Where Am I Going?

1 Nov

My last ex-husband’s mother had dementia. As the person who handled most of her issues, I know that the disease can be both heart-breaking and hysterical, sometimes at the same time. Sometimes she’d recognize me and call me by the lovely nickname she’d assigned me when we first met, “You little tramp.” Perhaps she thought I was Charlie Chaplin? Other times, she thought I was a friend from long ago and hound me for cigarettes. She had a gerontologist with the poorly chosen last name of Dr. Butt and while sitting in his waiting room, she launched into a song I believe must have been titled “Dr. Butt is a Butt.” I laughed, I cried, I claimed not to know her while helping her into the exam room.

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My 15-1/2 dachshund Justin has dementia now and the roller coaster of emotions has returned. Every day I am so grateful that we have been blessed with all this time together… even if I do spend most of my time rescuing him from behind doors and under the clothes rack. (If there’s a spot a 26-lb. dog can possibly fit in, I will eventually find him there.) I lovingly turn him around and ask him where it is he’d like to go. The answer is usually, “To the kitchen next to the counter with the cookie jar.”

I feel like the mother of a toddler–obsessed with making the house safe for my wandering child. I have a small metal and glass bookshelf that he loves to walk through. It’s now wrapped with Saran Wrap. There are boxes between the furniture and walls to keep him from getting stuck behind the sofa or end tables. Yesterday, I bought two body pillows to put next to the bed (which is on the floor, but still taller than a wiener dog’s legs) so that if he wanders off the bottom at night, he’ll fall into something soft. Apparently they don’t make bungee cords short enough to help with our specific problem.

Justin does a lot of roaming. If he were a person, I definitely want to keep him on a leash–fortunately he’s a dog and no one thinks it weird when I do. As a result of all the walking, he’s remarkably fit. I thought about strapping a pedometer on him to see just how far he goes every day, but I know him well enough not to even try to put something on his collar.

Fortunately he’s still having a good enough life that I know it’s not his time to go. He loves to eat, knows where the cookies are kept, licks his sister good morning, runs home from walks, and snuggles next to me at night in bed. Sadly, I know his time is coming someday soon. In the meantime, it’s my job to rescue him from behind the elliptical machine and point him in a happier direction.

Adjustments

1 Aug

Life is always changing and there’s no better reminder than watching our dogs getting older. It can be sad and frightening, but we can learn to be better people as we walk the path together.

Right now, I have three senior dogs: Penny is 8-1/2, Watson will be 12 this month, and Justin is 15. They’re all dachshunds, which is good in that they’re small enough to pick up and put in a stroller or a wagon when they’re tired, but it also means I have to haul around a stroller and/or wagon everywhere we go. We visited the coast of Oregon last month with the stroller and I pushed 67 pounds of wiener dogs plus whatever the stroller weighed against a 20-m.p.h. wind in sand. Talk about a glut workout!

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Watson had toe cancer last summer and it was all about him. We walked at his speed, he got pampered the most, and he even got to take a spin on an underwater treadmill. He’s fine now and in fact, is tossing squeak toys and running around my desk as I write this.

Penny is a tweenie while the other two are standard doxies, so her legs are really short. Her brothers look like they’re on stilts compared to her. These days she either gets tired more easily or she knows that if she gives me that “Mom, I’m such a tiny dog and I’m exhausted” look, I will pick her up and tuck her in my shirt. And she’s not as diminutive as she’d like me to believe — she weighs 15 lbs! I’ve taken to wearing fabric with good tensile strength so it can hold her.

Justin has the most rules for us to follow. He won’t walk if it’s over 70 degrees, raining or snowing. He’s lost most of his eyesight, so the transition from shade to sun disturbs him (and he refuses to wear the sunglasses I bought him). This means that whenever I can, I walk so that he is always in my shadow. Try it — it’s not an easy task. Between the near-blindness and his dementia, he will walk right into or through anything if I’m not on the ball. Pile of debris? Yank. Drainage grate? Yank? Over-sized statue of a pot-bellied pig on the sidewalk? You guessed it. And, despite walking slower than the House of Representatives passes a bill as we leave the house, as soon as we round a corner for home, he races full speed, dragging me, the stroller and his siblings behind him.

I see more on our walks these days because I’m the eyes, ears, legs, and shade for my dogs. Not to mention, how much attention we get when everyone is tired and piled in the stroller or wagon. Life is an adjustment and we’re making it.

 

Sit, Stay, Remove Your Shoes

1 Jul

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In order to get my dogs to do anything I want them to, I have to ask three times. Three seems to be the magic number, unless, of course, they are doing something they really love such as digging up the yard, eating birdseed, or rifling through my guests’ coat pockets for tasty treats. Then I can beg, wheedle, whine, and Prancercise about to no avail. The dogs will look at me like they are teenagers who have been asked to turn off their game devices—they recognize my face and are aware that I’m there and have said something, but they don’t seem to be able to translate what I’ve asked of them into a language they understand.

 

If I’m holding a cookie, I can get their attention faster, but as they are wiener dogs who would get miniature walrus fat if I gave them a cookie every time, I can’t rely on treats to do my dirty work. And believe me, they figured out the old bait-and-switch years ago. Dumb, they are not.

I’ve heard dog trainers and animal behaviorists say that dachshunds are obstinate and oppositional, and that among all the types of animals, they’re right up there with spiders in terms of how difficult it is to get them to do anything they’d rather not. I can’t debate these opinions, having never tried to train, say weasels or tarantulas, but I can easily think of a group of animals much more difficult to train—humans.

Case in point: I am one of those people who asks everyone who enters my house to remove his or her shoes. I really don’t want anyone traipsing dirt, oil, leaves, gum, tar balls, leftover tacos, sequins, ice cream, corners of old love letters, dead dung beetles or whatever else they’ve got on the soles of their shoes into my house. It’s not that I’m a clean freak—all you’d have to do is look at the dishes piled in my kitchen sink to see there is no truth in that assumption. I’m just more comfortable with the dirt my family makes than the dirt others bring in with them. Ick!

Plus, it’s easier for strangers not to step on my three small dogs or at least to cause no damage if they’re in their stocking feet. So I have legitimate reasons for my request.
Yes, I have also attempted to set up a paw-washing station at my front door for my dogs, but they usually dash inside immediately after an outing, rushing to the kitchen to sit beneath the dog cookie jar waiting for their treat for being good dogs and going outside in the Oregon rain.

In the beginning, as I attempted to train humans to remove their shoes, I was naïve enough to believe that leaving several of mine at the front door would cause guests to ask, “Would you like me to remove mine?” A few (mostly women) did, but the vast majority just barged in, stomping around in their filthy boots, disgusting sneakers, or dangerous stilettos. So I tried the old real estate trick of putting a basket of paper booties by the front door. No one seemed to notice it—perhaps they thought I had gotten a side job as a thoracic surgeon to pay for dog treats?

I truly hated asking each guest to strip down to stocking feet, so I would just grin and bear it when they didn’t bare their feet voluntarily. Finally, though, I could no stuff my emotions, so I found a lovely sign online that simply reads, “Please remove your shoes.” It’s to the point and mounted right next to my front door by the handle everyone must use to get inside. Apparently, however there are further instructions on that sign, invisible to my eye that say: “Please remove your shoes unless you’re a contractor, repairman, insurance agent, or ex-husband, or if you arrive with two or more people or are carrying a purse, casserole, or 27 years of emotional baggage.” Many folks coming through my door still seem not to be aware of my desires, foot-wise.

I should also mention that from the same website, I purchased another sign that reads: “No solicitors: Religious or otherwise” which I posted right outside the gate that leads to my front yard. I politely pointed it out to the Jehovah’s Witnesses at my front door last week.

I guess I’ll have to fall back on dachshund-training techniques. I’m going to attach a Ziploc bag of people cookies to the remove-your-shoes sign and see if that doesn’t result in the behavior change I require. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just hire a TSA agent to give everyone a complete pat down and refuse to let anyone enter without partially disrobing.

 

My Sunshine Has Sundown Syndrome

13 Jun

Justin, my 15-year-old dachshund, has Sundown Syndrome. It’s a form of dementia that occurs after dark. Once the sun sets, he frequently gets lost and runs into things… much like a drunk frat boy on a Friday night.

ImageFortunately, I found an herbal remedy for him. No, it’s not marijuana, although we did try that first. Do you know how hard it is to hold a joint in tiny little paws? And the one command you can’t teach even the most obedient of dogs (which he is NOT) is “Inhale!” It doesn’t matter how many cookies you use as bribes.

The concoction we’re using is called Senilife, a combination of Senile and Life. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been in that branding meeting, what with all the high levels of creativity sparking in the room?

The good news is that it really works well. He has a lot fewer episodes of seeming to be out of it. He and I are about on the same level now when it comes to being confused and wondering where we left either our keys or our stuffed hedgehog. You can buy the stuff on-line. It’s a capsule that you squeeze on top of your dog’s evening meal. There is also a cat version (do not tell my doxies, I brought that up!)

In fact, the little pill works so well I caught myself looking at the bottle the other day, wondering, “Are these just for dogs?” But then I noticed the side effects — squirrel hatred, motorcycle leg, excessive drooling… Side note, is there ever a time when drooling is not excessive? But I’m not going to take them. It’s not that I’m scared of the side effects; it’s just that I put a plan in place years ago to make sure no one would ever be able to tell when I cross the line from “normal crazy” to “she needs help crazy.” You show up at Thanksgiving dinner wearing a ski mask and an inner tube a few times when you’re still young and you set the bar pretty low.

Besides, my only kids are dogs and they would never put me in a home.

Doglight Savings Time Never Ends

1 Nov What time is it?

This weekend, we’re all supposed to turn our clocks back an hour. For humans, it’s a simple task. For humans with dogs, it’s impossible.

My dogs get up at 3:30 a.m. for breakfast. I don’t know how or when it happened, but no matter what I’ve tried (giving them 10 p.m. snacks, taking them for a long walk before bed, showing them the circles under my eyes, etc.) , nothing has dissuaded them from hounding me until I cave in and serve up the vittles. It doesn’t help that between my hot flashes and need to get up to use the bathroom at night, they can feel me stirring. Once I show any sign of life, the jig is up.

So now, 3:30 will be 2:30 a.m. That’s just lovely. I’ve got a plan, but I’m sure it won’t work. Tonight, I won’t feed them dinner until 6 p.m. (an hour later than usual). The only way this will work is if I leave the house at about 4:45 and don’t return until I intend to feed them. Then at 11 p.m., a snack. We won’t go to bed until an hour later than usual. I will take some valerian to help me sleep more deeply and avoid actually moving while doing so. 

At 2:30 a.m. when they inevitable start jumping on the bed and pacing the floor, I will play possum. Or zombie…. whatever it takes. When my bladder kicks in, I will try to ignore it for two hours. When Justin stands on my trachea, I’ll roll over. When Penny starts licking my calves, knowing how ticklish I am, I will giggle quietly into a pillow. When Watson stands at the foot of the bed and howls, I’ll pretend it’s all a dream.

At 2:35, when I’m up feeding them breakfast, I will compose an e-mail to The People in Charge of This Stupid Fooling Around With Time System. Then we’ll all go back to bed and try it again the next night. I’m tired already.

Watson and the Case of the Missing Toe

30 Jun

The mystery started six weeks ago when my soon-to-be 11 (but claiming still to be 6-1/2) dachshund Watson started to limp. I checked his paw for burrs, glass, sunflower seeds, candy bars (I always check everything for candy bars…) and found nothing.

Two days later, he was still limping, so off to the vet we went.

“I think he’s torn his ACL,” she told us.

I looked skeptically at my 23-lb. wiener dog. The chances that he’d been playing pick-up basketball at midnight were slim and as far as I know, he wasn’t playing softball or tennis either.

She took an x-ray and showed it to me. “See this here? That’s a damaged ACL.”

I nodded despite not being able to make heads nor tails nor anterior cruciate ligaments of the picture. I wondered whether he’d be on tiny crutches.

The vet recommended going to a physical therapist, so we made an appointment with See Spot Run and off we went. Watson limped around cones and walked on an underwater treadmill. That’s right, an underwater treadmill. I can’t afford a land-based treadmill for my home gym, but my little guy was being treated like the athlete he clearly was.

Meanwhile, back at home, Penny and Watson were none too happy that their brother was getting to go on secret outings and came home smelling of liver. Every time I shifted weight on the sofa they charged the front door. They got extra treats to mollify my guilt. As did I. And as our walks were only to the end of our yard and back, we all started packing on the pounds.

At our second visit, I asked the physical therapist if, while we were there, she could trim Watson’s unusually long middle toenail on the lame leg. She reached for it and he screamed. His first expression of pain in three weeks.

“You know, this whole issue is probably about his toe, not his ACL,” she said. “You should get his toe x-rayed.”

Now, I had touched his toe on numerous occasions while giving him a massage to help his ACL and he’d never reacted as if he was in pain. But it was back to the vet we went. She found no broken toe, no torn nail bed.

“It’s probably an infection,” she said and prescribed anti-biotics. We stopped going to physical therapy. Watson was not happy that no one was bribing him to do stupid dachshund tricks any more. He was supposed to take it easy and see if the infection healed.

It did not. Our regular vet (the one I intend to go to the next time I need medical attention because the drugs are cheaper than the human kind) wasn’t in, so I spoke with the vet who was and described the ongoing situation.

“Oh, that definitely sounds like toe cancer,” she said. “We should get an x-ray of his toe.”

I told her he had just been x-rayed the week before, so she consulted the film and said she saw deterioration of the toe. “It may be toe cancer and we should amputate.”

Toe cancer? Who’s even heard of such a thing? I, of course, Googled it and found that it’s a real thing, not usually a big deal, and more common in black dogs. It didn’t say why. I’m assuming it’s because they tend to lie in the sun too much At least my black dogs always have.

This Monday, Watson’s toe was amputated.

“You need to keep his bandage dry,” our regular vet said as I picked him up. Just then the heavens opened up and it began the first of a three-day deluge. Every time Watson had to go outside, I had to chase him with a piece of Saran Wrap and some scotch tape. Even on three legs, he’s faster than I am. I had a flashback to some woman from the 80s who recommended greeting your husband at home wearing nothing but Saran Wrap. Watson didn’t think it was funny.

The bandage is now off and the sun is out.

“You’ll need to keep him from licking his stitches,” the vet said.

So now it’s 7 days of making sure he leaves his foot alone. Forget using the cone of shame — he’s already put the kibosh on that by eating off the edges so he could play with his stuffed animals more readily.

We should hear whether it’s cancer next week. But Watson doesn’t care. Through it all, he’s been his same goofy, cheerful self as long as I kept the cookies coming.

But once he’s completely healed (or heeled, depending), we’re all going for some long walks. Between the stress and the stress eating, we could use the exercise.Image

Move Over, Rover

28 Mar

Three years ago a girlfriend and I rented a house on the coast of Oregon for three days for a nice vacation with our five dogs and her two very young kids. It was sooooo peaceful! Okay, it wasn’t, but at least it was noisy and chaotic out of town and that’s what we were aiming for.

While we were there, rather than sleeping in a bed that my dachshunds are too short to get on and off without assistance (and no, I haven’t yet invented a portable mechanical lift for them nor have they learned to use the mini-trampoline), the four of us slept on the sofa which was much closer to the floor. The sofa in this case was a sectional with room for all of us. It worked out well.

As soon as I could afford it, I bought a sectional for our house–a sectional with a chaise one one end. I thought the dogs could have all the space they wanted on the sofa and I could prop myself up to read or lie down in comfort on the chaise end. I envisioned myself with a cup of tea and a good book, gazing contently upon sleeping wiener dogs. Of course that’s not the way things worked out (you knew that already, right?) The dogs took one look at the chaise and decided that it was the best part of the new sofa, except for the new furniture smell, so they immediately planted their flag in the corner, took over the comfy cushion next to the reading lamp, and demanded I serve them tea and cookies. Okay, not tea, but cookies.

One day not long ago, I saw a picture on Facebook of a woman sleeping on a sectional sofa with nine dachshunds. Others may have viewed the picture and thought, “Crazy dog lady,” but what I saw was that she and they had an extra piece to their sectional. I immediately measured my tiny living room and found that if I squeezed things in tight and moved one of the dog beds that no one ever uses into another room, I could have a roomier sofa too! And maybe, just maybe, I could use the chaise. I boiled a teakettle full of water.

I’ve had my extra 23″ of seating space for two months now. I still have to sit in the middle of the sofa, propping my tea precariously on my chest (which gets harder with each passing year) and my feet propped up on the hard coffee table.  Watson and Penny and an assortment of stuffed animals, pillows and blankets cover the chaise. Justin is often there as well, but sometimes he enjoys stretching all 34″ of himself out on the other end of the sofa (which, if you do the math, means that I actually have 11 inches less space than I did before).

There’s only one thing to do–save up until I can afford to replace the sofa end with another chaise. They may have me outnumbered, but I’m gonna have that tea in comfort some day.Image

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