Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Surviving Bloat

Brutus after surgery, with breathing tube still in, and a foot-long incision you can't really see here.

Bloat. It’s a word that inspires fear in the hearts of crazy dog ladies everywhere. No one really knows what causes it, and it can move from zero symptoms (or ones you don’t notice) to fatal in a matter of minutes. The stomach twists on itself and once the stomach and intestines die, there is nothing you can do.

On Tuesday, Brutus had emergency surgery for bloat, and so far is doing ok. It’s very scary that if I had not been working from home that day, by the time we got home from work he probably either would have been dead or past veterinary medicine’s ability to save him. After the surgery, the owner of the veterinary hospital passed by and said he didn’t know whether to say it was our unlucky day, or our lucky day.  I replied that I’d put it squarely in the “lucky” column.

To spread the good karma around, the rest of this post is sharing my experience with bloat in the hope that it could save another dog’s life.  Pay special attention if you have a deep-chested or large breed of dog.  It’s also a harrowing tale with a happy ending, and even a bit of dark humor at the end.

Basically, Brutus’s stomach spun all the way around so that it was pinched shut and cutting off the blood supply to all parts of the digestive system south of the stomach. It also wrapped around his spleen, which had to be removed. His distressed system began filling with gasses that had no means to escape his body. The big risk is the dog going into shock and the blood-deprived tissues and organs dying. Dogs can’t live without functioning intestines.

The trigger to rush Brutus to the vet was a single stretch. He had vomited earlier, but it was the stretch that sent me to the vet for possible bloat. 20 minutes later, it would be apparent to anyone that he was in terrible distress, but thankfully we were already pulling up to the vet at that point because minutes count.

Here’s how it went down: Brutus was fine Monday night and Tuesday morning. He ate breakfast in a joyous but relatively relaxed manner with nothing out of the ordinary. A few hours later, he vomited, and there was a bunch of grass and a scrap of green vinyl I couldn’t identify in there, which may or may not have caused some gastric upset that contributed to the bloat, who knows. He drank some water I offered him, and took a treat - my first “tests” for how sick he is, which he passed with flying colors. Next test, check gums for capillary refill and color – A-ok. I gave him a Pepcid, which we normally give him for his acid reflux (he’s kinda fragile for a giant dog) and proceeded to my conference call. A bit later, he retched and belched a couple of times then seemed to recover (thank you “mute” function on my phone.) OK, time for closer observation. Then, lying down next to me, he did a big stretch, stretching his back legs way out. Uh oh. Maybe he is trying to relieve some discomfort in his belly/bowels? I decided to embrace my crazy dog lady-ness and drop my conference call on the rare chance it was bloat, and not just him stretching for the heck of it.

When I got the keys and crated the other dogs, he was ecstatic about going on a trip. I thought for the umpteenth time how I was overreacting, but thought at least I’d be able to pick up some milk while I was out. During the drive, on which I was favoring speed over smoothness of ride, he began retching repeatedly and couldn’t sit still (also thank you to my cargo liner, though I wasn’t caring about that at the time.) When I opened the back hatch about 20 minutes later, panic began to set in. There was foamy drool all over the cargo area. He had to stop several times between the car and the office to retch. From the car to the exam room, I watched his belly start to blow up like a balloon. At this point, I figured it was either an obstruction or bloat, but either way an emergency. He was x-rayed and put on IV fluids, which he would need to complete before surgery to guard against shock. Two bags took a while to drip in, and in the meantime his belly now felt and looked like a 9-month pregnancy. He spent some time pacing with his legs set wide apart, groaning, drooling, and trying to pass gas to try to relieve the pressure he was feeling (which did succeed in expressing his anal glands quite a bit), holding his tail high over his body. He spent other time lying down, still groaning and drooling.  His tongue and gums became pale white.

The x-ray had shown what looked like an intestinal torsion, which is more rare (i.e. vets have less experience performing these kinds of surgeries successfully.) After the x-ray and starting the IV, our wonderful, caring, and skilled vet - whom I am so glad happened to be in that office branch on that day - informed me that if she opened him up and saw that his intestines were dead, she would be asking us to make the merciful decision not to wake him up.  I knew already that bloat was often fatal, but hearing it out loud is something else entirely.  Of course I lost it at that point, but had to quickly recover so that I could get Paul on the road toward us and hopefully not so erratically to provoke a crash. Paul did make it prior to the 2 IV bags being done, and Brutus was happy to see him of course. Throughout, Brutus still summoned a little tail wag for every visitor to the exam room.

A bit into the surgery, we were informed that it was his stomach that had turned, not the intestine, which was the first bit of good news. It was also apparent at that point that the vet had seen inside him and it wasn’t a total unsalvageable mess.

Some hours later, our vet emerged looking absolutely exhausted, to tell us we could see him as soon as he was moved from surgery into an exam room, and that everything went ok. Part of the surgery is to tack his stomach against his body to prevent recurrence. He’ll stay at the vet the rest of the week, because it is possible he’ll need a second surgery to remove part of his stomach, but this seems to be a contingency they are prepared to deal with if it happens. Then a week of feeding tiny meals every few hours, and six weeks of leash-restricted walking and crate rest, and he’s back to full duty.

We stayed with Brutus quite a while, until we were officially kicked out so that he could go in the back and rest. Here’s the only humorous portion of the story. He was pretty much out of it, sort of aware of his surroundings but just lying there sleepy. Then a vet who we normally don’t see, but who was the one to come out to our house last July to put Louie to sleep, stopped by to see how we were doing. As soon as Brutus heard that voice, he came alive and tried to get up, and we had to work to keep him lying down and still. Apparently he was saying, “Whoa there! No, hey, I’m ok, see? Look I’m standing up! No need for the grim reaper here. Good as new!” Apparently he wanted to be VERY clear, that today was not his day to go.  And thank heaven for that.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Audubon's failure at naming, and the miracle of inter-species communication

Announcing Seelie Court Withun, DSA! After realizing that “Piper” was completely wrong for her, I started looking at bird names since she is so light, joyful, and merry. But, as it turns out, birds got the short end of the stick in the naming department… Not one suitable name in the entire Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds. I fared no better with the Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. After going 0 for 2 with Audubon and a brief unfruitful look at North American Trees, I knew better than to crack open Reptiles & Amphibians or Insects & Spiders.  Seriously Audubon, wasn't taxonomy your "thing?!"  Is it just North America, or is humankind really this bad at naming flora and fauna?  I guess waiting two weeks to name my dog is not so bad then.  So the search moved to new areas.

In Scottish folklore, the fey – fairies and such – are divided into the Seelie and Unseelie courts. Generally, the Seelie Court fey are the more benevolent toward humankind; though they are still mischievous and have their moments, they have good intentions. I think it fits, because while she is lovely and sweet, she does have her own ideas about things (and I think she’s got about the perfect combination of biddable and independent.) Some see the Seelie Court as the “aristocracy” of the fey, and hey if you’re going to be a fairy, you may as well be in the ruling class. Paul also came up with the name Seelie completely independently. Long before we started watching the TV show Bones, he nicknamed Rowdy Bones – and Seeley Booth is Bones’ counterpart on one of our favorite shows (tough gun-toting FBI guy and nerdy forensic scientist – gee I wonder why we both like it.) So there you go.

Seelie has been quite busy, enrolled in two classes a week, going to Dog Scout camp for the retreat, and we just went out to work sheep again yesterday. I am anxious to build a good working relationship, and not that great at practicing on my own, so there we are in class. I knew that getting a new dog might have its frustrations, starting over in many ways with training while I am used to Rowdy pretty much knowing everything already or at least picking it up in under 5 minutes. But what struck me in the first week was that I wasn’t bothered by her not knowing how to retrieve, or having a perfect recall – it was that I had no way of communicating with her. It was as if I were hosting a foreign exchange student that knows nothing but Japanese. What struck me next is that – good heavens – this is how most people live their whole LIVES with their dogs! What a shame, when life can be so much more enjoyable, and your “friendship” with your dog so much richer, if you just take a few minutes a day to discover the wonders of inter-species communication. 

With both Brutus and Rowdy, it seems I can always communicate with them, and know generally what they are wanting as well. Most of the time it just feels like we have ESP and is totally effortless, but really it’s a combination of having taught them pretty many words, and them learning my body language and tones of voice (and me being consistent with them), added to a healthy dose of just paying attention to one another enough to figure each other out.  I do spend some time trying not to be hopelessly confusing, but I have to say this has paid off in my human relationships as well.  For either of us, it pays dividends. Whether they decide to cooperate is another thing entirely, but I’m never left without a way to let them know what it is that I want. If Rowdy is thirsty at the training building, he looks at corner with the water bowl and looks at me, and I’m usually paying enough attention and don’t mind walking him over there. Because he knows how to politely ask for things, and is granted that thing often enough, he doesn’t become a nuisance demanding stuff or throwing tantrums.  I like to think he’s happier being able to ask, and I like the idea that he’s not just a prisoner who has every moment decided for him, down to when he can execute the most basic bodily functions.  Incidentally, this is why I find it hard to believe so many people think their dogs are "taking over" and dominating their relationship - use your TOOLS, people!  That's the hallmark of homo sapiens for God's sake! 

ANYway...  Occasionally, he “asks” to be let out back to do joyful zoomies around the woods when HE feels like it, and occasionally I oblige. And I can ask him to bring me the squeaker he has just liberated from a savaged stuffed toy so that he doesn’t swallow it (and I don’t even have to leave my chair) or to walk more slowly over the dogwalk please, or please don’t make a noisy scene about the over-exuberant retriever coming at you, yes I see that he needs some manners but can we leave that to his owner this time?  Thanks, and you're right that is indeed cookie-worthy.  What a gift it is to be able to communicate with another species, and what a gift to your dog to bother. It makes life so much more enjoyable. And slowly, Seelie and I are getting on the same page, though I wonder what she’s thinking and worry that for now she’s living inside that Far Side cartoon “blah, blah, blah, Seelie, blah, blah, blah” wondering what the heck this crazy lady wants, anyway.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Adventures with New Red Dog

   Well, for simplicity's sake, I'll keep referring to little girl as "Piper" though we are currently testing several other choices.  Too many puh's or something, but Piper just does't work for her or for me, although I really liked Pi - 'irrational, yet well-rounded' for my fellow geeks.  Unfortunately, we already have a Pie in our circle of friends, so that adds fuel to the new name search fire.  And when I say "Piper, Down" I think of Mike Myers in the movie "So I Married an Axe Murderer," speaking in a heavy Scottish accent about the bagpiper that passed out drunk at his wedding - "Piper dowwwenn, we've go' a Piper dowwwenn."  On top of that, the whole Rowdy Roddy Piper thing, and it's just all too much.  (Little girl, tell me your name!!!!) 

   Some ideas on the current short list: Sesame (Sam for short), Cyder, Nutmeg (Meg), and Kaizen (Kai for short, pronouced just like it looks: kai - zen) which is a Japanese term for continuous improvement that loosely refers to working together to get a little better every day, though it means more to me than that.  I like the sentiment, and Kaizen is one of my favorite things about my work.  Just don't tell me if you *don't* like one, because that will make *me* not like it too, and then I'll never decide.  But feel free to show support for your favorite.

   So little girl came home with us for good on May 23rd, after a brief stay with Aunt Lori and her jack russell terriers.  Then right off to Intro to Rally-O class on Monday, and Basic Obedience class on Thursday.  Of course she is a superstar in class, and a quick learner, though she is a "breed snob" and has no interest in non herding dogs approaching her, with all their crazy bounciness (though she LOVES Brutus, and he loves her.)  I'm pretty sure she was using the canine version of the F-bomb on the nutty Dachshund sitting next to us who was only loosely under the control of its owner.  Then, on Friday morning we were straight off to the Dog Scouts of America Leader Retreat on Memorial Day Weekend with little girl, Rowdy, Aunt Lori, Sadie and Howie!  The Withun dogs keep a busy calendar.

   Highlights of the retreat: little girl earned the Dog Scout title (now her name will be "to-be-determined, DSA"), as well as the Overnight Camping and Backpacking merit badges, and Rowdy earned the Earthdog badge.  We had an awesome time camping out in a tent with our friends Lori and Lonnie - 3 people and 5 dogs in a tent, plus 3 more tents of great friends.  Rowdy carried the water in his backpack, and I carried the Chardonnay, while little girl took it easy for her first backpacking trip.  [Man, camping is fun, but also MUCH improved by a little wine.  Take the bag out of the box and you have yourself a drunken-camelback.]  Both dogs were fabulous, and made it seem like we camp out all the time.  Earning the Backpacking merit badge entailed hiking 6 total miles in Michigan's beautiful North Woods with the dogs wearing their backpacks containing: water, water bowl, spare collar and leash, poop cleanup bags, flashlight, first aid kit, matches, owner's ID, compass, pocketknife, and signalling device.  It's come in handy more than once that they are always carrying this stuff (and it leaves room in my pack for less serious but still important items, like wine and glasses, and bug spray.)

   It is so great to have dogs that you can take anyplace and do lots of fun stuff with, and it's worth all of the work to get there.  And/or it's worth all of the Donovans' work in little girl's case, since she arrived as a pretty easy companion, thank you very much Donovan family.  :)  She has quickly worked her way into Paul's heart too, even though she still barks at him when he emerges "suddenly" from the Man Cave (basement).

   I wondered how I would deal with a more timid type of dog, as little girl is.  I am used to Rowdy's all-in kind of personality.  For better or worse, he's always up for whatever I throw at him, enjoys any activity, and seems to excel at everything.  With relatively little training/encouragement, he was an Earthdog.  Down into the tunnel, crawling about ten feet to a left turn in the dark, then 8 more feet to where the rat was (safely contained), and "working the rat" for 15 seconds to earn the badge.  His version of "working" was furiously digging and whining at the bars that separated him from the rat.  I think when he realized I *wanted* him to dig and try to get the rodent, I got yet another shade cooler in his eyes - first sheep, now rats!  What a mom!  She's finally "getting it" about how much more fun that is than always "leaving it!"

   Little girl would not have been so interested, I think.  And as it turns out, I'm OK with that.  I think it would have been a little scary for her at first, and while we could have worked through it, she had a nap in the lodge instead.  I mean really, what more could I ask from her in that weekend that she had not already offered?  Between Brutus, Rowdy, and little girl, I think we have a great family of dogs with very different and interesting personalities.

   This weekend, I got brave enough - at Paul's encouragement - to let little girl off leash outside.  We had a great little hike around the property, and while I won't claim she's got a "lightning-fast recall," she didn't have any interest in straying out of our sight, and at this point, I'll take it.  Being able to just open the back door and walk out unleashed into the woods is wonderful.