Learn to Dance in the Rain

Buzz has an undiagnosed neurologic condition that affects the signals to his right rear leg. It's undiagnosed because we won't be doing an MRI, a CT, or a myelogram. At his age, it wouldn't change anything I'm currently doing. His gait is different back there and watching his leg, it looks like he's missing every other signal. He'll take one normal step then miss a beat, then take a normal step, repeat. That leg also fatigues quicker and  frequently gives out on him when standing or walking.

What does this mean? If he's having a good day, he drags those toes a little. If he's having a bad day, he can't walk. He was having a lot of bad days in a row last week, and then he fell on the ice. Suffice to say I think he hit all parts of his body while I grabbed for him and missed. So, I finally fitted him for a Help 'Em Up harness. I swear, that device is magical!

Before I got the help 'em up harness, I had to carry him outside and try to support him while he did his business--not the easiest task! He was also limited to being outside only for as long as his leg would support him (which wasn't very long).
And more cuddling (the slightly more crowded version)
Now, I use my euro lead with one end attached to his butt and the other to the top of the chest harness... and I feel like I'm driving some kind of horse! I can take Buzz and Gabby outside together again, I don't have to carry him, and Buzz's favorite--he can go for walks again! Once he gets going, he really does pretty well. It's the getting up and getting going part (with the occasional imbalance) that's troublesome. Now that it's cold, snowy, and icy we've been walking the hallways in our apartment building. Tonight we walked for 10 minutes before his right rear tired to the point of knuckling. When we started this with the help 'em up a week ago, I don't think he made it more than 3 minutes.

He's taking a ton of drugs, he eats a micromanaged diet, he needs help getting up most of the time, and often he asks to pee or get a drink in the middle of the night; but he appears to be happy.

So we walk up and down the hallway, I handle disgusting raw tripe daily, I buy the bully sticks he loves, and we cuddle on the couch. Life really is about the journey. Not a beginning and an end. But about what we learn along the way, the friends we make, and the love.
Canine Caviar bully stick and Help 'Em Up harness--essentials

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass... It's about learning to dance in the rain."
Vivian Greene


Progressive Retinal Atrophy/Degeneration

Gabby came to me as a foster, and not really a dog, but I've told that story before. One of the things I noticed from the start is that Gabby was either very clumsy, or had some vision loss. It really wasn't a pressing matter, as there were other, more time sensitive medical issues that needed to be taken care of. She needed a bath (or five), and to have the mats shaved out from between her toes. She needed to have her ear infection treated, and her urinary tract infection treated. She needed a dental, with a few teeth extracted. She needed soft places to lie so the callouses on her elbows would heal and her hair could grow again. 

And in the midst of her settling into my home, she became very good at navigating familiar places. I really only noticed her bumping into things in a completely new place, I would very occasionally see her not be able to locate where a sound came from, and even more rarely, she would hesitate to move forward when out walking at night. So, it took me a while to put the pieces together again. When I did, my heart sank. I know what an incredibly common cause of vision loss is called, especially when the dog is an English Springer Spaniel.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy
(from the ESSFTA and Canine Genetic Diseases Network)

  •  autosomal recessive disorder
  • degeneration of the retina in dogs
  •  results in permanent blindness
  • rods, responsible for night vision, deteriorate first
  • cones, responsible for bright light vision, deteriorate second
So, I scheduled her for an exam with a veterinary ophthalmologist I know and trust. Gabby's eye exam by Dr. Larocca of Animal Eye Speciality Center told us that Gabby has generalized retinal atrophy and bilateral diffuse retinal thinning; PRA

Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. Gabby also has distichiasis of both her left and right eyelids. 

"Distichiasis is a condition where eyelashes emerge from the ducts of glands within the eyelid (Meibomian gland) which does not normally produce hairs. These "extra" eyelashes often rub on the surface of the eye and may cause irritation. Distichiasis is considered to be a breed-related problem in dogs, and is most commonly found in retrievers, spaniels, poodles, Shih Tzus and Weimeranas."

And just so that we cover all the bases, she also has cataracts on the nucleus of both eyes.

I went in to the appointment knowing we'd find something wrong with her eyes. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she had to have some vision loss. I was hoping against all hope it wouldn't be PRA, but it is.

One of the reasons I take my dogs, and took Gabby specifically, to see Dr. Larocca is that I trust him. He always tells it to me straight. When he told me Gabby has PRA, he also told me that he knows of a drug trial study using Ocu-Glo to help halt the progression of PRA. He didn't know if her eyes were too progressed at this point, but he said he would make contact with the ACVO in charge of the study.

I've been giving her the human version of this supplement currently, because it's something I can do while we wait.

And of course, Gabby is just her happy self. I don't know how long this has been going on, but she's definitely coping well. PRA certainly won't stop us from having fun, but we'll probably have to make some modifications along the way!


Motivation vs Pain vs Anticipation of Pain

People who know Buzz and see him regularly know that he hasn't been "right" since early spring. He lost the spring in his step, he plodded along and only went out to potty, he had occasional good days mixed with mostly okay days. I bounced a lot of ideas off a lot of people as to why this might be happening. We speculated about a lot of things and we tried a few theories out. One thing I didn't really think about until very recently was the possibility of the anticipation of pain impacting his quality of life.

I only thought about this because Gabby recently broke my toe with her tree trunk of a front leg. My toe is healing wonderfully with some tape and a little TLC. A couple days ago I realized that I expected my toe to hurt if someone stepped on it or I bumped it. The reality is that while yes, it was uncomfortable, it didn't make me want to die anymore. But I anticipated the pain to be greater than it actually was, and that impacted what I did.

I know that Buzz loves meal time more than just about any part of the day. He is a downright obnoxious jerk while I'm preparing breakfast or dinner and pretends he has no idea of "stay!"

So I tested the theory that with sufficient motivation, Buzz could actually move at a trot or canter.

And my theory proved to be true. This video is from Thursday morning. I did the same thing Thursday night where he only trotted. I tried again on Friday morning and he cantered into the kitchen! Friday night he TROTTED outside and wanted to go for a walk, so we took a very short one (where I fed him for any attempt to maintain pace with me). When we got inside I set up the same situation asking him to run down the hallway for dinner. And he did. (I tried to get that one on video but unfortunately my Flip froze!)

I don't know if my theory will continue to hold true but I can't believe how easy his canter is. He does drag his right rear at a trot and he appears to always be on a left lead when he canters but we'll see if/how/when that changes. For now, I'm going to cherish the fact that my dog is moving faster than a turtle again!


Third Dog

The geriatric household added a new member. Except she's not geriatric, nor is she a puppy! She'll be eight years old on November 30.

Meet Gabby!


Phone photos of Buzz

I haven't been out to take real photos, with my real camera, in a long time. I might use it for a snapshot every once in a while,but it mostly just sits these days.

So, instead of missing these moments completely, I've started using my phone. The quality is poor, but I know what's going on in the photos and they make me happy. I don't want to miss out on Buzz's senior dog antics if I don't have to.


Up, Down, Around? Finding Buzz's normal again.

Buzz's health has been up and down these last few weeks. He did incredibly well with a diet change and antibiotics. Bloodwork looked WONDERFUL! And then he started panting again. And he had mobility issues. And he lost weight. And then Adequan went off the market. And I ran out of tripe, and into other dietary concerns.

In the midst of all this, I was offered a job by the person I credit to him still being here today. Having her as a sounding board (and her willingness to ask others when she's out of ideas) every day I'm at work, we've managed to get Buzz back to being Buzz again.

He just finished a second course of antibiotics. I ordered so much tripe that I shouldn't ever have an excuse for running out again. We have an alternative to Adequan when the stockpile at work is gone. And as always, she's got more up her sleeve when we need it.

And today, I came home to this...

That's a bully stick on the window sill he uses to watch for me. He greeted me at the door when I got home and was so much like the "old Buzz" that I had to drop everything and just love him. He butt waggled and shoved his face into my legs for whole body rubbing.

I am so relieved that he's feeling so darn good. 
Dr. Julia was right when she said we'd get more days like these.


Reactive Proactivity?

Devastation is what I felt when I left the vet clinic on Friday. Complete and utter devastation.

I've tried to learn so much since Friday, I think my brain might explode. It certainly doesn't all fit, but that's what saving emails is for I guess.

A couple wonderful people with some great resources have been so, so helpful. From listening to me cry and whine about the situation, to helping me dig for information about how I can help to make Buzz's body functioning better, for the short or long term.
We want to be able to spend time at the beach this summer.
A lot of it is jumbled still but here's what our tentative plan is for now.

  • More Tripe. Tripe is a great protein source that's low in Phosphorus.
  • Pepcid. Apparently not-fully-functioning kidneys cause excessive acid build up in the stomach and that can cause it's own issues.
  • Antibiotics. Just in case. (We ran a 4DX today and it was all negative.)
  • Azodyl.
    • At first I panicked about the price of the Azodyl. It's a temperature sensitive supplement that's expensive to begin with. All of the websites I looked at initially either didn't ship it cold (thereby rendering it useless), or it was absolutely cost prohibitive--$100+ per month. I've gotten as far as finding it for about $65 per month, which is still quite high. I'm going to continue to look around for that one.
  • And I heard today that Adequan is back in production... we will all be relieved when it's readily available again.

Oh, and we've all decided that a diet high in ice cream is necessary. He's celebrated his birthday three times in the last 10 days. He quite likes ice cream by now.

I've been looking through pictures and videos today. Here's a very old (2008!) agility video.
Buzz NADAC Regular


A Tough Day

Today was gorgeous. We woke up to the sun shining, not a drop of rain anywhere, and we headed to Wisconsin.
Bailey shows off the beautiful weather.
Unfortunately, our trip to WI was already scheduled because Buzz hasn't been acting quite normally. He's been drinking a lot more water and urinating a lot more. Some days he's so full of water he can barely make it outside before he has to pee, a lot.

After running bloodwork and such, I heard what I expected. Which happened to be the exact opposite of what I wanted. Buzz is in early stage kidney failure and it's likely that he's bleeding internally, from somewhere.

So we packed up and took ourselves to the funny farm. A ton of thoughts ran through my head and my emotions ran rampant. I'd be lying if I said I'm okay now, but at least I'm settled. We thoroughly enjoyed a couple hours at the farm, sniffing stuff outside and I even let him eat all the nasty other-animal poop he could find.

Yeah, he was happily eating some kind of poop here!
The only thing I know is that today is not his day to go. It might be tomorrow, it might be next week, and it might even be months from now. I'm trying to be okay with that and realize that all that matters to him is being happy. So we ate ice cream, french fries, and a hamburger on our way back to Burnsville today. Buzz approved whole-heartedly!

Good boy, Buzz. Good boy.


Differences--Nature vs Nurture?

Bailey's here for the night. As I was driving to pick her up from the parking lot I was meeting my mom in today (like that doesn't sound sketchy) I started thinking about the fact that sometimes it's hard to imagine she and Buzz are the same breed. They look different, they interact with dogs differently, but most interesting to me is the fact that they interact with people in vastly different ways.

I've often said I'd love a stable Bailey. I've also often said I'd love a Buzz with a tail and without allergies. Truth be told, I covet a stable Bailey more. She's just a very different dog, in a very good way. She's going to guarantee a good laugh and make me feel like an awesome trainer every time I work with her.

As I tried to put a single word on what makes her so different from Buzz I thought about how she related to other dogs I've experienced. And I can't find one.

She has always enjoyed interactions with humans almost more than anything in the world. She naturally checks in on people when out and about. It's not something I had to teach, she just did it.

She inherently enjoys playing with people, and playing physical games with people. Sure, I've been too "rough" in play occasionally that'll put her off but she's always come back for more. She will initiate play with me and she'll solicit attention with the desire to DO something, not just be pet.

And I wonder if it comes down to nature, nurture, or both. Bailey was born and raised in the living room of her breeder's home. She was exposed to multiple people throughout the 8 weeks she lived with her breeder. Since the day I got her, she's been one of those "shadow without being in the way" dogs. She always wants to engage with the people in her life, indoors, outdoors, in a new environment... it's really who she is.

In contrast, Buzz was born in an outside kennel and lived with his parents/siblings for the first almost 9 weeks of his life. There's just not a whole lot of interaction he could have gotten, had his breeders made a point of getting out to interact with the puppies even daily. I didn't realize how much of an issue his indifference to people would be. It was honestly a huge struggle to learn how to work with him, to make him care about ANY resource that I could control. In the end we were able to compete in a variety of sports successfully but only because there was the promise of food at the end of each and every run. Something I had to work insanely hard to teach him. I had to micromanage every training session so that he was never given the opportunity to disengage and leave. Buzz got the worst of both situations. He wasn't exposed to humans enough to learn that they can be a valuable resource, and I didn't know enough when I got him to help "fix" that at 9 weeks old.

After being out with Bailey tonight, I realized just how much I crave what she is, in a stable package, in my next dog. I want a dog that inherently cares about people, a dog that enjoys playing games with people, (and a dog that was born enjoying retrieving... Buzz has a solid retrieve, for food).