Sam Update: We’re Getting Old, Mom

This is more a family post, and of course by “family” I mean “people I’d hug in an airport after having not seen them in a while” or “people I’d give a jovial pat on the back to – of course, from a respectable distance. You know, the ones I’d still have cocktails with while trying to dust the cobwebs out of my memory ‘how is… oh, you know…  him? That guy you’ve lived with for like 15 years'” (aka my “close” friends).  (To my friends: I totally know the names of your significant others except that one friend who switches them out so much that I can’t keep track; I’m just too old  – in your case, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve named the guy of the moment “Jeff” – seems generic enough, and I’m sure .01% of the time I might be right.)

Anyway, the rest of you are welcome to stay (who knows, one day I might hug you in an airport), but the post may get boring in bits.  For the rest of you, particularly Drew (Sam’s favorite long distance uncle), here’s the update:

After surviving 7 years of kitty trauma, a new beast has entered the house.  The smallish ball of fluff and claws goes by Quincy and appears to be easily amused by round things, tubey things, sproingy things, and all things Sam.  Sam is the best!!! Sam would like you to know that despite Quincy’s best efforts to extend the olive branch of friendship (which usually comes in the form of tail batting and Quincy desperately trying to rub his head against her chin) that she is onto his clever ploys and not having it!  Sam has explained in her disgruntled old lady way, on more than one occasion, that she’s wise to Quincy’s motives. He’s a cat. Sam would also like it noted that all of the food is Sam’s – Quincy’s food, the human’s food, food that may not be readily visible or in the house, food that may be a chef’s pipe dream – that’s all hers – move along.  The joys of a furry kingdom.

The not as fun bits – Sam is almost 13 years old, and as all the other pet owners at the vet who ask Sam’s age like to point out as they sigh dramatically, she’s practically at death’s door.  At Monday’s appointment a woman cheerily offered, “well, my friend’s beagle is 17 – of course, she’s blind and miserable – oh hey, good luck at your appointment!” Jay would say at this point, “that’s not exactly what she said,” but I have a blog, and well that was my take away.  Sam was at the vet Monday, because the previous week she had become somewhat listless – she’d completely stopped her peppy runs to get food, or to get snacks, or to see what we were up to (just in case food was involved – paws crossed – hey, she’s a hound).  Instead she walked slowly, face and ears drooped, and tail down. Normally, when she’s slowed down it’s due to a flare up of her arthritis (after two CCL surgeries she has arthritis in her knees as well as her hips and shoulders). I scheduled an appointment so we could get her pain managed – hooray for anti-inflammatories. However, right before we were about to take her in she staggered across the room, her legs went out from under her and she fell; this was a new symptom that was heartbreaking to see.  We arrived at the vet carrying her in a blanket as she shook uncontrollably completely unable to walk.

After her examination, which involved me having to jump in with things like “she had Horner’s Syndrome in both sides of her face, which is why she’s not blinking as quickly for your eye test” and “she’s had surgeries on both her knees, and has arthritis which is why she taking a moment to recover from her paw being folded over,” the vet came back with her diagnosis. The long and short of it is that Sam injured her neck. We’re not sure how, and the vet couldn’t tell us  if she had a spinal injury, a pinched nerve, or if it was muscle strain.  The vet said “to x-ray her I’d need to sedate her and with her kidney issues (she’s old) I’d rather avoid it since what I’m going to recommend is the exact same thing we’d end up doing regardless of what the x-ray showed.  This “exact same thing” equals more meds (steroids, muscle relaxers, and generic Pepcid to keep everything down), cold compresses on her neck, and neck massages.  All of this is added on top of her old lady meds of glucosamine, fish oil, kidney meds, and pain killers.

Sam’s current (daunting) daily med regimen – everything on the top row is just a normal day (minus the AAA batteries). The bottom row represents new additions. Note: “acid” is actually “antacid” – we’re not quite that cruel.

The hardest thing is watching as she tries to get around – she stumbles, her paws cross awkwardly in front of each other as she does her best to remain balanced. Then there are the falls.  She’ll be fine, and then she’ll go over.  Thankfully, she prefers to lay down. The second hardest is her appetite.  She’s a hound! Sure, your dog may have an appetite – that’s cute, but you clearly haven’t met a hound.  Hounds are stomachs with legs and a nose. The vet warned before we left, “these steroids will make her hungrier than usual and extremely thirsty”.  I thought, “ugh, a perfect beagle storm”.  Sam will gladly recount the 2,685+ days that she’s been famished. Hey, what does it take to get some food up in this place?  It turns out the new meds not only have not made her more hungry (that would be too easy), they’ve made it so she now has a strong distaste for all of her food.  This includes all of the pill pockets we typically use to hide away the 100 pills she must ingest daily.  Carrots, which were something we might kill a new kitten over a week ago, are disgusting.  Food that had to be delivered in a slow feed bowl – disgusting.  Green beans, which we loved – disgusting.  In fact, she’s a little curious as to why we seem hell bent on insulting her with this garbage.  Attempts to hide pills in peanut butter (which we loved, but now hate), cheese (which is fine, I suppose, but only if flat and not in a ball which might be secreting a pill), or the Kong bacon/cheese whiz stuff (which used to be super delicious) are met with contempt and a firm patooey.   (Patooey’s always end with a happy wag that says, “you can’t fool me with your poisons! Silly mom!”) Then a light went off, “hey wait a minute, I can pill a 29 lb. dog”.  I mean, I’ve pilled cats and Sam is a lot easier than any of our cats.  Great thought.  Points to me for having it – oh sweet, delightful hubris – but you see when it comes to a neck injury, you can’t get that throat into the ideal position for pilling.  One small whimper reminded me, and we’ve been pilling as a last resort in the least ideal of neck positions.  Least ideal neck positions equal more patooey’s and some unnecessary hurtful comments about the less than ideal flavor of my fingers. Thank God for hot dogs, which still do the trick (most of the time).  As for food, we’ve also discovered that boiled chicken (YUMMMMMY!!!) and rice (meh) work.  They can also be blended, along with glucosamine, into a lovely paste.  How I miss the days I could simply put the glucosamine pill on the floor and it would be lapped up with a wag and a happy, “what else you got?” look.

As of today, nearly a week out from the vet visit, Sam is walking better, wagging more, and even trotting – maybe not as steadily as she can, but it’s a huge improvement since Monday.  Quincy has seen Sam’s injury as a real opportunity to become best buds,.  Proper bonding involves leaping out at her while she’s trying to get some rest, flopping down and rolling on his back in her path, extra sniffs, and sticking his head in her bowl while she’s eating (and not getting yelled at – at least not by Sam).  This is a super exciting time, and he figures they’ll be cuddling any day now.  Sam mostly pretends that Quincy is a hallucination and does her best to ignore him.

Over the past year we’ve had some serious talks with her about not getting old, but unfortunately she doesn’t seem to want to listen.  Still, despite the chatter of the other vet clients, she’s not at death’s door yet.  She’s just an old lady – a little slow, a little arthritic, but still our happy girl. (And happier each day as she becomes more and more steady.)

Sam Update: A Wish

A couple of years ago I was polling my friends and family for blog ideas.  Normally, I can make an anecdote out of anything, but at that moment the best I could do was stare and quietly drool (actually, I’d like to think of that as a favorite past-time – my hobby).  My friend Lori threw out a ton of ideas which included a regular update on Sam, our rescue beagle and for a couple of years now I’ve been providing those updates.

Sam has made for the perfect subject.  Not only is she cute, sweet and a bit mischievous, she has also gone through a lot of personal struggles along the way.  From her two bouts with something akin to Bell’s palsy, which left half her face paralyzed, to two knee surgeries to repair torn CCLs, to rehab and finally to her struggle with arthritis.  These posts allow me to bring folks updates on her adventures and her health.

Our ultimate goal with Sam has always been to give her the best life possible given her limitations.  While that doesn’t include people food (although the occasional popcorn kernel or green bean may find its way to the floor) or eating the kitties (yet!), she enjoys pet beds in nearly every room, pet stairs to her favorite spot on the couch, a ramp that takes her down to the backyard and according to her, a well stocked yard filled with bunnies for her to chase and occasionally nom triumphantly.

Lately our focus has shifted from Sam to our aging cat Sage.  Sage is a 14 year old DSH who still believes she’s a kitten.  I’m sorry, I misspoke.  Sage is our 14 year old kitten.  Sage had started dropping weight over the summer due to undiagnosed hyperthyroidism – something that’s not uncommon in older cats.  To try to correct the weight loss, pre-diagnosis, I started buying a lot of fancy smelly wet cat food.  My thought was, “hey, she’s old – she can eat what she wants as long as she eats”.  Her sister (litter mate) Hodi, who does not suffer from hyperthyroidism and is a walking ball of fuzz with tiny hidden little legs was very interested in this new change.  New food started appearing on the cat stand – a small independent table that Sage can leap to with ease, that is too high for the beagle and that Hodi must be delivered to (thus allowing time for the special food to be cleared and the boring dry food to be spotlighted once again – all to the grumpy one’s (Hodi again) great dismay).

The wet food smell was heavenly. I know this from talking to both Sam who started licking the pet stand and Hodi who frowned every time I took the wet food away.

Once the wet food began to appear, I noticed Sam was spending extra time in the kitchen. I could tell she was carefully working out the geometry involved in getting to that table.  Lines danced through the air as she worked out the various angles, assessed jump points, imagined opposable thumbs, and sized up the relative weight of kitchen furniture to beagle mass.  It was all very complicated and I was sent away on several occasions, because I was being distracting.  I take the blame for this fixation. If the smell weren’t compelling enough, I had also started pulling a chair out to see if that would help Sage since she was growing tinier by the day.  Once Sam saw the chair, the final bits of the equation fell into place.  “AHA! A chair! That’s the last piece. Puzzle solved!” Now she just had to wait for an opportunity.

One Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, I’d done my morning pet chores and headed back to bed.  I tossed around a bit then realized I couldn’t sleep, so I got back up, went to the kitchen, and flicked on the light. That’s when I found Sam standing in the middle of the table looking very surprised.  She had finally worked out a way to get up there and was trying to work out how to make the final leap to the cat stand.  Sam wagged excitedly while I tried to take a picture.  Let me say it’s hard when you’ve got a dog who really wants to get down, knowing this might fall under the list of “bad girl” things – so sadly, there were no pictures that weren’t incredibly blurry.

Sam's Foray

Normally an entirely clean table with fruit bowls, flowers and such. Sam doubtlessly felt the mail and reusable grocery bags would aid her in her adventure.

As I looked at her, as she nervously stood on the edge of the table, I was torn between being a bit mad and, “my arthritic dog with her repaired CCLs got onto the table without any help! You go, girl!”  I settled for an indulgent, “you’re lucky you’re funny.” Sam wagged and scampered off with a promise to never do that within my eye-shot again.  The same promise she makes whenever she’s caught in the litter box or sneaking something off of the counter.  “Right! You guys “see” things, I’ve really got to do something about that.”  We sleep with one eye open.

I surveyed the crime scene one last time before leaving the kitchen.  The chairs were barely touched.  In fact, I’m not sure which once she could have used on her way up.  Very sneaky this one.

Since then, Sage started receiving her thyroid medicine – a little dollop twice a day in each ear.  Sam has moved on to other interests, namely working on solving new food puzzles like how to deal with a table that’s now further from the cat food stand.

As we change our focus to getting Sage healthy, I look forward to Sam having more grand days like that Saturday.  For years my only wish for Sam was that she would have more good days than bad – that she know some amount of happiness and joy – things denied her in her early life.  I never imagined I’d find her proudly standing in the middle of our table.

I hope life continues to surprise her and us.

Sam Update: Return of the Mighty Huntress

Sam in her guise as the The Mighty Huntress returned the weekend before last.  I was sitting inside and heard some peculiar noises coming from the backyard and found Sam merrily bouncing and biting away.  I ran through the list of proper responses and settled on, “turn the sound up on the TV and rock in place”.  I’m probably not the person you want in a crisis.  After a few moments of willful denial, I decided I should go see what she’d captured just in case she had done something like cornered a raccoon or worse still, was tangling with a rattler – both things would require some kind of club and me pretending to be brave, so I was kind of hoping for anything but one of those.  I tromp out to discover Sam is celebrating Easter early by snacking on a baby bunny.

“Oh Sam.”

This phrase is apparently a new command that means, “please, bring that baby bunny into the house.”  Thankfully, the door was shut, so she held her limp prize and pawed at the door demanding entrance.  I mean really, what could be better than eating your dead bunny than eating your dead bunny on your favorite blanky.

Realizing she wasn’t allowed in, she dashed off with the bunny and found a nice spot in the grass.  I mean, it was a beautiful day and bunny with fresh greens makes for quite a delectable dish.  I acted quickly.  I ran into the house and sent Jay an urgent instant message: “Your dog killed a bunny.” .  Again, you might not want me at your side in a crisis.  Hey,  it was either IM Jay or try to perform a Google search on “how to get a baby bunny away from your feral beagle”. The Jay thing made more sense.  Of course, when talking to Jay I had to refer to Sam as “your” dog, which loosely translates to “‘our’ dog is doing something I don’t want her to do”.  Everyone knows that when Sam does something cute, she’s my dog.  When she eats bunnies or scours the yard for “yard biscuits” she’s Jay’s dog.  It may be unfair, but that’s how it goes (according to me). Jay’s response was basically,  “offer her something in trade”.  I ran into the kitchen and grabbed several dog treats.  Normally, she gets one small dog biscuit a day – surely, she’d want 5 RIGHT NOW – it seemed like a fair trade for a bunny.

I go outside and throw down one biscuit, which caused Sam to pause briefly.  I could see she’d made a lot of headway on devouring the bunny.  She clearly knew her bunny time was coming to a quick end and was attempting to polish off the rest quite quickly.  Well, it turns out one biscuit buys you about 2 seconds to grab 1/3 of the remaining bunny (the other 2/3 were long gone).  I wasn’t quite that fast. I then tossed the other 4 biscuits further away and was barely able to grab the rest of the bunny remains. By barely, I mean Sam and I had a scuffle that thankfully I won.  There are some advantages to being bigger than a 29 lb. dog.

While I can be quite squeamish about many things, I’m lucky this isn’t one of them.  Bunny bits were quickly double and triple bagged leaving Sam quite perplexed as she desperately searched and re-searched the area where her bunny 1/3  had been.  She looked up at me as if to ask, “have you seen some back legs and a tail?”  I shrugged and acted just as confused.

After so many hard years, I figure Sam deserves an Easter bunny or two (well, I’m really ok if it’s just the one).  Plus, its is the season. Let’s just hope this mighty huntress doesn’t bring home any Leprechauns next.  I can’t imagine there’d be much good luck in that.

Training Sam to be a Killer

Sam by Big Blue Mess
Sam, a photo by Big Blue Mess on Flickr.

So, yesterday we had to have another frank talk with Sam. As you may recall, we recently had to educate her on her kind’s not so proud history of hunting rabbits and foxes in packs. We tried to explain that it’s not exactly fair when you have 30 of your closest buddies along when you’re running down a single opponent. Of course, Sam whole-heartedly agreed, because that’s 29 other beagles and hounds, not to mention pesky humans and annoying horses, who could get in your way and prevent you from snacking on the very best bits. I said, “you’re missing the point” and she responded, “you’re having an imaginary conversation with a beagle.” Fair enough.

Yesterday’s conversation was about beagles being used for testing and the importance of not being a docile, easy-going creature. It went something like this, “hey Sam, now if a lady in a lab coat comes at you with mascara, what do you do?” Sam wagged. “I don’t think you’re getting this. How about a different scenario. Say some skinny science geek says “lick this blush” or he rubs a scented Kleenex all over your face, what do you do?” More wagging from Sam. I sighed. “No Sam, wagging isn’t the answer. You rip their throats out. Got it? You’re a vicious little demented killer. You’re no longer Sam. You’re Destructicus Canine Slayer of Evil! Wow, that’s a ridiculous name. Good thing I didn’t choose it.” *wag**wag**wag* “You know, I think you’re getting the hang of it. Just like that only more vicious and less panty! Now do squinty eyes! No, no, less soulful! You’re a beast! A force to be reckoned with by mammal kind. Now let’s go storm a lab champ!”

“You know i have no idea what you said, but I bet it was about food. I like to CUDDLE! You’re nice! Now, let’s storm the kitchen!”

*sigh*

Ok, I may have really given this one-sided speech to Sam yesterday. I think she appreciated it and is on the road to becoming a ferocious  attack beagle. Tomorrow I’ll try to introduce her to camouflage and how to stealthily sneak past guards. This recruit has great potential. Mental note: must bring treats to hold her attention in training.

The Season of Giving

There are many wonderful and worthy charitable organizations in desperate need of volunteers and donations so they can continue to move forward with their missions.  The ones that are closest to my heart deal with injustice or cruelty to either people or animals.  You can tell a lot about a a society by how it treats its people.  You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their animals.

Today I’m going to focus on animals, thanks to a story a friend passed on to me last night.  As a small disclaimer, I want you to know that while I’m not quite a PETA fanatic who wants you to think of fish as “sea kittens” in an attempt to get you to stop eating them, I can get quite passionate on the subject.  I’m one of those people who have a hard time with headlines dealing with animal cruelty, like a recent story about gorilla smuggling or any number of local articles sensationally detailing acts of senseless hostility towards animals.  And don’t get me started on humans encroaching on wildlife habitats and the subsequent conflicts that usually leave a species devastated, because then I’ll likely start ranting about the importance of ecosystems.  No, I don’t care that you don’t feel that particular endangered newt is important nor that you can’t see how this newt plays into a much larger story that could impact you.  (Aside: A woman told me recently that the wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres here in Texas was due to an endangered toad people weren’t allowed to destroy.  I thought it had to do with the extreme drought.  Silly me. I stared at her like she was about to start drooling at any minute and two extra heads were going to burst forth from her body.)

In the range of what I think falls under cruelty is animal testing especially on large mammals.  (Please, test all the venomous snakes you want.  I am 100% ok with that).  I had heard from Sam’s physical therapist that beagles (of which Sam is one) were frequently used for experimentation.  The gist of the conversation was how I should be glad they could fix Sam’s knees because there were people out there crippling healthy beagles in order to learn how to make mine right again.  Great! Bust out the party balloons.  You maimed an animal for Sam.  Needless to say I was appalled and by the time I got home, I was in the throes of a serious rant. I just don’t believe that they couldn’t find a reasonable amount of animals who had injured themselves to practice their surgical techniques on and thus were forced into slashing the ACL tendons of healthy beagles.  Of course, I may live in a world of moonbeam slides and fairy clouds.  If so, then I’m very happy here.

That being said, the article I was sent deals with a rescue group called the Beagle Freedom Project.  This organization helps to place beagles who have never known a world outside of a crate into a home with a family so that those dogs can live the rest of their days as dogs.  Here’s a video of one of their recent rescues:

I’m also fond of Austin Pets Alive! whose mission is to eliminate the killing of companion animals.  Then there’s also Hound Rescue who took great care of Sam before we knew her.

While these organizations are particularly close to my heart there are many more out there (some aren’t even animal related).  So, if you’re trying to think of a way to give back to the community while you’re out doing your holiday shopping, please remember your local charities.  Whether it’s with the gift of a monetary donation or through volunteering your time, you’ll be helping that group achieve its mission.  Plus, you’ll walk away with that warm fuzzy feeling that you’ve helped give a little back.

And if you do help a beagle, Sam will wag a little extra this holiday season.

Sam Update: The Mighty Huntress

Yard Snacks by Big Blue Mess
Yard Snacks, a photo by Big Blue Mess on Flickr.

Well, Sam got a bird yesterday. (Jay couldn’t get to it before she did.) I can’t decide if I’m full of pride that our gimpy little beagle managed to live out some feral dream or feel bad for the poor creature whose last moments left it the mockery of all its be-feathered friends and family. I mean really, there you are unable to take flight one last time and you’re stuck watching in horror as some clumsy “handi-capable” beagle gallops over to finish you off with a mighty “nom”. Oh no, couldn’t be a coyote or some sort of wild cat, nope it’s a disabled beagle.  Oh, the shame!

Sam was super excited after making her first kill and I hear she did a beagle victory dance. Oh, to live the beagle dream! Sam the Mighty Huntress!!!  Killer of Things!

I guess it’s about time we sit down and finally have the talk with her about hunting and foxes – her not so proud genetic inheritance. We can’t afford to shelter her any longer.