, which I’d like to do since I don’t like investing my entire weekends in competition.

For Merlin… so much. I want him to grow in confidence and to see him really, truly relax. I want him to experience more and learn new things. We have another frisbee seminar coming up in April, and he’ll continue to do to his beginner classes.

Merlin and Seelie will be going with me to the border collie rescue that first took Merlin in, Glen Highland Farm, in July. It’s a fantastic vacation spot for people and their dogs. Four days of hiking and relaxing and playing. I’ll make it up to Raven and Gryphon somehow.

Many thanks to everyone who has commented on my posts… it’s much appreciated! I hope we continue to meet up even though the slicing challenge is over.

The Problem with Facebook

I suppose that title should read, “my particular problem with Facebook.” There are certainly multiple problems… the one I run into is that I feel there’s more I should do but can’t.

I have many friends on Facebook who are dog people – pet owners, trainers, serious competitors. I also follow several rescue groups, and have many friends involved with rescue.

The problem is the multitude of lost dogs, injured dogs, dogs on death row, dogs needing foster homes, dogs in shelters… many of them, every day. Plenty of happy endings too, stories of dogs reunited with their families, dogs who find new families, dogs for whom money has been raised for their medical problems.

I find myself avoiding Facebook at times, because I can’t deal with seeing more pictures of abused animals. I don’t have the space or time or financial resources to adopt more dogs, or even to foster one… it wouldn’t be fair to my four, who don’t get enough of my time as it is.

I feel guilty, as if I have a responsibility to help these dogs, even when I know I can’t. I give financial support to certain rescues when I can, and I’ve done short-term fosters in the past. More than half the dogs in my life have been rescues… but it’s never enough.

I get to see all sorts of wonderful pictures of friends’ dogs, stay connected with dog people I haven’t seen in a long time, and see all those happy endings. Facebook allows me to easily stay in touch with Seelie’s and Merlin’s foster moms, let them see pictures and updates on how these guys are doing. There are times, though, when the negatives seem to outweigh the positives, and I find myself staying away from the site more and more, just scanning it quickly because I know there are stories in my newsfeed I really don’t want to see.

Lessons Learned

I’m exhausted after three days of agility with the dogs – but it’s a good kind of exhaustion. Hard as it was at times to deal with the cold weather (20 degrees F when we went to breakfast this morning!!) and with being away from Raven and Merlin, it was wonderful spending the time with the dogs and with a group of people sharing this common interest (insanity).

Before we headed home this afternoon, our trainer for the three days asked us each to share the most important things we feel we learned. I had two I shared at the time: my dogs can do more than I think they can, and I need to be a leader on the agility course as much (or more) as I am in the classroom. The difficulties I had day one really came down to Seelie being stressed because I wasn’t confident; he was trying his best, and I was too wrapped up in how I was ‘failing’ to be there for him. I truly hope not to make that mistake again.

Something I didn’t think of at the time, but that occurred to me on the drive home, was how wonderful it is to be back in this world of dogs and obstacles and fun. I stopped years ago. Before that, I drifted away from this particular group of friends – to the point that I was hesitant to go back, unsure of my welcome. I’m so glad I took that step – it’s been a joy to work with my dogs again like this, and to reconnect with these friends.

As wonderful as this time away was, I was anxious to get home to Raven and Merlin. I’ve been away from Raven before, so I knew what sort of greeting to expect, but I had no idea how Merlin would react to my return. I imagined him jumping on me, maybe vocalizing joy… all sorts of scenarios ran through my head.

Then reality hit.

Seelie and Gryphon ran up the stairs ahead of me. I opened the door into the kitchen; Merlin was right there. Seelie ran into the room, Merlin hot on his heels, sniffing and wagging his tail. He did come back to say hi – sniffed, wagged a bit, then ran to bring me a frisbee. As funny and somewhat humbling as that was, it was so nice to see Merlin excited about Seelie… when I let everyone out into the yard, Merlin followed Seelie everywhere. I’ve been hoping they’d get to be friends, and it seems as though they’ve made real progess.

I know this post is somewhat disjointed – a symptom of my mental and physical exhaustion!

Moments from Agility Camp

Fantastic breakfast at a little restaurant where French Toast is called Freedom toast.

Started the morning walking and analyzing a new course.

Seelie stressed from our difficulties yesterday…. no focus, sniffing everywhere, not listening to me. Later, we started to bring it together and ran some nice sequences. He loves the A-frame, dogwalk, and see saw – perhaps a bit too much. Back and forth on the see saw, slamming it to the ground each time.

Gained some insight into Seelie’s past. What we want him to do: get to the end of the dogwalk or see saw and stand with his hind feet on the board and his front feet on the ground. He would then wait for me to catch up to him and give him the signal to go t the next obstacle. What he actually does is get to the end of the board and sit. Diane, the trainer running the camp, says it’s too deliberate and consistent to be happenstance; someone taught him to sit on a board or a mat or something. I know so little of his history before.I adopted.him at 15 months old – this little hint is so interesting.

Gryphon a bit hesitant about the see saw, worried about the A-frame, but determined to do it. Threw his weight forward, pulled himself up like a little mountain climber… so proud of himself afterwards, tail carried high in the air, moving in a little strut.

Myself, more relaxed today, let go of the self-imposed pressure to do it right, more ready and able to learn.