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: