Monday, March 22, 2010

Sammy's Story

I'd like to share an e-mail I received from a reader. Chris is on a mission to educate dog owners about the disease that took his precious Yorkie, Sammy. Chris lost Sammy to Canine Cognitive Disorder and is telling Sammy's story in order to give other dog owners insight into this terrible disease.

When Sammy had just turned 13 years old and one month, he developed pancreatitis due to the steroids he had been taking for his skin allergies. Having almost lost him that day, I was so grateful to bring him home and hug him all over again. Little did I know there was a worse disease lurking to steal my precious boy.

After his hospitalization from pancreatitis, the first thing I noticed is that he stopped drinking water. I tried every which way for him to drink, but he wouldn't. Odd. I thought, could it be that something happened to him with the pancreatitis? Whatever it was, I got creative and developed all kinds of "puppy soup" to ensure he was hydrated. I thought nothing of it and continued his puppy soup regimen.

Time progressed. The first time Sammy wound up behind an antique desk in my living room and stood there crying to get out, I thought "You silly goose, you got in there you know how to get out". But he didn't get out. I helped him out of this corner in which he was stuck and thought nothing of it. Neither did I think anything of the occasional restless nights where he would suddenly just cry and not be comforted. Sometimes he would just sit and stare. Did I think twice about it? Not really. Sammy was never known to do anything ordinary.

As I took my beloved 14 year old Yorkie for walks, something he loved more than anything else in the world, I thought "Oh his eyesight is going due to his age" when he would try to climb the steps to other houses, or maybe it's the dark so he can't tell which house is his. It wasn't until he fainted one day trying so hard to get home from this torturous thing called a walk that I started looking into what could be going on. The first thing we did was go to the heart doctor. No congestive heart failure. In fact, he was looking pretty good and his heart murmur was only a grade 2. What could be going on I thought as I took him to the vet and all his tests were normal. Nothing physically wrong at all.

One night, on a hunch, I typed in "Doggie Alzheimer’s" into and there it was. This awful disease that was slowly stealing my boy. It's called Canine Cognitive Disorder. As I read the signs and symptoms "restless at night, unexplained barking, getting stuck in unusual places, loss of appetite, loss of housetraining (Sam as is typical for a Yorkie, always had trouble with housetraining so I didn't notice this to be a worry), and unexplained trembling" my heart began to sink. My boy clearly had this horrible disease. There was some hope though; there was a medication for this thing. Anipryl. I went to my vet and she started him right on it. Barring this medication, there weren't too many alternative treatments. Within days I saw an improvement in the restlessness at night and the getting stuck. Some things were clearly better, others not, but he didn't progress into being worse. I believe the medication gave me another two years with my boy. Sammy made it through some other hurdles and he saw his 15th birthday on June 14, 2009. His decline had begun early in the year but leveled off until the summer. By the time August came around he was getting stuck almost every time you turned around. He was housebound because it was the only place he felt safe. It was the day I saw him chewing wires that I knew he needed to rest. On 8/29/09 surrounded by myself and his three favorite Aunties my vet came to my house and while I held him and sang him to sleep he went to the rainbow bridge.

I know this is hard to read about. I know your beloved pet growing old is scary. I also know the thought of adopting an older dog with the endless possibilities is a frightening thought. However I don't write this to scare people away. We all know that dogs live far too short of a life. I write this to honor my boy and his struggle to educate people on this awful disease. Sammy was fairly advanced when I brought him to the vet and got the medication for him. Nonetheless it gave me two more years with him. It is vital that people be aware of this disease and catch it early. There are other interventions to use as well now, natural remedies, food (Hill's KD for cognitive health), as well as various supplements. If you suspect your dog has CCD by reading this article, talk to your vet. Also, the best place to get support and advice is from the yahoo group It was there I took a great deal of comfort from others who understood. There was advice, suggestions, ideas, and most importantly someone who completely understood. Lots of someones. I wouldn't have gotten through that journey with Sammy had it not been for my friends and for this group.

Not all dogs get CCD. It's just like Alzheimer’s. Some people get it some don't. So please don't be discouraged from adopting that older dog or live in fear about your dog getting Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Just make sure to educate yourself and be prepared so that you and your best friend can survive whatever comes your way.

Thanks for reading about Sammy's story.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gentle Dog Training

After the loss of a pet, eventually most pet owners will consider adding a new pet to their family. This can lead to a time of stress and transition for both the owners and the new pet.

When we adopt a dog and bring it into our home, we do the best we can to prepare for their arrival, but sometimes we still have questions and we wish there was someone who knew about dogs to answer those questions. Ken and Lisa Beachtold of Gentle Dog Training, agreed to answer questions about bringing a rescue dog home.

Mike and I first met Ken when we were looking for an obedience class to take with Molly. It was his training philosophy and how he treated his clients, both human and canine, that made us sign-up for his Level I Obedience class.

Ken started training dogs with his mother when he was nine-years-old and he’s been training dogs for over 50 years. Lisa started training dogs 10 years ago after she got a Golden Retriever puppy.

Ken and Lisa told me they were both taught to train dogs using choke chains and prong collars and to use a lot of force to get the dogs to comply, and also that when dogs are trained this way there is very little trust in the relationship. Ken and Lisa found that by using more positive styles of training, dogs actually learned faster and complied better. They were dependable off leash and in varying environments. Ken and Lisa prefer to depend on quality leadership which helps the owner be the leader in the dog’s mind as opposed to forcing the dog to mind.

FFF: Sometimes when you’re adopting a dog from a shelter, rescue group or pound very little is know about the dog. What can a dog’s body language tell you about him/her?

GDT: Reading [dogs’] body language only tells you what [they] might be experiencing at that one moment in time. They may be very stressed in their current location and act very differently at home. They may appear shy and nervous at the shelter and then be bold and adventurous or dominant in a home. You many want to view a dog several times before making a selection.

FFF: How important is the first day? What can owners do to set their newly adopted dog up for success?

GDT: Provide quality leadership, set yourself up to win with proper equipment, leave your sympathy out with the trash because the dog has already been rescued so STOP feeling sorry for it. Let the dog know they are so darn lucky that they are now in the best quality home they could have ever been placed in and all will be great from now on! Use your body language to show confidence and energy to demonstrate you are a quality leader and the dog can follow you.

FFF: I’ve read that when you bring an adopted dog home the first 30 days are the most important. During this time you’re developing and re-enforcing the dog’s behaviors. Is this true, or does it take even less time to develop behaviors – good or bad?

GDT: Although the first 30 days are extremely vital, every day is the most important day. Dogs are intelligent animals and are learning 24/7. They are learning that they are in charge or you are in charge. When Lisa and I enter a home, most dogs realize that we are in charge within minutes and we out rank them in their own homes without saying a word to them. We depend a lot upon energy and body language like they would in a true canine world.

FFF: When someone adopts a dog from a shelter, pound or rescue group, the dog is unwanted and issues may arise during the first few weeks. What can an owner do to help the dog transition into its new home?

GDT: First and foremost - the new owner should provide the new dog with loving leadership. Follow canine protocols and let the dog know that he is a team member and you are the team captain.

Second - the owner should place all his sympathy in a large trash bag and leave it out with the trash. The dog has been rescued and can look forward to a quality leader and a great home.

Third - owners should set themselves up to win. Owners should have the equipment they need on hand and know how to use them in a gentle, confident and calm manner. Equipment such as: gates, kennels, leashes, head collars and knowledge.

FFF: If your adopted dog is shy, needy or clingy, what can you do to help it gain confidence?

GDT: Be a very confident leader yourself. If you are a new basket case owner, your dog is sure to become one his or herself. You must let the dog know you are in charge and EVERYTHING is under control. Make sure you demonstrate quality leadership by being a benevolent boss.

FFF: What does it mean to be the alpha or top dog and why is it important that you, and not your dog, are the alpha? What are the top three things you can do to show your new dog that you are the alpha?

GDT: To be the leader means that you are responsible for the welfare of the team. So the alpha needs to find food and resources. The alpha is the decision maker and decides what will be done and when it will be done.

First – Control the resources such as food, furniture, toys and space.

Second – We believe in a quality leadership walk, with our method of training we teach the dog to keep track of whoever is taking them for a walk and to keep a slack or loose leash. With our methods all of this can be done very quickly and effectively.

Third – We believe in taking charge of every situation. The dog does not get to control your space, i.e. jumping on your guests or other family members. And much, much more.

FFF: When I think about the first dog my husband and I had, I can attribute every one of his bad behaviors back to us. Who’s the real problem, the dog or the owner?

GDT: In general, a dog already knows how to be a dog in a dog environment. We need to learn how to speak dog language so the dog can learn quickly what is expected of him or her. We do believe that most things can be accomplished again with quality leadership. So to answer your question, the problem lies with the owner, not the dog.

FFF: How important is consistency in dog training, both in the way you train them and when you train them? Does having a routine help?

GDT: Consistency is extremely important. In the wild a dog has only about a 10% kill ratio but he constantly keeps trying. So if you even let a dog get away with bad behavior even 10% of the time, he will try 100% of the time. So ALWAYS be consistent.

FFF: How important is timing when you’re re-enforcing good behavior or trying to correct unacceptable behavior?

GDT: Timing is very important when it comes to behavior modification or basic training.

FFF: If you start to feel frustrated while training your dog, what should you do?

GDT: Stop the training session and proceed when you are in a better frame of mind to where you can change your energy level.

FFF: If you find yourself in a situation where you need the help of a trainer, what should you do?
GDT: You should always feel comfortable with any trainer you choose to work with. Ask questions, get references and challenge ideas. Know what the trainers’ philosophy is and see how close it matches your own. The trainer should be your coach so that you can bring the best out of your dog. Make sure you select a trainer with real experience—someone who has numerous approaches to training.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Still Waters

Emotions like still waters run deep. Still waters can be deceiving because on the surface everything looks smooth and calm, but underneath a torrent of currents are flowing. Emotions are much the same way. On the surface we look calm, we look under control and maybe we are - most of the time.

This past weekend Mike and I stopped by Petsmart to look around. When we walked by the glassed-in training room we saw a chubby, happy, beautiful Boston Terrier. Her resemblance to Molly was unnerving. At first it made me smile and I enjoyed watching her play and do her tricks but as Mike and I walked away I could feel the currents of my emotions rolling up and down, up and down. By the time we reached the back of the store I was tears. No longer calm and collected.

I know now I will always miss my Molly.

The reason for our trip to Petsmart wasn't just to look around. We were seriously considering adopting a Hound Mix and we wanted to look at dog beds. Standing in the back of the store after seeing the Molly look-a-like I felt like I was standing at zero hour and I had a decision to make. Pack my memories of Molly and take them with me into the future or keep my memories on display like an art gallery and take a seat at the bench and stay and watch them over and over like my favorite old movie.

I'm at 00:00 and I can feel time pulling me in separate directions. On one side is the future and Father Time whispering to me. They're telling me how wonderful the future will be: a new love and new adventures. Bring my memories but embrace a new life. If I would just turn and look towards the future I could see how wonderful it will be.

As I start to move forward I feel the hands of time grab my hand and pull me gently to the past. Stay they beckon. Stay in a place where everything was perfect. Life was bliss. Happiness was all around.

I have a decision to make, I can fall back into the past and relive life as it happened or I can spring forward into a new time and place. I don't have to pick one over the other. I can move into the future and still remember the past, but in order to remember the past I have to stop living in it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Closure. One of the definitions of closure listed on is: Psychology. A sense of psychological certainty or completeness: a need for closure. I'm realizing that definitions in dictionaries are just a bunch of words describing one word. Dictionaries can't describe a pet owner's need for closure or how important closure is for a pet owner or what closure means to an owner who has just lost a pet. And, the dictionary can't help an owner find closure.

During my interview with pet loss and bereavement counselor Teresa Freeman I asked her about finding closure after death. I also asked her for a list of suggestions to help pet owners move through their grief.

FFF: What advice do you have for someone who’s trying to find closure after a pet’s death?

Teresa Freeman: Our culture doesn’t do a very good job of providing rituals for pet loss. The rituals which surround death have evolved in part to allow for an emotional safety net as we experience grief but because society doesn’t really acknowledge the loss of a pet the same way, sometimes we have to create it and be more intentional about it. Also know that it won’t naturally be provided and not to have unrealistic expectations in this area.

Another topic that frequently comes up is how to remember the pet to complete closure for the loss. There are many ways to go about achieving this. Much of it depends on the individual and what feels right. Sometimes memorials are helpful, volunteering or making scrapbooks work for many. The important thing is to find something that fits your life and personality and create something long-lasting that honors your lost pet.

FFF: What suggestions can you give to help a pet owner move through their grief?

Teresa Freeman: Let your feelings out! If you suppress your feelings, it will only delay the healing process.

Write a letter from your pet to yourself and keep this as a permanent memory.

Dedicate something in your pet’s name and memory.

Make a donation in your pet’s memory.

Make a list of all the loving memories you have of your pet and share this list with family members.

Make an audio recording of yourself reading these memories and saying whatever emotions you feel.

Listen to this recording during your mourning and keep it as a personal memorial to your pet.

Establish new routines. Change or vary old ones. Avoid begin left alone too often.

Treat yourself to things you enjoy.

Avoid keeping visual reminders of your grief.

Get rid of your pet’s toys by putting them in a box and storing them away – for now.

Talk to your veterinarian about any questions you may have about the death of your pet. This helps to clear up any doubts or guilt about the death.

Understand and respect your own mourning. If your grief is intense, take time off from work.

Hold some kind of memorial service for your pet.

Keep a daily journal and list your thoughts and feelings.

Attend a support group.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Friends In Need

I recently did a blog exchange with Happy Tails Books, a publishing company from Colorado. To see the interview visit Happy Tails Books' website at

One of the things I discussed in the interview was resources that are available to help someone deal with their grief after a beloved pet dies. For me talking to our veterinarian, Dr. Radakovich helped immensely. He assured us that we did nothing to cause Molly's disease and that we did everything, within reason, to try and save her. The other person who's helped me through my grief is my mom. My mom and Molly were very close and my mom misses Molly almost as much as I do. Whenever something happens or we go somewhere Mom always says how much Molly would have loved it - whatever it may be. What's been so great about my mom is that she always tells the best and funniest Molly stories. I could listen to her stories all day.

Most of my family and friends have offered their condolences, but there have been a few that haven't even broached the subject. I think that's because sometimes we're not sure what to say or do for someone who has lost a beloved pet. I asked Teresa Freeman, a counselor who specializes in pet loss and bereavement how to help someone who's suffered the loss of a pet.

Teresa answered, "Many people cannot find support from the community or family and friends when this type of loss occurs. It is not helpful to invalidate the depth of feeling simply because the loss was a pet, not a human. Many people feel the loss of a pet more than other human losses. This can be a source of confusion and guilt. Support people can help best by being present to listen and to validate whatever feelings may come up. Honoring the relationship even if it isn’t understood is critical and unconditional support is important."

Monday, March 8, 2010


This past weekend I was reminded of one of my favorite Molly memories. Mike and I visited several pet adoptions this weekend and at one of them we encountered a rambunctious Boxer mix. When this young pup used his paw to playfully "pop" one of the other dogs in the nose I laughed out loud.

My nephew has a cute and playful Boxer, Caesar who use to chase Molly around my brother's house until she was completely wore out. This is ironic because it was usually Molly who chased her playmates trying to get them to play with her until they were wore out.

When Caesar was a puppy he stood as tall as Molly and would chase Molly in a huge circle around my brother's house. It would start in the living room, head towards the office, down the hall and back into the living room. On this particular day Caesar must have chased Molly for about 10 minutes when she'd finally had enough. She stopped in the living room, ran and bumped Caesar, knocked him over and sat on him. At first he struggled. Then Molly took her front paw and held his head down. After a few minutes he stopped struggling. Molly sat on top of him smiling with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. Of course as soon as she let Caesar up he started chasing her again.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy Tails

There is a fantastic publishing company called Happy Tails Books that collects stories from pet owners and others who have participated in pet rescue or adoption. These books are filled with photos and heartwarming stories of pets who have brought love, laughter and happiness to their owner's lives.

Kyla Duffy, Editor-in-Chief of Happy Tails Books talked to Farewell Furry Friend about opening her heart to rescued dogs, the importance of giving back and Bill, the rescue dog who inspired it all.

FFF: Kyla, your company donates a significant portion of its profits to animal rescue efforts. Why is it so important for you to give back? What are some of the organizations you donate to?

Kyla: There are millions of animals being cared for by private rescues, and that care doesn't come cheaply. For example, I volunteer as a foster parent with MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue. I believe we saved 329 dogs last year at an average cost of $319 per dog. Our adoption fees are between $100 and $325, depending on the age of the dog, so as you can see, we spend much more than we take in from adoption fees. Donations are essential to keeping any rescue running. Last year, between June and November, we worked with 34 rescues on 5 different books, and we divided a donation of $4,000 between them. This year we hope to be able to give back at least $10,000. A list of all of our rescue partners can be found on our links page,

FFF: What made you get involved in rescuing and fostering dogs, especially Boston Terriers?

Kyla: I'm not quite sure when I actually fell in love with Bostons, but I just thought that if I had one I would never stop laughing. I also knew I would never buy a dog, so when I decided to look for a dog I did an internet search and came up with From there I found MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue, and after finding a cute dog I liked, my husband said, "No dogs!" I asked the rescue if I should foster, and they said if my husband wasn't on board to adopt, he definitely wouldn't want to foster. You see, you never know what sort of issues are going to walk through your door with fostering!

Anyway, a week later they called me with an emergency - a foster received a dog with kennel cough, and since she has several other dogs and kennel cough is very contagious, they had to get the dog out of her home immediately. Of course, a huge grin spread across my face, and within an hour my mom and I were on our way over to get the dog. He turned out to be so sweet: broken tail, eye and ear infections, kennel cough, terrible gas, but of course, a zest for life. Within three days he was adopted, and that's when I fell in love with fostering.

FFF: On your website you list Bill, your Boston Terrier rescue, as your inspiration for starting Happy Tails Books. What was it about Bill that made you take action?

Kyla: I'll spare you the unabridged version of the story of Bill, which can be found in "Lost Souls: Found! Inspirational Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers." In a nutshell, Bill was a two-year-old puppy mill breeder when I met him, who was so scared he wouldn't leave his crate. We went through a lot together during his rehabilitation process, and there were many times when I thought he would have to go live with some very old people who wouldn't require him to ever leave the house. For almost a year I worked slowly to earn his trust, socialize him, and train him on basic commands, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Bill has since become the wonder dog, hiking off-leash, cuddling in bed, romping at the dog park, and he's even recently started running to the door and barking when someone rings the bell (a BIG breakthrough). He's still quirky, like he begs by sitting about three feet away from me and facing the opposite direction, but that just adds to his charm.

The more I learned about how dogs languish in puppy mills and how consumers don't realize the impact of the decision to buy a dog at a pet store, the more I felt driven to do something about it. One day I woke up with the idea to publish breed-specific books full of stories about adopted dogs, and the rest is history!

FFF: It seems part of your life's mission is to educate people about dog rescue, ending animal cruelty and shelter overpopulation. Why are these topics so important to you?

Kyla: I don't think I'm unique in saying that once my eyes were opened to the truth about animal overpopulation, neglect, and abuse, I could never close them again. Meeting ex-puppy mill breeding dogs made me realize how dire their completely avoidable situations are, and that if I don't do something about it, who will? I hope others understand what those words mean and take them to heart. "If YOU don't do something about it, WHO WILL?" The only thing that will create change is people taking action, and I always encourage people to use their talents and skills to do so. For example, rescues need volunteers to do all sorts of things. I hate driving, so transport is not the right way for me to volunteer. On the other hand, I love nurturing these little guys, so fostering is what I stick with.

Puppy mills are places where dogs are kept in 2x2 chicken wire cages. You can tell an ex-mill dog because their toes are usually splayed out, the females have udders like a cow from being bred EVERY cycle, they've often got eye injuries or blindness from being left out to all the elements with no care for their health, they're afraid of grass, doorways, and stairs (because they've never seen these things), they sometimes have broken or deteriorating jaws from abuse or lack of nutrition...I could go on and on. They're not all like this but these are some common traits. The problem with buying puppies from pet stores or breeders who aren't thoroughly researched is not only that the puppies of these mistreated dogs are sick and distressed, but by buying the puppies people are perpetuating this cycle of cruelty. Now, how could I know this is going on and not try to alert people to it? I recently wrote the Mill Dog Manifesto, a free eBook that explains puppy mills, reputable breeding, rescue, and how to socialize a mill dog if you open your heart to one. I hope everyone who reads this will go download a free copy of it at

FFF: Is there a pet from your past that was particularly special? How did you deal with the loss?

Kyla: Ah, the irony. I actually only had a hamster, who bit me, and a dog, whom I didn't like. The dog was a sissy who didn't like anyone except my mom, and I moved out long before she died. I know that making the decision to put her down, when she was 18-years-old, deaf, blind, and incontinent, was very difficult for my mom. These days I mourn the future loss of Bill, because I know someday it will come. I try not to think too much about it, but it makes me sad to think I'll ever have to live a day without my sassy Bill by my side. It drives me to enjoy and appreciate every moment I have with him. Happy Tails Books did recently publish another free eBook called Angels In Disguise by Brandy D. It's a very sweet poem about pet loss and I encourage anyone to download it and send it to a friend in need when the time comes. The link is

That's one thing I can say for foster dogs. I've had 24 through my life in the past two years, and to me they never die! What a great blessing to have all these wonderful pets and to never really have to mourn their loss.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Dog's Tail

I'd like to share a wonderful e-mail I received from Chuck Schick about his adorable black Lab Barley.

Barley was a beautiful black Lab and the best companion we could have asked for. He was not as openly affectionate as some dogs, preferring to present his butt for rubs as a way of meeting and greeting the world on his own terms. He doled out kisses begrudgingly to me and my girlfriend, yet bestowed them spontaneously on small children, whom he recognized as kindred souls with playful spirits and the knack to live in the moment.

Barley had a puppy face that fooled people into thinking he was a much younger dog. Even after he turned 10 and I'd take him for walks at our favorite spot on Boston Harbor, people would spontaneously compliment my "beautiful dog" or ask if he was a puppy. He'd greet them enthusiastically, turn-up his nose at smaller dogs and ignore them, sometimes lunge at similarly-sized dogs whose body language he didn't like, and trot warily past larger dogs that he preferred to give a pass.

He was by turns meek, ferocious, deferential, playful, somber, bored, restless, ecstatic, courageous, protective... whatever the moment required. Sometimes we'd call him "Mr. Curious" or "Mr. Serious" when his expressive features and body language made his attitude clear for all to see.

Barley was a cozy dog who loved to curl up with us on the couch or the bed, but always on his own terms. Usually that meant with his butt turned toward us (or in the bed, with his head pointed toward the foot). I always wondered if this was some sort of defensive instinct passed down from his ancestors' DNA when wolves slept in packs and had to watch each others' backs.

Barley was a dignified, noble dog, and this will always be one of my strongest lingering impressions of him. He had his moments of weakness, drooling as I consumed a slice of pizza as he awaited the crust that he knew he would receive (one of the few people foods I indulged him), or lingering underfoot in the kitchen during any dinner preparations. But he also had a sort of mortified, self-conscious side that he showed when meeting other dogs and their greeting rituals, once he'd matured past the puppy stage and put away puppy things. His back hair would go up and he'd stalk away, as if embarrassed about the other canines' manners. At the dog park, he'd forsake the doggie scrum in favor of the cluster of owners and the treats his Lab nose sniffed out in their pockets.

Often when I'd ask him a question, he didn't recognize the substance but knew from my interrogatory tone that a response was required. He'd stare at me for a beat or two, then glance around the room as if looking for clues. One of his most endearing mannerisms, of so many. Uncomfortable with sustained eye contact, he'd often glance away and appeared to be rolling his eyes like Snoopy delivering a punchline.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Adoptable Tail Waggers - Sarah and Cindy the Beagle Sisters

Sarah and Cindy are two very special girls. Their mom was terminally ill and worked with Basset and Beagle Rescue of the Heartland (BBRH) to ensure her girl’s safety and health. BBRH is committed to finding them a wonderful home where they can be together. The girls are very, very bonded, but do have opposite personalities.

Sarah is 9 years old. She is a very mellow girl, likes to hang out on the couch, curl up in your lap and have Cindy groom her. You can see from her picture that she has had a few too many treats in her life and is working on reducing her waist line. She takes a daily joint table to help with a little stiffness in her backend.

Cindy is 3 years old. She is a very loving girl who is excited by everything in life. She loves people coming over, can’t wait to get in your lap for some pats, and spends half her day grooming Sarah. Cindy does have seizures which are controlled with very affordable medications.

These girls must be adopted together. Both girls are spayed, housebroken, crate trained and overall very well behaved. They are both current on shots and heartworm preventative. They do well in the car and enjoy going for walks.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Bond Between Dogs and People - Part 2

I want you to stop and imagine what it would be like to navigate a crowded sidewalk, cross a busy intersection, walk from your home to the bank to the store and back home again without using your eyesight. Overwhelming? Unimaginable? I would guess so. Again, for those of us reading this post we can only imagine what it’s like to travel our surroundings blind.

For people who are blind or visually impaired to travel safely and efficiently most must decide between using a long cane or a Guide Dog. The long cane is like an obstacle detector. It allows a person to detect obstacles and drop-offs and navigate around them. A Guide Dog is described as an obstacle avoider. It guides the person around the obstacles.[1]

While a Guide Dog is described as an obstacle avoider he is much more meaningful to his handler than just getting her from point A to point B. A Guide Dog is an integral part of their owner’s life. An amazing bond develops. One that is full of love, loyalty and trust.

In the second part of The Bond Between Dogs and People we will look at the bond that develops between a blind or visually impaired person and their Guide Dog. To better understand the bond that develops between a handler and their Guide Dog we have to understand how the team works together.

Kim Samco a staff counselor and licensed psychologist at Guide Dogs for the Blind says, “A Guide Dog will avoid the unimportant things and show the handler the necessary things such as stairs, street corners, doors and so on.”

Many sighted people have misconceptions about who is in charge in the relationship between Guide Dog and handler. Most people believe it is the dog who is leading the person but Kim points out that, “it is the person’s responsibility to know where they are in their surroundings and to instruct the dog as to what is wanted. It is a myth that a person can tell a dog to take them to the Post Office… However, if a person goes to a destination regularly a dog might anticipate where they are going and it may or may not be correct.”

So while it is the handler’s job to instruct and lead the Guide Dog, there are instances where the Guide Dog is in control and making the decisions. This decision-making on the dog’s part is called selective disobedience[2].

Kim gives an example of selective disobedience, “Guide Dogs do not read traffic signals. It is the person’s responsibility to know when it’s safe to cross by listening to the traffic. Blind people learn to determine the type of intersection by listening to the traffic flow. On occasion an error in judgment is made or a driver makes an illegal turn putting the human/dog team into jeopardy. The Guide Dog’s job is to get the person out of the way of danger. The dog makes the decision whether it’s best to speed up, slow down or back up to keep them safe.”

Another misconception people have is that the bond between a Guide Dog and their handler develops instantaneously. Kim points out that, “the bond with a Guide Dog takes time. Most dogs soon learn to love their handler. It’s respect that takes a little more time to develop. It is difficult for anyone who has not had a Guide Dog to really understand the depth of the relationship. Those people who love the handler come close to understanding but they still aren’t quite there.”

Many pet owners describe their pets as members of the family. Kim says that for a blind or visually impaired person, “A Guide Dog is more like a left arm. A blind person spends more time with their Guide Dog than with their life partner. It is common for a Guide Dog to do a better job of guiding a person than a human does...”

While Guide Dogs provide blind persons with independence Kim explains that, “only a very small percentage of blind people use a Guide Dog. Some people have a sedentary life and a dog would not get enough work to keep it sharp and active. Others don’t want the work, time and expense of caring for such a valuable creature. Some people are not able to provide a suitable home which includes safety, stability, responsibility to name only a few requirements. And, still others believe that a person using a dog isn’t truly independent because they rely on another being."

The bond between a blind person and their Guide Dog is unlike anything most dog owners will experience. What makes the relationship so unique is the mutual guardianship that develops between handler and dog. As we see from Kim’s examples, blind persons using Guide Dogs have “a high level of dignity, independence, freedom, pride and self worth.”

End Notes
[1] Long cane or guide Dog -
[2] Living with a guide dog -

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Bond Between Dogs and People

I became blind when I was three after contracting meningitis. The only memory I have of sight, and I’m not even sure how reliable it is, is of my father towering above me, and an enormous amount of light. So perhaps that is a visual memory.

People ask me a lot about my dreams. In my dreams all my perceptions are the same as they are in waking times. My actions are governed by the same incredible power or powerlessness that anyone’s dreams have. So I can be flying or unable to move.

If you think of the map in your mind that maybe holds your house and the kids’ school, you have all that very palpably inside you, it’s like you can movie within it in your mind. My pictures are like that, they’re there. They’re not just memories. What gets imprinted on your eye or your ear finds another place inside you that also bears that imprint.

The above is an excerpt from of an article written by Michelle Hammer on’s website - describing what it’s like to be blind. For those of us sitting at our computers reading this post, being blind is something that we can only imagine. We sit comfortably on our couches, close our eyes and imagine what it’s like to live in a world where we cannot see. After a few minutes we open our eyes take in the sunlight from the windows, the color on the walls, the faces of our family members in pictures scattered throughout the room. We get up off the couch and continue on our sighted-way.

After WWII, Lois Merrihew and Don Donaldson, along with many others, wanted to help wounded servicemen who had lost their sight during the war. Their idea was to train dogs to serve as guides for the blind.

In 1942 they incorporated Guide Dogs for the Blind and student instruction began in a rented home south of San Jose. A rescued German Sheppard named Blondie was trained and paired with the school’s first graduate, Sgt. Leonard Fulk.

Guide Dogs for the Blinds' website, , describes their unique program of instructors, counselors, veterinarians, nursing staff who work to provide matches that benefit both person and dog. Guide Dogs for the Blind works to partner qualified individuals with specially trained dogs to provide these individuals with increased mobility.

This post is the first highlighting the unique relationship that exists between dogs and people. Over the following weeks, I will post stories featuring the bond that develops between canine and human.

Kim Samco a staff counselor and licensed psychologist for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) answered questions for Farewell Furry Friend about the relationship that develops between a blind or visually impaired person and their Guide Dog. Kim’s interview will be broken into three posts: matching making (pairing a Guide Dog with an individual), the bond that develops between a blind or visually impaired person and their Guide Dog and dealing with the loss of a Guide Dog.

When I asked Kim how someone was paired with a Guide Dog, she said, “The matching process between human and dog is wonderfully complex with a little magic thrown in for good measure.”

Most puppies are born at the GDB’s San Rafael, CA campus. GDB staff and volunteers begin getting acquainted with the puppies immediately. When the pups are about ten weeks old they go to live with a Puppy Raiser for about a year. During this time they are exposed to as many situations and environments as possible. These might include: airports, trains, subways, grocery stores, camp sites, beaches, boats, banks and so on. The Puppy Raisers also devote tons of time, energy and love to teaching these little ones appropriate behaviors such as obedience commands, house training and not scavenging, to name only a few.

Just when these furry guys become good citizens they are returned to one of the two GDB campuses for their formal training. The dog’s formal training takes from two to four months with licensed Guide Dog trainers.

At this point GDB knows a lot about the dogs such as their temperament, strength, how they best learn, which environments they are best suited to, and, in general, what kind of handling is best for them.

Kim told me that when a blind person applies for a Guide Dog, “they share their needs and preferences at the very beginning, on ‘paper.’ The staff person calls to gather more information such as how will they use a dog, what is their lifestyle, are they travelling independently already and so on.”

Next a staff person goes to the applicant’s home (anywhere in North America). The safety and suitability of the home is evaluated, the person’s pace, gate, tone of voice, upper body strength, balance, their orientation to their environment, their family’s attitude to having a Guide Dog join the family…all of these things and more are explored.

Kim says that “after all the details about the person and pup are gathered…the process of matching gets closer. The trainer’s know these dogs intimately, so when they read a person’s needs, particular dogs spring to mind.”

Individuals have the option of coming in for two or three weeks to train with their new partner. Sometimes the trainers might have a couple of dogs in mind for a particular person. At the very beginning of training the trainer and person get further acquainted. During this time the trainer becomes clear about what dog is best.

“Even with all of this time and attention to detail sometimes during the class training it might become clear that the match is not working,” cautions Kim. “The person is included in the decision to continue on with a less than ideal match, if it’s safe, or to train with a different dog. The bottom line is that a team needs to be able to travel safely and effectively.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Friends

Mike and I spent Saturday visiting pet adoption sites. We are cautiously considering adopting another dog. The decision to add a new dog to our family leaves me feeling excited and uneasy. Dogs are a huge part of our life and we want a dog in our life, but at the same time whenever I think about getting another dog I feel as though I'm betraying Molly. Rationally, I know this is ridiculous, but emotionally it's not so clear.

I'm reminded of a line I heard in a movie. New friends don't replace the old ones, new friends aren't better than the old ones, they're just different. I need to remember that I'm not replacing Molly by adopting a new dog. I can still hold onto my memories of Molly while I love the new dog for the individual creature that he or she is.

During my interview with Teresa Freeman, a counselor from Nebraska, I asked her about adding a new pet to the family after a pet has died.
Why is it important to fully grieve the loss of your pet before you get another pet?

The decision to get another pet is another common issue. Again, there is no right or wrong decision. Many people are ready emotionally to replace a pet rather quickly. Others need more time. The most important factors here are making certain that the new pet is not being used as a “replacement” for the lost pet. The new pet must be loved for themselves…not as a way to ease guilt or to objectify the lost pet. New pets must be loved for the individuals they are. It is an injustice to the pet and the owner if this boundary is not clear. If there are doubts, it is probably best advised to wait. That being said, people must listen to their hearts and make decisions in this area that are honorable to everyone involved. I always believe, however that pet lovers have huge hearts and much love to give and that somehow there will be more animals in their lives to love.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Daily Dose of Guilt

After the death of a pet many owners will struggle with powerful and suffocating feelings of guilt. I know I did. Guilt was a daily part of my life. I felt guilty because Molly died from an irreversible kidney disease that I was totally unaware of and I kept asking myself how I could not have known she was sick. I felt guilty for putting her to sleep, even though it was the right decision. I felt guilty over every toy I didn’t buy her, every time I didn’t take her with me to run errands and all the things I did wrong. Instead of focusing on all the positives: all the love, toys and happiness Mike and I gave Molly, I was stuck reliving all the mistakes.

My guilt was almost impossible to overcome. In fact, I still struggle with it. Sharing my feelings with others and talking and writing about Molly has helped. Talking to our veterinarian, Dr. R. helped. He reassured us that nothing we did caused Molly’s disease and that we did everything, within reason, to try and save her.

I know Molly lived a wonderful life and she would be sad if she knew I carried around so much guilt after her death. Even with that, I’m not really sure what the best solution is for overcoming guilt. I think the passage of time helps the most.

I try to remember how happy Molly was and what she meant to me and if that doesn’t work, I take a deep breath and think about all things she did that made me laugh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Child's Grief

When I was seven years old I lost my grandmother and my adorable cat, Tiger within months of each other. Tiger died a couple months before Thanksgiving and my grandmother died, while I was walking her to our car, on Thanksgiving morning. I'm not sure which death upset me more. Even as a child I loved people and animals equally.

I was an extremely happy child and it was difficult for my parents to watch me struggle with my emotions as I tried to make sense of death. A close family friend once told me I was a different child during that time: quiet, sad and withdrawn. Upset from losing Tiger and my grandmother.

Watching children suffer emotionally is difficult. We want to say or do something to take away their pain but often times we're not sure what that something is. During my interview with Teresa Freeman, LIMHP, LMHP, NCC she offered the following advice on how to explain the death of a pet to a child.

How do you explain the death of a pet to a child and help them deal their emotions?

For many children, the loss of a pet can be their first real experience with death and they should not be sheltered from this experience as it can be a learning experience to teach children about death in a loving way. If children are overprotected and not involved in the experience, they may feel that they are in some way responsible for the death of the pet or they may feel that they have done something to cause the death.

Explain what has happened at a level that they can understand without distress. Be aware of the stages of child development and give information that is age appropriate. Answer questions from children honestly, avoid the use of euphemisms.

Find out from the children what they think has happened and the meaning it has for them and provide them feedback based on these ideas and feelings. Don’t trivialize or diminish their thoughts and feelings.

If possible, try to engage in discussions about pet loss before the actual event. If euthanasia is involved, include children in the discussion. Share and explain your thoughts and feelings, but keep the understanding at the children’s level. Children under eight years of age are not normally thought to benefit from being present at the procedure.

Remember you are a powerful role model for your children.

Here are a few suggestions for helping children adjust to the loss of a pet:

  • Hold a memorial ceremony for the pet that involves the children’s input.

  • Reminisce fondly with the children about the pet, if possible, use pictures.

  • Use children’s books that tell a story about pet loss.

  • Inform the children’s teachers about the loss and the effect it has had on them.

  • Communicate and respect the grieving process of each family member.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Time to Grieve

The one thing I wanted the first few months after Molly's death, besides having Molly back, was someone to talk to about my feelings and how to deal with all the emotions I was feeling. I searched the Internet for sites that dealt with the loss of a pet and bereavement and I came across a website called the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. The APLB provides listings of local support groups and counselors across the United States, counseling center hotlines, information on how to help children deal with the loss of a pet and chatrooms that are managed by specially trained pet bereavement counselors. Their website is

As I searched through the list of counselors provided by the APLB Teresa Freeman’s, LIMHP, LMHP, NCC blurb got my attention, not just because I liked her approach to dealing with pet loss and bereavement but because I read she started a pet loss support group at the Nebraska Human Society. She seemed like a professional and caring individual.

As I mentioned in an earlier post Teresa agreed to answer my questions regarding pet loss and bereavement. Instead of posting her interview in one long post, I'm going to break my Q&A interview with Teresa into several posts. This week's post deals with grief and its timetable and how to begin to deal with your grief after a pet dies.

When someone loses a beloved pet, how long should they give themselves to grieve?

In general, there is no specific timetable for grief. It takes its own course and varies from person to person. There is a general ebb and flow through the various stages of grief and they many not occur in a consecutive pattern. Pet grief is no different in this way, and a person can expect to experience the stages of grief in the same way as any other significant loss.

Allowing yourself time to grieve is important. Don’t try to go back to a normal routine to quickly, allow for the process. Try to listen to the body and heart and don’t discount the need for time to resolve this grief.

The warning signs of a complicated grief include suicidal thoughts or clinical depression or anxiety. These can best be assessed by a mental health professional and require further intervention. Most people however, will move the grief within a reasonable amount of time. Again, help from a mental health professional is advised if the intensity or duration of the grief symptoms persist or increase, or if there are suicidal or symptoms of clinical depression.

(The stages of grief are discussed in a post titled "Stages of Grief" posted on 2-09-10)

How do you begin to deal with your grief after the death of a pet?

When our pet dies, we can feel completely out of control, overwhelmed by jumbled feelings of loss and failure. This is often accompanied by a sense of deep, personal guilt, confusion and vulnerability and the pain is so real it must not be belittled or discounted by anyone, including the mourner.

Acknowledging the intense feelings of loss is critical for the pet owner who has lost a pet. Validation and understanding is vitally important, as is talking about one’s loss and feelings. Expressing thoughts and emotions and sharing them with compassionate people is also a necessary step in the passage through bereavement.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dog Blog Award is having a dog blog contest to identify the 20 best dog blogs. I need your help. I have entered Farewell Furry Friend in the contest because I believe this blog is unique in providing grieving pet owners a place to visit and realize they are not alone and find a little comfort during their grieving process.

To vote for Farewell Furry Friend please go to and enter the following 5-digit code, hK8Jz

Farewell Furry Friend needs 50 votes by February 20, 2010 to advance to the second round. In round 2,'s in-house training experts will manually review each of the blogs that received at least 50 votes to determine who advances onto round 3.


Friday, February 12, 2010

It's Back

Since Mike and I announced that we were putting Thursday Night Suppers on hold for awhile, friends and family have been asking, "Why? It's such a wonderful idea and a nice way to remember Molly."

I admit, I really loved the idea of Thursday Night Suppers and I still love the idea of Thursday Night Suppers. I think bringing people together over a home cooked meal is a great tribute to Molly. So with spring just around the corner, the season of love, new life, promise and hope, Mike and I are bringing back Thursday Night Suppers.

One Thursday night a month we'll host a dinner for six people. If you're interested please check out the Thursday Night Suppers and Supper Dates pages.

Adoptable Tail-Wagger: Dexter (ADOPTED!)

Dexter is a sweet little Pug who is being fostered near Long View Lake (located off of I-470 in Missouri - not far from the I-435 -"Triangle").

This little guy will follow you all over the house and wants nothing more than to be loved. I do have to warn you. He has breathe that could wake the dead! :) I think some puppy breathe mints would help.

Dexter was found as a stray. The rescue group, Furry Kids, thinks he was loved by someone. He his missing an eye and has a steel pin in his back leg. They think he was hit by a car. And obviously, someone loved him enough to save his life.

Dexter is sweet, gentle and fun.

Here is his Petfinder's link

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Red River Valley

Every night when we went to bed I sang Molly to sleep. I had a whole set of songs I performed, starting with You Are My Sunshine, followed by Jesus Loves Me, then The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Next came Mr. Sandman, Rock-a-bye Baby and Red River Valley. I would end with an encore of You Are My Sunshine.

Of all the songs I sang to Molly, Red River Valley was my favorite. My dad used to sing it, and I’ve always loved this song. At the time, I had no idea what the song’s words would come to mean to me after Molly’s death.

Red River Valley[i]

From this valley they say you are going
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathways awhile

Come and sit by my side, if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
Just remember the Red River Valley
And the cowboy who loved you so true

I've been thinking a long time, my darling
Of the sweet words you never would say
Now, alas, must my fond hopes all vanish
For they say you are going away

Do you think of the valley you're leaving
O how lonely and how dreary it will be
And do you think of the kind hearts you're breaking
And the pain you are causing to me


They will bury me where you have wandered
Near the hills where the daffodils grow
When you're gone from the Red River Valley
For I can't live without you I know

A beautifully haunting song that is full of lovely—and sometimes painful—memories.

[i] and

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stages of Grief

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wrote my story (and Molly's) down into a book and was going to send it to an editor to review, but at the last minute I just couldn't do it. The story is finished and I even paid to have it proofread. I guess it came down to not wanting to "commercialize" Molly. I want to share her story and how I dealt with her death freely and openly.

In the book I interviewed several people: Dr. R, our vet, whose interview you read in an earlier post, trainers from Gentle Dog Training, Barbara Poe, Head of Adoptions at Wayside Waif Animal Shelter and Teresa Freeman, a licensed counselor who specializes in pet bereavement.

Teresa became involved with pet bereavement after two of her dogs died within six months of each other, "Since I was working in the counseling field, I realized at the time that there were very few resources to help with pet loss. I found it hard to find very much support. I did more research and got involved with several national organizations that address this issue. These groups were very helpful to me and I decided to bring this help to my community locally."

Teresa conducts a pet bereavement support group at the Nebraska Humane Society. She said she researched other programs and developed hers from those models.

"After my idea was developed," she told me. "I approached the Humane Society with the idea of a support group and they agreed to sponsor this. This area of interest has continued to grow and hopefully provides a service for others who are struggling with pet loss and grief."

Teresa answered many questions for me regarding pet bereavement. I'd like to share all her information in one very long post, but I think I'd lose the power of her words. Over the next couple of months I'll take one or two questions from my interview with her and share them with you.

I'll start with the answer that brought me more peace than anything I've heard since Molly's death. I'd asked Teresa to describe the stages of grief. The part of her answer that brought me so much peace was when she described how it is an owner's responsibility to handle end of life issues with love, respect and dignity for their dying pet. I'd never thought about it being part of my responsibility as a pet owner to handle end of life issues. For whatever reason, seeing this as part of my job as a pet owner brought me some much needed relief from my guilt.

Below is Ms. Freeman's answer to my question about the stages of grief.

What are the stages of grief?

Stage One: Denial
Denial is one of the earliest stages of grief. It is easily confused with disbelief which accompanies the shock of first learning about the death. With denial, we resentfully acknowledge that the death has taken place while at the same time we look for ways to refute it.

Stage Two: Anger
The anger stage is a distraught, temporary response to an overwhelming sense of frustration and outrage. In this stage, it is difficult to cope rationally with disappointing people and situations. There is a feeling of helplessness and any remotely involved person or authority can be transformed into a scapegoat (i.e.: medical staff). Anger can also be turned inward, leading to depression. We may be so angry at ourselves that we create social situations that become intolerable to others: overreacting, self-destructive behaviors, alienation of others.

In order to move through this stage, we must let go of the anger.

Stage Three: Bargaining
With bargaining, often we will offer something to try to take away the reality of what happened - we want to make a deal. Bargaining can be with ourselves, with the Universe or with other people. At this stage, we may sometimes think we hear or see a fleeting glimpse of our pet.

All of our tears and wishing cannot change the reality that our pet is gone and things aren’t logical at this time. We understand intellectually that death comes to all things, but our conditioned avoidance of this reality gives us some excuse for bargaining.

Stage Four: Guilt
Guilt is a psychological reaction that is based on insecurity or negative self-evaluation. During the intensity of grief, we tend to create a powerful sense of guilt. We feel that we have failed to be in control and that our loving protection cannot control the Universe for our pets.

Guilt is often a warping of afterthought and reflection. If only we had hindsight…but we don’t, we are human. We must now shift responsibility to ourselves. Be the wonderful person your pet saw in you. Let yourself grieve constructively by accepting the passing of your pet and preserving the loving memories.

Don’t waste energy on guilt. Forgive yourself. One of the ideas that have been helpful for my clients is to remind them that part of their jobs as pet owners is to handle the end of life issues with dignity and love and respect. Our pets depend on us to do for them what they cannot do for themselves, many times at the end of their lives. It is part of the responsibility of pet ownership. Our pets cannot speak or take action themselves and any act of compassion is done with this dignity theme in mind. I also believe our pets know that we did the best we could for them and they wouldn’t want us to carry unnecessary guilt.

Stage Five: Depression
Depression may come up at any time throughout the grieving process and many people in deep mourning experience feelings of depression. Our emotional strength seems to give out and things may feel as though they are crushing down on us. Life feels very overwhelming and sad. Usually, the intensity diminishes with time. Some symptoms of depression may include: lowered mood, difficulty with concentration, unusual fatigue, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, loss of appetite, insomnia, gloom, despair and ambivalence.

Depression can develop into any degree of intensity, but it isn’t a cause of alarm unless it seems to pose a threat to the individual or others. If the feelings of grief remain at the same level as the initial feelings or if there are feelings of suicide or deep depression or despair, professional help is merited. Otherwise, time and support can be helpful here.

Stage Six: Resolution
Resolution is the final stage of mourning. It is a time of inner healing. This is the final time of letting go when we allow the focus of emotion and attention to shift, allowing us to continue with our own life’s growth. The entire mourning process is a “living through” situation. It does not mean that we forget the beloved pet, but it does mean that we can go on with our lives.

Coming to the resolution stage in no way takes away one’s intense love for their deceased pet, instead we’ve learned to incorporate the loving memories of our pet into our lives. At this point in transition, each of us has become different than before. At this stage it is heartwarming to think of your pet. Your ability to continue to love is a memorial to the love you shared with your pet and to the bond that will never be broken.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Happiness Quote

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” - Helen Keller

Canine Kidney Disease

Mike and I moved back to Overland Park, Kansas in the summer of 2007 and when our veterinarian retired, we decided it was a good time to find a vet closer to our new apartment. Finding a new vet was not as easy as I thought. I researched a number of veterinarians, complied a list of eight and set-up interviews with each one. You would be surprised at the number of veterinarians I met with that had dirty offices and inflated egos. Marketplace Animal Hospital was last on my list and by the time I arrived for my appointment, I was tired, hungry and grumpy.

I dreaded walking into Marketplace Animal Hospital’s lobby. I couldn’t stand the thought of one more dirty office—but to my relief it was clean and nice. The office had wood paneling, large windows and a friendly staff. I met with one of the owners, Dr. Phil Radakovich. He was mild mannered, soft spoken, intelligent, personable and he had a very calming aura about him—but what I liked most about Dr. Radakovich was his philosophy on the role of a veterinarian.

Dr. Radakovich told me he feels it is a veterinarian’s job to provide his patients with the best care possible while providing the owners will all the information necessary to make intelligent, informed decisions. He also thinks it’s important to help guide the owners in making their decisions but to respect the decisions of the owners. Eureka! I struck gold! And if we felt lucky to find Dr. R., imagine our delight when we met his business partner, Dr. Jerry Immethun. He was just as professional, competent and caring as Dr. R.

There’s nothing better than knowing you have a great veterinarian staff to care for your pet’s health.

Since Molly died from an irreversible kidney disease, I wanted to include a post on canine kidney disease. Dr. R was kind enough to meet with me and share his knowledge of Chronic Renal Kidney Failure (CRF).

Dr. Radakovich explained that his desire to become a veterinarian was a culmination of many different factors: his love of animals, his exposure to science, his father being a science teacher, his desire to stay close to home while in college, his reading the James Herriot book All Creatures Great and Small and his experience working for veterinarians during high school and college. Dr. R said all these events led to the natural progression of attending vet school.

After earning his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. R. moved to Chicago where he met his current business partner, Dr. Immethun. After several years of practicing veterinarian medicine in Chicago, the pair decided to open a practice in Lenexa, Kansas, as it was a halfway point between Dr. Radakovich’s family in Des Moines and Dr. Immethun’s family in St. Louis. So, in 1989 they moved their families from Chicago to Lenexa and opened Marketplace Animal Hospital.

Below is my interview with Dr. R. The information provided in this post should not be used to determine whether or not your dog suffers from kidney disease or kidney failure. If you suspect your dog is ill, please make an appointment with your veterinarian.

The kidney’s basic function is to filter out toxins from the body through the urine. What other purposes do the kidneys serve?

That’s probably most of it. They detoxify the blood, they concentrate urine, they have a compound called erythropoietin that is put out by the kidneys that stimulates red blood cell production. So, I would say those three things are probably the biggest. That’s why lots of times with kidney disease, dogs will be come anemic too and you wouldn’t necessarily think that but without erythropoietin, red blood cells aren’t stimulated in the bone marrow.

There are basically two types of kidney disease: Acute Kidney Failure and Chronic Renal Kidney Failure (CRF). If we’re talking about Acute Kidney Failure, which is normally the result of poisoning or external toxins, what products are particularly dangerous?

Probably the most common—and one of the most toxic—is antifreeze. That’s the one they get into the most. It’s because it’s sweet and sweet tasting and so once they start drinking it, they have no reason to stop; but the other reason is because it’s so readily available. I mean everybody has it. Everybody. It’s in the radiator and if you have a leak and it’s sitting in the garage or if you’re doing your own maintenance at home and you’ve got the bottle, I mean it’s just so common place.

The amount for when it becomes deadly, I’m sure depends on the size of your dog?

It doesn’t take much. It does not take much. If you catch it early enough I think it’s reversible. And it’s reversible by, sometimes they’ll use a chemical to bind the antifreeze, but it’s a lot of fluids as well just run through those kidneys to keep those kidneys from shutting down. Once they shut down, then you’re really—your back is against the wall.

Chronic Renal Kidney Failure happens because the kidneys aren’t able to remove the toxins?

There are a lot of reasons you’ll have chronic renal failure, and a lot of those reasons are unknown. But there are different parts of the kidneys that can be affected by different chronic conditions. The glomerulus, the nephrons—those things have different parts and different functions. One is for concentrating the urine. One is for sodium and potassium balance but chronic renal failure can affect different parts of that kidney; for example, amyloid.

Amyloid is a protein we don’t know very much about. Amyloid is a protein that they thought was going to be real diagnostic for people with Alzheimer’s too because they would find amyloid in the brain.

Amyloid can go to a lot of places. It can go to the brain, it can go to the heart, it can go to the kidney, and they really don’t know why that happens in some people but when it does go to those places it really screws things up.

Immune-mediated complexes are another reason that you can get these antibody antigen complexes that go and they set up house keeping in the kidney and that can be a reason for kidney failure.

Bacterial diseases, just aging, and loss of the glomerulus to do its job and the nephrons to do its job lead to that renal failure where you get azotemia and uremia—that’s where you’ll get the toxins that will start to build up in the blood stream. And the two proteins that are usually building up are BUN and creatinine. Basically, what those are is they’re by-products of metabolism in the body. You should have some in there, I mean they’re by-products and they’re going to have to be eliminated, and if they’re not eliminated and they start to become too high that’s when it becomes a toxic effect.

Why is kidney disease more prevalent in older dogs? I read that seven or eight years of age are about the average age for a dog to suffer from kidney failure.

Yeah. I think that kind of depends on the breed because you know the life expectancy of a Rottweiler, per say, is ten and the life expectancy of a Cocker is 16, and so you can see it certainly in younger dogs and you can see it in juvenile dogs. We had a dog in here one time that came in just for a routine neuter, just six months old, was a schnauzer, we did the preoperative blood tests and the BUN and the creatinine were off the scale. It had an inherited congenital problem with the kidneys, so I mean these types—chronic renal kidney disease, the bacteria, amyloid, the immune-mediated complexes, cancer, congenital problems—those are all things that can lead to a not very well-functioning kidney.

I’ve read that signs of kidney failure don’t normally show up until 70 to 75% of the kidney function has been lost. Why does it take so long to show up?

That’s a good question and it’s just the ability of the body to compensate. What would be a great discovery is if you could earlier predict kidney disease. That’s where it really needs to go. You’re monitoring BUN and creatinine values to do that, and for whatever reason you really have to have less than 25% of a functioning kidney for the BUN and creatinine values to go up. So you can be sitting there, theoretically, at 30% of a functioning kidney, and the dog would not only be acting normally but the blood work would be normal as well.

So you can start to maybe get some indication that the kidneys are not working maybe before that time by checking urine samples, and depending on the part of the kidney that might be damaged, there are clues in the urine that can indicate that. Too much protein being leaked out in the urine can be from kidneys, doesn’t necessarily need to be, can be. The inability of the kidneys to concentrate urine. So if you always have dilute urine versus concentrated urine, can be a sign of kidney problems although lots of other things can cause that as well.

The first signs of kidney disease are increases in thirst and urination. Other symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite. Every dog owner will eventually have a dog that has diarrhea or vomits or loses its appetite. What are you looking for? Are you looking for a combination of symptoms or symptoms that persist over a certain period of time?

I think you’re looking at combination of those things. You know if I’ve got a two-year-old dog that walks in with a history of eating barbeque off the grill that’s vomiting versus a 13-year-old dog that’s not feeling well, no history of eating table food, and vomiting, I’m a lot more concerned about that 13-year-old. So I think it’s a combination of those things. You’re taking in history, you’re taking in the age and what has happened in the dog’s life and is… kidney disease a common problem for a dog of that age?

And decreased appetite is a big one as well. Usually when they start to show signs of kidney disease, they just really don’t want to eat all that well.

When you bring your dog in for a diagnosis, you said you’re looking at history, urine tests, blood tests; what else can you do?

That’s a pretty good start. You’re going to start with those things. You can on the physical examine, sometimes these chronic kidney cases will have really kind of hardened, smaller, knobby feeling kidneys… and you’re feeling through the abdominal wall obviously, but if you have a nice, smooth feeling kidney that’s not hard and it’s palpating about the right size, that’s the way you like them to feel. But with chronic problems you’ll get those changes. So that’s one of the things we’re looking for as well.

If you have a dog that is starting to show kidney disease and you want to test further, then there are other tests that you can do: ultrasound; you can do biopsies of the kidney.

When Mike and I were deciding whether or not to have a biopsy done of Molly’s kidneys, one of the things I read was that if they already have kidney disease and you go in and do the biopsy, it enflames the kidney and can make it even worse, is that true or is it one of those myths?

When you start to get those invasive diagnostic procedures, I think you have potential of making things worse. You have a small biopsy punch but on the other hand you’re going into an organ, and so yeah, I think the potential is there.

But say for example, about the only time in my opinion that I think you’d want to do a (biopsy), and maybe there’s others, but this is one I can think of right off the top of my head, where you’d want to do a biopsy is if you’re suspicious of an immune-mediated problem, because how are you going to treat an immune-mediated problems? You’re going to bomb them with cortisone is the way that you’re going to do that. Well, cortisone is not the greatest thing to be on, and now if you had a diagnosis of—yes this is an immune-mediate problem—okay great, you know you need to go with cortisone, but that’s a tough diagnosis to make without a biopsy. So then you’re kind of sitting there, okay, if you don’t do a biopsy then you’re trying to figure out, okay, is this an immune-mediated problem that cortisones may help or is it not?

If you go with the cortisones and it’s not an immune-mediated problem, does that make everything worse?

It can… and that’s why you don’t necessarily like to do that. And the other thing about the cortisones, is not only that it can make it worse for the patient if it’s not the case, but cortisones are going to cause the pet to drink more and urinate more too. Now you have the owner going through maybe a dog who’s not getting up to go to the bathroom and just making more messes around the house, and you’re really not quite sure whether you need to be on that high dose of cortisone or not. So there are other reasons to do it as well. But those, and of course if you have kidney disease, and I mentioned this before I think, where sometimes they’re bacterial in origin. Well then you try to find the bacteria so you can know whether you need to be on a specific antibiotic or not. So then there are serology testing and blood tests that you look for antibody titers. Usually, you typically have to start some medicine before that time, so a little bit it of it is guess work as well.

Since there is no cure for Chronic Renal Kidney Failure, early detection is important. Do the treatments options, fluid therapy, diet, medicines, only help to a certain point? Are we talking about just prolonging your dog’s life anywhere from a couple of months to a year?

And the answer to that question really could be determined more exactly with a kidney biopsy, because you’re going to find out how much of functioning kidney tissue you have left and without that it’s hard to know how much time to say. Some dogs will live for years with Chronic Renal Failure.

Any last thoughts or comments on kidney disease?

I really like the foods that are out now. The problem with those foods is sometimes the pets don’t want to eat them and then you’re really stuck between a rock and a hard place.

It’s a condition that we see so much of, but thankfully it usually doesn’t happen until they’re very old and then the body just kind of wears out. They start acting sicker as those toxins start to build up. It’s a tough, tough disease because there are so many different things that can cause it—so many different things and part of the treatment is based upon the cause, and sometimes you don’t know the cause exactly and without going through all the diagnostics, which it’s hard to take your dog for a kidney biopsy, when, like you said, there’s the potential for making things worse.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Adoptable Tail Wagger - Kojack

On the Thursday Night Suppers website there was a page titled Adoptable Tail Waggers and we listed different dogs that needed to be adopted. I want to continue "show-casing" different dogs on Farewell Furry Friend and the first posting will go to Kojack the long and lanky Boston Terrier!

He is an absolute cutie-pie of a Boston and he is being fostered in Gladstone, MO. Mike and I have met him and spent time with him and he's WONDERFUL. He's sweet, funny and a real lover, but he does have a little separation anxiety and if Mike and I didn't live in an apartment we would adopt him.

If you are looking for a great Boston to add to your family and you have a little time to help Kojack learn that when you leave you will be returning - he'll reward you with so much love and affection that you just won't know what to do with yourself!

Here's the link for Kojack. He's being fostered through Mid-America Boston Terrier Rescue.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Losing Molly

The last thing any dog owner wants to hear their vet tell them is that the test results weren't what they’d hoped for and the condition is irreversible. About two weeks after Molly, Mike, and I got home, Molly started throwing up. The first couple of times we didn’t think anything was wrong. Molly was a grazer and a muncher and from time to time, she would eat things that would make her sick. “Nothing serious,” we thought, but after she threw up for the fourth time in about nine days we decided to take her to the vet. “Better to be safe than sorry,” that was our motto. “It’s probably nothing, but better to be safe than sorry.”

At first, we didn’t think there was anything to worry about; Molly was eating, pooping, playing–she was her normal self. Things quickly changed. We got her test results a couple of days later and they showed elevated protein levels in her urine. Our veterinarian, Dr. Radakovich, an absolutely fantastic veterinarian and a wonderful human being, told us with protein levels that high we were probably looking at two possible scenarios. I’ll put this in laymen’s terms because I don’t remember exactly what he said, I just remember hoping, hoping, hoping it was scenario number one.

Scenario one was that Molly had acquired some sort of bacterial infection, perhaps something she ingested while playing in the creek. Scenario two was that we were looking at a much more serious problem: her kidneys. When Dr. R., as he’s affectionately known, uttered those words, it was all I could do not to fall apart. However, because Molly was a sensitive soul and picked-up on my emotions, I kept myself and my emotions under control. Dr. R. told us he wanted to run a few more tests to determine what we were up against.

During this time—about seven days or so—Molly’s health started to deteriorate quickly, and despite a bland diet, antibiotics, and other medicine, she continued to throw up. She was losing weight and her energy level was dropping. By the time the next round of test results came in, Molly was barely eating. The new test results confirmed our worst fear: it was her kidneys. Now we were left with the task of figuring what to do next. Again, I don’t remember exact conversations or what tests were run, but Dr. R. wanted to run one more test that would give him a better understanding of what we were dealing with and at the same time gave us the option of seeing a specialist. Before we left, Dr. R. told us he would contact the specialty group, send them Molly’s test results, and get their opinions.

At home things were much worse. Molly had pretty much stopped eating, but she was starving. She would go into the kitchen, scratch at the cabinets and cry. At this point we didn’t care what she ate—we just wanted her to eat and not throw it back up a few minutes later. We took her to McDonalds for hamburgers and ice-cream, we tried moist dog food, no-sugar-added applesauce, baby food, recipes from my Three Dog Bakery cookbook. Most of the time she would look at the food, sniff it and walk away; if she did eat something, she would immediately throw it up. The only thing she would—and could—eat was hotdogs. At least I can take some comfort in knowing that her last meal was a hotdog, her most favorite food in the whole wide world.

Also by this time, Molly had stopped having normal bowel movements. When she would go to the bathroom, instead of a “tootsie roll” popping out, a clear gel like substance oozed out. There was nothing left in her system to dispose of except secretions.

In addition to not eating and not going to the bathroom, Molly’s energy level was almost nonexistent. We would ask her if she wanted to go outside or go to the park. She would get up and go to the door, but as soon as we’d get outside she wouldn’t go anywhere. We had to carry her to the grass to potty. We carried her to the car. We carried her at the park. For so long Molly was a creature who loved to walk and now she was being carried everywhere. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for Molly because it was breaking my heart.

The only place she walked to on her own was into the veterinarian’s office. I still don’t know what that meant. Was it her way of saying she’d had enough, or was it simply an adrenaline rush? Another question just occurred to me and sent a shiver down my spine and wave of guilt through my stomach: did she know this was the place to go to get well? Was she placing all her trust in us to make her better? I hope not, because that’s a realization I won’t be able to come to terms with. Ever.

When we met with Dr. R he informed us that we were most likely dealing with an irreversible kidney disease—one in which the immune system attacks the kidneys. In cases like Molly’s, the immune system is gearing up for a fight. It may be against cancer, arthritis, or any number of autoimmune diseases, but instead of attacking the disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks the kidneys. We decided to try and shut down Molly’s immune system to give her kidneys a chance to recover. This option had its own risk, without a functioning immune system, Molly was left defenseless against, well, everything. It was a risk we were willing to take.

The medicine did not work. Molly wasn’t eating; she wasn’t playing. She was only lying in the sun or next to us, sleeping. She started throwing up stomach bile. We knew this was no life for this wonderful and amazing creature. Putting Molly to sleep was the hardest decision Mike and I have ever made.

There is nothing worse than walking into your veterinarian’s office with your dog knowing you won’t be walking back out with her/him. I couldn’t bear the thought of watching Molly die, but I couldn’t leave her to die alone. So Mike and I did what thousands of dog owners before us have done, we held her until she fell limp in our arms. The heartache was almost unbearable. I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t breathe. She looked so peaceful, like she was sleeping. A tug-of-war immediately started in my mind: how could I have condemned her to death; I couldn’t continue to let her suffer. This tug-of-war continued for many months.

The only thing harder than staying with Molly was leaving Molly alone in that cold, sterile examination room. I have never been one who could stay very long after my dog died. I felt as though there was not enough air and that the walls were closing in on me. I stayed just long enough to tell Molly I was sorry and I loved her. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend all the emotions I was feeling as I left the vet’s office: guilt, anger, sadness, relief, fear, dread and I’m sure many more that didn’t even register.

After we left the vet’s office, Mike and I went home. When we walked into our apartment without Molly, it was more than I could stand. My arms slashed across my piano, hurling everything towards the wall. I’ve never had an out-of-body experience and I’m not sure that’s what that was, but all I remember was feeling like I needed to destroy something. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t stop myself. I smashed pictures and sent a lamp careening towards the other wall. I was hoping at the end of my outburst I would at least be exhausted. I wasn’t. I was left standing in the middle of a mess feeling numb. Later that night I felt a terrible pain in my arm. When I looked down I saw a huge bump and a nasty bruise that went from my wrist to my elbow. As I looked at my arm I wondered how long the evidence of my physical pain would last, and I hoped that by the time my bruise healed my heart would be healed too. No such luck; my emotional pain lasted much longer than my physical pain.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish we would have waited or made a different decision, but I know in my heart we did what was best for Molly, no matter the cost to us. However, even when I wrote these words, tears filled my eyes and I had to get up and go to the bathroom and cry. Four months had passed since Molly's death, but I felt more like I did a few weeks after her death. What I came to realize was lying underneath all of my heartache was not only sadness, but a lot of anger as well. What do you do with all of your anger when there’s no one to direct it towards? I couldn't be angry with Molly, Dr. R. did everything we asked of him, the Universe has no control over these things, and Mike and I weren't to blame either. My anger had nowhere to go but out my eyes. The way I was feeling, I thought I might just cry forever. I did my best to keep my anger from manifesting itself into rage; I knew no good would come from it.