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.

Post CCL Surgery: A Beagle’s Story

Three months after Sam’s surgery for her torn CCL and I’m here to report that all involved survived.  Sam walks, runs, plays, hops and dances.  She may need to stretch a bit, before bounding out the door, but overall she is looking good.

I’m basically going to evangelize a bit to those thinking about surgery for ligament tears, because it all can seem rather overwhelming and I’ve known people who have put their pet down rather than think of them being crated for 8 weeks.  While that isn’t my first choice, I’m not going to fault them for it.

First off, it’s expensive.   We chose to go with a vet who specializes in this kind of surgery after consulting with a good friend who happens to be a DVM.  She convinced us that while our regular vet would probably do a fine job, there would be a smaller chance that Sam would encounter any post-surgical problems, since these vets do this type of surgery regularly.  The thought of opening Sam’s knee up more than once was enough to convince me this was the way to go.  We’ve learned early on that if anything can go wrong with Sam, it absolutely will.  The vet she helped me choose, and the one whom I highly recommend if you’re in the Austin, TX area, is Dr. Elaine Caplan at Capital Area Vet Specialists.  In order to see Dr. Caplan, you do need a referral and our vet provided us with one.  In going back through Sam’s medical history in preparation for meeting with Dr. Caplan, I discovered she was also one of our contacts when Sam had to see a local neurologist.   Yes, our girl is special.  Now, taking Sam to see the specialist was more expensive than what we would have paid if we had our vet perform the surgery.  Personally, the increase was not cost prohibitive, and we both felt like the extra was worth it.

As for the expense, I did see that there are groups who specialize in loans for veterinary services.   The one listed on the Capital Area Vet Specialist site is Care Credit.  It seems like something we might use in the future should Sam develop any more serious health problems.  Hopefully, the worst is over, but with Sam we always knock-on-wood as soon as the thought flits through our heads.

Some key things that helped us along the way:

  • Crate Training – Sam came crate trained, so getting Sam in and out of a crate was never an issue.  During the 6 weeks she was crated 24/7, she would go in willingly with little to no fuss.  The crate we purchased was the Richell Wood Mobile Pet Pen.  I like it for a several reasons – 1) Mobility – we could roll Sam with us from room to room – as a pack animal and more importantly as an animal who suffers from separation anxiety, it was important to be able to keep her near us. 2) The top of the crate came off – this meant we could reach in and pet Sam and she didn’t seem to feel caged.  By week 4, she could take some weight on her knee so keeping her from jumping presented a challenge at times.  3) The product came with some great reviews and I have not been disappointed with it.  In fact, it’s now Sam’s crate when we leave the house.  We use the other for travelling. (Side note: the vet did ok Sam being out of the crate and in small confined spaces, so we’d let her out in the computer room or create a small area in the living room where we’d sit with her.)
  • Rehab – Dr. Caplan recommended we take Sam at least once.  She felt that would get Sam started off on the right paw.  We ended up taking her once a week for about 5-6 weeks and also purchased a rocking board to help strengthen her legs as well as a round ball after watching the rehab specialist show us how to properly use the tools.  While in therapy, Sam used the underwater treadmill.
  • Ruff Wear’s Web Master Harness – We have stairs all around us – even rehab was up a flight of stairs (don’t get me started) and this tool helped us get Sam up and down those stairs, over curbs and into cars.  The harness, once adjusted, fit snuggly around Sam’s body and she (mostly) didn’t mind being hauled around like luggage, paws dangling.
  • A vet just a phone call away.  Now, not all of you had sleep overs, talked on the phone for hours on end or cried over the wrongs of the universe with your DVM.  In that regard I was lucky and when I had panic attacks, I had someone I knew I could contact immediately or send photos of Sam’s leg to (they’re still on my hard drive, if you’re interested).  BUT the one thing my DVM friend tried to drill through my head is that our local vets were actually here to help and I shouldn’t be hesitant to call if I had questions.  Granted, the surgical techs scared me.  They were very short and didn’t give me all the snugs and cuddles of reassurance I needed when I was freaking out that I was maybe the worst beagle owner ever.

In fact, we had several moments where Sam would yelp and we were 100% positive she was going back into surgery – that the 40# nylon strap that was supposedly anchored to our dogs leg had pulled apart, her femur was splintered, and there were going to be bits of bone popping out at any moment.  (It was THAT kind of yelp and I come from an occasionally overdramatic family, it’s not my fault.)  This was usually followed by calls to snapping surgical techs and hours spent staring at her knee convincing ourselves that it might have swollen a millimeter.  At one point, we took her back in because I was convinced she had torn her other CCL.  I could see the familiar wobbling.  I may have spent a few days also thinking that our local vet, despite x-rays and feeling around on her knee, clearly couldn’t tell what a torn CCL looked like – forget the fact that there was no fluid on the new knee.  (See, the seriousness of it all can make you a special kind of crazy.  I’ve heard you can be prone to posting that craziness on your blog only to have to take it down later, because you’ve lost your little mind – so its been said.)

To wrap it all up – Sam survived, she’s doing great, she hasn’t been scarred (emotionally) for life.  She hops into her crate when we leave (so no crate trauma after her 6 week confinement).  Runs around the backyard.  Jumps at the smell of food.   If you look at the photo above, you can see her leg looks great and most of her hair has grown back.

All the heartaches, the tears, and the expenses were completely worth it.

UPDATE: Sam’s left knee went out over the summer and she had a second “Extracapsular Repair”.  You can read about it starting here:  The Continuing Saga of Sam – there are also posts that follow which document the daily/weekly adventures of a recuperating beagle, as well as a few posts prior to this one.  (To find the related entries, just use the “Archives” drop down box on the right and choose January 2010 and July 2010 (near the bottom of that month’s posts).).  They’re not particularly insightful – just one pet owner’s take on all the worries, joys, etc.

UPDATE 10/26/2014:  Sam is now 11 and its been about 4 years since her knee surgeries. The report is she’s still doing great. She does have some arthritis in her hips and around her lower spine, but thankfully this rarely flairs up and when it does it can be easily controlled with Rimadyl.  Sam still bounds around like a nut and spins in circles when it comes to food, which is a great testament to the surgeries.  Choosing CCL surgery can be a very hard decision for people to make in large part due to the costs involved. We were very lucky to be in a position to do that and she was well worth it.  Her quality of life immediately improved.  I know in our area there are some veterinary surgeons who are very aware of this issue and provide services at a discounted cost.  If the price tag is too high, you may ask your vet and generally ask around to see if there is a cheaper option. There are also an assortment of crowd funding sites that you might be able to use use to see if your friends/family could help offset some of that cost.  Of course, sometimes it’s hard to ask, although I think asking for help is becoming a bit more common.  Hey, if someone can ask for you to fund their trip to NYC, why can’t you ask for help with your beloved pet? 🙂

UPDATE 5/1/2017: Sam is now 14, and it’s been 7 years since her knee surgeries. The report now is that she’s an old lady – a little addled, a little fussy at times, and the arthritis in her hips and knees gets to her more.  She has good days and bad. In the last year and a half we’ve introduced a vet who specializes as a chiropractor/acupuncturist.  Normally, I would not be the kind of person who would go for this, but Sam’s neck had gotten so bad she couldn’t move, was in constant pain, and when she attempted to walk she’d fall over; it was horrifying to watch.  Our vet told us, “we’ve taken her as far as Western medicine can go,” and recommended we at least try this alternative.  My husband was in, I wasn’t, but I was willing to try anything versus facing the alternative.  It took a few weeks and a lot of visits, but Sam got to where she could walk, run, and dance around.  She still needs to do exercises to help with her hips, but these treatments have made a huge difference in her quality of life.  Now the vet sees her every few months vs. a couple of times a week when we started.  Since dogs aren’t affected by the placebo effect, and she had zero expectations from being poked and forced to sit still would do anything to make her believe she’d be better, I am sold on this treatment. She’s not 100%, but most days she’s happy, and toddles around occasionally chasing the cat who has decided she’s the best thing ever.  He likes to lay as close as possible to her, then extend his paw to try and touch her.  I think he may even be growing on her a bit.

UPDATE on Meds: In re-reading this entry, since it’s one of the more popular ones on my site, I wanted to make an update on Sam’s medications.

Sam took a glucosamine supplement daily (Dasuquin), which once it was in her system there was noticeable improvement in how she felt. She moved much easier, and seemed less achey. While our vet did have her on Rimadyl, and later Tramadol. she eventually switched Sam to Gabopentin. The vet said more research had been done on Tramadol, and stated it did less for pain than previously thought (it’s a great anti-inflammatory), thus the move to the newer drug.  Rimadyl can have long term effects for your dog, but it’s sometimes a balancing act between your dog being pain free, and shortening their lives. Definitely talk to your vet. Since the switch to Gabopentin happened closer to Sam’s end-of-life, I cannot tell you if it helped. I think it did. I certainly hope it did, because seeing her in pain always hurt my heart.  Talk to your vet about all your options – what worked for Sam may not work as well for your pet.

UPDATE 7/17/2017: On this day I said goodbye to a funny little old lady. She was beautiful, goofy, and had the biggest heart (and a ton of patience and love for someone as undeserving as me).  I miss her daily, and I hope that if there is an afterlife my husband was there to scoop her up, and give her one of those hugs she wasn’t keen on.  Here is the link to my goodbye to my beautiful girl.

Security Alarms

So, this morning, I woke up around 2am to the sound of our first early warning system going off. Sage – making that sound that sounds almost like a baby crying – that high pitched “I’m flipping in circles by myself and freaking right on out” sound. My first thought was little Indie Orto was paying Sage a visit. One of his favorite past times is popping up on our little front porch bench and purring while Sage beats herself against the glass. Like a crazed furry moth with claws (oh c’mon, like you haven’t seen one).

This triggered our backup alarm system… Sam, who started puffing – it’s that pre-bark sound she does to prep those lungs for a good full blown baying. FYI – The other key to a good bay – pushing up with her front paws – see, there’s some magical, little understood relation to how high you are in the air and the actual baying that comes from the back of your throat that I don’t quite get. Maybe if I were bred to chase things down with 10 of my closest friends, I’d understand more. So, there she was popping her front half up a bit while baying… did I mention it was at 2ish?

Now, I tried to imagine there was a burglar, but even barely awake I knew that Sam would make a quite different noise for intruders. That happy, slurpy, feet scampering across the tile, tail thumping sound – bless her beagle heart, she’s just not a guard dog. A pack of domesticated June bugs would be more protective; I bet they wouldn’t even have to be mine – could be a neighbors June bug herd.

I got Sam calm once I realized she seemed to be barking at Hodi who was eyeing her with that “Sparky, I’ll kill you” look while drumming her claws on the carpet. It’s the same look Hodi gives us, too. Of course, ours is more “if I were bigger, I’d do you all in.” She’s not a very tolerant cat. We all live at her fluffy pleasure (and the fluff and big eyes will disarm you and make you think she’s a sweet little thing). Sam is a tad naive when it comes to the warning signs of the cats so there she was barking and baying away as Hodi narrowed her eyes.

Finally, I got Sam to calm down and I flopped back on the bed when round two of baying erupted. This time I went to the back porch to greet any potential intruders and snapped on our cue beam that the previous owners had secured to the back of the house (it’s one of those that when it pops on, it can make the beam emitting from the Luxor feel like an LED nightlight and it definitely makes our personal patio glow as the light reflects back off the concrete slab). There on the picnic table, we’d caught one of them 18-20 pounder cats. You had to admire the guy. He just lay there looking bemused at all the commotion surrounding his arrival and now he was bathed in light. I’m sure he felt like a little cat rock star.

Once Sam felt secure that I had indeed seen him – seen the little interloper who had the audacity to traipse through our yard – she felt satisfied and of course fell asleep immediately while I tossed back and forth.

I wonder if it’s not too late to get an upgrade on these alarms.