Postcards to hell

Here’s an idea I’d like to solicit your opinions on.

If there’s one thing that having a sick dog on your hands reminds you of is how much a dog counts on their human, not just for food and shelter, but for their emotional lives, too. Roo was sick for weeks on end—I’ll describe that in another post—and it amazed me how important it was to her for me to keep her company when she was feeling her worst. Even when she was in too much pain and didn’t have the energy to get up, if I was keeping her company on the floor, she would bat at my hand to keep me from getting up and leaving her. 

My theory is that dogs think in a vast array of emotions. They don’t have language to use to structure their thoughts the way we do, so they won’t think, “Please don’t leave me alone—I’m sick and worried,” but they can definitely worry and of course they need your support.

Anyone who loves dogs understands that, and it’s part of what makes it so nauseating to see any animal—but especially dogs, who exist only because of their relationship with humans and whose lives are never really fulfilled unless they’re in a relationship with them—be treated cruelly.

There are parts of America where it’s rare to see cruelty. In all the time we spent in Vermont, I saw one dog chained and no other examples of anything bad. But in other parts, especially in the South, you see dogs treated terribly all the time. Chained, starved, frozen, abandoned, injured, sick, neglected. They’re everywhere. 

All of us would like to think that we would stand up for all those dogs, but in truth, that doesn’t happen. Every time I pick up a stray, it turns into at least a day of work to get them situated somehow. If I stopped every time I saw a dog chained to a tree, it would be all I would do. Too much of it goes on. Unless someone has unlimited money, sufficient armament and developed martial arts skills, busting in on every redneck who mistreats a dog is just not realistic.

So, today, Roo and I passed a yard where a small pit mix was chained to a tree. He had shelter, if you want to call it that, a doghouse made of a discarded clear plastic water—or pesticide or fertilizer—tank. His ribs were sticking through his skin. You can imagine the look on his face. 

I was ashamed of myself for not stopping and ringing the doorbell. To tell you the truth, it was a combination of 90 percent cowardice and 10 percent being worn down. I see these poor dogs all the time—if we’re traveling on backroads, usually a few times a day. I can’t make a career out of interfering with them all. I spent a couple of hours the other day going after another one who was running loose, then right after that two Labs were loose in traffic. It never ends. And the sad little pit mix wasn’t in immediate danger. What I saw was just another slice of the life in hell he lives all the time. He’s left out there on his short chain and in his plastic tank by himself and fed on those occasions when someone gets around to getting off their couch and throwing a handful of kibble at him. He watches you drive by. He would probably like to take a ride.

He gave me an idea. Maybe it’s a terrible idea, which is why I’d like to know what you think. It’s postcards like the ones in the accompanying picture. The template for them could be downloaded by anyone and printed up at home on any printer on regular .38¢ Post Office postcards. A few could be kept in the car, and quickly filled out with the address on the spot and dropped in a mailbox. At least they'd let someone know they're being noticed.

Would they do any good? Or would they just jeopardize the dogs further? If you have any thoughts, use the comments here, not on facebook (these are facebook comments, same thing, and that way I don't have to jump back and forth).

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If you know what's good for you, you'll knock on wood

Knock on wood—it's starting to look like Junior is finally okay. It's hard to be sure, but she's had several good days in a row. 

Let me digress for a moment about that expression, "Knock on wood." From what I understand, it originated with an ancient belief that malevolent little fairies who had the power of invisibility, but only as long as they hid behind wood, were always lurking on the other side of your wood walls or under your table or up in the beams or in a cigar box—wherever—listening in on every word you said, which they did in the hopes of picking up information they could turn against you for their own entertainment. So, if, for example, you said, "I wonder if my cow would survive a tornado," the fairies would giggle at their great luck and what a fool you were for letting them know about this threat to your cow, and they would arrange for a tornado to come and suck your cow up into the sky. Or, if you said, "Did you hear Grandpa cough? I hope he isn't coming down with mesothelioma," they would make sure he woke up with it the next morning. If business was slow for the fairies and the best you could come up with was telling someone not to let the baby’s milk boil over while you went to yell at the dog about something, they would kill the time by letting it burn black and weld itself to the inside of the pot for good measure. Bad things happen all the time. Now you know why.

No one wants fairies like that around, always waiting for you to clue them in on the worst things that could happen to you so they can turn them against you and make them come true, for no better reason than they like to hear themselves giggle. But, whether you like it or not, they’re always there. It’s easy enough to prove to your own satisfaction: Take a second and look around for anything made of wood. A cupboard, maybe, or a door or table. If you’re at a desk, that’s perfect. They love those. Okay. Now—real quick—look at it. What do you see? Nothing? Which proves it. That’s how good they are at hiding, and that’s why they’re so dangerous.

As singleminded as those little fairies are, though, they all suffer from one universal character flaw, which is that they are prone to forgetting things if—and this is a big if—if they are startled. So, when you casually mention your hope to the fairies that the airliner your whole family is going to be on for the big reunion in Omaha the next day doesn’t accidentally run out of fuel and crash into the Rocky Mountains, you can turn the tragedy around as long as you remember to knock on the wood the fairies are hiding behind. They never expect it. And, what with their being as tiny as they are (you can fit several of them into a thimble, and if you ever do, you would be within your rights to hold the thimble with a fireplace tong and light matches under it and see how they like it for once), but being that tiny, your knocks on wood are like thunder to them. They all stop ho-ho-hoing and high fiving each other and scurry off like fleas. Their panic is so great that later, when they regroup and start asking each other what it was they were supposed to do, none of them can remember, and so, you and your cow and your whole family are safe—for now.

[Editor's note: Now I know how George Bush felt when he said, "If you're not with us, you're against us." 

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Mad dog in the middle of the night

When I last posted, Roo was starting to feel better. She had just tested negative for Addison’s disease and I was discussing next steps with the vets. The one in Tulsa who we went to for her ultrasound didn’t return the call for a few days (note to vets: If you’re too busy to make the calls, don’t take the patients).

Meanwhile, Roo continued to feel better every day. By the time the vet called on Monday morning, five days after the results the had prescribed came back, she was almost back to normal. Almost, because though her energy had returned and she was happy and as active as ever—I wouldn’t have been able to tell her apart from the dog she was some weeks ago before she got sick—her stool was still wet. But, I was monitoring it the way the court physician in The Last Emperor checked the boy ruler’s chamberpot with every bowel movement, and it was improving. Slowly improving, but definitely firming up a little more each day.

Now, I’m sure that vet in Tulsa is fine physician, but he is not good at communicating. When he called, he was more like Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, the source whose information brought Nixon down, but whose rule was that he wouldn’t volunteer any information that he wasn’t asked for. God only knows why. 

“Well, Doc,” I said, “the ACTH test came back negative, so I guess Addison’s is out.”

“Yes,” he said.

“But she’s been feeling much better. Almost back to normal. The only thing is her stool is still on the loose side.”

“Ah,” he said.

“I know you said that the next step would be an endoscopy, but what about other things she may have? Irritable bowel disease?”

“Possible,” he said.

“And when she was really sick, back when I took her to the doctor originally, she had that slightly elevated number for pancreatitis. Could it be that that test happened to catch her at the tail end of a pancreatitis attack? The blood test you did was a week later and didn’t show anything. But you said that her pancreas might have been a little swollen.”

“Well,” he said. “That’s a possibility.”

“In which case…?” I tried to prompt him, but it was no good. “Wouldn’t it make sense to treat her for the other stuff and see if it does any good.”

“You could do that.”

“Just with diet, or with any meds?”

“Bland diet. No fat.”

“I mean, does anything indicate to you that that she needs to be scoped urgently? Is there any sign of anything grave that you’d need to get a look at? If she had something growing in there, wouldn’t that mean that she wouldn’t be improving?”

“Probably. Hard to tell.”

“But you don’t think I’d be placing her in danger by not scoping her right away?”

“No.”

“Is there any other testing I should do in the meantime? Another fecal exam?”

“You could. Parasites can come in waves. They don’t always appear in every sample.”

Roo kept improving. She returned to her old energy levels and started bugging me constantly to be allowed out in the hopes of killing someone. She even started to lay down a few near-normals poops.

The only thing over the past few weeks that has changed is that Roo hasn’t gotten any of her usual tastes of cheese or milk or any of that. Not that she ever got large amounts, but she always got a taste. Now, though, I trim all the fat away from her meat and she’s not getting anything with fat in it. So maybe the reduction in fat is why she was doing better. And if she has inflammatory bowel disease, her cleaner diet might also have been the solution. But, with IBD they tend to lose some weight, which Roo wasn’t. She’s lost a tiny bit because of the way her diet has been scaled back, but she’s not wasting away. In fact, she looks so good that if she had an egg cream at the soda fountain in Schwab’s on Hollywood and Vine somebody would spot her and cast her in movie.

But then, late this afternoon, she had a small piece of chicken, cut up into small pieces and spread out on a plate to keep her from snarfing it down in one gulp, which is how she likes to eat, and suddenly her acid reflux came back. She must have been as worried as I was at the thought of getting sick again. She panicked and started jumping up and down and getting agitated and wanting to get outside. But, was this Roo having the same thing she had recently, or was this just Roo getting nauseous the way she always has from time to time? Whatever it was, there was no calming her down. She had to get out to eat grass to make herself throw up. That didn’t seem like such a bad idea, except that the last time she ate grass she didn’t throw up. And if she ate grass and the didn’t throw it up, with whatever’s going on in her gut, it could irritate her intestines more. But, it wouldn’t if she threw it up. On the other hand, she had been off the anti-vomiting medication for only a day or two that last time, and maybe that was why she didn’t throw the grass up.

Who knows? Half the time it’s impossible to tell what’s going on with these guys. This is exactly why I would rather fly around on Air Force One with a special Naval veterinarian whose entire career devoted to one patient—Roo. Otherwise, you spend your whole time trying to figure it out. Even vets have no clue what’s going on with them most of the time.

But, she was freaking out. I opened the door. She tore away at the grass, for ten minutes, then threw up an impressive green ball that looked like something out of a Japanese dinosaur movie from the 1970s and then seemed to be more or less okay. The reflux kept coming back, not violently, but repeatedly. And now, nearing one in the morning, it’s till hitting her a little.

Here’s another weird thing: When she getting sick a few weeks ago, I started to think that her skin, on her lower neck and back, was feeling a little hard, a little thicker than usual. Then, as she got better, it seemed to get back to normal. Now, tonight, it seems to be back to being hard again. Of course, this is probably just another symptom of losing my mind from overanalyzing everything she does. All night, every time I hear her just settling her tongue in her sleep I’m immediately alert for signs of her being sick. But there have been none. Until today. 

I was really hoping she had gotten over her weeks of illness. Maybe she has. Maybe she hasn’t. 

I gave her another round of Pepto about half an hour ago. And just now, at 1:28 AM, she went on the alert at the door with the hair on her back standing on end. I opened the door for her and Roo—the same Roo who has refused to go out for a nighttime pee in two months—charged out and chased some poor little beast, some nocturnal Oklahoma furball, probably skulking around the campground in the hopes of scavenging some tiny crumb, off into the night. 

This is what that looked like: Roo, with her hair up, barking, bolting into the darkness, then instantly running back with her tail between her knees and wanting to get back inside. It took some convincing to get her to relieve herself, but finally she did. And she didn’t want to eat any grass. So, maybe she’ll be all right.

Don't you wish she would make up her mind, already?

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Negative test results. But now what?

Yesterday Rooki had the ACTH stimulation test (scroll down to the previous post if you missed that), the purpose of which was to zero in on the possibility, raised the other day by bloodwork at the internal medicine specialist, of Addison’s disease. Today, from the time she got up, she was so obviously feeling better that I didn’t give her her anti-nausea med, and then she led the way on a full walk around the pasture. She swam, hunted, chased, ran, dug, all as if she was back to normal. The only thing pointing to her still not being well was the cow patty she left behind. But she felt great. And she looks great.

The camper has developed a whole new set of leaks, so I had to spend several hours trying to fix the godforsaken thing and in the end get a repairman and work on it with him. Roo hung around outside and stayed happy and alert through those hours, lobbying for some attention, curious about what was going on. These days I never expect that to last long. I looked at her constantly to see if any signs of trouble were coming back, but she was fine. Completely normal.

In the afternoon Dr. Stokes called with the results of the ACTH test. Negative. No Addison’s. The cortisol response to the glucose stimulation was perfectly normal.

I don’t put too much stock in her having felt better for a day—after all, that happened last week for two days before she took another dive. But the conflicting signals of feeling so good yet now having to be subjected to the next stage of the inquiry—endoscopy—is not just confusing, it’s bloody awful. It’s scary and stressful for her. And Dr. Stokes has warned me that when they scope a dog, they can’t snake the scope past the beginning of the small intestine, so if the endoscopy doesn’t turn anything up the next stage would be exploratory surgery. He wanted to be clear that I understood that. What does that mean? Are they expecting something bad?

I don’t know if I’m glad or not that she doesn’t have Addison’s. And if the past couple of weeks has been any indication, in another day or two she’ll be sick again. Then, if I give her the anti-nausea med, will it work if it’s after the fact? Will it be too late? But keeping her on it for prolonged periods isn’t a great idea, either. It’s not made for that.

I’m reaching new levels of exhaustion, sick, too, and obviously worried about Roo all the time. So, when we were finished with the pain in the ass jobs on the camper, another walk for Roo was the last thing I wanted to do. But I didn’t want to waste an opportunity for her to exercise and be able to have some fun while she was feeling good. She was the old Rooki again, just as she had been in the morning. 

I didn’t let her go to extremes, though. Getting too exhausted can’t be good for her, either. She wanted to continue, but I told her to forget it, Bearface, and clipped the leash on her and brought her back. As it was, this meant she had hiked three miles today. What happened next is another mystery.

At the end of the walk she wasn’t as hot as she normally would be, since on the leash for the last half of the walk she had to move at my speed, but she was still panting when we got back. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm, in the low 50s. On the way, there’s a water trough for the buffalo, and I usually hose her off there so she can dry out a little by the time we get back to the camper. She was fine. Normal. I fed her, and she ate without incident. No reflux, no sign of anything wrong. Fifteen minutes later I told her we had to go in the car, and she hopped right up, wagged, and was happy about it. Ten minutes after that, in the car, I put a hand on her and noticed that she was shivering. Her nose was ice cold. I took my fleece jacket off and put it around her. By the time we got back to the camper, she was still shivering a little, and didn’t want to be covered. Eventually she stopped, and now she’s sleeping soundly. Could she have shivered from being in a weakened state? I think she’s only shivered one other time in her life.

What could be going on with her? The only two things the docs thought her symptoms pointed to have been all but ruled out. But a lab test could be wrong. I doubt the ACTH is wrong, because one lab checks two results taken two hours apart and both fell into the expected ranges. But her pancreas was a little swollen on The ultrasound on Monday. It was the bloodwork that came back negative for that. Now, the endoscopy is coming up, but that’s being given with the warning proviso that it’s only good if it finds anything wrong with her upper GI tract. If it doesn’t she’ll need exploratory surgery?

That’s where we are. Another 300-mile round trip to Tulsa coming up, and another frightening time for Roo. And of course the question of whether she might be able to eke out another day, and then another, of feeling well, like she did today. What could be wrong with her?

Living in the camper is becoming impossible. But I believe we are stuck. 

Midnight Reruns: The New Rooki Kahoo

I'm not the type to go back and look at old videos I posted long ago on YouTube, but I'm going to start to repost some of those.

This one is the first video of Roo I ever posted. It was only a few days after she was assigned to me as an IndiLabs foster. If you haven't read the short book about her, these old videos will be a lot more fun—and a lot more touching—if you read that. When I picked her up at the spay clinic, Roo was a mess. This was when she first started feeling better and had just begun to smile as she started to strengthen. She was so weak that even the muscles in her tongue had lost tone. In this video, you can see that her tongue still looks like its a little weak. It was so moving to see a young dog start to heal, to see those scrawny, underdeveloped legs start to gain weight. 

Can you believe that this puppy was mistaken for a three-year-old? After a few days she started to look like a two-year-old, then younger and younger. By the time she had to have a little surgery a couple of weeks in, her vet was examining her and we were talking about how old she was. I said something like, "I think she's even younger," and the vet said, with an incredulous look on her face, because she hadn't seen Roo in ten days or two weeks, "She's a puppy!"

Another day, another test for Rooki

Whatever is making Roo sick seems to come and go. She’s worse in the mornings, but by the afternoons wants to get back to her life’s work of leaving the grandpuppies she never had a world untroubled by mouses. 

You might remember that one of Roo’s peculiarities is her need to sleep by the side of a bed. In the camper, those spaces are only 18 inches wide. The bed is on a square wooden frame, and I had that cut back on one side to make enough room for a proper bed for her. She likes that bed, it’s comfortable memory foam model, and that’s where she sleeps. 

But the other side is still only the original 18 inches wide, and she goes there when she wants to hide. Being tighter, it probably feels more secure, and she also has a better view of the rest of the interior from that side. If she’s keeping an eye on things you see her forepaws and her nose poking out from the corner. 

Over last night, she moved from her bed to that side, either because she heard something that worried her or she felt sick. Whichever it was, every time I checked her, she was sleeping and she seemed to be okay when I leaned over the side to say hi to her. 

This is a ritual Rooki loves. Roo is a prizewinning sleeper. She hasn’t changed much since she was a puppy who couldn’t be woken up. She lies there as if she’s recovering from the effects of a profound experimental anesthetic, groggy, glassy-eyed, barely able to move. I put my hand on her head and say something like, “Who’s this little country mouse sleeping here?” She makes an enormous effort to move an arm over in the conviction that such a supercanine effort should be rewarded with some belly scratching. I comply and she puts herself back to sleep. Her eyes glass over again. She looks like a sea bass lying on ice chips at the fish market. She seems to be asleep, and, because I am hanging uncomfortably off the edge of the bed, I always take advantage of this to get up. This, however, is never acceptable to her. With the reflexes of starved Malinois working the barbed wire at a Soviet work camp, the second I move she frantically bats at my arm with her forepaw and picks her head up to look at me withto let me know that I am not, as I seem to think, dismissed.

This morning she was the same as usual, except for being on the narrow side of the bed. When she got up a few minutes later—way earlier than she usually does—I waited until she took her usual morning sip of water to get her throat lubed up and then stuffed her pills down her throat. She’s not getting these meds in the hopes of fixing anything she’s got. They’re just to try to make her more comfortable. She’s back on the Cerenia, which controls her nausea and keeps her from eating grass. One of two omeprazoles she’ll get (thank you Blue Cross Blue Shield for those), and a couple of Peptos just in case. But ten minutes another reflux attack hit her. 

When that happens, she gets worried about how bad it’s going to be. I know it’s worry because she can be comforted and when she calms down the severity seems to be reduced. 

To make things worse for her, she was going to have to go to the vet’s again, and this time be left there alone for the two-and-a-half hours it would take to complete her ACTH stimulation test. She had to be there by ten in order for the blood to get out the door to the lab by the one o’clock cutoff. She was so wrought up that she didn’t even get everything done. 

I kept her outside for as long as I could. It helps her because she spots a squirrel or remembers some promising mousehole and, with her mind off the way she’s feeling, she does better right away. All of this is new, and it hasn’t settled into definite patterns, but that’s what it seems like, anyway. I hope it doesn’t get to settle into regular patterns before we find out what’s wrong and can treat her for it instead of just trying to keep the symptoms down.

When we got to the vet, Roo hopped out of the car and trotted right up to the door—but then remembered the implications of where she was herself and decided not to come in. I asked someone to hold the door so I could move farther in and get her to follow. The worst part is having to turn her over to the staff. She doesn’t want to leave me, so I have to go through one of the doors to the back area ahead of her and then hand her over when she follows. It feels like I’m tricking her. I hope it doesn’t feel like that to her.

I came back to get her at 12:30, and man, was she glad to get out of there. Who can blame her. No dog likes it. Roo of course is a skittish dog, but she was no more upset than any other dog. She wasn’t looking miserable. She was just glad that whatever the hell that was all about was over. She was like, “You forgot to take me with you when you left. I tried to come, but you were already gone. These people put me up on a table! One of them held me while the other one stuck a needle in my arm! For a Daddy, you sure have some weird friends.”

The stress took a lot out of her, though. She was wagging and smiling with relief about getting in the car, and jumped right in without playing her usual delay game. She lay down in the back seat and was asleep in seconds. Back at the camper, same thing. She didn’t want to go for a walk, she wanted to get right in and lie down on the narrow side.

She slept for a couple of hours. Any time she woke up I suggested a walk, but she wasn’t interested until much later. And then, as soon as we went out, someone started shooting. Not close by, and whoever it is is a deliberate shooter who doesn’t blow off a lot of ammo, and Roo has been getting used to that particular source of gunfire. She’s almost to the point where she can tolerate it with just a little coaxing. But not today. We had barely gone 200 feet. I was a little ahead of her when the popping started and she ran to me with a look that said, “Nope, not today. Not dealing with it. Had it.” She motioned for her Flexi and as soon as I gave it to her she ran back to the camper and waited with her nose at the door until I got back to open it.

She needed more sleep, anyway. Later she was willing to try again, and that time, she ran up and down the hills and dug holes and refused to listen to me when I called her and tore a dead tree down and chased the rat who this forced out. He won that one, but she knows where he lives now, so it’s only a matter of time before that rat goes swimming with the fishes. With the sea bass, in particular. She was in the same kind of shape she’s always been in. When you have a dog who isn’t feeling well and they have stretches where they seem as energetic and happy as ever, it’s really something to see. 

The vet says the results of this last round of testing might come back tomorrow, though it might take another day. On one hand, if it’s Addison’s disease, it could provide an answer, though not a great one. On the other, if it’s not Addison’s, she’s going to have to have endoscopy right away to see what’s going on down there.

Meanwhile, Roo has been asking for a little more attention. She likes it when I say something about her stomach and rub her belly where it was shaved for the ultrasound. I tell her what a poor little bear she is with her stomach but that we’re going to fix it so can can stop worrying about it. She listens with her ears back and the skin on the top of her head flattened. I hope she’s not too worried.

It’s getting late. She just came out from the narrow side of the bed, stretched, wagged, and put her chin on my leg. She knows this will get her ears scratched. Then she asked for a lift up to the bed. That’s a good sign—she never goes up there if she’s worried or feeling bad. She went to the head of the bed and leaned against a pillow, but then reconsidered and crawled closer to where I’m sitting on a camp chair. She stretched her neck to get her snout close and looked at me while she went back to sleep. Maybe tonight she’ll sleep through the night. It might be a tall order with the wind blowing as hard as it is. But maybe she can.

*                    *                    *

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