blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This would be so much easier, in one sense, if Ty didn't have a tail that almost never stops wagging.

Ty's tail is a wonder in itself. So wonderful, in fact, it has its own set of nicknames. Kangaroo tail, tail of destruction, Great Destructo, thwap of joy.

When Dev competed at the State Fair, most other dogs would keep their tails still and down through their obedience trials and showmanship displays. But Ty? He'd stand in his showmanship pose, perfectly still except for the tail--which would speed up the moment the judge's attention turned his way. He'd go through his obedience exercises with the tail up and wagging. The only time it might stop was during the down-stay--the pups are required to lie down for a set period of time regardless of noise and distractions--when the day was warm enough Ty might doze off. Even the judges who saw Ty but once a year remembered him as the dog with the ever-wagging tail.

In our home, there is nothing breakable or spillable within 30 inches of the floor or a foot from a table or counter's edge. There are no stacks of paper, either. The tail of destruction trained us well. It can send a heavy coffee mug spinning with a single blow. It can scatter hundreds of manuscript pages with a merry sweep. We try to quickly train any new visitors by explaining their drink must stay in their hand, or be placed in the precise middle of the coffee table, but I've lost at least a dozen wine glasses over the last ten years. (And while his tail certainly can't reach as high as the breakfast bar, Ty was--until this last year--perfectly capable of helping himself to anything on the counters.)

If you stood at Ty's hip when he had a sudden fit of overwhelming joy, his tail would hit hard enough to hurt. There's a place on the kitchen doorway, near where Ty has stood for three years in anticipation of getting munchies and treats, that no longer has any paint on its edge.

That tail has operated as a rudder when he swam in rivers and ponds, visible just below the water's surface as it swayed lazily from side to side. We used to joke about Ty's ability to multitask. He could swim, drink water, and wag his tail all at the same time! Truly, one of my regrets is that it's too cold for us to give Ty a final opportunity to swim. He loves it so, so much.

And even now, when he's spending all but a few minutes every day resting and sleeping, that tail wags when someone makes eye contact, pets him, says his name (and any nicknames, and any mention of love), when Gambit sits beside him, when Gambit plays with his toys, when people-food comes near... Everything triggers the tail to wag.

Dev and I talked last night about whether we'd made the decision (our appointment is for Tuesday) was made too soon. We came to the conclusion we've reached the point that there will never, ever be a time that isn't "too soon" or "too late." As long as the tail wags, we'll wonder if it's too soon. But if the tail stopped, we'd know it was too late.

And we made an agreement that neither one of us needs to "be strong" for the other. (It's a habit we share, alas.)

So today, I'm writing while Ty sleeps on my foot. All I have to do is whisper, "Ty-baby Handsome," and the tail gives me half a dozen thumps.

I'm disabling comments here--not because I haven't appreciated the words of support y'all have offered, but because I simply can't respond to them right now while also continuing to function. Fortunately, I've pretty much purged from my life everyone who'd utter the phrase "just a dog" in my presence.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
It was February of this year when Ty the Wonderdog began having problems with his back legs and hips.  It's been up and down over the months since.  He has good days, when he wants to do a few minutes of play-fighting or take a short walk, and he has bad days, when he has trouble doing much more than lying around.

Now...  now we think his mind might not be all that sharp.

It's little things, really. He will go wander around the house sometimes. Yesterday he walked around the dining table twice, then just stood on its farthest side and stared at the chair until I called his name. At night, our normally snooze-happy pup prowls from the living room to my room and back again. Sometimes he just circles around the kitchen two or three times before deciding to find us again.

The other thing that's happening is both scary and funny at the same time.

Since moving here some years ago, we've successfully used electronic collars to keep our pups from leaving the yard. Ty has always tested the boundaries, and has on occasion traipsed past them for a few moments -- putting up with the mild electric shock to get what he wanted. But three times in the last week, he has wandered off completely.

Our dogs are primarily inside dogs. When we're home, they're free to go outside or come inside at will, and we've established ways to communicate their wishes. In most weather, they'll stay outside for quite awhile until "asking" to come back inside. Our first indication that something was wrong was when Gambit asked to come inside, and Ty was nowhere to be found.

The first time, when I found him sniffing my neighbor's front porch, I assumed the battery in his collar had died and changed it. The second time, when I found him exploring a nearby gully, I assumed the system needed to be checked and reset. I wandered our property perimeter with the collar pressed to the palm of my hand in order to ensure it worked at the borders we'd set. I found no problems or gaps.

I thought all was well. But today, after a mere few minutes, Gambit was jumping at the backdoor to come inside. Ty was gone. I threw on my shoes and coat and started looking and calling and whistling. Eventually I spotted him wandering in the field between my neighbor's home and the river. Mind you, he wasn't wandering very quickly, but he'd managed to go about a quarter mile.

When I called for him, he twitched his ears but kept heading toward the river. When I started jogging after him, he starting trotting as if he wanted to outrun me. And when I finally got close enough to take hold of his collar, he snorted at me but came along quietly. The entire time, his massive kangaroo tale never stopped wagging. And when we finally walked into the house, he headed for his water bowl first, then flopped down on his living room rug as if nothing had happened.

Honestly, what it reminded me of was the year or two between the onsite of my grandfather's dementia and the decline into anger and violence, the year or two when the stories about him were sad and funny rather than sad and painful. There I was, under doctor's orders not to jog or run, trying to hustle after my dog who can't really job or run but who is determined to outdistance me for kicks and giggles. We must have looked ridiculous.

I wonder if Ty is thinking he's still out on the farm, with more than a hundred riverfront acres to wander at will. I wonder if he's simply trying to regain that freedom. I wonder if I'm trying to impose some sense of logic on the actions of a pup who is obviously and unstoppably aging.

And at the same time, I have to smile. Ty has always been the sweetest of dogs, and also the most determined of dogs. He's a Lab who'd gladly swipe a roast from the counter, and take the scolding with a tail-wag because it was SO worth it. I can't help but wonder if his internal monologue is something like, "Piss off, Nice Human!" with a tail-wag. "I'm going to the river and you can't stop me! Neener-neener, catch me if you can! Woo-hoo!"




blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm revising. And teaching karate and overseeing Dev's school and scheduling another visit from my folks and coordinating meetings and getting the rest of the garden in and battling ants that seem immune to anything and everything I've used to be rid of them before.

Hence, pictures!

Puppies and pretties! )

And less than ten days to Wiscon!!

Aging Pup

Feb. 8th, 2014 11:58 pm
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Ty Handsome the Wonderdog is getting close to thirteen years old. His face and paws have been white for years, and he spends more time than ever just lounging around. He will still play Grizzly Bears with little Gambit, but his go-to techniques have shifted from hind-leg dancing to ground fighting. And he loves to prowl the yard and snuffle the trails rabbits leave around the bushes and trees, but it's been a long time since he's sprinted after anything. He will gladly hop up on the couch, but no longer jumps on the bed. He trots all over the place, still prances with excitement, and--of course--that kangaroo tail of his wags almost all the time. He even wags his tail in his sleep.

He's still happy, energetic for his age, and sweet as ever.

But.

One of Ty's greatest joys was competing in 4H shows. No, really, his greatest joy was the single moment when the judge said, "Exercise finished," and Dev said, "Ty's okay!" Then Ty would jump high enough to plant his forepaws on Dev's shoulders and lick Dev's face. (It was an audience favorite, too.) But... Ty doesn't do that jump anymore.

But he still wants to! So Dev will sit on the couch and say, "Ty's okay!" and Ty will throw his chest onto Dev's lap so he can lick his face.

A couple days ago, something odd happened. Ty and Gambit were stalking my steps in the kitchen while I filled their bowls with chicken and eggs. Ty was so danged excited, he was dancing on all four paws. Then his right hind leg kinda slipped out, and his left slipped the other direction, and he ended up on his belly with his hind legs splayed out behind him. And he couldn't get himself back up.

Mind you, his tail never stopped wagging, and he wasn't in pain. (Ty has rarely in his life vocalized pain, but his facial expression of pain is quite clear.) Instead, he looked up at us with a doggy grin as if to say, "Hey, can I get a little help here, guys?" So Dev hooked his arm beneath Ty's waist and lifted him up. The dog gave himself a shake, then dug into his chicken. Dev fretted for the rest of the day. It was the first sign of a senior-dog issue that could actually impact quality of life.

We've had him on joint supplements for some time already, but I'm thinking of upping the amount a bit. I'll add some other anti-inflammatory if it seems discomfort is bothering him. This isn't a life-threatening issue, but something we will certainly need to watch.

And yeah, it makes me sad to think about it. Dev and Ty have grown up together. Ty has been his comfort and companion through so much, and it was Ty with whom Dev chose to shed his first tears on the night his Daddy died. That sweet pup is half of that's child's heart. Any sign that Ty won't always be around is enough to make me want to wrap my arms around him to keep him near.

As for Gambit... Well, the little dog is mostly oblivious to any of Ty's troubles, and Ty continues to be Gambit's big brother and protector. But I sometimes wonder. Yesterday, when Ty flopped down after a bout of tug of war, Gambit stretched out beside him and rested his muzzle on Ty's shoulder. Ty's tail went thump, thump, thump...
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So one of the gifts I found for Dev is a Tardis alarm clock. It makes the wonderful Tardis sound while lights pulse. I thought it would be a good idea to set the time and all before wrapping it. That way, it would be ready to go out of the box. I even set up the alarm to sound at the time he'd need to wake up for work on Thursday. I wrapped it and the other presents, then set them under the tree.

Then I remembered he wouldn't be opening it until tomorrow morning, most likely AFTER the 7:00am alarm time I'd set.

I unwrapped it, reset the alarm, and wrapped it again. If Dev isn't up by 9:00 tomorrow morning, it'll sound as if a Tardis is arriving under the tree.

And now, the pictures!
Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
The dogs started their raw food diet last week, chowing down on chicken quarters every morning. Yesterday they had rack of lamb as a treat. In the evening, they have a raw apple, carrots, or banana. They both believe this raw food thing is the bestest most wonderfulest idea ever.

Despite all the reading and research I've done on raw feeding over the last year-plus, I still couldn't shake my fear of feeding the dogs raw chicken bones. Thus I sat on the back porch as they ate, ready to intervene at the first sign of trouble.

Hah.

Ty the Wonderdog had no trouble at all--expected, since he lived on the farm for years and dined on... whatever he and the other farm dog sniffed out in the woods. Seriously, there was a patch of meadow up the hill from our house we nicknamed The Bone Yard because it was the dogs' favorite place to stash their treasure when they could eat no more. I once found a... a thing that so grossed me out, I was determined to get rid of it. After a couple attempts the dogs foiled, I decided to dump it in the fast-moving river, figuring the coyotes that roamed in the woods down there would eventually grab it. That was not to be. Instead the dogs swam down the river to retrieve the thing and return it to The Bone Yard.

So yes, Ty is quite accustomed to raw food.

Gambit was another matter. He was absolutely certain he should love-love-love the chunk of raw meat in his mouth, but he couldn't figure out how to eat it. By the time Ty was licking his lips in satisfaction, Gambit was just starting to experiment with tearing off little nibbles. Ty looked on as Gambit went from nibbling to gnawing. I'm sure he would have pitched in to demonstrate technique, if I hadn't been watching. But in the end, Gambit succeeded in finishing his meal.

Seven raw meals later, it's obvious they're not having trouble with bones, or any other part of the meal. Gambit still takes longer to eat his portion than Ty, but danged near any creature would take longer to eat than Ty.

As for the miscellany:

I've been scolded about working my arm too much--a scolding brought about because I was stupid and re-injured it and am back to wearing a soft brace all the time.

Related to the above, I'm sitting on the Black Belt Review Board today--very excited to watch one of my students test, and excited/sad to watch three adults of my own cohort test because I was supposed to be testing with them.

We shall see how much progress I can make on Crossroads before the end of November. Yesterday was my day to believe everything I write is junk. Stupid junk. Stupid, derivative, incomprehensible, boring junk. But I've been here before and, just like my occasional certainty I'm a clumsy and substandard karateka, the feeling passes.

The above feeling was shown the door this morning, when I got a note from a friend that said his coworker liked my first book and wanted to know when the next one would be coming out.

And, in the most important news of all... DEV PASSED THE WRITTEN DRIVING TEST AND NOW HOLDS A REAL LICENSE. This means that, on Sunday, I can hand him the car keys, he can drive himself to and from work, and I can stay home.

It also means the beginning of fret-festivals every time he leaves the house on his own. I'm assuming the edges of that worry will dull over time, much the same way as every other fear.

Lastly, and least importantly, I've been feeling restless again. Truly, I should have figured out how to have a career as a travel writer. It's been months since I've traveled more than 50 miles from home. I'll be heading to Denver in December, but will be staying with family, so that doesn't really count.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This is what it looks like when the pups decide I've been writing--and thus not paying attention to them--for too long.

ImpatientPups
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Ty Handsome the Wonderdog is a Labrador Retriever.  He retrieves.  I don't remember any of us really teaching him to do it, so if there was training involved it must have been pretty minimal.

Gambit II the Pocketdog is a mutt comprised almost completely of fighting breeds--Staffy, Rottie, Shar pei and Boxer.  He does not retrieve.  But he doesn't fight, either.  Anything that seems more serious than a mock grizzly bear fight with Ty--for which they usually use the back deck as their arena--will send Gambit sprinting for safety under a table.

I tell you all that to say this: Trying to play fetch with these dogs is extremely entertaining.  Ty always reaches the ball first.  While he works desperately to retrieve, Gambit works just as hard to prevent Ty from reaching us with the ball.  You can almost hear Ty shouting, "MUST!  RETRIEVE!  MUST!  RETRIEEEEEEEEEVE!" s he tries to outmaneuver Gambit. 

Mind you, Gambit doesn't want to retrieve the ball; he spits it out after a second or two of claiming it, then waits for Ty to try the retrieving thing again.  This goes on until Ty becomes good and sick of it, and forgets about the ball long enough to bark at Gambit and knock the little dog over.  Then Ty, tail wagging, brings the ball to my hand and waits for me to throw it again.

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