Monday, July 03, 2017

Psycho Killer? Qu'est-ce que c'est?

I killed my oldest dog today. And my oldest cat. I'm not malicious. I didn't do it myself. I paid someone to do it. And she was very kind.

Birthday girl's sweet 16
Lola was 16. She'd been diagnosed 7 months ago (!) with hemangiosarcoma in her spleen and liver. Prognosis for such things is basically, "could die at any moment." We didn't do any chemo for her, just 200mg of Yunnan Baiyao 3 times per day, 100mg of Artemisinin and 1 tsp of turmeric with each meal, plus other chinese herbs to deal with different symptoms. And we took her to the beach, most every day, for 4 months. But she was failing. Slowly failing. Falling over and not able to get back up on her own. Unable to stand through a meal. Walking in circles, sometimes circles so tight and walking so quickly that her backside would fall over and she'd still be straining to turn to the right while lying on the ground. She totally had good days, like her 16th birthday party, or pretty much any day we went to the beach. We weren't sure she'd survive the drive to San Francisco, last December, but we wanted to try and get her to Ocean Beach. When we got there, she literally ran down the hill to get to the beach.
11 years ago
As she was failing, I would compare her to how she used to be, 5 years ago, or 9 years ago, or 11 years ago. We were faced with determining, no actually deciding what she felt about these things, because we take it upon ourselves to decide when our companions should die. We don't always get a choice, of course. The last time we dealt with hemangiosarcoma our 8 year-old dog Harry had been reluctant to jump up into the back of our SUV for a couple weeks. So on the day before Thanksgiving, we took him in, and learned he had 2 liters of blood in his abdomen, and a leaky sack of tumors where his spleen had been. They recommended removing the spleen to give him more time, but he bled out from his liver at midnight, 8 hours after the operation was finished. But with Lola, as it had been with Jake, she was declining slowly, but we could see where her trajectory was leading. She'd accepted our using a spoon to help her get her food out of her dish, then being mostly spoon-fed, but had balked initially at eating while sitting or lying down. Now she was mostly OK with being spoon-fed while lying on the couch (on a towel, because turmeric stains like nobody's business). We couldn't leave her outside on her own for too long, or we'd find her lying on her side somewhere, distressed but resigned, waiting for us to help her up. But how could we tell what of all this was ultimately acceptable? Was life so precious to her that she would put up with anything, even being unable to walk on her own (which was likely to happen in the next month or two)? Does a companion need to get to a point where death is preferable? Does there have to be suffering to balance the ultimate suffering of death? I faced the same issues with Jake, but it's not like there's an easy answer.

To complicate things, we were feeling the strain of caring for her while she could collapse at any moment. We canceled trips. We didn't go to plays. I worked from home more often. I sort of wished she would bleed out in her sleep, so she could go peacefully and we wouldn't have to decide. All the grief and none of the guilt.

But this past week brought things to a head. It seemed each day her walks with Mari got shorter. She couldn't go up a long incline, then she couldn't go up a short incline, then she couldn't go up a slight incline. She was spinning more, but still happy when I got home (momma definitely came first, but she needed me there to be fully gruntled). She seemed to go outside just to prove to herself that she still could. What would happen when she couldn't?

Alice was much easier. She was 16 1/2 when she was diagnosed with lymphoma in April, fairly advanced. We thought it was her hyperthyroid coming back, but we were wrong. We started her on prednisone, and with a little pilling drama every night between Alice and me, she bounced back. Put on weight. Her fur became sleek again. About 2 weeks ago, Mari noticed blood in Alice's urine when Alice peed outside her litter box. Urinary tract infection, likely brought on by her immune system being compromised by both the cancer and the drug. Then she got an upper respiratory infection, and you could hear the congestion when she purred, which she did whenever you petted her. She gradually stopped eating, dropped all the weight she'd gained back, and spent her time in her heated bed. She had short bursts of energy, like this morning around 7:30 when she got up to come drink out of the big dog bowl, rather than her own kitty-sized bowl. She had come to us when she was maybe 10 weeks old, coming out of a bush on a dark and stormy night, mewing at us. I picked her up and tucked her in my coat as we went from door to door to see if anyone had lost a kitten, but no one had, or no one admitted to it. Somewhere in there, I said, "she looks like an Alice" and Mari said "Don't name her!" but it was too late. She was feisty but sweet, and taught different dogs their place. Our collie, Ferghal, took to her and they would cuddle and he would groom her ears. Later she would eat his fur, eventually harvesting it directly from his tail. She had a mysterious kidney mass in 2005 or 2006, and stayed at the emergency vet for 3 days for lots of IV fluids to encourage other parts of her kidney to come on-line. Each day we would visit her, and there would be more protective gear by her cage, ending with long leather falconer gloves, and a single word on her chart: Fractious. The mass vanished as mysteriously as it arrived, and she went back to cuddling with Sophie. It was clear that even if she recovered from the UTI, which wasn't looking good, she was liable to get some other infection. She'd lost so much weight, and she seemed close to miserable.

So this morning at 8:30, Dr. Sara from Compassion4Paws came for Alice and Lola, not to give them acupuncture, but with different needles to send them to college. And here we are, down two old girls, by choice, almost totally certain we did the right thing.

Lola used to give me lots of kisses, and I would say, "Are you giving me Lola kisses? They're as rare as grains of sand on a beach!" But now they're priceless.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Olfactory Man

Nature has a gift
for men
when they lose their fathers.

The older we get
the more we smell
like them.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

It's a Dog's Life

Jake did not get off to the best of starts. He was an obnoxiously cute puppy, as Aussie puppies are. He was adopted by a family that we suspect consisted of at least a mother and a 9-10 year old boy. The mother, it seems, would lure him with a treat then grab him and put him in the back yard to bark for hours. The boy would roughhouse with him, judging from how Jake reacted to boys in that age range, getting all excited and wanting to jump on them.

They got tired of him when he stopped being so cute, and dumped him at the Martinez shelter sometime around his first birthday, in 2000. Lucky for us.

Jake at Ocean Beach in 2001. Trouble
Hollie and North Bay Canine Rescue did just that, in October the day before Jake was going to be terminated, after he'd been in the shelter for 6 months. We met him in January 2001 in a horse paddock where he wouldn't stop moving -- just kept roaming out and coming back to check in with us, watching everything. Ferghal liked him, and he liked Ferghal, and that was it. When we told Hollie we'd like him to come live with us, she said with surprise, "Really?"

Trust did not come easily to Jake. He got out of the yard a couple times and went roaming with Ferghal. Once I needed to get to work and Jake kept about half a block ahead of me, until finally I sprinted up to him and let out a primal yell and smashed an apple on the ground near him (I don't remember why I had an apple). He headed for home at that point, still keeping ahead of me, and something had changed between us. It took longer for him to trust Mari -- when she would offer him a treat, he would start to go for it, then pull back with a "you're not going to fool me with that trick" look on his face; if she reached for his collar, he would startle. Echoes of his past.

There are shepherds that herd with their eyes, and shepherds that herd with their voice. Jake was solidly in the latter camp. His bark was penetrating, bordering on obnoxious. Actually, I think it left "obnoxious" in the dust. At the dog park he would fixate on a dog and bark at them to get them to run. Sometimes they would go after him. I would chase him around the dog to catch him and make him stop. We took to fastening a long-line to him so we could step on it and pull him off. We met Shasta Marlowe and Stacey Wiley at the Alameda dog park, and they took him on off-leash walks, initially with a weighted fanny pack dragging behind him.

Our relationship gelling
He was a dog who valued order, and routine. When I started taking him out for walks every morning, and insisting that he sit at street corners, our relationship started to gel. One day Mari rearranged the living room while Jake was in the backyard, and when he came back in he stopped dead in the kitchen, barking and refusing to go farther. Mari finally figured out it was because of the changes, and gently led him in with treats to see that the living room was still safe. He loved a good belly rub. When you came by while he was lying on his side, he would raise whichever back leg was on top in the pose that Mari dubbed "How you doin'?"

In September 2002, on a walk, Jake got something up his nose. He was sneezing for three days, and needed his teeth cleaned anyway, so our house-call vet came and put him under on our kitchen table and looked up his nose, but there was nothing there. Partway through the teeth cleaning, we both felt something was off -- Jake's heart rate was down below 40, and the vet gave him something to counteract that, but apparently the damage was done. When Jake came out of it, he couldn't bring his tongue completely back in his mouth, and over the weekend his symptoms increased: when he tried to drink water, we'd end up with a gloopy layer floating on the water, and Jake hadn't managed to get much in. His back legs got weak. Various symptoms that were reminiscent of rabies. I called UC Davis vet school, and they said if it were rabies, they wouldn't be able to see him for 10 days, but since he'd had his rabies vaccine and there were no known cases of vaccinated dogs getting rabies, it was ok to bring him in.

When we first got to Davis, Jake could walk on his own, and I remember him standing in my lap as I sat on the floor, while the vet told me what might be going on with him, and the tests they wanted to do: MRI, and spinal tap, and implanting a feeding tube in his stomach, because his gag reflex was no longer strong enough to chance feeding him by mouth. When he came out of that anesthesia, he could no longer stand on his back legs, though he could still get up on his front ones. He was in the kennels in back, but we insisted on seeing him there while he was recovering. We hung out with him for the afternoon. Leaving him that first night was heartbreaking. I took his head in my hands and scritched him under his chin and promised we would be back the next day. We kept that promise, driving up to wheel him out on one of those flatbed carts you find at Home Depot, and hang out with him on the grass for the day, every day he was there. A few days in, when they were going to put solid food in his tube for the first time, I noticed some redness in the water in the tube, and it turned out it had popped out of his stomach and was between his stomach and his abdominal wall. They had to put him under again to surgically implant another tube (the other they'd done endoscopically), which made sure it stayed in, but when he came out of the anesthesia, he could no longer get up on his front legs, either. For a diagnosis, the vets never got closer than immune mediated idiopathic polyneuropathy: his nerves were inflamed and they didn't know why. (Talking with vets trained in other traditions, it looked like the rabies vaccine, in chronic rather than acute form, had gotten triggered by the anesthesia.) They treated him with prednisone, to suppress his immune system, and after 10 days in Davis, including a couple hotel stays, and a speeding ticket, we brought him home.

A few things they don't tell you in the discharge instructions: 1) have a puppy pad and adult diapers for the drive home (I still recognize the exit to Hercules where we pulled off I-80 to deal with that), and 2) don't wash the syringe with soap and water, as the plungers have a thin film of oil on them to make them move easily (so much harder to feed a dog with an unlubricated syringe).

When we got him home to Alameda again, we waited a couple days, and he waited until we were out of the room, before he first pooed. He was able to scootch himself away from it across the hardwood floor to get away from it, which was the first small step along the long road of recovery. We fed him a puree of rice and poached chicken and water through the tube in his stomach every 6 hours (Mari took the 2am shift). We bought a radio flyer wagon, and I would line it with fleece and towels and diapers, cover him with a cargo net fastened with a bungee cord, and we'd roll off to the park, with his tail swirling in a big helicopter of happiness. He'd usually pee along the way, sometimes in the diaper, sometimes not, and when we got to the park I'd unload him from the wagon, and he'd shuffle along after squirrels. Over the month he was able to gradually get farther and farther off the ground.

The morning we were going to take him back to Davis to have the feeding tube removed, I woke up at 6 knowing something was wrong. I reached for Jake (we'd moved our mattress downstairs to the dining room and had been sleeping on it on the floor) and his feeding tube was gone. He'd chewed it out, and his stomach contents were now between his skin and his abdominal wall (his stomach was adhered to his abdominal wall by scar tissue, so things didn't go into his peritoneum). Thanks to the prednisone: raging infection. We bolted back to Davis for 5 days in the ICU, where he was the belle of the ball, since he was actually responsive. He loved having a student tasked with watching him 24 hours a day, while fluids dripped from drains in his belly and he wore an enormous e-collar (now we knew his jaw worked well enough to wreak havoc, again). Because we were so experienced, they discharged him when he was still on a feed-every-4-hours schedule, which was rough -- do you feed him at 2am and 6am, or at midnight, 4am, and 8am? About a month of additional slow recovery later, he was up and walking around better, and they took out his 3rd and final feeding tube. Many thanks to James Lavely and Dale Olm and Robin Woodley.

Jake's erratic footprints
Then came the months of PT with the folks at Sol Companion: working in a water tank with treadmill, lying on top of a fitness peanut and putting weight on his paws in the right way, trying to walk in a straight line on a board. We moved our bed back upstairs and I carried him up and down the stairs a couple times a day. He became the sweetest, most trusting dog. In April we went up to Gualala and took him to Bowling Ball beach. He took off down the beach, trailing his long-line, and I ran after him, dropping my camera and camera bag along the way. I finally caught him after he got into the water and was wallowing around in trouble, but trusting that I'd come for him. I waded in and pulled him out, so angry but so happy he was able to run like that. He was 4 years old.

Running on the beach, all
paws off the ground
It took 2 years for him to be able to go up the stairs by himself, and he could only do it occasionally. He tended to throw himself into things and hope for the best. He would howl with sirens but never with us. When dogs would try to hump him he would let out these piteous yelps, but he would still go running toward the sound of a dogfight. We worried that his wonky way of walking would lead to degenerative problems in his joints and whatnot, but he kept going about the same for years and years. When we went to the water, he'd make a beeline for it and lie down in it for "his dip." When I started at Google, in Seattle, I would take him to work with me a couple times a week. If we took the ferry, we'd walk around the parking lot, and I'd give him my emptyish yogurt containers to lick out. If I was walking, we'd walk together with him off leash except when crossing busy streets. He had such a spring in his step when we'd set out.

We never vaccinated him again, preferring a titer test to verify his continued protection, and avoided anesthesia like a plague. A couple years ago, he had a big cyst under his chin that needed to come off. His trust in me was so great, that the fabulous Karen Myhre (now, sadly, moved to Alaska) did the surgery with him on his back using only local anesthesia with me with him (which went fine until he started struggling a bit because, we found out the hard way, he really needed to pee). Together we kept him going with raw food, and Cindy Geisler's chiropractic every week, and Alicia Lamb's water treadmill and exercises, and Darla Rewers' acupuncture, and Kendara's swim therapy, and of course his own joy and happiness at being alive.

Jake is unimpressed with
his booties
In 2012, it became harder for him to walk the 1.5 miles to work with me, so we'd sometimes walk there but have Mari pick us up. In late 2013, he no longer had the stamina for walks with the rest of the family, so we got out the old red wagon and rolled him with us part of the way, eventually graduating him to a converted bike stroller where we sometimes had him in the stroller, and sometimes not. The first time we took him out onto the trails with the other dogs, he was so happy. In 2014, he started needing rubber booties for both traction and to protect his toes and the tops of his paws from being dragged along the ground. When he came to us, he came with a blanket he would suck on, and a soda bottle he'd chew on. Somewhere during 2014, he stopped sucking on his blanket.

Head tilted after his strokes
In February he had the first of his strokes that left him with profound vertigo and unable to stand, his eyes twitching back and forth as he tried to figure out which way was up. He got better in a day or two, but had another couple strokes near the end of March. We'd been here before, though, so out came the little red wagon, the puppy pads, and the adult overnight pads, and we hoped he'd get better. We figured he'd either get worse, or he'd get back to being able to go outside with just a little help, but neither happened. Instead I spent 4 months mostly working from home, carrying him up and down the front stairs, or out in his wagon so he could take care of business. He remained pretty happy, while I got some mean tendonitis in my right elbow but got to hug him multiple times a day. Wesley Hawkins gave us a few breaks, taking on rolling Jake around in his wagon, in addition to caring for the rest of the menagerie. It became clear that Jake's decline was going to be very gradual, and I began to wonder whether he had to actually be suffering for me to end his story, and why should he have to suffer rather than go out without suffering, all while thinking I was being self-serving. By the end of June, it was clear that I couldn't keep it up much longer. Ted Kerasote has a good list of questions when thinking about euthanasia, but they only helped me some.

Hollie, who had rescued him 15 years before, came up for July 4 weekend, but the following weekend he started having trouble standing to poo and pee, and that was the sign I needed. We had a peaceful last weekend at the shack, and then a week of goodbyes with many of the people who loved him. His last day was July 17. We took him to Magnusson park for a final long dip in the lake, and the weather couldn't have been better. Got him home, and fed him ice cream, and bacon, and brisket, before Dr. Sara sent him off to college.

Life is a bit grayer now, but I have so many good memories of our time together. He reminded me that pets are not property, they are self-willed sentient people with whom one is collaborating on life. I feel lucky to have had him in my life for 14 1/2 years. Some photos, and his final video:

Friday, July 31, 2015


I wrote this about my dog Jake, who passed on July 17. I meant it to be sweet, but like so much of our life together, it went a little sideways (in a good way).

I gave my dog a piece of my heart
To carry for a while.
He gave me all of his
And did it with a smile.

I sent him off to college
He took my piece with him
But I’ve still got his heart with me
Inside a little tin :)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

This Indecision's Bugging Me

For the past 3 months or so, I've been struggling with a decision. It's harder than deciding where to go to college. It's harder than asking the woman who is now my wife whether she would spend the rest of our lives together. My oldest dog is dying. Very, very slowly. The question, of course, is when do I help him finish the job?

At the start of February, he had some vestibular problems -- couldn't stand up, his eyes kept flicking back and forth -- that lasted for a day. At the end of March, he had another episode, and this time it seemed like it was caused by a couple of strokes. He couldn't stand to eat, or drink, or eliminate. He'd just turned 16. But here's the thing: we've been here before.

Back in 2002, Jake went through months of not being able to walk, owing to a bad combination of rabies vaccine and anesthesia that inflamed a bunch of his nerves. Fed him through a tube for 7 weeks. Worked from home for 3 months, before the time of ubiquitous WiFi. Loaded him into a little red wagon and carted him to a local park twice a day, where he was able to shuffle around a bit after squirrels. Had a diaper in the wagon so he could pee while we walked. We moved our mattress into the dining room, on the floor, where we slept for 3 months. After that we moved the mattress back upstairs, but it would be another year before he was able to climb the stairs on his own. In the meantime, I carried him up and down as needed.

So in April, I put a puppy pad and an overnight serenity pad in the wagon, and started rolling him around the neighborhood. Great success. I figured he'd either get better or get worse and things would resolve one way or another by the end of April.

I was wrong.

He got better, but not better enough to be able to make it outside. He stands up to eat, with a little support, but rarely to drink. He pees standing up, but more often than not he poos off the back of the wagon. So I carry him up and down 23 stairs 3 or 4 times a day, to get to a patch of grass where he's got the necessary traction to take the necessary action. I go to the office for no more than 4 hours at a time. I don't exercise (other than carrying Jake). He wakes me sometimes early in the morning. Sometimes multiple times at night. Thank God for CBD tincture, which helps him sleep through the night. Sometimes he poos in his sleep. His life is so limited from what it used to be, but he's been here before. He doesn't get depressed or distressed. He trusts that I will be there. I will carry him. I will clean him. He gets frustrated some times. That makes two of us.

And yet. When we go out in the wagon, he's engaged, he looks around, he looks happy. When I sit on the floor with him, he rests his head on my leg and sighs contentedly. He's always interested in food, even when he was vomiting for a day. He always needs to know where I am, once I get back from my brief stints at the office.

He's never going to get back to walking out the back door on his own. But sometimes he's able to get up on his own and walk across the grass (as much as 20 feet!) to pee. That usually happens shortly after I've decided this is going to be his last week.

We have this notion that the time to send a dog to college (as we like to call it) is when his quality of life is sufficiently degraded. There has to be an element of eliminating the dog's suffering. The implication, though, is that a dog should suffer at the end of his life. Why should that be?

Certainly Jake's life is dramatically more limited than it was. We no longer go for morning walks. Don't really even go for morning rolls, because he's become Not A Morning Dog. He doesn't suck on his blanket any more. He goes out a few times a day and sniffs a little (too much and he'll fall over), and pees, and twice a day I load him in his wagon and roll him around different parts of the neighborhood. For all that, he seems happy.

My problem is, I'm not. I am stressed. I'm not as productive at work as I want to be. My blood pressure is up. I have tendonitis in my right elbow from the way I have to pick him up multiple times a day. I can't travel because Jake needs special care. I find myself feeling like the townspeople in The Visit, who would never kill Alfred Ill for the money the wealthy lady offers, yet who start buying new shoes and other things on credit: I think of life without him, getting back to normal. But putting a dog down because of the impact on my life feels selfish. Mari keeps reminding me of Ted Kerasote's list from Merle's Door, and by those criteria, it's been time for a while, except that his condition doesn't seem to bother Jake. He just keeps going, as he's always done. This weekend I came up with the criteria that if he can no longer stand through a meal, or he can't stand to poo two days in a row, then it's time. We're on day 1.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


It’s a simple thing:
A wedding ring.
A little band of gold.

But every morn
I put it on
To tell the world I'm "sold".

I said "I do"
And I meant it true
Even when we're old.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Religious Right(s)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Sounds pretty straight-forward doesn't it? It's my religion, you can't tell me how to express it. You can't make me pay for contraception insurance coverage for my employees, even if they're not of my faith.

Reality is more nuanced though. Mitt Romney can only marry one wife, even though Joseph Smith said otherwise. If I were a worshiper of Satan, any human sacrifice would be considered murder. Mohammed Atta, if he'd lived, would not have received a free pass even though the hijacking was an expression of his perversion of Islam. All these things have something in common: they are religious practices that harm other people. Refusing to include contraception coverage in your insurance coverage for your employees harms those employees. You, as an individual, are free to not use contraception, but the government is within its rights to insist that you cover contraception in your insurance package, just as you cover erectile dysfunction treatments. QED.