Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends …

I’ll be the first to admit that when I took in Peekaboo and Posey, in the summer of 2015, I took on more than I could comfortably handle.  Too many dogs, too many expenses, and too many unknowns.  All those things have come back to bite me, so to speak; but I’ve also had a chance to reflect on the factors that were and were not beyond control in this picture.

I started taking in old Shelties in 2000, and not really intentionally.  A guy in my neighborhood, whose Sheltie I knew from seeing him in the local park, showed up at my door one day with that Sheltie in tow, and told me he’d lost his apartment and couldn’t find one that would let him keep Angus, the Sheltie.  Dennis had adopted Angus from the Animal Welfare League shelter a few years previously; Angus was about 10 at the time Dennis brought him to me.  Dennis, who had some problems with substance abuse and probably-untreated depression, asked me to keep Angus until he found a place to live that would allow dogs.  What was I going to say?  Angus shouldn’t go back to the shelter; and at the time, I had three Shelties:  Sander, Pippi, and Sundance.  I said okay.  Dennis unpacked Angus’s food bowl, leash, and a bag of truly crummy dog food, and vanished.  I never saw him again.  I knew I wouldn’t, and once I saw the condition Angus was in, I knew I would never return him to Dennis even if he had come back.

No question Dennis loved Angus, but he hadn’t cared for him very well.  And no question Angus loved Dennis, because for three nights he slept by the front door, apparently waiting for his return.  It was sad.  But after a while, Angus’s spirits lifted and after a bath and some good food, his physical condition improved too.  Angus proved to be a chipper, bossy little Sheltie, and my dogs didn’t mind him at all.  He went with us on walks, he got more healthy by the day, and he loved the raw diet and raw bones that cleaned his teeth and spared him the need for a dental.  When Angus was 15, in mid-2005, he was found to have advanced, inoperable bladder cancer.  He’d been asymptomatic until the incidents of uncontrollable and frequent urination sent us to the vet; he’d also, when Dennis owned him, had a retained testicle removed surgically, and it was malignant – that predisposes a dog to later bladder cancer, my vet observed.  And so, having enjoyed five years in my household, Angus departed peacefully.  I hope he met up with Dennis, if indeed he was still hoping to be reunited.

Angus was the thin end of the wedge.  The next year, I adopted Rudy, who was found stray in central Illinois and was dangerously close to dying of starvation and exposure when the good Samaritan brought him to rescue.  Rudy was over 10 years of age, and when my vet neutered him after I adopted him, she estimated his age at 12 or 13.  Before I adopted him, Rudy was too frail for surgery.  He weighed 29 pounds on intake, and when healthy a few months later, he had filled out to 44 pounds – that’s how bad his condition had been!  (Rudy was a big Sheltie, over 18” at the shoulder.  At 44 pounds, he was not fat.)  Rudy also fit wonderfully into my household:  Sander told me to take him in, and the two of them hung out together, a pair of sweet old Sheltie gentlemen, for a year before Sander passed away in early 2006.  Rudy kept on keepin’ on until October 2010, and was easily 16 years old when he died.

After that, it was a given that I would have an old Sheltie in the family.  Good Guy showed up, 14 years old on adoption, and enjoyed four years of old age – napping, puttering about the yard, and barking at the upstart youngsters – until he departed to join Angus and Rudy.  Banjo came in from New York, from Julie Canzoneri’s rescue:  he’d had a nasty, enormous nerve-sheath tumor removed from his back before he came to live with me, and when he collapsed a couple of years later, I was mindful of that medical history and surmised that some cancer had been lurking, undetected, in his body until it finally manifested and finished him off.  But like the oldsters before him, Banjo had a great time in my house!

Irwin was over 10, another Sheltie; he loved to run around the dog yard with his squeaky ball in his mouth, making the most annoying noise.  He too accompanied us on walks, and was a full participant in the dog family until the day he collapsed, apparently of heart failure, and made his exit, peacefully and with that family around him.

Around and through all these lives, I had my own non-senior dogs:  Shelties all, until I adopted a rescue Finnish Lapphund in 2009 (a senior) and a rescue Border Collie in 2010 (a puppy).  The seniors I adopted became part of the family, until Charlie Bear in 2015 … Well, Charlie’s got his own blog post.

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The rescue Finnish Lapphund, Heikki Takkinen, brought with him a chronic case of ehrlichia, and taught me a whole lot about tick-borne diseases.  He also instilled in me a great affection for the Lapphund breed, which reminded me in quite a few ways of the Shetland Sheepdog breed:  opinionated, companionable, up for adventures, willing to work and never shy about making their presence known.  Once the ehrlichia had the last word on Heikki/Mikey, I eagerly accepted into my home a Lapphund puppy from the same breeder who had pulled Heikki from the shelter almost five years earlier.

So in the summer of 2015, I was full up with dogs.  I had the obligatory senior ‘poor thing’ – Charlie Bear – and I had my crew of Rowley, Beau, Dee and Alex.  But I hadn’t yet learned my lesson, and I still thought I could help the pathetic Shelties I saw in Facebook posts.  That’s where the Merle Girls ambushed me.

As I understood it, they came from a hoarder, although she wanted to be called a breeder.  (And I’d like to be called the Queen of England, kthx.)  An east-coast rescue had been talking to her for quite some time, working on getting her to reduce her dog inventory – er, population.  She surrendered six Shelties in the late spring of 2015.  Four of them went into foster immediately, but the Merle Girls had nowhere to go, and wound up in temporary housing in a pen in a wildlife refuge.  Oh, so sad!  I didn’t hear Charlie’s evil chuckle as I posted that I could take them.  And I took them.  Transport was arranged.  They arrived in July, close to their birthday – it seems they were littermates, or that’s what the hoarder gave the rescue to believe.  She might have been accurate about that.  They were both 12 years old in 2015.

Before they got to me, they were examined by a vet for the rescue.  Posey, the vet opined, almost certainly had mammary cancer.  She was still intact, but with that condition, she wasn’t a candidate for the surgery to spay her and remove the tumors; the vet didn’t even feel comfortable giving her a rabies vaccination.  Posey had a little note on her card that read ‘short-timer’, figuratively speaking.

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Peekaboo, her sister, had an exam and a rabies vaccination.  The hoarder told the rescue that Peeks had been spayed long ago, so the only thing I was looking at for her was a dental, sooner or later.  Gotcha.  Posey:  end of life.  Peeks:  get her crummy Sheltie teeth cleaned.  I can handle this!

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Except Posey’s mammary cancer was either nonexistent or set a record for the time it took to do her in.  She went to the vet in the fall of 2016 and had an exam, bloodwork, a heartworm test – and the vet said that although she did indeed have quite a few encapsulated tumors in her mammary chain and might have cancer, she also had a broken tooth and some other dental distress that meant she would need dental surgery.  We did x-rays of her lungs and they looked fine.  So in November she had 9 teeth extracted, which left her feeling noticeably better and improved her breath odor by about 100%.  At that point, I started questioning the cancer diagnosis, but she still was an old dog, and I wasn’t about to try another surgery on her.  She seemed to go into heat more than twice a year, which was hugely annoying, because it triggered one of my male dogs to go about marking everything.  He also paid her assiduous court, which she welcomed, and which also annoyed me.  (Did you know that a neutered male can achieve a tie with an intact female in season?  I know that!  Don’t ask me how I know it!)

Meanwhile, the summer after that, Peekaboo announced that she had Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), a fact which was entirely news to me and presumably to the rescue too.  The hoarder hadn’t mentioned that Peeks has a blown disc in her back.  One evening when she had stood in one spot, panting and trembling, for nearly an hour, I took her to the emergency vet and they quickly ascertained her condition.  Some painkillers and Prednisone worked wonders, but I had to keep an eye on her for future flares, and I decided to take her in for chiropractic adjustments ever few months as a preventive measure.

So in early 2018, I was acknowledging the fact that the Merle Girls were more than I should have taken on.  Charlie’s vet bills had already exceeded $3,000 since his arrival; now the Girls were closing in on the $2,000 mark.  I don’t have that kind of ‘extra’ money.  But I also can’t deny or skip veterinary care, so I felt like I was in a bind and I would have to trust to time to sort things out.

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Then Rowley’s heartworm diagnosis turned my world, and my finances, upside down.  Do you know it costs more than $1500 to treat heartworm?  HOLY BUCKETS!  I had not known that!  In April 2018, I had the cost of annual wellness visits for all my dogs, and was staring down the barrel of the heartworm treatment cost for Rowley.  Major, major damage was inflicted on my bank account!

That’s when I found that Peekaboo was intact.

I had a meltdown.  No other way to describe it.  I was entitled and I had a meltdown.  The rescue had told me she was spayed, the drops of blood on her vulva and the cytology smear performed by my vet told me otherwise.  I had never seen signs of a heat cycle from her before, but as shut down as she is by nature, that was something I could easily have missed.  If I’d known she was intact, I absolutely would not have accepted her, since there was no reason – no possible mammary cancer, no tumors – that she couldn’t have surgery to remove her reproductive bits, and to clean up her awful teeth at the same time.  The rescue should have done that.  I believed that then and I believe it now.  To take the word of a hoarder about the repro status of a surrendered dog is just not a sensible course of action.  There are ways to determine with relative certainty whether a bitch has been spayed.

So I messaged the person who was my contact in the rescue, and I said ‘I’ve had enough; in fact, I’ve had too much.  This needs to be addressed or you need to take the Girls back.’  The contact presented the situation to the rescue.  I heard nothing, for more than a week.  I had another meltdown.  (It was a rough month.)  I was giving Rowley doxycycline every day and waiting until he could have Immiticide shots.  On top of the nightmare of Rowley’s heartworm, a Lyme Disease diagnosis for Beau, and a mountain of vet bills for all dogs, I had to somehow come up with more than a thousand dollars to get Peekaboo’s surgery done, which would allow her to come home with a clean mouth and no more reproductive system.  It might as well have been ten thousand dollars, the way I felt right then.  The rescue was ‘discussing’ it but eight days had passed and they had in no way indicated that they would provide ANYTHING in the way of help.

Someone suggested I do an internet fundraiser.  I’ve never done that, although I’ve donated to plenty of them.  But if it raised even a portion of the amount of the surgery estimate, it would help.  And it would make me feel like I wasn’t forced to do everything myself, with no help anywhere – and about then, that was even more important than the money.

So I went to GoFundMe and put up a fundraiser for Peeks.

https://www.gofundme.com/peekaboo039s-surgery

And immediately, the money started coming in.  I was absolutely astounded.  I don’t know why I was surprised; my cyber-community is that of dog owners and dog rescuers.  They stepped up, and I blessed every one of them then and I bless them today.  And even friends who didn’t have dogs, but who know that my dogs are my life and rescue dogs are part of that, sent money to help.

I sent the GoFundMe link to my contact at the rescue.  I don’t think they were thrilled, but I also don’t care.  They should have come back to me in less than eight days.  If they looked bad, it was their doing.  I will say, once I talked to the head of the rescue, that I don’t think they ever intended to do anything other than assist me financially with the surgery.  She went to the GoFundMe link and donated a significant chunk of money, bringing the fundraiser to goal.

Because I’d also received funds from friends who chose to send it privately and not through GoFundMe, I actually raised enough from friends to pay the entire cost of Peekaboo’s surgery, her preliminary vet exam, and her subsequent chiro adjustment.  The funds from the rescue were available to cover the vet exam cost for Posey’s annual exam, and to cover the cost of Posey’s euthanasia when she passed away, suddenly, on Memorial Day.  It was the most enormous relief to get the Girls the veterinary care they needed – even up to and including Posey’s last day – and not have to dig out of debt afterwards.  It was like being able to take a deep breath instead of going under for the third time.  What price sanity!

I learned a number of things from the entire sequence of events.

I learned that my resources – emotional as well as financial – are finite and that I cannot take on as much as I once did.  I won’t repeat my actions and decisions that led up to this, although I also do not regret one bit that I over-reached and took the Merle Girls.  Posey had a wonderful time here for the 34 months she lived with me.  I can’t imagine a better place for her, given her limitations.  Peekaboo, who had her surgery on June 25 and is now spayed and minus nine crummy teeth, has a new lease on life.  She misses her sister, I’m sure, but she’s engaged more with my dogs now, and she has peace and quiet and good food and a comfy bed, which is what every old Sheltie should have.  For whatever time she has left, she’s welcome here.

I learned that although it’s easy to feel like the world is a harsh, rude place, people are still thinking and feeling like human beings, and they do respond to an animal in need.  I think they are glad to be able to make a difference and to see that they can have a positive effect.  The fundraiser wasn’t about giving me money, it was about giving Peekaboo a fair shake, which she seemed not to have had much of in her life up to now.  Every old dog deserves to be comfortable and as healthy as they can be.  And the great friends who responded to my request for help for Peekaboo share that view.  It gives me hope for humanity, and a great affection and regard for my friends.   Thanks, you guys, for having my back when the going got tough.  Peeks thanks you and I thank you.

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No Good Deed …

In February 2013, I adopted a senior Sheltie from an east-coast Sheltie Rescue, Tri-State Shetland Sheepdog Rescue.  The dog was Banjo, and I had spent a lot of time talking to the TSSSR person, Julie Canzoneri, about adopting a special-needs Sheltie named Petunia, who was a senior girl living with cancer; but it turned out that Petunia’s foster home had fallen in love with her, and she wasn’t going anywhere.  Julie suggested I consider Banjo, who had arrived in rescue in pretty dreadful condition, led into a shelter in NYC by a woman who claimed to have found him but whom the shelter staff believed to actually be his owner.  Banjo had an enormous nerve-sheath tumor on his back, and underwent surgery to remove it – when I say enormous, I mean over two pounds.  Thankfully, a biopsy indicated it was benign.  But Banjo needed some good care, to make up for years of apparent neglect.  I took him, and Julie arranged a transport that brought him from New York state to Indiana, where I collected him.

Banjo was such a sweetheart – I will always smile, thinking of him.  He lived with me for about 18 months, and then in August 2014, he collapsed and died.  I think he probably did have some unidentified malignancy, but for the time he was here, he was a happy dog.

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But this isn’t about Banjo, it’s about CharlieBear!

So having gotten to know Julie over discussions of Petunia and Banjo, I followed her and her Sheltie rescue on Facebook, and in early 2014, she pulled a little “Sheltie mix” from a shelter in Brooklyn and put his photo on Facebook, saying he would need a home and was blind, senior and kind of a mess.  I posted that I could take him, if he had nowhere to go … Julie said ‘Let’s see if anyone out here steps up, but thank you!’ and I was rather relieved, since I wasn’t looking for another dog just then.

But circumstances beyond my control intervened, in the heartbreaking form of Julie’s death.  She was only in her forties, but she had battled kidney disease for years – decades, I think – and a host of other health problems as well.  Her death was sudden, and it shocked the rescue community.  A huge outpouring of grief on social media began the day we learned of her passing, February 28, 2014.  I had never met her in person but had spoken to her on the phone and messaged and e-mailed her so often that I felt I knew her, and it was easy to feel the love she had for Shelties and the determination she had to help them, all of them, every one.  Julie was tough.  A Capricorn, I think she had all the determination associated with that sign and she channeled it all into the breed she loved.  She is still missed by many, including me.  This news story from 2012 tells you everything about Julie:

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/23-shetland-sheepdogs-saved-brooklyn-hoarders-freed-article-1.1134176

And a week or so after her death, TSSSR contacted me and asked if I still was interested in taking CharlieBear.  Um.  Well.  Hmmm.  Gee – I guess so!  Come on, I told myself:  one little old dog, how much trouble can he be?  I said ‘Well, if you can get him out here to Chicago …’ and I probably thought that I would hear back that he’d gone to another rescue in NY.  I didn’t.  I heard back that there were people willing to transport him, and if I could meet the last leg of the transport in north central Indiana, she would deliver Charlie to me.  Alrighty then!  In March, the transport volunteers moved Charlie from New York to Indiana, and I brought him home to Chicago.

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He was kind of a mess.  He’d been shaved down in the shelter because he was so matted; he was blind, probably from untreated KCS (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), a ‘dry-eye’ condition that’s not uncommon in Pomeranians, and Charlie appeared to be a Sheltie/Pomeranian mix.  His teeth were awful – still are!  My vet examined him and tactfully inquired if I had meant to adopt such a train-wreck of a dog.  I said I had, that Charlie would be given a good end to his life in my household.  ‘Well,’ the vet said, ‘He’s got grade 4 dental disease, but he’s certainly not a candidate for surgery – elevated liver values, a heart murmur – no, I wouldn’t do surgery on him unless it were needed to save his life.  The condition he’s in, he could go another year; I think six months is more likely.’

That was in March 2014.

Charlie wasn’t much trouble in most regards:  he learned his way around the house and the yard remarkably quickly, for an old blind dog who had never been within 500 miles of the place before.  He did, however, urinate constantly.  I mean this dog peed LAKES.  I started to research the symptoms and treatment for Cushing’s Disease, and in May I took him back to my vet to see if we should start him on Lysodren.  It’s really difficult to get a conclusive diagnosis of Cushing’s, and the vet felt we should start with something more basic:  an ultrasound of Charlie’s urinary tract.  And there they were:  bladder stones.  Bad ones.  Size and location were both bad.  Now I was looking at that ‘life or death’ surgery!  Trouble was, the cost of the surgery wasn’t in my budget.  Rescue resources were consulted and rescue favors called in.  Charlie re-entered rescue for one day, had the surgery performed by a vet who treated rescue Shelties near me, and was re-adopted by me, for which I paid an adoption fee that covered the cost of the surgery.  Incredibly, not only did Charlie survive the surgery, he bounced back even more feisty than ever!  And he no longer urinated every ten minutes!  I was thrilled.  Mind you, I still thought I had a short-timer on my hands, but he was happy and eating well and not soiling in my house, so life was good.

Time went on, and Charlie went on.  Julie thought he was probably 12 when she pulled him from the shelter, and my vet concurred with that; and as one year rolled into the next, Charlie got older but not much changed.  His eyes changed, though:  he developed glaucoma, or an existing condition worsened.  He was supposed to have drops in both eyes daily, but even with the drops, he kept getting eye infections and was clearly uncomfortable or in pain when that happened.  My vet performed a grid keratotomy in late 2014, and that helped – for a while.  By late 2015, though, he was miserable due to the condition of his eyes.  Now the glaucoma was so extreme that my vet said he worried about one of the globes rupturing.  Yikes!  ‘So what I propose we do –‘ my vet began, and I finished the sentence for him:  ‘— is take his eyes out.  Yes.  Do it.’

For some reason, people get squeamish when they hear that.  And yet, if the dog hasn’t has the use of his eyes for years, why not perform an enucleation and remove the globe, nictating membrane, and conjunctiva?  Charlie went into surgery in December 2015 for a double enucleation.  The dog who wasn’t a candidate for surgery had now been under the knife twice in two years for life-threatening conditions, and again, as with the bladder-stone removal, he recovered from the enucleation surgery with remarkable rapidity and no complications.  It gave me a hell of a start to see him, when I went to collect him after the surgery:  they’d shaved his face, and that and the eyelids sewn closed gave his head a distressing similarity to a horror mask.  ‘Oh, Charlie, NOT a good look!’ I said when the vet carried him into the exam room.  But once the hair grew back on his face, I got used to seeing him with his eyes permanently closed.

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I got used to seeing him, period, because Charlie wasn’t going anywhere!  As I write this in July of 2018, Charlie’s asleep on his bed in the kitchen next to the refrigerator.  From that spot, it’s a walk of about 12 feet to the deck door, and once outside, he navigates the deck stairs expertly,  and uses the ornamental fencing and wooden walkways in the back yard to tell him where he is, and to guide him back into the house.  This summer, in the jungle-like overgrowth that is my back yard, he’s gotten lost a couple of times, but when I go look for him, I find him battling the shrubbery or the vines and making for the walkway and the house.  This dog is made up almost entirely of determination.  If he was 12 when I got him, he’s 16 now.  His teeth are still vile – cleaning them up a bit when he was under for the enucleation surgery didn’t help much.  I’m sure his liver values are still elevated.  He’s got a big lipoma on one side over his rib cage.  I notice he refuses to put weight on his right back leg some days, but when I check him he declines to tell me where it hurts, or if it hurts.  So I let him do it his way, because that’s always been Charlie.

He’s not a sweet dog, or a cuddly dog.  If you pick him up, he’ll struggle to be put down.  He doesn’t care for petting.  He likes food, but once that’s been delivered, he’s lost interest in interacting with the human being.  He’s the most cat-like dog I’ve ever known!  He doesn’t have much use, either, for my other dogs; he likes Rowley, and will show this by trying to mount him sometimes, but the other dogs seem to be beneath his notice.  He will walk into one of them and neither change his course nor back away; the dog walked into will leap up and either snarl, or simply flatten Charlie (who had it coming, frankly), at which point Charlie will let out a series of yowls that sound like cats being horribly abused.  (Please note, Charlie is absolutely fine, no dog or person has ever harmed him while he has been here.)  This seems to be a Pomeranian trait.  A few years ago I was at an agility trial with Rowley and I heard a version of Charlie’s scalded-cat shrieks, and I called out ‘Who’s got the Pomeranian?’ and from two aisles over, a woman replied ‘Right here!’

I don’t know that I’d consider Charlie a pet, actually.  He’s a law unto himself, and he’s either taking care of business that only he knows about, or he’s avoiding dealing with things that only he knows about.  In any case, he’s my houseguest for the duration of his life, and it amuses me to consider reasons for his longevity and his refusal to pack it in:  Julie’s not ready to take him on yet (and can you blame her?).  Or, he’s the reincarnation of my very unpleasant grandmother, who lived to be 99 and was about as irascible and rude as Charlie.  Or, as one friend suggested, he’s become a zombie.  Whatever the reason, heeeeeeeere’s Charlie!

And that’s just fine with me.

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Why ‘Adopt, Don’t Shop’ Sets My Teeth on Edge

Don’t talk to me about rescue.  Don’t even try.  Want to know the dogs I have adopted from rescue since 2000?  Here’s the list:  Angus, Rudy, Good Guy, Irwin, Mikey, Banjo, Rowley, Charlie, Dee, Beau, Peekaboo, and Posey.  Which ones were senior ‘poor thing’ adoptions, dogs who had many years on them, nowhere to go, and serious health issues?  That’d be Angus, Rudy, Guy, Irwin, Mikey, Banjo, Charlie, Peeks, and Posey.

But aside from the seniors:  my competition agility dog (Rowley) is a rescue.

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My Animal Assisted Therapy dog (Dee) is a rescue.

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I DO rescue, people.  I donate, I transport, I screen applications for a local breed rescue, I adopt.  Rescues R Us, FFS.

I also do not-rescue.  My Finnish Lapphund is not a rescue, although my first Lapphund was – and such is the Lappy community in the US, thankfully, that my rescue Lappy remains one of the very, very few of his breed to be documented as a rescue.  (Never mind all the northern-breed mixes that their owners say ‘act like’ or ‘might be’ Lapphunds, let’s stick with what’s verifiable.  Heikki, later Mikey, was a Finnish Lapphund who landed in a shelter in 2009 and was bailed out by the then-head of the breed club, and I adopted him from her.)  I have owned Shelties that came from pet stores (Briar Rose, Sander, Pippi) and Shetland Sheepdogs who came from breeders (Lynnlea’s Sundance Kid, Shofar’s Summer Song).  I haven’t bought a dog from a pet store since 1997, and certainly I never will again, but yeah, I did it in my early years of dog ownership.

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I traced the stories behind those pet-store dogs:  Briar was from a sweet, clueless little old lady on the south side of Chicago who wanted to breed her Sheltie bitch just once, and kept a puppy from the litter before turning the other pups over to Majestic Pets (“Love on a Leash”) in Evergreen Park.  That sweet little old lady was heartbroken when her bitch AND her bitch’s daughter died of dermatomyositis.  What Ida Holt didn’t know about diseases that lurk In the genes of dogs would have filled a lot of books.  My puppy from that breeding died of the same disease, at the age of 9.

Sander came from Park Pets and he was the best dog ever.  The best.  He was a singleton puppy from some backyard breeders in northern Minnesota.  He got cancer when he was 7, and not entirely because I didn’t know enough about over-vaccination and nutrition back then.  He had lumbar spondylosis, hip dysplasia, and all kinds of joint problems.  It’s safe to assume that no health tests were run on any of his parents, grandparents, and so on back up the line.  He was also an amazing dog with the heart of a champion, and he was born to be my dog.  He lived for seven years with cancer.  Know any other dogs who have managed that?  Nope, me either.

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Pippi came from the same pet store that Sander did, but she was mill-bred.  Her paper trail stopped at a ‘broker’ in Iowa, so let’s not look any further, because we know what’s there.  Pip had the most regrettable temperament of any of my intentionally-chosen dogs.  Dogs like Miss Pip gave rise to the notion that “Shelties are hyper.”  It was abundantly clear that the first months of her life had not been spent in anything like an ‘enriched’ environment.  Gah.  Poor girl!  She was also very smart, and later loved rally obedience classes.  And the genetic dice, when tossed, came up aces for her:  she never had any injuries or illnesses, never even required a veterinary dental, and was two months shy of her 17th birthday when she keeled over in the back yard, as her heart gave out.  Of course, Pip was such a pip that she keeled over *into the pond*, where I found her body a few minutes later, and I think my neighbors can hear my screams still.  Pip would not exit unobtrusively.

As is true of anyone who lives with dogs and most definitely true of anyone who does work or sports with dogs, I have requirements for what must be and not be present in a dog I own.  The seniors are one thing, they only have to be down on their luck and fairly appealing – and often not even that, eh, Charlie? – to make me say ‘Oh, he/she can come live with me!’  But when I set out to acquire a dog that will share an active lifestyle with me, I care mightily about the structure, the temperament, and the organic health of the dog and its forebears.  I care more now than I did in my early days of dog ownership, because I know more about those things now, and I know more about the strains that dog sports put on a dog’s body.  To anyone who thinks that structure doesn’t matter and that ‘any dog can do agility,’ unless you’re just puttering around a course, you’re setting your dog up for a wicked injury, and I’ve seen that happen more than once or twice.  To anyone who pooh-poohs veterinary chiropractic care for a sport dog, I think my chiro-adjusted dogs are going to have an easier time with the aging process, but whatever …

When I had to retire Shiri from agility in 2009, I knew I wouldn’t find a Sheltie in rescue that I could run in agility for the next ten years.  I’ve been involved in Sheltie rescue for enough years to know that most of what comes in is pet-store Shelties, and that means BYB or mill dogs.  Rarely, a well-built Sheltie from a good breeder finds itself in rescue, but the demand for this lovely breed is such that those dogs are rehomed faster than immediately.  I wanted a young dog or a puppy, and the very few Sheltie breeders in my area that had dogs I liked had nothing available.  So I went to a Border Collie rescue and came home with my first – and to date only – Border Collie:  Rowley, about 10 months at adoption.  At that age, his structure was not a matter of conjecture, and his temperament was evident.  I know nothing about his pedigree, but he’s been doing agility for nine years now, and the only thing to slow him down was a positive heartworm diagnosis this past spring.

The point is, there are all kinds of reasons why I got my dogs.  I got Rudy because I felt sorry for him and because Sander told me that Rudy needed us – and he did!

rudy before

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Yes, that is the same dog.

I got Rowley because I needed an agility dog, and that encompasses more than just agility training, it means a level of companionship that I don’t get from my ‘poor thing’ seniors.  But each and every one of my dogs, past and present, was acquired deliberately and through conscious choice.  Either I wanted a particular dog, or I wanted to help a particular dog, or I wanted to discover something new in dogs – as I did when I moved from Shelties to Lapphunds and Border Collies.

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(I’m happy to say I’ve never had to re-home a dog.  Even if they annoy the bejesus out of me — talking to you again, Charlie! — they are here for life.  It’s not difficult to manage that when you stick with the softer herding breeds; I don’t think my track record would be impeccable if I were a hound person, or a bully-breed person.  But I go for the yappers and herders, and I don’t mix in too many bitches, and we make it work.)

But because each one of my dogs was a purposeful choice, things like this (from a senior dog rescue group’s Facebook page) grate on me:

Friends, the pet overpopulation problem is real. And as much as we feel strongly about spay, neuter and adoption…we also don’t believe in specialty dog breeding and buying puppies today. Not in 2018. It’s about a dog’s heart, personality, and soul. ALL of which shelter dogs have. A breeder puppy is not better than a shelter dog. They’re not. And our culture’s desire and obsession and mindset towards owning certain breeds IS just as much of the problem as lack of spay and neuter. Because if more people saw the value in shelter pets then more of these dogs would have homes.

Oh boy.

Well, first of all, I’m the most pro-spay/neuter person you’ll ever meet.  I’ve never bred dogs and I never will.  I don’t know enough, I have no interest, and as a single and childless woman in her 60s who really bought into the ZPG movement, I think this planet is way too crowded already, with both humans and some species of animals, including dogs.  I own a t-shirt that says ‘My pet’s a member of the Nooters Club!’ with a design similar to the Hooters logo.  Unless a person is one of those rare people who have a purpose in breeding dogs, have the knowledge, time, and money to do it properly, and will stand behind every puppy they produce for the life of that dog, no pets should be bred.  And if someone can’t be relied on to make sure an intact dog they own isn’t bred, even by accident, then no pets should be intact.  The issue of when to spay/neuter is not one I’m going into here.  Just do it.

And second, I’m bothered by the post’s assumption that everyone who bought a puppy from a breeder last year would, if no puppies had been produced, have adopted a dog from a shelter.  Really?  REALLY?  — No.  Of course not.  That’s BS.

Consider:  who gets a puppy from a breeder?  Well, first we have to clarify a bit:  what’s a breeder?  Is it someone who allows dogs to mate, and who homes/sells the resultant puppies?  No, not any more than humans who indiscriminately produce babies and can’t support, educate, or care for them properly, are parents.  This is about more than biology.  A breeder produces dogs to continue and improve a given breed, using the best genetic material they can find, and carefully shapes their breeding programs over time as the outcome of that genetic material evidences itself.

As for the others, let’s call them what they are:  retailers of puppies.  And that includes every Doodle breeder everywhere.  (Sorry, pet peeve of mine.)

So yes, it would be GREAT if people would stop going to retailers of puppies and giving them money in exchange for puppies.  It would be wonderful.  It would make a dent in the pet overpopulation problem, I have no doubt.  And since we can include pet stores that sell puppies in this category, It might even be a death knell for puppymills!

But to the people who go to breeders, and acquire a puppy that has a pedigree behind it that displays generations of working ability, structural health, sound temperament, and conformation to the breed standard:  good for you!  I hope you are asking those breeders hard questions, and not accepting evasive answers; I know you are spending a lot of money to acquire that puppy, and I bet you will spend even more in time, energy, and emotional commitment, not just to your dog but to the breed and its well-being.  Hey, know what you should do now?  Adopt a senior rescue dog to keep your puppy company!

The problem isn’t demand, it’s supply.  Here’s a fact:  in the southern states in the US, there is a pathetically low rate of spay/neuter among pet owners.  I’ve heard estimates that as many as 70% of pet dogs in the South are intact.  This is where the war should be fought, folks:  we need mobile spay/neuter clinics deployed everywhere in the South, like now!  Already, many shelters in the North are doing great work bringing up dogs that would be routinely euthanized in shelters in the South, for lack of space, and vetting and adopting them in towns and cities where there is a demand for them.  This piece from the NYT in 2014 talks about such a program:

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/opinion/adopt-a-dog-with-a-southern-drawl.html

But I really think that the problem is dog overproduction in specific regions of the country.  That’s what needs to be addressed, and addressed aggressively.  Until that’s done, we are allowing one segment of pet-owning society to create a huge, ugly mess and we are expecting all the other segments of pet-owning society to clean up that mess.  To which I, for one, say ‘screw that.’  If I want a Border Collie puppy from a certain line of Border Collies, and I’ve waited several years for the breeding that produces that puppy, and I’m prepared to pay up for that puppy because I know the work the breeders and owners of the parent dogs have done – don’t you dare tell me I should forget about my BC puppy and go adopt a hound mix that is nothing like what I want and can work with.  Don’t you dare tell me I should clean up the shit-storm that uncaring, uninformed pet owners elsewhere in the country have created, at the cost of my own canine household.  About time they stopped making the mess, isn’t it?

And having said that, I also think that everyone should have at least one rescue dog, if you have the room.  Get a senior, they have so little chance of a good life!  My senior rescue dogs have brought enormous joy to my life (– yes, even you, Charlie) and it is a deeply satisfying feeling to know, as you watch a dog prepare to pass from this world, that you have made that dog’s last years absolutely wonderful, with good food, excellent veterinary care, comfortable lodgings, and the community of other dogs in your house.  It’s a relatively easy way to do good in this world, and that’s no small thing.

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For anyone who wants a pet dog and isn’t going to be doing work, or sports, with that dog:  a lovely alterative to spending years on the wait list of a breeder is to drop by some of the shelters in your area that are helping rehome dogs from the South, or peruse the websites of rescue groups that are engaged in that same task.  Last month I drove a small part of a transport for a Border Collie who came out of a shelter in Texas and will now find a home in Indiana or Illinois, and wowza, if I weren’t full up, Trapper would be living with me now!  Two years old, sharp as a tack, the crime that nearly cost him his life was chasing horses, and I could certainly offer him a horseless environment.  Look at this boy!

trapper transport

There are some wonderful ways to acquire a dog that don’t involve handing gobs of money to some heartless person who retails puppies.  Avoid those people, always.

Since I’ve gotten a bit wordy here, I’ll throw in a nice graphic that outlines the way I would like things to be:

If the person wanting a dog is: Then that person should:
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of a specific breed, and is happy to miss out on mess and destruction of the puppy stage Find a breed rescue and submit an adoption application; once approved, watch the rescue’s intake and ask to meet dogs that might be The One; OR
Find the national breed club for that breed, contact breeders in your area and introduce yourself, then ask if they are placing any dogs soon and if you might be considered; OR
Check local shelters to see if any dogs of that breed are available.
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of a specific breed and wants a puppy Find the national breed club for the breed, contact breeders in your area, ask about upcoming litters and get yourself on a waiting list; OR
Contact local shelters to see if they ever have young dogs or puppies of that breed, perhaps as part of their program to adopt out dogs imported from non-local shelters.
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of no specific breed, or wants a mixed-breed, and has preferences but not requirements as to age You’ve got so many choices!  Start online, look at local rescues and shelters, go from there.  But don’t, please don’t, buy a dog online, either from a retailer of puppies, or a sales site like CraigsList.  If you feel sorry for the dog you see posted for sale on CL, contact a rescue and tell them about it.
Someone who wants a working or sport dog of a specific breed or skill-set Locate breeders who whose dogs are what you’d love to own; contact them, discuss their breeding program and plans.  Get on the waiting list for a puppy, or if you’ll take a young adult dog, ask if any are being ‘grown out’ and available to performance homes.  But you already know this, you’re not the person who’s buying from pet stores or from the local BYB who loves the fact that she can sell her Cocker’s puppies for $500 apiece.  You’ll also look at rescues, depending on the breed.
Someone who wants a hypoallergenic dog, or a Doodle of any variety Get real.  The only non-allergenic dog is a stuffed animal, and Doodles are mutts that retail for $2K, which makes you a prize chump.

You see?  Shelters, rescues, real breeders – those are all sources of wonderful dogs.  Nobody ever needs to do business with a retailer of puppies!

Of course, everyone should support rescues/shelters in some way.  Even if you can’t add a dog to your household, you can donate, transport, fundraise, perform administrative tasks, or in some other way help a group that is helping save canine lives.  (No, sharing posts on Facebook doesn’t count.  Get off your lazy ass and drive a transport, or swing by the local shelter with fifty pounds of food once a month.)

But don’t put the onus of halting the problem of pet overpopulation on the people who do their homework and acquire dogs from breeders who are helping to maintain and improve their breeds.  Even if no breeder had a litter on the ground for the next three years, would that really stem the tide of dogs that comes at a flood out of shelters in the South?  You know it wouldn’t.  FIX THAT PROBLEM, don’t point fingers away from it.

 

 

More Musings on Heartworm

Rowley is now finished with the ‘adulticide’ heartworm treatment protocol:  he had two shots of Immiticide on successive days on June 14 and 15.  This is to kill the adult heartworms that were not dispatched by the first Immiticide shot that he received on May 15.  Meanwhile, any microfilariae that might find its way into his bloodstream is killed by the monthly dose of Heartgard that he receives and will receive until the weather no longer supports mosquitoes or microfilariae.

I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten to this point, but there’s still so much I don’t know and can’t know, and my frustration really hasn’t abated much.  Any notion I had of a return to ‘normal’ life this month – resuming agility classes, going to the nature preserve for off-leash hikes – was banished when my vet, who is a cautious soul, said he wouldn’t okay any of that until we get a negative heartworm test on Rowley, and that would be October at the earliest.  WHAT?!?!  I just gave you two months of our best weather, now you tell me it’s still boring old leash walks and nothing else until the fall?!

Yeah.  And that’s because we are still living in fear of the real monster in this horror flick:  the pulmonary embolism caused by the corpse of a worm.  Disgusting?  Oh yeah.  A real possibility?  Yep, that too.

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I can’t count the number of people who have thought that Rowley can somehow excrete the dead worms, as he would tapeworms or whipworms.  No.  Not possible.  These worms have been living in his pulmonary artery, which is not connected to his gut and digestive system; when they are killed off by the Immiticide shots, the bodies decompose and get reabsorbed by his body, mostly by his lungs.  So in order to accurately gauge the risk of a pulmonary embolism, I have to know how many worms there were, and how big the pieces of dead worms are that now float around in my dog’s body.  I can’t get that information anywhere!  I sent a questionnaire to “WORMS C/O ROWLEY” but got no response.  Worms don’t answer surveys.  Someone suggested that an x-ray might show the worm population in the pulmonary artery:  it won’t.  There is simply no way to know what is going on, so we have to proceed with the greatest amount of caution possible.

A negative heartworm test will tell us that not only are there no more live heartworms in residence, but there aren’t any worm corpses, either.  That’s because the antigen test for heartworm looks for a hormone that’s found in the skin of female heartworms, alive OR dead.  (There is no test that detects male heartworms.  Isn’t that odd?)  And that’s why, although the Immiticide shots killed the worms pretty expeditiously, it might take up to six months to get a negative heartworm test, as bits and pieces of dead worms could be decomposing slowly in there.  I’d be inclined to think that the longer time periods are due to a heaver load of heartworms, but who the hell knows?!

So as I put on Rowley’s leash for another walk and miss another agility class, I reflect again on the idiocy that kept me from giving heartworm preventive.  And let me just say that if I read the asinine quibble that “it’s not preventative”, I will go nuts.  Like this utter nonsense from Dogs Naturally Magazine:

Heartworm meds do not, by the way, prevent heartworms. They are poisons that kill heartworm larvae (called microfilariae) contracted during the previous 30-45 days.

Yes, you fool, and by killing the microfilariae it PREVENTS THAT MICROFILARIAE from migrating to the pulmonary artery and maturing into a heartworm!

From the VCA website:

The life cycle begins when a female mosquito bites an infected dog and ingests the microfilariae during a blood meal. The microfilariae develop further for 10 – 30 days in the mosquito’s gut and then enter its mouthparts. At this stage, they are infective larvae and can complete their maturation when they enter a dog. The infective larvae enter the dog’s body when the mosquito bites the dog. They migrate into the bloodstream and move to the heart and adjacent blood vessels, maturing to adults, mating and reproducing microfilariae within 6 – 7 months.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that killing microfilariae IS preventing heartworm.

So here’s the thing:  if you’re buying (literally or figuratively) any of the BS on the internet or elsewhere about how your dog doesn’t need heartworm preventive, and if you live in an area where you have warm weather and mosquitoes at least part of the year, then you’re deluding yourself.  And if you’re saying to yourself ‘well, if my dog tests positive, I can treat it with herbs’, then you’re completely batshit crazy.  Your friends might not tell you that, but I will.  If your dog tests positive, your dog HAS WORMS LIVING IN HIS PULMONARY ARTERY.

Heartworm

How, pray tell, do you plan to get rid of those worms?  And how do you plan to dispose of the bodies?  Hmmmmm?  If you tell me you would let the worms die naturally, in the ‘slow kill’ method, then someone ought to confiscate all your dogs for their own safety.  You’re really going to let your dog live with worms in his heart?  Have any idea what that does to his organs?  Think about it.

If you’re going to tell me, as one friend did, that you hate to give your dog pesticides on a regular basis on the off-chance that they might need those pesticides at one time, then I understand that, and I say to you:  You have to think of it as insurance.  I pay homeowners’ insurance premiums faithfully every year.  I may never need to make a claim on that policy – I sure hope I don’t!  But the day that 150-year old oak tree comes crashing through my porch roof and demolishes half of my living room, I’m sooooo thankful that I didn’t ‘save’ money by canceling that insurance policy!  And so it is with heartworm preventives:  the one time your dog gets chomped by a mosquito carrying heartworm microfilariae, it will be the smartest decision you ever made to give him Interceptor every 6 weeks for 8 months of the year.  Unlike the oak tree that announces its presence in your house, you may never know that your heartworm insurance paid off.  But as climate change brings more and more weather aberrations to all parts of the country and more parasites establish themselves in areas that never hosted them before, I can tell you that your insurance is more likely than not to be needed, and sooner than you think.

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… into the wild — back yard?!

I grew up in a neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago in the 1960s; a neighborhood that imploded at the end of that decade because of white flight, redlining, and panic-peddling.  But until those forces combined with social change to destroy Roseland, it was a terrific place – and the 1960s a terrific decade – in which to be a kid.  We had enormous amounts of freedom; our parents didn’t think they had to schedule our days or even know exactly where we were every minute of those days.  Very often we were off playing in the vacant lots that dotted the neighborhood of single-family homes.  Vacant lots that were overgrown with tall grasses and vegetation like nettles, thistles, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, and shrubs we never bothered to identify.  We called these vacant lots ‘prairies’ and we caught bugs and snakes there, played games of our imagination, and pretended we were in another century.  Funny, because now *that* was in another century!

Today I looked at my back yard and realized that I’ve recreated a Roseland ‘prairie’ of my childhood!  And the thought pleases me greatly.

I bought a tiny house on a very large lot, and the previous owner had used quite a bit of the 250’ back yard for a vegetable garden, and kept most of the rest as lawn.  I’m not a fan of lawn.  I have grown vegetables, but if you don’t put some secure fencing up, between the rabbits and your dogs, you won’t get much – the cucumber you reach for intending to add to your dinner salad will turn out to be a 2” stub on the vine, with teeth-marks on the end.

So over time, I’ve let my yard revert to … what it will.  This year it’s particularly dramatic in appearance because we’ve had record rainfall in the past couple of months, and because I’ve declined to present even a pretense of keeping order there.  I’ve had a lot going on with dogs this spring, and anyway, the older I get, the less I enjoy fighting the weed battle with Ma Nature.  She’s going to win, we both know it.  As she has here:

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That’s where the barn used to be.  It was torn down 14 months ago, and since then, vegetation has flourished, to say the least!  Dee hunts mice and other critters in there.

Even in the area of the yard right off the deck, behind the house, the weeds are having a field day:

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Those flagstone walkways are supposed to be weed-free.  Hahahahaha, right?  And when you go past the fence in the back of that photo, to the really wild part of the yard – yikes, you could lose a dog in there!  I may have to put bells on the collars of Dee and the Boyz pretty soon!

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And you know what – I love it.  I have a recliner lawn chair out here and I spend hours reading, with the dogs poking around or napping in the shade, and the bird-song back here is fabulous.  Robins, cardinals, blackbirds, and some I can’t identify.  The occasional hawk floats by, and at night I can hear an owl hooting softly.

The reason for this is the quirk of our block that gave us enormously deep back yards but no working alley at the back end of those yards, so if residents have garages (our housing stock dates from the 1920s and before), they’re off the street and not in the back yards.  I don’t know that I have any competition for the Weed Wonderland 2018 title, but most people don’t use the bottom third of their lots on this block, and that means ample space for urban wildlife and birdlife.  It’s just great.

This year because of the cold spring and then the month of rain, I haven’t been able to get down the very bottom – the last 75’ or so – of my lot to cut the grass, and I haven’t hired anyone to do it because I am not concerned about it:  I have an electric mower now, and finally got long enough extension cords to take it back there, and once this heat wave passes, I’ll get down there and mow.  Until then, the dog yard is being enjoyed by dogs.

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Yep, they get to dig holes back there, too.  Alex has one underneath an old pause table that is almost a bunker; he’s been working on it all spring.  It’s a dog’s life, after all!  And really, so long as it’s green, I am not bothered by the fact that it’s overgrown.  I even regard it as a pushback against the lawn fascists of suburbia, a cosmic equaling-out.

Enjoy your summer!  Take time to sit in the shade, listen to running water, hang out with dogs, and don’t even think about dumping chemicals or mowing anything.  We’re with you in spirit!

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Taking it easy, Border Collie style

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In heartworm treatment, the Immiticide shots kill the adult worms that are present; microfilarae is killed by giving Heartgard.  Once dead, the adult worms break down and are reabsorbed by the body, generally in the lungs.  Not quite as gross as worms living in my dog’s heart, but pretty yucky.  The problem waiting to happen is that if there are quite a few worm corpses, and they break down into large-ish pieces, those pieces can be forced into the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism if the dog’s heart or respiration rate increases significantly.  To call that a problem is putting it mildly:  a pulmonary embolism can kill the dog.  So to prevent this, the owner is told to keep the dog quiet for several weeks after the administration of the Immiticide shot.

I’ve known plenty of dogs in rescue that were treated for heartworm.  My own Lapphund Mikey was treated after he was pulled from the shelter and before he came to me.  Mikey and the other rescue dogs I’ve known who were treated were all in pretty rough shape from long-term neglect.  I don’t think any of them were Level One infections, and I don’t think any of them were in as good physical shape as Rowley is.  I knew that those dogs were crated for most of the day, every day for the weeks after the shot.  That version of the ‘keep them quiet’ protocol is a given in heartworm treatment.  But — I also know that Christie Keith’s dog Raven, who was crated and only taken out on a leash to a potty area in the yard, almost died due to pulmonary embolism a week or so after her Immiticide shot.  So even stringent confinement is no guarantee that a dead worm won’t try to kill your dog.

Aaaarrgghhhh!  What to do?!

Rowley is 9 years old.  He hasn’t been in a crate since he was 1 year old, and truly, if I were to suddenly crate him – especially for long periods of time – it would stress him A LOT.  Rowley is enormously biddable and has been reliable in the house almost since he was a puppy.  People who see his excitable, energetic side – in agility class, at the park – might think that he’s a bundle of energy, but trust me:  at home, he’s a bundle of relaxation.  I’ve worked from home for several years now, and my dogs know that most hours of their day are not spent in activity.  And none of them are in their puppy years anymore, so they are Masters of Chill.

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But if Rowley isn’t a crazy wild puppy or a hyperactive adult dog, he certainly is a dog who’s used to regular exercise, and more than just a walk around the block on a leash.  He’s done agility since the day I got him, when he was not even a year old; he goes to two agility classes every week, and sometimes we trial.  With my other dogs, he goes to the nature preserve about four times a week, where we spend about an hour on the hiking trails and he’s off-leash to explore as he will.  We do walk around the neighborhood on leash walks, but even on leash, he espouses the manifest “FURTHUR”, like the Pranksters’ bus.  Stop to smell the flowers?  Bah!  “I, a Border Collie, am charged with finding you MORE FLOWERS and they are OUT THERE, so LET’S GO!” – that’s Rowley’s view of things.

So even though crating isn’t going to happen, what does ‘keep him quiet’ mean for this dog?!

Well, in the week after his Immiticide shot, he seemed a little less energetic than usual.  I put that down to having had a big shot of arsenic compound, and his body needing some recovery time.  So taking it easy was pretty simple for that short time, and he did 10-minute on-leash walks a couple of times a day and not much else.  But after that, he returned to his normal demeanor fairly rapidly.  I needed to get him more exercise while still not letting him run around; I also needed to return the other dogs to something like their normal routine.  So I split the group into two and I took Alex and Dee for a longer, brisk walk, and after that I took Rowley and Beau for a shorter walk.  Alex objected to this, and on listening to his logic, Dee objected also.  The two of them were fine with the Alex & Dee walk but they went bark-nuts when left behind for the Rowley & Beau walk.  This led to the creation of the Bark Room.

My house was built in the late 1860s.  It’s small and it’s got a lot of windows.  I like it!  It’s also got a full, unfinished cellar, which holds my washer and dryer and all my dog crates and a bunch of other stuff typically found in basements.  The floor is concrete and has drains.  There are big soapstone laundry tubs that are great for washing dogs.  The windows are 5’ above the floor, and half the cellar is below ground level – pretty standard for a house of this age.  And the walls, my poured concrete foundation, are more than a foot thick.  Aha!  So I set up some lawn furniture, dusted off several of the crates and moved them out into the main basement area, and put a couple of Coolaroo dog cots there, along with a water bowl and a radio set to a classical music station.  And hey presto:  it is now The Bark Room!  And this is the routine now:  Alex & Dee walk takes place; Rowley and Beau stay home with kibble toys.  Return from A&D walk, all dogs and I have breakfast, I do a few work chores.  Then the Rowley & Beau walk takes place; Alex and Dee stay home with kibble toys in the Bark Room.

This is working wonderfully.  Since it’s been less than a week of doing this, Alex is not entirely on board and will bark his objection to being left behind, but wow, you can barely hear anything from the Bark Room!  And he’s got all the creature comforts he needs to survive 20 minutes of abandonment.  I don’t think PETA is going to consider his complaint, which he assures me he will be filing.  (There is no mail service from the Bark Room, but I won’t mention that to him yet.)  And it’s a good thing to have my crates more accessible and ready for use:  I’ve always kept them set up in case I need them in an emergency, but cleaning them out and having the dogs actually use them before an emergency occurs is a good move.

Aside from the walks, Rowley now has almost normal yard activity privileges, with the exception of running, which he can’t do.  He can wander around in the yard, and in this nice weather we spend a lot of time out there, but he can’t race after a squirrel sighting or the like.  Always a good idea to be able to call your dog off in those situations, you might need that ability at some point …

This still isn’t the amount of activity he’s used to, but he’s handling it with good grace.  Once he gets the second Immiticide shot on June 15, he will have a few more weeks of ‘take it easy’ and then we can start returning to our normal routine – but I think there will be some changes in that routine.  I certainly look forward to getting the group back to the nature preserve, but I don’t think I will leash-walk four dogs at a time again, other than for our short before-bed stroll around the block.  I like the A&D walks and the R&B walks, and the Bark Room makes it possible for me to not worry that my neighbors are being regaled with the grievances of the dogs that stay at home.  That’s one change we’ll keep.

We’ve adjusted pretty well to what was a very unwelcome change.  Yesterday evening I stopped to chat with some of my neighbors who asked how Rowley is doing, and during that break in the walk, Rowley – as usual – stood facing away from us, his gaze on the middle distance, pulling on the leash, tail between his legs in ‘working’ demeanor, all his body language saying ‘come on, COME ON, COME ON ALREADY!’  My neighbor looked at him and said ‘Well, he seems to bearing the burden of taking it easy quite heroically.’  That’s my Rowley Dog.

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Insecure? Moi?! (Bark bark bark, mark mark mark)

Life with a bunch of dogs is many things:  mostly it’s rewarding and wonderful.  Sometimes it’s frustrating and stressful.  And sometimes it’s really interesting, which is what I call something when I have to take action, acquire new training tools, and make changes to improve a situation.

Like when a dog marks in the house.

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Rowley, my BC, is the Big Dog around here.  He’s 9+ years old, he works in dog sports, he is a benign and friendly figure to other dogs, and he’s very attached to me and I to him.  He’s a Border Collie, I mean to say!

Beau joined us when Rowley was 3 and Beau was 4.  Beau’s a Sheltie from rescue, a dog who lost his original home when his elderly owner went into assisted living.  Beau attached himself to me and even more, to Rowley, immediately.  Rowley is driving the bike, Beau’s in the sidecar.  Rowley is the earth, Beau is his moon.  It’s a relationship that has worked well.  Beau’s job, if you will, is to be the Adjunct Dog here.

Alex, my Lapphund, came along when Rowley was 4 and Alex was a young puppy.  Alex also has dog-sport work (nosework, for him) and Alex is not an Adjunct Dog.

Dee, who joined us when Rowley was 6 and Alex was 2, is a law unto herself, as befits the female in the (main) group.  I think Dee actually has a great deal of misplaced confidence in her own ability to handle anything and everything, which is why Dee will never be allowed off-leash — ‘Of COURSE I can find my way home from here, see you in a couple of days!’ she would say.  Um, no.

So with those dynamics, I was not happy at all when Alex started marking in the house.  He was neutered later than any of my rescue dogs were – although not as late as some past Shelties were; I remember several that got the big snip when they were seniors! – and for a while I put it down to that, and to the fact that there are some senior rescue Sheltie girls here who are intact.  But I was sick of the marking almost immediately, and finally I also got sick of making excuses for it, so I found myself in a Really Interesting situation.  And I set out to figure out what I could do, because I will not make my dog live in a belly band.

You know who marks?  Unconfident dogs mark!  They don’t mark from any ‘dominance’ thing (which is complete BS and always has been), and marking in the house is not necessarily about ‘territory’ (Alex never wants to take Rowley’s bed, but he has marked in it) – no, they are likely to try to bury their own scent (urine is the essence of their scent) in the scent of another dog or even the scent of the owner.  How interesting is that!  So Alex’s marking on Rowley’s bed was … that!  Alex marking on MY bed was … that!  Neither Rowley nor I were happy about it, so Steps Were Taken.

Let me say here that what I mean by an ‘unconfident’ or ‘insecure’ dog is NOT a timid, shy, spooky, anxious dog, although I suppose such a dog would also be unconfident/insecure.  I mean a dog who simply hasn’t mustered the emotional maturity, often through experience, to be at ease with his (or her) ability to handle things that come at him – not big stressful things like storms or traumas, but small things in daily life that resonate with them and won’t resonate with a more confident dog.  An unconfident dog, meeting a new person, will mark.  Not submissive urination, but marking.  Interesting, eh?  Keep that thought in mind, we’ll get back to it.

Alex didn’t become an unconfident dog through any temperamental deficiency; rather, I think he probably didn’t get a full measure of confidence because he grew up, like an under-shade tree, right next to the Big Tree that is Rowley.  And this is one of those things about having a group of dogs that just shapes itself and turns out the way it does, and you then work around it and with it for the good of all the dogs.  I usually do take all four dogs on outings together.  They’re mostly only separated for ‘dog school’:  Rowley goes to agility class, Alex to nosework class, Dee to manners/tricks class.  That’s their one on one time with me and away from the group.  But most of the rest of the time, it’s a group thing.

With Rowley now recovering from heartworm treatment, he has to take it easy and so the outings to the nature preserve are on hold; Rowley and Beau go for short leash walks in the neighborhood, and I take Alex and Dee on longer, faster leash walks.  This has been an interesting opportunity to look at Alex’s behavior through the lens of confidence.  This morning, for instance, I had Alex and Dee on a walk and we were about a mile into it, heading home, in the neighborhood, when man in a tracksuit passed about 20 feet from us and said ‘good morning’; I returned the greeting, and the walking man said ‘you enjoy your day now!’ and I made a comment about the weather, and we went on our separate ways.  And Alex immediately pulled on the leash to go over and mark on a bank of hostas.  No, I don’t think it was coincidence:  I think it was Alex reacting to a new, unknown person that suddenly appeared and then disappeared.  How about that!  Of course I didn’t let him mark the hostas – a big part of the New Order is that no dogs get to mark on walks, I discourage it and in fact do not allow it.  I stop for potty breaks, but marking?  Nope.  Dee doesn’t get to pick up crap from the street and eat it; Alex doesn’t get to lift his leg on anything.  Too bad, so sad.  So I brought Alex back to my side by saying ‘let’s go home for breakfast now!’ to him, and we continued on.

So here’s what I’ve done to remedy this situation that was not tolerable for me:

  1. No dogs in my bedroom during the day.   I *may* occasionally let Rowley nap in his bed in there, since he is recovering from heartworm treatment, but my bedroom is now off-limits to dogs, admission allowed only by me, gate is closed at all times.  At night, the dogs occupy their beds in my bedroom and I occupy mine.  During the day, they have the rest of the house.  This was not a hit with Alex, who – get this – liked to spend hours every day lying on my bed and barking out the bedroom window at my neighbors.  Seriously!  I allowed that!  Ack, what can I say, sometimes we just are distracted by life its own self.
  2. No marking on walks. Sniffing is fine, sniff away!  But don’t tell me you have to drag me over to that bank of day-lilies to sniff them; your nose works from outside of leg-lifting range.  Walks are now 2 dogs at a time, and walks are with a purpose, which is set by me; walks are on a schedule, which is set by me.  Think that sounds mean?  LOL!  I could spell the words ‘enriched life to the max’ in dollar bills on a billboard with all the money I have spent on activities, pastimes, and benefits for these dogs.  Walks with a purpose and a schedule are not the Bataan Death March, I assure you.
  3. Any evidence of unconfident behavior will be addressed with training routines. The way I used to do two minutes of obedience on the sidewalk with Miss Pip (miss her!) when she would act reactively on a walk, I will do a minute or two of obedience (pushups are nice for this, the sit-down-sit-down flow that keeps the dog moving and thinking) with the dog – usually Alex, but not always!
  4. There is a modified NILIF program in place that requires an offering of work or attention from the dog in order to get attention or benefits from me. I think that builds confidence, since I show appreciation for accomplishments then.

I am hopeful that this will benefit all the dogs, and in particular will benefit Alex.  When he failed to get his NW3 (Nosework) title recently, it was not because he gave a good effort but didn’t find all the hides – no, it was because on several occasions in the day-long trial, he played the fool.  He did his dive and roll behavior that elicits laughs from people nearby and gets him attention FOR NOTHING.  In short, he acted out his unconfidence.  In the Vehicle hide, the judge even wrote on our sheet (– we failed the element and Alex alerted on NO hides) that Alex sometimes didn’t even engage or search.  For a dog who has been working at Nosework for 4+ years, that’s not cool.  That’s a sign that he isn’t comfortable, he isn’t confident.  NW3 is hard, it’s really hard.  I want us to get a NW3 title, but Alex needs to be more mature in order for that to happen.  This ‘remedy for unconfidence’ program is one step in that direction.  Wish us luck!

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