Losing focus


Lexie rests after pacing through the house all afternoon.

Lexie rests after pacing through the house all afternoon.

It’s been almost a year since Lexie recognized her own name.

Slowly, her eyes lost focus.

Then she simply forgot who I am.

Each day when we meet, it’s as if for the first time. She opens her mouth wide, and gently nibbles my hands for a clue to who I could be. Some days she will lower her head onto my lap. Other days she simply walks away, to start her endless circling path around the coffee table.

Dementia has stolen our baby Lex. She hardly barks any more. A dog treat barely registers more than a mouthy snap.

For 15 years she has been my constant companion. So when symptoms of her dementia reared up this month —including her getting stuck behind our couch — I knew it was time to get her evaluated.

The vet was shocked at her appearance. Lex had lost 3 pounds since our last visit. Her eyes seemed distant. She was not friendly or open to meeting the vet tech.

During the physical exam, Lexie snapped at the vet. Before I could process the situation, the tech placed a muzzle on Lexie’s snout. She writhed and shed what seemed to be at least half of her coat. I put my hand on Lexie’s chest, and did my best to calm her. As her eyes rolled around the room, I could see the terror rise up.

The vet didn’t mince words. She said Lexie lives in a world of fear and anxiety. Sadly, anti-anxiety/depression medications would only lift her inhibitions, possibly leading to more dog bites. If Lex was her dog, she didn’t think it would be fair to keep her in this emotionally painful space.

The tears were falling into my lap before she passed me a tissue.

She offered to put Lexie down right then if I wished. I wondered if this was some sort of bad dream.

I told her Matt and I would have to talk, and that we’d get back to her with our decision.

My heart aches. I can’t imagine my world without my Lexie Doodle.

But I know the vet’s right. At this point in the game, it’s not a matter of if … but when.

FurFamHORZNTL

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Meeting Cora … and her 25 toes


Cora strikes a pose in a sunbeam.

Cora strikes a pose in a sunbeam.

Cora is a cool cat, from head to toe — all 25 of them!

We met this Hemingway polydactyl (many-toed) cat on Saturday at Shelter to Home, a cat-focused shelter located Downriver.

The trip in itself was a big deal because it was my first big excursion since a hysterectomy two weeks ago.

I had spotted Cora’s profile that morning, but didn’t say anything to Matt. It was a big enough deal that he was looking at cat profiles completely unprovoked. Pink has been gone for six months, and as much as we both agreed we would never get another cat, somehow the house seems incomplete without one.

We came upon Cora when we walked up the stairs of the Victorian home that houses the shelter. She greeted us from her spot in the upper landing’s window.

We counted at least seven toes on this paw.

We counted at least seven toes on this paw.

Cora was the first cat we saw, and our hostess wanted to keep the tour going since there were at least 14 more cats to meet. But we sat down with Cora, and let her climb on our laps. She purred as we touched her feet, the base of her tail … even her belly. Oh, what a lover.

Then Matt picked her up,

I couldn’t hear a thing through the purr machine.

Finally we broke away from Cora, and continued with the tour. We told the shelter worker about Lexie, our almost 15-year-old dog, and Charlie, our energetic 1-year-old pup. We mentioned the dog door, and emphasized that any cat we adopt will be an indoor cat. The worker seemed happy with this, and even told us about enclosed tents designed for cats if we did wish to bring our cat outside for supervised fun.

Since it was difficult for me to bend down, Matt stopped to pet a few of the felines, and played with a shy calico in the hallway. But once we got downstairs, he asked about Cora.

We started out the day looking for a high energy youthful cat who likes dogs. Cora’s energy level is best described as “chill” and it’s unclear if she’s ever seen a dog. Matt usually gravitates toward big cats, and Cora is on the teeny side. She’s also a mum who recently gave birth to four kittens.

Not exactly what we had in mind, and yet she feels the perfect fit.

This has got to be the coolest animal shelter we have visited.

This has got to be the coolest animal shelter we have visited.

We took an application, and said we would be in touch.

As we walked to the car, a smile creeped across my face. This was definitely further than I got with Lola the tortie cat.

When we got home Saturday, I filled out the application.

Of course once I was done, Matt got cold feet.

“I’m not sure. I’m not ready. I don’t know if Cora is the right cat,” he nervously said.

I signed my name at the bottom of the application, and let him talk. The next day, I disclosed my plan of action.

Before we make a final decision, I want to bring Charlie in to meet Cora.

Matt agreed.

So now I will send in our application and wait.

We’ll be on our toes, and ready to go.

FurFamHORZNTL

Lexie loves salmon!


Lex gobbles down a bowl of salmon kibble.

Lex gobbles down a bowl of salmon kibble.

I’m proud to report Lex is not only eating regularly, but she’s eating with gusto!

When our wee pup Charlie recently grew old enough to become a dog, we graduated him to big boy food. We studied our choices for months in anticipation of the switch.

We made our final decision at Costco, when we found Nature’s Domain: Salmon meal & sweet potato formula for dogs (Kirkland Signature brand). It had never occurred to us to feed fish to our dogs. But Matt had heard fish oil was good for a dog’s coat, so his eyes locked on the bag of salmon kibble.

After we brought it home, we filled both dog bowls up with kibble. We decided to include Lexie at least on the first bowl to see if she would give it a go. Every since she was diagnosed with kidney failure last summer, her appetite has been fickle. We finally settled into a routine of feeding her wet holistic dog food (sometimes by hand) and occasionally supplementing with a kidney-friendly can of dog food. It wasn’t a kidney-perfect diet, but most days she would entertain us and eat a bit. She no longer was skin and bones, sitting at death’s door.

Lex has a ball!

Lex has a ball!

So we filled her bowl to the brim with salmon, and watched. She quickly sniffed something new in the air, and checked out her bowl. Lex grabbed a piece of food and thoughtfully chewed it up. She looked back over her shoulder at us, then lowered her face back into the bowl. She didn’t resurface until it was empty.

Lex now repeats this ritual twice a day, almost like she’s a normal dog again. When we forget dinnertime, she’s quick to gently bite our hands, or rambunctiously whine until we feed her. In full disclosure, we still dress up the bowl with dog treats to get her started, but once she’s eating she finishes the bowl on her own.

Could there possibly be a negative in this joyous situation?

I rarely get to sing the “Eat your nummies!” song anymore.

Now that Lex is eating regularly, the physical transformation is undeniable. Her eyes are more alert and her fur is super shiny. She hops up on the couch and her special chair with ease. This after months of me lifting her up.

Lex STILL has a ball!

Lex STILL has a ball!

And best of all, her energy level is at an all-time high. This means she gets to play, and play hard with Charlie. She trots out into the back of the yard, then rushes back full-tilt, running like a puppy.

Not bad for a gal who will turn 15 in a few months.

She’s also started playing with toys again. In particular, she loved these teeny tennis balls made specifically for dogs. She plays catch in the house, and races Charlie to retrieve the ball from the hallway. She also will carry the ball around the house, rolling it around in her mouth.

She also recently developed an affection for Charlie’s deer antler. She’s taken it from him a few times, but then has no idea what to do with it. She’ll sniff it and mouth it, but she’s really lost the dexterity to actually have a chewing session.

Still, it’s cute to see her try. I do believe Lex has got her groove back.

FurFamHORZNTL

Vertigo


Lexie shakes off the dizziness. She's ready for another nap.

Lexie shakes off the dizziness. She’s ready for another nap.

It’s amazing how quickly things can fall apart.

Lex had just hopped up on the couch, and collapsed in my lap. The toxic smell of charcoal fluid washed over me. I leaned over, and could smell it all over her back. When I quickly put her on the floor and ushered her to the bathroom for a bath, she stumbled, and pulled her front left paw into her side. Her head jerked, and violently turned to the side.

Something was terribly wrong.

I frantically washed her, but discovered the fluid was only on her back, not in her mouth. I was terribly confused.

“We have to get her to emergency vet,” I told Matt, as he held her up.

We rushed her to the vet, and I silently wondered if I would return home without her.

The vet instantly ran some blood work, and came back with an unexpected development. Her kidney levels were healthy, all within range. When I explained how she was diagnosed with kidney failure last summer, and that she almost died, he said she most likely had acute failure. And this is something a dog can recover from, which apparently she has.

Then the vet offered his diagnosis. Lexie had vertigo, an intense dizziness that causes stumbling and twitchy movement. It’s unclear what caused the condition, but he said her dementia may have played a role.

Also, the charcoal fluid was a red herring. She most likely had a dizzy spell and fell on the bottle, which I had left on the ground.

Lexie paced the small vet room, as the doctor explained treatment options. She leaned into the wall, and walked all four corners, over and over again. The vet gave her a sedative so she would get some reprieve from the pacing, along with an antibiotic and a motion sickness medication.

Several hundred dollars later, we were headed home, Lex nodding off in the back seat.

Today, she is exhausted, and still experiencing the effects of the sedative. She had trouble standing on her own, and needs to be carried down the stairs so she can go outside.

It’s hard to know if she’ll come out of this, or what our next steps are. Lex is 14-and-a-half years old. She’s a gracious elder pup, who has lived a phenomenal life. She’s excelled as a big sister to Charlie, and a teacher to everyone around her.

As quickly as things fell apart, I’m desperately trying to piece everything back together.

I believe she’s still got something to give, and I still have a lot to learn.

FurFamHORZNTL

Snuggle bug


Where’d Mom go? I guess I’ll keep her side of the bed warm.

I woke up this morning shivering. The bed sheets were gone. I felt around in the dark for a blanket, and discovered a small nest in the middle of the bed. Right on top, I found a snoring pile of fur.

“Charlie! Get off,” Matt barked.

Charlie lifted his head, sleepiliy looked around the room, then promptly fell back asleep.

The general rule is that Lex and Charlie sleep in their dog beds. Charlie’s bed is on Matt’s side, and Lexie’s is on mine. This worked out until we recently rearranged the room. Matt was a little snot and demanded to have the side of the bed closest to the window, so we swapped sides. This caused confusion because Matt still wanted Charlie to sleep on his side.

Lex would rather snooze on the couch.

The first night, I brought Lex up to check out the new arrangement. She sniffed the beds, scanned the room then walked downstairs to sleep on the couch instead.

It took some convincing with Charlie. Matt got him to the new bed location, but by the middle of the night I saw he switched to my side.

“Chaaaarlieeeeee! Come heeeeere!!” Matt begged. Charlie sighed, then buried his head deep in his bed.

By morning, Charlie had relocated between us. It would have been cute (and of course it was!) if he wasn’t such a bed hog. It’s hard to imagine how such a small pup could commandeer an entire queen-sized quilt, and build it into a small fortress. I pulled at the edges of the quilt, and they wouldn’t  budge. Somehow he had Superglued them in place. I wiggled my fingers under Charlie and tried to move him, but suddenly he weighed as much as a full-grown rottweiler.

I grabbed the rumpled bed sheet off the floor, and covered up the best I could. I snuggled in close to Charlie and Matt, shivered, then fell asleep.


The first several days we had Charlie, he happily slept between Matt and me in our bed. He would wiggle between us, roll onto his back and pass out. Waking up to puppy kisses is one of the most divine things in the world.

This continued for close to a week. Until Charlie got worms. Then he was relegated to the dog bed on the floor. He recovered from his ailment almost immediately, but the floor bed orders remained in place. Over time he would sneak up until we saw him, then sulk as he slid off the bed.

Charlie sleeps best in bed. Our bed.

It’s said that dogs sleep anywhere from 12-18 hours a day. As a growing puppy, Charlie has evolved into an expert napper. From the top of the couch, to laying in a sunbeam out in the yard, Charlie catches his share of ZZZZs.

But his favorite spot remains in bed with us. Preferably in the middle, paws outstretched, belly exposed. Soft puppy snores, paw twitches.

Sleep tight, Charlie. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

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Lexie’s first love


Lexie and Lili on top of pillow mountain.

Long before Charlie, Lexie had another love in her life.

Lili was a barrel-shaped black-and-tan cocker spaniel, with a penchant for licking anything. Hence the nickname Lili the Licker.

I rescued Lili from my former partner’s relative, who could not care for her anymore. Before I got her, Lili spent a good portion of her first year cooped up in a bathroom; after I brought her home I would often find her curled up in front of our toilet.

Lili stands guard at base camp.

The bond between Lex and Lili was fast and fierce. They followed each other through the house, and cuddled up together on the couch for a nap. Together they both learned what it meant to go camping, and the freedom of chasing wild animals through the woods.

And then there was what I’ll call “The Kissing Game.” Aah, yes. At first guests would find it charming. “Oh look, they’re kissing!” they would say, pointing at Lex and Lili’s makeout session. But after a few minutes, the mood would turn awkward. The feverish licking continued. And then, a couple minutes more — and they would still be going at it like a couple of teenagers, um, in heat.

“Go get a dog house,” I would cry out, pulling them apart, as my guests averted their eyes. Clearly I needed to have a talk with the girls about appropriate behavior when we had friends over.

They loved taking walks together. In all kinds of weather. This led to various accessories, ranging from doggie rain coats to Mutt-Luk booties to keep salt from bothering their tender paws. Once I snapped the leashes on them, Lex and Lili knew only one speed: GO! I was that person, both arms outstretched, blindly following two dogs trying out for a mush team.

Lili was a delicate flower. She had allergies that would cause her to break out in terrible sores. And then there were the ear infections. It was such a terrible case, that even her allergist could not prevent her from going deaf. We tried everything, including feeding her venison I bought at a wild game shop. I’d say there were moments when her allergies would subside, but inevitably they would return, raging out of control.

Even with her smelly ears, Lili was the only one for Lexie. She never turned her nose, and always snuggled in a bit closer.

Lili and Jilli wait for a summer storm.

What many people don’t know is that Lili was an expert crooner. The moment I walked out of eyesight, whether out into the front yard or into the next room, Lili would start winding up. It went something like: “woo-wooo-Woo-Wooo-WOO-WOOO-WOOOOO!”

The first time I heard her howl I thought she had broken a leg. My heart raced as I ran back into the house, only to find her happily panting. It was the beginning of a lifetime of false alarms. Fool me once, fool me a thousand times!

Lex and Lili were like an old married couple. They waited for each other before climbing the stairs to go to bed. They ate at the same time. They peed in unison on walks. Their bond was unbreakable.

Our last photo together.

So when Lili died, I was unsure if Lexie would survive.

For days, Lex curled up on Lili’s smelly pillow. She moped, and didn’t eat. She lost weight. But eventually she started showing interest in the world again. A year passed, and I’m sure she was convinced she would finish her days as a spinster.

Then Charlie came along.

Love is tender and unpredictable. And love has found Lexie again.

Lili would want that.

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