Sunday, January 27, 2008

Back to normal...almost

Butch seems to be fine now, if you don't count the problem that sent him to the vet in the first place. Otherwise, he's very much his old self.

I, however, am still struggling a little bit as a result of the scare. I wake up in the night and listen for the breathing of two dogs. If I can't hear two separate, distinct breathing patterns, I sit up, turn on the bedside lamp, and watch to make sure both chests are rising and falling as they should. Butch, bless his good-natured soul, may be getting tired of being rudely awakened by my calling his name or making an unusual noise to test his reaction.

I'm reminded of a complaint my stepfather made about my mother a few months after he'd been hospitalized for a stroke. "I'm tired," he said, "but everytime I lay down to take a nap, Wanda calls 911."

(First published at Velvet Sacks on January 25, 2008.)

Whew! My boy is back!

That was too close for comfort. Butch continued to improve as the day wore on today. I wouldn't say he's 100 percent yet, but he's very close to it. My relief is immeasurable.

We still face some tough medical choices in the near future if the anal sac infections persist, and there's every reason to believe they will. Obviously, it'll be especially difficult for me to drop him off for surgery again, but I realize that the repeated infections also take a toll on his health.

But those are worries for another night. Tonight we'll cuddle on the sofa and be thankful that yesterday is behind us. Tonight, we'll sleep.

Thanks, dear readers, for your prayers and good wishes. Every word of encouragement felt like a warm hug.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on January 23, 2008.)

How will I know when to panic?

Butch's surgery didn't happen today. He fasted all night (so did Kadi) so I could take him to the animal hospital first thing this morning, which I did. They told me they do surgeries between noon and 4:00 p.m. and would call me as soon as they were finished.

I got a call around ten saying his pre-surgery blood test results were in and everything looked fine. The next call came a little after two, and the news was not so good. The way I understand it is that after the pre-surgery drug was administered -- not the anesthetic, but the canine equivalent of "twilight sleep," I guess -- Butch stopped breathing. They couldn't get a breathing tube down his throat and didn't proceed with the anesthesia. I didn't have the presence of mind to ask how they got him breathing again, but my next-door neighbor, who's a nurse, says they must have had to resuscitate him.

The vet said they'd wait a few weeks and try again on the anal sac removal, using a different "protocol," one that wouldn't put him under quite so far. She assured me that he's okay and told me I could pick him up after 4:30. That's exactly when I arrived to pick him up and bring him home.

We've been home since 5:30, and he's spent the last two hours crying (a soft whimper), pacing, crashing into furniture. He doesn't seem to have any concept of where he is in the house, although when he finds himself at the back door, he asks to go out.

I fixed him a little soft food, which he ate greedily, but he's not interested in drinking water at this time. I don't want to give him too much and make him vomit.

I tried to hold him on my lap to settle him down, and that worked for about two minutes, then he wanted down and began pacing again. I'm telling myself this is just a residual effect from the medication, but it's scaring me. I'm gonna give it a couple more hours, and if he hasn't settled down by them, I'll take him to the emergency vet.

Please send prayers and good thoughts his way.

Wednesday morning update: Butch is doing better this morning. As I write this, he's scarfing down food from his dish (which he found on his own), and his navigational nose seems to be functioning better. He's bumped into a couple of things this morning, but they were soft bumps, subtle miscalculations, nothing like last night's disorientated crashes.

I decided about nine-thirty last night to see if nighttime procedures would settle him down, and they did somewhat. He didn't want to stay on his bed, so I put his favorite old bedspread (that he slept on when he was a puppy) on the floor by my bed, then pulled the T-shirt off my back and gave it to him. He held the wadded-up shirt between his front legs and drifted off to sleep.

He woke up just before three and began crying again, but after a brief trip to the backyard, he came in, settled down quickly, and slept until the alarm went off a short while ago. He isn't whimpering now.

I think he's gonna be okay. Kim is coming over early this morning to keep an eye on him while I'm at work.

I'll keep you posted.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on January 22, 2008 and updated on January 23, 2008.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Running on cold feet

(Photo first published at Velvet Sacks on January 13, 2008.)

Veterinary veterans 2

Last Saturday I took Kadi to the vet to have her thyroid levels checked. In a little less than two months of twice-a-day thyroid pills, she’s gone from being considerably hypothyroid (levels too low) to just barely hyperthyroid (levels too high). She’s not shedding nearly as much hair now, and she’s lost almost four pounds since she began taking the meds. Low thyroid levels apparently cause weight gain, and Kadi was getting a little porky. The vet seems pleased with her progress and wants us to continue giving her the two pills a day until a recheck in three months’ time.

Monday, first thing in the morning, was Butch’s turn to see the doctor. For the third time in about three months, he has an anal sac infection, and this time the recommendation was surgery. The vet explained the procedure thoroughly (even going so far as to draw dog-butt diagrams on a dry-erase board), which made me feel very comfortable with the idea of having the worn-out, leaking, obsolete-in-the-first-place, anal sacs removed.

For now, Butch is on antibiotics again, to clear up the infection before he has surgery next Tuesday. I’ll be glad when he's finally able to put behind him the discomfort that has recently, behind him.

I hope both dogs will soon be well enough that we can put an end to the frequent vet visits. They're already beginning to hesitate when I offer a ride in the car.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on January 17, 2008.)

Still ailing

Butch is halfway through his high-powered antibiotics, and I don't see much improvement in what we sympathetically refer to as his "hurtie-heinie." He isn't due to go back to the vet until at least Tuesday, no later than Friday, so I hope we don't have a problem working him in around the Thanksgiving holidays.

I didn't mention in my last post that he's also getting treatment for another in a continuing series of yeast infections in both ears. He must have had at least ten ear infections in the nine years of his lifetime, and nobody has been able to explain why. The vet last week said it's "just very common" at this time of year. Because of his blindness, I feel very protective of his hearing and wish we could find a satisfactory way to prevent the recurrent ear problems.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on November 18, 2007.)

Where my "extra" income goes

Here's a photo of Butch "looking out the window" (despite his blindness):

Notice his beautiful, fluffy tail. You'd never suspect it, but beneath that tail is a very, um...orifice.

Just yesterday I made two flying trips to the vet in Baton Rouge and spent $213 on Butch's butt. That's the second time in less than a month he's been treated for an anal sac abscess, and he has to go back for a follow-up exam in a week or ten days.

This is supposedly a very painful condition, but Butch never showed any of the usual behavioral symptoms. And he's too large a dog to pick up easily, so I don't often come eye-to-eye with his butt. We were fortunate that the vet noticed the problem when I took the dogs in for shots. Unfortunately, the antibiotics prescribed on that occasion weren't strong enough to completely heal the abscess, and it came back.

Butch has more powerful antibiotics now and is happy to take each one disguised in a bite of ice cream. He also has tasty, chewable pain pills to take once a day. All in all, he seems to be a happy camper already, and I'll feel better once I know his problems have been resolved.

Meanwhile, I and my occasional hemorrhoid just suck it up and deal with it.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on November 14, 2007.)

Canines of the Corn

The full moon glowed above my neighbor's rooftop tonight and made me think of all the tales I've heard about eerie things that happen when the moon is full. The stories were fun but purely fiction, or so I've always believed. Now I'm not so sure.

Something weird is going on. If it's nothing to do with the phase of the moon, perhaps it's the fact that Halloween is just around the corner, or maybe the dogs next door have been filling Butch and Kadi's heads with ghoulish campfire stories. I only know that I have reason to suspect that my dogs are performing secret rituals while I'm away at work.

Butch and Kadi, at 9 and 10 respectively, are no longer interested in playing with toys. If an object isn't edible, they don't want me to throw it for them or shake it playfully in front of their noses. Still, I've kept their big basket of toys, because Lucy and Winston, my much younger granddogs, enjoy the toys when they visit.

When Butch and Kadi were young, the toy they both preferred was a stuffed hedgehog. They liked the gruff sound it made when squeezed, and they enjoyed the process of ripping the stuffing out of it. As I bought new hedgehogs to replace the disemboweled ones, the empty hedgehog pelts seemed to disappear, presumably resting in peace at the bottom of the toy basket. Until now.

I came home earlier this week to find this:

If you'll click to enlarge the photo, you'll see clearly that three hedgehog carcasses were extracted from the variety of toys in that basket, then carried all the way from the basket in the den to the living room, where they were placed ceremoniously around the perimeter of a vase of tall, dried stems. Don't you think that's rather Druid-like behavior? (No offense to the Druids among you, dear readers, but I find this all a little spooky.)

I saw no signs of fire or blood, and the dogs are not admitting to anything, but I'm keeping an eye on them just the same.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on October 26, 2007.)

A meme and a special guest blogger

Earlier this month Alison tagged me with a meme: "Eight things you don't know about me." Because I've been so busy with the office move (which is going extremely well, by the way) I haven't done it yet. And because it takes more brainpower than I can presently muster up to think of eight things about me that I haven't already told you, I have gratefully accepted the help of a very good friend: Butch, take it away!

By Butch

1. I hate getting my nails cut, so I bite them to keep them from growing too long. My favorite time to do it is in the middle of the night.

2. When I’m sleeping comfortably, I don’t like to get up. Sometimes when my people call me, I pretend I don’t hear them, even if they're calling in their loud, outside voices. Then they trick me by whispering something about “ice cream” or “treat,” and I wag my tail and give myself away.

3. Sometimes I scratch inside my ear –- very carefully –- with the nails of my hind foot...and then I hold that foot up to my nose and sniff it. Mmm-mmm!

4. My fur is short, so people are always surprised to find out how soft it is. They like to rub it, and I love it when they do that.

5. I don’t watch much television, but when I hear a puppy whine or cry on TV, I sit up and pay attention until that part of the show is over.

6. I’ve been called “strange” and "weird," but I prefer to think of it as “unconventional.” Who says there’s only one right way to do something?

7. When I go to the vet’s office, I’m the star of the lobby. People always come over to ask about my eyes, then they end up petting me and talking to me. Especially the kids. I like it in the lobby, just not in that back room.

8. I like people better than I like other dogs, and I especially enjoy the company of men. Not many men come to our house, so I’m really, really happy when I get to spend some quality time with one of 'em.

I tag Spot, Mabel, Cheyenne and Ellie (or the tag team of Ellie, Duffy and Vannie), but only if their humans agree to help them type.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on August 19, 2007.)

"Heeeeeere I come to save the daaaaaay..."

Half an hour before dark yesterday, I sat down to see what was on TV. Kadi lay nearby, but Butch had elected to climb onto the futon in the den rather than join us in the living room.

Just as I got comfortable, Butch began to make "grrruffff" noises, quiet little sounds that are half growl, half warning bark. After he'd done it three or four times, I could hear his feet scrambling to get off the futon, and I knew I was in trouble.

We had come back in the house less than ten minutes earlier. I knew he didn't need to go outside again. Whatever was bugging him didn't seem to be bothering Kadi, so I felt fairly sure there was no danger lurking at the back door. Nevertheless, here he came, dancing around me like a prizefighter before the first round, his ears perked up Rin Tin Tin style. "Butch," I said sharply, "go lay down." Huh-uh. Not gonna do it.

Instead he began barking louder, a desperate, high-pitched, pleading sound that fell somewhere between a whine and a bark, letting me know that his business was urgent, that life as we knew it would cease to exist if I didn't let him outside immediately. It was Butch's impersonation of Lassie's "come-quick-Timmy's-in-the-well" speech. I decided it was easier to let him out again than to try to reason with him.

When my feet hit the floor, he whirled around and ran full-speed through the house, barely missing end tables and dining room chairs, and hurtled through the back door the instant it was opened. I swear the size of his chest expanded with each step as he ran toward the back fence, barking fiercely all the way.

Fearful that he'd smack headlong into the fence, I called repeatedly for him to slow down. He didn't drop speed, but he did manage to pull himself to an abrupt stop just a few feet short of a crash. By then I could hear the distant HONK-pause-HONK-pause-HONK of a neighbor's car alarm. Evidently, that was the sound that had provoked Butch's distress. He faced the general direction of the honking sound, threw his head so far back it lifted his front feet off the ground, and gave four mighty barks in succession. Then he listened for about five seconds and did it again.

The barking continued -- four barks, listen, four more barks -- until somebody, somewhere, turned off the car alarm. As soon as the honking stopped, Butch cocked his head at various angles to listen carefully, then turned back toward the house. He seemed pleased with himself. He held his head high, did a perky little trot-step all the way back to the door, stepped inside, made his way straight to the living room and lay down to rest.

So what if he can't see? The man of the house has to step up and take charge when a situation needs correcting. Good job, Mighty Dog!

(First published at Velvet Sacks on May 19, 2007.)

Goose egg

The only point of concern the whole weekend was the point on top of Butch's noggin: a big goose egg showed up Saturday morning and lasted almost until bedtime. I didn't see it happen, so I'm not sure how he did it, but the location of the bump made the CSI part of me think he must have raised his head up under a table or something.

I'm glad I didn't see it happen. A hit that hard would have freaked me out, and it didn't seem to bother him much at all. When I first noticed the bump, he was in the act of using his nose to flip my hand off the computer mouse, then grabbing my wrist in his mouth to pull me where he wanted me to go (to the treat cabinet, of course). He was obviously happy and hungry, and his brain was functioning well enough to figure out how to get me to do what he wanted, so I knew it couldn't be too bad.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on May 14, 2007.)

Spring is in the air...and in the nostrils

Last spring I wrote about the bedtime ritual Butch and Kadi have established. It's still pretty much the same: Kadi sticks with me to make sure I get the right dog biscuits, while Butch races to wait for us in the bedroom doorway.

One thing is a little different this year, and it bothers me a lot: Butch has been bumping into things as he races from the back door, through the den, the dining room and the hall, and finally into the bedroom. I've noticed him bumping into things outside, too.

In the past month he's smacked into things more frequently than at any time since the days after he first lost his eyes. It doesn't seem to upset him; he just backs up, gives his head a little shake, adjusts his direction and moves on. He still runs, too, which makes me believe his accidents aren't diminishing his confidence.

It isn't as if he bumps into things constantly, more like once every two or three days. If I had no eyes, I'd be thrilled to be able to navigate with no more bumps than that. Still, each time it happens, it breaks my heart.

The only thing I can think of to account for the change is pollen. There's a ton of it this year, and my own allergies are giving me fits. Without his eyes, Butch has to rely on his ears and, even more, on his nose. If his nose is as messed up as mine is, he may not be picking up the subtle scents that signal him to put on the brakes or veer to the side of a fence or a wall.

Before his eye surgery, I bought a variety of scented oils and used them to mark specific places in the house. I'd read that this was helpful, and indeed it was. In the beginning, until Butch got used to the various scents, I freshened the oil markings about once a month. After a while, just as I'd read, he was able to pick up minute traces of the scents and I no longer needed to freshen them.

I think it's time to dig out the oils again and splash on a liberal dose of each scent. I hope I can find the "cheat sheet" I made back then. Putting the rose scent where the strawberry belongs would only confuse him more.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on April 4, 2007.)

Quite a set for a neutered dog

Earlier this evening I sat on the recliner end of the sofa. Kadi sat erect to the left of me, leaning against the back of the sofa and leaving about a six-inch margin of bare leather at the edge of the seat. Butch passed by, sniffed to survey the situation, jumped up onto the empty seat at the other end of the sofa, then immediately turned around and carefully cat-walked, one foot in front of the other, through the narrow space around Kadi, to squeeze in, lie down, and rest his head in my lap.

I've always thought it took a lot of guts for a blind dog to leap onto a sofa. Butch is a big dog; there isn't a lot of margin for error. I thought tonight's tippy-toeing, teetering on the edge, was beyond bold. I thought he was brave. Kadi thought he was annoying.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on February 16, 2007.)

How I fell for the puppy

This is the fourth time I've sat down tonight to try to finish writing this entry. I'm about ready to just blow it off. Interruptions, even though they are justified ones, are breaking my concentration to the point that writing anything that halfway makes sense requires more effort than I'm willing to give.

Janet's recent posts about falling in her yard, and then, the very next day, about the day her dog, Spot, came to live with her, made me remember how Butch came into our lives. I was trying to write something about how lovable he was and, at the same time, how much trouble he caused in the beginning. It was going to be sweetly sentimental and funny, too. But now? I'm too tired.

Here's the short version: Somebody found him wandering alone when he was no more than five weeks old (according to the vet) and gave him to us. He was a scaredy-cat puppy who stayed right on top of my feet. Twice, he tripped me, causing me to fall -- hard -- in the backyard. One of those times I fell on the concrete patio, striking my head and shoulder against the house, and ended up in the emergency room. My knee was sprained, and I had to stay off that leg for three weeks.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and tonight, if the picture will substitute for even a couple of hundred words I don't have to arrange in any kind of pleasing order, I'll be satisfied. Here's the picture:

(First published at Velvet Sacks on February 12, 2007.)

Some of us are just naturally better sleepers than others

(Photo first published at Velvet Sacks on January 1, 2007.)

Does anybody out there speak Dog?

More so than the other dogs, Butch walks to the rhythm of his own drummer. Usually, if one dog wants to go outside, the others go, too. But if there's only one who'd rather not go at that particular time, thanks anyway, it’ll be Butch.

Throughout his life he’s been the one to go off into a dark, distant room to take a nap all by himself. He can be very social when he wants to be, so it seems to be a matter of what kind of mood he’s in at any given moment.

Kadi is pretty easy to read. I can tell by the expression on her face whether she’s happy, sad, anxious, jealous or totally ticked off about something. With Butch (even when he had eyes) it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. I’ve always suspected that he doesn’t think too much about anything. Maybe that's why he's normally such a happy-go-lucky pooch.

Every now and then, though, Butch gets an idea. It's usually food related, but sometimes it has to do with something that requires me to open the door for him. When he gets something fixed in his mind, he's the most overbearing mutt I’ve ever seen.

He paces. He stands directly in front of me and wags his tail as hard as he can. He makes little grrff-ing noises. He steps on my feet and grabs my wrist in his mouth, sliming my arm and pulling me to go with him. He doesn’t give up until I give in.

Last night I was comfortable on the recliner end of the sofa, my feet propped up and Kadi lying next to me. Butch had been across the room napping on the dog bed, but he suddenly got up and went into his Demando-Dog routine. If I tried to scratch his back, he turned in a circle. If I tried to rub his head, he grabbed my arm. He yipped and grffffed. Loudly.

I told him repeatedly to settle down. He didn’t. I asked, “Do you want to go outside?” He made no move toward the door. It crossed my mind that he wanted a treat, but I didn’t ask about that. I didn't want to say the T-word because I didn’t want to reward him for behavior that bordered on being aggressive.

I was getting annoyed. “BUTCH!” I said sternly, “WHAT do you WANT?” He stopped and stood perfectly still, his ears at attention, and said quietly, “Rrrut-rrrut.” Then he waited.

I turned to look at Kadi, who’d raised herself to a sitting position and was watching the action intently. I shook my head in frustration and said, “Kadi, what is he saying?” She looked me straight in the eye and said, "Rrrut-rrrut.”

Yeah, that's what I thought he said.

I don’t know what the hell he wanted, but I gave each of them a rawhide chew and they let me read my book.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on December 9, 2006.)

A poem for my gardenia bush

O lovely shrub,
your flow'rs are sweet
and pleasing to the eye.

But if your leaves
turn brown and drop,
I shall not wonder why.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on November 17, 2006.)

Attempted theft -- an inside job

It seems that my beloved fur-boy, about whom I've written lovingly and tenderly many times on this blog, tried to rip me off last night. I cooked a meatloaf in the microwave and left it in there to cool for a few minutes while I tended to business in another part of the house. When I returned to the kitchen, there was Butch, his nose pointed into the corner directly below the microwave. He makes frequent surveillance trips into the kitchen, so I wouldn't have given it a second thought, except that his behavior totally gave away his intentions.

He must have heard my footsteps at the exact moment I saw him, because he gave a quick sideways glance (listen?) over his shoulder and began backing up so fast he couldn't get any traction. His toenails scrabbled against the floor and he danced a funny little backward jig, until he could finally turn around and hurry back into the living room to join Kadi. "Who me?" he seemed to say as he passed me. "I wasn't doin' nothin'."

Butch's blindness let him down in this instance. He obviously didn't realize that the meatloaf was inside the microwave, out of his reach. Judging by his guilty body language, he must have thought he had a really good shot at getting it.

Poor little guy. He was sooooo busted! I enjoyed a good laugh, but I felt sorry for him, too. He's succeeded in getting food off the kitchen counter exactly twice in his eight and a half years (both times when he could still see), and it must have been disappointing to have his plans foiled when he thought he was so close to the prize.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on October 25, 2006.)

OOOooh, it feels so GOOOoood!

Butch's favorite things, in random order, are sleep, rawhide chews, belly rubs and back scratches. I feel all warm and fuzzy when I watch him enjoying the first three items on that list, but the back scratching? That just makes me laugh.

I promise I don't intend to flood you with home movies, but this scene is repeated around here at least a couple of times a day, and I can't wait to share it with you. Turn up your speakers, ladies and gents, and let me introduce you to Iiiiiiitchy Butchieeeeeeee!

(First published at Velvet Sacks on October 20, 2006.)

Baby boy

My niece, who didn't meet Butch until a year ago, told me then that she'd like to see a picture of him from the time before he lost his eyes. I hope she agrees with the old saying about "better late than never."

My fat, bright-eyed boy, shown here playing with big "sister" Kadi, was no more than eight weeks old when we snapped this shot. Couldn't you just take a bite out of that plump thigh?

In this one, still bright-eyed, he was about nine months old. This was after he discovered the pleasure of sleeping in my dining room "fortress" but before he chewed up the rungs on every single one of these chairs.

This is a shot from just a couple of months ago. Butch is eight years old now. His muzzle isn't as black as it used to be and, of course, he has no eyes, but I still think he's a handsome dog.

In fact, to my way of thinking, his face these days looks pretty much like a grown-up version of the sweet pup shown here sleeping under my computer desk. This is the baby boy who stole my heart. He still has it.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on October 6, 2006.)

Veterinary veterans

Butch and Kadi both had appointments with the vet yesterday. It was time for their annual checkups and vaccinations, so I scheduled them for dental cleaning at the same time. They’re 8 and 9, respectively, and I have personal experience in the importance of being able to chew properly when one is getting on up in age.

The dental cleaning requires anesthesia, so the dogs couldn’t have food or water after midnight Wednesday night. For Butch that wasn’t a problem, but Kadi woke me up no less than five times to alert me to the fact that the water dish was empty. Yesterday morning, when I opened the gate that keeps them in the bedroom area at night, Butch trotted to the back door, as both of them usually do, but Kadi ran instead to the second water dish, the big one we keep in the den. Much to her dismay, that one had been picked up and moved, too.

I didn’t want them to eat grass or drink rainwater, so instead of opening the door to let them run into the backyard on their own, I put their leashes on and went out with them. It was still dark outside. I squinted my eyes to try to see the wet ground better and avoid stepping in poop. Instead, I stepped into a hill of fire ants. Believe me, I'd rather have stepped in the poop.

By the time we got back inside, both dogs were thoroughly confused by the change in our morning routine. I took their leashes off and they ran to stand expectantly in front of the treat cabinet, the next step in the usual beginning of our day. When I skipped that step, they looked at me as if they thought I’d totally lost my mind.

I can handle Butch or Kadi on a leash, but not both of them together, so my daughter came over early to go with us to the vet. Thank goodness.

This was the first time Butch has been in the car since his checkup a few days after his eye surgery last year. I was worried that he’d be afraid, that he’d remember the trauma of that experience and spend his day in fear. In fact, he was trembling as he rode in the car, but when we got to the vet’s office, you would have thought we’d just walked through the gates of Disney World. He started sniffing the floors and wagging his tail, turning enthusiastically toward each human voice he heard. “I know where I am,” he seemed to be saying, “and I have friends here.” I guess soooo. He spent a lot of time at that animal clinic last year, and he won the hearts of everybody there.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on August 11, 2006.)

The leader of the pack

I usually enjoy the sounds of a good thunderstorm, but we've had one almost every day for the past couple of weeks. Frankly, I've reached my quota. That's enough rain, thank you very much.

In this part of the country, thunderstorms frequently mean power outages, and today I was one of the Lucky Lightning Lotto winners. I stepped into my living room after work, flipped the light switch, and nothing happened. Oh, joy! No air conditioner, no computer, no TV, no phone (except the cell).

It was unbelievably dark at only 5:30 in the afternoon. Even with the blinds open, there was barely enough light for me to find my way to the candle stash. While I was feeling around for matches, with Kadi pressing her agitated self against the back of my legs, something crossed my mind that brought a big smile to my face.

I realized that in the worst case scenario -- candles burned down to nubs, flashlight rolled out of reach under the sofa -- all I'd have to do was hold on to Butch. My little blind dog knew exactly where he was.

It made me feel good for him to have the advantage over us for a change, even if he didn't know it.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on August 9, 2006.)

The morning after

At 7:30 last night, just before dark and just after the first big blast of 4th of July fireworks, I drugged my dogs. The vet had prescribed Acepromazine, “two tablets as needed.” I didn’t know how long it would take for the sedative effects to kick in, and I wanted Butch and Kadi to be relaxed before the worst of the noise began.

Fifteen minutes after he’d had two bites of sedative-laced ice cream, Butch walked to a throw rug where he sleeps sometimes, lifted one front paw and teetered on his other three legs, then plopped down and went into a deep sleep. Kadi, who’s 10 pounds heavier, was sitting on the sofa at that time, her head hanging and the tip of her tongue protruding between her teeth. She rolled her eyes to look at me as if to say, “I’m feeling really weird right now; something’s not right.”

Kadi didn’t sleep except for about five minutes over the next three hours. She did lie down, but her eyes were mostly open and her ears twitched in response to every explosion we heard. Except for some mild panting, she didn’t display any of the panicky responses she usually does. I could never be certain if she was actually less afraid than usual, or if she was just too far out of it to respond physically to her fears.

About 20 minutes after Butch went to sleep on the rug, he woke again and tried to move to his big yellow pillow, but he could hardly walk. His legs were wobbling and literally slipping out from under him, so he half-walked/half-crawled to his pillow, then conked out again. That worried me.

The next time he woke up and tried to walk, I picked him up (not an easy task) and put him on the opposite end of the sofa Kadi was on, then I sat between them to keep a close eye on them. Butch, the little sweetheart, whipped his drunken head around and gave my face about a dozen slobbery kisses, then passed out again.

By 10:00 p.m. they were both awake but still under the influence. The fireworks noises had dwindled significantly and Kadi hesitatingly went outside with me to take care of her urinary needs. I tried to take Butch out, too, but he was still fairly wobbly, and Kadi wouldn’t let him go in the backyard. She stood just outside the door, barking right into his face, backing him deeper and deeper into the den. I admire her determination to save us all, but it can get annoying when she overreacts.

I let Kadi back inside and penned her by herself in the living room (my son-in-law built me a decorative indoor picket fence, just for that purpose) and tried again to get Butch to go into the backyard, but he wouldn’t budge. I attached a long lead to his collar and tried to lead (okay, drag) him outside with that, but he twisted and resisted and slipped out of his collar–-twice.

In a last-ditch effort, I got out his serious “going-places” leash, the one with the choke-chain collar that he can’t slip. As soon as he heard that leash jangling, he staggered over and waited by the door that leads to the driveway. For some reason I can't fathom, he always seems to find the fireworks in the sky over the driveway less frightening than those in the sky over the backyard. Go figure. Anyway, he finally did his business and we all went to bed.

I feel wonderful today, much better than I usually do on the morning of July 5th. Butch and Kadi seem a little hungover, but they’re perking up as the day goes on. I think the medication helped, but I still don't feel good about doing that to them.

Note: The photo at the top of this post was taken on an earlier date, when Kadi and Butch were not drugged. This just happens to be one of Butch's favorite sleeping positions.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on July 5, 2006.)

Master of his domain

Butch's blindness
hasn't diminished his determination to protect "his" property. He seems to know immediately when a strange dog comes around, and he makes sure the new dog knows not to mess with his yard.

Since yesterday afternoon, the biggest yellow lab I've ever seen has been hanging around my next-door neighbor's yard. He's an enormous, muscular, fully intact male and seems to be attracted to my neighbor's girlie dog, who is following him around with a big doggy-smile on her face, as if her handsome prince has finally arrived.

It isn't unusual for Kadi to wake me in the middle of the night, but Butch rarely does. At 4:00 a.m. this morning, though, he nudged me with such an urgency that I was sure Nature must be calling him on the Red Phone. Nope, that wasn't it. Stranger-Dog was back, and Butch's urgent need was to go outside to bark at him. At 4:00 a.m. When all my neighbors were sleeping.

As soon as I figured out what Butch's game was, I began trying to get him back inside the house to end it. He couldn't see my waving arms, obviously, and he couldn't hear my whispers because of his barking. I didn't want to yell his name. If there was any chance that his barking hadn't disturbed the neighbors, I didn't want my yelling to wake them. (Besides, if I didn't yell his name, maybe they wouldn't realize which neighborhood dog was being the nuisance.) Finally, he stopped barking to take a breath, and I called out one word: "Treats!"

That did it. Maybe he thought that was a way to back down without losing face. "Okay, Big Guy," he might have growled. "You lucked out this time, because I don't want to miss out on the biscuit, but you and I both know I coulda kicked your ass."

After that, we slept until it was really morning, and then I let Butch and Kadi outside again. Stranger-dog was still there. I didn't see him when I first opened the door, but Butch took off running toward the fence as if his tail were on fire and started up the fierce barking all over again. When I put on my robe and stepped outside, the first thing I saw was our little fig tree shaking wildly. On the other side of the fence, Stranger-Dog stood perfectly still, watching the action intently but apparently not too disturbed about it. Then I saw Butch. He was behind the fig tree, barking furiously, and wiggling for all he was worth to scratch his butt on the fence. Whoa! I bet that intimidated the big fellow.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on June 25, 2006.)

They hadn't seen each other in a coon's age

This is Rocky Raccoon. There should be a trademark symbol next to his name, but I don't know where to find one.

Rocky lives on a shelf in my closet. He's a puppet. His rabbit-disguised-as-raccoon fur is wrapped around a loosely coiled spring, and by manipulating the spring with your finger, you can make him appear to do all sorts of things. For some reason, most people don't seem to notice right away that Rocky has no legs.

I bought Rocky at a magic show in the mid-80s, when I was in a long-term relationship with a man whose hobby was magic and illusions. (He was good at it, too; he made himself disappear sometime in 1989 and I haven't seen him since.) Rocky has never personally been in show business, but he's entertained a few grandchildren in his time--and me. He's entertained me a lot.

It must have been four or five years ago that I was cleaning out some things and stumbled across Rocky, and my first thought was to introduce him to Butch and Kadi. They were super-excited to meet him. Kadi politely sniffed under his tail (she still does that--every single time), and Butch, who was normally a little standoffish with other animals, wagged blissfully as Rocky rubbed against his face. Neither of the dogs has ever tried to bite Rocky or to play with him like a toy.

Rocky only comes out to visit once every three or four months. When he does, he talks to my dogs in a voice that sounds a lot like mine, except that his is high-pitched and squeaky, and he talks really fast. He mostly says things like, "Hey, Butch and Kadi, how you doin', little buddies?" and "Ooooooh, I'm soooo happy to seeeee youuuuu; let me scratch your ears." Kadi's sniffed under Rocky's tail enough times to know there's no life force there, so she usually just takes a quick whiff to make sure nothing's changed, then exits. But Butch sticks around until I tell Rocky, in my own voice, that it's time to go home.

Now that Rocky's older, he mostly just enjoys his quiet time, resting in between my steam iron and my old straw hat with the brightly colored floral band. But that doesn't mean he's been forgotten. This morning I walked into my bedroom and found Butch standing at the closed closet doors, wagging his tail, waiting patiently. I knew instantly what he wanted. "Do you need to see Rocky?" I asked him, and his tail wagged faster and faster. I took Rocky down and let them visit for a few minutes, then Butch went back into the den, and I left for work.

Sometimes, I guess, you just think about an old friend for no particular reason at all.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on June 9, 2006.)

Shutting Down

I click my mouse on the red “turn off” button, and in mere seconds, Microsoft’s musical tones signal that the shut-down process has begun. For the rest of the night, at least, I’ve left cyberspace and returned to my other plane of existence.

The instant those musical notes hit the air, I hear other familiar sounds: the “whufffffff” of large dogs rolling over on leather cushions, one on the futon just across the room and another on the sofa all the way in the living room. I hear toenails scrabbling as eight paws hit the floor. Jingling tags tell me Butch and Kadi are stretching and shaking off the sleep that gripped them only seconds ago. Before I’m out of my chair, both of them are moving toward me, tails wagging. To them, the musical shut-down tones mean the beginning of our nighttime ritual. “Mom’s finished,” they seem to be thinking. “Oh, boy!

I open the back door to let them out into the yard one last time. Butch waits on the patio while Kadi heads into the grass and finds the perfect spot to squat. Then, in spite of his sightlessness, he makes a beeline to that exact spot and lifts his leg to cover Kadi’s scent with his own.

While they’re outside, I turn off lamps and the TV, carry Butch’s favorite big, round, corduroy-covered bed from the den to “our” room, and put on my nightgown. Before I finish, I hear them back at the door. Butch scratches it with his paw while Kadi stands back and waits. I open the door to let them in, and Butch doesn’t stop for even a moment. He trots past me and the big bookcase, hooks a wide right into the dining room and around the table, passes through the gate of our indoor picket fence, makes a hard right turn and runs the remaining distance into the bedroom. There, he does a quick one-eighty to stand facing the doorway and wait for me.

Kadi, in the meantime, stays on my heels, watching every move I make to be sure I don’t forget the “big ol’ biscuits” that are their standard bedtime treat. She watches me open the bag, then moves in to check my hand: “Yup, she’s got ‘em.” Satisfied, she follows closely while I turn off the overhead lights. As I close the gate behind us (to keep her from sneaking in to sleep on the forbidden soft-yellow chair), she runs ahead to the bedroom doorway and stands at attention beside Butch. They get their biscuits and eat them while I brush my teeth, then I set the alarm and we settle in for the night.

We are creatures of habit. The Microsoft music is Pavlov, and all three of us are his dogs.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on May 12, 2006.)

Sleepy Dog

(Photo first published at Velvet Sacks on April 23, 2006.)

Happy happy, joy joy!

These are the furry creatures whose mere presence in my home fills my heart to bursting. At the top is Kadi, the Lab, the best dog ever, then Butch, the (Stevie) Wonder Dog. Kadi and Butch are mine. The granddogs are next: Winston is the Yorkie and Lucy is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Winston and Lucy belong to my older daughter, Kim, who brings them to my house most days because her studio is in my backyard. How could anyone not love these faces?

(First published at Velvet Sacks on March 24, 2006.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Can dogs count?

If I’m handing out treats, first to one dog, then the other, and if for some reason I miss somebody’s turn, the missed dog gets highly agitated--and vocal about it--until I correct my error. I’ve also wondered if Butch, my blind dog, counts steps as he makes his way around the house. At first I thought he managed strictly by scent and floor texture, but I’ve noticed something that makes me wonder. If his route from one place to the other includes a turn–-going from the kitchen to the bedroom, for example–-he usually gets where he’s going with no problem. But if he starts out just a couple of degrees off course, he goes a certain distance, then turns–-maintaining the same angle he always uses to make the turn, but not turning in exactly the same place--which causes him to run into the door frame instead of through the open door. What's his frame of reference for when to make that turn?

(First published at Velvet Sacks on February 23, 2006.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Butch's Story

As I write this, Butch is nine years old, still strong and wonderful. Here's what I wrote about him two years ago:

Part 1: January 29, 2006
Butch, an incredibly sweet male dog of indeterminate (indiscriminate?) heritage, is blind.

The first sign of a problem came during the 2004 Christmas holidays. Butch had always had an amazing ability to snake his thick neck just enough to the right or left to catch whatever treat I tossed to him, but one morning I was tossing mini-marshmallows and he missed as many as he caught. That was odd. A few days later, a slice of cheese fell to the floor right in front of him, in plain sight, and he couldn’t find it.

At first I thought it was my imagination. Butch didn’t seem to have any difficulty at all moving around the house or the yard, going about his dog business, and his eyes weren’t watering or exhibiting any physical signs of a problem. I wondered if dogs’ eyes get worse with age the way humans’ eyes do.

Gradually, I started noticing that his eyes seemed to glow, not just outside in the dark, but almost all of the time, so I took him to the vet. The vet examined Butch’s eyes and measured the pressures in them and suspected glaucoma right away. He called a veterinary ophthalmologist at LSU, who said the symptoms did sound like glaucoma, but that with pressures as high as Butch’s were, he didn’t understand how Butch could see at all. He could see, though.

The vet prescribed eyedrops and made an appointment for Butch to see the ophthalmologist. My daughter went with us, and that appointment was frightening for all of us, with lots of bustling vet students and lots of tests, and ultimately a grim diagnosis of primary glaucoma. The ophthalmologist prescribed more drops and discussed the options available to us–all of which would only delay, not prevent, the inevitable enucleation (complete removal) of Butch’s eyes.

For the time being, we would try medication. Butch needed two kinds of hugely expensive eyedrops, three times a day each, and not to be taken at the same time. My daughter and I set up a written schedule of what drops were to be given when, and we made it work. I stayed up late and got up early to give him the morning and nighttime medications, and my daughter came over every single day for months to give him the drops he needed while I was at work. We took him to the vet every two or three weeks to have his eye pressure measured.

I bought books and a DVD and read everything I could find online about living with blind dogs. I looked at pictures of post-surgery dogs and studied the hollow places in their faces where their eyes had been. I worried about my dog and worried about the money, got angry because I had to worry about the money, and prayed to God that I would make the right decision.

After a few months, it became obvious that Butch was seeing less and less of his surroundings and was becoming sad. He stumbled sometimes and bumped into things, which seemed to frighten and confuse him. He slept more and sighed a lot, and I slept little and cried a lot, and decided, with the vet’s help, that all we were waiting for was for me to be ready, and then it would be time.

Part 2: January 30, 2006
While Butch was rapidly losing his eyesight, which made the world look pretty gloomy to us, one thing happened that gave us a light moment in spite of our sympathy for our "boy."

My neighbor got a new dog, a male fox terrier named Sparky. He was a black and white bundle of energy, leaping at my dogs through the fence and bounding around the yard like a bouncing ball, accompanying all the motion with a high-pitched bark. Butch didn’t much like the young whippersnapper and never failed to voice his displeasure with low-pitched, warning growls.

One day we let Butch out into the backyard, and as he angled across the patio he whirled suddenly to face the fence, then crouched down, puffing out his chest, growling and barking, pawing the ground like an angry bull. We didn’t hear anything other than Butch, but we figured from his posturing that Sparky must be outside, so we moved around to where we could see into the neighbor’s yard. There, about six feet beyond the fence and all alone, sat a brand-new black and white soccer ball.

Part 3: February 1, 2006
Butch lost his eyes in August of 2005. The surgery went beautifully from a technical standpoint, but waking up with no vision at all was traumatic for him. One of the vet techs said that she had held him in her arms after surgery for a long, long time, cuddling all 55 pounds of him to ease his panic as much as she could. The vet acknowledged that it was a difficult experience for Butch and for everybody, and all of them were relieved as the day went on and Butch calmed down. Then, on the second day after surgery, the vet noticed Butch pacing in his kennel and wondered what had made him so agitated again. Finally, he realized that Butch was trying to find the water dish. Once they pointed him in the right direction, he drank his fill and relaxed again.

They let us pick up Butch at the end of the second day, a Friday, so he could get back into familiar surroundings as soon as possible. He walked haltingly and nervously as the vet led him into the room where we waited. His face had been shaved from behind his ears all the way down to his muzzle, and the visible skin was mottled, pink and gray. Because nature designed eyelids specifically not to grow together, even with stitches, his eyelids had also been surgically removed, the edges sewn together with heavy black sutures that resembled eyelashes. He looked pitiful, but when he heard our voices, his whole back end began wagging, and his joy and relief were palpable.

When we were ready to leave, I tried to get Butch to follow me out of the clinic on his leash, but he insisted on going first, his nose to the ground, sniffing for all he was worth, and he led me outside without bumping into a single thing. That turned out to be a fluke. The vet had warned me that Butch obviously had been able to see better before the surgery than any of us had realized, and he said that I would be shocked to find out how much he would have to struggle at first. Still, I wasn’t prepared.

When we got home, Butch charged ahead, crashing and banging into end tables, doorframes, and other obstacles that seemed to multiply in his path. We opened the door to let him outside and he stumbled down the one step, then dashed out into the backyard, running ahead at full speed until he crashed into the fence and bounced off of it, again and again. The surgical bruising on his face was joined by other scrapes and bruises before we could stop him. For several days afterward, we took him outside only on a leash, gradually lengthening it until we were sure he had a healthy respect for his limitations.

Butch learned amazingly quickly how to navigate around the house and the yard. What a relief! And his joyous personality helped immensely to assuage the guilt I felt about putting him through so much trauma. He positively bloomed! In the absence of the pain that must have been worse than we knew, he became livelier than we had seen him in a long time--frisky, playful, affectionate--a thoroughly happy dog.

Part 4: February 3, 2006
It’s been nearly six months now since Butch’s eye surgery, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have turned out. Who knew his life as a blind dog would be so normal?

Only a day or two after coming home from surgery, Butch jumped onto the sofa. I fretted that he would fall, but he just rested awhile and then eased himself back to the floor. Now he jumps on and off of the sofa all the time and sleeps wherever he wants.

He still bumps into things every now and then, especially when he first wakes up (I, myself, am disoriented under those conditions and have been known to bump into walls). It hurts to see him bump his nose, but he takes it in stride, just corrects his course and goes on about his business.

And he has a lot of business. There are quite a few dogs in the neighborhood, and Butch monitors their behavior and their barking very closely. Many times he will grab my hand in his mouth and "grrrff" to signal that he needs to go outside–now! And when I open the back door, he crouches down into his best "let’s-play-attack-dog" position and runs hard, down the step, around the patio furniture and out into the yard, snarling and barking, in the direction of the offending neighbor dog. Somehow he manages to stop just inches short of the fence.

If Butch has been outside for a while, or if he’s been running, he may lose track of exactly where he is. It isn’t a problem, though. He has landmarks. He walks the fence line, or he heads across the middle of the yard until his feet touch the stepping stones or until he can smell the bird feeder or the gardenia bush, and then he turns toward the house, makes his way to the back door and scratches to be let in. If the door is already being held open for him, he doesn’t stop, just turns at exactly the right place, steps up the step and into the house without ever touching the doorframe.

We still try to be vigilant about keeping all the furniture in exactly the same place and keeping other obstacles out of his path, but with three other dogs around most of the time, dog toys get left where they shouldn’t be. Butch doesn’t sweat it.

The biggest obstacle test came a few weeks after his surgery, when Hurricane Rita brought my East Texas relatives over for a week or so. We had a house full of people, six extra adults, three extra kids, two extra dogs and a guinea pig, and luggage and air mattresses all over the floor. Kadi, my yellow lab, was stressed about the mess, but Butch had the time of his life. One of the kids was a two-year-old, and he and Butch must have walked a hundred miles through my house that week, each on the opposite end of a tug toy, one giggling and the other wagging his tail. Another visitor, my 10-year-old grand-nephew, fought boredom by playing hide and seek with Butch. The boy would hide, and Butch, wagging his tail enthusiastically, would always find him.

Part 5: February 5, 2006
You know, when you catch yourself laughing at something your beloved pet does because he is blind, a part of you feels really bad about it. But when the funny thing that happens doesn’t seem to make your pet feel bad at all, then you have to just go with it. And the visual enormity of this particular miscalculation had a room full of people rolling with laughter.

Now that Butch is blind, he sniffs along the sofa before he jumps on it so he can find a spot with no human or dog or newspaper in his way. That system worked fine for him until the visit from all my Texas relatives. During that week, there were no vacant spots on the sofa.

One evening we were all packed into the living room, just visiting, and Butch was a little wired, having just finished a vigorous wrestling session with my niece’s husband. We didn’t think much of it as he made his way across everybody’s feet, sniffing knees until he stood facing the empty corner between the two sofas. He stood there for a moment, "staring" intently into the empty space, then suddenly bunched up his hindquarters and did a magnificent, balletic leap into mid-air, a leap that would have landed him well above the sofa, had a sofa existed in that spot. He crashed abruptly to the floor, fortunately landing on all four feet. He turned around cautiously, gave his tail a few wags, held his chin up high, then proceeded around the room with his dignity totally intact, as if that had been his plan all along.

I can assure you he hasn’t made that mistake again.

Part 6: February 7, 2006
Some things have changed since Butch’s blindness and some haven’t. When he hears noises outside now, he still goes to stand at the window and "look out." Sometimes, if the blinds are closed, he scratches them with his paw, turns his face in my direction and waits for me to open them for him–which I do. Then he lies on the floor with his head on the windowsill and "watches" with his ears and his nose.

His ears and nose have taken up the slack for his missing eyes and are much more sensitive now than before he had to rely on them. He can hear a soft whisper across the room, and he can smell food before the refrigerator door is fully open. I hand him his treats now, instead of tossing them to him, but if a treat happens to hit the floor, he’s usually the first dog to get to it.

Butch is cuddlier than he was when he had eyes, probably because he likes to be close to his people so he can keep up with what’s going on. He likes to sleep with his head on my lap, one paw planted on my arm or my chest, and I like it, too. But he can also be a little overbearing when he sits beside me on the sofa, wide awake and drooling, his ears cocked and his nose two inches from my mouth, listening and sniffing for every subtle change in my breathing pattern. I’m learning patience, and Butch is learning to back off a little bit when he hears me say, "Butch, you’re in my personal space."

With all the hair grown back on his face, he is once again a handsome dog. He has neat black lines where his eyes used to be (the vet did an outstanding job). The empty spaces behind the lines are a little sunken in, but not much. I expected Butch’s face to be less animated without his eyes, but it isn’t. Maybe it's the muscles around the eyes, not the eyes themselves, that create the "window to the soul."

Even though Butch’s eyes don’t open now, he still blinks, and he can furrow his brow and twitch his face to display his whole range of doggy emotions. More than anything else, he looks like he’s sleeping. And the best thing, the thing that warms my heart and makes me want to just hold him and squeeze him tight, is that his eyes still move when he dreams.