Tag Archives: herding dogs

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.


Happy Halloween from Ace and Brea!


Mysterious Mick


Mick wasting away in the hospital. Again.

September 28th, which was the second time Mick nearly died, I nearly let him go.

Three days off the IV later, he was bounding around the house. That had me spooked. More and more specialists were working on his case, but we still had no idea what was trying to kill Mick. I was overjoyed he’d escaped death again, even if my knees were still knocking.

Then, as soon as he was strong enough, I took him two-and-a-half hours north to the University of Gainesville veterinary hospital, where Dr. Specht told me to turn around and drive back home. Mick’s illness was too mind-boggling. Dr. Specht needed days to go over all his files and test results. That was a Wednesday. Dr. Specht was supposed to call me Friday with a hypothesis and a plan. He called—but only to ask for still more time. “As long as he’s doing okay, I’d like to take the weekend to keep investigating.” Mick wasn’t just doing okay, he was thriving like never before. I said okay.

Just four days after he was released from the hospital. I was astonished.

Just four days after he was released from the hospital. I was astonished.

Monday Dr. Specht called and talked for an hour. He said Mick was complicated, and probably more than one disease was at work on him. The primary suspect was cobalamin (B-12) deficiency, but he might also have Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome and Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity. If not those, then Coombs’ Disease, homocystemia, pyruvate kinase deficiency, lymphangiectasia, inflammatory bowel disease, a motility disorder, or a malabsorptive disorder. “It’s also not impossible that bone marrow cancer might be crawling around in there, so we can do a biopsy.”

“You lost me at lymphangiectasia,” I said. “I’m not sure we have this kind of staying power.”

“Let’s start conservatively,” he said. We ordered a few basic tests through our local vet and arranged for the results to go to UF. We waited.

Mick's starting to get the hang of his skateboard!

Mick’s starting to get the hang of his skateboard!

The results are in, but we’re still waiting for Dr. Specht’s analysis and recommendations. Mick’s cobalamin was low, which is good news—one kind of B 12 deficiency explains many of Mick’s mysteriously menacing ailments, and it’s easy to treat. But what’s causing the deficiency? Does he have other disorders? How low do we let his B 12 go?

Meanwhile, there’s nothing deficient about Mick. For the first time in his life, he’s a full-blown Border Collie. He’s rocketing around the house, yapping at the door, barreling after the cat, trying to boss us around. Most astonishing: he cleans his bowl, morning and night. He’s grown so fast so suddenly, he’s almost caught up to his brother Sweep, something I gave up hoping for.

Food made us both so sad. It broke my heart I couldn't feed my puppy.

Food made us both so sad. It broke my heart I couldn’t feed my puppy.

It used to be he’d eat a whole bowl, then half, then none, and lie down despondent. We used to pace the aisles at Dog Lover’s searching for a dwindling numbers of foods he hadn’t yet tried. Right before his last near-death crisis, we realized we’d run out, and what was the point anyway? By then I knew, it wasn’t the food, it wasn’t his care, it was his body, and I thought no one could help us.

Something I thought I'd never see!

Something I thought I’d never see!

But now, Mick eats and heartily. He jumps and barks and roos while I open the can of Hill’s prescription i/d. I even saw the dog who refused all kibble steal a piece from the cat.

One day a week or so ago I thought he might have eaten an ibuprofen he found in the bottom of my daughter’s closet. I hardly had the energy to race him back to the vet, yet again, but I did. All he needed on top of everything else was a little poisoning and kidney failure. The assistant told me no ibuprofen was found in his stomach, but he really surprised her. “Mick is a new dog! He’s clattering around his cage and barking for attention—especially when we pay attention to another dog. And you won’t believe it. Dogs hate activated charcoal so we usually have to force it, but he ate it!”

Mick was a new dog. He'd try to drag Alby out of his home office to play.

Mick is a new dog. Here he’s (successfully) pestering Alby to leave the home office to play.

Mick was a new dog. Was he going to be as sweet? Was he going to be as eager to please? Was he still going to be the charming darling that everybody loves? Also, Mick has been “cool” in the old-school, Sean Connery as 007 sort of way, always fearless, always amused, always a twinkle in the eye for the ladies. Nothing rattled him. Would he still be my delightful go-anywhere, do-anything, gal-winning pal?

We lived in the now.

We lived in the now.

I’d grown afraid to train him or take him anywhere. “I don’t want him to catch any germs,” I said. “I don’t want to wear him out.” But he had more energy than ever. The truth was I was afraid to risk loving him again. I avoided training and socializing, anything that suggested Mick had a future that could be taken from us. If I invested any more in him, it would just hurt all the more if I lost him.

Gradually I restarted our training. “He’s ready,” I said, but really I was starting to feel safe. We dusted off his old tricks, revisited our basic manners, and finally tackled our skateboard lessons again. By the time Intro to Agility started Mick was in orbit.

Mick watches his classmates during his first Intro to Agility class.

Mick watches his classmates during his first Intro to Agility class.

But the first round of blood test results have been in for a week. I’ve called and left messages. Today the front desk said Dr. Specht emailed me, but we’ve exchanged emails before. I haven’t gotten an email. They said he’d try again by 5:00 today, but still no email, and here comes the weekend.

I think it’s okay, though. Mick is doing great. He’s ready for his walk now, and it’s a beautiful evening in Florida. Have a great weekend, everyone! Mick says, “Roo!”

"Paws up!" Time for a walk!

“Paws up!” Time for a walk!

Keeping Mick

Mick is always ready for anything.

Mick is ready for anything.

Terri and I want to apologize and thank you for your patience. Our work here has come to a halt since Mick, of “Finding Mick,” suffered his second mysterious and potentially fatal health crisis. I’ve been distracted, distraught, and exhausted. Terri, with the help of her friend and colleague Megan Biduk-Lashinski, has been researching and networking, doing her part to save him.


The Ash Wednesday Dog

Born with the mark of a cross on his forehead, Mick is the inspiration for the “Inquisitor” in our name and the model for many of our posters and promos.

In September he turned one year old. He was the runt of his litter, but I didn’t choose him because he was small and frail. Quite the opposite–he was small, yet anything but frail. I wanted a courageous, independent, outgoing canine partner, a dog who could meet the world with a frank and friendly attitude. Mick has been that dog.


Mick likes to help me with my chores.

I expected Mick to be hard-headed. I was braced for a disciplinary challenge, but he turned out to be eager to please me always.  He’s been at my side wherever pet laws allow, and then some. He’s completed puppy class and beginning obedience and is slated for introduction to agility. I teach in a public school, where Mick instantly became a beloved mascot. He frequents local businesses and restaurants. Around town, people are starting to recognize him, “Oh, that’s the famous Mick!”

His failure to thrive began early. We’ve spent a lot of time in local pet food shops, where his charm inspired employees to try to find a food to please and nourish him. Like many of his breed, he’s spooky-smart, but he’s also sublimely sweet, unflappable, and ready for anything.

His last trainer said, “I’ve seen a lot of awesome dogs. Mick is a super-awesome dog.”

Mick with his Uncle Pike.

Mick tries to keep up with his Uncle Pike.

DSC06785This past July Mick spent eight days in intensive care. Last week, he again required round-the-clock care, this time for four days. As in July, doctors have run every test they can think of to figure out what’s trying to kill our Mick. Again and again, test results come back normal–or if they’re abnormal, they’re mystifying. It’s now clear that Mick is fighting a rare and deadly disease. He’s been recovering quickly from his latest “crash,” but we’re still waiting for a diagnosis and praying for a cure.

P1030446While we await the latest test results, Mick is back at home and gaining strength. Terri and I began work on a new series of “Dusty” stories for you. We’ll keep you posted about Mick’s outcome.

It was a long journey finding Mick. It’s been a long year trying to keep him. I feel certain we’re close to a diagnosis and a cure. He loves and is loved by way too many people–nobody’s losing Mick!

Finding Mick, Part 7

You and Me, Casey

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

Casey's not going anywhere.


After moving my only immediate family member out of my house, I drove the forty-five minutes home thinking about everything other than the fact that I’d just cut my heart out and stored it in a cement-block dorm room. When I got home, I took Casey outside to play Frisbee, just as we did every day. Delaney might as well have been over at a friend’s house for the afternoon. I sat on the grass, and Casey dropped her Frisbee near my feet and whined until I threw it. When I did, rather that rocket after it the way she used to, she watched it sail and skid onto the grass, then whined at me. We weren’t the creatures we once were, she and I. “I can’t reach it,” I said, and she fetched it. I threw the Frisbee and Casey panted to and fro, stopping occasionally to drink out of my water glass, which made it her water glass.

Against the horizon in my mind, the sails of dark thoughts approached: my mother, my stepfather John, my father. Casey was in her final years, but for me, there were more to come. . . . I decided I had stuff to do. I got up, and we went into the kitchen, but when we got there, it turned out I had nothing to do in there.

So I took the stairs two at a time, Casey behind because she wasn’t fast enough anymore to head me off the way Border Collies do. When I burst into my bedroom, I stopped short, and Casey bumped into me. I had nothing to do in my bedroom either.

I veered toward the rubble in Delaney’s bedroom, but at the sight of my only child’s ransacked room, a howl rose in my throat. Casey knocked into me, and I closed the door before I made a noise.

Casey and I swerved and trotted down to the kitchen. I had people to call—my mother and my friend Nina, or maybe someone in the tribe, or maybe Fred or Dan or Vito, three men whom I kept as friends as long as we never discussed falling into love or falling into bed. But when I sat on the kitchen stool and picked up the phone, I was wrong about that, too. I put the phone back on its charger.

I'm here! I'm here!

I’m here! I’m here!

Casey suggested we try the living room and led me in there, but I couldn’t think of anything to do there, either.  She looked at me sideways, her jaws parted slightly in a leering pant. Her body seemed padded and ponderous as she stepped toward her orthopedic dog pillow, glancing back at me over her shoulder to see what I thought of her suggestion that we maybe lie down on it together for a while?

We tried that. I stroked her shoulders and face, and she put one paw on my chest and pushed until her elbow locked, keeping me at arm’s length. She’d always done that, as if she liked being close, but not too close. We lay there for several ticking minutes. Her eyes closed. Her locked leg vibrated. The air conditioning shut off. The refrigerator shut off. On nearby I-19, the traffic amplified its stage whisper, giving its incessant soliloquy that this was the most densely populated county in Florida, with an average of thirty-three hundred people per square mile and three-hundred-and-eighty thousand cars on the road, an average of fifty-two highway deaths a year on this stretch, far, far from woodland and farmland and sheep, under a sky scribbled with wires and littered with billboards. My stomach growled. I asked Casey, “Want dinner?”

Casey was stone deaf, but we understood each other. We both got up.

I bounded to the kitchen, and, laboriously, she followed. It was time for dinner, time to scoop some dog food, haul open the fridge, and start cooking, as I’d done nearly every day since I’d gotten my own kitchen twenty-four years before—but I was wrong again. Once I’d poured kibbled into Casey’s bowl, there wasn’t anyone else to feed.

Casey inhaled her kibble like a Shop-Vac. The cat slithered seductively against the kitchen faucet. I opened a drizzle for her. A stillness settled in my brain.

Casey tiptoed up behind me, panted, and burped.

I went down on my knees and wept. With her paws, Casey pried my hands away from my face to bump me with her nose and lick me, and I rolled away and keened. I had loved every second of my days and nights as Delaney’s mom. I had loved her and loved the woman I was in her company. Frightened, Casey came around and shoved her nose between my hands and face, and I got up. I rinsed my face in the sink, then went down again. If I couldn’t be Delaney’s mom anymore, I didn’t want to be anyone else.

I cried until a headache shut me up. I ate a bowl of cereal so I could keep an aspirin down and went to bed. About three in the morning, I woke and remembered. Delaney’s room was located exactly where it always had been, across the hall, behind a closed door, but now it gaped in the dark like the maw of a mausoleum. I slid off the bed to cry on Casey. We huddled on the floor, clinging to each other, the lone survivors.

Audrey the Afterthought Cat

Audrey the Afterthought Cat

And somewhere in the house, there crept an afterthought, a cat.

Day after day, night after night went on like this. Casey had always slept near the foot of my bed, which meant that I had spent fourteen years making a Border-Collie-sized birth around the foot. In the middle of these post-apocalyptic empty-nest nights, I had to get out of bed and crawl on the floor if I wanted to sob into her coat. I had never before made such use of my dog, but it became a midnight ritual. Like other physiological acts that involved uncontrolled bodily sounds and fluids, unhinged grief was best performed behind a locked door, with access to toilet paper and running water.

The dog was wet for two months.

Good News, Everyone!

Giddy goofy!Mick and the rest of us at BCI

wish you a happy weekend!

Finding Mick, Part 6

Try Me,

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

"He just wanted some rest."

“He just wanted some rest.”

After we dressed John in new pajamas, (“He just wanted some rest,” my mother had said), we sat on the patio, my mother on the swing, I in a chair across from her, each balancing a sourdough baguette, cheese, and tapenade sandwich on a plate. We ate like the damned, tearing the bread with our eyeteeth.

We had swallowed the last, thick bites when we heard the thump, jingle, and rattle of firemen rolling the stretcher down the front hall, and then, a duller sound, the firemen rolling the stretcher, more slowly, out.

You miss your dogs more than you do your husband.

“You miss your dogs more than you do your husband.”

For about a week after John’s death, I stayed to help with the kind of paperwork that requires other papers you don’t have. We got none of it done. I did what I could: I wrote the obituary. I opened an account online for John’s mourners to leave digital notes on a virtual grave. Mostly, I kept my mother company in person, my daughter company through Skype, and endured more time without the company of my dog. Being dogless is a hardship I don’t understand, but I suffered it from the time I was a toddler until I got my first dog at eleven years old. When I was married and my daughter and I flew to California without my husband, my mother used to tease me, “You miss your dogs more than you do your husband.”

Then came the day when my mother heard the thump, jingle, and rattle of me rolling my suitcase down her front hall. We heaved my suitcase into the trunk and headed for the airport shuttle depot. My mother gunned the engine to merge into traffic on Interstate Route 1. “Humans aren’t made to live alone,” she said. “I’ve never lived alone.”

“No way.” My mind flickered with views of every place I ever lived alone, from my graduate-school apartment to summers in every home I ever shared with Delaney—she’d abandon me for six weeks with her father. After she left, I’d spend a few days crying with Casey on the couch, then get up and love my life. I’d learned I could live alone anywhere, anytime. Try me.

The turn indicator clicked, and my mother piloted the car into a narrow gap in traffic. I gasped as the hood of her car eclipsed the license plate of the car in front of us. I put my foot on the imaginary brake on the passenger floorboard. “Mom. Slow down.”

Not made to live alone.

“I’ll be back next summer, me and my entourage.”

“I lived with my parents, then my roommates, then I married your father.”

“How about we slow down so we can see that car’s license plate?”

“When he left, I had you kids, then John. I’ve always lived with someone. My whole life.”

Until today. It dawned on me, when I left, she’d be alone for the first time in her life. “You have Ginger.”

“She’s John’s cat.”

I said, “If we survive this drive, I’ll be back next summer, me and my entourage.”

“Laura says I tailgate.”

“That whole multi-car pile-up thing? You’re how it happens.”

“Laura texts and drives.”

“You’re what? Seventy-one? The world is supposed to be tailgating you. Could you please just tap the brake, like three times?”

When I landed in Florida, Delaney and I had three days of her childhood left. I ferried her to Home Depot and Publix and Target and Borders and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We ate at all our places: Eddie and Sam’s New York Pizza and Sea-Sea

No room for Casey.

No room for Casey.

Rider’s and Tum Rub Thai and Gino’s. We went to Tampa Theatre and the Clearwater Cinema Café. We took Casey to the dog beach at Honeymoon Island. We found my heirloom steamer trunk and packed it with a desk lamp and a purple tool kit and a box of thumbtacks and Scotch tape and tampons, and lastly we tucked in a rolled-up Donnie Darko poster and the plush George the Curious Monkey doll that I bought for her when she was nine months old. When I heard there was a kitchen in the dorm, I hand-copied recipes for Delaney’s favorite ragout and vegan cupcakes and curry and Penne Franco. Delaney got mad at me when I fell asleep during our Kill Bill marathon. On campus move-in day, I took a picture of the loaded car with Delaney and Casey beside it. We were sad there was no room for Casey , but we were running late for the prescribed move-in hour, which made me anxious as we stood in line for the dorm key and then had to go to billing to clear up a mistake and then back in line for the key. When we finally got into the dorm room, Delaney’s roommate hadn’t yet arrived. I helped her rearrange the furniture and make her bed.

DSC02322I was just hanging her second Audrey Hepburn poster when she said, “Mom!”

“What?” When I saw her face had gone still, I froze.

“Thanks,” my daughter said.

She hugged me, and the strangest thing happened: my mom-life flashed before my eyes, or rather, it howled through me. Again she opened her eyes wide as the obstetrician clipped the umbilicus and convulsed as if she felt it. Delaney sat at her child-sized table and played with her Playmobil. Delaney swung her little fist at the dogs when they eyed her pizza. She waved good-bye when I left her at saxophone lessons, at horseback riding lessons, at math tutorials, at the airport gangway to board a plane to visit her father alone. Sunny Florida afternoons she sat with me on the lawn and debriefed me on her school day while I threw the Frisbee for Casey. Again Delaney and I laughed ourselves blue the time I pretended to aim  the car for a squirrel and horrified two mommies walking their children—I had to pull over down the block, out of sight—only the two of us knew why it was so funny. Again Delaney and I sniggered in the grocery store aisle because I was so impatient behind a slow old man that I mocked his gait outrageously enough to make John Cleese proud. Delaney and I bundled under a blanket in the dark to watch Ghost World. Delaney and I ate ice cream topped with chopped “Famous Anus” cookies and watched “Absolutely Fabulous” marathons. Again Delaney burst into my room in the middle of the night after a bad dream. Delaney strolled into my bedroom while I got dressed and said, “Wow, I’ve never met anyone so determined to look like a goober.” Again Delaney and I rode to school together every morning and home together every afternoon day after day, year after year, in city after city after city after city. Delaney and her girlfriends quipped downstairs in our living room while I crouched upstairs grateful that my home was filled with such rambunctiously sarcastic young women.

I loosened my grip and pulled away. Our curls tangled together, just for a moment, then slid free with soft, separate, bounces. “Okay,” I said. “That’s it, then?”

"Bye, Mom."

“Bye, Mom.”