Sunday, November 29, 2009

Callie Anne: Nov., 2002 - Nov., 2009

Sadly, she is gone.  Callie had a life that was far too short for an Aussie.  She was loved as much as any dog who ever lived.  I was lucky to be able to share her life with her, from 9 weeks to the end, almost exactly seven years.  While I regret that I did not make more time for agility, which she absolutely loved and which was a joy to do with her, and I regret that I worked too much and did not play enough tug of war or take enough walks with her, I know that she had a happy life with me.  She made my life far better.  Learning to live without her will be one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Her brain tumor and cyst were killing her. Her quality of life became unacceptable, little by little. I could not justify making her go through brain surgery or radiation, spending many of her final days with medical procedures, risking becoming worse off instead of temporarily better. She was already uncomfortable. She'd been through enough.  In her final days she became more and more limited.  She could not get in and out of the car, up and down the stairs, she could not clean herself or keep her balance.  She could not run around and play, or even drink easily.  She was dizzy a lot and needed to lay still.  She had six medications a day to try and keep her going and reasonably comfortable.  She was hungry, thirsty and irritable from her meds.  She had some pain and some dizziness. She still loved being with me. She remained mentally alert, eager for treats, and longing for attention.  Given everything she had going on, she even remained in a good mood.

The kindest thing I could do for her was to chose to let her go, before things got worse, which was inevitable. I wanted her to go to sleep at home, after a good meal, in the arms of her parents, and not not in the middle of a seizure, on an operating table, or after struggling through more IVs and medical procedures.

The most the doctors could have done was postpone things a bit. The tumor itself was inoperable. The end was grim - one day she'd lose balance and be spinning and dizzy and unable to walk and panic stricken. We may have been able to buy her more time, maybe even a couple of years, but the tumor would have gotten her in the end, and in the interim she would have to go through a lot of medical procedures and endure a lot of hardship and there would be a lot of risk - she could end up worse off, not better.  I would rather the end be peaceful. I could have hung on longer, but it would have been for me, not for her.  She won't know the difference.  She has been uncomfortable, and coping and adapting to more losses every day, and now that is over.

Although I will mourn her loss forever, I will also always be happy and grateful we shared one another's lives.  She was the smartest dog I ever met.  I could not have asked for more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another Dog Health Adventure

Callie's oral surgery to remove her fractured tooth went okay on Friday, but was not completely without complication.  She vomited during the procedure, which is dangerous for a number of reasons.  She then kept vomiting for the next 20 hours - so she had to be admitted to Westvet as an inpatient for all of Saturday.  She couldn't keep food, water or medications down so we had to go with injections and IVs.  She did eventually get stabalized and was able to keep down some food and medicines, so she came home at 8:30 last night. 

Since then, she's been stable but not particularly happy or comfortable.  Much better than she was, but I do hope she continues to improve, for her sake and for ours.  I hate that she had this complication when she did, but a fractured tooth could not be ignored and it's clear nothing will be easy with her ever again.  That doesn't mean it's not worthwhile.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oh My.....Another Problem

Callie broke a tooth today and is in a lot of pain so it needs to get removed tomorrow.  Another surgery.  Ug.

Callie's "Seizure"" Mystery Solved

If you follow this blog, you may recall that in October of 2007, our then five year old Aussie, Callie, had a horrible episode where she was unable to get up, had a tilted head and was trembling and having neurological difficulties.  We were told it was probably a neuro toxin and that she would not make it since by the time a toxin has neurological effects, it is nearly always fatal.  But, she did not die.  She spent a week in the ER and slowly regained the ability to walk, run, etc.  So they concluded it was not a brain tumor because she got better, and it must be a neuro-toxin she had a sub-lethal dose of.

In the following months I kept a close eye on her and she did have some seizure like episodes about 6 months later where she was drooling and trembling and her eyes were dilated - but also a few episodes where she just had a head tilt and problems with her right side.  I never felt it was epilepsy.  She had seizure like symptoms but was always alert, responsive to me, etc.  She just could not control half her body, always the right side.

We went to the nearest neurologist, in Portland, OR and on March 30, 2008 she had a clean MRI that showed no brain tumor, and clean bloodwork, clean spinal tap, etc.  Nothing to explain the seizures or the week of not being able to walk.  She seemed to make a full recovery for about a year and a half.

In June of 2009 she again had an episode, followed by one three months later in September.  They seemed to be getting worse, lasting 45 minutes or more and not wanting to stop.  At that point, still not thinking it was "idiopathic (unknown origin) epilepsy," which was all they could come up with, we put her on a human anti-seizure medication called Zonisamide, which is supposed to have not many side effects except gastro-intestinal and to work in 60% of dogs.  We had no problems with it.

However, a month later, in early October, she developed a permanent head tilt to the right and I observed one of her eyes was not tracking with me properly, and that she had balance/ataxia issues on her right side persistently. I again took her to the vet and this time they thought it was peripheral vestibular disease, an ear issue that would  clear up in time and was causing loss of balance and dizziness.  After another month, it was much worse - a much more severe head tilt and more ataxia.  Callie was also clearly unhappy at that point, so it was time for another trip to the Portland to see the neurologist.

This time the MRI, November 9th, 2009, revealed a brain tumor which is thought to be a meningioma or a trigeminal nerve tumor. It is not small, and there is a fluid filled cyst adjacent to it three times the size of the tumor.  This was causing severe pressure in her brain and resulting in dizziness, loss of balance, etc.  It means that she has a few months left absent treatment.  She is seven next week.  A rather poor copy of an image from the scan is posted above.

A course of steroids and a daily medicine called Meclizine that works like Dramamine to help the dizziness have made her temporarily feel better and hold her head normally.  She can get in and out of the car most of the time again, for awhile she could not.  But it's temporary.

We have an appointment with the nearest neurologist who might be able to operate on her brain to reduce the cyst.  The tumor itself is not operable as it is too close to the brain stem.  But reducing the cyst could buy her some precious time.  They recommend a course of radiation as well, to reduce the tumor and possibly buy more time.  Maybe another 2 years before the tumor comes back, maybe less, maybe more.

It's hard to tell.  I know someone who was supposed to die of cancer in three months and ended up cancer free, someone who was to die within 2 years and is still here after nearly 10, and someone who was to live up to 2 years and made it 14 days.  Callie's case may or may not be cancer, but either way it kills her due to pressure in the brain.

I want to make the best choice for her quality of life, not for my own selfish desire to have her with me.  That is very hard to do.  We will get more information - much more - on November 30th when we go to Pullman, WA to the vet school for a consultation with neurology and oncology.  There is one clinical trial program in the country at U of Minnesota but Callie didn't qualify for any of their current research.  If treatment is elected, it is very, very expensive, likely $10,000 to $20,000.  This is one pet I should have bought pet insurance on I guess.  Too late now though. Perhaps that was an error, though I bet after the first episode of anything it would have been a pre-existing condition" battle.  Anyway, money will never be the deciding factor in animal care for me, because the animals are truly my family and deserve the best choices for their health, not only the affordable ones.

I started taking Callie to work with me two years ago and I have appreciated every day I have with her.  If we do elect surgery it will be December 1, my dad's birthday.  There is substantial risk, so we don't know yet what we will choose.    All the vets I have spoken to so far recommend it as a chance to buy her more time that should, in theory, be of good quality.  Radiation buys more time as well.  Eventually it comes back and kills her.  But surviving to 9 or 10 instead of 7 is not insignificant, especially in dog years.  If she can still go camping, go for walks, play tug of war and be with me, I think she would say her life is worth living.

The news was obviously devastating and I still have a lot of mixed emotions.  The best path is not clear.  The only thing I can say for sure is that I don't regret having this awesome dog in my life, she is a huge part of every day since she came home at 9 weeks old, and life without her, whenever that comes to be, will be very hard for a very long time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Arctic Fox

It's been a very chaotic week and I haven't gotten photos up in awhile.

We were lucky to see an Arctic fox one morning, interacting with a polar bear. A prior post has some photos of the interaction between them, but here are some shots of the fox itself. 

The Brave Arctic Fox and the Young Polar Bear

One morning we came across a young polar bear who was digging and eating something out of the ice.  There are small fish that actually freeze over the winter and then thaw back out and keep swimming in the spring.  Perhaps the bear was after one of those in the newly formed ice.  In any event, he or she was busy for some time digging at the ice.

Across the pond there came a very small, very cute, little white Arctic fox.  About the size of a housecat, the fox came up on the bear from downwind.  When the bear looked up and saw the fox approaching, to everyone's surprise, it ran off.  The fox immediately began to eat whatever the bear was after.  The bear seemed to have second thoughts after looking back and seeing the small fox, so it circled around in a large arc, taking time to roll on the ice a bit, and then re-possessed the meal.  The fox didn't just leave though - it stayed and came closer several times so the bear kept having to defend it's spot.

The fox was sooooooo cute.  It scampered about, it's tail was always blowing in the wind, and it was a very clever little creature.  I was thrilled not only to see an Arctic fox in the wild, but to see one interacting with a wild polar bear as well!  It was my trip highlight!  We stayed with them about 30 minutes, which I will certainly never forget!

In these photos, the fox is in the lower right corner, looking at the bear.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Polar bears at play

We had the chance to see some young male polar bears sparring and playing with one another, which was really fun.  I always love to catch animal interactions in the wild.  These bears have nothing to eat and nothing to do while waiting for the ice to freeze so sometimes they play - but not often, as it burns energy.

We could see these bears from the lodge.  It was really amazing to be able to look out the window during breakfast or mid-afternoon and see polar bears!  Needless to say, we were never allowed to leave the lodge unless on the buggy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Proximity to Polar Bears

I wasn't sure how close we'd get to see the polar bears, but they are curious, and so we actually got to be quite close in some cases.  Bears that had just arrived to the area were skeptical of tundra buggies, but once a bear had been a round for a day or so they ignored them or came right up to them.  It was actually pretty amazing to be standing on the back of a tundra buggy on a grated platform and have a polar bear come underneath, smelling, putting his or her nose against the grate, along with huge, huge front paws.  Several times I was able to look right into the eyes of a bear.  Many times bears walked very close to the buggy but did not directly approach. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Polar Bears in the Wild!!

I have always wanted to see polar bears in the wild.  In recent years, with fear of increased global warming and changing ice patterns, there is growing concern about how long the polar bear can survive.  This has made polar bear trips even more popular, and most of the ones I was interested in book up a year to two years in advance.  So, back in 2007, I decided to plan a 2009 trip to see the bears.

I researched all the available trips and determined that most of them take place in either Churchill, Canada or Spitsbergen, Norway.  It's cheaper for me to travel to Canada than Europe and takes less time, and I prefer to see the bears from land vs. sea.  Also, I wanted to have as much access to wildlife as possible and as little non-wildlife as possible - no shopping, looking at totem poles, cultural presentations, etc.  And, I always aim for a small group (teeny tiny if possible) and a company that is environmentally responsible and supports eco-tourism and animal conservation.

In the end, I chose a trip to Churchill, Canada with Natural Habitat Adventures, called the Tundra Lodge Adventure.  Of all the Churchill trips, it had the most time on the tundra out with the bears.  Instead of staying in a hotel in town, you get to stay in a lodge out on the tundra - where bears can be viewed of course.  The company is endorsed by World Wildlife Fund, and very eco-minded.  I felt it was the best value and experience.  The challenge was to find the funds and get a good time slot - it was not a trip I wanted to take on a shoulder season and risk not seeing bears or only seeing a couple.

The timing is tricky.  Bears gather at the Hudson Bay near Churchill waiting for the sea ice to form over the Bay so they can go hunt seals.  Come too early, and there may be no bears yet.  Come too late, and all the bears may be gone already.  The bears typically go out on the ice within 24 hours - so you could see them all or see none.  Time it right, and you will have lots of waiting bears with nothing to do but pose for photos (unknowingly of course) as they wait for the ice to form.  We went Oct 28th - Nov 2, mid-season.  It turned out to be perfect timing - we saw about a dozen or so bears a day and the ice was just beginning to form as we left (still a couple weeks to go I would guess).  The ice changes each year and since we booked a year in advance, we were very lucky.

I LOVED the trip and got some good photos, a few of which I will share in the coming days.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaf Cutter Ants

Throughout Costa Rica we saw leaf cutter ants.  They carried pieces of leaves along a highway, working diligently.  It was hard to get a focus and a photo.  One of these shows a highway and the pieces of green on the highway are carried by ants.  The brown photo allows a bit more contrast.  Also is a leaf that has been cut by them so you can see the precise pattern they seem to use to cut the leaves.


There is a spot known as Crocodile bridge on the Pacific Coast side of Costa Rica.  We stopped to walk out onto the bridge and look down at the crocs.  When we got out of the van it was bright and sunny.  Part way across the bridge, a major rainstorm hit.  We saw it literally coming towards us like a big sheet of water.  There was no possible way to escape so we just got completely soaked.  Fortunately it was a warm rain! 

We went in low season - late September is supposedly the height of the rainy season.  But, we were very lucky.  We only got caught out in the rain twice the entire trip.  Once was the crocodile bridge...which will always remain a hilarious memory for me and a trip highlight.


This is a photo of the quite large tarantula we saw in Monteverde Cloud Forest - appropriate Halloween coloring and all.  Our guide told us a rather gruesome story about a wasp that is the primary predator of these spiders, which I will spare you.

Small Red Frog

We saw several small red frogs in Tortuguero, like this one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This is a photo of bananas a little over three months before they are ripe.  I was surprised to see that there was a purple flower type bloom - sort of - at the bottom of the banana bunch.  Apparently they cut this off and put the bananas in a bag three months before they get ripe.

Unicorn Beetle

On the road to Tortuguero we passed a Del Monte banana processing plant, which was very interesting, and outside of it there was an old man with a cart of coconuts.  He would, for a dollar, slice off one end and insert a straw so you could drink the coconut juice.  There was no water available, and I wanted to support him, so i got one.  (Not very good, actually).  The interesting thing on his cart though was this unicorn beetle.  He had a couple of them, who were munching on sugar cane. He only spoke Spanish, and mine is rusty, but we tried to communicate a bit.  I asked if the beetles had names but all he replied was "Beetle" so I am betting not.

At this stop I also had my first encounter with biting Costa Rican ants.  Ouch!!!  Not a good idea to wear Tevas.  Before I really knew what was happening they got some good bites in, and they stung for a long time.

Monday, October 19, 2009


There was an interesting snake asleep in the fork of a tree near the pool at our hotel in Tortuguro.  There were some people there who said it was a boa constrictor, but they were just tourists, and I saw a photo in a guidebook that identified it as something else - I just can't remember what.  In any event, it appeared to be napping and was nice to see.

Water Buffalo, and domestic livestock

Leaving Tortuguero requires a boat ride that is one to two hours.  Along the way, we passed by some water buffalo, which was very interesting.  They were laying in the cool waters - and I don't blame them:  it was hot.

We also saw a lot of Brahma cattle - some of whom were quite thin.  On the dirt road to get to the boat, there were fields with not only cattle, but plenty of horses, a few goats, and many chickens.  The rural lifestyle was interesting to see.  The ranchers make fences with sticks of a certain type of wood that, when planted as just a stick, sprouts and grows into a tree.  You can tell how old the fence is because the older ones are trees and they look like someone just ran a fence along a row of mature trees.  The younger ones look just like sticks or branches - and there is a lot of variety inbetween.

I also observed a lot of birds - all sizes, colors and shapes - though I couldn't tell you what any of them were.  Our guide for this portion of the trip sucked, so I didn't learn much about the animals from him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spider Monkeys

We saw Spider Monkeys playing in the trees and on the vines in Tortuguero, including a mother with a baby on her back that I did not get a good shot of.  I find monkey photography to be very hard as monkeys move quickly, the lighting is always bad, and there is rarely enough time to focus well.  You get a lot of blurry shots and monkeys shapes that are not clear.  I would love to get a facial close up, but when they are on the move this is about impossible.

We also saw White Faced Capuchins but had no time to get any photos at all, as the monkeys were on the move and going into the trees, and being in a boat, we could not follow.

I had hoped to see Squirrel Monkeys in Costa Rica as well, but that did not happen fur us.  Next time!

I was pleased to find a small snake sleeping in a big leaf in Tortuguero.  Not long after, our guide found another.  It's about as round about as a crayon, and quite long - probably at least 3 feet in length.  I gather it is no threat to humans, and is quite common. 

Howler Monkeys

We saw - and heard - Howler monkeys in Tortuguero.  We heard the monkeys more often than we saw them, calling with deep screams which I found to be surprisingly different in tone and quality than calls of chimpanzees.  They sounded closer to gorilla sounds, actually - though the calmer of the gorilla sounds.

Several times we did see them from the boat we used to drive around the waterways in Tortuguero.  We heard them hiking near Arenal volcano, but did not see them there.  In Monteverde Cloud forest, we saw them at a distance through a spotting scope and watched them eating ripe figs and playing with each other, surrounded by flies.  Certainly it was nice to see some New World monkeys, and I enjoyed hearing them very much - though hated, as always, the stupid people who try and imitate their calls.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Green Sea Turtles

Tortuguero is on the Carribean side of Costa Rica, where there is a 26 mile long beach which is the primary nesting ground for four species of sea turtles.  We were there towards the end of the nesting season, so we were able to see a green sea turtle laying eggs.  The Carribean Conservation Association requires that you go at night with a guide, and no cameras are allowed so as not to disturb the turtles.  Spotters are employed to watch for turtles and wait until they begin laying, then tourists are allowed to come watch the egg laying without disrupting the turtle.  In this way, one turtle is viewed rather than several and the goal is to minimize disturbance for the turtles.

As we were there in low season, we got lucky.  My friend and I were the only ones from our hotel who booked the tour the night we went, so we had our own private guide, who was very knowledgeable and dedicated to turtle conservation.  We were also lucky that all the groups combined only numbered 30-40 people on the beach.  In peak season it can be 250, which is hideous to contemplate!

As soon as we got to the beach we saw a turtle in the distance beginning to dig a nest.  We got clearance to go closer when she began laying eggs.  I was surprised how close we got - 6" from the turtle!  We could see each soft, bouncy, ping pong sized white egg drop into the hole in the sand.  Supposedly the turtle goes into a kind of trance once laying begins - she did not seem to notice us, but who knows for sure. 

We were also lucky enough to see three hatchlings that crawled very quickly towards the ocean and got washed away on the waves.  Normally you can't see that at night, apparently, but we got lucky.  The beach opens at 5am and we were told you can often see hatchlings then, so we got up early - but unfortunately we didn't see any when photos were allowed.  However, I did take a photo of an egg that was laying near a nest, and a photo of the turtle tracks in the sand.  The beach is covered with these turtle tracks all along the beach. 

Sadly, however, despite the evenings efforts at conservation and turtle protection, the morning revealed that there is still a huge problem with humans harvesting turtle eggs.  Many, if not most, of the night's nests had been dug up, with human footprints and fresh excavation.  While there were some dog tracks on the beach, there was no evidence of dogs digging up the eggs - plenty of evidence of humans doing so.  That was very disheartening and upsetting to see.  Hopefully education about conservation and the turtle's over exploitation will take hold more and more in Costa Rica, but it is quite clear they have a LONG way to go on that front.

Despite the negatives, seeing the turtle egg laying and the hatchlings was my favorite part of the trip - truly a neat thing to see.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Green Red-Eyed Tree Frog

We were able to see the red eyed green tree frog in Tortuguero.  We saw the eggs, tadpoles, baby frogs, and adult frogs.  They are nocturnal so it's hard to see them in the daytime.  The hotel had a breeding program for these frogs and we were able to release three month old frogs on the hotel grounds.  These frogs are supposed to live up to 15 years.  I found them hard to photograph so these are some of the best pics I was able to get.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Iguana Eye

I'm back from Costa Rica.  I was using up some frequent flier miles and decided to go there as it has always been on my list of places to see.  I was warned that it was the very height of rainy season and a bad time to go, but having traveled in rainy season in Africa, that did not discourage me or my traveling companion.  Low season offers better rates and is rarely as bad as predicted.  Costa Rica in low season was awesome!!!  While it rained off and on, it was mostly sunny, and we only got caught out in rain twice - only once during a planned activity.  So we were lucky - we usually were the only ones or one of a few people for each activity we did.  Most were groups of 4 or 6 - 8 was the biggest group we had to do anything with, and that was great.  Nothing was crowded and we were able to go farther on limited funds than in high season, as well as I think have a better travel experience overall.

While I did not see as much wildlife as I had hoped - I did learn about Central American wildlife viewing enough to know how to see more next trip, and I saw an introduction.  Most wildlife centric trips cost more than the one we elected to take, though we emphasized it as much as we could.  It was a nice mixture of seeing things and adventure and a much needed break.

As always, I'll try and pick and share my favorite photos of the trip here, and animal stories. (I review the hotels and restaurants on TripAdvisor).  Today's installment is a close up of an iguana we saw in Tortuguera, on the Carribean side of Costa Rica.  Overall that was my favorite spot we visited as it was the most remote and we saw the most wildlife.  There were a lot of small lizards there as well as some quite large ones.  We saw one that was a few feet long climbing a tree, which I'd not seen before.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Next Adventure

Soon I will be off to Costa Rica. It's not the best time of year to go there - it's the rainy season - but I've traveled in rainy season in Africa before and liked it, so that is not a reason for me not to go. I have to use some airline miles that are about to expire so I am going as far as they can take me. It'll be my first trip to Central America and I am hoping to see as many animals as possible. As usual, I'll post my favorite photos and blog about the trip when I get back. As I leave, the horses are just getting their winter coats in, the chickens are molting, and the cats and dogs seem to be getting their winter coats too. I will be interested to see how they are when I get back; being gone always makes change more obvious.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Callie's Progress - and Setbacks

Callie had another cluster seizure Monday night, just under three months since the last one. Since there was a 19 month gap and then these two, that means they are getting more frequent. Also, more severe. Unfortunately, that means its time to start some type of seizure medication. The most common seizure med in dogs (phenobarbitol) can cause kidney and liver issues and acts as a sedative so your dog can "zombie out." I talked to several owners who say that once their dogs went on it, they were "no longer the same dog." More than anything I care about Callie's quality of life and I think she would rather have a seizure once every month or so than be zonked out all the time. So for me, it would be a very long time before I would ever consider putting her on that medication, and things would have to be much worse than they are now.

Fortunately, there is a human epilepsy medication that has had some success in dogs. Reportedly 60% of dogs do well on it, it does not act as a sedative or alter personality significantly or noticeably in most dogs, and the main side effect, if any, are gastro intestinal issues like vomiting and nausea. The medication, Zonisamide, is a bit expensive, but cost is not an object when it comes to her health unless it really hits a level I can't possibly manage, and I would probably go to a diet of lettuce and rice only before I skimped on something for the animals. After I got a month's supply ($100) I found out I can get it cheaper at Costco, so I will check that out next time.

Callie tends to be sensitive to everything, including meds, so I was very worried about the side effects. She also does not like to take pills and is an expert at licking off all the butter or peanut butter or cheese off and spitting the pill back out. I've only found one thing in the past that worked so I relied on that: sticky soft cow cheese. I forget the name of the brand but it's the one with the swiss cow and it comes in tiny blocks or wedges. That is yummy enough and sticky enough she eats the pill without licking or chewing or complaining one little bit. Thank goodness past research already revealed the answer to that one.

So far we are four doses into this new regime, and Callie seems absolutely fine - good energy, no throwing up, no personality changes, nothing noticeable at all. Although it was very hard to accept that she needs a medication, I can't ignore medical advice because emotionally I want her to be well and not need medicine. I trust her neurologist in Portland, and he took the time to speak with me and agreed it was time to start meds and recommended the one she is on. I am grateful, as the local vets in Boise, even at Westvet, have very limited experience with this drug and it is fairly new for use in dogs. Cost is probably a factor, but also the other med has been around so long that everyone knows how to use it. You have to keep measuring the level of the old one though, and this one you can skip that. Callie hates IVs and needle pokes at this point, and I don't blame her. She is actually a decent patient but she is a smart girl and why would anyone like needle pricks?

Watching Callie have seizures is by far one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I try and be very calm and talk her through it in a reassuring way, and she remains very conscious and alert, she just can't control her movements. She responds, and I hope that she is comforted. If I could have the seizures myself I wouldn't hesitate. In some ways the most frustrating part is we will never know why this happened - in the beginning it was not epilepsy, she was in the hospital for a week without use of one side of her body. Possibly it was some unknown neurotoxin, that the vets expected to kill her, but she pulled through. Now she does appear to have either epilepsy or something so close we'll never know otherwise. After brain scans and spinal taps and bloodwork we have to accept that we are where we are: we won't get answers, and while it appeared for a long while it was behind us, it is not.

I am grateful for every day I have with her. When she wants a hug and I am busy, I take time to give her one. When she wants to play, I try and make some time to play. I could be a better dog mom - if I took the time to make her a raw diet and I took her running every day and I found a way to do agility with her regularly, I would be a better mom. But I am doing the best I can right now. I take her to work with me 95% of the time, I take her on vacations when we can drive where we are going, I seizure proofed the house so she can't fall or hurt herself if she is home alone, I feed her decent food and she gets exercise, attention, and love. The only thing she really gets in trouble for is picking on the other pets and being too bossy....and her worst punishment is getting yelled at or a brief time out. I believe that she has a happy life and I am pretty in tune with her body language and her vocalizations and what she wants despite the language barrier. She is only 6 so I hope we have another 10 years together, but int he throes of seizure, I sometimes wonder if it will even be 10 minutes.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Flying With a Cat

Recently I had to transport a cat via airline. I've never flown with a pet before, and I was a bit apprehensive. First, it was a challenge to figure out the airline requirements and get a soft sided carrier that would easily fit under the seat and meet all the requirements for ventilation, size, etc. This took visits to several local pet stores. In the end I had a choice between a $70 carrier and a $45 carrier, and I went with the cheaper one figuring it was a one time use deal, and I'd just use the carrier for regular vet visits after that until it wore out. Although I would have preferred not to spend the money, none of my hard or soft sided carriers met size requirements.

Second, although the airline claimed a health certificate was not required, the vet told me I could be prevented from flying without one. I decided to err on the side of caution and obtain one, since I was at the vet for some sedation medicine anyway. I found it interesting that it was $20 for the health exam and $40 for the health certificate - twice as much to write down the findings as to make them apparently. Bummer.

Third, I obtained sedation meds because I figured that this cat - who cries all the way to the vet and all the way home - would not appreciate an 8 hour trip and would probably register some vocal complaints. I thought it would be easier on him to be dozing - and easier on me. Unfortunately, the vet told me that the meds do not work on all cats. "The side effects vary hugely," she said. Apparently, the cat could remain awake, go to sleep, get hyper, throw up, or the meds could have no effect. Awesome. That really provides me with a lot of variety and not a lot of certainty. She also recommended starting with a half dose and giving as little as possible. I could give 1/2 pill and see what happened and then give another 1/2 if need be, but no more than one whole pill per 8 hours. The whole trip would be 8 hours so if the 2nd dose did nothing I would be SOL.

This particular cat, Rocky (pictured above), is 14 pounds and is really laid back and mellow. At the vet he is not nervous, he gets out and walks around and looks out the window. He likes dogs, kids and other cats. He does not like riding in the car. I suspected he would not like riding in planes either. But he had no choice. His current owners were no longer in a position to keep him, having decided that allergies meant he needed to live outside. He is declawed, and winter is coming, two reasons I was not comfortable leaving him in that arrangement. All local rescue groups and shelters were full with 6-9 month waiting lists. Craigslist did not work. All friends and friends of friends in the area turned down the offer to adopt him. The cat did not ask for this set of circumstances and I was determined to get him a good home. I have a friend who was willing to adopt him so it was just a matter of transport.

I pulled his food and water the night before travel to avoid having him need to relieve himself on the journey.

The sedatives did not really work - two doses and he was still registering complaints. He complained for an hour while I was driving to the airport. He was quiet on the bus that I had to take after returning the car. Then the really embarrassing part: airport security. You have to take the cat out of the bag - literally - and walk it through the metal detector. There is just NO WAY that you can pull that off without appearing to be the crazy cat lady!!!!

He meowed off and on - but was usually drowned out by screaming babies (never thought there would be a plus for those!) He would scratch against the bag and even bite me through it, then give up so completely I would fear he was dead. Once during a plane change I took him out of the bag in the restroom. He looked at the four grey walls and got back in the bag.

In the end we arrived safely - and Rocky has settled into his new home without complaint. I hope I don't have to fly with pets again, but I am glad it did not go worse.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dexter Cow Update

Four months have passed (almost) since Bernadette and Zena came to the ranchette and joined the family. It has been a learning curve, as when we get any new species. I always wanted cows though and I enjoy these minis very much. I have gotten used to the mooing and the low sounds they make to each other. They have gotten used to me, and I can make some physical contact.

I had to find a hoof trimmer, and that was an ordeal in many ways. No one wants to come to Boise to trim one small cow. But eventually someone did - and it was traumatic for the cow and for me. She gets flipped on her side, she is scared, and it is not extra gentle. I did all I could for her and next year I will know more what's going on. It's annual, thank goodness. It is much harder than goat or horse hoof trimming. And those who told me cows don't need trimmed were lying.

We also accomplished annual vaccines, though it took two tries. Turns out a big animal with horns who does not want a shot and is still afraid of people is kind of hard to work with. I did eventually get them calm and keep them safe but I also elected not to get a shot that requires an ear tattoo. It's needed if they travel but I don't see the cows going anywhere unless they live into my retirement. I think that is not going to happen but we can cross that bridge when we come to it. Again, far more work to vaccinate the cows than the other animals.

Zena is almost as big as her mom now, and still nursing in addition to eating hay. I'd think she'd get a crook in her neck but she hasn't. I'm going to let mom wean her when ready - I am in no rush and it makes no different to me so let nature take it's course.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Giant Egg and Chicken Misc.

Having our own chickens we get a nice egg color variety. When we only had 4 chickens I could tell which one laid each egg because the colors were slightly different. Now that there are 5 chickens that lay brown/tan eggs it is harder to tell. Above is a photo of some of the color variety in a recent dozen. Gwen lays blue green, Athena lays olive green, the darkest brown is Hannah, and the tan/brown are Sylvie (small ones), Rosa, Sarah and Samantha - though Samantha is not laying yet after her recent illness.

Recently Gwen, who lays blue green eggs, laid a GIANT egg. It's the biggest chicken egg I've ever seen! It ended up having a double yolk. Above is a photo of it compared to some of the others.

Tonight I dewormed the chickens, which involves a pill given to them. That is a bit tricky as I have to catch them all and administer the pill, which they are not keen on, but I have gotten the hang of it. It makes giving pills to cats look way easy! I have to do it again in two weeks, but it is an annual thing - 2 pills twice a year I can handle.

Hope, the chick who came at Christmas and went missing June 20, has never been located nor any remains of her, thought I searched all three acres several times. Something must have taken her off the property. I hope her death was quick with a minimum of pain and suffering. I was glad to know her and provide her with a good life and I'll always miss her.

Samantha appears to have made a full recovery from her recent illness. It took two antibiotics, no small amount in vet bills, and two dewormer pills but she began to eat, drink, play and gain weight again. I am optimistic it is all behind her - good because I want her strong before the weather turns cold.

Supposedly there is an increase in urban chickens in the recession. I think that is probably a plus. I have really enjoyed having chickens and although I am still on the learning curve about 18 months into it, I love them!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Naked Simon

Last week I took Simon to the groomer - where he has gone at least a dozen times before. I gave the same request I always give, which is for standard grooming and nothing fancy. I took him in because he had recently rolled in fresh cow poop, which left him green and overly fragrant. However, when I went to retrieve him I found (to my shock and horror) that he had been completely SHAVED. Except that his head wasn't - it was trimmed - so his head is overly big for his body. He looks kind of like a spaniel from behind but when he turns his head, eewww. He just looks ridiculous. I don't think he cares too much, and in the big picture he is okay it is just a bad haircut, but it is totally pitiful looking. I am looking forward to it growing back! And that groomer will not be getting my business anymore. The poor kid looks like a large speckled rat!

I have given him several appeasement and apology cheeseburgers and I think he likes the extra attention. I feel bad for taking him to a place and leaving him. I never do that with Callie. She is not going to let a groomer do things to her - Simon is laid back enough not to care. Even so, I bet he was wondering what was happening! Those big brown eyes against a naked Simon make him look small and sad. On the upside, I can see he is in good shape and NOT over eating. (He lost 2 pounds this summer).

Samantha Update

Samantha appears to be basically out of the woods. After two courses of different anti-biotics and a dewormer, and a few weeks in a dog crate in the house, she is back outside for a week now and seems to be having a lot of chicken fun with the others. She is gaining weight again (she's four pounds as of Tuesday) and she is demonstrating good energy and appetite. No idea what was wrong, but the fluid in her lungs has been taken care of and her infection seems to be gone as near as we can tell.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chicken Stories

Chickens are usually low maintenance, but lately they have been causing some distress. First, we lost Hope on Saturday, June 20th. I was home all day and didn't hear any chicken alarm calls. That morning Hope hopped out of the coop and went ranging in the pasture with the rest of the flock. She was happy and healthy. She was six months old, had just started laying small tan eggs, and was being a big sister to Hannah and Rosa, the youngest in the flock. But that night she didn't come home. I searched all the pastures over and over for about three hours, and even had a friend come help me, but in the end we found no trace of her - not even feathers. I can only hope she went quickly and for a good cause. It could have been a hawk or a coyote or fox or raccoon? None of the other chickens alerted me and I don't know if Hope wandered off on her own or what happened. I do know that I enjoyed having her, and that although her life was a short six months, she had a happy life. She enjoyed being raised by her mom, and then she loved gaining some independence and establishing a place in the flock of her own. She loved irrigation day and grass and bugs. She had a few red feathers at her throat, but she was almost all grey. I miss her. One thing hard about chickens is that if you give them freedom, you put them at risk, and each day you hope they are all there. This is the first one I lost to some unknown cause, mid-day. Hope is pictured at three months old above with her mom, Sylvie, who is still with us.

In other chicken news, Samantha came down with some illness. Samantha is black and white and the friendliest of the chickens. She didn't want to go out and play on Tuesday, which I thought was odd. Wednesday she didn't want to leave a nesting box where she was resting, and her comb was dehydrated and dark gray. She was totally lethargic and clearly not feeling well. She refused food and water. I had to go to Westvet for a cat injury anyway, so I took her in to see if I could get some fluids and maybe an anti-biotic for her. When I picked her up, she was very, very thin.

Westvet was able to inject some fluid for her and get her started on an antibiotic, and they referred me to a GREAT chicken vet. I've been looking for one for a long while and was glad to finally find a local vet who treats chickens. His name is Dr. Shackleford with Treasure Valley Vet in Meridian. He was very professional, very kind, and got us in first thing Thursday morning. I was worried Samantha might not pull through the night but she did. He said there was no obvious cause of her illness but she was quite sick. He took an x-ray on which we could see inflammation and he said there was a serious infection going on. Bloodwork showed it was attacking her liver.

I put her in a dog crate in the living room and per the vet's instructions I am giving her an anti-biotic, vegetable baby food, and pedialyte for fluids. She is starting to get a little stronger, starting to show some interest in food, and being a little less lethargic - but she is still really sick. She is rehydrated, her comb has returned to normal - and now we wait to see how she does. None of the rest of the flock is sick, so I have no idea what got into Samantha. There is no doubt she is dong her best to fight it off, and I will help her as best I can. She is still young so I hope that she will be able to pull through.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ground Squirrels

On our Yellowstone trip this spring, as much as all the large animals were the focus of our efforts, I really liked the smaller ones too. There were ground squirrels everywhere - though no one really seemed to notice them most of the time. I liked watching them give alarm calls, dart around, and keep lookout. Sometimes I would see them in the sagebrush, climbed up high enough to see out, hard to see for predators. I never got a good photo of one in sagebrush, but I did get some good ones of them on the ground.