Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fetching Alanis, days eight and nine

Day eight
She ate indoors this morning, the usual mix of sardine, canned and dry food and water. She stopped and backed up every time I moved from one part of the kitchen to another. The food is presented on a purple plastic plate with sides high enough to contain a quarter inch of water.

Later I tapped the metal water bowl lightly. “This is water. Everybody drinks it, dogs and people.” I made no impression.

She followed me upstairs with only a verbal prompting for the first time.

Day nine
Last night she got hungry enough to eat kibble from the stainless steel bowl, though the favorite dish is the purple plastic dish with a high rim for food or water. She’ll eat canned food mixed with water from the cream soup style bowl. I don’t want to keep her water in a plastic bowl, having read all sorts of warnings about components of plastic that leach into the water.

Part of the problem is that she won’t eat from any bowl when it’s placed on the dog mat under the overhang of the kitchen island. The bowl must be pulled away from there and placed on the runner—i.e. in the line of traffic. Preferring not to walk on wood floor, she has never been in the kitchen or eating area. I miss having a dog dart in to clean up any food I drop on the floor.

I have to learn new routines, new interactions and so does she. The older you get, the harder it is.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I hear parrots.

Fetching Alanis, day six

This morning Guinevere, the neighbor’s Great Dane, barked from the other side of the wood fence. Alanis barked back with the thin, husky rasp of a dog that has been debarked instead of the usual Airedale’s loud baritone, known as the BigBadBark. I will have to get used to it. I have been told debarking is not uncommon among show dogs. It's done to serve people, however, not the dogs.

I took Emma, our first Airedale, to a new vet. While chatting, I mentioned that I called her inside the house when she started barking in the back yard. He said, "You'll be training her to bark when she wants to come inside."

I laughed, "No way. She loves being outdoors and doesn't want to come in."

He said, "You could have her debarked. It's a simple procedure and doesn't harm the dog."

We didn't go back to that vet.

After barking, Alanis stood up high on her toes, head up in the sparring stance and pawed the ground like a bull. Despite the display of spirit, she was still afraid of the food bowl, doing her approach and retreat dance when I held it out. She clearly wanted the food and would accept anything (canned food, pumpkin) I offered by hand. Mashed in water, sardines are still the best way to get her to drink. I’m starting to call her Fish-face.

I feel like Wiley Coyote with his failed inventions exploding in his face. I tried feeding her in her crate where she’d feel safe and private in her own den. It works for some dogs but she just stood there, neither sniffing at the bowl nor lying down.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fetching Alanis, cont.

Note to my fellow dog-bloggers: thank you! This blog has proved to be an unscientific experiment showing that dog people read and respond to each other's blogs far more frequently than chicken people.

Now back to Alanis' story.
This morning we discovered sardines mashed in water after I prodded her along by holding up a piece of sardine enticingly in front of her nose. I fed her outside because she seemed more comfortable there. After scrubbing my hands with lavender soap, I wondered if I would be smelling sardines all day. Sardine-flavored dog kisses, sardine breath. At least she ate and drank a little.

How did this dog ever travel with a handler to strange, new places and prance around a show ring with enough spunk to win her championship? Certainly Darwin could have, if I had wanted to spend thousands of dollars and send him away with a handler, thus depriving myself of his company for a year.

The first time he heard a firecracker explode in a neighbor’s yard, he ran toward the noise, barking, and then back to me, as if to tell me there was something exciting happening and we should join in.

I stripped the last yellow grape tomatoes off the vines and tossed them into the chicken pen. Watching the chickens pecking and scratching, Alanis pawed at the wire gate. She circled the pen, interested, but not in a hunter’s crouch.

I took Darwin with me to my son’s soccer game. Walking on leash beside the field, he suddenly began stalking a shape in the long grass ahead. His body flattened down, neck extended, legs lifting high and slow. All his attention was fixed on that shape. It was a little girl, one of the player’s younger sisters, sitting in the grass. Swallowing a laugh, I let Darwin continue the stalk. Several yards away, he saw or smelled what the “animal” was. His head went up and his tail wagged as he trotted forward, ready to be petted.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day four

In the morning after her night downstairs, nothing had changed. All the kibble was still there and the water bowl had air bubbles clinging to the sides, as it does when sitting undisturbed for many hours.

“Try the pinch test,” a friend suggested when I said that Alanis was still not drinking normally.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that." In the pinch test, you pinch up a bit of skin at the nape of the dog’s neck and release it. If it returns to normal quickly, the dog is hydrated.

With very little fat under his skin and his coat no longer as thick as it had been, it was easy to take up a slack between thumb and forefinger and see how slowly it returned to normal. Darwin was dehydrated again. The vet tech inserted an IV type needle just under the skin of his right shoulder and let half the bag of fluid flow in. After she emptied the rest of the bag into the other shoulder, she said, “Now he looks like a linebacker.” He did, indeed, have the look of someone wearing outsized shoulder pads. The fluid would flow through his system, flushing out his kidneys, and he would eat. Until the final day when the subcutaneous fluid did no good and the fever did not go down despite an antibiotic injection.

What was I supposed to grab on Alanis? When I put my hand behind her head, she lifted it, folding the skin into two rows. There was a healthy layer of fat covered by thick, wiry coat. I closed one roll between thumb and forefinger but the skin was too tight to pull up. I tugged and let go. The dog stretched her head back farther and looked at me with those round, dark eyes, as if wondering what I was doing. So much for that idea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day three

I left her alone in the house while I was gone for 5.5 hours. When I got home and saw her standing by the door, I said, “Lanis, Lanis, let’s go outside” on a rising pitch with “outside” emphasized, the way I had always said it with Darwin and Keeper. An enthusiastic voice got them following happily. I held the door and screen door open for her to go ahead and coming behind her chanted, “Lanis is bow-legged. She’s bow-legged.” She turned to look at me and I did a play-bow. She did one back.

I laughed and we were off, bouncing toward each other and away, running around the sumac tree first one direction, then the other. I grabbed her and with both hands scrubbed down her back. Around we went again before I took off down the gravel path to the lower yard with her following, then back up again.

No dog of mine had played in months. Nor had I laughed with my dog in months,since Keeper's death, being worried and anxious every time I came home and saw the reminder that Darwin would not be with me much longer.

I entered the house through the front door and saw him asleep on the large bed I had fashioned out of memory foam and an old comforter. Too deaf to hear me, he would not know I was there until I touched him or spoke his name loudly. Then he got up slowly, stiffly and walked with me out the door to relieve himself. I could not remember when he had last greeted me at the door, stuffed toy in his mouth, eyes gleaming and tail wagging, ready to run.

On a towel spread on the living room carpet near her bed lay one metal bowl of water, one Fiesta ware cereal bowl of water, one plastic bowl containing kibble and a handful of kibble directly on the towel. I lured her over with a piece of canned food proffered in my hand. She sniffed at the kibble, nose moving closer as she extended her neck without stepping forward. Out went the tongue to curl around a few pieces. I did not move or speak. She stepped forward and ate the rest. I tapped the food bowl lightly. She sniffed but would not eat. I lifted the cereal bowl of water to her and she lapped a bit.

When I went upstairs to bed, she was standing a few feet from the towel, watching me. “Gonna come up?” She did not move. “I’m not going to help you this time.” I continued up the stairs to my room, then went back a few minutes later to peer down between the banister rails. She stood in the same place. I flicked off the lights over the stairway. Maybe she would eat or drink later, when the house was dark and quiet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day two

She ate maybe half a cup of kibble. I mixed it with water because she refused to drink. I was not worried about her eating; her sides felt as if losing a pound or two would not hurt. Drinking, though, she had to drink.

During Darwin’s last few weeks of life, I lived in a state of nervous suspense. Would he eat today? Would he drink? Would he keep the food down? When he refused, would subcutaneous fluids at the vet’s revive him or was this the final refusal that meant it was time to die?

When I spoke in a happy voice and leaned over, hands on thighs in imitation of a play-bow, she waved her tail gently. I dashed around to the other side of the room. She stood there. Normally, the best way to get a dog to come to you is to playfully run the other way. You can run in a circle in my house from living room, to hall, to kitchen, dining room and back. In the middle of the circle are the fireplace, part of the kitchen and the guest bathroom.

Darwin grabbed a toy and shook it. He trotted a few steps and looked back, inviting me to follow. I ran up and tagged him. He ran off around our indoor track with me in pursuit, as we had done in the much larger house where he had spent the first few years of life. Sometimes I turned and ran the other way, grabbing the toy and throwing it ahead of me for him to chase. Sometimes Keeper joined in, leaping like a deer but getting in my way instead of chasing. She reminded me of the younger sibling who tries to do what the older ones are doing but can never quite figure it out.

I ran a circuit by myself, patting my leg, calling, “C’mon, Alanis, let’s go,” my voice pitched high and light to entice her into the game. She did not speak this language. I stroked her head. This part, she understood.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day one

I walked her into the house and showed her the bed. She sniffed at it. She stood looking at me, dark brown eyes rounded and ears close to her head. Abashed? Frightened? Easy to assume, impossible to know because the only lense through which we can view a dog is a human one.

That morning she had been put into a crate, loaded into the cargo hold of an airplane, taken out in a strange place with roaring noises overhead, put in a van for a bumpy ride to a parking lot and finally put in a car to ride several hours to this strange house with a person she had met only a few days before. She stood frozen in place, not knowing what was expected of her or what was permitted. I walked her around the living room before squatting and patting the dog bed, inviting her to sniff it, which she did in that delicate way of being ready to leap back if it proved dangerous. She turned away.

To me, her action said, “That’s another dog’s bed.” But the dog had not slept in that bed for two weeks. The familiar feeling opened in my chest, part hollowness, part raked with claws, part a feeling of swirling into unending emptiness. Grief. I began to cry. Again. The dog who had slept here was never coming back. I did not expect this one to take his place or make everything better. I brought her home because life without an Airedale was unthinkable. I brought her home to have someone to wake up to in the morning, to fuss over, to be silly with.

This dog was a retired show champion who had had two litters and was recently spayed. She had lived as an indoor dog for only one of her nearly eight years of life. I wondered if she would learn how to play with a person or if she would always have the air of subdued gravity I had seen over the previous days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CH Terrydale HK No Doubt moves to the States

Now retired from showing and mothering, Alanis has come to live at my house. She gets a place where she can be fussed over as Head Dog and I get a much-needed Airedale companion.