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The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

My heart is broken once again. I have lost another love so dear to me. On Friday, April 10th, not long before midnight, my beautiful sweet 13 year old Siri passed away in my arms. I have written about her struggles recently. Aging is a harsh reality that loving dog parents would prefer to do without. First her mobility was compromised with increasing restrictions placed upon her body. And to add insult to injury, her brain betrayed her and allowed dementia to take hold. Dementia meds helped greatly with the latter but an ever rotating protocol of medication, supplements and other treatments could not reverse the lack of strength on her hind end.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, Kenzo and Trent showed increasing stress about her condition. It was interesting to note the completely opposite choices they made to deal with the situation. Trent chose the loner position, opting to retreat to the second floor where he knew that neither could venture. Kenzo opted to spend nearly every moment near her in some way.

After a medication error on my part a couple of weeks ago, where I accidentally gave her his Tramadol, I rushed her to the ER because of the contraindication between that medication and her brain medication. It was a confusing and chaotic time with my hysterical phone call to the ER and fast exit from the house. I returned an hour and a half later with Siri in tow, with her having thoroughly enjoyed the car ride. Upon seeing Siri be carried back in the house with the help of her harness, Kenzo promptly plopped down on her mat set up along side of her and offered a huge grin of relief.

20150415_SiriKenzo1200Her condition deteriorated since that day (unrelated to my mistake) and I was torn about what to do. She was not in any obvious pain but her quality of life was so back and forth. But she smiled so brightly with any attention; it was obvious that she was still happy enough. When she started refusing most meals a week or so ago, I suspected that she would not be with us much longer. I made an appointment to have my vet see her to help me decide whether it was time and then canceled it because I wanted her to pass at home. I tried to make arrangements to have my vet come to my house but she wasn’t available for a home visit until several days later. I no sooner made that appointment then she surprised me and not only ate a full dinner but had a dessert of Wag-Gurt. The happiness that small success gave me cannot be overstated.

The next day she refused food once again and my reality set in more starkly. I started to worry about leaving the house for fear of returning to her having died alone. I tried to arrange for other vets to come sooner, without success. I was not willing to end her life in a vet’s office. I wanted her to pass in comfortable surroundings with her “brothers” nearby.

The last day of her life, I agonized about leaving for the three clients I had scheduled. I was frantic and sobbing constantly that day and could not have functioned at my job anyway. My clients thankfully understood. I spent the day lying with her on the floor. We laid on her mat and padding in the sunlight shining through my kitchen door and my sweet girl smiled all day. I had not seen her look that happy in weeks. After the dinner she refused, we moved into the living room as usual. She had trouble getting comfortable and I lay besides, her holding her close. She seemed to settle finally and then got restless again. She suddenly started moving her head to one side and with a great gasp, she went limp in my arms. She was gone. I sobbed uncontrollably while the boys slept nearby, seemingly fearful of confirming what they expected that I couldn’t accept sooner. I don’t think that I have ever felt more alone, with my two living dogs and my dead dog in my arms at almost midnight on a Friday night. But the power of social media is great. That same connection is available by texting close friends. Within seconds of my cry to the world, I had offers of immediate help from those close by and emotional support from those at a distance.

After being reassured that she would be fine overnight, I cleaned her up and covered her body leaving her head on her pillow. I surrounded her with her favorite things. I lit a candle and anointed her with essential oils. I urged the boys to pay their respects but they were not ready. They remained where they were. We slept restlessly that night.

A good friend arrived the next morning to assist with getting her to crematory. As we paused before taking her to my car, I wanted Kenzo and Trent to say their goodbyes. They both came and sniffed her and Kenzo bowed to her. A touching gesture to be sure, I wish it had been caught on camera.

My house is so empty even though it is full with my two boys. Siri was one of my original crew who started me on the path that brought me here. She taught me so much about fearful dogs. She came so far from where she started, as one of seven puppies rescued at six weeks of age, from a woman whose Rottweiler mated with the neighbor’s German shepherd. She threatened to a co-worker to drown them and that co-worker’s internet plea led to all seven of the “dwarves” finding their way to a network of foster homes, with four of the puppies ending their initial journey at my house for fostering. She is the one who never left. A dear friend has two of her surviving brothers.

Everywhere I look, I see her contributions to my life. Her “big balls” that she carried around constantly from room to room, until the last 6 months of her life, are scattered in various rooms. The products of our final months together are abundant. Laundry baskets with freshly cleaned towels and hospital pads, a full doggy pharmacy with every possible medication and supplement that could ever be needed by a senior dog, disposable pee pads by the pound, her Help Em Up harness draped over a kitchen chair where I laid it to dry after washing it that fateful night. I wanted it to be dry by morning so I could move her from her bed to her regular daytime spot. It will not be needed now. Her orange Kong, so uniquely colored and chosen just for her, will go unused and tucked away in her memory. Her ceramic bowl will not be needed. Her leash hasn’t been used in months. Even taking her with us on the car rides, it wasn’t needed. She could not walk by herself anyway.

Every moment brings another memory. So many things that I miss: how she would bark at the boys when it was time to come downstairs in the morning, her chasing me and barking when I ran around with them at the cemetery off leash, calling her Baby Button, her head tucking under my chin after sneaking a quick kiss when I greeted her after returned from working, seeing her and the boys play so vocally in their upstairs playroom, seeing her eat snow and grass with gusto, walking her with such ease because she was perfect, having her “tell off” one of the boys because they were too careless with their body awareness, how she used to bark fiercely at anyone who had the audacity to come too close to my Xterra. I vividly remember the way that she acted when Kenzo first arrived to live with us, hiding under the end table for a bit every evening until she finally came out to “put him in his place”. They were fast friends from that moment. She was once deemed imposing by a past boyfriend. She lived fully and deeply and with a zest. She was imposing. She aged gracefully and with kindness. I will miss her so much.

There are of course things I won’t miss. Mountains of laundry, worrying myself sick when she wouldn’t eat, the calluses on my hands that developed from carrying her with the harness and most distressing, worrying about whether I would come home and find that she passed away without me here. I would gladly take all of those on again to have more happy healthy days with her.

I have just two dogs now. This is foreign territory for me. Every evening, I get the supplements gathered in a small cup, to go with their breakfast. Every evening without fail, I count out three pills for each rather than two and I cry a little. Every workday I start to prepare 3 Kongs and then catch my breath, a huge lump where my throat should be. I know this will pass. But what won’t pass is how much I miss Siri and that is okay. I want to know that I loved her that much.

So many people offered me so much support. I cannot properly thank each one of you. But this particular sentiment really resonated with my soul so I share this with you all. Thank you Rachel, who so recently went through the same heartbreak, for knowing how this would help.

Aaron Freeman, You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4675953

Please feel free to share your own losses below, coping strategies, remembrances, etc. And love your dogs fiercely. Every. Single. Day. Their time on this earth is far too fleeting.

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The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

I feel like I am about to write about politics or religion or something equally controversial. This subject is so volatile, that I expect to lose a reader or two and probably be called some names that won’t make it to the comments section. Asking my Facebook page members where they got their dogs and why, resulted in more than 5000 people seeing my question and more than 100 responses. Surprisingly, I only had to delete two of those responses. I appreciate the tempered opinions on what is such an emotional subject. So I write this with full awareness.

Until the last not quite three years, all of my dogs have been rescues from various sources. I even ran a Doberman rescue for many, many years. But as regular readers know, after losing my heart dog, Merlin, I got the opportunity to be gifted with a wonderfully bred dog now known as Kenzo. You can read about that here if you so desire: Introducing Kenzo. So I fully get the emotional response that such a subject brings to those passionate about rescue. But despite the fact that rescue has always been a part of who I am, I have never accepted that all breeders should be painted with the same brush. Running a purebred rescue, I never viewed responsible breeders as the enemy because I met some of them. Responsible breeders are who started most original purebred rescues to help save the creations of their not so responsible counterparts. Despite what some of you believe or have read, responsible breeders are not the cause of shelter dogs dying no more than being a cat person is. It’s an absurd idea that needs tossed to the curb.

Adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter or a re-homing situation is an honorable action. As I mentioned, all of my canine kids up until Kenzo have come to me via varying rescue situations. I took in my first dog, Samantha, from a past friend who got a puppy at the same time as having a baby. Layla, my second dog, was found wandering the streets and rescued by my neighbor’s child, while I was still mourning my first dog. When no one claimed her, I gratefully called her mine. Merlin and Kera were both adopted mere months apart from the shelter at which I spent much time volunteering. Siri came to me as a foster puppy who never left, one of seven rescued from the irresponsible owner of a purebred dog who had an “oops litter” with the neighbor’s dog. Trent belonged to someone I knew who sent him into a rescue of my suggestion, when a baby’s allergy made keeping him impossible. The rescue turned out to be a hoarder and he came to me, never to leave. I have personally fostered literally more than a hundred dogs. Some ended up becoming family, even if for a short time. Damon, who my Doberman rescue was named for, was my foster failure for almost a year before I lost him to Wobblers.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

I will always have a rescued dog, very likely several rescued dogs. I love making a connection with a dogs who need help and watching them blossom with love and proper care. It’s an amazing feeling. If I had more humans in my home and more money and more time and more space (don’t we all say that?), I would have far more dogs than I should. Facebook shares are hard on the soul, with all the dogs in need. But my first responsibility is to my current dogs and I would never add a family member that would cause them too much stress. Read more on that subject here. The fit should be appropriate so that responsibility limits my desires. When the time comes, I will be on Petfinder looking for my next crew member.

Every dog person I know has a bucket list of dogs that they want to “have” before they die. I have not fulfilled mine yet. So I won’t rule out getting another responsibly bred puppy at some time in my life. Despite what you hear some rescuers state, you cannot find every kind of purebred dog in a shelter or rescue. There are hundreds of breeds that many people have never heard of, who are never going to find themselves in a shelter. Someone wants those breeds and that is okay. Everyone has the right to choose the dog breed that feels right to them. Some people choose breeds for utility such as herding sheep, guarding livestock, helping to hunt, and even guide dogs. Working lines, as they are called, are bred for generations for their jobs. There is nothing wrong with that. Working dogs cared for properly are a joy to watch.

Responsibly bred dogs are not causing dogs to die in shelters. Irresponsible breeders and irresponsible owners are. Insufficient laws addressing breeding are responsible for the over-population problem in this country. Lack of education in proper care and training of dogs are among the many reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters or rescues. A throw away society that wants a quick fix is prevalent in the American culture. None of these reasons are conducive to long term commitments for the lifespan of a dog. Shelters and rescue groups exist because of the irresponsible and uneducated, not the responsible.

Stable temperaments and sound health are the hallmarks of a responsible breeder. Without them, the future of dogs is in jeopardy. Breeds that you know and love will cease to exist without responsible breeders. Learning how to identify responsible breeders and how involved they are in the lives of the dogs that they create could be a pleasant eye opener.

Buying a puppy from a responsible breeder should involve en extensive questionnaire. You will be thoroughly screened with references checked and multiple phone calls back and forth before you are approved. You will meet in person or see via Skype, the puppy’s parents. You will get the appropriate health testing information for the breed. You will get questioned on your lifestyle and whether you are a good match for the breed. The breeder will have an ironclad and extensively worded contract with requirements that you must meet for the dog’s lifetime as well as a requirement to return the dog at any time in his or her life, should there be a need to do so. You will be asked to contact them throughout the dog’s life for questions on diet, exercise, health and any other subject that you can think of that pertains to your choice.

This chart can help people understand the difference between the type of breeders that exist. Supporting the last two columns should be your goal. Support of the other types of “breeders” is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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At this point, some of my rescuer readers are probably wondering if the above is a commercial for breeders. Not at all. It’s simply an attempt to educate that responsible breeders are not the enemy. Backyard breeders, commercial breeders, puppy mills and pet stores that treat dogs like a commodity rather than living sentient beings are the enemy. Don’t confuse them with each other. The goal of humane educators should be focused on eliminating the need for the aforementioned sources of irresponsibly bred puppies.

Since I procrastinated while writing this blog post, I had the opportunity to be thoroughly appalled and disgusted at what was meant to be a Super Bowl ad for Go Daddy. This sad excuse of an ad portrays a “family” who sells puppies online, with no regard for who they get sold to. This is not a responsible breeder. See above chart once again. Because of the huge outcry from dog lovers everywhere, the ad was pulled. This shows you do have a voice. Use that voice wisely. Don’t generalize. Support responsibility on the part of breeders and rescuers alike.

That brings me to responsible rescue practices. All rescues and rescuers are not created equal. Rescues should have a thorough screening process, with a questionnaire, a home visit, behavior and medical screening and treatments before placement, as well as putting the utmost effort into making appropriate matches. A good rescue will also be present for you for the lifetime of the dog. Responsible shelters offer the same comfort. What rescues and shelters should not do is be too stringent so that good solid homes get turned down for reasons such as no fences, working a regular job, having children, etc. Obviously, some dogs will require a fence, some will require no kids, some will need more attention than others. But blanket statements and requirements that are rigid regardless of the validity of the home, help no one but irresponsible breeders. Then there is the opposite end of the rescue spectrum; the rescuers who screen no one, adopt out intact and unhealthy animals as well as those with unaddressed behavior problems to people ill equipped to handle it. Read more about that subject here: Saving Them All: At What Cost?
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Responsibility is important on all sides of this equation. The only solution to this is education. Make it your goal to know more and you will make more informed decisions. That is always going to be a good thing. Diversity is also a good thing. Allow people their individuality. Judgments on others for their choices won’t help educate. So leave your ego at the door and please share your story on your canine choices in a respectful manner. Rudeness will not get your comments listed. Thanks in advance!

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