Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Life's Balancing Act

Have you seen the movie National Treasure, Book of Secrets?

There is a scene in the movie that perfectly illustrates what my life is like these days! The cast is in a cave- which isn't the important part- but somehow they all end up on this huge platfor which is teetering on the brink of an abyss. In order to prevent disaster they have to maintain this perfect balance- if they move just a tiny bit too far to one side or the other, the platform shifts and throws them all off balance- DISASTER!!

My life of late has become the same sort of balancing act! At each corner is another "responsibility" pulling at me- Family, School, Dogs, Kennel Club, Friends, Training, Housework-- all of the "shoulda-woulda-coulda's" If I spend too much time in one area, the platform tips- and I face inevitable disaster! Try as I might, I can't seem to make everyone happy, or fit it all into my schedule. There are just not enough hours in the day or days in the week!

Of course, I knew that this semester was going to be very intense; I have more credits this time around, and all of the classes are heavy on the assignments. I anticipated that I was going to have to spend more time studying and thought I had prepared my family that I was going to need more help around the house and with the dogs. 'Nuff Said on that one!

Of course, in perfect accordance with Murphy's Law- I have these beautiful puppies~ Morgan and Lucy. What was I thinking keeping not one, but TWO puppies? I don't have time for 2 puppies- I barely have time for the adult dogs....

And... speaking of the adult dogs... Bugsy is working so well in Rally and Obedience, and I miss training him in Agility. I really love taking him to class and working with him. Jitterbug just LOVES to train- in anything- she just likes to WORK!! "Mommy Mommy ask me anything and I will do it" She is so incredibly smart- and picks up everything so quickly; I feel guilty that I am not working with her more. And, of course, there is Sera, who, now that her Specials career is over, is ready to begin some serious performance training too!

You know that you have your priorities a bit off kilter when you spend a Sunday afternoon working on a project for the Kennel Club you belong to, instead of with your grandson, at his last cub scout Pinewood Derby, and his moving up [to Boy Scouts] ceremony. But... thats exactly how I spent last Sunday, I am ashamed to say. Hubby took the time to spend with our family- and I am thankful for that!

Of course, I do try to make time for my friends- probably more so than I should. But every girl needs her friends. I mean, seriously-- who else am I going to vent to when I am running from side to side on this platform thing of mine, trying to keep from falling into the abyss? My friends- whether it be the real life flesh and blood type, or my Facebook friends, or my friends from school, one way or another keep me sane! Friends are the only way I can keep in balance with everything that is going on!

Now, you will probably notice that in my grand balancing act the one thing I didn't mention is housework. On my list of priorities, it falls pretty far below less than important. When I do my 'to-do' list, somehow I never seem to get to the part that says dust, vaccum, scrub. There are so many more important {and fun!} ways to spend my time!

Life is really nothing more than a giant balancing act! I love my life; don't get me wrong! I can't imagine giving up any of the activities that keep me so busy, so I will have to continue to perfect my timing and ability to prioritize,

And pray for Balance in my life...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bringing up Baby Part 1

All of our puppies go to their new homes with a packet of information on diet and early training, and the very strong recommendation that they enroll in a Kindergarten Puppy Training class as soon as the puppy has completed their vaccinations. When I talk to new puppy owners, whether my own, or clients, I stress the importance of early socialization for all breeds, but in particular, herding breeds. We talk alot about the intelligence of the herding breeds, and their ability to think through a situation; as fun as that makes them to live with, it can cause problems if the puppy is not socialized early on!

Just by virtue that the puppy has left its littermates, it has gone through a traumatic experience. I like to send my puppies home between 9 and 11 weeks of age, so this is a fairly pliable stage for them to make this transition. Its very important that the new family keep up with lots of positive reinforcement in the puppies life!

One of the things that I have adopted is a chart that I include in the New Puppy Packet, for the owners to hang on their refrigerator. This chart is divided into 1 week intervals, and there are 24 items on the list that I feel each puppy should be exposed to at least one time each week. I expect that each family member make a committment to helping the new baby have a positive exposure to the new experiences. Some of the items on the list include: Babies/Toddlers; Uniformed people; People in hats; bicycles; shopping carts; strollers; slippery floors; people with Loud voices. By the end of the 25 weeks, if the chart is followed properly, each puppy would have been exposed to all 24 items a minimum of 7 times. If the puppy is upset or unsettled by something, I advise the new owners to NOT comfort the puppy- but ignore the reaction, and either just stand or sit there and let the puppy think it through, or distract the puppy with something else. The worst thing you can do is to baby a puppy that has become frightened! This just reinforces the fear!

Another item that is in my New Puppy Packet is "5 Easy Tips for Training"- a simple guideline for teaching your puppy to enjoy walking on a leash. As a Vet Tech, and having taught KPT and Obedience classes for many years, I am amazed at how many dogs just do not know how to walk on a leash without pulling- and how many dogs just simply do not enjoy being put on a lead! This should be the most FUN thing for your dog! "Wow! Mom {or Dad} is putting on my special clothes to take me with THEM!! I can't wait" should be their attitude!! All too often I have been told that owners have had to drag their dog out from behind the sofa to put a collar on their dog so they could bring them to class! How Very Sad!!

Using my method, the puppies are introduced to light collars and a light lead from the day they go home to a fun game in the house! They learn the "dance" that we call leash walking! Its always positive- its always fun- and they learn that when they pay attention to mom and dad, there is praise and treats involved- and mom and dad are just the greatest things in the world!

I always insist that puppies go home on a weekend, and recommend that at least one family member plan on taking a few days off to stay home with the new baby. There is nothing that will set a new pet up for failure faster than rushing housebreaking. Young puppies have limited control over their bladders and bowels. It is simply cruel to expect them to remain clean and dry in a crate for more than a few hours at a time. In addition, puppies need food and water throughout the day!

I use a crate attached to an exercise pen for keeping a young puppy whenever I cannot be at home. In the crate, I will place the puppies' bedding, his water bowl and his food dish and favorite chew toys. At the very farthest end of the ex pen I will layer "pee pads" or newspaper. This allows the puppy the opportunity to "go" away from his bed; you don't ever want to force your puppy to have an accident in their crate.

However, when I am home, the ex pen is folded up- and I use the crate for naps and feeding. The rest of the time, the puppy is either in a small area with baby gates where I can watch them for the "signs" that they have to go potty, or on a 10 ft lead attached to my belt loop- so that I am always within sight of my puppy. I frequently take the puppy outside to the potty area, and repeat the magic words that I use to exercise the puppy- and praise them lavishly when they are successful- and take them instantly inside. I always take the puppy outside the same door, and have a cluster of sleigh bells hanging from the door handle, which I let the puppy touch with their nose or paw as I go through the door.

As the puppy develops control, they will soon learn to run to the door, ring the bells to go outside- but you need to listen for those bells!!

Most of Bringing up Baby is common sense! They are very smart; in fact, they have the mental capacity to learn everything they need to complete their Utility Degree training at 8 weeks~! The trainer just has to break it into small enough sessions for their reduced attention span! There is no such thing as a Cardi puppy that can't be house trained- or can't be trusted in the house. Most of the dogs with bad house manners are the result of sloppy training as a youngster.

By being diligent those first few days and weeks at home; by socializing your new puppy carefully, and by teaching your puppy to love being with you, you are building a foundation for a long and wonderful relationship!

Enjoy those first few weeks- its a lot of work- but its a magical bonding time!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Puppy Commencements

Remember that old Carpenters song... We've only just begun...A Kiss for luck and we're on our way...

Thats how it always feels when we send our baby puppies off to their new lives. They have only just begun to live- I kiss them on their little noses and send them off with a new family into a new world! It's pretty scary, I have to admit!

After probably a year or more of planning a breeding; 60 some-odd days of gestation {and lots of dreaming and praying along the way}; and the 10 weeks of watching those formless lumps turn into beautiful Cardigan babies, it's hard to let them walk out the door!

No matter how much screening I do {and I do screen my puppy-people very thoroughly} I never really KNOW them well enough. When I trust someone with one of my puppies, I am entrusting them with a big part of me! Thats really hard to do! Not only that, but I am letting this complete stranger take away a puppy that has become a little person! I know what each of my puppies likes, and doesn't like. I recognize each of their barks and whines- how they like to be held- what their favorite toy is. These puppies have pretty much been the main focus of my life for the past 20 weeks, at least; and all of a sudden its Puppy Party day.

A few litters ago, I had an idea that I would have one Puppy Commencement Day; a single Saturday event, where all the new families would come to my home to pick up their companion puppies. At the same time, they would get to meet the other families, have some constructive play with all the puppies, meet the parents of the puppies when possible, and I could do a mini-puppy kindergarten class. I generally put together a light lunch and a decorated cake {Welcome to the Xtacee Cardigans Family} and everyone spends the afternoon just enjoying Cardigans.

Today was the Sera x Powell and the Dora x Nicky puppies Commencement Day. Because of the time of year, I rented the training room where I go for my Agility classes- and everyone met there. We had a great time!! The puppies had so much fun running in the big room {we took the equipment down, except for a tunnel to play in} and the families had plenty of photo ops with Nicky, Sera and Dora playing and running with the puppies. At the end of the afternoon, puppies are tired and ready for a nice nap in the car, on their way off to their new lives. Several new friendships are formed, and plans are made to get together in April at the Nationals!

Now that I am home, however, its quiet. There are still four puppies here- one that is waiting for the weather to break for a flight to North Carolina; one that is going to New York when his new Mom gets done with some family obligations; and the two that are here to stay. Its still much quieter than it has been! Now my own puppies can have their own Commencements...

Its so exciting...

I'm Never Ready

I am never ready to let them go.

I am sitting in my "dog office" at 3:45 am. Laying at my feet is my old man, Chase. Born 5/20/95, son of Ch. Phi-Vestavia Embers of Xtacee, a littermate to Eng/Am Ch. Phi-Vestavia Evan Evans- and sired by Ch. Phi-Vestavia Oedipus Rex. Chase has always been a character- he has always had an opinion- it was his way or No Way!

Just 3 pts shy of finishing his Championship, on a very cold December day, Chase decided to take a short cut off our deck down to the ground to see the girls running below. He didn't bother with the steps- he climbed up onto the picnic table and jumped to the frozen ground. He ended up going down that night. Lots of prayer, Dexamethasone, Robaxin and crate rest and he was up and around in a few weeks, but it was over a year before he got that last major. We had nicknamed him "Chasing Majors" by that time!

Chase finished his CD in 3 trials- with decent scores- and each time, by making the judge snicker at least one time! Training class was always comical- my instructors would tell me to MAKE him be more precise...they just didn't understand that no one makes Chase do anything he doesn't want to do! Needless to say- Chase didn't WANT to learn dumbell- so we never went any farther than his CD!

But Chase always had personality! He knew when it was dinner time- and even as his eyesight began to fail, and he lost his hearing- his tummy had a perfect clock. All the other dogs in the house respect Chase- he has special priveleges- he is the first through every doorway- and he can have any bone he wants; no one argues with him. If Chase wants that bed- the other dogs move out of his way! Chase is "The Man"

Over the last year, we noticed that he was getting lost in the yard- barking at the back of his crate- sleeping more and more. We started him on Anipryl to try to improve his cognitive function. This winter, I stopped putting him outside with the younger corgi's- they just ran too fast and played too hard, and more often than not, Chase got bumped around. He had fallen a few times, and I didn't want to risk him being injured by their play. And... he really just wandered around the yard now anyway. So, Chase had his own yard time, and he was happy with that.

This afternoon, when I went to let him back in, he wasn't standing at the door waiting for me, as was his usual routine. He wasn't even in the nearer part of the yard- and he hadn't ventured away from that part of the yard for several weeks. As I ran to the house to get my coat and boots, I knew that something was wrong.

I found Chase in the very farthest back corner of our yard. The yard is about 500' x 450'- so thats quite a distance for a 100+ year old man to toddle in the snow. He had curled up under a bush, with his face pressed up against the privacy fence.

I brought him in and warmed him up; took his temperature, called my husband- of course, crying all the while. As Chase warmed up, he started wandering- in an endless circle to the left. Occasionally he would stumble and fall-then he would get back up and start circling again. I offered him water and food, which he ignored.

When Gus got home he examined Chase. His temp is still subnormal; his CRT is slow; his heart rate is very low. The endless circles have stopped, but Chase has sought out the darkest, farthest corner of the room to lie in.

I think it's time.

The rational, thinking part of me knows that Chase has most likely suffered a neurological incident. The selfish part of me wants God to take him; I don't want to make this decision. And in my heart, I know that I owe this wonderful old dog, who never asked me for anything but love, a peaceful and painless journey over the Bridge.

For now, he is sleeping comfortably- his head on my foot. In the morning, well, we'll see...

Friday, January 8, 2010

People are AMAZING!!

I am consistenly amazed at people- in general. Not always in a good way, mind you!

The end of last week, we x-rayed Splash, in preparation for the breeding to that Southern Gentleman; a breeding I had been looking forward to! I kind of got suspicious that all was not well when Hubby didn't call me and tell me how wonderful the x-rays looked by mid-day. When he didn't answer my text at 4:00, I started to get concerned- and my fears were realized when he came home and put the x-rays up to the light.

Yep- Splash is Dysplastic. Not your Very Typical Cardigan Chondrodysplastic Subluxated but no signs of DJD kind of Dysplastic-- Not even the shallow Acetabulum that we are seeing more and more of in our breed... Splash is bilaterally subluxated with marked orthapedic changes at 31 months of age.

Well SHIT!! Mom {Wednesday} has been spayed... Sis {Tosia- the dog that was SUPPOSED to be bred to Southern Gentleman} is dead... NOW what do I do???

Of Course, Splash is an incredibly Agile dog. She has never had a moments lameness- she runs and jumps and plays and sits up to beg! She has as much stamina in the back yard as Jitterbug- flies up the steps in nothing flat- and has the most fun jumping the obedience jumps in the yard! No muscle atrophy- not even any irregular muscle development. She is not a great moving dog- but she is straight in the stifle so her movement is quite stilted. Never ever did I or any of her co-owners hear any popping or snapping or any of those "typical" sounds of dysplastic dog.

But, being ethical, after many phone calls, emails, and sleepless nights, I decide that Splash is to be spayed and go to a forever home...

MEANWHILE... I recieve an email from a puppy person, who has a puppy from my March litter- puppy is just 8 1/2 months old:

"It is with much distress that I write to you today to let you know about our XXX. She has been diagnosed with moderate to severe bilateral hip dysplasia"

WTF??? Wait a minute!!! So I continued to read on-- popping sound--- no lameness--- original xrays by local Vet-- Sent to Cornell---

WAIT--- Vet is recommending :

TPO surgery IMMEDIATELY-- on both hips at 6 week intervals--- to give this dog ANY kind of normal mobility into adulthood???

To the tune of almost $8,000 bucks!!!!????


So- when I got done with my initial panic- and after talking to hubby AND pulling their contract {since naturally they are requesting a full refund of their purchase price etc. etc.} I sent them an email that said we would require a second opinion at our expense, and copies of all of their medical records to date on the dog.

The records came and so did the xrays. Now- if you aren't used to looking at chondrodysplastic hips, you may look at these and say- well- ok. But let me tell you- I WISH Splash's hips looked that good!!! Hell-- I wish MOST of my dogs hips looked that good!!! Yes, she is slightly subluxated!! There is absolutely NO evidence of DJD- the hips are well seated; the acetabula are well formed; these are good xrays!

I was fully expecting to see xrays MUCH WORSE than Splash's!

The medical records have NO MENTION of any lameness at any time in the dogs life. There is one reference to a slight popping noise in one rear leg on manipulation, which is why the owners brought the dog in to be seen.

Thats IT!!! Nothing Else!! No lameness at any time... No dislocation... No pain on palpation... No muscle atrophy... No irregular muscle development... No irregulararities in gait... NOTHING! Except a healthy young Cardigan with very typical, slightly subluxated hips and an over reactive owner, a Local Vet that isn't comfortable with orthapedics and Surgery Happy Cornell-God-Vets.

Now... Why would any ETHICAL Veterinarian suggest cutting up a perfectly functional hip, on a spayed, companion animal? What would make them jump to surgery FIRST, without ever recommending nutritional supplements, dietary management, exercise considerations, etc.?

Or more importantly, why would anyone consider putting this puppy through the pain of the surgery, the risk from the anesthesia- and the increased risk of osteosarcoma; the possibility of permanent lameness; the risk of nerve/muscle damage; the possibility of incontinence for the remainder of the dogs life-- if the dogs is not now- nor has it ever been- in any pain?

Had this puppy's xrays proven to show evidence of coxo-femoral dysplasia; had this puppy's records shown that the puppy was in pain; had suffered hip dislocation; had difficulty with mobility- anything at all that would have suggested that this puppy was not going to be able to live a normal COMPANION life- Gus would have done whatever treatments or surgeries were necessary to make this dog comfortable- at our cost.

I have a dog here, Chase, who the OFA failed at 2 years. He is this puppies great Uncle. His 2 year xrays are not nearly as nice as this puppies are. We never did a thing to Chase's hips, surgically. As are all of my dogs, he is on GlycoFlex. He was never allowed to get fat; he always gets lots of free run exercise. It's kind of ironic- he has never had a dislocation- or any hip lameness-or any major lameness at all. {Except when he jumped off the deck and went down in the back... but thats another story...} He has a little bit of trouble getting up and down stairs these days... but then... He will be 15 in a few weeks.

I think he's plenty of proof that just because a dog- particularily a chondrodysplastic breed, such as a Cardigan, is radiographically "dysplastic"- it doesn't require surgery to have normal mobility and a great quality of life- well into their senior years!

Chase- at 14.5 years-