Tag Archives: dog stories

Dangerous Chase, Part 1

Fear Itself,

by Terri Florentino

He could be so sweet.

He could be so lovable.

“He’s a Border collie. He’s in the shelter. Can you go rescue him?” The woman on the phone was so upset it was difficult to make out what she was saying. “Please?”

“Calm down, okay? To whom am I speaking?

She took a deep breath and sighed. “Sorry, I’m just so upset. My name is Debbie.”

“Tell me about the problems you were having with your dog and what he did that landed him back at the shelter.”

“My husband and I adopted him from the local animal shelter. We named him Chase. He was quiet and well behaved at the shelter, but not long after we brought him home, he started barking, lunging, and growling at wildlife, other dogs, and strangers.” She took another deep breath and sniffled. “He also suffers from separation anxiety—you should see our spare bedroom.”

I could tell she loved this dog. She must’ve tried to help him. “What steps did you take to correct these behaviors?”

She began to relax. “We worked privately with a trainer. He had us use a shock collar, and now his behavior is worse than ever.”

“Now, you said something happened that made you return him to the shelter?”

“He bit us both. My husband and me. He was lunging and growling at a neighbor outside. My husband was standing near him, and the moment I pushed the button on the shock collar, Chase just whirled around and bit him. When I tried to pull him away from my husband, he bit my hand. I got so afraid of him, I took him back to the shelter.” Her voice started to quaver again. She sniffled. “He’s so lovable when he isn’t acting out.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I can tell you care deeply for Chase. Go back and take him out of the shelter. I’ll put in a call in right now and let them know you’re coming and that we’ll be working together.  Give me three months to work with you, your husband, and Chase. If after that time, you’re still not comfortable with him, I’ll rescue him.”

“Do you really think you can help us?”

“I am going to do my best. Call me once you have him back, and I’ll come out to your home as soon as possible. .”

A couple days later, I arrived at Debbie and Sam’s house. As I walked up the steps to their front deck, Debbie came out the door  holding Chase by his leash. He was pulling toward me, frantically barking.  As I stood at the top of the steps, I pushed open a gate and stepped onto the deck. Shouting over the racket he made, Debbie and I discussed Chase’s current state of mind. I could tell she was very frightened. “First,” I said, “you need to relax. I know it’s hard.”

While we talked, I intentionally ignored Chase. After not receiving any satisfaction, his obnoxious behavior finally settled.

“Go ahead and drop the leash,” I said.

“Really? Just let it go?” Debbie said.

“Yes. Let’s keep talking and ignoring him.”

Full of doubt, her brow puckered in fear, Debbie dropped the leash, and we continued to talk without looking down at the holy terror. He ran over and sniffed my shoes and pant legs. Then, I smiled down at him. “You smell my dogs, don’t you, boy?”

He looked up at me and then, in relaxed, fluid movements, he trotted back to Debbie. He made his way towards the railing on the deck and stuck his head through the wooden slats to get a better look at what was going on in the yard below. Just then, a neighbor stepped out of his house. Chase went into a barking frenzy and raced the length of the deck, back and forth. I calmly walked around a picnic table to the other side of the deck and blocked him from running past me.

Using a firm tone of voice, I said, “Get out of it!”

He stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at me.

“C’mon on now, inside,” I said. He followed me through the slider door and into the house.

“How is the world did you do that?”

“He knew I meant what I said. That’s all.”

“Can you teach him to listen to me like that?”

“No. I’ll teach you to talk to him. Okay?”

Debbie nodded and wiped away a tear. “I see. You bet. Let’s get started.”

“You said Chase has separation anxiety and damaged a bedroom. May I see it?”

You could see his fear written on the walls.

You could see his fear written on the wall.

As I peered into the room, I gasped. Chase had clawed deep gouges into a wall right below a small, high window. Just looking at the marks, I could see his fear written on the wall. He had almost literally climbed the wall trying to get free.

“He tries to reach the window,” Debbie said, sadly. “I’m guessing to escape.”

“I think you’re right,” I said. Most of the wood trim along the floor had been scratched and gnawed on.

“Look at the back of the door,” Debbie said. We stepped into the room and closed the door behind us. Almost the entire surface of the door was covered in scratches and gouges.

All the while, Chase had been standing quietly beside us in the room. I took a deep breath and bent down to offer him a gesture of my affection. As I scratched behind his ears, we made eye contact and shared a moment of silent, peaceful communion.

Wee, Part 5

An Explorer Extraordinaire

by Wendy Drake

After I spent a day in Cooperstown meeting relatives who’d known my grandfather, many more side paths tempted me. I wanted to know more about these new-to-me relatives, Hugh and Eleanore. Eleanore also played piano and had learned from my grandfather’s sister, Lucy. I wanted to spend more days at the Inn at Cooperstown, which had been the Cooke (my maiden name) family home from 1893 – 1974. Further, Charles’ book held themes, which resonated for my running.

Charles had compared piano practice to being fanatic about healing fractures. Using a bone healing analogy throughout his book, he suggested bracketing the portions of a piece of most frustration to a pianist, practicing them over and over, until mastered. Years may pass, he acknowledged, but the pleasure derived in the process and the strength of the bone at the fracture make the whole piece stronger than it ever would have been without the work.

After healing from three fractures in my feet and many shredded body parts from tripping and falling on trails, I understood that, with work on specific weaknesses like downhill footwork or running uphill, I could get stronger and stronger in my running. After failing to find a path with the letters so many times and continuing to practice with them, I felt my story becoming stronger. I also felt a connection to Charles through my practice. I wondered if Louise had this lifelong relationship with her piano playing as well. I wanted to indulge the endless side paths to which I was being introduced.

While I didn’t want to leave Cooperstown, a puppy awaited my arrival. I reluctantly retreated from these new paths to proceed onto the one I’d planned. It was time to meet Terri and the team of people who surrounded Wee with infinite puppy love. As the miles increased on my journey toward Wee, so did my excitement. By the time I met Terri, I could hardly wait to meet him. When I finally did, he seemed as eager to greet me as his brother Ace, who was twice Wee’s size.

The afternoon flew by too quickly. Terri took me to lunch with Megan, who’d cared for Wee with two of his siblings, Brea and Ace. We talked about the dogs. I wanted to know everything possible about Wee. Terri had checked every medical and behavioral box and more for Wee, her first runt. We talked about Megan’s upcoming wedding, the book Terri was writing, and mine too. She mentioned several times in passing a writer named Lisa in Florida. The depth of their friendship would not become clear to me until months later. Wee, Jorge, and I’d come to know her better through her border collie, Mick, who was two weeks younger than Wee. It turned out to be Mick who would have the unpredictable health problems I’d feared for Wee. While we would have our share of health scares with Wee, the biggest problem we’d have was keeping what came out the other end solid.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

After lunch, we returned to Megan’s home for the beginning of tearful goodbyes, but not before a final play date between Scout, Brea, Ace, and their dam (mother) Echo. In a short twenty-minute play session, I took over ninety photos and a video. I didn’t want the day to end, but Wee and I had already scheduled his first adventure: a plane ride.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

We made one last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers like Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye to Wee too. Wee’s mom Echo also came along to say bon voyage to her youngest and smallest pup. Then it was time for Terri.

I doubt I could ever be a breeder. Letting puppies go over and over would be impossible for me. Because this pup in particular had worried Terri for weeks, it was especially hard for her to let him go. Is there ever love without worry though? I doubt it. Terri’s tears tugged at me, and I found myself wanting to ease any additional lost sleep.

“I’ll keep you updated. He’ll have a Facebook page as soon as we decide on his Colorado name.”

Wee at the airport.

Wee at the airport.

And just like that, the Wee pup became Mr. Explorer Extraordinaire. Terri helped me tuck him into the carrier, which would fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. Never would the Wee pup ever fly in cargo. I might have been more demanding on this point than Terri.

The first flight was short and uneventful. I expected some whimpering, but Wee had perfect manners. We arrived in Philadelphia and made our way through a crowded airport. Wee was a star everywhere. He was attracting so much attention that my good friend Jennifer, who goes by “Ifer,” couldn’t miss us. She’d been consulting in Philly that week. We collapsed into each other’s arms with hugs and girlie exclamations over Wee.

“Are you headed to or from Boulder?”

“To.”

On his way to becoming Scout, The Explorer Extraordinaire

On his way to becoming Scout, the most lovable Explorer Extraordinaire

After realizing we were on the same flight, Ifer hurried with me to check-in and upgrade her seat. I’d splurged in Pennsylvania at the airport for Wee’s first big plane flight to be extra special and we were flying business class. It paid off. The flight attendant not only kept Ifer and me giddy with red wine, but also instigated us to take Wee out of his crate for the entire flight. He wiggled around my lap and gave everyone kisses, something he still does today.

I don’t remember how we decided to give Wee the name “Scout.” I think I first heard the name when Terri mentioned one of her dogs, who was named Scout. Wee seemed to want to explore everything when he arrived home, so Scout Explorer Extraordinaire seemed a good fit. After we watched “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I was sure. Both Jorge and I love to go on adventures and we were hopeful Scout would go with us too.

In the year since he’s been with us, he’s documented all his adventures on his Facebook page, Scout, Explorer Extraordinaire. He never warmed my feet as I’d hoped when I wrote. I suppose those days may be ahead when Mr. Scouty boy mellows a bit and I make the time for the second book about the letters. We’ve had some rough spots where he was sick, once with kennel cough and a few times with things we never did figure out. He destroyed shoelaces (on our running shoes) and offered up a few baseboard corner casualties. Like Sadie’s those repairs will likely be de-prioritized for years. One of the most disappointing was being suspended from herding school. Scout had been doing well, but I’d not worked with him long enough on attention to give him a fair shot. When he bit a goat, Cathy, his handler, suggested he needed “some time.”

Scout did and does, however, accompany Jorge and me all around Boulder getting love and praise for his good behavior. At the post office, he’s allowed to “paws up” to the counter. We send copies of my first book, Running to Thousand Letters, about what happens when I open 100 of the 1,000 letters. He pokes around McGuckin, the local hardware store, for project stuff and obeys “lie down” for treats. He’s taken a few plane rides with us and had lots of training at the Boulder Valley Humane Society. He even goes to work with me now that I’m working in downtown Boulder at a startup. We stop at The Unseen Bean, a coffee shop run by a blind man and his canine helper dog. The Unseen Bean has Scout’s favorite treats and mine too: dirty Bhakti Chai (chai with espresso shots). That’s a treat for both of us as is running up Sunshine Canyon trail for our four-mile mid-day workout.

We still have yet to get Scout on regular long weekend runs with us. First, we have to learn recall together in order to earn his “Green tag,” granted for Boulder dogs, who’ve pass a program for good off-leash behavior. Terri tells me it takes a solid two years to get recall consistently. Scout does pretty well especially if I have the Chuck-It ball Megan sent for his first birthday.

Second, Scout continues to learn that biting our feet while we run is not cool. Both Jorge and I have learned new hopscotch-like foot moves when Scout goes for our shoes instead of running with us. Even so, his longest recorded run was thirty-one miles late this summer. For a few days after that run, every time we’d put our shoes on, he’d self-crate himself. I suspect we overdid him that day. It seems four-to-six miles is his preferred, non-meltdown distance.

The Wee pup’s story has a happy ending. From twelve-and-a-half pounds at the airport when we left, he’s now a healthy thirty-five pounds. Wee became Scout who is a classic Boulder dog, growing up outside and playing in the mountains. He asked for a GPS watch for Christmas. You can follow how that works out for him at facebook.com/explorerscout.

Wee, Part 4

My One and Only Online Crush

by Wendy Drake

Wendy had a lot of work to do.

The thousand letters.

And what an adventure Wee and I have had in our year together here in Colorado. I never would have believed it. Writing a book about unfolding 1,000 letters I bought at an estate sale in 1997 led to the joy of waking up every day to a black ball of fur demanding massages and kisses before he will get out his queen-sized bed. Guests sleep on the couch. Yes. Border collies are the smartest dogs on the planet.

In the Fall of 2012, I was deep into research for my book, Running to Thousand Letters. In 1997, on an impulse I’d bought 1,000 letters at Louise Palmer’s estate sale. Louise’s love of piano (it was her vocation) had triggered one of the many side-paths I indulged as I began unfolding these letters. The one I was following when I committed to adopt Wee was learning about my paternal Grandfather, Charles, a self-described amateur pianist who lived in Cooperstown, New York, less than a two-hour drive from Terri.

I’d also just begun training again for long distance running in the foothills of the

Wendy on the trails.

Wendy on the trails.

Rocky Mountains here in Boulder, Colorado, my home. For me there is nothing more fulfilling than a day on the trails. I didn’t start out being an endurance runner. I just wanted to be in the mountains, climbing to the top, looking off in the distance toward another end that is really just another beginning, and exploring new paths.

Even the trails couldn’t fulfill me entirely though. Something was missing. It had been almost two years since my seventeen-year-old fur-child, Sadie, died. She is a soul who will never leave me, the partner who lived longer than she should have, and one of a few beings who stops my heart because she left. I wondered if I could ever offer the love I had for her again.

Wendy and Sadie

Wendy and Sadie

It had been seven years since Freeway died in 1995. Freeway had been a border collie, so I had a good idea of how much exercise and how many tennis balls his breed would require. Among the most intelligent dogs, border collies learn quickly and it’s important to constantly keep their minds busy with new games to avoid spontaneously exploding couches.

I’d planned to adopt two thinking they could keep each other busy. Mostly though, I wanted dogs that would match my energy. They had to be able to run the thirty to forty miles a week on average (sometimes as many as fifty to sixty during peak weeks) I ran training for long distance endurance runs. They also had to have an “off” button and settle down when I sat down to write for four to six hours a day.

Sometimes plans are pointless.

I intended to adopt two- to three-year-old dogs and had seen what seemed like every single available border collie rescue in the prior six months.  So had all my Facebook friends. One, Brenda, connected me to Terri in Pennsylvania.

I wavered a bit about traveling to adopt a dog; there are plenty of high-energy dogs at home in Colorado. Freeway had been a rescue; Sadie a Humane Society girl. Occasionally the Humane Society advertised a border collie too, but in months of looking I hadn’t seen two in time to adopt them.

“Would you be interested in my Wee pup?” Terri had asked.

"A puppy couldn’t run long distance for about a year."

“A puppy couldn’t run long distance for about a year.”

I did a double-take. What? A puppy? I was looking for grown dog, preferably two, who could run with me . . . now. I had organized marathon distance training into my weekends and had committed to my first 100k (sixty-two miles) in May 2013. A puppy couldn’t run long distance for about a year and this one, I learned, might have special needs.

Had I remembered how time-consuming the first months of a puppy’s training can be, I would have declined. Sadie had arrived home about the same age as Wee, eleven weeks, in 1994. She ate several of my favorite shoes; not both shoes, just one of many pairs. She gnawed on baseboards whose repair was de-prioritized for years. Once, I’d left her in her crate while I was out because I’d read it was the right thing to do. Sadie would allegedly love it, and if I put something that smelled like me with her, her separation anxiety, which was intense, would be abated.

Sadie hated the crate. I picked an object that had eight hours a day of my smell to leave with her: my favorite feather pillow. Her crate was super-sized anticipating her growth into the seventy-five pounds she became. The feather pillow fit perfectly in the floor space. When I left, Sadie was curled up on it. When I returned home all I could see was her snout poking through the wire door, feathers billowing out like a wild ticker tape parade in my dining room. She never went in the crate again.

Future long-distance runner?

Future long-distance runner?

When I saw Wee’s pictures, none of Sadie’s puppy years upstaged his adorableness. He captured my heart, and I fell in love, my one and only online crush.

If I hadn’t pulled up a Google map of Terri’s location, I doubt I would have committed to her offer. When I realized she was within a two-hour drive of Cooperstown, New York, and other unlikely connections to the my research triggered from the letters fell into place, it seemed destiny that I would adopt him.

Terri and agreed I’d pick the Wee pup up during the first week of November just after my first long race since my injuries – the Moab Trail Marathon in Utah.

Click to buy!

Click to buy!

I had a few weeks to puppy-proof the house. Friends let me borrow crates for the car, bedroom, and my home office. I unboxed dog bowls, food containers, and dog gates. I bought puppy supplies for the inevitable accidents. I downloaded the latest puppy books and worried about not having time to read them cover to cover reminding myself how to be an awesome dog mom again with all the current methods ready to go. By November seventh, two days after finishing the marathon, I continued along the path of distraction trusting my intuition but having no idea what connection existed between Cooperstown, Wee and the letters . . .

Wendy Drake is a writer and an adventurous endurance athlete, a 20+ year veteran of the computing industry, and Chief Human to Scout, a border collie online when his human isn’t hogging the computer. (Facebook.com/explorerscout)

Originally from southern Ohio’s Appalachian foothills and now based in Boulder, Colorado, Drake holds an undergraduate degree in economics with honors in the liberal arts and an MBA from The Ohio State University. Running to Thousand Letters is the first in a series about what happens when she opens 1,000 letters bought at an estate sale in 1997.

Wee, Part 3

The Heart of a Lion

by Terri Florentino

Terri and Navy

Proud parents!

My husband and I were now the proud parents of a son in the U.S. Navy. After the cheering, hugging, and congratulations I slipped my phone out of my pocket to send Megan a text. “How are Echo and the puppies, Wee?” It didn’t take her long to respond that all was well. I was relieved.

The following evening we arrived home late. I planned to pick Echo and the pups up from Megan the next morning.

The next day I awoke early. I was eager to see Echo and the pups. I wondered if Wee had gained even a couple of ounces in my absence. Echo enthusiastically greeted me right at the door as I walked into Megan’s house. “I missed you too, girl, where are the puppies?” I said to Echo. She promptly turned and made her way swiftly up the steps and into a spare bedroom. By the time I caught up, Echo had already jumped into the whelping box. The puppies were all making their way to her for another morning snack. Even Wee had found a place to nurse and by now was starting to develop enough strength to hang.

Megan followed me into the bedroom, smiling.

“How’s Wee doing?” I said.

“The same, no better, no worse.”

I was disappointed, but at least he was no worse. “Have you decided which puppy you like?”

“So far my favorite’s the firstborn male, but it’s hard to tell. They’re still so young.”

I began getting the pups packed up and ready to go. “I want you to visit them as often as you like. The social development’s good for them.”

“Thanks, that’ll be a tough job,” Megan laughed.

Once we arrived home, Wyn was so excited to see the pups, she could barely contain herself. As I moved the pups from the basket to the whelping box she stuck her nose in amongst the little balls of fur pushing, nudging and licking each and every one, especially Wee. I allowed the two to have their usual special bonding time.

Wee at five weeks.

Wee at five weeks.

Now that the pups were home and settled again, life continued as before. The family all stepped up to offer extra support and care for Wee. It was also time to notify the seven families that the puppies would be ready to go in another month. I arranged a puppy visitation day for those who lived close enough to make the trip.

I wasn’t ready to promise Wee to anyone just yet.

Wee progressed, consistently a week behind his littermates. His vision and his gait improved. His gut tolerated the puppy mash well. To make sure his heart was developing normally, I took him to see a cardiologist, Dr. Goodwin. Obviously charmed by his tiny little patient, no bigger than two handfuls by now, he listened with his stethoscope. The chest piece nearly took up Wee’s entire underside. Next he hooked his tiny body up to an electrocardiograph machine. I watched the colorful waves go up and down all the while listening to the whoosh, whoosh of his heartbeat. Wee was the best patient, lying quietly in the technician’s arms. I had to remind myself to breathe, or I was liable to be the doctor’s next patient. Dr. Goodwin turned off the equipment, took Wee from the technician, held him in his arms so Wee was facing him. “Well little one,” he smiled, “You have the heart of a lion.”

“His heart sounds OK?” I said, remembering now to take a breath, as I wiped tears from my eyes.

“Yes, his heart is perfect.”

Wellness exams and first vaccines were still a few weeks away. I decided that I wouldn’t torment myself with “what if’s” and would just enjoy the time I had left with the pups. By now they were keeping the family and me busy with three feedings a day, taking them outdoors to learn to do their “good puppy” business, cleaning up, and giving them lots of hugs and kisses.

Wee and his new friend.

Wee and his new friend.

Soon enough puppy visitation day arrived. Luckily it was a gorgeous day, and the families and friends came to hold, hug, and love them. A little boy who scooped up Wee and wouldn’t let him go. Wee was perfectly content with his new friend. I must say, it was a beautiful sight. I beamed with delight watching Wee with his littermates enjoying all of the attention.

In the meantime I had gotten an email from someone looking for a dog. She went on to talk about her last dog that had since passed away. She felt she was ready for another. I was immediately drawn to her compassion and thoughtfulness. My only concern was that she lived in Colorado, and I wasn’t willing to ship a puppy in cargo. We exchanged phone numbers, and I gave her a call.

“I would love a Border Collie,” Wendy told me. “I’m an endurance athlete so an active dog would suit me.” We talked for a long time. I discussed some options with Wendy and then mentioned Wee.

“He must be adorable! Would you please send me some pictures?” Wendy said.

“Sure, I’ll send pictures, but I need you to know that I have had concerns about his development.” I couldn’t guarantee he’d develop normally. We decided I’d send pictures, and we’d wait to see how he continued to develop.

The day arrived for the pups to receive their first vaccines. I packed up the whole bunch and off we went to see Dr. Jeschke. One by one he weighed, examined, and vaccinated them.
“What do you think of Wee?” I asked.

“He looks good, other than the fact that he’s smaller than his littermates. If he doesn’t continue to grow, I’d like to rule out a liver shunt. We’d need to do some bloodwork and an ultrasound.”

My fears resurfaced. “Should we do it soon?”

“Not yet,” he smiled. “He’s all right for now. Don’t over think it.”

The next twenty-four hours I watched the puppies closely for any vaccine reactions, and they all did well, even Wee!

Megan's Brea and Ace

Megan’s Brea and Ace

The following weekend all the pups would be heading out on their new adventures with their families. As always, the day arrived sooner than later. The box of tissues was ready to roll! One by one, the families arrived, scooping up their chosen bundle of joy. I’d go over all of the appropriate information and paperwork and exchange hugs and puppy kisses as they made their way out the front door. Megan chose not just the firstborn black-and-white male but also a female that so closely resembled Wyn I could barely let her go. Normally I don’t recommend that someone take two puppies, but Megan and her husband Keith were up to the task. I would also be an intricate part of helping her raise the pups. I told her, “We’ll have joint custody,” and she laughed and hugged me.

In the meantime Wendy and I continued to correspond about Wee. By this time I was more at ease with his progress. The little stinker was doing great!

“I’d really like to adopt Wee,” Wendy wrote me. “I have a trip planned to PA. I’ll make arrangements to have him fly in coach with me. What do you say—can he come home to Colorado?”

“I’d be honored,” I replied. “What a lucky pup to live with you in Colorado.” So the arrangements were made for Wee to travel to with Wendy to become her long-distance running companion in the mountains of Colorado. The littlest pup was going on the biggest adventure!

Wee, Part 2

I Wish I Had a Crystal Ball

by Terri Florentino

echosailorpups1“These pups are gorgeous! What a beautiful and balanced litter–four males and four females,” my mom, Sandy, exclaimed while scooping up Wee pup. “This little guy is a fighter.”

He was awful small. He needed extra attention, more than I could give. “I’ll need your help,” I said.

She nuzzled Wee’s tiny nose. “You know how much I love taking care of the puppies.”

“He’s a bottom feeder,” I joked. “He makes his way along Echo’s underside to find a nipple. We need to keep watch all the time to stop the others from elbowing him away from the milk bar.”

photo 2My husband, my mom, my two daughters, and I arranged our schedules so someone was always there to rotate the puppies and make sure Wee was nursing. One of my shifts was two a.m. The first few nights, I’d lie awake and worry. Two a.m. just couldn’t come soon enough. Finally I’d get out of bed, make my way to the whelping area, peer into the box, and hold my breath until my gaze found little Wee and saw him move.

photo 3-1

Wyn and Wee.

Echo’s daughter, Wyn, was a big help too. Whenever Echo left the box to eat, drink, or stretch her legs in the yard,  Wyn climbed in, lay down, and licked and nuzzled the puppies. In fact, the puppies suckled on her so much, she started lactating. This phenomenon is perfectly normal, commonly found with packs of wolves. The pregnant female will select an assistant from among the other females to help her rear the puppies. Wyn was such a good second mom, I was able to let her have Wee all to herself. Thanks to her, Wee didn’t have to struggle to nourish himself, and she seemed blissful.

wee 1Once I stopped worrying that he might not make it through the day, I began to worry about Wee’s physical development. His littermates could drag themselves along by pulling with their front legs and pushing with their back. Wee could push along with his back legs, but he could not tuck his front legs underneath to pull himself forward. When you held him up he would extend his front legs out to his sides in a “splat,” position.  He might never be structurally sound enough to walk. Several times a day I’d force him to exercise his limbs, and the more I worked with him, the more I saw he wasn’t developing normally. He was going to need constant physical therapy.

“OK, girls, let me show you a few stretching and strengthening activities I’d like you to do with Wee a couple of times a day,”  I explained to my daughters, Amy and Heather.

“Not a problem,” Amy said.

“Do you think it will help him?” Heather asked.

“I’m not sure, but we have to try,” I said, and they were eager to help.

photo 5My second immediate worry was the shape of his head. It was dome-like, indicative of hydrocephalus, a condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid doesn’t drain properly, causing an apple-shaped head. Symptoms include loss of movement and coordination, depression, vision problems, and seizures.

I wished I had a crystal ball. Was Wee going to develop normally? Or would he only need more and more from us?  Would he suffer? I began to wonder if I was being fair to my family. By now we were all emotionally invested. What if Wee didn’t make it? How would I know if euthanasia was the humane thing? How would I break the news to them? I dreaded the thought of putting my family through the pain of losing the little guy.

I decided that as long as he progressed and wasn’t in pain, I’d continue to help him to carry on.

photo 2-1Every day I watched him tussle his way through his littermates to the “milk bar.” I tried to find the balance between normal puppy interaction and frustration. I didn’t want him to develop a “Napoleon” complex. Whenever I sensed him getting overly annoyed, I intervened and either moved him right up to a nipple or allowed him nurse peacefully alone with Wyn.

Once his belly was full, however, he wasn’t content unless he was curled up with his littermates in this puppy Jenga-like arrangement. They were so charming all cozy and coiled up together.

As the days passed, he continued to grow. His development seemed to be typically a week behind his littermates. His legs became stronger, and he developed the ability to tuck his front legs underneath in order to pull himself along.

At about fourteen days, his littermates’ eyes started to open. I didn’t see Wee’s little tiny black eyes until he was closer to twenty-one days old. I was concerned that he might never have normal vision.

photo 1When the puppies are at about three to four weeks, I introduce solid food. The food is puppy kibble soaked in water, giving it an oatmeal consistency. I make sure they always have more than enough food. I never want them to have to fight for it. Once they’ve eaten their hearts’ content, the puppies look like they just had a finger painting contest all over one another. Echo would take delight in finishing the uneaten portion and licking all her puppies clean. Early on in the feeding process, Wee needed to be separated to be fed. He wasn’t  coordinated enough to hold his head up to eat and swallow effectively. He sat in our laps while we held his head in position and let him lick the kibble off of our fingers. He loved these feeding sessions and ate so enthusiastically, we almost wished this sweet task would last forever.

When the pups were three weeks, my son was graduating from Navy basic training. I asked Megan if she would take care of Echo and the puppies while my family and I were out of town.  Since Megan worked as a veterinary surgical technician, I knew she’d make sure the puppies had everything they needed. She was also taking one of the puppies, so this opportunity would give her ample quality time with them. I left her with detailed instructions on how to care for the puppies, especially Wee.

“I know you will do great,” I said. “If anything goes wrong with Wee, I trust you will do the right thing.”

“I won’t make any decision unless I speak to you first,” she said.

photo 3The next morning my family and I packed up and headed out to Chicago. As I left Megan smiling down at the puppies and stroking them, I worried about her. Yet again, there was another person emotionally invested in our adorable little runt. I felt bad leaving Wee. He was so used to all of us tending  him, our smells and sights and ways of doing things. Would this stress him? I couldn’t help but wonder if he would perish while I was out of town.

Miracle Mick

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

Mick cheated death--twice.

Mick cheated death–twice.

It was déjà vu. In July, Mick got  sleepier and sleepier and then pitched into a nightmarish tailspin that whirled with terms like “sepsis,” “hemorrhage,” and “acute collapse.” The beginning of October, it all happened again, exactly the same way, only this time we were broke. And tired.

Back in July, Mick miraculously healed. He  found an appetite and energy like he’d never known before. In October, same turnaround, only faster, more vigorous, too good to be believed. His vet started calling him “Miracle Mick.”

Mick in intensive care, July 2013

Mick in intensive care, July 2013

Back in  July, the only diagnosis we got was hypoparathyroid disorder. His ionized calcium was rock bottom, and his parathyroid hormone levels confirmed the diagnosis. However, the doctor admitted, it explained few of his chronic symptoms, the lethargy and lack of appetite.

It also didn’t explain why, just two weeks previous, his calcium levels were normal. “I’m mystified,” she said. “But if I stretch it, I can make the hypoparathyroid story work. But I know it’s not the answer.” And she sent me home carrying a  feverish, feeble, and frail puppy, a sack of liquid antibiotic , a bag of syringes, and a prayer that it wouldn’t happen again.

We kept his ionized calcium up with medication, but it  happened again anyway–the fading appetite, the lethargy, the slow descent, and then the sudden free-fall.

September 30th, there was almost nothing left of him.

September 30th, there was almost nothing left of him.

This time, however, the new vet, Dr. Specht from the University of Florida’s Small Animal Hospital would not commit to any one “story.” He uncovered more mysteries. First, in the aftermath of the October disaster, Mick’s B-12 was normal but his folate was low–that made no sense. And Mick’s white blood cell count was low before the onset of sepsis. Had it been low before the sepsis last time? The new doctor gathered all the data he could. He had student interns make charts. He had lots of story lines to follow: pancreatitis, small intestine disease, trapped neutrophil syndrome, cyclic neutropenia, pyruvate kinase deficiency, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, and more.

Then, in all his careful investigation, Dr. Specht discovered that, in a moment of crisis, the doctor on the night shift had given Mick emergency interventions, which included a B-12 shot. That would explain the discrepancy between his B-12 and folate numbers and indicated a possible diagnosis: Inherited B-12 Deficiency, or an inability to absorb B-12 through the digestive tract. It didn’t explain the white blood cell count. It also didn’t explain what happened to Mick in July. If the cause of all Mick’s problems was a B-12 malabsorption, why did he bounce back in July? There’s no record of him being given a B-12 shot then. “But it might have caused the low parathyroid numbers,” he said. “Maybe Mick doesn’t have hypoparathyroid after all.”

We started to train again. Mick loves showing off!

We started to train again. Mick loves trying new things–and showing off!

Dr. Specht ordered a month-long series of blood tests to watch how his B-12 and white blood cell levels fluctuated. In the first week, his B-12 plummeted. Bingo. Mick can’t absorb B-12 from his food. He’ll need B-12 shots the rest of his life. To my relief, his white blood cells held steady–so far. Right before my eyes, Mick got bigger and stronger. I began to relax.

Mick was a new dog. In two weeks he went from 24 to 32 pounds. Even his bones seemed to grow. Although he was a year old, his testicles  had stayed as tiny as spring peas, and his vet said we might as well leave them; “He needs all the help he can get.” Now, suddenly even those bulked up. His shoulders and hips muscled out. Best of all, though, I love watching him run.

Audrey couldn't believe her good fortune--the dog was gone again!

Audrey couldn’t believe her good fortune–the dog was gone again!

I used to take him outside and throw toys for him, only to have him retrieve once or twice, stumble, and lie down. Now he didn’t wait for a toss, but ran great circles around the yard for the sheer joy of running. He galloped through the house, from one bedroom to another, making figure eights on and off the beds. He’s fanatical in his observations of the cat’s traffic patterns. As if he’d rigged her with a GPS, he knows exactly when she’s moving toward a sink, from her litter box, or out the back door. How much of him was muted all year! His joy, his appetite, his fulfillment–how fragile we all are!

Mick makes friends everywhere--but now he's not always gentle.

Mick makes friends everywhere–but now he’s got to learn to  hold back.

We have new problems now. Mick’s a year-old dog making a six-month-old’s discoveries. His  speed, strength, and agility are like cool, new Christmas presents. He caroms off the couch glancing at me as if to say, “Look, Mom! Check this out!” When he hears the cat leap into the bathroom sink, he roars in and hits the vanity with the force of a ram. And worst of all, my gentle boy, the one the vet told me would “make a great service dog,” is gentle no more. With new oomph in his rump, he rockets up and knocks people’s noses. He claws their arms. Where once he rolled onto his back and wriggled for small children, he now nips their heels and tugs their tee shirts. These are  training challenges I fully expected to have with a young Border Collie. He’s not my first. But Alby, Mick, and I had spent a year living with Sick Mick. Mighty Mick has swooped in and changed all the rules.

Mick's starting to question his standing in the world.

Mick’s starting to question his status in the neighborhood. Does he really have to listen to this kid?

We’re still in the midst of the month-long series of blood tests. Once a week Mick is getting a B-12 shot and a count of his white blood cells. Meanwhile, he not only eats all his Science i/d, he goes back to lick the bowl. It’s a basic dog behavior that I’ve never appreciated so much before–all those months of wringing my hands and offering food after food while he wasted away! No, I’m more than happy to step up training to accommodate a bigger, stronger, more assertive dog–the dog I always knew Mick could be.

The more I read about the causes of B-12 deficiencies, the more confused I get. A simple B-12 malabsorption problem can’t explain everything. Is this really what almost killed him twice? If so, why did he come back in July without the shot? Should I be afraid there’s more wrong with Mick? Why doesn’t he show permanent neurological damage?

The fact is, we might never know the answer. Bottom line is he is improving, day by day. It’s been a long year for us, and it’s not over yet. Maybe I’m getting close to a “crash” of my own–I still haven’t let myself work through how harrowing those two crises were, perhaps because the blood work’s still out.

Meanwhile I wonder, as I do in times like these, why a dog matters so much to some of us, and not to others. Wouldn’t be easier, and cheaper, to care less? How do you harden your heart? And what do you lose if you do?

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Wee, Part 1

Wee’s First Hours

by Terri Florentino

“I think she’s having another puppy!”

“Another?!” My friend Megan had been helping me to whelp the litter the entire night. It had been two hours since Echo delivered her seventh and last puppy–suddenly she was bearing down and  licking again.

EchoSailorPI moved the other seven puppies to the far end of the box out of her way. While I assisted Echo, Megan got the hemostats, washcloth, bulb syringe, and scissors ready for yet another go. As we watched, Echo delivered what looked to be nothing more than a placenta.

“No puppy,” I said. As my hand closed around the mass, I felt something inside the size of a mouse. “Megan, hand me a wash cloth and a bulb syringe! I think there’s puppy in here!” I removed a section of the sac away, and there was the smallest black and white face I’d ever seen. Megan and I shared a look of amazement and fear. Afraid the puppy wasn’t breathing, I placed a bulb syringe in its mouth to clear away any mucus and wiped its teensy nose. Once Echo had separated the puppy from the umbilical cord, I massaged him in a towel.

“Is he breathing?” Megan asked.

I opened the towel to look. I had never seen such a tiny Border Collie. He was half the size of his littermates. “He’s gasping—hand me the bulb syringe. I want to clear his mouth and nose again.” I gently massaged him with the towel and waited for a little cry.

wee 2By now Echo was nudging my hand, demanding her puppy like the good mother she was. I set him in the box between her front legs. She rolled him from side to side, washing him from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. She didn’t seem concerned about his size; she was as diligent with him as she was with his littermates. Surely she would have sensed if he was disastrously abnormal.

“His color looks good,” Megan said. We were both looking for whatever reassurance we could find. “He’s breathing  steady, right?”

“True,” I sighed, and sat back. “But I’d hoped to hear a little squeal out of him by now.”

echosailorpups1Once the pup was sufficiently washed, I leaned over the whelping box and moved him into position to nurse. Much to my delight, the little guy latched on and eagerly suckled. We began to relax, and fatigue set in.

“Let’s weigh them. After we’re done I’ll go wash Echo if you’ll freshen up the whelping box and put down the fleece.”

“You bet,” Megan said. All seven puppies weighed either fifteen or sixteen ounces. The wee one was eight. Megan recorded their weights. “He is literally half their size!” she said.

“C’mon Echo, let’s go for a walk,” I said. Echo jumped out of the box and ran out the door. Once back inside, I placed her in the bathtub for a quick rinse. Wyn, who is a daughter of Echo’s from a previous breeding, took over licking and fussing after the puppies while Megan was busy wiping down the whelping box and lining it with a large piece of soft, warm fleece. Echo never minded Wyn caring for the pups in her absence.

After Echo was dried and clean we returned to the puppies. Echo immediately jumped into the box and gingerly lay down with all of her puppies. The puppies were squirming and squeaking while making their way to the “breakfast bar.” I placed little wee puppy at the nipple closest to him and helped him latch on. Once latched, he eagerly nursed. Megan and I watched in dismay as the stronger puppies pushed him away from the “milk bar” as if he was nothing. It was going to take a lot of management to keep this puppy going. I wasn’t going to be able to do this alone. It’ll take a village, I thought.

wee 1My mind went a million different directions all at once; I’d never had a runt. I feared the little guy wouldn’t make it through the night. I tried to prepare myself for worst, but except for his size, he was vigorous. He was determined to survive. If the little guy was giving it his all, I would give him mine.