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.