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: For Lori

Lori of Dotopotamus fame promised she’d give me an update on her life if I provided one on Sam.  Ok, she may not have worded it exactly that way or even close to that, but that’s how I’m interpreting it. My brain is a fantastical place!

Who or What is a Sam?

Since I may have magically gotten one new reader (hi, new reader!) I feel I should give you (all of you or maybe just them) a background on Sam.  Sam is our 11 year old beagle adopted 7 years ago from Hound Rescue. Some Sam facts:

  • She’s a girl, thus the use of the pronoun “she”.  I didn’t name her.  Blame her former owners.  If I’d named her, she would have had a great name like Piffles or Senorita Snogglekins – something classy that really says “beagle”.
  • Her photo on this page neatly hides bullets (yes, this is a Sam fact – well, it is now). Well, they did on the preview screen.  Now the website is just being sassy to deny me this fact.
  • She’s 11.  Did I mention that?
  • She’s bullied by our cat, Hodi – formerly “cats”, but Sage passed away which amounts to 50% less whimpering from Sam when she (she’s a girl) can’t make it down the hall.
  • She’s had two CCL tears, which amounted to her enduring two surgeries, and two bouts of rehab.  Sure, you might not do that for your dog, but we made a choice and now she bounds around happily in the house. Her quality of life is pretty great.
  • She also suffered from Horner’s Syndrome twice, which basically meant she lost muscle control on one side of her face, then she lost it on the other.  She’s a bit of a special needs beagle, but she’s worth it.
  • Since she’s a beagle and would eat until she couldn’t put her legs on the ground, she now gets carrots as a treat; she thinks this is pretty fabulous.  Raw green beans are fairly fine, too.

The Update

As you’ll recall, this whole post is about using you guys to get to what I want – an update on Lori.  I’m sorry guys.  In a pinch I will use you, but be glad it’s for your eyeballs and not a trade for cigarettes or to get out of being poked with things like car batteries.  I mean, I’d totally use you for that, too because well if I were in the pokey, cigarettes (facial scrub, toothpaste, or whatnot) is a fantastic currency.  I learned this on Orange is the New Black. And for the record, I’m adverse to being poked with electricity, so well… I like you and all (even you, new person), but hey… you should take one for the team.  The team being me.  You’re the best.

You can search for Lori on this blog, but in case you’re not the typing sort, here’s a brief bit on her –  I worked with her for years, and now she lives out in Washington State (my working with her didn’t cause the move, she moved on her own and then she met a boy!).  Lori is pretty darn fabulous (funny, fun, smart and she’s “got STYLE!” – and while very true, this is also an inside joke.  If you knew it, I’m sure you’d maybe smirk or perhaps snort in approval.)  You’ll note on her blog (linked above) that her last post was in 2013, so you now understand I’m behind on over a year’s worth of updates and truth be told, more than that.  Washington State needs to stop swallowing my friends and family.  Yes Tony, I’m looking at you, too – feel free to update me as well. A cousin could call a girl once in a while.

Right, About that Update

Sam is doing great.  She recently made it as the cover photo for Hound Rescue on their Facebook site.  She’s been on there now for 6 months.  I think they originally planned to change the photo out once a month, but hey I’m not going to point that out.  I like seeing Sam as the spokes-beagle.  Now the photo, should you venture there, is of Sam a lot chubbier.  This was pre-carrots and green beans – back when we thought her “I’m starving” thing was because she was starving.  Tricky beagle.

She’s become fairly bossy about food.  If I’m eating a salad, the whimpering will start and if I ignore her, she’ll hit something with a paw.  She will not be ignored! The love of lettuce is my fault, I may have taught her the joy of leafy greens. Her favorite is the crunchy spiny bit – not so much the leaf; it’s hard to lip off the floor. Have you seen dog lips? Anyway, when you have a “starving” beagle you have to get clever with your snacks.  I also found out that she’s tasted marshmallows.  How I found this out was from watching her demand one from Jay.  You know beagles, once they’ve tasted the blood of marshmallows, they’ll frenzy at the smell.  That’s what she tells me.

She’s still absolutely disgusted by her nerd parents who spend way too much time in front of a monitor.  If it’s past 7pm, we will get a warning whimper that will quickly turn into louder complaints followed by pawing various things in the computer room.  She’s also pretty insistent I get to bed on time.

I’m pretty certain that she hasn’t had a baby bunny recently.  I suspect either the adult bunnies got wise to the fact that the backyard was a bad birthing yard or it could be the early Fall-ness of things has made them less frisky.  Since I randomly decided they were my totem animal based on me seeing them all the time and well, I wanted to say I had a “totem animal”, it was disheartening to hear their squeaks as she gobbled one down.  No one should hear their beagles eat their totem animal.  I may need to find a new one that’s a bit sturdier and can’t make it down a beagle’s gullet in two-three bites.

We also learned she doesn’t particularly like other dogs.  While we’ve been good at socializing her with people, we haven’t been so amazing with other animals.  This lead to a very brief attempt at our fostering a super sweet dog this summer.  I still feel awful about this failure, because it was such a huge let down of a very good friend.  You know when your adorable dog turns into a slavering mess of teeth and rage… yeah, that was her this summer.  That incident led to my only bout with either gastritis or an ulcer; it wasn’t determined.  Good times. Good times.

That’s about all I have for now.  Nothing too exciting, which is great news since Sam has had way too many exciting (health-related) things in her little life.  Fingers crossed that this trend keeps going.

Soooo… Lori, about that update! Tony? Tony?!? Don’t think I forgot about you.

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: 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.

Sam Update: Sometimes You Wanna Go

To catch everyone up on Sam – what we learned from the vet a couple of weeks ago is that Sam has degenerative joint disease in both her hips and stifles and the vet noticed arthritic changes in her hips. The excruciating pain she was experiencing in her hips caused additional pain in her back. After the vet visit and a refill of pain meds, Sam got worse. One terrible night she leaned against my foot to show she was happy I was home and yelped in pain sulking off and looking back at me with that, “why did you just hurt me, I was just saying hello, I’m a good dog” face. (Yes, I anthropomorphize a bit, but you should have seen the look of complete betrayal as she tucked her tail between her legs and hid beneath the desk looking at me. It broke our hearts and I had a hard time focusing the rest of the night knowing how miserable she was and how completely convinced she was that I had hurt her.) Over the next few days we set the ramp back up so she could get down the back stairs, coached her on how to use it again (ramps laden with treats for a couple of days did the trick) and gave her a daily low dose of pain medication. In these past two weeks we’ve seen her slowly get to where she can hop, get back on the couch (with doggie steps – although, she’d desperately love to jump) and dance around. She can even lean against my foot without flinching.

Yesterday was the re-check. We walked in the door and several staff cheerfully greeted her with a round of “SAM!” I think they only know us as maybe “Sam’s mom and dad”. She wagged, sniffed and complained throughout the visit. She also managed to get several treats, which made her hop in hopes that those empty vet assistant hands might actually be holding HIDDEN TREATS!!!!! and the vet and her assistants were pleased to see the improvement. We still don’t know what happened. Our vet, the orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery on both of her knees, felt it could have been a perfect storm of arthritis and possibly something neurological (oh boy) coming together. We’re going to continue with the non-steroidal pain meds, which may be a regular feature in her diet. In two weeks we’ll reduce the amount she receives and see how she does. Then, if it doesn’t improve, we may have to look at different approaches to manage her pain – somewhere between additional medication and acupuncture. (I have a friend who uses acupuncture on all of her horses and swears by it. I’m more skeptical, so we’ll see. If it works, then I’ll be completely sold.)

I can’t begin to express how happy I am to see her bounce about where the only stink-eye I get is because I’m getting too rowdy with my keyboard.

So, now I’m just asking that she be able to go five years without a major event. She really deserves it after having such a rough four. If everyone could send her good vibes for that, please I know I’d be grateful.

Via Flickr:
Window lovingly decorated with feline and canine nose prints.

Sam Update: Back to the Orthopedic Specialist

Not too long ago I proclaimed that Sam had gone a full year without a major medical event.  When I made that hesitantly bold (not an oxymoron) statement I then asked that everyone knock on wood in an attempt to not anger the fates that clearly have it in for beagles.  Well, it looks like some of you clearly skimmed that bit and shirked your wood knocking duties.  Nosirree, you just couldn’t be bothered to tap on something wooden.  I suppose I can’t prove you’re to blame, so I might let you slide.  It could also be that I didn’t go big enough on my request.  I asked that Sam have one year of being medical event free when I should have asked for something more like “one year and a day” or maybe “TWO years”.

About a week ago, Sam had to be rushed to the vet.  I’ll spare you the details.  Suffice it to say it was kind of gross and she was in a great deal of pain.  When she got home, she just collapsed on the floor exhausted from a really bad vet visit.  I crossed my fingers and hoped that this would be Sam’s big thing for this year and the rest of the year would continue on quietly.

I couldn’t be that lucky. Tomorrow she gets to head back to the orthopedic surgeon to be examined (as a precaution). While I love and trust my vet, I love and trust my orthopedic vet that much more.  With Sam it’s just better to go big from the beginning.  Right now, Sam can’t stand without whimpering.  Stairs are out of the question and we’re back to carrying her into the backyard.  I also discovered that her trusty harness causes her pain when I lift her.  All of this adds up to me being hyper-concerned and going back to the land where I become insane.  Best case scenario is that her arthritis is flaring up thanks to the humidity, but the world I live in isn’t about the “best case” so I’m preparing for the worst.  (I have some first-rate martyrs in my family; genetics demand that I don’t let them down.)

So, if you wouldn’t mind, send some positive beagle energy Sam’s way.  She could use it.  I’ll do my part and ask that Sam be incredibly healthy for the next 5 years.