Saturday, April 15, 2017

Opportunities in Loss

I used my blog to help me work through the process of loss. Being a pet owner - particularly when you tend to get pets via rescues - means that dealing with loss is an inevitability. It sucks. It's like a kick in the guts that keeps on giving long after pet's final breath has been drawn.

That said, I have been quite fortunate. Thus far, I've generally been in the position to open my home to a new pet when one of the incumbents has died. While we opted not to replace the cats I'd had for seventeen years, we've replaced each of the prior dogs that has passed. Most recently, after Cira's passing, we got Kaiya — the black dog in the video, below:


Lady (the white-headed dog) has displayed some iffiness with new dogs - at least while we've had her out walking on-leash. Kaiya was described to us by her rescue organization as being a mostly chill dog, but had some on-leash iffiness of her own. Fortunately, we were able to meet her in a scenario where both dogs were able to be introduced and monitored off-leash (they were leashed, but the leashes were dropped ...available for use if something went sideways). The introduction was promising, so, we returned the following week to make her ours.

As you can see in the video, the two dogs seem to be getting on well. They rough-house, but that's bullie play-style. If you knew Lady's barks, you'd be able to hear that she's play-barking throughout the entire video. As I write this, both dogs are laying curled up with each other on the couch-pillow next to me. It's very warm. It's also very happy-making.

18 Springs



Eighteen springs ago, I selected two kittens from this bundle to be my companions for 17 years. The kitten at the far left came to us as and remaind "Bella" - she was the breeder's pick of the litter. The kitten to the far right became known to us a "Grumbles" - a name that his actions and demeanor demanded (I don't even remember what the breeder had named him as he name changed the first time I fed him, it changed to Grumbles).

I do wonder if either of the siblings outlived my pair or even lasted as long as my pair. I know that Jagger - the one crawling on top of the pile - was the last adopted because he had some early health issues. Never knew the name of the fourth kitten as she was already promised to another before I selected Bella (and came back for Grumbles).

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Candy Nightmare

With Easter looming, a local veterinary service sent out a notice to remind people, "don't let your pets have chocolate"



Picture Not Directly Related
We've never intentionally given any of our pets candy - particularly not chocolate - Easter or otherwise. That said ...We'd once had a candy incident with our first pair of bullies.

We'd had to go run a quick errand and had penned the dogs up like we usually did for such absences. We were gone maybe twenty minutes. This time, however, the female decided to break them out of their pen and go after some "low-hanging fruits". We came home to find both dogs sitting happily on the couch, looking at us like, "you forgot to lock us up - we figured it was cool to sit here on the couch."

Then we found the shredded, empty box that had previously been filled with dark-chocolate truffles. A small distance away, we found the remnants of the bag that had about 1.5lbs of a mixed-assortment of jelly beans. Closish to that, we found the remnants of a bag that had been full of dried apricots. All three had been up on the counters. Amusingly, the bag of bison jerky that had been sitting on the ottoman had been left untouched.

Called the vet to get the opinion on whether to bring the dogs down (had to bring both since neither dog had obvious signs of having consumed the goodies and bother were scampering about happily). Vet said that because they were dark chocolate, we needed to bring them down for ipecac, charcoal and sedatives.

Turns out - after a *very* colorful purge - that only one of the dogs had been bad. Even so, both dogs had to suffer the purge-protocol because there wasn't a good way to ensure that both hadn't partaken without the purge.

Both dogs were unscathed by the experience (purging was less than 45 minutes after food-consumption). I always felt bad for the innocent dog, though.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Hitchhikers

Down-side to having bought my wife a new phone, today: she is/was wanting me to reinstall the wallpaper from her old phone to her new phone. That wallpaper was a picture of our 2016-deceased cats, our March-deceased staffie and my white apb/boxer all laying together in a fur-knot. It's a nice picture, but, it apparently only existed on her phone wherever Android stores wallpapers (and not in the generic "Pictures" folder). It took me digging through nearly 1900 pictures to discover this frustrating Android storage-quirk.

So, I went to my laptop to see if I could find a copy. I've dug through a couple years worth of pet pictures stored on my laptop. Have yet to find the exact picture, but found many other nice ones.

Also found the realization that, each time you invite life into your life, you frequently also invite death.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Plate of Shrimp

One of the worst things about losing a pet to illness (esp. in the Internet and social media era)? The frequency with which information about what your pet died of begin to plate of shrimp you.

For example: when it come to an illness like kidney disease, how we feed our dogs means that, when the disease has progressed to the point of causing nausea, we've no meaningful way to entice them to eat. Our dogs' daily diet consists heavily of what kibble-fed dogs would probably consist of "treats" (our dogs get real meat, veggies, etc. - so, those aren't really "treats" to them).

Also turns out that dogs quickly associate the nauseated feeling with whatever foods they last ate before becoming sick to their stomachs. With a diet that doesn't leave many things as treats, there's not a broad spectrum of foods with which to entice them to eat. And, because they quickly associate the nauseated feeling with the "treat" foods, that limited-spectrum of "treat" foods is more-quickly burned through than dogs that get the same, manufactured dog food their entire, pre-illness lives.

One of the other suck things about kidney disease is, because your pets can't tell you "I feel sick": you don't usually see symptoms until they're well down the disease's terminal-trajectory; the early symptoms frequently display in a way that seems like behavioral issues rather than obvious signs of illness.

In the case of our cats - particularly our female cat - this manifested as urinating outside of her litterbox. Earlier in her life, eliminating outside of the litter box was behavioral. Things that had prompted it in the past had been: changes to litter-brand; annual vet-trips; us going away for family holidays (Bella got carsick and hated being taken on trips); us going away for work trips; us going away for vacation.

While we always had pet-care, Bella was generally upset for a few days after we got home. This would frequently prompte her to pee on Donna's things (presumably, she blamed Donna for our infrequent absences).

The litter-brand changes weren't our choice. For whatever reason, litter-makers always seem to see the need to "improve" things. And, to "encourage" people to switch to improved products, they'd discontinue the ones our cats liked. This happened a couple times with their litter and at least twice with their food.

As to the vet-trips: it's not like we could, in good conscience, choose to not get them annual exams and shots. I realize plenty of people do skip all that, but I've always tried my best to keep ahead of our pets' health needs. Thus, we were conscientious about veterinary care, diet and the like.

With the exception of the cats - who lived a year and a couple days beyond what was expected for their breed - that conscientiousness seems to have been in vain. We lost the first dog we adopted to cancer after only a bit over seven years ownership. We lost the second dog we adopted to (a different type of) cancer after a little less than seven years of ownership. We just lost our third adopted-dog to kidney disease after just a bit more than six years of ownership. Really hoping the first three dogs were an aberration. It would be nice to see one of our dogs actually live to a ripe old age.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Pleasant Saturday

On the way home from dog-interviews, had a sudden craving for a milkshake. We stopped at the Five Guys nearest our house - love their oreo shakes. Unfortunately, partway through making my wife's shake, their machine broke. So, had to leave with craving unsated. Decided that we'd swing by the house, drop off our dog and find another place to get shakes. Decided to go to Holy Cow (in the Del Rey neighborhood of Alexandria). Right next door was a little sushi spot. I realized, "huh - I haven't had anything since the borek at the farmers market this morning. I'm kinda hungry and sushi would hit the spot about now." So, we ducked in. Donna got sashimi and I got nigiri. Donna was a bit bummed that they didn't have idako available as sashimi, but they did have it was an appetizer-salad.

We still wanted milkshakes, but figured that fishy milkshake belches would be an ungood thing. So, we walked around Del Rey, for a bit, before finally ending up back at Holy Cow. I got my oreo cookie shake and Donna got a chocolate shake.

Was a nice respite before tax-drudgery. Still silly that it's not even the final week of March and the temperature was up in the mid-70s.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Random Musings on Death

I've had the opportunity to deal with the deaths of loved ones and pets. I've had the opportunity to see to the disposal of the cremated remains of both. What's interesting is that:

  • Though radically different in size, the volume of ashes doesn't seem proportionate between a full-grown adult and a 50lb dog.
  • Each (pet) death, though done via euthanasia was as unique as the pet being euthanized.
My wife and I believe that one should be present when a pet is being put down. This is at odds with how each was brought up, but it works for us.

Ideally, we're also able to have someone come to the house to administer the euthanasia drugs. This saves the dying pet from having to spend their last few minutes putting up with a car ride to a place they don't like (or are even scared by). It also means that, in a multi-pet household, the surviving pets don't wonder, "where did 'X' disappear to". 

While we've only been able to do the in-home euthanasia thing, once, my wife's preference for doing body-preparation prior to cremation elminates some of the "where did 'X' disappear to" problem. The surviving pets are free to sniff about the body that's being sewn into its burial-shroud and say their goodbyes.

With the euthanasia of our first dog, her survivor howled as we took her out of the house for her death-appointment. He obviously knew something was quite wrong. Doing "in-home" avoids some of that.

Perhaps more interesting is how each pet - even though the methods were notionally the same - died:
  • Upon injection of the white (propofol) Lana, seemed unaffected at first. Then, she blinked twice. Then three times. Then slowly slackened and slid to a prone position as we laid her down. Her eyes closed somewhere between sitting an laying. She lay there knocked out, breathing normally. Then, the vet administered the pink (pentobarbitol), and she ceased to breath soon after. There was only very minor twitching in her extremities as the muscles sought the last bits of oxygen. Overall, it was still fairly peaceful.
  • Our second dog, Puckett, was in very late stage of cutaneous lymphoma. When we took him in, he went differently. He was severely underweight from the cancer, so the drugs acted far more quickly. With the administration of the white, he quickly melted out of my arms and pancaked onto his blanket. He was so skinny. I could see his heart beating. And when the pink was administered, I could see his heart stop. It stopped long before even the full dose of pink was infused. His only death-twitch was a flip of his tail - almost like he was saying a happy goodbye for the release.
  • It was with our cats we first engaged the services of an in-home euthanasia specialist. We'd received the diagnosis that the female cat's kidneys had completely failed and that the males were in stage IV failure. Our vet knew that our cats hated riding in the car, so suggested we look at in-home services. We found Lap of Love. Their staff was very nice and the vet who came to our house to administer the service was very good about providing a non-rushed service (almost too non-rushed: I had a bit of a "can we get on with this" feeling at one point). The cats went a bit differently than the dogs. Upon administration of the white, they went quickly ragdoll. Unlike the dogs - but what is apparently normal for cats - their eyes didn't close. Being less than 20% the weight of the dogs, the administration of the pink was quickly done. And they expired equally quickly - eyes never closing. They twitched a bit more than either of the prior dogs had, but quickly settled.
  • This past week/weekend, we assumed we were going to be able to do similar in-home for our Staffie. The vet knew her kidneys were failing, but thought she probably had a few days left if we were able to keep her adequately hydrated (sent us home with several bags of saline having walked us through administering subcutaneous fluids) and eating. Unfortunately, her kidney failure was complicated by a kidney infection. They'd administerd a fairly powerful antibiotic, and she'd initially seemed to rally, but, after about six hours at home, she crashed. We had to abandon our plans to euthanize her at home. In the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, we concluded with the vet "it's time". We took the short trip into the vet hospital. They'd offered to do the service in the car so she wouldn't have to spend her last minutes in the hospital. Problem was, our staffie had far more distaste for the car than the hospital. So, we brought her back to the same room where we'd put Lana and Pucket down six years prior. As sick dogs are want to do, she rallied a bit. Her energy quickly ebbed, though, and she went back to sitting ...though her tail was still wagging and she was still greeting staff as they came in to help with prep. Unlike the prior two dogs, the white didn't make her eyes close. Even though 20% lighter than either of the prior dogs, she didn't succumb to the effects of the white as quickly. Her melt to the quilt was much slower than Lana's had been ...who, in turn, had melted much faster than Puckett had. Instead of looking sleepy, or confused, her eyes just sort of faded. Lights were on, but nobody was home ...much like the cats. And the melt and the lights-out wasn't until well after the white had been completely administered. After she'd fully settled onto the quilt, the vet administered the pink. As with the white, she didn't succumb to its effects until well after it was completely administered. Her breathing shallowed and eventually ceased. A short time later, you could feel her finally leave, and the vet nodded his head that her pulse had finally ceased. As her corpse lay there, there was a lot more twitching than in any of the prior animals' deaths. I guess that, at 8 years and six months' age, her muscles were still a lot more close to in their prime. So, their oxygen starvation elicited greater responses than that of my 17yo cats, my 11yo Lana or my cancer-ridden Puckett. I can only assume the differences were from being a tough little dog ...and probably why she was able to reach the physical state she had without showing symptoms until just a couple days before everything went to hell. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

When Automated Customer-satisfaction Emails Go Horribly, Laughably Awry...

Last night, we had to take our Staffie into the ER at nearly 4AM. We were there to have her put down (due to her kidneys having finally, totally failed). Undoubtedly, in the coming days and weeks, there will be many more posts as I work through my thoughts on yet another loss of pet(s).




This morning, after getting back from dropping her body off at the cremation service, saw new mail notification on my laptop. It was an auto-generated email from our veterinarian's office. It finished out:

We look forward to seeing you and Cira again soon.

Yeah... Maybe your computers should be configured to "know" what services were rendered and whether it's appropriate to send that email.


Yes, I laughed, but it was through a flood of tears that were not happy tears.


Don't get me wrong, even (especially??) in euthanizations, customer-satisfaction is a great thing to try to capture. Just make sure that the tone and content of emails sent for such purposes is appropriately adjusted.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Deathwatch Begins

Apparently, the month of March really seems to hate my/our having pets.

This week, the upset stomach we'd taken Cira to the vet for ultimately resulted in a terminal diagnosis.

It started late Tuesday morning with stomach upset. She'd bolted her food like she often does and then threw it up shortly thereafter. Scarf/barf. This wasn't something she frequently did, but it wasn't completely out of the blue, either. She had the nickname "hollow-dog" for a reason: she's really food-motivated.

Donna tried again with a small, bland food offering. She ate it. And seemed to do ok with it. But she was still showing som signs of nausea, so we called the vet for guidance. They instructed us to come in for an initial evaluation. We were assuming we were succumbing to the usual "overly-nervous dog parents" thing.

The evening vet did an initial evaluation, and decided that, while a little bit dehydrated, she seemed otherwise fine. She was active, waggy and not showing signs of pain - even with fairly firm abdominal palpation. So, he gave her a subcutaneous fluid injection and some anti-nausea medication. He instructed us to bring her back if she showed further symptoms and they'd order further tests and try to address any further symptoms. He also told us to try some Prilosec, the next day, if the nausea persisted.

The remainder of the evening was fairly uneventful, so I went to the office to work, on Wednesday. Cira was still mostly herself, so Donna tried the process of re-introducing her to food. She started with some plain rice and chicken in the morning, and repeated a few more times throughout the day. She'd also given her a Prilosec in the morning, per the vet's orders.

Thursday, I had a doctor's appointment scheduled, so it was going to be a telework day. An hour or so before sunup, I heard Cira hacking - as though she might be gagging or vomiting. Not wanting to light up the whole room, I came over with my cellphone — flashlight on — to check on her. Since I was shortly due to get up to telework, any way, I opted to bring her downstairs with me so she could nap by my side on my couch.

Donna came down with Lady and fed each dog. I apprised her of why I was downstairs so early with Cira. After the dogs finished their breakfasts, she went upstairs to check for vomit and found some in her bed-area. It was about time for me to leave for my doctor's appointment, so I told her to contact the vet and get an opinion. They advised Donna to bring Cira in and had an appointment available to do so. Donna let me know this while I was at my appointment. My appointment ended early enough that I was able to meet them at the vet only a minute or two after the consult started.

The vet gave her more fluids, some more aggressive medications and a script for medications to administer at home. We were instructed try bland food again with the medications and to call if Cira showed further signs of illness. The plan was that, if Cira did exhibit further issues, they'd do Xrays to verify that there weren't any bowel obstructions.

Donna gave her the meds, but Cira wasn't interested in food. I'd assumed that, because the vet had warned us that the one medicine was very bitter, that Cira wasn't interested in food because of how awful the medication made her mouth taste. Later in the afternoon, she threw up the pills and the food she'd had for breakfast. We tried feeding her again, but she still wouldn't eat. More worryingly, she wasn't even interested in licking peanutbutter off of either of our fingers. Obviously, we called the vet and they told us to bring her back.

This trip, they opted to do an X-ray to ensure that the week's sudden onset of vomiting and persistent nausea hadn't been caused by any kind of bowel blockage. The first indications that something truly dire was going on was that her spleen was noticeably enlarged and she had what appeared to be calcification in both her kidneys. We discussed diagnostic and treatment options. We opted to leave her there for some additional testing, some antibiotics and IV fluids and then returned home.

An hour or so after we got home, the vet unexpectedly called us. We weren't expecting a call till the next morning when the various (sent out) tests should have been back. Usually, early callbacks are rarely good news. This call very much wasn't good news. Cira's kidney-function tests were showing extremely high BUN and creatinine levels - a couple multiples of the numbers typically seen for stage IV renal failure in dogs. The enlarged spleen, while worrying, was no longer the top priority.

And now, we're waiting for ultrasound results to try to determine what all's going on in there. It's unlikely that the results will be anything outside of the immediate to less-immediate spectrum. At this point, it's mostly a case of trying to determine how much time she might have left at an acceptable quality of life. Call's already been put in to the in-home euthanasia service to check provider-availability. So, depending on the sonogram results, this could all be over very shortly or in a few day's time.

The bugger of it all, aside from the shear unexpectedness of it, is the timing. We lost both our cats to renal failure on the twelfth of the previous year's March. Similarly, we'd received a lung-cancer diagnosis for an earlier dog back in March of 2011. So, March is proving to be a hateful month for our pet ownership.