Friday, January 29, 2010

Rocky's road to recovery

Rocky had his first post-surgery follow up visit with our vet today. She was amazed, as is everyone, at his happy attitude and demeanor. All the vets have told me what this is about the most painful surgery a dog can have, but I guess if you had suffered as long as Rocky had, even surgical pain is a relief. Rocky really does seem to know that people are now trying to help him.

We are fighting a post-op infection, but fight it we shall. Rocky has been through too much to fail now. The nastiness they found in his ears seems to be resistent to most antibiotics, but I'm picking up something new at the drugstore tomorrow.

Rocky was his friendly, inquisitive self at the vet's office today. He can't hear a thing, but he looks and sniffs, and wags his tail to express himself. The vet said that he definitely seemed happier, more comfortable, than he had been previously. He rolled over and gave belly, jumped up to give kisses, and generally endeared himself to everyone.

What a dog. He has a kindness of spirit that few human beings possess. He also has the gift of bringing out that same spirit in people he touches.

Bonding rituals

Whenever I visit my sister's household, I make it a point to go outside to pee with the male dogs. They give me this "hey, that's cool" look and we go about swapping spots and marking trees. I always suggest that adopters go outside with their male dogs to show them where you want them to urinate. Communal urination is a great bonding activity as well as whatever purpose it serves for communication and marking territory.

One of the great milestones in a young male dog's life is learning to lift his leg to pee. Diesel has been peeing like a girl. He looks good doing so because he assumes that show boxer stance, with the rear legs slightly back and spread, leaning forward on the front legs and stretching out his body. The picture above doesn't quite capture the look, but should get the idea across and everyone knows that show dog stance. Diesel really has it. He's a great looking dog and I am continually impressed by how nice boxers are.

Diesel comes inside to a crate in my office at night. When I take him out in the morning, he always stops to pee before we get to the kennel and he won't budge until he's finished. This morning he stopped and assumed the stance as usual, all four legs on the ground, nicely posed. I looked at him, cocked up one of my legs, dog-style, and damn if he didn't so the same. I wish I had my camera with me at the time, it was definitely a Kodak moment.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Walking with Emmylou and Rocky

Emmylou and I have been taking short walks at Pleasant Grove this week. The trail along the river bank is probably too muddy and I know it's too steep for someone as out of shape as I am, so we have been walking the flat open land. I've been leaving Molly at home because she would want to go farther and faster than Emmy and I want to. Emmy would do her best to keep up and it would end up hurting us both. She's been pretty content with a short walk and a slow pace, Molly would not be. We spotted a herd of deer on Tuesday and she told Clay about it when he got home that night.

Today we took Rocky along. He's been mostly laying around for the past couple of months he's gotten fat. The extra sympathy food he's been getting has made matters worse, although he still eats like a starving dog. Apparently he never lost his appetite when he was at VaTech for the surgery. Anytime this dog doesn't eat, he's sick. I've never seen him sick enough to turn down food and I hope I never do.

He was ready to get out and go too. Rocky doesn't walk well on a leash so Emmy had to help me keep him more or less in line and moving forward. She gave me that "why did he come along?" look a couple of times, but she was a good sport about it. Rocky had a great time and is sleeping soundly this evening.

Rocky seems to be doing pretty good. We are seeing our regular vet tomorrow to remove stitches from the first surgery and for a general look over. I believe he has less hearing than before, in fact he may be pretty much totally deaf now. But if the surgery prevents a recurrence of the infection and draining and the pain, it will be worthwhile.

We will try to get in a city walk after tomorrow's vet appointment.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Rocky is back home, upstairs in the office with Molly, Emmylou, and me. The trip to and from Blacksburg was cold and wet, but uneventful. He seemed happy to see me and he got into the van pretty much on his own. He's wearing two collars designed to keep him from messing with the bandage on his head but he managed to get it off anyway. They limit his range of sleeping positions, but he's adapting and coping with it. He's got pills for pain but nothing else to take for now. I'm relieved to have him home.

These pictures are of Rocky and Paul, the vet student who was in charge of the care and handling of Rocky and me for the past 12 days. Paul is in his 4th year and is interested in research rather than clinical work, but he was very good, conscientious, and caring. I couldn't have asked for more. The surgeries seemed to go very well. Rocky has no more or less hearing than he had before, but he has a lot less pain.

It is impossible to do just one thing at a time in rescue work. Although this was the day of Rocky's triumphant return home, it was also the day that a boxer boy named Diesel (below) and a female mastiff mix called Felicia (left) made their way out of southwest Virginia to a new and brighter future. The mastiff was just a transport to another rescue group, but Diesel will be staying here with us until we find him a new home. Boxers have always generated a lot of interest when I've had them in the past. Diesel seems like a great guy, although he's outside in a kennel right now telling me that he's an indoor boxer.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Incoming foster dogs

Today I drove again to Greene County and to Charlottesville to pick up two shepherds that I had met and evaluated yesterday afternoon.

Duke is from Greene County. He was surrendered by an owner who couldn't afford to keep him. It was my first time going to that shelter and I was pleasantly surprised. It was small, but clean and well run. The man in charge was apparently the county's ACO (animal control officer), and he was helpful and pleasant. He seemed genuinely interested in getting dogs adopted. Greene County has an active humane society and it may be that the shelter is theirs, I'm not sure. Nice place, but I'm sure they could use 2-3 times more space.

A young woman was walking Duke when I arrived. I had the impression that she would have liked to adopt Duke herself. That is the biggest hazard of working at or even walking into an animal shelter. I was happy to see volunteers working at the shelter, that is always a good sign.

Duke is large, young, male, and very handsome. I've already contacted a former adopter who had been looking for a male. I think he would be great for her, if Starr (the former foster dog), agrees. I hope to get Duke vaccinated and neutered next week.

The second new dog is one that I first met last week at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. Dakota is young, small (for a male shepherd), and is that black and red color combination I like so much. He is also alleged to be housetrained and cat-tested, which should make him very popular. I've contacted someone about him and hope they will be interested.

He is probably between one and two years old and is still very puppy-like in his play.

Tomorrow I pick up Rocky and am also meeting someone who is bringing me a young, male boxer. With Rocky back and three new fosters, I'm glad that the puppies are going back to the SPCA on Monday.

Rocky's coming home!

Just spoke with Paul, they want me to come tomorrow morning (10:00 a.m.), to pick up Rocky.

I will be there. We should be home early afternoon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Second surgery completed

They did the surgery on Rocky's other ear late this afternoon and he's fine. Paul called me about 8:00 p.m. and he had just left Rocky's run after sitting with him for some time after the surgery to make sure his temperature was coming up and he was coming out of the anesthesia. It seemed to go well, no signs of nerve damage so far at least, and amazingly, both of his ears are still erect.

The vet in charge said that his ear canals were the worst she had ever seen. Paul said that the site of the first surgery was looking pretty good already, "aesthetically pleasing" I believe he said.

I'm not sure yet when he will be home, but we are hoping it will be Sunday.

Gemma's new life

Gemma was a washout from a service dogs program where she was being trained to assist people with disabilities. Her biggest problem was that she was uncomfortable in public social situations. That's not an uncommon problem with shepherds, particularly females I think. They feel the need to be in control, which I think is really a manifestation of the herding instinct. A shepherd guarding a flock or herd keeps an eye on everything, wants everyone in their place, and is ready to react to any intrusion. Those are great qualities in a herding/guard dog, but they don't always serve a dog well in a modern, urban environment.

If the dog is unable to control the situation, anxiety results and sometimes even worse behavior as they try to alleviate their anxiety by coping with the situation around them in the way that their instincts dictate, e.g. barking to ward off perceived intruders. That's not a good quality in a service dog, they need to be bombproof--cool, calm, and collected in all situations. Shepherds can be great working dogs if the nature of the work matches their instincts. Some can become great service dogs, but not all.

I've taken in foster dogs who didn't work out in various types of working dog programs, but I don't think I've ever placed a foster with such a program. VGSR does occasionally try to place a dog with police or security training programs, but personally I consider it as a placement of last resort and have never resorted to it. The single trait they look for in assessing dogs is an over-the-top ball drive because they use a ball as a reward in training. A dog with an over-the-top drive of any sort is generally a neurotic mess and a working dog placement is one of a very limited range of options for such a dog.

Happily, however, Gemma was not such a dog. Although she didn't have the bombproof demeanor necessary to make it as a service dog, she also didn't have the neurotic behavior that would make her unsuitable as an ordinary companion animal. The training she had received made her more adoptable than probably 99% of our other fosters. Plus, she's simply beautiful, a drop dead gorgeous German Shepherd Dog. She was adopted by one of our volunteers back in June and is doing great. She occasionally goes to work with her mom and she has a pack of other shepherds to be with when she's home. Who could ask for anything more?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Surgery postponed

Rocky is fine but the weather in southwest Virginia is bad. They closed the vet school and hospital early today because of icy weather conditions. We are just getting cold rain here, but it may turn to sleet and freezing rain overnight. Lovely.

So Rocky's second surgery is postponed until tomorrow at the soonest, but I wouldn't be surprised if it gets pushed to next week. He's still on IV antibiotics, and Rocky has always been fine being crated, so I'm not overly concerned about the delay. I would like to get him home, however, and was hoping to do so this weekend so I wouldn't have to miss another day of work. I was also planning to meet my SW Virginia rescue resource person in Blacksburg this weekend. She's bringing me a boxer and meeting down there will save her a couple hours of drive time compared to our usual meeting spot at Natural Bridge.

Donations are coming in for Rocky and I want to thank everyone. VGSR will acknowledge all the contributions, but I've asked them to let me know as well so I can send a thank you email or note. For the anonymous contributor(s), I hope you are reading the blog, this is your thank you, a big wet one, direct from Rocky.

OK, it's not pretty, but it's sweet. The picture on the right was taken at the shelter when I first brought Rocky home. Even at his worst, he has always been a sweet and friendly dog. The picture at the top is Rocky at his best, after we had the initial infection cleared up and his face healed up. The surgery will hopefully prevent the infection from recurring. He will probably have floppy ears after the surgery, but that's a small price to pay for good health.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New beginnings

"New Beginnings" is the name of the glee club on the TV show "Glee." It's the best thing on television in a long time, although you need to follow it long enough to get into it. Two bad things about it: (1) it's on Fox; and (2) it's off the air until this year's American Idol series is over. Fans of the show call themselves "gleeks," a combination of "glee" and "geek." It probably started out as a disparaging term, but has been proudly adopted by those at whom it was aimed.

Rescue work is all about new beginnings, which is what I was thinking about when I titled this post, but I couldn't resist the chance to give Glee a plug, in spite of the fact that it's on the rightwing nazi network.
This is the next dog I hope to have, a young male shepherd being called Dakota. He was a stray and was found in a location where dogs are often dumped. He was skittish enough that he had to be trapped, but once he meets a person he warms up very quickly.

I met him yesterday and his stray hold expires either today or tomorrow. After that he will be neutered and on his way to my place. He's a good looking dog, he's young, he prances when he moves, and he did very well on his behavior evaluation, including meeting other dogs and even cats. He should be an easy one to place, but I'm prepared to be very picky about where he goes.

No call yet from VaTech today. Paul will probably call late this evening as I think that is about his last task of the day before he goes home. I'm not expecting any real news today anyway, but would like to hear that they are still planning to do the second surgery tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blog filler

One of the great things about puppies is that you can always take a group of pictures and fill up a blog post even if you don't have much to say. Another great thing about them is how easy they are to entertain. A cardboard box, an empty plastic soda bottle, tubes from paper towels, toilet paper, or gift wrap, all make excellent, new, exciting play toys.

Rocky continues to improve. Paul said he'd be ready to come home if he wasn't having the second surgery. It will be either today or tomorrow depending on their surgery schedule, which often gets rearranged due to emergencies. He said they had an emergency come in yesterday, so I'm guessing Rocky's surgery will be Wednesday rather than today. It's looking like it will be Saturday or Sunday before he gets home. Apparently he has gotten accustomed to the routine around there, including riding on a gurney in and out of the hospital. He isn't crazy about pooping on a leash, but then, who is? He will be back to wandering around the dog yard looking for just the right place to do his business by this weekend.

I'm hoping these puppies will be going back to the SPCA by this weekend too. They are growing and they need to be adopted while they are still puppies.

The latest phone call about Rocky has his surgery scheduled for Thursday, so it will certainly be this weekend that he gets home. The bacteria in his ear infection is something resistent to most antibiotics, no surprise there, so he will be getting a super antibiotic via IV for 5 days. The bill is going to be higher than the estimate, again, no surprise.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Rocky Report

Paul called this morning. So far, so good. Rocky seems to be in less pain, he's eating, drinking, pooping, walking, sleeping. Nothing much to report, but that's to be expected and it's ok, at least it's good news.

Here's a pic of Samson sent to me last summer, playing in the river. Hopefully Rocky will have that same look of happiness on his face when this is all over, and also have a home like Samson's.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ravenous Rocky

My new VA Tech friend, Paul, called a short time ago with today's Rocky Report.

He's blinking, which doesn't sound like much, but it indicates that hopefully the facial nerve survived the surgery undamaged. He was drinking water and he ate much like he always does, like a rottweiler, so he must be feeling pretty normal.

Unfortunately, this dog's "normal" has included an intolerable level of pain. I expect Rocky is feeling better than normal then, since he's getting a good amount of drugs to help with the pain.

They are culturing the infection from his ear to determine what was in there and how best to treat it. They will also examine the removed ear canal for any signs of abnormal cells.

Paul tells me that Rocky is being true to his nature as a sweet, non-aggressive dog. They are able to work on him without using a muzzle. In spite of his pain, all he does is let out a yelp when they touch a tender spot. I know that our local vet had the same experience with him. They were able to replace staples in his face without anesthesia and without a muzzle. There's not a lot of dogs that would tolerate that.

I guess the whole world has been focused on Haiti, and rightly so, but it's a problem too big for me to deal with and I really haven't paid it much attention. While I certainly think that our country needs to do all it can to help, all I can do personally is focus on problems closer to home, and Rocky tops my list right now.

These pictures are from Rocky's early days with us. He's very strongly food-motivated.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Daily update

Rocky is ok. I finally had a call from the vet student in charge of his care this evening, close to 9:00 p.m. It was after 7:30 when they finished surgery. They thought it was a good surgical outcome. The vet called early this afternoon after they did the CT scan. The calcification of the ear canal was worse than expected, increasing the risk of damage to the facial nerve during surgery. Also, they were afraid that they would not be able to remove all of the damaged tissue because it came very close to some major blood vessels. But, it sounds like the surgery went very well. Paul (the vet student) told me that Rocky would feel like a whole new dog when this was all over.

He's on IV pain meds now of course, which he will need. They have the second surgery scheduled for next Tuesday. The hospital is staffed 24 hours a day with vet techs, students, and at least one vet with others on call. So I can't ask for more than that and it's certainly more than I could do for him here.

I'm relieved for now, but of course there is another surgery to get through and a long road of recovery, but his pain should soon be a thing of the past.

There's enough people concerned about Rocky who are checking here daily for updates that I feel compelled to do a daily posting, at least for a while. I'm grateful for everyone's concern, and I also welcome the push to do a daily posting, at least for a while. Self-discipline is not my strong suit, so anything that can help me develop a bit more of it is welcome, at least for a while. (Are you sensing a lack of full committment on my part?) The downside is that I may become boring and repetitive, but that's a risk already.

I'm down to 5 foster dogs currently, but there are still the 7 puppies, and the 6 of our own, so I'm probably not going to run short of possible material. And the need to post something daily may give me the incentive to do something new and different occasionally. It could happen.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Samson pics

Samson is living the good life over in Richmond. He had surgery on one foot to have a growth removed. The growth was benign and the worst part was keeping him inactive enough, long enough, for the foot to heal after surgery. He had extra snuggle time with his mom in lieu of their usual river runs when he was healing.

You can tell he's a good dog, he even lets him mom dress him up in funny hats.

Fortunately, he is now back to normal activity, which he loves.

p.s. I'm getting twice daily phone calls from the vet student handling Rocky at Virginia Tech. He's doing fine. The chest xrays they took showed no signs of a tumor or any other reason not to do the surgery. He's scheduled for surgery on one ear tomorrow afternoon. I'll post a note tomorrow after I've heard from them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Our day at Virginia Tech

This is a statue outside the VTH (Veterinary Teaching Hospital) at Virginia Tech, where Rocky and I went today. To jump to the end of the story, I left Rocky there. He will have a CT scan and x-rays tomorrow and surgery on one ear on Friday, followed by surgery on the other ear, probably on Tuesday of next week. If all goes well and according to schedule, I'll go back to get him sometime towards the end of next week.

I hated leaving him there, but he's in good hands and I really didn't have any good alternative. He's in pain and really needs the surgery. The vet says that they generally have good results from the surgery. It should resolve the infection and relieve his pain, leaving him with no more or less hearing than he has currently. They will be doing a procedure called TECA, an acronym that stands for Total Ear Canal Ablation. Essentially they will remove his ear canals, which are hardened almost like bone, along with the tissue that is causing the infection in the middle ear. It's not pretty to listen to, see, smell, or talk about, and it is quite painful, but he's in a lot of pain now too.

We left here at 6:00 a.m. this morning, and arrived about an hour and a half early. Rocky rode in the back of the Subaru without a crate and without a problem. He really travels well. I could leave him loose in the car when I ran into the clinic, a Starbucks, and a Blacksburg bookstore where I bought this key chain. I buy key chains as souvenirs when I travel and put them on the dogs' collars. All of our dogs carry a lot of trinkets around their necks because of that, so I decided that Rocky should have one from Virginia Tech. He wasn't overly impressed, but it is a very nice dog collar ornament, and it seemed fitting since VA Tech will now figure heavily in Rocky's life.

Because he had an active infection they didn't want Rocky in the public area of the clinic, which I can understand. So I did the paperwork and went over his history with a vet student while Rocky waited in the car. It's a good thing that Rocky was patient and content in the car because we had quite a wait, although I did take him out to sniff and mark a tree or two. When he finally went in to be examined, it was on a gurney with gloved and gowned vet techs.

They told me what I already knew, that Rocky is a sweet, kind, and gentle dog in spite of his pain. I'm obnoxious and mean when I'm in pain and can not even imagine living with the pain Rocky has had for so long. He definitely deserves a chance at something better.

I put down a $1,000 deposit towards the estimated $2,000 - $3,000 cost. I am not personally paying the vet bill, I couldn't, but donations to Virginia German Shepherd Rescue are welcome and appreciated for those who have asked. The address is: VGSR, P.O. Box 126, Sterling, VA 20167. Please indicate that the donation is for Rocky and include a note asking them to let me know about it.

I'm tired tonight and emotionally drained, but I so look forward to the day I can write a post about Rocky's adoption into a great new home. It's a long way off still, but the day will come.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This and that

Remember Hannibal and Nemo? Two great looking, young male shepherds, brothers. They were both adopted out to great homes and I heard from both adopters within the past couple of days. Nemo is now called Huck and is described as a canine comedian. Hannibal made himself at home and is doing well. He trained to an electric fence very quickly. Both dogs have canine companions in their new homes and get along very well with them. Both owners also report that they have a problem with counter surfing. For people with dogs less than knee height, the term "counter surfing" refers to helping oneself to whatever can be reached off the counter with the paws or mouth. Our Bremo did it for a while, when he discovered how easy it was for a dog his size. Anything we really want to be out of reach now goes on top of the refrigerator. One thing I did myself and recommend to others to discourage the practice, is to sprinkle a generous amount of cayenne pepper along the edge of the counter when you leave.

These two dogs are 3-4 month old pups currently on a stray hold at the SPCA. I drove in there today to meet him and have sent their pics out to the VGSR volunteers in case we have an applicant looking for a shepherd mix puppy. Very cute, both of them. The light colored one looks as much Golden Retriever as shepherd. She's the female and is pretty lively. The darker one is a male, very cute, sweet, and calmer. They will adopt out readily when their stray hold period of up. They were found at a construction site, probably dumped.

Emmylou rode along for the trip to the SPCA today and we stopped at a park on the way home for a walk. She loves the cold weather and spends hours in our pasture whenever she gets the chance, way beyond the time all the younger dogs have come in. The cold and snow make for good crisp scent. She loves to hunt small mammals and has enlisted Molly's help with the dirty and laborious work of digging up moles from under the surface.

Tomorrow begins Rocky's big adventure in canine health care with our trip to the vet school clinic at Virginia Tech to see a surgeon who may be able to help his ears.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Good things come...

"Good things come to those who wait" is one of those pearls of wisdom I always atributed to my mother for lack of a better source. The pearl analogy is quite apt too, because maternal wisdom, much like real pearls, starts out as a small irritation that eventually achieves a virtuous gloss.

The phrase rang true to me today because Birdie got adopted. When I looked at her vet history, I realized she had come in to the SPCA in March of '09. I'm not sure when I brought her home to foster, but it may have been last spring. Her only real problem, I think, was that she was young and scared. Her experiences with our species may not have been the best. I think she enjoyed her time here--she learned to be a dog and to live without fear, but she was ready for a home.

She didn't get just any home either, she got a great one, well worth the wait. I spent much of the afternoon picking up paperwork, doing the adoption, and returning the completed contract and adoption fee, but I can't think of many ways I'd rather spend the day. Birdie deserves it. She's enjoying indoor life on the sofa, she's enjoying her runs, and she will enjoy the hikes on the Appalachian Trail.