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Archive for March, 2009

After getting the diagnosis of a terminal illness for your pet a fog engulfs your body and brain; every breath sucks some of it deep into your lungs. It becomes a part of you. What you do with that part is up to you. It’s hard to not let it overtake you. It’s there every time you turn around. It’s there for every decision, no matter how small. If you’re not careful, it can quickly become a dark storm cloud destroying things in its path.
It’s a daily battle to stay as positive as possible. It’s a seemingly impossible battle some days. Some days it’s easier to let the darkness envelope your thoughts… can I remember the last swim of last fall? Would I have paid more attention if I had known it really would be the last swim? How can it be there won’t be that special woo-woo greeting at the door for much longer? How can I actually train without my best assistant? Did we really just complete his last ever school visit? This was his last birthday.
For me, the storm clouds sneak up on me in the car. It’s been almost exhausting at times trying to beat them back, but somehow, someway the strength comes. There have been way too many bright memories to be overtaken by dark storm clouds; those bright lighthouses in the fog.
And I find small little beacons in the fog. He ate all his food two meals in a row without any coaxing! We were able to walk the entire length of the driveway!
The Decision is by far the hardest part of having to euthanize a pet, in my opinion. To try to balance his comfort and dignity with Time slipping thru the hourglass can be an overwhelming responsibility.
I need all my strength to fulfill that responsibility. My small gift to him will be to let him go on to his next adventure – without me. And without either of us having any regrets.
When that happens and the fog lifts, I’ll be looking for the beautiful rainbow I know will be there.

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I Am

{This is a reprint of an article first appearing in print in 2003 and then again in 2006. With Ky’s disease progressing it made me think of when I first wrote this}
Like most of you, I wear many hats in my life. I am a wife, usually loving and supportive. I am a business owner. I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. I am a dog groomer. I am a dog trainer. I am a mentor. The list keeps going. If you ask me who I am on any given day what answer is forthcoming depends on the audience, my mood or the moon phase. But one special client who came to me in my role as a professional groomer gave me a profound lesson on facing and overcoming fears and changed how I view myself as well.
Coco, a cute terrier mix, first came to me for a haircut on May 27, 1988. He wasn’t quite three at the time. His owner, Deb, brought him to me sedated. I had only been grooming about a year and a half by then. I hadn’t yet gained the confidence in myself as a groomer that would come later. When Deb told me Coco needed a tranquilizer to be groomed because more experienced groomers felt he would bite, I listened. As I worked with Coco over the next few appointments, I began to doubt the drugs were necessary. Coco seemed more misunderstood than aggressive. I got up the nerve to tell Deb I wanted to try grooming Coco without any sedation. She was very worried I would get hurt, but agreed in the end.
Coco’s only problem was working with his feet. He invariably snapped at me when I tried to clean between his foot pads. I could tell, though, he didn’t really want to bite me. He just couldn’t help himself when his feet were touched. That’s a far cry from wanting to eat the groomer for fun. I could relate. . I had a problem with my foot in high school. I almost kicked the podiatrist in the head when he examined it. I didn’t want to. I just couldn’t help it, so I understood something of what Coco might have been feeling and wanted to help him through it.
In the beginning, I did have to muzzle him in order to clean the pads on his feet. I removed the muzzle as soon as I was finished with that task and praised him. Coco did a grateful happy dance in return, kissing my face excitedly. He was glad it was over. Glad I understood he wasn’t misbehaving on purpose. Glad not to be sedated.
Coco came to me every four months. That’s not very often, but soon I was able to stop using the muzzle. You could see him almost hold his breath waiting until the footwork was over. Then he’d leap into his happy dance – his victory dance. A dance you could feel in your heart just watching. He rejoiced in overcoming a difficulty. I was always showered in kisses for giving him a chance to work it all out.
I spent more time with Coco than anyone outside his family. I took my job seriously. I was the first to notice the change in Coco’s stance and gait leading to the discovery of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and later on pointed out another ACL tear. Anything I did for him, however, was repaid many times over. I learned a lot from Coco. I gained much confidence in my abilities in my craft. He taught me not to care what other groomers had done. After Coco my policy changed. No matter what their experience with other groomers in the past, all my new clients are given a chance before trying drugs. I give them all time to learn to work with me.
As Coco aged and his senses started to leave him one by one, he continued to amaze Deb and me with his desire and ability to age with joy and grace.
The past two or three years as his health continued to decline, Deb always asked me if I thought she should make the next appointment. I always replied she could always cancel if something happened. It never did, until last month.
Deb called to cancel his appointment. I grabbed the phone, expecting the worse. Coco was still okay, but Deb felt it was too cold for a haircut. And she wasn’t sure he was up to it. We talked for a while and agreed on just a bath and some neatening. He always felt better after being groomed. I told her if I felt it was too difficult for him, I would stop. She told me she trusted my judgment.
He hobbled in on the appointed day. He sniffed around for me, his sight long gone. Coco’s whole body wagged in recognition when he reached me.
When we were done with our footwork that day, he gingerly stretched out his neck and blindly sniffed the air, reaching for his Happy Dance partner. My heart sank as I stepped forward to welcome the malodorous, old doggy-breath kisses. I knew I had to choose my words carefully.
When Deb returned, I told her if she didn’t want to make the next appointment, I wouldn’t argue. Her eyes welled with tears as she said she knew I’d be honest with her. I told her it wasn’t something that had to be done right away, but it was coming. Many people wait until the holidays, when all the family can be around to say farewell. I thought he might be okay longer, depending on the kind of winter we would have. I knew Deb well enough to know she would never ask what others have asked. I told her if she didn’t feel she could be with him at the end, I would.
When they told me who was on the phone for me this morning, I took a breath. She was in the veterinary hospital lobby holding Coco in a rainbow colored blanket within 20 minutes.
She had done the hard part – The Decision. She handed me Coco and kissed his forehead as he kissed my face. I gave her a hug and told her it would be fine.
Then I did my part for my old friend.
If you asked me today what it is I do, I would answer you: I am Coco’s groomer.
In Memory of Coco
June 1985-January 2003

Addendum:
I wrote this the day Coco crossed The Bridge almost three years ago. This week I ran into his owner in the grocery store. She still hasn’t gotten another dog. We talked a little while and caught up on things. She made sure to thank me again for helping with Coco and made sure I still knew how much caring for him and being there for both of them at the end of his life meant to her .

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tringa2visitKy was going to help me teach a CGC/Therapy dog class on March 9th. It was also a day we were supposed to be at school for kids to read to him. A twelve hour day seemed like a lot to ask of Ky with his cancer, so I made the decision it was time for Tringa to solo with the kids at school. She’d visited three times before with her big brother, Ky, showing her the ropes, with idea if we have Tringa in the wings being able to step in at a moment’s notice, the kids will be able to read to a dog up until the end of the semester, even though Ky will probably not be here to see it.

While we were very proud of how well Tringa did, it was a bittersweet visit because of course we wanted this day to come later.

Tringa is not yet a therapy dog. She doesn’t have her CGC. I don’t advocate bringing pets off the streets into therapy visiting situations. This circumstance is special. Tringa is trained well enough to pass her CGC and therapy evaluations. We personally don’t test for either of those until the dog is a year of age. Tringa turned a year old just 20 days before Ky’s diagnosis.

For obvious reasons, with that diagnosis, the priorities in our household shifted. When Ky leaves us, we will make Tringa’s therapy career official. I also don’t advocate bringing two therapy animals in with only one handler. In fact, I don’t think it’s allowed with any therapy organization.

Because I am operating outside the therapy organizations rules, I am not actually covered by their insurance or protection. Because I am a professional dog trainer, I carry my own insurance which covers me and my dogs in these situations.

While I encourage therapy dog activities, I do not encourage trying to do therapy work with just any animal. If you’re interested in doing this incredibly rewarding activity with your dog, contact a professional trainer in your area to get you pointed in the right direction. And then follow through.

You could spark the light in someone’s torch and possibly light the world on fire!

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On February 26th, 2009, our very own Kyoak completed his 50th school visit. This completes the criteria established by the Leonberger Club of America to earn his Leonberger Therapy Dog Award (LTA).
It was also his tenth birthday.
We had a party. Ky wore a party hat, the kids wore party hats. We all read pages out of Walter the Farting Dog.
Ky’s cancer supplements helped “bring the book to life”…kinda like “pull my tail” :0)

I made worm cookies. Yes. EARTHWORM cookies. I haven’t made them in probably 20 years, but it was a request from the boys. Of course, they didn’t think I’d do it. They weren’t sure they wanted to eat them. It was a blast.

The day after, Ky’s breeder stopped for a visit. She’s lives in Dillingham, AK. He was actually born in the wilds of a fly-in lodge miles from there. She was visiting family in the lower 48 and stopped by to see him. It was a wonderful visit.

We’re now looking to the National Leonberger Specialty. We will be going just for one out of the four days. A quick trip to see old friends, meet new ones and not wear out Ky (CGC, LTA)

Ky fetches his certificate while his breeder admires his accomplishment

Ky fetches his certificate while his breeder admires his accomplishment

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WIN $10,000!!!!

A little caveat here, that $10K isn’t for you, it’s for the Montana English Shepherds.

The folks at Bissel are running a Most Valuable Pet photo contest. The winner’s photo will be featured on a future Bissel product and $10,000 will be donated to the charity of his choice. With the help of his friends, one English Shepherd has already made it into the finals and his owner has pledged the potential prize money to NESR to help the Montana English shepherds.

There’s a new round of voting every week and the top three vote-getters go into the pool from which the Bissell people will choose three models for their vacuum-cleaner packaging.

We hope to get an English shepherd whose owner has pledged the potential prize money to NESR into the final round each week in the hope that that the fabulous cash prize can be used to help out the Montana dogs.
This week, we’re campaigning Heather Houlahan’s Moe:

moewins

You want to help the Montana dogs!
You WANT to VOTE FOR MOE.
You NEED to VOTE FOR MOE.
You MUST go straight to Moe’s voting page and VOTE NOW.

You’ll have to give Bissel you name and email address to register. They swear they don’t spam you or put you on any lists. You’re also limited to a single IP address and one vote per voting period. So, since you can’t vote early and often — please spam all of your friends, relatives, co-workers and ask them to VOTE FOR MOE. Be sure to send the direct link, because there’s more than one Moe in this voting period and it’s really important to vote for the right one.

If you have a blog or a webpage – ask your readers to VOTE FOR MOE.

The $10,000 grand prize could buy the lives of 30-50 of the Montana dogs — what are you waiting for? VOTE FOR MOE!

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Since the diagnosis of Ky’s bone cancer, it’s been a controlling presence that entered our house and every activity in it. As a trainer used to being THE controlling presence in the pack, it’s been uncomfortable for me. We’ve been down this path before, so it’s not new to me but there’s a different level of discomfort this time.
I’m trying hard to learn the lessons I’m supposed to learn from this experience. I’m trying to be more like Ky.
I have an awesome photo of Ky & Mara ready to sled down a hill. I turned it into a gorgeous bookmark for the kids who read to Ky. A poster of it hangs in my training center.
Truth is the day I took the photo, I almost didn’t. I had the idea of getting the dogs into a sled for a little while. We had new snow covering everything. It was a perfect backdrop for the idea in my head.
Yet I didn’t feel like getting dressed to get out into the snow. I didn’t feel like digging out the sled. I had so many other things seeming more important to do first. I worried about how difficult it might be on Ky. It could aggravate the cancer. He could potentially fracture his leg. So many reasons not to follow through on this.
I shook off that controlling presence and in the spirit of following a Rule of Dog by living for the moment, I got dressed. I got out the sled. I got the dogs dressed and in the sled. I shot one of the best photos I’ve taken…
..and learned a lesson. Living for the moment is rewarding.
While we were at school recently, one of the students reading to Ky was reading a book about energy. I joked with him about bottling some energy for me. He immediately suggested we could give it to Ky so he’d never get old and would live forever. For a split second, that innocent comment took my breath away. The students right now have no idea about Ky’s cancer.
In the next split second, I realized Ky WOULD live forever in the memories of all the people he has touched.
And for the moment things were okay.
That’s the moment I’m holding onto and living in.

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