It’s My Circus

3 Jul

Sometimes I think that before deciding to adopt a dog, everyone should be required to join Cirque du Soleil for a year to learn the appropriate skill set. Just this morning, I could have used some contortionist skills in order to untangle from three dog leashes. And there’s never a time when I’m putting my dogs into the backseat of my car and hooking up their seat belts that I don’t feel like I’m working with clowns and a clown car.

But most of all, I wish I had tightrope skills. And not just because my dachshunds only allow me 2 inches of space in which to walk.

Ozzy - Fastest Crossing Of A Tightrope By A Dog Guinness World Records 2013 Photo Credit: Paul Michael Hughes/Guinness World Records Location: Norfolk, UK

Ozzy – Fastest Crossing Of A Tightrope By A Dog
Guinness World Records 2013
Photo Credit: Paul Michael Hughes/Guinness World Records
Location: Norfolk, UK

Life is about balance, and when you have three senior dogs, that becomes increasingly clear. Case in point: trying to balance traditional veterinary medicine and alternative approaches that don’t involve the phrase, “Here’s a prescription for some antibiotics.”

Two of my three dogs see a homeopath. Justin, my 16-year-old, shakes like a fracking-caused earthquake in Oklahoma any time we drive near the regular vet, despite the fact that he can no longer hear or see (he must smell the antibiotics). On our last visit to the homeopath on the other hand, he fell asleep on the memory foam doggy mattress she has on her floor. With the peaceful new age music playing on the speakers, I myself was tempted to nap.

The path to alternative veterinary approaches to doggy health care started with my first dachshund, Copper, who due to his insistence that he was a stunt pilot and not a short-legged dog, became paralyzed at age 12. With a combination of acupuncture, a doggy wheelchair, and physical therapy that involved me tickling his feet so that he would reflexively kick and keep his leg muscles strong, he had 3 great more years of semi-mobility.


I search for a lot of non-traditional remedies for dog-related ailments on the Internet these days and I’ve had some amazing success. Justin was plagued with chronic UTIs for years until I discovered a product online called Pet UTI Prevention from He has now gone three years without a problem! He’s also taking Epi Plus from and with it, his seizures have been reduced from every few days to about once a month. Both of these supplements are herbal remedies, not drugs.

All three of my dogs get Ceylon cinnamon with dinner, which helps reduce inflammation and infection in their teeth and gums. In addition to a 16-year-old, I have two 13-year-olds (I just found out that Penny had been lying about her age for years and when she came to me as a rescue, she was probably 5, not 2). Needless to say, I relish the idea of dental cleanings like I do my own mammograms. Especially for Penny because her teeth form plaque on the way home from her cleaning. She has so few teeth left, she could star on Duck Dynasty. The cinnamon even helped get rid of Justin’s abscess. (Be sure to use Ceylon cinnamon as dogs can’t digest the other kinds).

Watson has a slew of lipomas and one sebaceous cyst that occasionally bursts. It is not pretty, but I’ve finally gotten over the ick factor and no longer rush him to the vet for antibiotics. I use calendula oil and regularly apply warm compresses with castor oil. It seems to help. I do the same with Penny’s lumps and bumps.

I still love and appreciate my regular vet and struggle sometimes deciding which approaches to take in keeping my pups healthy. But just having options makes me feel less like a clown and more like a ringmaster.



Top 10 Best Ways to Live with an Older Dog

5 Jan

Those of us who are lucky are blessed with dogs who live long and healthy lives. But even those dogs will slow down and show signs of aging that can be more difficult for us humans to adjust to than for our pooches.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned from having now lived with three dogs over 15 years-old:

1.  Stick to the routine. Whether it’s visual impairment, dementia, or some other age-related issue, older dogs like predictability. This is not the time to rearrange the furniture, move to a new place, or start living with a fire-juggler.


2.  Organize it. Your dog may take a number of supplements or drugs. It is easier if everything is labeled and set up in a way that makes it quick and easy to make sure you don’t skip anything important.

3.  Find ways to include them. Older dogs may not be able to go on long walks with your and the rest of the pack, but you can find ways to include them. A doggy stroller or a wagon are great ways to get your older pooch out of the house without putting to much demand on him. If you’re going out when it’s chilly, make sure to wrap him up so he’s toasty. And make sure to give your hound the opportunity to get off the wagon and sniff around a little too.

4.  Just follow them. When I let Justin (15-1/2) outside, it can take him what seems like forever to come back in. And I don’t know whether he’s having fun, lost, or worse stuck somewhere (he tends to stick his snout in places his body can’t get out of it). It’s easier on both of us if I just go with him. And I live in the rainy northwest. That’s what waterproof jackets are for–yes, we both have one.

5.  Hey, he can hear that! Even if your dog can no longer hear most things, chances are there are a few sounds that will get her attention. Two of my older dogs couldn’t hear my voice, but both could hear the sound of a spoon clinking on a bowl and the sound of clapping. When I want to help Justin find his way back in the house, I clap and he follows me (most of the time). I imagine we’re our own parade.

6.  Accidents WILL happen, so rather than get impatient and frustrated, plan for them. Have a whole drawer or doggy clean-up supplies at the ready. And if you regularly encourage your dog to go outside, that will minimize the problem. You should also go regularly, just in case THAT is also a problem.

7.  Know that there are solutions out there. Copper, my first older dog became paralyzed, but through the use of a doggy wheelchair, physical therapy (which I did by tickling his legs and stimulating his kick response), and acupuncture, he was able to walk again and had three more years of healthy activity. And with the internet, solutions are often just a click away. DO make sure that when it comes to supplements and drugs that you only rely on reputable providers.

8.  Slow down. Most older dogs still want plenty of belly rubs and ear scratches, but if they can see only shadow and light, a fast hand coming towards them may be met with a snap of the jaws. Don’t sneak up on your older hound, let him sniff you first to know it’s you, and perhaps start your love from the other end.

9.  Cuddle up. When you’re in bed with your senior dog, years can slowly melt away and the great chemical bond you create will help you cope with the stresses the day may have thrown your way.

10. If you try to re-home your dog because she is getting up in years, karma will bit you in the butt. You signed up for this, so person up and do the right thing.

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.


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.


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!


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


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

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.


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