Loss of a guardian

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MincoStandI had to say goodbye to Minco yesterday. The tumor on his ankle had become too painful to manage, and his other rear leg could not have supported his weight for much longer.

He was not quite 12 1/2 – so I suppose I should count myself lucky for having had so much time with him, and having learned so much from him. He taught me a lot about ear infections and how to avoid poultry and flaxseed, how to manage resource guarding and an independent thinker.

I had given up trying to teach him to sit, he was simply not interested. But he was watching as I worked with my English Shepherd, and he saw that she was getting REWARDED for sitting down! He kept coming over to try to get in on the treats (without doing the work) and in exasperation I told him to “plant that butt!” And he did. And he got his reward. And he had a perfect sit from then on, the only problem was that I had to repeat that original instruction. We did finally winnow it down to just “plant.”
Minco overcame the loss of vision in one eye, a multitude of urinary crystals, a tumor in his spleen and then Babesiosis a couple of years later. His back end never completely regained strength after the Babesiosis, and he stopped jumping onto the bed about 8 months ago. But he never tired of letting me know if I was moving a half-step slow when it was time to eat. I have never heard a dog scold as effectively as he did. But he also stopped putting his from paws on my shoulders to look me square in the eye to tell me really important stuff.

He was always looking out for me – if I was outside too long he would come get me, or he would watch from the doorway to make sure I didn’t get in trouble. He would always elicit gasps when we walked into the vet’s office, with people exclaiming not over his size, but telling each other, and me, what a beautiful dog he was.
Although he wasn’t a National Anatolian Shepherd Rescue Network dog, Carleen and the group provided a lot of support and patience once I figured out his likely heritage. Thank you for the knowledge you shared. I hope that I have helped pass some of that knowledge along to others who have found themselves in possession of these marvelous dogs.
RIP sweet Minco. I will see your beautiful cheetah run in my dreams.

A Fare-Thee-Well

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Yesterday evening I had to say good-bye to my 11 1/2 year-old Pyr, Faith.

faithfulShe helped more than a few dogs in her day, whether in transport or foster. Though she was the least likely to play of any of my dogs, it was to her that one special Berner boy made his first play bow, when we didn’t know at first whether we would ever be able to draw him out of his shell of fear.

Faith came to me from the local shelter, intended as a companion for my BARC Beauty Sophia. They quickly became fast friends, and they made sure that all other dogs coming to their house knew the rules. She was true to her breed, keeping me and our property safe from all manner of trucks, buses, birds and planes. We NEVER had a plane land in our driveway!

Age and years of property management caught up with her, she spent the past few years on monthly Adaquon shots and Salmon oil seemed to ease some of her cognitive issues, but a recent infection recurred and may have had an impact on her liver and gall bladder. X-rays indicated that her hips and knees were failing, making the option for gall bladder surgery more problematic.

She refused to tell me that it was time for her to go. To the end, she was trying to protect me at her own expense. But I told her that I would do what was right for her, and I know that was what I did.

Three of my dogs are fine, but my ASD/Pyr mix, who was her closest companion after we lost Sophia, is taking it hard. But I know he will help me keep my promise to Faith tonight that I would be fine. He’s sneakiy that way, making sure that I don’t have time to wallow. He will keep me grounded, Berner Hagar will keep me laughing and Duffy and Domino will make sure that I PAY ATTENTION!!!

Run and spin with abandon, dear Faith. You were greatly loved all eleven years I got to share with you, and I will carry you in my heart until we meet again.

States of Being

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Sometimes it seems that my dogs are not five separate organisms, but parts of one whole. When something is off balance with one part, the whole organism shifts.

I have been surprised the past couple of days, while my sweet Pyr is being treated at the vet’s office, by the behavior of my other dogs. Usually, if I get home later than normal, I am greeted with great enthusiasm and vocalization. I can feel the whole house bouncing and vibrating. But not this week.

This week, the dogs have made perfucntory barks and little else. They have made their way to the door and outside with fair haste, but not with the same drive. They know Faith is ill, they know their world is out of balance.

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I don’t know whether this time balance can be restored.

I know that with or without Faith, we will go on. We will find a new balance.

I wonder how long it will take for us to find enthusiasm and joy in that new balance.

If she comes through this illness, she will be a far more elderly, frail dog than she would ever have expected to be. Her dignity will be important to all of us. She will have to supervise someone else keeping the yard safe from buses, birds and planes.

Life changes. Organisms have an ebb and flow.

I feel so lucky to live within the aura of this organism.

Canine health – Hope and Tragedy

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Why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through this over and over and over again?

This morning I found out that a dear friend’s dog was diagnosed with cancer – a cancer all too prevalent in the breed we love. This is the second dog she has had with this form of cancer this decade.

Years ago I lost my beloved Border Collie to hemangiosarcoma. At the time, I could imagine nothing more devastating.

Then I fell in love with Bernese Mountain dogs.

Sanity would suggest that these dogs are their own Greek tragedy. Their life span is one of the shortest of all breeds, they are subject to multiple cancers as well as having a tendency to bloat, bleeding, and dysplasia. Why anyone would self-select for the kind of grief that is almost certain is almost beyond comprehension.

Until you meet the dogs. My first Berner was not my first dog. And my relationships with my dogs before her were wonderful relationships. But something in Sophia really, really got to me.

She was a challenge, both in attitude and health. We had a lot of issues to overcome before she blossomed into the dog we always both knew was lurking behind her pain aggression.  We worked together to make her well. She taught me so much about patience and courage and perseverance and joy. Especially joy.

Even on a bad day, she could light up with energy, happiness, goofiness, … She was clever and she was smart. And she needed me in ways I had never expected. When she was young, she wasn’t ready for the responsibility of the whole house – I quickly learned the up – and down sides of crating. For her, a few months of being crated while I was at work gave her the time to mature to the point where she could take care of the whole house while I was gone. She became my most trustworthy, ‘bulletproof’ dog to be loose in the house.

Berners love their people – and don’t like separations. For a time (after she had once again been given full run of the house all the time) she was growing increasingly agitated when I got ready to leave. After a week or two of this escalating anxiety, one day I turned around, set my stuff back down, and sat down in front of her.

“I always come back. I will always come back. As long as there is breath in my body, I will come home to you. I will never, ever abandon you.”

I sat with her, looking into her eyes and telling her this, for several minutes.  I watched and felt her body relax. She finally put her chin down between her front paws and gave me that look: “What are you still doing here?” I never had another moment of separation anxiety from her.

My girl died of cancer, Malignant Histiocitosis, several weeks shy of her eighth birthday. Although we tried chemo, we were too late. She let me know she was ready to leave.

I wish that no one ever again would have to experience the kind of grief I felt, but I know that isn’t going to be a reality for some time to come. I fear that my friend’s dog, another goofy, sweet, intelligent and challenging dog, will break her heart much as mine was broken.

But I know, too, that the sorrow we feel is a reflection of the love and the joy we have known, and I have never known dogs that bring more joy than these.

So we keep coming back to these dogs. We rescue, we support the health studies, we support each other in times of illness or injury (to our dogs, mostly – our own illness or injury seems trivial in comparison).

And we support the breeders who carefully track the health of the dogs they are considering breeding, and of those dogs’ relatives, and of the puppies they have been responsible for bringing into this world – those breeders who work so hard to breed toward longevity and health and self-confident dogs.

We know they exist – we have met some, and we celebrate the 10- and 12- and 13-year old dogs, and the people who love them. And we weep with the people who love the 4- or the 5- or the 7-year-old dogs who have just been diagnosed.

It isn’t fair that such lovely, loving and intelligent dogs should have such short lives. It isn’t fair that the people who love them feel such grief at their loss.

But we are so lucky to share what few years we do with them.

And I will put in a plug for the Canine Health Foundation – they support research into so many of the ills that plague our dogs, of whatever breed. If we keep working and searching for the answers, perhaps someday I will not see the letters MH and feel like I have been kicked in the stomach.

We can overcome. My Berner taught me that.

What a shame

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So it was well past time to clean up the in box, so I ran quickly through a lot of news alerts and saw a rather interesting phenomenon.

Those who don’t like the animal protection laws (basic welfare, folks, we’re not talking about treating dogs like people) either scream that the existing laws shoulda just been enforced or they try the old, tired argument that there aren’t enough laws to protect children so why are we worrying about animals.

Well, guess what! We can protect both! What a concept!

There is no need whatsoever for anyone to keep several hundred dogs, breed the females every cycle and ship the puppies to pet stores or across the country through internet sales. Someone with several hundred dogs is unlikely to be keeping up with the latest regarding the health issues for their breed(s) and probably won’t endanger their profit margin by actually conducting health testing and breeding only the best of their dogs.

Gee, it would cost more to make (and keep) healthy puppies! Yeah, and it would cost the consumer LESS in the long run to buy healthy puppies – dogs without dysplasia, allergies, heart murmers, PRA, kidney problems, breathing difficulties – the list goes on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned the costs of treating dogs for cancer.

Just think, if a commercial kennel (oh, sorry, they like to call themselves “professional breeders.” Thanks, but I’d rather get my dogs from someone who breeds to create the best possible, and healthiest, examples of the breed because they are breeding for the love of the dogs rather than the love of the money. Look up the root of the word ‘amateur.’) spent an extra $200 for some simple health tests on a breeding female, and  was able to get three litters of six from her, that extra cost was just over $10 per puppy.  But I guess that would be too much to ask of someone asking hundreds of dollars for each pup.

Lord knows the commercial kennels don’t want to share the costs of the inspections that need to be done, but it seems only fair. Heck, states and municipalities could consider assessing a fee for each puppy sold or brokered to help fund the local shelters. They’re helping create the mess, they can help clean it up.

Then we get to that argument about the children. Yes, there are children living in conditions that are deplorable. They should be helped. They should be safe and cared for and educated. Child welfare laws are a wholly separate issue from animal welfare laws, unless, of course, you’re breeding for profit.

But the so-called self-anointed ‘professionals’ would decide that the lawmakers were trampling on their property rights again. With the animals or with the children. A living being is not the same thing as a refrigerator. Special care and consideration is due to those entrusted to us.

Dominion is not strictly ownership – is it also benevolent *care.* But there you go again – that care might cost a few extra bucks per dog.

What a shame.

I can’t do it all, but…

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Sometimes it’s so very hard to stay positive and optimistic.

We see struggles around us everyday, communication can be difficult when you don’t know where (or whether) there is any common ground.

Age and illness keep winning the battles that take our loved ones from us.

I try to consider how fortunate I have been to have had the people (and the animals!) in my life that have given me so much, taught me important lessons. And it helps remind me that I cannot do it all, I cannot save them all, but I can make a difference.

I can be the best mother it is in my power to be. I can be a loving and supportive daughter and sister. I can do my job in a way that gets past the frustrations of the day to day grind and focuses on the mission of my office, providing a valuable and possibly life-altering service.

I can enjoy the moment with my dogs, giving them care and support and structure and joy, and accept the joy they so willingly share with me.

And I can participate in efforts to make life better for people and for dogs. I have seen the ravages of illness in dogs and cats with whom I have had special bonds. I cannot change what they had to endure, but I can help seek answers so that dogs and people may have more hope for the future.

This is not, and never will be, a perfect world. But I can make an effort to make it better.

The community of people who own, breed, adore Bernese Mountain dogs have long supported health research for the breed, maintaining a health database (www.bernergarde.org) and supporting the AKC Canine Health Foundation in its work supporting ongoing health research.

This week, the 7th Willem Winjberg AKC CHF Cancer Fundraiser began. We are getting closer to unlocking the secrets of canine cancer – too late for those dogs memorialized in the Histio Roll Call, but perhaps not for the dogs resting at their owners’ sides today.

I will support these efforts, it is part of what I can do, even if I can’t do it all.

I can make a difference to people and dogs I may never even meet, perhaps even to those I hold most dear. How could I not support this work?

We may not defeat age, frustrations, or stupidity, but we can learn more about cancer and how to treat and defeat it. There is hope.

I’m positive.

 

Put rescues out of business?

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Every rescuer I know would much rather have the luxury of just taking care of their own animals without having to rescue, vet, rehab, retrain someone else’s animals.

So, how? What can we do to help keep dogs and cats and other animals safe, healthy, and in homes?

How do we educate the public on how to train and maintain their own animals, and how to keep them if they have to move, if they lose their job, get a divorce, etc. etc?

Please, leave comments with your ideas. Somewhere between 2 and 4 million dogs and cats are killed by shelters each year, perhaps not all of those animals can be rehomed, but shelters should be a place of last resort anyway. There have to be other options!

Education? Regulation? Incentives?

Be creative! Be realistic! Be cynical, if you must, but offer some sort of solution. After all, if you’re not part of the solution…

Routine/Mandatory circumcision?

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You have got to be kidding.

But no, apparently the CDC is preparing a proposal that would make it mandatory for all boys born in the US.

Frankly, I am so stunned I can’t find words for all that is wrong with this idea.

http://www.examiner.com/x-16813-Legal-News-Examiner~y2009m8d24-Circumcision-to-become-mandatory-in-the-United-States

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/features_momsatwork/2009/08/us-circumcision-hiv-aids-routine-universal.html

Deep breath…

Okay, the NY Times article that apparently started the fuss doesn’t go quite as far as mandatory – but does use words like ‘intervention’ and ‘promoting routine circumcision.’

This is a case in which benefits need not only outweigh the risks, there had better be a clearly demonstrable reason.

This is just so wrong…

What’s in a name?

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This is getting ridiculous.

There’s one group of people claiming to be animal welfare advocates and calling anyone who advocates for better regulation of ‘high-volume breeders’ animal rights wackos or terrorists.

They are so paranoid that all they can see is a threat to their property rights – without any concept of the fact that that ‘property’ is living, breathing, and aware.

There is a reason that companion animals are considered different from livestock. But those reactionaries seem to feel that any animal on this earth is for us to do with as we see fit, with no interference or care on the part of society.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out so well for the animals. Or there wouldn’t *be* any sub-standard kennels or puppy mills or animal abuse. Because mankind, in our infinite wisdom, has failed to ensure the well-being of the animals, it has been necessary to create laws and regulations to set minimums – and yet even those are often not met.

They rail for the enforcement of existing laws rather than the creation of new laws, yet when the existing laws are enforced, they are the first (and loudest) to cry foul. They want absolute privacy and absolute property rights, and sales taxes be damned when they want to sell their property.

Nor do they seem to recognize the health concerns for the population at large. They want no consequences should their intact animal get loose (it has to have been an accident, of course, no negligence on their part) but if someone else’s animal gets loose they complain that the animal control officers (which they consider Nazis) don’t respond quickly enough. Not that they want the Animal Control Officers to be funded by any sort of user fees or taxes….

They seem to think it is no one else’s business whether their animals are vaccinated or ill, or whether those animals are moved. Apparently only rescue animals ever contract brucellosis (which can be transmitted to humans) and it’s always someone else’s fault (and financial responsibility) if there is an outbreak of rabies or distemper or parvo. They don’t want to fund the shelters which were intended to hold strays, but then criticize those same shelters when there are outbreaks of disease.

To those people – and I’m sure you don’t know who you are, I couldn’t *possibly* be writing about you! – you are NOT animal welfarists, you are selfish and silly and the more you attempt to demonize those who think differently from yourselves, the sillier you look.

Using CCF as your source material kills your credibility the moment anyone sees it, and hitching your wagon to the Sportsmans Alliance (Yates, et al) and the NRA only moves you further from the mainstream.

Yes, there are a lot of problems in this country right now that are just as important as the way we treat our animals – but that does not mean that we can turn a blind eye to abuse and to the rantings of those who defend the likes of Cindy Bemis, Karen Bauck and Linda Kapsa.

If these views make me an animal rights wacko, a terrorist, whatever, so be it. I will advocate for the humane treatment of all animals and for enforcement of laws to ensure humane treatment, as long as there is breath in my body.

And I don’t have to call anyone names to do it – y’all are doing a fine job of that yourselves.

Family changes

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My sisters and I have had to overtly acknowledge some things recently that – while we have known them intellectually – we have always kept the emotional reality at arm’s length.

Our parents are mortal.

We will never again live, as a family, in our old house.

We may visit a few times over the next few months, but mostly to remove the few remaining possessions we have kept there.

Our parents are in their 90s. They are strong, proud, stubborn individuals who find a great deal of their strength in each other and in the family they have created together. They worked hard to raise their children properly, during some times when raising a watermelon would have been difficult.

Based on what I see of the next generation, they managed to pass a fair amount of wisdom along (maybe it skips a generation).

But things change and in our efforts to keep them safe and healthy and comfortable, it seemed wisest to move them from that house into an assisted-living apartment near where two siblings live and where my parents can get the care and assistance they need.

And they both ended up in the emergency room.

They have recovered from the rigors of the move and are settling into a routine. They have some of their own things there (furniture, pictures, dishes and the like) and they are adapting.

But the crises of the past week, even though over, brought us face to face with mortality and loss. So, naturally, each of us bottled it up as long as we could.

It is so easy to focus on the next task – in part because there are so many that demand our attention. But each of us needs to set aside some time to say goodbye to our old home and to the youthful faith that our parents would always be there for us.

They won’t. They would if they could, but they can’t.

They raised us to be strong, self-reliant, fair, and stoic. If you were going to cry, you’d better have damned good reason.

I think we do.

I suspect that my siblings and I will each weep alone once or twice over the next few weeks.

And when we all walk into the house that no longer is home to our parents, I suspect that we will all weep together.

As a family.