15 March, 2010

Are we already 3 years out?

I have a habit of thinking about everything that's happened not too too long ago as having taken place 'a couple of years ago'. The Summer of the Stray and Feral Puppies is already close to three years ago; which makes Dashie and Dottie maybe 4 years old already. I can't hardly believe it!

Here is a picture testifying to the fact that now Dash and Dot regularly come into the house, and that they're (of course) friends with Gator. In fact, they get along well with all the dogs - apart from one anomalous multi-dog melee that broke out after dinner a few weeks ago.

How are they doing with us? Honestly, there hasn't been a huge amount of progress there. They have their good and bad days; on the best of their days they are still completely unwilling to be put on a leash. It's a rodeo to do that, and we're still doing it only when we need to (mistake, I know!) to get them to the vet or some such thing. Once they're on the leash, they walk with us very well. Usually, but not always, they ride in the car without panicking too much. And they let the vet do whatever he/she wants to them. They really let any human do whatever we want to them if they can't escape. But if they can escape, that's still their first choice.

They have since the last post eaten kibble only out of our hands, and they've had to come in the house and down to the living room to do that. Twice a day, every day. Both tested positive for Valley Fever last year (Dottie presented with terrifying seizures and a near-death experience; Dashie with a sudden onset of horrible joint pain); and both are still taking VF meds twice per day. We have a month or so to go before the next re-test - and are hoping against hope that they will finally be able to quit those meds. Since they're both frightened of people, it's been difficult or impossible for us to be away from the house for more than 12 hours at a time. It's not like you can just hire someone to pet-sit with these guys - and missing doses of VF medicine is dangerous both in the short and the long term. So.

In spite of all the trouble and worry, I can't imagine two more engaging and lovable dogs then Dashie and Dottie are. They are just so darned *interesting* to watch, as they really don't react to things the way normal dogs do. It's almost like the experience of missing their critical period for socialization for humans gave them 1/2 horse psychology mixed in with their canis lupis familiaris brains. They 'spook' in a way that's very similar to how horses spook at new sights and sounds. And their preferred response to stress is flight - not aggression (thankfully). And you can tell that they are genuinely confused by us too. I think they find us lovable and terrifying, in roughly equal parts.

Our other pups? Zero and Sally are going on 10 years old, shockingly. Sally has begun to have intermittent very scary bouts of gastritis/pancreatitis/hepatitis; she now has among the best-studied GI tracts of any dog in the world (our depleted savings accounts are testament to this). What's wrong? Her belly is full of adhesions, making all of her organs be in slightly wrong positions with respect to each other...thus making her more susceptable to infections caused by bugs from one part of the gut getting into a different part of it. Managing her condition is an exercise in managing my anxiety as much as anything else. She takes a pharmacopia of drugs and nutraceuticals to help prevent flare-ups; but even with that she sometimes gets sick, and sometimes it's very very bad sickness. Sometimes it's not. No way to predict, nothing really to be done except watch and wait. Zero's ears are perpetually bothersome - he's on maintenance doses of prednisone, benadryl, ear cleaning and a topical antibiotic...but we just can't seem to get him completely free of ear-itchiness. Poor dude. Soon he'll be due for his vaccinations again, so we'll consult with the vet some more. Chewie our kittie died a couple of months ago - no sickness, no warning, just passed away one evening. He was at least 17.

Roxie and Haku are settled in as long-term guests at our house. Every morning they go to their Auntie Josephine's house down the way and get some breakfast; and then they wander back to our place to hang out and get some dinner. Haku's got to be at least 11 years old now - and he seems to be in good health. Just getting slightly rickety-er as time goes by. He has begun to let me pet him on a semi-regular basis, which is very fulfilling. Roxie is her typical bubbly, adorable self. They both seem wonderfully happy with their lives - and I'm still trying to ride the wave that comes along with having long term itinerant dogs living on our property. I love them, but I so wish I could get them sorted out so that we weren't vulnerable to animal control or any of the perils of the great big world out there.

And then there's Gator. He's as perfect as he's always been. Everyone's best friend, nobody's problem. What would we do if it weren't for Gator? He's totally unproblematic, and 100% lovable. We are very, very lucky!

04 April, 2008

Smokey Update Update

I just phoned Forever Wild for a Smokey update. He had a visit with the veterinary ophthalmologist today, and will be starting some new anti-inflammatory drugs. It's not known yet whether he'll be able to get back to the wild, because they can't tell whether there's been damage to only one or both eyes (one was clearly injured, but the other might have been involved too).

If his other eye is OK, then it's likely they'll remove the bad one (eiiuw, but OK), and he'll be releasable. Apparently one-eyed owls do just fine in the wild, as they use their hearing for hunting, and they can adapt to monocular vision. Smokey's flying is fine, and he's eating and acting like he feels alright.

If his other eye is not OK, then Smokey'll be a wildlife ambassadowl for the sanctuary. Probably a few more weeks before they'll know the ultimate outcome. At least he's alive and eating and flying and being an owl, and that's a very good thing.

24 March, 2008

Smokey Update

I just spoke with the people at the Forever Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center, and it seems that Smokey is doing OK. They think that he hurt himself by flying into a window or something, and the injurty is to his right eye, not his shoulder as I had thought. He was groggy and shocky when they got him on Sunday morning, but apparently he's perking up and on the road (fingers crossed) to recovery.

They even said they'd call us when he's ready to be released, and he'll come back to where he was found. So, his little mate will (hopefully) soon have him back!

22 March, 2008

Smokey the Screech Owl

John and I decided to eat out tonight, and on our way home the most amazing thing happened. We were about to turn into our driveway when we saw something in the road that looked like a bunny (there're lots of desert cottontails out here), but it wasn't moving away from the car. We could see eyes reflecting the headlights, but it was an odd shape - so John stopped and I got out to investigate.

It was two little owls (on post-hoc analysis we believe them to have been Western Screech Owls like the one pictured above, but we originally hypothesized burrowing or elf owls, because they were so little). As I approached, I realized that one was standing in front of the other, between it and our car - and she was glaring at the headlights. I got close enough to touch her before she flew away, but she ultimately (begrudgingly) did. Her friend didn't move. I could see that this remaining owl was standing with his eyes closed, and he was kind of wavering from side to side a little bit. So, I knew something was wrong. I reached out to touch him, and he still didn't move - so I knew something was VERY wrong.

I went back to the car and got my coat, and wrapped him up in it and carried him out of the road and into the house. I could see he had a small wound on his shoulder - it was a little bloody, but not spectacular. And I suspected the worst - that he'd been hit by a car or something, and that he was not long for this world.

But he was breathing steadily, and very much alive in his little coat-bundle. His eyes were closed, and he occasionally made a little warble in his throat, but he didn't seem to be aware of his surroundings or anything. As I watched him, I couldn't keep myself from stroking his feathers - and he was so incredibly soft it was as if he was made of smoke. Hence his name, as John noted, must be Smokey.

John got a shoebox and towel so we could wrap him up and keep him in the dark to try to reduce his stress level, and then John got on the phone to, first, Pima Animal Control who sent us to a Wildlife Help Line that didn't pick up or return our call. Then we called our own emergency vet, who sent us to the Valley Animal Hospital. They apparently have an agreement with 'Forever Wild', a wildlife rehabilitation organization, so they told us to bring the owl to them and they would ensure that he got to the right people.

When we tried to move him from the coat to the towel/shoebox, we found that he was gripping my coat in his little (but actually pretty intimidating) talons. So we ended up kind of laying him in the open box, still wrapped in the coat, without a lid or anything. When we got into the car to go to the vet, I shifted the coat and to our great surprise Smokey flitted out of the box and flew across to grip the inside of the driver's side door. Now he was definitely aware of his surroundings, and he was frightened. John was able to wrap him in the towel again, though, and eventually he let go of the door handle - leaving little talon marks as a souvenir of our adventure.

We got him back into his box, with the towel around him to keep him calm, and drove him to the Animal Hospital, where they ushered him into an enclosure where he will spend the night before being picked up by the rehab people. That he was able to fly and grip so well makes us optimistic that he's going to be OK.

But we're very sad for his little friend. Apparently, Western Screech Owls mate for life, and we're guessing that the brave little bird who stood guard to prevent him from being hit by our car was his mate. And she must be very sad and frightened. We have no idea how he got injured, or whether they might have had babies nearby. There's a whole lot more going on out here in the desert than we humans ever see or know about, and I just hope that right now there's not a separate tragedy unfolding for Smokey's family.

A song for all those entrusted with pooper scoop duties...

This post is dedicated to everyone who's job it is to scoop up the dog poop for your furry friends. In our current situation, I am designated poop-scooper for Zero, Sally, Gator, Dash and Dot. But I think I can safely assume that all of us have had similar thoughts as the one that I had this afternoon, which gave rise to this post.

As you might imagine, five dogs produce a lot of poop. And each dog has his or her own pooping style, and favored surfaces on which to deposit his or her blessing. For some reason, our dogs do not like to poop on the surfaces in the yard that would be easy to scoop off of, using implements such as those pictured here. There are many such areas - just flat, broad expanses of dirt that would make an ideal scooping surface. But, no, they like to poop on things with texture, things with nooks and crannies that make it really hard to scoop poo out of them. For example, piles of rocks.

So, while I was trying to scoop yet more poop out of the crevices between the various small piles of river rocks in our yard, the Neil Diamond song, "Love on the Rocks" popped into my head, and the following new and improved lyrics gushed forth. Call it "Poop on the Rocks"...


Poop on the rocks, ain't no big surprise
Pour me a drink, and I'll show you some piles.
Kibble is gone, now all I've got's...on the rocks.

First they eat the kibble -
See how they love their kibble!
Suddenly they need to go out and
wander 'round the yard.
Looking for a poop place -
Not a smooth or empty poop space.
Nothing so mundane will do,
When you need a place to poo --
Then you see the rocks....

Poop on the rocks, ain't no big surprise.
Pour me a drink and I'll show you some piles.
Kibble is gone, but the poop lingers on ... the rocks.


31 January, 2008

Dash Decision?

We may have actually had that big step forward in Dash's case this morning - for the first time ever he allowed one of us (John) to walk behind him while he was eating, go up the stairs, and close the door. Amazing.

Let's see if this lasts...

30 January, 2008

Progress, January 2008

Since my last post, we've been continually working with Dash and Dot on our own schedule, without pushing them or doing any special tricks. Just trying to be sure that every interaction we have with them is positive, and as fun as possible for them (within the bounds of that they must come in the house and approach us properly in order to have fun).

Most of the 'fun' is really food. But some of it is the opportunity to play with the other dogs (especially Gator), in the house. And some of it is watching me make a fool of myself in order to see if I can trigger happy/confident/empowered behavior from them.

One strategy was suggested by my friend Dianne, who knows a thing or two about training animals. What would happen if instead of letting them act afraid of me, I pre-empt that by acting afraid of them? Like by wincing and hiding, and running away from them.

Doing this - esp. the part about moving away from them and trying to hide - definitely triggered something like curiosity in them. Especially Dot, but to some extent both of the dogs, wanted to follow, find me, and investigate. An excellent result!

But then I added sound (*whimper*) to my scaredy-act, and that was definitely a mistake. Dash was really startled by that, and it caused him to back off and watch me even more carefully, in case I was actually as crazy as it seemed. Dot didn't seem to respond to that one way or the other, so after one try, I stopped it.

And a few days later, Dottie seemed to make a decision. I went out in the yard one afternoon, and instead of her standard running-away-if-I-try-to-pet-her, she stood there and let me stroke her neck. And that evening she came in the house willingly, and was able to eat her food and let me and/or John walk around, including behind her and upstairs, and do whatever we wanted without it causing her to wig out. It was like she'd figured out that it was safe to be in the house, and while she's still going to be cautious about us approaching her, she's not going to let that get in the way of her getting lots of treats and kibble. What a good girl!

Dash has gone the other way, though. Now he's even more scared and jumpy than he was before the holidays. It's very odd, in that he's been more confident around us than Dottie pretty much the whole time. Now the tables seem to have turned.

We have determined that one problem in our 'come in the house and let us close the door behind you before you can have fun' strategy is that we have tended to leave one of us right at the door, so that the dogs have to walk right past us to get in the house. Now we realize that if the door-closer stays away from the doorway, but still upstairs, that both dogs are fairly willing now to come down into the living room. Once that happens, the door-closer can wander over and close the door behind them while inciting minimal trauma. It definitely takes two people - Dash will not let a person walk from in front of him to behind him if there's an escape route behind him. That still causes him to freak out. But if the person was already up there, and didn't seem to be paying much attention to the whole in-out of house thing, then it's apparently not scary.

While this has been going on, we've also fine-tuned the psychotropic meds so that each dog is on a combination of prozac and amitryptaline. Of which I'll bet I spelled amitryptaline wrong. I don't have any kind of strong feeling as to whether the meds are making any difference at all, either in a good way or in a bad way...but am trying to let them stabilize for a while while we (hopefully) continue to make *very* incremental progress. I think it may be with this kind of thing that even the regression part is progress - it's maybe the precursor to a big step forward?

28 December, 2007

Taking Stock

It's been a long time since I've posted, and I guess it's time to take stock of where we are with all the doggy craziness. I really didn't think, back on June 13 when we met Roxie's new puppies, that we'd still be trying to sort things out at the New Year.

Roxie is still outside, most often with Haku - but she seems to want to be with us now, even when he wanders off. We moved our dogloo into the carport so that we could be sure she could stay warm enough, and she took to it right away. John brought her in the house once to meet Sally - and it was a tense and scary meeting, but didn't result in violence. Roxie backed off and asked to go outside, Sally was happy to see her go. I wish we could just bring Roxie into the pack, but it's clear that would be bad for Sally. And, of course, there's no guarantee that Roxie'd decide to stay.

Dash and Dot are well integrated into the dog pack, and have lots of fun running around with Zero, Gator and Sally. Sally lays down the law for them, and they respect her - so that seems to be just fine with everyone.

But Dash and Dot are not well integrated into the person pack. And we're having a really tough time trying to understand what to do for them. Both are on amitriptyline, Dot is also continuing with the doggy prozac. It's not clear whether or not those medicines are making any difference for them.

And of course we've been working with Vanya and Ben, the behaviorists. But things have not gone according to plan. Some of the assignments we've been given we haven't been able to follow through on, as D & D find new and creative ways to be non-cooperative. And the assignment we should be working on now, we've decided we just aren't willing to do. So, I need to confer with Vanya and come up with some kind of plan B.

The basic problem is that D & D aren't progressing fast enough in terms of letting us handle them. Vanya & Ben advocated techniques that involve putting additional pressure on the dogs - rather than the slower strategy of rewarding desirable behavior and ignoring undesirable stuff. So we had the lesson in which we leashed the pups, dragged them downstairs and then rewarded them as they began to calm down again after freaking out. D&D's reaction? Refuse to come back into the house.

Vanya's response? Have them wear leashes all the time (thus making them catchable by us). D&D's reaction - eat the leashes. Our next move, provided by Vanya? Get leashes made of chain so that they can't eat them. Haven't done that yet - and am having a hard time getting over the sense of doom I have about having dogs dragging chains around with them all day in the yard. It doesn't seem safe to me. So.

In the interim - we have been cajolling/tricking/luring D&D into the house so that we can close the door behind them, with decreasing success. When we could get them trapped, they would freak out. We were putting the leashes on them, thus freaking them out more, then trying to give them lots of treats and praise when they calmed down. Oh, and having them eat their food either out of our hands or else in their crates.

The food part has been consistent, and they're happy to eat their food either in the crate (provided nobody's lurking behind them in position to possibly shut the door of the crate on them) or from our hands. If we can get leashes on them, they're even walking with us pretty well on the leashes. It's just that they're so weirded out by being caught in the house, that we mostly don't get the chance to do anything with them other than give them handfulls of kibble.

What we're supposed to do now is (somehow) shove them into their crates and close the door; then go to a phase where they're always either in their crates or else on leashes with us. But we're convinced that the result of trying this will be:
(1) We will have to forcibly push them into their crates, which means will have to muzzle them, or else we could certainly get it - they're really frightened of getting shut up like that.
(2) Then they will either (a) destroy the crate by freaking out or (b) become completely petrified of it and refuse to ever go into it of their own accord.
So, I think that trying to follow this advice right now will just succeed in creating yet another phobia in them; crate-o-phobia. And either us or them getting hurt.

But it's not as though I have a good alternative. John came up with the idea of taking them out for a walk to the park whenever they get leashed. That way they'd always have something really good to associate with the leash. I think this is a great idea - but we haven't been able to get them into the house to test it since he came up with it.

So, I'm dreading talking to Vanya about this, and feel like we're kinda just stuck for the time being. D & D are so sweet and charming when we're not trying to do things to them - they come up to us quite willingly, they even give us kisses. But the minute we reach out to touch them or catch them to do anything, they're gone. And if I put them on chain leashes and collars (they eat the nylon ones off too, so that's another problem) all the time, I'm going to live in fear of someone accidentally getting hung up while we're at work.

And I'm not OK with the Roxie situation either. I want her to be safely in someone's home and yard - I don't want her to be out where bad things can happen to her. She seems content with it, and I don't have any way to get her to safety anyhow. So I'm still trying to ride the wave and accept that I don't have control over these things. Ugh.