Sunday, September 30, 2012

Black & White Sunday: Awesome Alfie

Thanks for visiting! Be sure not to miss yesterday's video post of Bella's first visit to the beach.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bella's week at the beach

We're back from vacation and do we have stories to tell. But first, we need to recover.

In the meantime, we offer you: Bella's first experience with the beach. (She loved it!)

(Please pardon the parts where she's not actually in the video. Bella is not only fast, she never runs in a straight line.)

Thanks for visiting and commenting while we were away. We hope to catch up on everything that's been happening in our friends' lives very soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Black & White Sunday: Crazy Amy

If you happened to drop by for this week's "Wordless Wednesday", you'd have met Amy looking rather sweet and docile as her new 12 year-old owner climbed aboard on Christmas day. Here's a more realistic view of what being atop Amy entailed:

My sister, Donna, 4 years older and a world more experienced, tried to 'break' Amy for us. She never did quite accept a rider but she and I enjoyed our days hanging out together and strolling in the grass.

I'm beginning to sense a pattern here with me and slightly insane animals. ;)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 57 - A Pony for Christmas

I was digging through some old photographs and found this one. I loved it and thought I'd share.

Breaking the 'wordless' rules for today, I wanted to let everyone know that Casa de Bella is going on vacation next week. (And yes, including Bella!) I have some posts scheduled to go up but since this one was supposed to and it didn't work, you may not hear from us again until October. (We'll see if I can get this schedule thing figured out. Any and all suggestions are welcome.)

Hope everyone has a wonderful couple of weeks and that we don't miss anything too terribly exciting in our absence.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Better living through pharmaceuticals

Alternate titles considered for this post: Mother's Little Helper, Purple Haze, White Rabbit...

Now lest I totally date myself here, let me also add: Comfortably Numb, Dr. Feelgood and The Dope Show...  (That last one is kind of R-rated. Just sayin'...)

And so, we've come to the fifth spoke in our wheel: medication. This, along with Bella's Agility for Reactive Dogs class, is an ongoing story so this post will be brief (promises, promises!) but I'll be going into more details about how the drugs affected Bella, and what we did to accommodate and address various issues we ran into along the way for probably as long as she and the blog survive.

I had begun talking to a friend in one of the rescues I volunteer with about medication for dogs in May 2011. Actually, she started talking to me.

Her dog, much like Bella was an anxious and fearful dog and she had placed him on a low dose of Prosac about two years earlier. She was very empathetic to what we were going through and a real advocate for medication as a means to help our dogs cope.

It still took us 4 months and a bite before we set up an appointment to talk to a doctor about prescribing medication for Bella.

When mulling over the points I wanted to make in this post, two came to instantly to mind:
  1. We shouldn't be so resistant to medications that are proven to help dogs who are otherwise suffering in fear, and
  2. Medications are not a quick fix or magic pill.
I think point 2 plays in to the resistance referenced in point 1. It's easy to think yourself a failure if you 'resort' to medicating your dog. We didn't try hard enough, we didn't do it right, someone else would have been a better pet parent, we're taking the easy way out...

Well, let me tell anyone who is considering putting their dog on medication to help manage their fear and anxiety - it ain't easy. Jan and I have never so carefully evaluated Bella's every mood and manner. We keep a journal that tracks her meds, her food intake, her behavior and her temperament. Is she withdrawn? Lethargic? Is she eating? What do her stools look like? How much water is she drinking?

If this is a magic pill, someone forgot to add the magic.

Our goal in using medications with Bella was to simply get her "under threshold" long enough that we could begin to teach her other coping mechanisms. Dr. Dodman suggested we start Bella on a low-dose of Prosac (fluoxetine) for the aggression issues, soloxine for her hypothyroidism and clonidine to help her cope with thunderstorms.

Fluoxetine (Prosac) elevates the serotonin levels in the brain and can help reduce anxiety. Bella would start at 30 mg/day, 10 mg in the morning and 20 mg at night since serotonin levels drop in the evening. 
Soloxine is the drug we put her on for the sub-clinical hypothyroidism. It's a simple thyroid replacement medication. The benefit is that in controlling her hypothyroidism, to some degree her aggression is also controlled.
Clonidine acts to counter the flight or flight response. It's especially effective for managing thunderstorm phobia, fear aggression and separation anxiety.
We've had our ups and downs.

We've adjusted the medications Bella's taking and how often, four times in the year she's been on them. And we've adjusted the doses even more than that. She has at times broken my heart in fear that I'd lost my plucky, ebullient little girl and made me weep with joy the day she initiated play with me again for the first time in ages.

If I could offer a bit of encouragement to anyone considering medications as an option for their dog, I'd like it to be this bit of wisdom from Bella's first trainer, Sheila:

One day while discussing my concerns that medications might change my Bella's personality, that I was worried the meds would 'change' her, Sheila, dog bless her, told me, "If Bella's brain chemistry is out of balance and the medications bring that back into balance, then the meds won't be changing her personality, they'll be revealing it. The real Bella will emerge."

And so Bella's story continues...

Her 'real self' has indeed finally emerged and she is still just as sweet and adorable as she always was. I'll be sharing lots of details and stories about her agility class and our journey with medications as her story progresses. I hope you'll stick with us. We're finally out of the heavy stuff and on the road to recovery. This is where it gets good.

If I have been neglectful in thanking and praising the resources we have had working with us to help Bella, I apologize because we have no doubt had some of the best. From our vets to our trainers to Dr. Dodman and his staff, we have never lacked for empathy, kindness and consideration of Bella's situation. Every day when I see her act with more confidence, behave more like a 'normal' dog, when I see the stress and anxiety disappear little by little, I am thankful for the good work these folks in animal care do and give to us.

And I am grateful to our readers for not writing off the crazy dog at the first mention of teeth. Bella is a good dog. Yes, she has her issues and there have been times we've wondered if we really could 'fix' her but she is a sweet and playful soul who has been worth every moment of the effort and expense put in to helping her. I hope this series gives some hope to others who find themselves in similar situations. It is not an easy road but, with patience and perseverence, it is passable. Hang in there.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Black & White Sunday: You rang?

As a side note, if you haven't already done so, please take a moment to read yesterday's guest post about Lilly of Champion of My Heart and consider sharing her story with your fans, followers and readers. Thank you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lilly's Fight For Survival: She Needs Our Help

Hi friends,

We have a first here on Bringing up Bella today: a guest blogger. I'll be handing the reins over to Jana Rade from Dawg Business in just moment. But first I want to thank her for not only writing this guest post but also for spearheading the campaign to raise awareness, and funds, for beautiful Lilly and her amazing mom, Roxanne from Champion of My Heart.

When asked if I wanted to participate in a blog blast about Lilly's continued failing health, I wanted to with all my heart but, as some may have noticed, I've been pretty scarce online lately and knew I simply wouldn't be able to write a post to accurately inform everyone of Lilly's situation in time for a 'blast'. Once again, Jana stepped up and took the lead writing this post for us today.

A lot is said about the amazingly supportive nature of the pet-blogging community. I know we can rally again for one of our own and help Lilly and her mom find some sense of well-being through this. We here at Casa de Bella hold Lilly and her whole family in our hearts and we hope you'll join us in helping to ease their burden. There's a Chip-in at the bottom of this post and one over there on the right side menu of the blog. If everyone helped just a little, it would make for a lot of help for Lilly.

And now, Jana Rade:

Have you ever lost a dog because you didn't have the money to save their life? Once I have, and once I came pretty close.

Sometimes it doesn't matter how great care you take of your dog, a disaster strikes anyway. Sometimes it won't help you that you have pet health insurance, because they'll cover only a fraction of the cost of saving your dog's life.

Lilly of Champion of My Heart, was a spirited, healthy Border Collie. She was, however, a magnet for medical disasters. Snake bites, a spider bite, things kept happening to her.

Lilly's last disaster was something nobody would expect in their wildest nightmares. On January 23, 2012, she went for her routine rabies vaccination. At first she just seemed a bit under the weather, which was not unusual for her after a vaccination. But things got worse, much worse.

Lilly was hospitalized with high fever, extreme lethargy and inability to walk. Her body reacted to the vaccine violently and she was diagnosed with vaccine-induced meningoencephalitis. Lilly spent a week in intensive care, fighting for survival.

She made it throuth the initial onset but her struggles were far from over. For half a year she was struggling on a way to recovery, paved with challenges and setbacks.

And then the inflammation struck again, with a vengeance. Lilly was rushed to the ICU once again, nearly dead. This time it was Lilly's brain stem that took the hardest hit. For several days Lilly was fighting for her life, again. This relapse was worse than the original onset.

She has survived this relapse, but her life is still hanging by a thread. On top of all the medications she's already on, her neurologist suggest a course of specialized chemo, in the attempt to get the inflammation under control.

Nobody really knows how many treatments Lilly might need, or whether this will work at all. It might be her only chance to ever recover. But Lilly is not ready to give up.

Meanwhile, the financial resources have been exhausted. On top of worrying about Lilly's health, now there is the worry of not being able to afford the care she needs.

This is a very dark place.

Can we help out so Lilly can recover?

Please read Lilly's latest update Chemo, Ho! Treating Brain Inflammation After Adverse Rabies Vaccine Reaction. To follow the full story, follow the Adverse Vaccine Reaction – Recovery from Meningoencephalomyelitis.

All photos courtesy Champion of My Heart.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Communication Breakdown

Jan and I were married in St. Kitts September 23, 2004. It was a beautiful, private ceremony held in the gardens of Romney Manor.

The photographer of our wedding bestowed a few words of wisdom on us regarding how to have and keep a healthy marriage. His words have stayed with me ever since. He told us to "talk to each other."

Both Jan and I nodded having, we thought, heard this advice time and again - yes, we need to communicate. But the photographer pressed that, in fact, we hadn't. He clarified:
"I don't mean communicate, I mean talk to each other. We communicate with everyone all the time - our eyes, our faces, our bodies communicate. You need to talk to each other. Talking is different. It removes the potential confusion and misunderstanding we communicate to each other when we don't talk."
Obviously, dogs can't talk.

They don't have the benefit of our wordy explanations regarding why we need them to do something, why something they're doing is wrong and why, as much as we'd like to stay, we have to go to work in the morning. But just like us, they do communicate. And they read our signals to them probably far better than we can imagine.

Bella is extraordinarily communicative. She is often very clear in relaying her needs and desires to us. We apparently lack her skills because we haven't yet been able to make her understand where she fits in our lives.

When we met with Dr. Dodman to help resolve her issues with Jan, we learned a few things about how to communicate with Bella:
  1. Be consistent - in ways you never thought necessary.
  2. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  3. You can't crown yourself king.
Let's take the points in order.

Point 1 was to both of us.

We know that dogs need consistency to understand what we want from them. If one day they're allowed on the couch and the next day they're not, they're going to get confused. What we didn't know is that some dogs can be so sensitive to our movements, motions and emotions, that even slight variations in our signals can leave them wondering what we want.

This was a lesson both Jan and I had to learn. The lesson was mostly that our dog is better at reading us, if she can see us, than we are at reading her. Dogs understand consisitency and some dogs, especially particularly smart dogs, can get confused if the sign you are using to communicate with them changes even a fraction from what it was previously. We had to learn to be very consistent and definite with our requests to her. Otherwise this could lead to insecurity based in confusion - What did we want from her?

It wasn't always thus.
As for her ability to read us, I've mentioned before that Jan has long hair, a beard and wears glasses. He also has a very soft, very deep voice. Even when he's over-the-moon happy, it can be hard to tell. In fact, if he gets excited, his deep voice gets louder but not really any lighter so it could be miscontrued as yelling if you don't understand the actual words he's saying.

In our conversation with Dr. Dodman, we were reminded how much dogs rely on our facial features and tone of voice to interpret our words. Yet when Bella looks at Jan, she can't usually see his eyes (she sees the reflection of his glasses), she can't easily assess his mouth (hidden to a degree behind his beard) and he's so quiet when he speaks to her most of the time that she may not be able to infer any tone at all because she can barely hear him. So the onus falls to him to read her a little better.

Dr. Dodman suggested Jan pay attention to the time of day (serotinin levels drop at night and she may be less tolerant, crankier), be aware of potentially painful situations (Bella may have some arthritis in her shoulders) and watch her ears, eyes and body posture for signs of stress and discomfort. It's also worth nothing that Jan does not hear quite as well as Bella and I do so visual clues to her current state of mind become even more important than usual.

Note to Jan: You need to up your drama queen quotient.

Correction: While discussing this history with Jan, I was reminded that it wasn't Dr. Dodman who talked to us originally about Bella's inability to read Jan due to his glasses and beard but rather our vet, Dr. Coldwell. It just reinforces what we already know - it takes a village to raise a scared-y dog. ;)

Point 2 was specifically to Jan.

Jan's biggest lesson was the second point: say what you mean and mean what you say. If you ask your dog to do something, expect her to do it. Don't let her get away with half-ways or not-at-alls.

Jan didn't grow up with dogs. The two dogs he shared his life with prior to bringing Bella into our home were adult dogs who had already been trained. They were also pretty 'normal', well-adjusted dogs who, even if they hadn't been trained, weren't going to have the types of issues Bella has. So he wasn't well-versed in all things dog. He wasn't familiar with "Nothing in Life is Free" and he certainly didn't know he should only ask for a behavior once so he had some learning to do there.

But believe me, this is hardly Jan's fault. Bella is a master manipulator. You cannot believe the lengths she will go to in her 'but I'm adorable' box to get what she wants. She can be hard to resist but Jan is learning to set expectations with her and not give in just because she bats her eyelashes at him.

Point 3 was one for me to learn.

When Bella first lunged at Jan, I stepped in between them. I've been stepping into the middle of dog fights my whole life and I didn't really think she would do anything. (I know, I'm not too bright. It's been said.) However, the research I turned up on the web largely suggested that the person being aggressed needed to control the situation. "Stop." "Turn away." "Ignore the dog."

Bella snuggling up with Jan
back when she was just a babe.
This approach however, actually kind of pissed Bella off (pardon my language). I felt like I was watching "Fatal Attraction" and Bella was doing her best "I'm not going to be ignored", Jan! routine when he turned away from her only without the humor we can look back on it with now.  It was scary. She wasn't dialing it back when he turned away, she just ran around and got back in front of him again.

And then Dr. Dodman said something that really struck home. For whatever reason, Bella has crowned me queen of the castle and deemed herself the queen's guard. It was not up to Jan to place himself above Bella - it was up to me. Anytime Bella made an aggressive advance towards Jan, I had to intervene. (See, maybe I'm not so stupid after all?) I had to be the one to break up the altercation.

This totally goes against all the behavioral advice I found online but maybe they're talking about situations that hadn't yet escalated to this degree? At any rate, it was up to me to control the situation and I have done as good a job as I know how. If Bella got on the bed in the evening, I had to usher her off. If she and I were cuddling and she grumbled at Jan's approach, I had to end the snuggle-fest.

It's been hard, I'll admit. This is the hardest of all the things I've had to do. A good part of me feels like I have let Bella down. That I've weakened the bond she and I shared. But I also know that I would never risk Jan's safety in lieu of a little snuggle time with the dog. Interestingly enough, my bond with her, while changed, has not really suffered. And her bond with Jan has increased exponentially.

The two most influential components of our work with Bella are coming up in the next few weeks: the meds and her 'Agility for Reactive Dogs' classes. I'm hoping to give a quick overview of both but they are long and on-going spokes in our wheel. I hope you'll stick with us for the continuing saga.

Post title credit: Led Zeppelin "Communication Breakdown" (Sorry for the intro advertisement. It's the best rendition of the song I could find on YouTube.)