Saturday, August 20, 2011

Simon's Saga Ends

In September of 2003, we were looking for a companion dog for our then almost a year old Aussie, Callie.  We knew we wanted to adopt a rescue dog, and we read about Simon, a red merle Australian Shepherd estimated to be between 4 and 6 years old.  He had survived a lot of trauma - some of which was obvious, some of which revealed itself over time once we adopted him.  It was hard not to fall in love based on his story.  His owners in LaGrande, OR, had hired their neighbor boys to shoot Simon (who had a different name then) and their other dog, a terrier.  So he was taken to a cinder pit outside of town and shot twice in the head, and then presumably struck by a vehicle (glancing shoulder blow).  Somehow he survived, though the bullets took two teeth, punctured his jaw and tongue, and left him bleeding.  It happened in July of 2003 and a deputy found Simon by following a blood trail to some shade of a tree.  A kind vet operated on Simon and the shooters got a whopping sentence of one day's jail time for animal abuse.  He went into foster care and a few months later we adopted him.

At first he was nearly orange, with dry and brittle hair that became a beautiful, silky soft, deep red merle when he got a good nutrition program.  He was too thin and his head looked too big for his body.  He told us through his behavior some of the other things that had happened.  He must have been beaten for pooping, because he would never do it on leash or if watched. He must have been beaten in a kitchen, because no kitchen ever felt safe to him...it took him over 6 years to enter our kitchen; we even tried carpeting it due to his fear of linoleum and tile floors....but that is how we learned the fear of certain types of floors and the fear of kitchens were separate.  When he got nervous or upset, he would poop in the middle of the night in one room of the house.  He was very upset by young men in baseball caps and by the smell of gunpowder.  He was unpredictable, and could bite people when he considered them to be on his turf - sometimes with a warning lip curl, sometimes with no warning at all.  He had an extremely high prey drive and was very aggressive with horses and livestock; he could never be trusted alone with them.  He did not know how to play with any toys and never would fetch.  Eventually our other dogs taught him tug of war, but he only really played it the last 2 years of his life.  He knew how to break ice, respect the end of a leash or a line, and he was all muscle when we got him and could jump over 6 feet straight up.  He had not had enough to eat so he ate way too fast and had to have a special bowl or toys to slow him down.  He also consumed everything and anything - he had to have his stomach pumped at least a dozen times while we had him, but he was indestructible.  He had nightmares for years - I used to wake him up and soothe him until he realized where he was.  He was jealous of anyone else getting attention and thought all hugs should be his.  He was like a football player on a date who does not take no for an answer - he kept trying to get on your lap when you sat on the couch, and snuggle into you.  The vet said that he was probably not professionally neutered and that his tail had been bobbed too short.  It is a wonder he wanted anything to do with humanity at all.

In truth, he was not an easy dog to own.  He was a huge responsibility.  It was not his fault; he just never could completely shake the trauma he had been through.  And who could blame him?

Keeping him safe was the first priority - and that meant making sure he was not in a position where he might bite someone.  One had to manage all house guests very carefully - and once in awhile mistakes were made.  It was hard to ever relax and not worry about him; fortunately Callie, the dominant dog, kept him in line and one need not worry when she was present.  Unexpectedly, however, he outlived her.

From the day he came home, he was a hero in the eyes of Ophelia, one of our cats.  He was "her dog."  She never went a day without washing his face, rubbing her butt on his chin, and napping next to him.  She loved to curl up along side him.  She is very shy about other people and animals, but Simon was a joy to her.

He was with us for almost exactly eight years, and we did our best to make them happy ones for him.  He went on lots of camping trips, he loved boating and rafting, he went running and hiking.  His favorite treats were dried sweet potatoes, but he never met a food he didn't like.  He rolled regularly in manure, annoying to us, heavenly perfume to him.  He loved other dogs, though he had little socialization skills - he liked to hump and then when a dog was submissive to him he had no idea what to do...he was a beta dog all the way.  He was happiest with a strong leader and another submissive dog to be a buddy.  We fostered dogs and he had a clear favorite - a dog he loved so much we almost considered adopting him just for Simon.

He was a gentle dog at heart; he could be trusted with small kittens, and he was a great dog to socialize young foster puppies with - he never lashed out at them no matter what.  He was very protective of us, and we never had to worry that someone would break into the house when he was in it!

He was slowing down a little, but after all, he was 12 to 14 years old, which is a decent age.  He didn't show signs of arthritis and he was still quite active.  Last Sunday, less than a week ago, he developed a slight swelling in his neck.  We picked him up from daycare and they noted it - when we got him home he sounded raspy like it might be impacting his airway, so we went to Westvet in case it was a cheat or a bite that needed treatment.  Samples suggested lymphoma cancer.  We made an appointment for Tuesday to discuss options and went home to await test results.

The next morning he would not eat.  I made him a milkshake of cat food, kitten milk and kibble and he went eagerly after it, suggesting appetite was intact but the swelling, worse overnight, impacted his ability to eat or swallow.  He did not want to eat soft food and would not touch anything until it was liquid.  So I took him to work with me to keep an eye on him.  By noon the swelling had doubled and he was beginning to have trouble breathing, so another trip to Westvet was in order.  Cytology results were back: large cell lymphoma.  We knew that could mean 30 to 60 days, we didn't know it could mean 30 to 60 HOURS.  We were not at all prepared.  He was suffering - clearly complaining of pain, and the swelling was so bad it was like he swallowed a basketball and it got stuck in his throat.  In less than 24 hours it looked like we were losing him.

We had to reduce the swelling and control the pain.  To accomplish that and not rule out other treatment options, we had to treat with a chemo drug and an IV painkiller and he needed to be admitted and monitored for 24 hours.  During that time we tried to evaluate whether to do chemo or put him down.  Chemo would take 4 to 5 weeks until we knew if it was working, would entail 5 months of drug treatment, would require more tests and many drug cocktails, and might buy him 6 to 14 months if successful.  For an older dog, especially one with Simon's issues who is not easily taken to work or monitored 24 hours a day, one who would not like going to the vet on a regular basis...could we put him through chemo?  Would he want that?  We are going into winter - he stays indoors a lot - what would he be looking forward to? 

When he was stable and the swelling was controlled, he could be switched to oral painkillers and come home; so he did, late Tuesday, after 24 hours of wondering whether he would ever be home again.  Ophelia was estatic to see him.  He was tired and relieved to be home.  The vet said that with painkillers, prednisone, and the drug he'd had, he could make it 2 to 5 days before the symptoms re-occurred.  So we decided to give him one last great day and have a vet come to the house so he could die with his family and never have to go back on a tile or linoleum floor.

He played with a dog friend, ate steak cooked in bacon grease and topped with egg, cooled himself in the canal, ran in the pastures, said goodbye to the people at his daycare, napped on his favorite orthopedic bed.  He was clearly not 100% comfortable, and we knew it would get worse and chemo would only postpone the inevitable.  In the end, we had to say goodbye much sooner than we expected.  A week ago he seemed totally fine, and yet two night ago, he died...peacefully and loved.

We did the best we could to give him a good life; to make up for the past.  He gave back all his love and gratitude, and left us with many positive memories of times with him...and funny memories of his quirks.  It is a huge shock to lose him so quickly.  Ophelia, also a rescue, will miss him most of all....her dog is gone, and I can't tell her why.  I found her waiting on his bed this morning.  He leaves a void for all of us.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gorrilas in the Rain


One thing I wanted to make sure my husband saw during his first (and possibly only) visit to Africa was mountain gorillas in the wild.  So we detoured from Tanzania to Rwanda to see gorillas.  Although I had been to see gorillas in Rwanda in 2007 on two separate hikes, and in Uganda the same trip, I was thrilled to get to see them again.  For animal lovers, it is really an amazing experience - and if you aren't an animal lover, it could convert you.  It's amazing.

First of all, seeing these animals on foot is quite an experience.  The gorillas, habituated over about 2 years, choose to let us visit them.  The guides communicate with them in grunts and reassure them we mean no harm, and they accept this.Even though man is their greatest threat.  Even though they know this, with bad experiences with snares and poachers.  Even though, without weapons, they are more powerful than we are. 

The day of our hike, it rained.  The hike was 7.5 hours round trip, with one hour of that being gorillas viewing.  Unfortunately, it was raining during the viewing and that made for less than ideal conditions, in two respects.  First, it is always tough to get good photos of gorillas as you can't use flash, it is very humid and quite dark in the rainforest, and often you get lens fog.  Second, gorillas are less active in the rain as they hunker down and wait it out vs. play and interact with one another.  But, it is what it is, you take what you get.  At least we did get to see gorillas, in both the mist and the rain.  It was a tough hike, and we ended it cold, wet and hungry, and covered in mud - but it was worth it, and I'd do it again. 

In these photos you see the secondary silverback - not the biggest silverback in the group or the leader, but the V.P. if you will, of a group called Sabayingo.  He is pictured with one of the females and her two offspring, one of whom is about 2 and the other who is just a few weeks old.  The baby is huddled close to mom with the toddler on the other side, so you can only see an ear of the baby here.  You can see the big male with his arms wrapped around him, waiting for the rain to stop, guarding his family members.  We are standing about 10 feet (best guess) from the Silverback, off to the right of this photo.

Although I didn't get great photos compared to my past gorillas trips, this was still a nice viewing.  I have been lucky enough to see gorillas in the wild 5x now - and I have no idea if I will ever have the chance again.  If it is something on your life list, make it a priority - because it is truly something special.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Elusive Leopard


Seeing a leopard is always a supreme treat on a safari.  This trip, we saw two leopard cubs.  They were walking a distance away, and I didn't get any photos as I was busy watching them and trying not to lose them. As the cars gathered in the central Serengeti for a glimpse of the cubs, making it harder and harder to see them, we luckily found the mom.  She was laying, then sitting, on a mound under an acacia tree.  Here are two photos of her.  I wish we would have been closer...but we got a great view, and we were the second car there, and soon after an onslaught of vehicles made the viewing less than peaceful.  It is hard to imagine a sight more beautiful than a leopard in the wild.  These gorgeous, athletic and solitary creatures are incredible, and strong enough to haul a kill up a tree in their jaws.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Young Hyenas


Although I've seen spotted hyenas before, this trip I saw some young ones.  Pictured here is a baby hyena nursing from mom.  In a separate sighting, a young hyena came up the rod very curious about our vehicle and gave it a good luck; that's the other picture.  Both viewings were very nice.  Although some people don't like hyenas, I do.  I think they are fascinating animals, from their matriarchal societies and hunting methods to their strange lopes and calls.  They always remind me of dogs even though supposedly they are not really related.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Black Rhino


The endangered black rhino can be hard to see, but we luckily got a viewing in Norongoro Crater of this one.  Unfortunately, Norongoro Crater is not a great place to see such an animals, because you have one rhino and about 40 cars.  It's sad.  Everyone wants to see a rhino, so the call goes out and WHAM every car in the crater is there.  This poor rhino wanted to cross the road, but as he walked, cars kept getting in his way as everyone positioned themselves to try and get a view or photo.  It was like a Yellowstone Bear Jam only worse.  Ug. 

It is a very sad fact that many African guides are more interested in great tips than respect for wildlife.  This is understandable - certain clients will tip more to get close and get that great shot, even if annoying or harassing the animal is the result.  Clients may demand behavior that is not best for the animals, and guides often feel this pressure so they do what is asked even if they know they shouldn't.  This pressure is even worse when the animal is particularly rare or very sought after.  Many times clients may not realize the negative consequences of getting too close or staying too long.  An ethical guide will respect park rules as well as what is best for animals, but may be penalized at tip time for doing so by clients who care more about their photo ops than the animal's welfare.  If you go on an animal viewing/wildlife trip, please think about what is best for the animal and respect whatever rules the guide sets out.

We left this poor rhino in peace quickly, but it was sad to see him struggle with the traffic and the cars jockey for position continuing to block his path.  This is where a park ranger would have come in handy if willing to block the road and let the poor guy on his way.  Unfortunately, all the park rangers we ran into in Norongoro Crater were speeding and none of them seemed to be actively engaged in animal protection.  Our guide reported that the rangers in fact kill many animals due to failure to obey speed limits they themselves set. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Common Zebra

As a horse lover, of course I have a soft spot for Zebras.  My favorite are Grevy's zebras, but those are endangered and hard to see; I have only seen them in Samburu National Park in Kenya.  On our Tanzania trip, we saw the much more common "Common Zebra" (so aptly named).  Although they may be common, I never get tired of seeing them. 

Young zebra have brownish stripes which get black as they mature.  The pattern on each zebra is supposed to be unique, though I can only tell the difference between them if I look really closely!  Smaller than horses, zebras have really cool calls to one another - sort of a cross between a donkey and a hiccup.  This photo is of a herd we came across in Norongoro Crater.

Southern Ground Hornbill


I am not a birder.  I do not like the checklist approach to wildlife viewing, and I admit I have a hard time understanding how someone can look past a mammal like a giraffe or an elephant to ooo and awww over a tiny bird.  But, I do understand that birds are harder to see, more fleeting in your time to view them, and often more elusive than elephants - so perhaps it is that element that makes birding addictive to some.  Not to me, however.

I have been fortunate enough to see a ton of bird species in my travels.  Though I can't always remember their names, I do enjoy seeing new species, especially when on a long trip or game drive where not much else is available.  Birds beat nothing.  I would rather see mammals, or reptiles, but when this is not possible, birds are quite nice. Taking photos of them also gives me something to do while bird afficianados I may be traveling with whip out the binoculars.

Some birds really are pretty cool, and I appreciate them much more since I've gotten chickens and observed a lot of their nuances in behavior and language over the last three years.

One pretty cool bird is the Southern Ground Hornbill, pictured here.  Hornbills in general are interesting, but Ground Hornbills live on the ground, as the name would imply, and they are very large birds that you can see from quite a distance.  I would estimate them at 2 to 3 feet tall.  You often see them in pairs, or with young, stalking around looking for snakes, insects, etc. int he grass.  It takes them several years to be sexually mature and the young stay with the parents for several years rather than just a season.  Only one chick is raised in a breeding season.  I think I've seen these birds on every trip to Africa and in many places each trip, but they are always noticeable and interesting to watch.  This trip, in the Serengeti, we saw a mated pair feeding their young in a hole in a tree.  Life is cool to watch; even bird life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lions in Norongoro


We had a glimpse of a pride of lions in Norongoro Crater.  I love how lions blend into the grass; scary but beautiful.  The scenery looks not unlike Idaho except for the lions.  We saw the same pride of lions overlooking some buffalo in the distance a few hours later.  I like this shot of a lioness looking out at the buffalo, perhaps hoping for them to wander her way, perhaps just enjoying the view.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two serval cats in one day


One thing I was hoping to see in Tanzania was small cats, as I hadn't seen a civet, a serval, a genet, an African wild cat, etc. on previous trips  Although I love cheetah and leopards and lions, I was hoping for a new cat species...and I got lucky. 

We saw two different serval cats in Norongoro crater.  Even though they are usually seen at night, we got to see them in full daylight.  Here is a photo of each.  I loved the sightings - especially the first one.  We found a young male serval on the road marking territory and then hunting.  His jumps were very cool to watch - graceful and very high!  The first serval we found in the morning and the second was across the crater in the afternoon.  I don't know the gender of the second cat, which was moving rather quickly so I am glad I got a photo!!

The spots and markings on these cats are so gorgeous.  They have bright white stripes across the back of the ears, long tails, and slender, spotted bodies.  I may never have the chance to see a serval again, but I hope I do.  It was a very cool experience and the first new species I saw of the trip.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dik-Dik

The dik dik is a very small deer, smaller than a medium sized dog.  About 18" tall, they are generally found in mated pairs, sometimes with a youngster, near the bottom of a bush.  We came across this little dik dik in Lake Manyara, resting under a bush.  They have adorable noses that are always moving from side to side.  They have such delicate, tiny legs they are like pencils - with eraser sized hooves.  Dik dik are completely adorable and I would love to be able to touch them....but of course since I haven't run into a tame one this is not likely to ever happen.  I bet a baby dik dik is one of the cutest living things. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blue Monkeys in Tanzania

My long awaited trip to Tanzania and Rwanda finally took place in June and early July of this year.  My main goal was to take my husband to Africa for the first time, and hopefully have him fall in love with Africa, as I did on my first trip there in 2005.  He was reluctant to go to Africa, but he did enjoy it and would do it again, so I am glad that I got to go there with him and I look forward to the time we can go again.  Since it is a costly and time consuming venture, I am sure it won't be soon, but there are many places I would like to see in Africa that I haven't been to yet, and an ever growing list of places there I'd like to go back to as well.  This particular safari was not the best I have ever had in terms of wildlife viewing, but it was good all the same with a wide variety of animal species and some varied habitats, and it was an enjoyable trip.

The first park we visited was Lake Manyara in northern Tanzania.  Very near the park entrance we ran into some blue monkeys.  We saw blue monkeys several times within the park, and again later in the trip in Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania.   Of all the blue monkey sightings we had, this is the best photo of a blue monkey I was able to take.  They reminded me of guenon monkeys as they have a very similar nose.  Their hair made me think of Lizzie the cat - both have hairs that are multi-colored within the same strand.  Males and females have slightly different sizes and shading.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I will find time to post some of the best wildlife photos of the trip.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Goodbye, Old Girl

  I always loved dogs, but my mom didn't.  She never bonded with them, and in fact used them, or rather, my love for them, against me my entire childhood.  However, I noticed that when my dad died and my mom lived alone with his dog that out lived him, she began to see the dog as a companion rather than a tool.  Also, after her stroke left her half paralyzed, she was really unable to do dogs any harm in anger, as she once had, except by ignoring their medical needs and/or over feeding them.

It was my job to put my dad's dog to sleep when the time came.  The poor dog, a black lab I first met at 6 weeks, was 16 and could no longer get up.  There was absolutely no question in my mind his time had come, and I was glad to be able to be there for him at the end, as I had at the beginning, and I thought of my dad as his dog - and what felt like my last living link to my dad - slipped away.

My mom, living alone without the dog, clearly missed him terribly.  Though I told myself that she did not deserve to have a dog, that this woman, who I watched be, to understate it, "unkind" to dogs almost all my life, was really not worthy of having one...I also realized that it would comfort her now, and that letting her have that comfort would mean saving a dog's life.  Maybe, in the end, she could do dogs one good turn.  I know old dogs have a hard time getting adopted, but would be the right speed for my mom - so I asked the Idaho Humane Society for the oldest dog they had, the one that was going to get put down next, the one no one else wanted.  They said "Mollie" without a second's hesitation.

Mollie was a black lab mix, age 9.  She was left by her family at the shelter and said to be not good with cats and barked too much.  She had been at the shelter for 6 weeks and was out of time, as well as starting to go out of her mind.  She was wearing the hair and skin off her paws rubbing them under the cage trying to get out.  I took my mom to the shelter to meet Mollie.  My skin was crawling thinking about the idea of getting my mom a dog, but at the same time, I thought about saving the dog, this poor dog I'd never met but now knew the story of.  Getting a dog for my mom was one of the hardest things I ever did.  I made a deal with her though:  I would be in charge of the dog's medical care, and if my mom did not provide proper care, I would take the dog.  (We did have several fights about that later, over a bout of ringworm...and I made her stick with the bargain she made).

When I went to get Mollie, it was clear she'd been through this drill over and over.  She is removed from her cage where she has to pee and poop after nearly a decade of being housetrained.  She is led out of the kennel area where she is housed with another dog and the noise of barking is deafening.  She is taken to a small room where she meets some people, who run her through basic commands, look her over...and reject her...sending her back to the cage, the other dogs, the noise.  This time she meets my mom in the little room.  I watch, trying to remain neutral.  I don't know if it's too soon; my mom has been without a dog for 3 months; I think she is ready.  I watch Mollie - she takes care not to knock into my mom's walker.  She does not jump up at all.  She seems like a good fit.  I can see my mom likes her.  Mollie seems like she has been through it before; she is friendly but she knows not to get attached - she is glad to be out of the cage, she is friendly.

We fill out the adoption paperwork.  Mollie seems indifferent, watching the other people and dogs come and go.  As soon as we leave the shelter Mollie perks up dramatically.  When I open the car door and tell her she can get in, she looks up at me like I am her savior.  No kidding.  Her whole face and body changed.  She loved me at that moment.  She knew she was getting a home - she truly did.  In that moment it all changed for her, and she let me know she appreciated it.

She settled in to my mom's house in December of 2004.  She loved the food, having her own big back yard, her own bed.  When I visited she was so happy to see me - and she stuck to me like glue.  She got a little too fat.  I wondered who would last longer, her or my mom.  When Mollie came to visit at my house, she never chased the cats.  I knew she might out live my mom so I knew she might come live with me one day, and I wanted to ensure she got along with my animals and knew my house.

My mom ended up in the hospital in late 2009, no longer really able to care for herself or the dog.  I went to bring Mollie home with me.  She was very, very arthritic and very, very slow.  She did not like to get up.  Her teeth were terrible.  It turned out she had a bladder infection and an abcessed tooth as well.  She was too fat.  I wondered how she would adapt to living in a house with other dogs, with cats, with 2 people who came and went, not one who was with her all the time.  I put her on a diet, got some anti-biotics for the infections, moved her bed to the front of the fireplace, and bought her a couple new ones as well so she could lie in any room she chose.  My mom went to assisted living in another state, by choice.  I took Mollie to the house she used to live in with my mom when it was empty.  I thought she might be sad...but she wasn't.  She wagged her tail at me and stayed by my side.  She truly seemed happy to be wherever I was.

She loved to lie by my front door and watch the world go by.  She barked at the mailman, passing dogs, people who walked by.  She lost weight and gained vigor.  Within a few months, on some arthritis meds, she started to want to go outside with me to feed the horses every day.  Walking across the pastures was a long walk for her.  She loved to snack on horse poop.  I made sure she had one ride in the car each week.  She went with the other dogs when we camped, and we sacrificed hiking and packed an orthopedic dog bed for her.  She took roadtrips with us.  She played in the snow, swam in a river, and was thrilled to be part of a family again that did so many activities.

When we adopted a young 8 month old pup, the pup tried to get her to play incessantly.  To my great surprise, Mollie delighted in stealing toys from the puppy.  She loved rawhides and other chew toys despite her bad teeth.  She tried to catch the ball the first few times I threw it for the pup, but poor old Mollie fell over, and realized she couldn't chase balls anymore.  So she would lie in the pasture, watching me throw the ball for the puppy.  Only her arthritis gave her away as over 15 at that point.

When I got home she wanted to meet me at the door, but she was too slow, so I used to pull up and sit in the driveway for a few minutes to give her time to greet me at the door with the other dogs and not feel late to the party.  But sometimes, Mollie surprised us all with her bursts of "speed," which consisted of fast-ish lumbering - when it was time to get in the car again after a nice rest stop on a road trip, she would lumber around the car in circles playing "you can't catch me" - which actually, we couldn't as we were laughing too hard.  When the other dogs were busy greeting us, Mollie would give a cursory hello and quickly sneak behind them and grab their toys, lumbering off to her orthopedic bed with pride when she obtained one...guarding it so carefully she'd take it out with her to pee until she finished it off.

When we were gone for a week at Christmas, and she had done so well with us for over a year, I hadn't been worried she wouldn't make it.  Though she was in good hands, she took a sharp decline.  Our absence was obviously much harder on her than I realized.  It took me a lot of coaxing to get her eating again and to get her to perk up after that.  It took a full week to get her back on track, and I admit, I was worried and felt guilty for having left her thinking it would be okay, as it had always been before.  

She maintained a very healthy weight, but gradually showed less interest in food.  For a long time I bought her gourmet organic wet food , but even that was eventually rejected, so for the last 6 months I made her rice and hamburger mixed with a little kibble.  She became incontinent, but I got some meds for that, and gave her canned pumpkin for the phyto-estrogen as well, and arthritis meds.  So she had pills every day for a long time, but they seemed to help her - gradually the dose was increased to the max. 

Her arthritis got worse.  It got to the point that most mornings, she couldn't get up without assistance as she couldn't get her back legs under her.  I lifted them up and got her started.  She couldn't get up the two steps on the deck to come inside anymore, though she hopped down - so we carried her up.  She and I developed a routine where she worked the front end and I worked the back end and we got her around; I couldn't manage her 78 lbs alone but as a team, we got by, though it was hard on both of us.  She had several instances where she fell and could not get up without assistance.  Luckily, each time we were near and she didn't have to lie there long, but it was awful to find her in some position where she could not get her legs under her, looking up saying "Can you give me some help here?"

Every time I got up in the night, or came home and she wasn't at the door, I would expect to find her not breathing.  But, she always was - she just napped more and more soundly.  She ate less and less.  She lay at the door for part of the day instead of all day, too tired to keep track of the neighborhood with her prior vigilance.  I would often find her at noon, having slept through my arrival, asleep in a sunny spot with a black cat curled up next to her on her dog bed.  The cats really liked her, and several slept near her often.  I would even find the puppy on her bed with her sometimes - and I wish I'd gotten some photos of those times.

I kept thinking it was probably getting near the end, watching for signs that she wasn't enjoying life.  She kept giving me signs she was.  It wasn't until the last month that she finally seemed much more tired, her efforts to move so labored she didn't want to get up some days.  She stopped even trying to get in the back door, just lay waiting to be carried in.  Sometimes she fell over while relieving herself, when a back leg gave out.  I braced myself and set a date.  I arranged to have the vet come to the house, after a weekend when we were with her, so she could die at home....something I think we all want.  I dreaded seeing her go.

I tried hard to make the right decision - not to cut her life short, not to wait so long that she had needless suffering and too low a quality of life.  She was mentally alert until the end - never suffering dementia, and I am happy for that.  I am happy she always knew who I was, even at the last moment.  I often wondered about the people who had her puppy years.  I bet she was such a cute puppy.  She had such a good personality - they clearly socialized her and cared enough to train her.  What made them dump her at a shelter at 9, a big black dog, and never come back?  Did they not know the statistics?  She had very little chance of being adopted.  I resented that this family she loved would have done that to her.  I did not mind paying a few hundred dollars a month for her medications, washing her soiled bedding, cooking her food, carrying her or lifting her back legs so she could walk....she deserved to have someone love her and care for her like that.  But whoever had her when she was young should have taken care of her to the end.  Dogs are not disposable.  It is a lifetime commitment - and the day I took her from the shelter I knew I accepted the responsibility of being there for her at the end.

The end was today.  I made her steak for her last 3 meals.  She clearly enjoyed it.  We had a last walk into the pastures, and she had a last snack of horse poo, pictured above.  Every step was so hard for her.  But yesterday it was sunny and she was feeling good - she even got up by herself twice for the first time in two weeks.  She even went up the stairs unassisted for the first time in almost three weeks.  I began to wonder....was I saying goodbye too soon?  But last evening she fell, with a thud, and I found her unable to get up again.  And I reminded myself that though she can still have a good day, they are now weeks apart - it used to be the bad ones were.

And so although it was very, very, very hard - I said goodbye.  I felt her leave the world as my hand was on her head and she was sleeping.  The vet came to her so she was spared the last car ride - car rides have been too hard for her for the last few months.  I hoped that having no more pain, and ending that way, was the kindest thing.  I tried hard not to hold on so long that it was about me and not about what was best for her.  I wanted her to go while still having the dignity to walk (albeit labored) and to have SOME remaining quality of life, albeit laying on a soft bed barking at a passing dog.

My husband and I carried her body to a waiting gurney at the vet's office and said a final goodbye.  I am grateful to him for all the times he carried her - grateful on her behalf as well as my own.  He never complained about me taking in a very old dog, or any of her old dog problems.  He was a good dad to her.  He cooked her food too, he coaxed her pills down her too - he walked slowly beside her without impatience.  Without him, I would have had to say goodbye sooner, and she would have missed out on some activities because I could not carry her alone...and I could not get her in or out of the car unassisted for the last 9 months.  I know she was grateful to both of us for all the care-taking the last 18months - and all the adventures.

I wish I could have discussed the final decision with her.  I agonized over it for ages and I hope, and believe, it was the right one, at the right time.  I will miss her.  We all will.  After 16+ years on the planet, she is gone.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Few Treats for the Kids

Esmae turned 11 last week - hard to believe!!! We have been doing some weekly riding lessons, which has been a lot of fun. Hopefully we'll find some new riding partners and get out regularly this year. On her birthday, I gave her this little treat bowl - topped with a peppermint; her favorite. I plan to bake her some carrot and apple cookies as soon as I can (I am sure she will share with Buster).



The chickens also got a spring treat. They love hot dogs and minced garlic, strawberry tops, and a mix of brans and millet. It all went very quickly!!Hopefully we'll be adding a few chicks soon to the flock.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Swimming with Manta Rays in Hawaii

I was lucky enough to get the chance to go to the Big Island of Hawaii recently, and snorkel at night with giant manta rays. We went with a company called Sunlight on Water. Off the coast on the Kona side of the island there are two locations where you can snorkel with mantas - one by the Four Seasons and one by the airport. Dive boats take scuba divers out to the sites while other boats take snorkelers. The divers get on the bottom of the ocean floor, about 30' down, and shine lights up towards the surface while snorkelers shine lights down and float on the surface holding onto a big floating ring. The goal is to make a column of light in the water, which attracts plankton. The manta rays come and eat the plankton, more or less ignoring the divers and the snorkelers alike.

The experience was really excellent. We saw seven manta rays. Everyone in our group, of varying ages and snorkeling experience, was able to participate and loved it. The manta rays themselves are mighty impressive, with a wingspan of over 10 feet by the larger females, with the males being smaller. We had an excellent orientation and educational presentation by a woman who then videoed the experience underwater, and got incredible shots.

The manta rays swim beneath you, and do rolls so you can see both the top and bottom of the rays. There are also silver fish circling around pursuing the plankton. When the bubbles from the divers rise up, it is like a gorgeous underwater chandelier with bubble crystals and silver fish intertwined. So, even when a manta is not in view, it is something to behold.

I've never snorkeled at night, and never with manta rays. It was the highlight of the trip. If you get to the big island, give it a try! It was so worth it. The video below from the company we went with gives you an idea, but it's better in person! (I got no photos since I do not have a water camera).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Swimming With Spinner Dolphins

Off the Kona side of the big island of Hawaii, you can swim with wild dolphins.  It's pretty amazing!  A large pod of dolphins lives there and you can go with several different companies out to swim with them.  Essentially they position the boat in front of the pod, you get in the water, they swim under and around you, and you get back on the boat and repeat until time's up.  Typically you can also see manta rays and often whales as well, but the day I went, there were no whale sightings.  It was a stormy sea and I got a bit seasick - fortunately someone had an extra Dramamine!  (Bonine is even better, but I forgot to take it!)

I went out on the Sea Wolf, and the experience was a good one.  The captain and crew were great, and the dolphins were just gorgeous.  A very large pod of dolphins, I would estimate at least 100.

When I got in the water and they swam under me, I was impressed with the moms and babies, the small groups of friends, and the playfulness of the dolphins as they swam.  They jumped out of the water, twirled and flipped, swam within 2 feet of the boat, jumping out of the water.  Of course, it was a moving boat, the swells were high, and I was feeling very nauseous, so I basically pointed the camera and hoped for the best for a few minutes between snorkel stops.  I happened to get one good jump photo - not centered, but hey, you take what you can get! 

I would never swim with captive dolphins, after watching The Cove, who could?!  But it's great that you can swim with dolphins in the wild, who really do not seem to mind a bit, and not interfere with them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Golden Eagle (?) Visits

This afternoon while Maisey and her friend had a playdate, this really, really large raptor came to rest in a tree in my backyard.  About a dozen crows gathered around it and cawwed and cawwed but failed to get it to depart, so they eventually left.  This bird stayed for over an hour.  Golden Eagle?  If you know, let me know!

Very cool to see this bird in my downtown Boise backyard.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

More Animals on the Island of Aruba

 I was able to find some pelicans on Aruba and get close enough for a photo.  One of the cool things I did see was pelicans fishing, right where I was snorkeling, several times.  I never get a great pelican photo, but I keep trying.

We went to Arikok National Park, to the extent the rental car allowed, and found some wild donkeys and some roaming goats.  The photo here is a silhouette of a goat on a cliff in the park, not far from the rocky cliffs above the ocean.

Luckily, I persuaded my husband to go to the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary as well.  Run by a Dutch woman with her heart in the right place, the sanctuary cares for injured wild donkeys.  Donkeys were brought to the island 500 years ago for labor, and when no longer needed were turned loose.  Many roam wild, often getting hit by cars, etc. so the sanctuary is the only option for them if injured or unable to care for themselves.  Males are neutered at the sanctuary.  Currently it has 109 donkeys.  I bought 5 bags of carrots and visited, and the photo is of one of the donkeys begging for a carrot (his name is Brad Pitt).  Very nice place to visit.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wildlife on the island of Aruba

We usually try to head to a beach somewhere, ideally on an island, for Christmas break, and beach vacations are not wildlife trips - though I love the snorkeling.  I never get good photos snorkeling though, so I've stopped trying.  I can't help notice any animals or wildlife we are lucky enough to encounter on land, however.  This year, we visited Aruba.  It had more to offer in the way of wildlife than many islands I have been to, but the culture of the island appears to be one that is geared towards partying, not nature appreciation.

Pictured here is a lizard with brilliant turquoise coloring.  I saw several of these in various sizes, and also several small brown lizards.  Also pictured is some red seedum in flower growing out of the white lava by the ocean shore in Arikok National Park, on cliffs above the ocean.