Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Holiday Travels

We spent Christmas in Washington with my husband's family this year. The highlight for the dogs, I'm sure, was playing with our 3-year-old neice who is fearless and very dog-focused. Kirby, while still a little skittish when people suddenly emerge from behind closed doors, behaved quite well. He sweetly interacted with everyone and played cheerfully with the little one. Baxter was his usual calm self, padding around the house, sticking his head into people's laps for a pet, watching the birds in the feeders out back and, mostly, snoozing.

The home was festively decorated, the tree was up, Bing Crosby crooned on the CD player and the smell of Christmas cookies and my mother-in-law's pies baking was heavenly (the taste was even better). Before arriving there, I was having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. In the midst of unpacking and trying to find things, we never managed to get any decorating done this year and I was missing it.

The dogs were decorated a wee bit as well. Despite the astounding number of holiday dog fashions in the stores, we always keep the holiday dog decoration to a minimum. My husband pretty much rejects the idea of ever putting anything but a collar on a dog, but he relents during the holidays. I do see his point, but since I also sport a holiday pin or scarf occasionally, I don't really have a problem with making the day special through small, understated attire. I put a red bandanna around Baxter's neck and a red, stretched-out scrunchy around Kirby's. I think it's particularly interesting how the dogs seem to understand that this is something special. Baxter, who also ended up sporting a green curled ribbon off of one of my husband's gifts, seemed downright enthusiastic about his holiday wear. When I picked up the bandanna the first day he walked right up to me and presented his head so I could easily put it on. Kirby, who wasn't quite sure about the whole thing initially, had figured out by the second day that the scrunchy made him look cute to observers and willingly approached to put on his holiday wear.

While Kirby was still a wee bit nervous about all the ripping and tearing when it came time to open presents, Baxter jumped into action as usual. He LOVES helping people unwrap their presents by sticking his nose directly into the middle of the goings-on and grabbing bits of paper and ribbon in his front teeth to help pull them away from the box. Bags are even more fun -- Baxter unabashedly sticks his entire head into the bag, whether your hands are in there or not. Mind you, he never touches a package until it's time for opening. I've always been impressed with Baxter's level of understanding of the entire process. When it comes to his own, he tears into them with particular enthusiasm. He knows.

This year Baxter got a rope candy cane from my mom -- a gift he seemed quite enthusiastic about until Kirby swept in underneath him and stole it. Once it had Kirby slobber on it, Baxter refused to touch it.

Kirby pretty much waited for us to pull out his presents and give them to him. When we pulled out a black rubber bone, Baxter took the opportunity to steal. He grabbed it and headed for the other side of the room, where he immediately tore into it, working out all of the pent-up aggression from a few days without a trip to the dog park. Within 30 minutes he had succesfully chewed the end off the black rubber bone and we were forced to take it away from him, fearing he might ingest gut-clogging amounts of rubber. Poor Baxter, who had been pretty gleeful about the whole deal up to that point, was crestfallen. He watched my husband take the bone away to the garbage, put his head down and sighed. No other presents could thrill him after that point.

This year the big hit for Kirby was a stuffed pink and tan moose from my mom. He immediately found the squeaker and made the rounds of the room showing off the moose to each person while accompanying his journey with a chorus of squeaks. After several slow laps (we had to put the kabosh on running in the house -- both because of his condition and because the grandparents had issued a "no running in the house" rule) he finally settled down behind my mom's feet and proceeded to destroy the squeaker. He did a couple more laps making a whooshing sound, and, after finding this less rewarding, proceeded to eviscerate the moose. Moose went away at that point. So much for cuteness.

I have to say, overall, both dogs were very well-behaved. They suddenly found themselves in a house full of people, tempted by tasty smells and baby toys they weren't allowed to touch. They took naps, sat patiently under the table waiting for scraps that never came and looked longingly at the toddler who kept waving Christmas cookies over the edge of her high chair. There were no dog-related tears, messes or embarassing moments. Minor scuffles between Baxter and Kirby ended without significant issues and they were on to the next distractions.

We had a wonderful time seeing family and the dogs seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

On behalf of both Baxter and Kirby, we wish our readers a very happy holiday season and all the best in the new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Stairway Gates

Repeating this photo in full frame...Kirby's favorite dining spot.

As a part of Kirby's "nothing to get his heart rate up" treatment protocol, we have to prevent him from running up and down the stairs. That's not an easy task. Attempts to block the stairs with a temporary combination of cardboard boxes and an old CD rack were proving a bit too difficult for us to manage and a bit too easy for Kirby to push through. So we finally went to the store and bought a couple of dog gates, one for the bottom of the stairs and one for the top.

Of course, being the skittish little guy he is around new things, he was terrified of the gates at first. But now he stands in front of the gate and lifts up his front legs so we can pick him up more easily. I'm always amazed at how quickly dogs adapt.

While I'm sure that missing this critical daily exercise will result in Kirby getting a bit out of shape, carrying him up and down the stairs is certainly helping to strengthen our arm muscles.

But I do feel sorry for Kirby. Moving to a house with stairs gave him a whole new avenue for burning off excess energy. While Baxter has always been at somewhat of a loss for spinning and running space in our relatively small homes (one reason we frequent the dog park and go for long walks), Kirby has been perfectly able to work up a good pant just doing the Kirby Derby around the furniture.

When we moved into our new home, Kirby adapted to the stairs with glee. Running up and down repeatedly -- with or without squeaky toy -- became one of his favorite activities. He even started eating on the stairs. Kirby would run into the kitchen, scoop up a mouthful of kibble, run up to the first landing in the stairway, spit out the kibble and proceed to eat each piece individually before racing back down to the kitchen for another mouthful. (Baxter, who prefers to gobble down his food right in front of his dish seemed completely non-plussed by the whole affair.)

I think we'll all be glad when this treatment is over and Kirby can start strengthening his climbing muscles again. Of course, at that point I'll need to dig out the hand weights to keep those biceps toned...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kirby: To Trim or Not to Trim?

It's holiday time and most folks around here are talking about trimming their Christmas trees. In our home, the conversation has instead turned to trimming Kirby.

Since Kirby is of diverse breed lineage, the sky's the limit when it comes to options for proper hairstyle. To date, the extent of his trimming has been toenail clipping and cutting his eyebrows so he can see out from under them.

For me, it's been a matter of curiosity -- while his back and legs are wiry, his cheeks, neck and ears are covered with longer, softer hair. As a pup, he looked more wiry because his facial hair was shorter. But over the past year we've been watching this softer hair grow and grow and grow. Now he's looking a bit like a Yorkie mix.

There's a part of me that wants to just leave things as they are to see just how long the hair will grow. The extra hair on his ears makes them look a bit floppier and it fills out his face nicely. On the other hand, as my husband pointed out the other day, Kirby was pretty darned cute when his facial hair was a bit shorter.

So I'm putting it out there -- as we contemplate whether to trim up the little guy for the holidays, should we take a little off the ears, cheeks and neck or should we just let his long-haired genes express themselves unfettered?

Visual aids - of course, he'll never look like a puppy, but you get the idea:


Medium/older puppy:


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Carrying Kirby

It's amazing how quickly Kirby has adapted to having my husband carry him up and down the stairs. While he still can't seem to get the idea that we don't want him jumping up and down like a rubber ball when preparing to go outside, and while I know he'd much rather be running up and down the stairs, he no longer struggles or wears that guilty face when my husband carries him. He just sits there, cradled in the crook of the arm, like a little prince getting special treatment from the king.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ScruffyDog Puppy Picture "Cute-Off"

It's amazing how the objects that belong to you are lost and rediscovered through the process of moving. We still have unpacked boxes that are still packed from our last move five years ago. Finding and opening one of these little time capsules is almost like home archeology.

One of the little gems we uncovered in one of the aforementioned digs was a box containing a couple of Baxter's puppy pictures. These pictures were taken pre-digital camera and somehow didn't make it into an album or a frame, but they are so adorable I just can't resist posting them.

Now, I tend to think ALL puppies are cute, scruffy puppies particularly so. But I have to say, even among the cute, scruffy puppies, Baxter still stands out for me as one of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. (Kirby was pretty darned cute, but Baxter is some pretty tough competition...)

So here we go, the ScruffyDog Puppy Picture Cute-Off:

Day 1 - Kirby's Treatment

Today we gave Kirby his monthly dose of Interceptor -- this time as part of the heartworm treatment. The goal is to kill all the larvae and stop the adults from making any more. The instructions we're always given when putting our dogs on heartworm preventative is that if you are more than a month late with a dose, you should have your dog tested prior to starting up the treatment again. Apparently this is because there is some risk of complications from the die-off of the larvae if they have accumulated over time.

Our vet told us to watch Kirby closely for the first 24 - 48 hours, just to make sure he doesn't show any signs of trouble, and to keep him from exertion. Small walks are supposed to be OK, so I thought I'd at least take the boys for a little stroll in the sunshine this afternoon. But poor Kirby, having been cooped-up for days, started jumping and frolicking like a puppy. He walked the better part of a block mostly on his hind legs, pulling on his harness and hopping like a bunny.

"This can't be good," I said to myself. I tried to get him to calm down, but he was so full of enthusiasm it was quite obvious that this walk was going to be an aerobic affair for Kirby. So I took him back in and handed him to my husband. He was crestfallen.

I'm glad he's not showing any reaction to the medicine, but today was just a preview of what's ahead of us trying to keep him calm when his youthful exuberance needs an outlet. I remember that feeling of boundless energy I had as a youth. It passes too quickly. I hope that Kirby will adapt to the new reality fairly well and that, in a few months time, this will all be behind us and he'll be running with his friends at the dog park once again.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Kirby's Shocking News

For several days now I've been trying to muster up the courage to write in my blog. Usually I find writing about our dogs to be a joyful act, but at this moment I feel no joy in writing. I am still sort of in shock and dreading the words I know I have to write here. I feel like I have to write about this because I cannot honestly blog about cheerful little dog stories and observations without acknowledging our new, not-so-cheerful reality.

The early November anniversary of our first year with Kirby went by without any fanfare. We realized it a day or so later and felt warmed as we thought about how Kirby has become such an integral member of our family. Even Baxter has finally decided Kirby is a good companion (we caught them curled up together just the other evening).

When we took Kirby and Baxter to the veterinarian on Monday for their annual check-up, we had a pretty routine experience. Both dogs appeared to be healthy and normal and Baxter seemed relieved to be back with his original vet (we recently moved back into the same area where Baxter spent the first two years of his life).

The shock came the next morning when the vet called with the results of their heartworm tests. Kirby's came back positive.

At first I couldn't believe it. How could this be true? Baxter's was negative. Could it be a false positive?

Kirby shows now outward symptoms and the vet was as surprised as we were. While false positives are rare, he offered to retest. We brought him in that afternoon. Wednesday morning we got a firm, sad confirmation that Kirby is, indeed, heartworm positive.

What happens now? Can it be treated? Did this happen because I missed or was late with a dose of preventative? We don't have many mosquitoes in our area, how did a heartworm carrier find him? Based on several factors, the vet said it was most likely that Kirby had been exposed during his wild months on the farm before we adopted him. Dogs aren't usually tested until their first year exam.

Bloodwork and X-rays on Wednesday showed evidence of a mild enlargement of one heart ventricle and some cloudiness in the lung, both indicators of heartworm. He was diagnosed as "class 2." Not as mild as class 1, which we were hoping for, but still highly treatable.

The vet said Kirby's bloodwork indicated that he's otherwise perfectly healthy and with his young age, he is most likely going to go through the treatment well. The cure rate is 95-100%. But, he said, the treatment is not without some danger in and of itself.

I was relieved to find out that heartworm can be treated and eliminated (I had thought it was mostly fatal), however the treatment itself is a bit frightening. Our vet recommended a slow, phased approach recommended by the American Heartworm Society. Monday we will start by giving him his regular preventative (Interceptor) for three months to make sure all the larvae are dead (it only kills larvae, not adult worms). Then in late February the vet will administer a shot of Immiticide. This aresenic-based drug kills the adult worms. A month later he will get two more doses, 24-hours apart.

Through all of this, we need to keep Kirby from engaging in any major physical activity -- no jumping (he bounces like a rubber ball and the mere suggestion of going outside), no running up the stairs (his favorite new evolution of the "Kirby Derby" in our new, two-story home) and only slow walks. Nothing to get his heart rate up. Egad, what about the UPS guy?

I had to ask the vet about the stress of NOT being able to exercise. Kirby is young and full of energy. The vet explained that while not letting him run around and burn off his energy will create emotional and possibly physical stress on the dog, the danger of harm coming from letting him run around is much greater.

Apparently, as the larvae then the adult worms die (the latter is much more severe), they can break away from the walls of the arteries and enter the bloodstream where there is a risk of causing blockages, particularly in the lungs. Jarring movements can dislodge the dead and dying worms and, as I understand it, the force of a fast-beating heart can make the blockages more likely to happen. So it's the sedentary lifestyle for Kirby for several months to come.

I sent an email to Dr. Pema, Baxter's holistic vet from Sedona (now in Maryland working in the Garuda Aviary for rescured birds) to tell her about it. She offered the following advice to me: "Your awareness of concerns is important but not with attached fear or worry. Positive thought, brings positive outcomes."

I'm going to try to live by those words, for Kirby's sake (and for the sake of the rest of our household) as Kirby goes through the next several months of treatment. I'll try to keep my blog updated for those who know and love Kirby and want to follow his progress.

And as for Baxter, he's just going to have to teach Kirby a few things about the art of leisure.