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To Birdie, With Love.

Birdie died this year. We made the decision to let our sweet old girl go on April 4th.

Birdie had kidney disease for months, but in the final week of March the disease finally began taking its toll on her little 15 year old body. We didn’t want her to suffer, so we said goodbye.

Just a month before that, our cat Gus died suddenly of congestive heart failure.

Losing Gus and Birdie back to back was devastating. 2017 was a really hard year.

birdie back porch

I’ve wanted to write a loving tribute to Birdie for months.

Since 2011, I’ve been sharing stories about my life with her on this blog. I felt like I owed it to her to write about her death here. And to write something spectacular, because she deserves that and then some.

I haven’t been able to do it. Writing about her death makes it feel so real. Like losing her again, on another level. Up until now it just hurt too much to do it.

And nothing – NOTHING – I write now feels good enough.

But now the year is coming to an end, I feel like it’s the right time to say goodbye to her here. To wait any longer feels wrong.

Many of you read about Birdie’s experience with physical therapy on this blog and I hear from lots of you through email, asking for updates on how Birdie is doing today.

I haven’t been able to reply to those emails all year. Now you know why.

birdie swims.jpg

Thank you for letting me share my life with Birdie with all of you. Losing her has helped me to realize that it’s time for me to bring my writing here to a close too.

This chapter of my life feels like it’s come to an end. I have loved writing this blog more than you know, even if I haven’t written much here the past couple of years.

I guess I was avoiding this ending too.

But I want to honor my girl and this space with a real goodbye.

I shared a version of what’s written below with friends and family back in April. I thought I could and should write something better for the blog, but I haven’t been able to do that. Maybe I don’t have to.

Birdie was a straightforward dog. Loving her was not complicated.

So I’ll keep it simple and true:

Birdie’s 15 year old body was ready to rest, but we were not ready to let her go. We would gladly take another nine years with her.

Birdie spent the first six years of her life in a shelter in Arkansas and somehow, in this world overflowing with dogs and people, she found her way to our home, just two months after we moved to Maine.

That was almost ten years ago.

Thank you Universe for keeping her safe all of those years until we were ready for her.

Birdie belonged with us.

She was the sweetest, gentlest, old soul.

This is what she loved:

Taking naps in the sun, rolling in the grass, going on vacation with us in the summer, digging holes to lie in and munching on bugs in the dirt, being our co-pilot in the car, taking walks to smell all the smells, meeting little kids, and having her ears rubbed.

Not once did she let me forget when it was time for dinner.

Which was 3pm. On the dot.

If we weren’t home at that time, we’d drive home laughing and shouting up the road, “We’re coming Bird! Dinner is coming!”

Birdie barked once every other year, just so we would know she could.

She mostly snuffled at us. I hope I never forget that sound.

There are so many details about her body, her personality, our life together. I want to share them all as some sort of public declaration and documentation of how much she was loved.

But I know I don’t have to do that.  So I’m going to keep those tiny treasures for myself. 

Birdie was a tough old girl. She lived until the wheels came off her busted little body.

Our hearts have been broken all year with missing her. 

Birdie Dog, we love you.

Thank you for waiting so long for us to find you, so that we could be your family.

Until we meet again sweet girl.

birdie sniffs

Thank you to Almost Home Rescue for bringing Birdie to us. Thank you to her foster family for caring for Birdie. Thank you to the staff at Lone Pine who cared for her for 6 years. Thank you to Gayle for taking care of Birdie’s aches and pains and for holding her head up so she could swim. Thank you to the staff at Pine Point Vet Hospital for taking such good care of Birdie (and me) all the way to the very last moments. Your kindness will never be forgotten. Thank you to everyone who cared about Birdie over the years. Thank you. 

One last note: This is almost it. I have one more blog to write here at NFADW, so I can share where I’m going in 2018 and how we can stay in touch. So I’ll see you again in this spot once more.

Lots of love to all of you in this new year.

–  Jessica

birdie fence





DIY Wobble Board For Your Dog

Birdie is doing well these days (knock on all the wood) and she’s been fully mobile for a while, so our new goal is to rebuild muscle in her leg. In order to do that, she has to learn that’s it’s ok to use it again, since she’s been avoiding putting weight on it for so long. (Need to catch up? You can read about Birdie’s ACL tear and rehab here and here)

One way to do that is to use a Wobble Board. At physical therapy, our therapist had Birdie stand on one as we gently moved the board around. This forced Birdie to shift her weight to the atrophied leg and activated those weaker muscles as she balanced herself.

I don’t have any photos of Birdie on the board because my hands are always full – I’m holding her in place so she’s secure, but you can see a Wobble Board in action here.

We wanted to keep this up at home, but money is tight, so I couldn’t buy a new Wobble Board. Birdie’s therapist suggested I make my own.

I found a piece of kitchen counter top from the 1950’s (check out that mid-century metallic flecking) sitting around the house and it practically screamed “I wanna rock your dog’s world!”. Who am I to deny an old kitchen counter a new life as physical therapy equipment for my dog?

And so it was born: The Kitchen Counter Weeble Wobble. Also known as the DIY project for people who don’t want to measure much or cut anything.

This is how you can make something similar at your house:

1. Find a piece of counter top, a table top, or get some plywood. It should be big enough that your dog can stand on it with all four legs.

wobble board

2. Next you’ll need a softball, an approx. 4 inch screw, and a couple of washers. Find the center of the ball and with a drill, screw that, uh, screw through the ball and into the center of the board. We stuck a washer between the board and the ball for good measure.

board back

3. Now you’ll need something to act as tread for your dogs. I used rubbery shelf liners. You can also use adhesive stair treads/strips or any variety of gripping, non-skid tape. To get my drawer liners to stick, I used Gorilla Glue (with rubber gloves because I prefer my fingertips with the skin on them).

board supplies

4. After I laid down the tread, I smushed it down real good. If you’re wondering, that’s exactly how Bob Villa describes this step in “This Old Wobble Board.”  And then I let it dry overnight.

board front

5. Done! Wobble it Baby.

board pinterest

Note: this is a pretty steeply angled board. I hold Birdie while she’s on it so she doesn’t hurt herself launching off of it. You can learn how to make a real deal, cut your own pieces of wood, lower wobble board here so you can do more rehab exercises like these.

Don’t want to make one? You can buy a Wobble Board. Check out this one from Fit Paws.

Not sure if you need one of these bad boys in your life? Here’s a few ways your dogs might benefit from the Wobble Board:

1. They improve balance, mobility, and joint strength.

2. If your dog wants to impress all the other dogs at Pilates, they’ll need one of these to work their core.

3. They can help boost your dog’s confidence. Shy dogs can benefit from from tackling weird stuff like this. Start slow and reward generously. Next thing you know, your shy dog will be boldly asking the head cheerleader to Prom.

4. They can help get your dog ready for the Teeter Totter in agility. This is a good intro to all moving thingamajigs.

5. They increase body awareness which can be helpful for just about any dog. Working with the board helps them to become more aware of all four of their limbs. Or two limbs.

 

In other Birdie-Busts-a-Move news, her physical therapist got a brand new, state of the art space ship  hydrotherapy treadmill which we got to try out for the first time last month.

birdie treadmill 2

Birdie, who is as excited about swimming as I am about doing my taxes, did much better on the treadmill than in the pool. I think she liked that she could keep her head above water. She walked at a good pace for 10 minutes. The point? To rebuild that skinny leg!

birdie treadmill

Wobble On!



No Surgery, No Problem: Treating Our Dog’s ACL Tear

Birdie graduated this month (from physical therapy, not Yale).

Turns out, we are doing pretty ok without that surgery she was supposed to get. Conservative Management has officially saved the day by taking care of Birdie’s injury and respecting our budget. Let’s discuss: 

First of all, I’m double-dog-daring myself to believe that she really is doing as well as she seems to be doing. The pessimist in me isn’t entirely convinced. Frankly, I’m afraid that as I write about how well she’s doing, Birdie’s leg is going to spontaneously combust. I have a fire extinguisher next to my desk, just in case.

Anyway, when Birdie tore her ACL this summer (a complete tear, not just a partial), surgery was the recommended course of action. For better or worse, we couldn’t afford it, so we had to explore other options. We landed on a conservative management plan. Here’s what we did: First we restricted her activity. No jumping on and off the couch, no running around in the yard. The goal was to restrict movement and allow stabilizing scar tissue to form. Birdie didn’t mind this lack of activity as her DNA test revealed that Birdie is indeed half Beagle and half a baked potato.

That being said, Birdie isn’t overweight. If she was, we would have had to put her on a diet. Extra weight is hard on injured legs. We did add a new heavy duty joint supplement, plus lots of stinky fish oil to her diet. After a couple of weeks on NSAIDs (which were too hard on her liver and kidneys to continue using them), she’s been off any and all medications. We also added non-slip area rugs around the house, so that Birdie wouldn’t slide on our hard wood floors and tweak her leg or back.

Most importantly, we started hanging out with our physical therapist, Gayle Hickok, a lot. We started with five visits in a row that first week post-surgical consult. At each visit, Birdie got some time with the cold laser, manual treatments and exercises, and then hydrotherapy in Gayle’s heated saltwater pool.

birdie swims

Ton o’ Bricks hits the high seas


Birdie was not interested in swimming – never, not once, not at all. She chose to practice nonviolent resistance by standing still on the pool’s ramp without budging or blinking. Birdie is the Rosa Parks of canine hydrotherapy.

She is also surprisingly strong for a small senior citizen and “Ton o’ Bricks” Birdie had to be lifted into the water, all dead weight, by her life jacket. Once she was in the water, Gayle would gently guide her through exercises. Birdie occasionally faked massive reverse sneezing attacks in order to escape the pool (we know she was faking because the reverse sneezing stop the second her paws hit the concrete. Also, she was laughing at us).

On the other hand, Birdie thought the laser and manual treatments were exquisite, since that part of the rehab required that she be hand fed chicken while lying down on a soft bed. That’s my girl. I was also happy that these treatments were addressing her whole body, not just her bum leg.

Over the past three months we reduced our visits to twice a week, then once a week, then just every other week. From the start, Gayle felt that we had made the right choice – conservative management – rather than surgery, and Birdie’s improvements have backed that up.

About a month into Birdie’s physical therapy visits, we also began using a product at home called the Loop which produces a Pulsed Electromagnetic Field around her injured bits.The Loop is supposed to reduce inflammation and pain and increases blood circulation. I can’t say for sure if it’s helped, but it does compliment the other therapies we’re doing and Birdie continues to be pain-med-free.

birdie loop

Birdie, wearing the Loop, looks sad because no one is feeding her chicken right-this-second.


Last week, Gayle said that Birdie was good to go for a month or more until our next visit. This worried me (my DNA test reveals I’m part Eeyore). But Gayle swore to me that Birdie’s leg is in great condition. She has full extension, is weight bearing and can walk and run around, plus she has no obvious signs of pain when her leg is being manipulated. She’s come a long way since our first visit when she was only using her leg about 50% of the time.

Birdie won’t be competing in a decathlon any time soon ever, but our hope was to reduce Birdie’s pain and help her get mobile again. It looks like we did it. She still has days where she’s a little gimpy, which could be the injury or it might be coming from her atrophied leg muscles. We’re working on rebuilding her muscle and strength in that leg. But most of the time, she’s doing fine.

It’s hard to say which piece of the puzzle had the biggest impact on her recovery. Our physical therapist isn’t sure either. She keeps reminding me that all of the therapies and supplements are playing a part in her recovery and are working together to support her overall health and well being.

That’s the funny thing about taking this approach – it’s clearly working, but there are days when I still doubt myself and the choices I’ve made for Birdie.  The surgical option, plus the recovery and physical therapy that would have followed it, seems so much more tangible and measurable. With the conservative management approach, it’s a bit more subtle and there are fewer vets involved. Things have been going so well, we haven’t been back to see a vet since our original surgical consult.

birdie cold laser

Birdie and Gayle: What’s a little laser between BFFs?


I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to believe Birdie is really ok. Sometimes I get a little panicky with an internal dialogue that goes something like this: “What if she’s not really better? What if we were wrong and she really does need the surgery? What if her leg is only pretending to be a real leg, but it’s really made up of marshmallows and candy canes, which is why she’s always licking herself? Will we have to buy her a whole new leg then? What if? What if? What if?”

That’s why I have to keep reminding myself that when Birdie runs across the yard it’s the real deal. She’s not faking it so that I won’t worry about her. Dogs are a pretty honest bunch, which I really appreciate. They don’t put on a show for our benefit (They will do it for their own benefit. See: Birdie sneezing in pool).

Dogs don’t tell fibs or fake it to save us from feeling badly or worrying about them. If you give them a toy that they don’t like, dogs won’t play it. Or eat food they think it’s awful. Or sleep on a bed they think is uncomfortable. Dogs don’t tell white lies to spare our feelings.

So I’m starting to believe that Birdie really is as good as she looks. Her life is back to normal. Opting out of that surgery we couldn’t afford in the first place wasn’t such a bad choice after all. In fact, it might have been the right choice, even if we could have afforded the surgery.

It makes me wonder how many dogs would benefit from a conservative management approach as a first option, not a “that’s all we can afford” option. Based on your earlier comments, many people never hear a peep from their vet that conservative management/physical therapy might be an option. That’s a shame. Some dogs do need the surgery, of course, but depending on the individual dog and/or the financial situation of the owner, there are other routes to explore. Vets should at least mention it.

I don’t want to jinx anything – Birdie’s leg hasn’t burst into flames yet – so I’ll just end things by knocking on wood and sharing some resources for non-surgical options if you’re in a similar boat and want to learn more about what’s out there.

Mutt Knee Brace

The Loop

WoundWear

DogLeggs 

In Maine: Pawsitive Results K-9 Rehabilitation 

Whole Dog Journal: Alternatives to Canine Surgery

Whole Dog Journal: Laser Therapy for Rehab

Yahoo Group: Canine Conservative Management

If you know of others, please share in the comments!

Have Dogs, Will Travel: Vacation Rental Edition

Vacations are the best thing ever. Back in the day Mr. Dog Walker and I used to travel a lot and took some pretty sweet vacations. Lately we’ve been sticking closer to home due to some budget constraints brought on by a mix-up with The Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. They keep bringing that giant check to places that aren’t my house.

Anyway, that means that for the past few years we’ve skipped the plane rides and rented a cabin here in Maine. That’s turned out to be pretty awesome, because we get to take the dogs with us on our summer vacations and explore our new-ish home state together.

Renting a house is a really great idea if you want to vacation with dogs in general. If you have a reactive dog or a dog that doesn’t like being left at home for any reason, it’s the business.

We’ve rented three different houses with Boogie and Birdie, so I thought I’d share some things that have helped us enjoy our rentals. It’s not a complete list of everything you need to know. It’s just the weird stuff that helps us get our particular vacation groove on:

1. The Secret Password is Secluded: I use VRBO to search for rentals. When I find some that I like, I scour the descriptions and reviews from past renters for certain words: “secluded”, “private”, “in the middle of nowhere”,  or my personal favorite: “I didn’t have to close the blinds or curtains because there was no one around to see me getting undressed.” I immediately throw out any rental with reviews that say stuff like: “super friendly neighbors that drop by”, “the owners are right next door”, or “very dog friendly – everyone nearby had a dog.”

whoa sign

This is the kind of thing I like to see when I rent a place.


2. Lurk it Out: Then I look at the photos listed very closely. Most of the photos of the outside of the house will be strategically staged, so even the most packed-in cabins seem like they’re spaced far away from one another. But in the interior photos of the house, I can sometimes glean a little more info by looking at any windows pictured. Sometimes I spot the neighbors pressing their faces into the kitchen window. Or, more likely, I might spot a building right outside the bathroom window. Maybe it’s just a shed, but maybe it’s the house next door. If I’m still not sure how private the property is, I just ask the owners how close the nearest house is and tell them we’re looking for privacy because we’re hermits with a life threatening allergy to polite chit chat.

(Note: In the comment section a reader reminded me of another way to lurk: satellite maps! Those have been helpful for me in the past too, so check those out. Thanks Sara!)

3. Timing Is Everything: We always book our week at the very end of August/beginning of September. We do this to avoid the crowds, families with kids (they’re back in school by then), and other renters. Some of the places we’ve rented that have been very private were that way because the house next door was unoccupied/closed down for the summer. We’ve also found that by that time of the year (in Maine at least), many houses are empty Monday-Thursday, with just weekend visitors. So even if you have neighbors, it’s just for a couple of days. If you can be flexible about the times you travel, try aiming for shoulder season rentals.

4. Cover Up: After we arrive, we want to make sure we get our security deposit back. So we always pack 4-6 blankets/sheets to drape over all the couches and chairs in the house. Most rentals do not allow dogs on the furniture. I don’t know about you guys, but my dogs live on the furniture at home and it would confuse the pants off of them if they weren’t allowed to get on the furniture while on vacation. So instead of trying to explain it to the dogs or the owners, I just cover everything in sheets and let them sit where they want. At the end of the week, I take off the blankets and viola! No fur.

Also: I remove decorative pillows and throws from couches, etc. and put them in a closet. I take them back out when we go. A sticky roller never hurt either. I roll the place on the way out.

birdie rocks 3

Birdie rocks hard on vacation


5. Home Alone, In Stages: Leaving the dogs in the new house alone for the first time always makes me nervous, so on the first day we don’t really go anywhere. By day two or three, I usually have a pretty good sense of who might stop by (usually the owner or caretaker stops by the first day or so to say hello) and the dogs are settling into a routine. When we leave them alone in the house for the first time, we just do a short trip – like out to lunch – and come back to find out if they’ve had any trouble. By mid-week, we’re leaving them alone in the house all day while we do some major exploring.

Our dogs are comfortable being home alone normally, so this isn’t much of a stretch for them. I’m just making sure the new place doesn’t have any quirks,like ghosts of former vacationers, that might freak them out. But if your dog has accidents or is destructive in your own home, bring a crate.

6. Emergency Strange Dog Plan: Even the most secluded places will usually have a local dog or two that like to stop by to say “hi” to the new renters. This is a problem for us.

Here’s what we do if we spot a loose dog near our rental house: Mr. Dog Walker picks Boogie up and carries him into the house. I walk towards the unfamiliar dog to try to intercept them. Birdie plays mid-fielder. That sounds obvious right?

Here’s the rule that makes this handy: No Discussion. We don’t debate it. We see the dog, Boogie gets picked up and brought in the house. No discussion between us and no discussion with Boogie. Having this quick, no questions asked plan gives us peace of mind. Most of the time the plan is activated for nothing, but a few times it’s saved us from some really sticky situations.

When we’re far from the house, it’s a similar plan. One of us removes Boogie, while the other stays behind with Birdie to deal with the loose dog. This is also helpful in all kinds of random travel moments, like bathroom breaks in unfamiliar areas or even getting on and off a ferry. One person picks up and goes (or just walks the dog away), while the other stays put and handles the other dog. If you’re alone, here are some tips for dealing with loose dogs.

Also, it’s worth noting that a muzzle is a pretty awesome tool to use whenever you’re traveling and can’t be sure of what scenarios your dog might encounter. Ain’t no shame in the muzzle game. Be proud of being proactively safe.

boogie on the rocks

Boogie just wants to hike. He doesn’t want to say “hi” to your dog. It’s his vacation. He can do what he wants.


7. Pack Like a Scout: Finally, every vacation of ours has been made a little easier by packing a lot of extra toys, calming treats, their beds from home, two long tie-outs to use in the yard (there’s never a fence), and a bottle of Hibiclens to clean the inevitable scrapes and bumps that come with hanging out in the Maine woods. Also, booze for me.

Man, now I just want to go on vacation again. Why can’t we work one week a year and go on vacation the other 51? That seems like a way better deal.

How about you? What are some ways you’ve made vacation with your dogs, especially DINOS, a little easier? Share in the comments!

Oh, and here’s a couple more resources that might help you plan a fun dog-friendly trip: Go Pet Friendly! And a great blog with tips on vacationing with a reactive dog.

Why We Rescue: Maddie On Things Visits Maine

Earlier this year I got to meet photographer Theron Humphrey when he passed through Maine as part of his “Why We Rescue” book tour. He was in town to promote his book, Maddie on Things and, as he does on each of his stops, he visited with a local family who share their lives with rescued pets. We got picked to represent Maine. Woot!

If you haven’t met Theron and Maddie before, they’re the team behind all those amazing photos of the gorgeous Coonhound standing on everything from banisters to basketball hoops. You can see her in all her Zen-like glory here.

(Oh, and no, I didn’t meet Maddie. She was doing yoga or fly fishing or something while we did our photo shoot).

Maddie_on_Things_Cover



So the thing is: I’m a total hermit and, despite being a loudmouth, I’m actually kind of shy (giving a speech to a crowd is no problem, but one-on-one interviews make me want to pass out), so sharing these photos makes me feel kinda funny! But if you want to lurk into my life a little, here are few of the photos from our shoot:

jessica dolce

This is me looking cool. For once. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again any time soon.

 

Jessica Dolce

Birdie can stand on things too Maddie. Like this deck. Don’t be jealous.

 

jessica dolce

Boogie + Ball = a love affair for the ages

 

ME-39

Brian (aka Mr. Dog Walker) just causally hanging out mid-stream. You know, it’s how we do.

 

jessica dolce

This is my wee cat Gizmo. She’s got a tiny butt.

 

jessica dolce

Remember I told you that I have a weird entrance to my house? Here it is. We put our remote doorbell on the sliding glass door (otherwise visitors have to enter the enclosed “porch” to ring the real bell).

You can see the rest here and listen to me give a nervous interview about my pets. Caution: If you are still (somehow) under the impression that I am not huge dork, this will blow your mind.

I highly recommend flipping through the other states and families. There are so many lovely photos and stories from kind-hearted, intelligent people who chose to open their homes to shelter and rescue pets. We’re all part of a growing club that knows how lucky we are to be sharing our lives with “recycled” pets.

If you’re one of the five people left on planet Earth that still thinks shelter and rescue pets are damaged goods and you have to be some kind of saint to give one of these broken animals a home, you are wrong. Really wrong and really missing out on the fun! They’re the ones doing us the favor when they let us adopt them, not the other way a round, ya dig?

Get in on the greatness and adopt. Then maybe you’ll have a famous photographer show up at your house and take dozens of beautiful photos of your life too.

OK, now go listen to me be a nerd.

 

Meet My Cat Sitter: He’s a Good Boy

Mr. Dog Walker and I are off for our summer vacation! We’re taking Boogie and Birdie with us, but we’re leaving our cats at home. Have I ever mentioned that we have three stooges?

Well we do. Gus, Gizmo, and Penelope (pronounced Peenaloupe, like cantaloupe) round out our crew. They don’t travel well, so the stooges hold down the fort with the help of our cat sitter:

tuna the pit bull

Santa and Tuna seriously want you to have a Merry Christmas


No, not Santa. That would be crazy.

Our cat sitter is the other dude: Tuna. Every summer Tuna comes to stay at our house and keeps our cats company. We let Tuna bring his mom with him (my friend Karen) so that he doesn’t have to leave her home alone all week while he’s at our house.

Tuna is also a tour guide.

Tuna and Us

Tuna takes photos with tourists (for five bucks).

He recently took me and the husband to all of the lighthouses in our area. Tour guide Tuna is excellent at his job. We highly recommend him if you’re ever in Maine and need someone to show you around.

When I asked Tuna what he wanted the world to know about him, he answered modestly, “Please tell them that I’m a good boy.” This is true. Tuna is a good boy. I love this kid.

Well, I’m hitting the road soon and won’t have the internet for a spell, so forgive me if some of your comments don’t get approved in the next week. Please tell me how handsome Tuna is anyway, ok?

And with that, I’ll leave you all with 2013’s hit song of the summer (all the kids are rocking out to it while they cruise the strip): I’m a Dog.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYOUtQsC.x?p=1 width=”720″ height=”433″]

You’re Old and I’m Broke: Conversations With My Dog About Surgery

Remember that time my dog tore her cruciate from lying in the sun too hard? Yep, that would be Birdie. My 11.5 year old dog decided to go blow a ligament in her rear leg the other week. Super expensive surgery has been recommended. Beer, please.

Here’s the thing about working with dogs all my adult life: I’m pretty good at giving compassionate, reasonable advice to people who are struggling to make the right call for their dogs.

And here’s the thing when it comes to my own dogs: I am not very good at hearing the kind, reasonable, forgiving lady that lives in my head. She talks to everyone else, but clams up when I ask her to weigh in on my problems. Most times, I can only hear a weepy confused kid spinning around in panicked circles calling me a dick for not being a better dog owner. That kid is such a drag.

So during our recent consult with a very nice surgeon, I found myself suddenly fighting off hot tears when I forced myself to ask her what would happen if I couldn’t afford the surgery that Birdie needs. It made me feel like I was saying, “I don’t love my dog.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s what the surgeon said, “You should feel supported if you choose not to do the surgery.”

You should feel supported. Those are some good words right there.

And she went on to say it was reasonable for me to weigh all the variables, including my dog’s age, her activity level, and my financial situation when making the decision to opt for surgery – or not.

Surgery is how much? Just cut it off. I have three more.

Surgery is how much? Just cut it off. I have three more.

 

The surgeon also patiently answered my two million questions about Birdie’s pain levels and what would happen over time to her other limbs since they’d have to pick up the slack of her bum leg.

We ultimately agreed that this was not emergency surgery and it was reasonable to give Birdie four weeks of rest combined with cold laser treatments and hydrotherapy (with an awesome physical therapist  Birdie knows and loves). And then we’d revisit the idea of surgery.

 

Of course, four weeks from now, if the results from physical therapy aren’t what we hope they’ll be, it still won’t change the gist of the conversation I had with Birdie on the way home from the surgical consult:

Me: Your dad and I are broke.

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: You’re kind of old.

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: We’re broke and you’re old. I feel like maybe it’s ok to choose not to sink an entire line of credit into one of your legs. Right?

Birdie: Phumpfh.

Me: Birdie, listen. I feel like an asshole trying to figure out how much your leg is worth. I don’t want you to be in pain, but that’s a lot of money. If you want the surgery, I’ll rob a bank to pay for it (or use a credit card). Just tell me what you want me to do. I don’t want to make the wrong choice and have you suffer for the rest of your life. I hate the idea of putting a dollar sign on your leg. You deserve all the bionic legs a dog could ever dream of having…I’m sorry I’m not rich. Just tell me: What do you want me to do?

Birdie: zzzzz-phumpfh-zzzzzzz.

Me: Dammit.

Birdie on bed rest looks just like Birdie on every other day.

Birdie on bed rest looks just like Birdie on every other day.

 

I wish dogs could tell us what they want. One of the hardest parts of caring for our dogs is making decisions on their behalf and feeling badly that we’re not doing the right thing.  A lot of us are beating ourselves up and second guessing everything – from the everyday decisions about diet and training to the excruciating choices we need to make at the end of their lives.

It’s no fun being the one in charge of making the call. As humans we carry around all these conflicting, painful thoughts – about the various options available and what the future holds for the dogs we love so much. Luckily, our dogs continue living in the moment. Knowing stuff is our burden, not theirs.

You might think that those of us who make a living working with dogs would have an easier time making choices for our pets. We know all the questions to ask about quality of life and the different scales to help measure their good days and bad days. Plus we have tons of personal stories from clients and colleagues, etc. to mentally reference in order to help us put our own situations in perspective.

Turns out, when it comes to my own dogs, like most pet care pros, I’m in need of the same sort of outside perspective and compassionate counsel as everyone else. The situation isn’t life threatening (for the record, I’m grateful the diagnosis wasn’t something more serious), but I needed someone else to help me get my footing. And to tell me I’m not a jerk.

I really appreciate that the surgeon told me not to feel guilty for considering my financial situation. And I could have hugged her for saying I should feel supported in trying a non-surgical option first.

It’s what I would have told myself if the confused, weepy kid in my head wasn’t busy shouting about how I was turning into Cruella De Ville for allowing money to pop up when thinking about what Birdie needs. It’s what I would have told any of you, if you were in the same spot.

Thanks for the compassionate advice Doc.

We’re starting rehab next week. In the meantime, Birdie still seems to love me, despite the fact that I’m thinking about the value of her leg repair versus the potential span of her life divided by my credit line. Maybe that’s because she’s thinking about snacks and smelly stuff to roll in, not surgery. That’s my job.

 

p.s. if you’re interested in some alternatives to surgery, this article at Whole Dog Journal is really helpful.

 

Walking and Reading: 7|19|13


Hey I’m on the road again! Here’s some weekend reading for youz guys:

For the Dogs:

Meet the “Carolina dogs” (and no, they’re not Tar Heel blue), otherwise known as “America’s Dingo.”

Old dogs are the best. Taking care of them at the shelter always broke my heart. A frat house is no place for a dignified senior. So I think this “Silver Hearts” project by the fab Lori Fusaro is the tits.

My dog Birdie tore her ACL the other week, so there’s lots of talk about pain management going around here. Have any of you seen/used this wacky looking thing? Apparently Lil Bub swears by it and she’s always right.


For the Humans:

This is what it means to be the “living change.” I dare you to not be inspired by this trio. In fact, I love this story so much that this is the only post in this category.


For the Laugh:

Photobombs are funny. Check these 15 out.


And Offline: I’m still reading On Looking (do you guys ever hit a roadblock where you can’t read anything more than a magazine for a few weeks? That’s where I’m at right now. So I’m reading This Old House Magazine. Who needs me to tear out their old toilet?). Plus I’m listening to Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby in the car while I tool around the Northeast this weekend.

Stay cool out there everyone!

 

 

 

 

Nose Work: Where Every Dog Is a Winner (Even the Naughty Ones)

Boogie and I just wrapped up a four week Nose Works class. For those of you that are new to Nose Work, here’s what it is, straight from the founders themselves:

“Inspired by working detection dogs, K9 Nose Work is the fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs and people. This easy to learn activity and sport builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through mental and physical exercise.

K9 Nose Work starts with getting your dog excited about using his nose to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward hidden in one of several boxes, expanding the game to entire rooms, exterior areas, and vehicles. As your dog grows more confident with his nose, target odors are introduced, and competition skills are taught.”

Now you know. You can also check out this Bark video to see dogs in action.

Unlike the Nose Works class I took with Birdie, where there were other dogs present in the room, this session was set up for reactive dogs. Each dog had the room all to themselves while they worked.

My camera’s died mid-class, so I only managed to grab a few not-so-great photos (none of Boogie – wah!)

truffle coached

That’s my gal pal Truffle. Her dad is helping her get to the treats she discovered in this closed box.


Now that I’ve taken two basic level Nose Works classes with two very different dogs (one senior, one reactive) and with two very different groups of dogs, I would like to share the following with all of you:

You should do Nose Work with your dogs.

Here’s why:

1. Just about any dog can do it.

2. Just about any human can do it.


Allow me to expand.

Your dog can do Nose Work, even if they are:

  • Ancient
  • Lacking manners
  • Oblivious to recall
  • Reactive
  • Dog aggressive
  • Scared of people
  • Afraid of novel objects or places
  • Recovering from an injury
  • Not that into food
  • Really into food
  • Terrible on leash
  • Bursting with energy
  • Overweight
  • Blind
  • Deaf
  • Missing a limb
  • Missing an eye
  • Missing teeth
  • Missing their favorite episode of New Girl

You can do Nose Work even if you are:

  • A terrible trainer
  • Out of shape
  • Out of cash
  • Uncoordinated
  • Kind of quiet
  • Working with dogs in a shelter
  • Not that into leaving the house
  • Not sure if you even like doing dog stuff

That’s because Nose Work is all about having fun, no skills necessary. 

birdie cone

Birdie hits the wrong end of the cone. No biggie. She’ll figure out that the food is hidden on the other side.


If you have a dog that you’re not able to do too much with – because of any of the reasons listed above – you can do Nose Work.

If you want to build a better bond with your dog, learn more about observing your dog’s body language, and enjoy watching dogs flex their natural abilities, you should check out Nose Works.

Here’s more about why this is the activity anyone can do:


For Nervous Nellie Dogs: Nose Work in a wonderful confidence builder for dogs that are afraid of novel objects and environments. Each week they’re slowly exposed to new things, can investigate at their own pace, and are rewarded for their bravery. Week one Boogie was afraid to put his head in the boxes. By week four Boogie was putting his head in cones, tunnels, bags, and anything else he could sniff around in. Like one of the normals!

For Reactive Dogs: This is an awesome way to let them cut loose in a safe, controlled environment. Those of us with reactive dogs are intimately familiar with feeling like failures. We show up for a class or a walk or a training session and our dogs lose their marbles and we go home stressed and sad. Not at Nose Works. Your dog will succeed at this. And honestly, I just can’t stress how important it is for reactive dog families to have successful, stress-free fun some times. It will bring some joy back into your relationship with your dog and give you a boost so you can face the tougher stuff together.

For Golden Oldies and Disabled Dogs: Nose Work is a way to try something new with your dogs that is physically low impact. They may be a little slower than the young whippersnappers in class, but it doesn’t matter because there’s no losing here. Birdie said it was almost as much fun as falling asleep in her recliner while listening to This American Life. She loved having a Girl’s Night Out with me and eating a lot of treats. Old and disabled dogs deserve to party too. YOLO, right?

For High Energy Dogs: This a great way to burn off that energy without exhausting yourself! It takes a lot of focus for the dogs to do Nose Work and they are tired at the end of class.  Also good if you have trouble finding safe places to exercise your dogs – try adding Nose Works to your toolbox to help tire your dogs out.

For Shelter Dogs: Because shelter dogs are bored and stressed and need to have mental stimulation in order to stay sane while they wait to be discovered by an adopter. Because even if you have very few resources, you can find a volunteer who will hide treats (in the Shelter Director’s office if need be) and cheer on a homeless dog for a minute. Because you don’t need any skills to help the dogs do this, so just go do it. 

For Broke Folks and Hermits:  Even if cash is tight, you hate leaving the house, and/or there’s no place to take a class in your area, you can still do Nose Work. All you need are treats and boxes. Here are some tips for playing at home and some more help. And here are some other ideas for different scent games. 

For People Who are Allergic to Dog Training: Here’s a little secret (just between you and me): I don’t like dog training. I’ll do it because I have to, but I don’t really enjoy it. I’d rather be at the library reading past issues of the New York Times Magazine. What can I say? I love dogs, I love playing with and walking them, but training makes me want to poke my eyes out. But I like Nose Work. Why? Because it’s an “obedience free zone” and your role, as the human part of the team, is to stand back and enjoy watching your dogs work. If they get stuck, you coach them using a happy voice and body movements. When the dogs discover the hide, you have a party to celebrate.  I like coaching. I like cheering on dogs. I like Nose Works.

I bet most of you will too.

So go on and have a little fun with your dogs now, even if you’re struggling with training or behavior issues. Do something you can’t fail at for once. Everyone gets a gold star in Nose Work!


Will you tell me about your experiences with Nose Work in the comments section? Plus, check out these stinky Nose-Work-worthy Tuna Fudge treats you can make at home.

And check out the professional version of Nose Works…meet the Arson Dogs who use their noses to catch the bad guys!

Playing Tuba with My Dog and Other Stuff I Keep Meaning To Do

Hi! It’s been kind of quiet over here the past few weeks, huh?

I want to write, but I’ve been busy doing cool stuff: going to Austin, Texas and not so cool stuff: hanging out in airports for two days because a freak winter storm cancelled my connecting flight home and gross stuff: getting a cold.

I hate having my hermit-esque routine turned upside down, so it took me a while to get my act together. I’m back.

 

And now, here’s what I keep meaning to write about, in no particular order:

 

Fences: wood ones, metal ones, redundant ones, invisible ones, and ones with gates that fly open unexpectedly.

Leash Laws: enforcement, funding, and why there’s always a cop outside my house (hint: it has nothing to do with dogs).

Dog Nails: how much I hate to cut them, heaven-sent painkillers, and the trouble with posting photos of your dogs on the interwebz

Good Adoptions: stuff I learned from Birdie the Dog. About her adoption. Not about her new hobby: finding dead baby birds.

Relaxation Protocol: am I the only one that actually enjoys doing this? Judging by other blogs: yes, I am.

 

Plus much, much more!

I want to hang out with these two.

Also, I want to hang out with these two.

 

Now all I need to get this done is an extra day in my week and a butler to deal with the self-generating hair balls that take over my house every 36 hours. And one million dollars (just in case the Universe is taking requests today).

Stay tuned. I’m on this!