An Afternoon Walk at Carley State Park

A budding tree

“What should we do tomorrow afternoon,” questioned my husband on a Saturday evening in mid-April.

            “I think it is too early for bluebells to be blooming,” I answered thoughtfully, “but it might be fun to hike again at Carley State Park. We haven’t been there in a really long time.” Carley State Park is only about eight miles from where we live so it is a local activity.

            The next day dawns cloudy and cool. The temperature barely touches the low 50s. Not willing to abandon our plans, I check the weather radar on my cell phone climate app. The forecast calls for a 15% chance of rain all day, but the radar shows that green morning splash that touches the screen as sliding off the display by two p.m. Maybe there is still hope for our plans.

            Claire, our dog, barks as we both put on our jackets and then eagerly jumps into the back seat of the car. She knows something exhilarating is happening. Tiny splashes of water dash the windshield as we start towards town. Ugggh… It is still trying to rain. Well, we are going to plow ahead in spite of the windshield wipers flapping back and forth. I am hoping that we will have the trails and the park all to ourselves.

            A gently curving route leads into the entry area. We follow the right road split to the vicinity where a little DNR cabin used to sit. The cabin is gone. All that remains is a small kiosk at which to register. Apparently, it has been a lot longer than I thought since we were last here. The small parking area which I remember as usually being empty is full of cars. That’s strange. Is there a special event today, I wonder? We wind our way down the forested gravel lane to the lower-level parking area. This parking lot is full as well. I don’t think there is anything special today. I guess people have nothing else they can do in the midst of the Covid pandemic. This state park used to be pretty much empty when we visited in prior years. Since the gate is closed to the camping area, I pull up to it and park in front of it. Afterall, there is no “NO Parking” sign. My hubby, the rule follower, doesn’t say a word. Claire is excitedly prancing around – ready for a new adventure.

            We choose the path along the north branch of the Whitewater River which gurgles and loops slowly through the park. The sky still hangs heavy, but the misty rain has stopped. The trail has a dark brown firm mud underlay from the numerous footsteps that have traversed its length since the recent rain. The trees are just starting to shoot out their buds and the underfloor of the forest is covered with green. Carley SP is known for its bluebells in spring, but I think we are just a couple of weeks early. Many of the plants have purple buds peeking from their green but they have not fully opened. A few shoots display fine cone shaped white blossoms. The day is perfect for a walk such as this. Claire eagerly sniffs every new smell of this fresh unexplored place. She weaves to the right and then the left and then circles back for another snuffle. She soon puts it in 4-wheel drive and tries to drag me along.

            We leisurely mosey along the narrow trail, sometimes stopping for Dave to take pictures, sometimes stopping off to the side for others to pass. Claire, of course, wants to bark at everyone but she soon settles down and waits quietly when I cling tightly to her harness handle. Soon we come to a double river crossing where it looks like one part is only water filled when the river is high. The river crossings at this park are not bridges but huge concrete steppingstones that have been placed parallel to each other but perpendicular to the flow of the water. One needs to jump from stone to stone to traverse the river while maintaining dry feet. The absence of recent maintenance also means the riverbanks have become eroded leaving the base along the bank muddy. This calls for some ginger stone stepping attempting to miss the mud. Claire is not sure what to do so she wades out into the water for a splash around before clawing her way onto the concrete steps.

            Safely across, we continue our amble through the woods. Soon the trail turns and begins an ascent along the bluff. Hubby and I are panting with the effort. Claire decreases my effort needed as she attempts to drag me along. We climb upward for about ten minutes and then stroll along the ridge for another ¼ mile before the trail begins its decent to the river below again. This river crossing presents a much more challenging dilemma. The erosion along these banks are much more extensive on both sides of the river. Someone has dragged three separate sections of six-inch diameter trees to the riverbank and slid them into place side by side to make a slanted bridge to the first concrete step in the water. This could be hazardous for two sixty something-year-old persons. There is nothing to hang onto, the bridge is uneven, and neither of us have the balance of a younger individual. I wonder for just a moment if we should retrace our steps back the way we have come. But that is an overwhelming thought, so a different plan is needed. Claire is not in the least bit interested in stepping onto that rickety makeshift crossing either, so this also presents a problem. There is no way we can carry her.

            I finally give Claire’s leash to Dave and step out onto the round trees. I quickly realize that I will be in the drink if I try to walk across these logs with nothing to grab onto when I lose my balance on the unsteady surface. There is a larger tree at the bottom of the dip just below the makeshift bridge. Maybe I can walk on that and use the trees for balance. I lower my butt to the threesome of trees and gingerly shuffle partway across the larger tree until I can take a flying leap to the concrete step. Once safely landed, I turn to help retrieve Claire. Dave has ended up sitting on the muddy riverbank and he pushes her towards me on the rounded trees. She quickly gets the idea and comes bounding across. That just leaves Dave to traverse the dangerous crossing. At least, I can extend my hand to him for balance. Like an old pro, Claire leaps from concrete step to concrete steps and scrambles up the muddy three-foot bank on the other side. That just leaves the old people to claw their way up on hands and knees. Well so much for being clean but we are safely across! And we didn’t even fall in the river.

            It is just a short walk along this side of the stream back to the parking area where our chariot waits to ferry us home. But first, we must cap off the day with a Dairy Queen treat.

Celebrating Our 29th Wedding Anniversary

“What should we do to celebrate our wedding anniversary?” questions my husband.

“We can’t go to a movie, eat out, or visit any museums with all the restrictions from Covid,” I reply.

“How about if we go to a different State Park that we haven’t been to before in the southeastern part of the state?

That sounds good to me so the evening before our planned adventure, Gordon researches the various state parks in Southeastern Minnesota and decides upon Beaver Creek Valley State Park close to Caledonia. Neither one has ever heard of it before and we definitely have not visited it before. He prints off some Google directions to help with our navigating.

We decide to take Claire, our puppy, with us for the day. I am beginning to think that we should have a diaper bag ready to take along just like for a baby. We need a water bottle, bowl to drink from, harness, leash, a towel to clean feet, and last but not least, doggie poop bags. By 8 a.m., we have all our supplies gathered and are ready for our conquest.

Deviating from our printed Google directions, we drive to Plainview for our usual Kwik Trip breakfast. Travel continues down Hwy 42 to Kellogg, then south on Hwy 61. We make a stop on Garvin Heights in Winona to give Claire a break. Of course, she instantly leaves her calling card after getting out of the car. Time to use those extra plastic grocery bags.

Not really knowing where we are going, we finally plug the address for Beaver Creek Valley State Park into the GPS. Oh no! Its first command directs us to Interstate 90 and insists that we get on it. No ma’am. We do not want to travel the interstate. We want to take back country roads, so we just keep driving on right over the interstate. The sign says this is County 19. The road travels along I90 for a while then turns south. Soon we find ourselves on a back-country gravel road. The landscape is rolling. Steep bluffs are contrasted with farms nestled in the valley. The trees are just starting to turn color. We wind around the sides of hills, through valleys, and along meadows with herds of beef cattle. Surprisingly, the direction goddess is silent. Now this is more like it. This twisting trailing path we are on takes us almost exactly to the state park after a sidetrack down what looks like a minimally maintained road.

It has been a densely foggy morning. A damp coolness still hangs in the air as we start our stroll across a well-crafted five-foot-wide wooden bridge. The creek gurgles lazily beneath our feet. The blacktop path transitions into a well-worn dirt track. It has rained recently so there are widely spaced mud puddles. Claire is excited and she leans into the body harness dragging me after her. It is all I can do to hold back her thirty pounds powered by four-wheel drive. Us old people behind the dog are much slower. Gordon has been struggling with plantar fasciitis making for a painful hobble at times. Still he is determined to hike and take photos today.

We soon arrive at the first creek crossing. A free-standing bridge is balanced over the water. There are no handrails, just a few wooden slats securely fastened together. Clair eagerly tugs on the leash in her hurry to investigate the flowing water. She has never been near open water before and as part Golden Retriever, Gordon and I suspect she might like water. Soon she wades into the green lilies along the shoreline. What reappears is a dog with four very muddy feet and legs. Ah! This is fun! She must be thinking. Before I can stop her, she rolls upside down in the shallow mud. No…o…o…! Now our cream-colored dog is brown on her back and top of her head. Well there is not much I can do about it right now. Maybe, I will throw her all the way in later. She pads around in the shallower areas of the flowing water until it is time to move on.

The hiking trail runs parallel to the river. Gordon and I stroll slowly along taking in the beauty of the day. Some of the trees are starting to change color. Gordon stops occasionally to take photos. Claire pulls me along with enthusiasm. I am not moving fast enough for her. She finds every small trail that divvies off to the river and turns to try make her way there. After several turns like this, she looks a sight. There are green and brown seed pods clinging to her face, her legs, and her body. What a distressing mess! Claire’s hair is wavy and about two inches long and these, what I call, prickers seem to become well enmeshed deep into the soft, thick layers.

The path we have chosen to walk is about a three-mile round trip. There are two separate loops within the greater circle. We decide to trace both loops. The day warms as the sun burns away the fog and climbs higher. Off comes my coat and then, the sweater. Gordon begins to have pain between his shoulder blades which is not uncommon, so I offer to carry the camera bag and the tripod. Both of us are starting to feel our weariness as we reach the furthest most point in our trek and turn back towards the beginning.

Claire barks robustly and loudly at every person we meet. This is unacceptable. We seem to be able to mitigate this by stopping to sit and be quiet when humans come by. It is harder to bark and lunge while seated on one’s butt. Our stops become more frequent as the number of hikers increases with the passing of the day. She also wades into the gushing water with every creek crossing of which there are many. Finally, there is a splash as she gets brave enough to jump in from one of the bridge crossings. She has lost none of her energy and continues to pull actively, trying to drag me along. The same cannot be said for us. We are moving slower and slower.

As we make our way back to the parking lot, I mark off in my head each segment of the trail as we come to a signpost. We are almost there. Finally, we come to a river crossing that does not seem to have a bridge across it.

“I don’t remember ever crossing open water,” Gordon comments.

“I don’t either,” I agree, “This must not be the right place.”

As we continue along the path, I step on a protruding rock in the path. Without warning, my left ankle turns over and I pitch forward. Claire, who I have been leaning back on trying to slow her forward motion, continues her dive forward. I have no way to stop the forward pitch. I slam into the ground with my right knee first followed by my right arm. The leash handle clatters along the ground before Claire stops and looks questioningly back at me. I lay there stunned. I want to cry. My knee hurts. My arm hurts. The camera bag and the tripod have clobbered me from behind. Gordon rescues me from the extra load. We can hear people coming so I stumble to my feet. I am glad no one saw my ridiculous spill onto the ground. Everything seems intact so we start out on our hike again. We haven’t gone more than a few hundred feet until we meet a lone older gentleman who throws a question our way, “Are you going around again?”

“No,” I reply, “Just trying to get back to the parking lot.”

The man does not say any more but as he moves on, Gordon and I look at each other.

“That’s a strange question. Are we going the wrong way? Did we miss the turn back to the parking lot?”

Now we are totally confused. “I don’t know if we are going the right way.”

“Well, let’s go back to that last crossing again and see if we missed something.”

Disheartened, we turn and trudge back the other direction. Within a few hundred feet, we arrive again at the crossing we had discussed earlier. The bridge we could not see coming from the other direction is now clearly visible off to the right.

“This must be the path back to the car.”

A few hundred more feet and it is evident that we are now going the right way. If we hadn’t met that man who asked a strange question, we would have walked another mile before realizing that we were totally turned around. It reminds me a little of life’s journey. There are others along our walk of life who try to point us in the right way. Sometimes, we don’t pay any attention to the wisdom they are offering us and end up way off course – a difficulty we could have avoided if we had been tuned in.

By now, it is pushing three o’clock in the afternoon and we are thirsty and hungry. Claire has had all the water needed from the river, but we did not remember a water bottle for ourselves.

“Where should we eat?” is the next question of the day.

I grab the local Minnesota county map book that I keep under the car seat. I quickly peruse it. “If we keep going just a few miles south on this road, we should arrive in Caledonia,” I announce, “Let’s see if we can find some fast food there.”

Caledonia turns out to be a good size town with many businesses and several franchise eating joints. We grab some Subway sandwiches and cool refreshing pop and take our treasures back to a city park that I had spied on our way into town. There we have a quiet lunch in the shade of a few trees. It is time to head for home. Our last stop at Dairy Queen in Chatfield is the “icing on the cake” as the saying goes. Time to begin year thirty in our married walk of life.

Golden . . . Or not?

“Goldendoodles AKC Registered Parents w/Champion Bloodlines, Microchipped, Shots, Potty Trained, and Some Obedience Training, $500, Call, Will Send Pictures,” so reads the ad in the “Dog” section of the Post-Bulletin. I am intrigued. I have been reading the dog ads for several months off and on since our beloved Bella died four years ago. I am looking for just the right dog to fill that empty spot in our hearts while at the same time hoping to delay getting one until I retire in a couple of years.

Claire fluff ball

 I decided a long time ago that I do not want a puppy. A puppy is exhauting during that first year while he/she grows into a lovable tolerable dog. I also do not want a dog that sheds all over my house. That means whatever dog we get needs to have poodle or one of the other small non-shedding dogs mixed into its heritage. Our first two dogs while Erin was small were non-shedding. One was a mutt consisting of American Eskimo, Pomeranian, and Toy Poodle. The second was a Bichon/Shih Tzu mixture. Then came Bella, a much begged for German Shepherd mix. Although the most lovable dog of the three, piles of hair covering all my furniture was the trademark.

The problem with my two criteria is that it is very difficult to find an older shelter dog where it is known that they have some Poodle mixed in. So this ad excites me and seems to offer a compromise. It says the puppies are “potty trained” and that they have “some obedience training.” To top off the positives as I see it, the price is right. Five hundred dollars for a golden doodle is cheap. I mull over the ad for a week before I call the number listed. And when I call, I find out that they are about five months old. They should be past the very early puppy stage as well.

“Can you come today?” questions the lady, “I have three people coming this morning to look at the females. There are four females and two males.”

I hesitate. I had not planned on making a fifty-mile trip on this Saturday. “How about if we come tomorrow afternoon?”

If I have done my math correctly, this information she has given me means there will be one female and two males left. I really do want a female. She also proceeds to tell me that this was their first time breeding dogs and they didn’t realize that having the puppies in the fall would result in not being able to get rid of them. There were eleven puppies originally and they were able to get rid of five in the fall, leaving six to winter over.

The following day, Sunday, Gordon and I make the trip to see our potential acquisition. We arrive early and the couple is waiting for us. The two males are locked up and they bring out the female. She is a beautiful puppy with a cream-colored curly coat of hair.

“She was the smallest one of the litter and always the shy one. She is really shy around new people,” the man informs us, “but she does well with us.” The puppy whom they are calling “Baby Girl” because they have not named her shrinks away from us and cowers behind the gentleman. He finally picks her up and strokes her sad droopy ears.

“Oh yes,” the lady adds, “and she piddles on the floor when a stranger comes, and she is excited.”

I am beginning to have serious doubts about taking this puppy. I have read that shy dogs often become aggressive. But we are here and I feel like we can’t just walk away.

“Can we bring her back if this doesn’t work out?” I question.

“Oh, yes. We would want you to do that.”

Shoving all the screaming doubts into the back of my head, we gather up the shaking puppy in our arms and deposit her into the kennel we have brought along in the back of the car. She is panting as fast as she can and shaking like a leaf. She is terrified. All the way home over the next hour, her rapid breathing generates torrents of water off her little pink tongue.

From the moment we arrive home, grave doubts crisscross through my mind about our decision. Clair, as we have decided to call her on the way home, refuses to get out of the kennel and then makes no effort to pee when taken outside on a leash. Snowflake, the cat, takes one look at this strange creature we have brought home, hisses with humped back at her, and whacks Claire with her paw. Clair tucks tail and scurries away in the other direction as fast as she can go. Oh, this is working out great. The puppy is now terrified of the cat and takes every opportunity to hide by the front door. By the time we head for bed, Claire has piddled pretty much everywhere on the carpeted floor upstairs but doesn’t even think about doing the same thing outdoors. Well, we were told she pees when she is frightened and being terrified of everything results in pee unbridled. So much for my expectation that this new dog has already been housetrained.

I get up a ½ hour early the next morning to take Claire outdoors. In spite of being in her kennel all night, she makes no effort to relieve herself outdoors and I can tell the kennel floor is wet. I am exhausted from lack of sleep and feeling overwhelmed by this whole situation. Why did I ever think that this was a good idea? Unable to get her to eat any breakfast or to follow me upstairs, I pick her up and carry her up with me. I set up a baby gate to keep her from running back downstairs to hide from the cat and so I can keep her in my sights. She huddles terrified by the gate while the cat nonchalantly addles by. I have no more started to wash up for the day then I hear a terrified yelp from the sitting area. I step out of the bathroom to see little brown rolls of poop tumbling out of the dog as she streaks down the hallway. This is not even half funny. I rush her outside, but of course, it is already too late. All that is left to do is clean up the mess.

After her first hair trim

I have prior obligations in town for the morning, so I place her back in her kennel for a few hours. There has still been no elimination in the great outdoors, but the kennel is again wet when I come home. I am exasperated. It is time to go back to square one with the housetraining. Apparently, the only one housetrained was the caretaker. When I think back to the situation Claire came from, I realize why there might be a problem. The puppies were only allowed access to a very small kitchen area. The rest of the house was baby-gated off. Claire has no experience with carpet or roaming free. Each puppy had their own kennel in a mudroom area, but the outdoor area used for potty training was approximately a ten by ten area cordoned off by more child fencing. The bottom of the area was covered with outdoor grass matting. I am puzzled why one would choose to use something for training that seems an awful lot like carpet. I guess it does keep the feet clean. Clair has no experience on a leash and no real experience in an actual yard either. I trudge down to the basement and retrieve the smaller kennel we used for our first two dogs. It is much more cramped but gives her less room to use for relieving herself. I put the bigger one away temporarily until I can trust her.

I have also made a decision to “enroll” our new puppy in puppy daycare at a facility along my route to work. If someone had ever told me when I was growing up on the farm that someday I would use puppy daycare, I would have laughed their head off. How silly! But here I am doing the unthinkable. It will keep Claire from being locked up for over ten hours per day and force her to interact with other people and dogs. Maybe she will grow out of this frickin cowardly behavior.

But of course, now I have to get her to the daycare each morning on my way to work. I again get up a ½ hour early on my second day of being a new puppy owner. I have made a plan so that this morning ends differently than our first – or so I think. My plan is to take her out in my pajamas and then eat breakfast while she eats hers. That way I can keep an eye on her and get her outdoors if she shows signs of relieving herself. She loves the snow, so she is delighted with our early morning escapade into the dark front yard. But that is as far as it goes. Frustrated, I give up. I need to get ready for work. I set her water and food bowls right next to the table and dole out the specified amount of food. I prepare my own breakfast and sit down to eat. I think Claire will want to be next to me and will eat while I eat, but there is another problem. Snowflake sprawls in the middle of the kitchen floor as is her usual behavior. Claire, as a result, scurries into the entryway and hides by the door. Oh, this is working so well. Having a dog who is terrified of the cat is never going to work.

My stomach is curled into a tight knot and the tension is mounting. I am feeling overwhelmed by this uncharacteristically non-puppy like animal. I again carry Claire upstairs and put up the baby gate while I go about getting ready for work. She cowers by the gate and I ignore her for now.

“What’s this?” questions my husband as he walks into the living area to turn on the TV. There on the floor again are the brown rolls. “N..o..o..o..o..o!!!!”

“This is never going to work. I think we should just take her back,” I blurt out in defeat.

“Let’s just give her a couple of weeks and then decide,” Gordon encourages.

It’s time to get started to work since I have to make that extra stop to let the puppy off. Claire, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to fight the leash much and for that I am thankful. But she has no interest in crossing the threshold into the garage. That is terrifying. With some treats and a little encouragement, we finally get that accomplished but getting into the car is a definite hardstop. Finally, I pick her up and drop her into the front seat. She sits there trembling then tries to climb over onto me. I push her back to the passenger side. She continues to try to push her quaking body over to my side on the five-mile ride to town. She refuses to even consider my treats. I don’t even try to coax her out of the car and into the dog kennel. I simply pick her up and haul her into the building. Several large dogs bark loudly and crash into the door dividing the kennel from the reception area. This has the makings of more terrorizing rather than calming. I turn and walk out. I have had all the chaos I can handle for one morning. It is Gordon’s responsibility to pick her up.

Gordon reports later that she refused to come to him when he stopped to pick her up.

“She did just fine with all the other dogs,” is the report of the kennel attendant.

Gordon carries her out to his truck and deposits her on the passenger side. Claire instantly scrambles over the two-foot-high homemade center console towards the driver’s side scattering work papers in all directions.

“I don’t think this is working at all,” is his comment later that evening. “I think we should consider taking her back.”

“Well, let’s give her a couple of weeks,” I reply. “She has only been with us a couple of days.” Gordon and I go back and forth over the course of the first week, continually switching roles in our emotions and convictions as to whether we should send her back.

By the third day, a small miracle does occur. Claire pees outside – always in the snow but outside. This could be a problem when the snow melts. And I have figured out that if I walk her down the drive before going back inside in the morning, she poops. And then Gordon starts to fall in love with her. I scour the internet looking for solutions to the cat terror issue.

“You need to take her upstairs with you in the evening and pen her up there with you,” I instruct Gordon, “She can’t just sit hiding by the front door.”

And then we hit on another solution. “Feed the dog high-desire treats while in the presence of the cat,” says one internet site. I guess it is worth a try except Claire doesn’t really care for her dog food as a treat. Not much entices her. Then we discover that people food, chicken, she is crazy over. This is a no-no (according to pet experts) but we are a couple of desperados. A couple of sessions of feeding chicken to a begging dog and cat just a few inches from each other starts an astonishing transformation. The fear is forgotten in the pursuit of the tasty morsels. Soon both cat and dog are tentatively sniffing each other and then running away. One day I hear a bark from Claire. She has gotten up the courage to bark at the cat instead of fleeing. A few more days and Claire is tormenting the cat trying to get her to run. At least, normal cat/dog behavior is appearing. Finally, the being on the lookout and running away to hide disappears. One problem solved.

The next problem we need to tackle is getting in and out of the car. We practice getting in and out with more treats. Still she shakes like a leaf and whines. I finally take her along for the three-hour ride to Ames to see Erin. She trembles most of the way down. But after a busy few hours playing with Erin’s big dogs, Claire keels over on the way home and sleeps. We have cured the overwhelming anxiety of riding in a car.

As the next weeks flow by, Claire becomes a mischievous puppy. She bounces around the house undaunted by the cat. She tears around the yard like a banshee chasing a stick. She eats every piece of garbage she finds. She jumps into the car for a ride without a second thought. What a total turnaround. She does still hit the house with her pee and poop once in a while. After all, she still is a puppy and only we are fully trained. But we both now say, “I think we’ll keep her.”

I Want Your Attention Please!

002 (2)Bella has been gone a couple of months. It is time to let her go and move on. Or so I think. What I have not considered is that the two cats, Snowflake and Clover, also had a very close relationship with Bella. They slept snuggled up every night; one on each end of the dog. But they have never particularly liked each other. Now, they start to seek contact from us, the humans. Snowflake crawls up on Hubby’s chest in the evening and snuggles in right next to his face. She scratches on our bedroom door several times during each night, disrupting our sleep. How annoying! 003 (2)Our skittish Clover who never before would allow us to touch her has decided that I am her friend. She comes every evening to my desk when I come home from work and sprawls out on top of my papers. Meow! Meow! Then she rolls around and everything slides off onto the floor.

As several weeks have passed, I think we are settling into a new routine. Father’s Day brings the obtaining of a new puppy, Willow, by our daughter for their home. Occasionally, she brings the puppy over and oh what fun it is to torment the cats. One day, after Willow has gone home, I walk past the garbage can. Whew! What is that terrible smell? The strong odor of cat urine just about barrels me over. As I investigate further, I realize it is coming from the dog kennel. We have left Bella’s kennel in its place in the entryway with the door slightly ajar. That terrible odor is coming from inside. Has the untrained puppy been using that for her place of business? I wonder. I remove the soft pad from the bottom, wash it, and close the door after replacing it. A day later, I notice Clover clawing at the door trying to get in. Then the light goes on for me. It is Clover that has been using it as a litter box. Not thinking too much more about it, I comfort myself with the thought that now that the door is closed, she will have to go back to the litter box.

If I only knew that I am so wrong. A few weeks later, our daughter informs me that the main floor bathroom now smells like cat pee. I don’t smell anything but then my smeller has been deficient for many years. As I sniff around the area and get closer to the hallway outside the downstairs bedrooms, the smell gets stronger and stronger. Great! Just great! After being blocked from using the kennel, she has moved on to using the carpet at the end of the hallway. About the same time, I get a whiff of this same smell when I step out of our bedroom door upstairs every morning. I try to convince myself that this isn’t true but after a couple of mornings, I realize that denial is no longer possible.

030This situation is royally frustrating. I remember going to visit my husband’s aunt when she was still alive and always being repulsed by the strong odor of cat pee in her house. I was never going to have a house that smelled like that. Now, I have a house that reeks of cat pee. I have no idea what to do about this. I search my brain for what might be the cause of this sudden change in habits. Is it the arrival of the new puppy that torments them occasionally? Is it the loss of Bella? Is it a territory war? Is it a bladder infection as some have suggested? I have noticed the two cats having more frequent squabbles so that is the approach I decide to pursue. I buy another Litter Robot for the main floor and place it at the end of the hallway where the cat has been urinating. I also order a black light in the hopes of finding and cleaning all the areas she has been frequenting.

Even though I think I have all the bases covered, every time I sit in my recliner in the living room, I get waves of cat urine ammonia hitting my nose. There has to be another spot I am missing. Even the black light is not clarifying my suspicions. One evening while our daughter is visiting, we go on a journey around the house. Her conclusion is that the smell is coming out of the heat vent. At first, I do not believe her but the more I sniff, the more I am convinced that she is right. Peeing down the heat vent just adds to the aroma as every time the furnace runs, it gets distributed nicely around the house. Uggh!! I’m embarrassed to even think of having visitors.

I wash out the heat vent the best that I can and schedule for a carpet cleaner to come. Maybe, the best solution would be to rip up all the carpeting and put in hardwood floors. There seems to be less fur flying so maybe having 2 litter boxes is the solution. Daughter says one is supposed to have the same number of litter boxes as there are cats plus one. The automatic ones I love so well “only” cost $500 a piece. So what’s a little money to buy a third one if it permanently solves the problem? Better yet, who wants two cats?

A Puppy Named Willow

WillowA tri-colored, 16-pound 10-week old collie puppy tries to get her feet organized to make it up our two front steps. I laugh at her. She has no steps at her own home and has no idea how to push up with her back feet to propel herself upward. Her presence at my house is in response to “Will you watch our puppy while we go to LARP this weekend?” from our daughter. What is a mother to say? I am always happy to help my daughter.

Since Bella died, I have been asked numerous times if we are going to get another dog. The answer is always “no, I am going to wait until my daughter gets one, has it trained, and then can’t keep it when she gets into the University of MN Veterinarian school. Then I will have a dog.” I have no desire to ever have a puppy again. “It is just like having a 2-year-old in the house,” I warn my offspring.

The puppy, named Willow, bounces around the dining/living area getting acquainted with, of all things, Snowflake, one of the cats. It puffs up like a marshmallow and hisses and swats from under the lamp end table. Willow is delighted and encouraged by this behavior. A moving toy to play with. After all, the cat has no front claws to do any real damage.PetsFamilyJan2013 093

Soon Willow collapses on the carpet for a nap. I decide to get some paperwork done while I don’t have to figure out where she is every five seconds. Her hour naptime is far too short for me and soon she is grabbing every piece of thread that hangs out, whether it be on the rug, the afghan, or the doll’s foot. My daughter had told me that she goes about two hours before needing to pee but I forgot to pay attention to the part about “being taken out after she wakes up from a nap.” It isn’t two hours yet so I am startled to realize the squatting puppy is peeing on my carpet. “No,” I holler, scoop her up, and rush out the door. Sigh. This is starting out well! Note to self – take her out RIGHT after she wakes up.

A well exercised puppy is a well behaved puppy is my mantra so in the mid-afternoon, we head out for a walk. I decide to use my retractable leash instead of the short 4-foot one that our children use. Willow is soon lagging off in the grass or the weeds on one side or the other of the driveway – stopping constantly to smell and inspect. Willow getting wrapped around a tree encourages me to tighten up on the length of freedom. Then she just lays down. “Come on, puppy.” I tug gently until she reluctantly gets up and swaggers after me. There is something intrinsically wrong with an old lady that can run faster than a puppy. Our walk does produce poop so the walk can be marked up as a success in the puppy sitting business – outdoors where it belongs.

018It is time to head upstairs again when we get back which is where our family tends to hang out. Willow sits at the bottom of the stairs and watches me go up. “Rrrff, Rrrff, Rrrff” She looks pathetically up at me. “OK, it is time for you to learn to go up stairs. I am not going to carry you every time we go up and down.” I clip the leash back into her harness and gently tug. I give her a boost every time she puts her front feet up onto the next step. Soon, she has traversed the 14th step. Upstairs, she kills the toy pheasant, attacks Hubby’s toes that swing so temptingly, and chews on the chair. I can feel the stress level rising. It is impossible to get anything done when my head has to spin every 30 seconds. At one point, she starts gagging like she is going to throw up. I guess those strings of floss she found to chew on are not too palatable. I can’t run fast enough to get down the stairs and out the door in time so I guide her over to the plastic chair runner. That turns out to be a smart move. Another time, I notice that she has one of my soft ear plugs in her mouth. Where she found that I will never know. Around and around we go as she thinks this is a game. I will never be forgiven when she chokes on that expanding thing. Then she keels over for a nap. I think I need another one too.WillowSleeping2

During one of our trips out doors to go potty in the afternoon, I make a rather rash decision to take her out without a leash. She doesn’t seem like a puppy that would run away. I am right about that part but I soon discover that Willow has no interest in coming back in. She plunks down in the middle of the yard and gazes at me. Such a cute, innocent puppy. She cocks her head and looks at me when I call, clap my hands, whistle, and do a chicken dance but she does not move. When I approach her, she dashes just a few more feet away and sits down again. Finally, I capture the sly puppy and haul her back indoors. I think I have learned my lesson. There obviously is a reason why the kids leave the puppy run around with the leash still attached and dragging.

By 8:30 pm, my stress level has hit about an 8 out of 10. Maybe, one more walk will wear her out enough so that everyone’s night is restful. It is a beautiful evening as we set out around the pasture while the sun slides toward the horizon. Walking, however, is not what Willow is interested in doing. I half drag, half encourage her to stay on the path and keep up with me. She stops to chew on the bottom fence wire. Try that on the next one up and you will never do that again. Even a relaxing evening walk is not relaxing. And then, Willow sees a calf. She begins a terrified dance and streaks off in the other direction. Finally, she gets brave enough to turn and courageously bark at the enemy. She trembles all over and refuses to go past those aliens. Finally, I resort to picking her up, talk calmly to her, and hold her securely while we walk the rest of the way home. Her little head keeps whipping around to calculate at what moment we will be pulverized by the thundering hooves behind us.

072I am only too thankful that bedtime has arrived. I tuck Willow into her kennel for the night. Our kennel is the same as hers at home. Our daughter assured me that she is able to get through the night without going out to go potty. I am doubtful but hopeful. I have no more reached the top of the stairs than the high pitched howling/barking begins. I take my newspaper and seclude myself in the bedroom where I am hoping the sound cannot penetrate. Again, I am wrong. After twenty minutes, I am about to lose my mind. My earplugs are downstairs in the cupboard. Do I want to get up and go get them? And then, just like that, peaceful silence reigns. I finally fall into a fitful sleep.

A little after 6 a.m., I crawl out of bed and escort the excited puppy outdoors where she successfully empties her bladder. We walk around for a few more minutes as in the back of my mind, I am thinking she should soon need to poop again. When nothing happens, we traipse back into the house. I scoop breakfast into her bowl. She is busy eating. She looks so innocent and I need to get ready for church. I head back upstairs to the bathroom. I don’t think I have spent more than five minutes freshening up when I decide to check on Willow. I do not put my glasses on so my world is blurry. As I head down the stairs, I notice brown sticks all over the living room carpet. What in the world has she gotten into in five minutes? As I get closer, I am horrified to realize the brown sticks are poop rolls everywhere. How could such a small animal poop so much in such a short time? If in the declining memory of old age, I have forgotten why I never want a puppy, I have starkly been reminded.

When our daughter and son-in-law come to pick up the puppy later in the day, Willow jumps up and down with joy, then without a bit of difficulty, proudly shows off her stair climbing skills as she disappears out of sight to the upper level. Funny, she couldn’t do that an hour ago. So the weekend did have one success. Willow can now climb stairs all by herself.

For the Love of a Dog – Saying Good-bye

Springtime2013 012By the end of the first week on a good dose of Doxycycline, Bella looks pretty chipper. She begs to go for a walk with me. Then suddenly by nightfall, she regresses.

“Bella looks terrible tonight,” Hubby greets me as I come in the door from volunteering work.

“She looked great this morning,” I counter.

She refuses to eat her evening meal and she staggers when she tries to run. I excuse what we are seeing as being weakness caused from not eating. If I could only get her to eat. I go back to the first vet and ask for some prednisone tablets which I break into 10 and 5 mg doses. This may be a huge mistake but I conclude that she is starving to death so it does not much matter about the effects of long term prednisone. I continue the doxycycline 400mg per day and add 10mg of prednisone. Within a day, she is gobbling a can of soft cat food mixed with her dry dog food. With a sigh of relief, I pack up several cans of cat food, a bag of dry dog food, all her medications, and accessories and meet our daughter for an exchange. She will keep Bella for the weekend while Hubby and I make a trip to Long Prairie, MN for a book promotion weekend.

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Treehouse B&B @ Long Priarie, MN

Bella wags her tail happily and excitedly whines to get out of Daughter’s house and into my car when I go to pick her up on Sunday. She looks like her normal self. Daughter tells me that she bought some canned dog food, warmed it up, and mixed it with the dry dog food. Bella has been chowing it down like a healthy dog. When I get Bella home, I make a decision, that in looking back, results in a final decline. I decrease the prednisone dosage to 5 mg a day, thinking that a small maintenance dose might be all that is needed to keep her on an even keel until we can finish all her antibiotics.Powerline construction 014

I can tell Bella is still running a fever as she puffs when it isn’t in-the-least-bit hot but otherwise, seems stable. But by Tuesday, things have changed. I send her out to go potty before we leave for the evening. She seems OK when I put her out but is totally dizzy and disoriented when she comes back in. She cannot walk a straight line and lays down in the middle of the floor as she can’t navigate. This is the first either of us have seen her like this. I expect to find her dead when we come home but she wags her tail in greeting and does not seem worse than before. However, by the next evening, she is refusing to eat again and I have to force the pills down her throat. The part of me that is a nurse knows that there is no longer any hope. We have fallen back into a deep dark hole and I see no point in doing this anymore. The emotional part of me wants to save her and the logical part of me knows that it is not possible.

By Thursday morning, it is obvious that Bella has seriously declined again. I had been told by a colleague at work about a vet clinic in Eden Prairie where they can do MRIs, CT scans, and all kinds of advanced tests at their clinic. As a last ditch effort, I assist Bella into the car and make a two-hour drive to this clinic in Eden Prairie. While I fill out paper work, the assistant takes Bella away to exam her. They then meet with me to explain what they would like to do and how much it will cost. They are recommending some blood work, a urinalysis, a chest x-ray, and some biopsies if they see any enlarged lymph nodes. They will be happy to perform all of these things that day, all to the tune of $1500 due and payable before I leave. Whoa! That’s a lot of money. Other than the blood work, which they already have from the local vet a couple weeks earlier, I don’t see that any of the other things will be particularly helpful.

“What would an MRI cost?” I ask.

“$3000”

“Guess that is not going to be happening.” I assert.

“Do you realize that Bella had no platelets already on the bloodwork done at your local clinic? Did he mention that to you?” Doc asks.

I sort through my brain trying to remember what was said at the local clinic. I think lower that normal platelets were mentioned but not “no platelets.” I don’t know what to do.

“I want to call my husband and daughter before I make a decision.” I tell the veterinarian.

“OK, we will leave you alone for a time while you call your family.”

Again, the emotional part of me wants to keep going but the rational part of me knows it is time to quit. “I think we are just pouring money down a deep dark hole,” I finally communicate my decision to the veterinarian after talking to Hubby and Daughter.015

“Well, if you don’t let us do any of this, we can’t help you,” is her response back. Now I feel guilty and like I am a really bad pet owner. But I am resolute. It is time to go. My plan is to go home and increase the prednisone to 20 mg twice a day. This is the treatment for an auto-immune disorder that is causing her to destroy her platelets. It is what I should have been doing all along. That is why she got better during the couple of days I had her on 10mg per day of the prednisone. None of the other stuff being proposed is going to be of any help.

Bella lies quietly on the back car seat on the way home. She meets my eyes every time I look back at her. I hold a tiny little hope that we can still turn this around. But it is too late. By evening, her breathing has changed to being more labored and there is a red fluid dripping from her nose. She refuses her food and her pills. We struggle to get them down her. It takes all her strength to follow Hubby down the stairs and out the door for her before bed potty time. Then she heads out across the yard and lies down instead of coming back in. She just looks at us when we call her name.

“Can you come and help me bring Bella back in?” Hubby implores. “I can’t leave her out there tonight.” Frost is predicted and the temperature is supposed to drop into the 20s.

I wake up several times during the night wondering if she is still alive.

“Can you go down and check on Bella?” are the first words out of Hubby’s mouth in the morning.

“I’m going,” I reply. I already know what I will find. I find her lying in the mud room where life has fled. She is at peace now. Sadness envelopes me. Bella had become a part of who we are.

I make a phone call to Daughter and we plan for a burial in our pet grave yard in the woods on Saturday morning. Hubby digs the grave on Friday evening while I am at work. “I cried the whole time I was digging,” he says with sorrow.

Hubby and Daughter sob and embrace as we carefully lay our beloved pet to rest. If I start to cry, I will never stop.

“Bella, and Blackie, and Honey Spot, and Purr will be waiting in heaven for us,” Daughter declares. Maybe they will. Maybe they will. Who am I to say they won’t be?

For me, the emptiness of the house is what messes with my brain the most. There is no happy barking when someone comes or the doorbell rings. There is no ringing of the bell on the door saying, “I want to go out.” There is no begging for food or play. There is no wagging tail and happy greeting of unconditional love when I come home. I have to keep telling myself she is no longer here.

“Are you going to get another dog?” Is the question that keeps being asked. I don’t want another dog. I want Bella.045

For the Love of a Dog

PetsFamilyJan2013 143“Come Bella,” I call from the bottom of the stairs. I repeat the summons several times before Bella staggers down the stairs and stumbles out the door to go potty. I sigh. A feeling of hopelessness creeps through my chest and into my heart. For several days now Bella has refused to eat, no longer desires to play, and lies upstairs puffing. She has grown thin and emaciated. I am at my wits end. I took Bella to the vet for the third time three days ago for these same symptoms. “She has a temperature of 104 degrees F,” was his verdict. We do not know why.

Early in January, during her last excursion outdoors before bedtime, her frantic barking alerted us. On the security camera, we could see her aggressive stance as she faced off with some unknown creature in the yard. A few minutes of protecting “her” property and she returned to the house, seemingly unscathed. But a few days later, she seemed mildly lethargic and had stopped eating. I wasn’t too worried as she has had times of skipping meals in the past. She continued to bring her indoor ball to me when I would come home, begging me to play. I did notice a small area of black on the bottom of her tongue. I don’t remember her tongue having a black colored spot there. I quickly dismissed my observation as irrelevant. One evening, I noticed very bad breath arising from her mouth each time she delivered her treasure to me. Whew! That smell was enough to knock me over. Still not giving it much thought, a few more days went by. One evening, as she stood panting, waiting for me to throw her ball, I noticed part of her tongue was missing and the remaining slit looked swollen and infected. So maybe that is why she wasn’t eating properly.363

After a trip to the vet for some antibiotics and prednisone pills, Bella began to eat regularly again and to play like her long-forgotten puppy self. Being between 7 and 8 years old, she is no longer a puppy so it was obvious that the prednisone had transformed her into the energetic frisky dog she once was. It seemed that all was back to normal. All of us were happy and returned to other life concerns.

But the good times were not to last. About 4 days after the last of the prednisone pills, Bella again started skipping meals. Oh well. I’m sure she will come around in a couple of days and be OK.

“Bella is not eating at all,” my concerned hubby conveyed to me a couple of evenings later. “And it seems like she is puffing more than normal,” he continued.

Oh dear. I had to work for the next day so I couldn’t make an appointment until the following day. “She has a fever of 104,” was the vet’s observation. “Let’s just treat her conservatively with Doxycycline for a couple of weeks and see what happens.”

That sounded good to me. Bella has always been an easy dog to give pills to which makes treating her easy. Wrap the pill in a piece of meat and give it a toss. She just opens her mouth wide and swallows whole whatever you are tossing her. Over the next couple of days, she slowly improved and went back to eating and behaving normally.power pole and birds 145

One day, however, while taking her for a walk, she was panting with maximum open mouth. As she and I puffed to the top of a steep hill, she was slightly above me and I had an unimpeded view into her open mouth. I noticed two slits on her tongue running lengthwise with her tongue further back in her mouth. That is weird. Is it possible that she has a rough or sharp tooth that is cutting her tongue? This really doesn’t make any sense.

I stopped at the vet clinic the next day and asked to make an appointment to have her sedated so that they could inspect her mouth and teeth for mechanical reasons for the slits and poor appetite.

“I would like to have you finish the antibiotics and then come back and we will take a look,” was the desire of the veterinarian.

OK, I guess I can live with that as Bella seemed to be totally back to normal. I made the appointment for a week later on March 30. I was hoping that they could also clean her teeth and x-ray her front shoulders while she was sedated as she had been limping on her front end off and on for over a year. Apparently, I did not communicate this well as when I brought her in for her appointment, I was told they did not have time to do all I was requesting that day.

“Then let’s make a new appointment when you can do all those things while only sedating her once,” I requested

“We are very busy and don’t have any opening for any kind of surgery until April 11.”

That date is almost two weeks out but I agree to the change. After all, Bella seems OK at the moment. Several days later about 4 days after completing her course of doxycycline, Bella has stopped eating again. By the following Friday, it is evident that she is seriously ill. “Bella is not going to make it to her appointment on Tuesday,” I explain to the receptionist who agrees to take her that day. “Can you draw labs too and check her for Lyme’s disease?” I implore.

They sedate her and inspect her mouth. “Her tongue looks pretty rough,” the receptionist conveys to me when I pick her up, “but it is completely healed. The only thing the doc finds abnormal is that she is running a fever of 104 degrees again. He left some antibiotics for her.” I pick up the bottles and look at them. There is a bottle of Flagyl and one of Amoxicillin. The course of treatment is for 10 days. I was hoping that he would give me more of the doxycycline since it seemed to work the last time. “I want to give her doxycycline again and try an extended course of antibiotics,” I explain to the receptionist. “Did he check her for Lyme’s” I continue my questioning. She shouts to the veterinarian who is working in the back room and he shouts back to her, instructing her to give me two more weeks’ worth of the doxycycline. I am frustrated by the lack of one-on-one communication and the inability to get what I believe is needed. He did not believe it necessary to check for Lyme’s so did not draw that test. “All of her other labs look pretty normal.”

“Alright, I will try this,” I say, “but I don’t think it is going to work.”

By now, Bella is so sick that she refuses not only her regular food but all treats as well. It has become impossible to get her to take her pills. She just smells what I have to offer and turns away. I want to cry. If I can’t get her to take the pills, she is going to die. “I can’t handle another loss,” is the sentiment expressed by my hubby. What am I going to do? There are two pills to give morning and night. There is nothing to do but pry open her mouth and shove them down the back of her throat with my fingers. Hope wells up each morning and I hurry down to see if she has started to eat her food.  But each morning and night, it lays untouched. Three days go by and Bella shows no signs of improvement. Each day, she slowly deteriorates. She no longer asks to play, she no longer walks with me and goes out only to urinate. She does continue to drink water and urinate which is a good sign but I have resigned myself that she is going to die and there is nothing I can do about it.PetsFamilyJan2013 196

“Should I make an appointment for Bella at the clinic where I work?” reads the text from my daughter.

“Yes, go ahead,” I respond. What can it hurt? I see no hope with what we are doing.

With a sense of foreboding, I take Bella 30 miles to this other vet clinic. She reacts weakly to the Lyme’s test. She is still running a 104 fever. But this vet and I agree to put her back on doxycycline at a higher dose and for a month. This vet also gives me a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to reduce the fever and a drug to increase her appetite. Will it work? I do not hold out much hope but it is the last ditch effort. Is it silly to pray for the recovery of a dog, I wonder? At this point I don’t care how silly it is. We pray every night for Bella to get better.

The problem this new regime creates is that I now have five pills to get down her throat every morning and she is not the least bit interested in our attempts to help her. There must be a better way. When I took care of cows, we had a pill gun to give pills to uncooperative cows. What can I use to make a pill gun? Then it comes to me. Vaginal estrogen cream and vaginal anti-fungal creams come with applicators. This is unconventional but I craft one into a pill gun for Bella. I find that if I mix some yogurt around the pills, they slide out nicely and into Bella’s mouth. Ever so slowly, Bella gets better over the next week. She begins to ask to play again, agrees to go for short walks with me, and gingerly starts to eat small amounts again. She still won’t touch her dog food but readily gobbles down the cat food. If she wants to be a cat, I guess we are OK with that for now. My hubby and I cheer when she finally gulps her pills wrapped neatly in bologna. Will this recovery be permanent or will she again relapse when the month is up? Only time will tell. I never realized the love of a dog could pull so hard at one’s heartstrings especially since my heartstrings tend to be loosely tied.