Sunday, March 31, 2013

B&W Sunday - Bella doesn't "get" props

Bella, sweetie, you were supposed to lie ON the towel....

I know this hop is supposed to be wordless but, just quickly, Bella has recuperated from last Wednesday's procedure nicely. Her limp has largely abated but we're starting to see signs of it again. Ever so slight and only every so often. Still hopeful though so keep your paws crossed if you would. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Somewhat Wordless Wednesday 84 - Bella's limp

For those wondering how we're doing with Bella's limp, she is in Boston today having her shoulder joint aspirated and a steroid injected. We just got news that she is out of surgery and resting comfortably. Now we wait to find out if it worked.

This is what we're trying to fix:

For the record, it's chicken dehydrating on the counter that has her so captivated.

We will give an update when we have one. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the rest of the blogs in today's Wordless Wednesday blog hop!

Monday, March 25, 2013

What a difference a drug makes.... Part 1

Hi everybody. Sorry about the unexpected hiatus - things here at Casa de Bella have been a little nutso. But I did want to finally finish up talking about Bella's experience with medications and our efforts with her at behavior modification. So here we are again.

The next few posts are going to cover a fair amount of chronological time but only 3 major events that changed, and significantly improved, Bella's quality of life (after it had become almost inconceivably mucked up.) This first part is about the realization that we hadn't quite gotten this whole Bella thing figured out just yet.

Part 1 - Bella bites Jan - again
I do love you, Daddy, I really do.
I'd love you even more if you gave me that chip.

We first put Bella on medications to ease her anxiety under the direction of Dr. Dodman in September of 2011. We had some ups and downs with the dosages through that fall and finally decided to keep Bella on a lower-than-recommended dose of Prosac. She became a member of the living dead whenever we tried to get her up to 30 mgs/day - the lowest recommended dosage for a dog her size. (Sensitive dog is sensitive.)

We had also changed her food to reduce her intake of protein and increased the amount of physical exercise and mental stimulation she was getting.

Bella had been doing very well with all the changes and her relationship with Jan was much improved. However, during the holidays that first year on the meds, her stress level began increasing culminating with a blow-out in agility class with Willy. Her cranky intolerance of any faux pas Jan made was also on the rise and finally came to a head with a very serious altercation in February 2012.

(Honestly, my husband is the most patient man on the planet and I love him dearly for putting up with this crap.)

Bella's relationship with each of us as individuals is complicated. Believe it or not, Bella sees Jan as her protector, seeking him out in times of distress. The problem is she sees herself as mine.

But it's really a little more complicated than that because I'm no shrinking violet whose dog thinks she can walk all over her. But for some reason, every now and then, Bella's fear of losing her most valued resource, that which she associates with getting her out of the shelter and into a home (me), takes over and she flips out.

Bella doesn't really have separation anxiety but this quote by Dr. Dodman describes what's going on with her perfectly:
"A recent study suggests that dogs suffering from separation anxiety are the pessimists of the canine world who always expect the worst in any situation. In the case of separation anxiety, their worst fear is presumably that their owners have gone, never to return." Source - Veterinary Practice News
In our case, I believe Bella's worst fear is that something will happen to me. So Bella lashes out at the presumed threat: Jan. It sucks but it is "understandable".

By that I don't mean it's excusable, I mean it's literally "understandable": we can understand the reasons for her overreaction. And if we can understand them, we can change them.

(Click to embiggen.)
In this case, we identified the following contributing circumstances:
  • We hadn't quite gotten the right combination or dosage of the drugs yet,
  • Bella's anxiety was ratcheting up again as she acclimated to the meds and our own stress levels rose over the holidays,
  • It was winter and Bella wasn't getting as much as exercise as she had been through the fall,
  • She had just suffered the altercation with her agility classmate, Willy, making her nervous and hyper-vigilant and finally
  • When she lives under constant stress and nervousness, Bella's "trigger" point is much lower.

But while we may have understood all this, we had no idea what to do about it. So off we went back to Dr. Dodman.

His first line of advice was to see if we could get Bella back up to the higher level of Prosac (Fluoxetine). We were much more successful getting her up to the 30 mg a day this time around. She hadn't turned into a zombie, she maintained her appetite and her enthusiasm and everything was looking up.

But then we noticed something else: the increased dose didn't zombie-fy her but it didn't seem to be doing much of anything at all. She was still fleeing the room at every tick and tock and every drop of a pine cone on the roof. And not just fleeing but fleeing and trembling and cowering in fear.

Bella was doing very well with Jan. In fact they spent a week alone together while I was traveling for work which seemed to further solidify their budding relationship. But we still weren't confident another outburst wasn't waiting in the wings. Her anxiety remained at epic levels and, even if she never reacted badly again, we knew her quality of life was suffering due to her continuing to live in constant fear - of life.

Not a happy state for our little heroine but don't give up on her just yet. We'll be back next week with the second part of this, the final chapter in Bella's redemptive arc.

And here's just a silly picture of my little wack-a-doodle to remind you she's actually a good girl.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Black & White Sunday: Amy

This is one of my dad's photos. That was my pony, Amy. (This picture is very, very old.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Follow-up Fri... er, Saturday

Hey guys, a quick Follow-up Friday here on a Saturday night. As you can see, I've done little to improve my time management skills and am still playing a bit of catch up.

I do hope to be back in action again this week getting back to Bella's crazy story, her training and her growth. In the meantime, following up on the last week....

Meet the new nephew

Isn't Frodo cute? If you were paying attention this week, you might have picked up on the fact that he's not the first Frodo in the family but more on that in a moment. I was very excited to meet Frodo having talked to my sister through their whole adoption experience. Frodo sounded just like the dog for them and, while every new dog needs some adjustment time and Frodo is no exception, he's also a very happy, friendly dog who defers to the cats in the family and seems to just love everyone.

I enjoyed playing with him and he apparently liked me a little bit, too. I got slathered with kisses, he sat in my lap and later in the day began with ear slobbers and nose nibbles. He was playing with me. And I was hooked.

To answer one question that came up, no Bella and Frodo have not met yet. But now that I've met Frodo, I anticipate a successful meeting someday in the future. (If he defers to the cats, there's a good bet he will also defer to Bella.)

However that meeting will be delayed for a while yet due to Bella's current state of health. More on that in a moment.

Wordless Wednesday 83 - A Beau and his cat.

Aren't they cute? Beau and Frodo were a real interesting pair. They played rough together, slept together, and when I took Beau for walks, Frodo traveled right along with us just a few meters behind. I miss them both.

And as you have no doubt by now surmised, little kitty Frodo is Frodo the First. Handsome nephew dog, Frodo has been duly dubbed (at least on the blog), Frodo the Other. ;)

Follow-up Friday 5

Is it Kosher to follow up on a Follow-up?

Well, I need to so here goes anyway... Bella had her appointment with the neurologist at Angell Animal Medical Center and we have a diagnosis and a treatment plan. She has what is the equivalent of a torn rotator cuff. We are weighing our options under the advice of doctors, trainers and friends. We will keep you posted.

Additionally, we have recently learned that Bella likely has Colitis.

Poor little pumpkin just can't catch a break.

Her tummy has been doing well on the prescription diet but all treats are off for now. We will be adding them back in gradually to see at what point she starts having tummy troubles again but this also means that her Reactive Agility class is cancelled for the time being. (Of course, that's cancelled for the time being while we schedule her treatments anyway.)

Poor little pumpkin.

On the bright side, she obviously feels rather sorry for herself and is looking for comfort in the form of hugs and snuggles. We are happy to oblige.

So that's all the news that fit to print right now. Monday I hope to pick up the story of Bella's agility and training adventures again. In the meantime, thanks for all the positive thoughts and good wishes. If you're interested in keeping up with Bella in real time, I give more frequent updates on her Facebook page if you want to follow her there.

Thanks a bunch for dropping by. And thank you, Jodi from Heart Like a Dog and this week's co-host, Two Brown Dawgs for letting us join in the Follow-up Friday blog hop.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 83 - A Beau and his cat

Here's an old favorite picture of mine of my beautiful Beau and his cat, Frodo. They were inseparable.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Black & White Sunday: Meet the new nephew

The new dog nephew, that is.

Uh Frodo, that's not really your best side....
Ah, there he is. Everybody, meet Frodo.
Frodo, meet everybody.

I was very excited to meet my new nephew for the first time today. Frodo was rescued from the Warwick Animal Shelter in RI by my sister and her family. He is very sweet.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Follow up Friday 5

Oh my dog, what happened to February? (For that matter, what the heck happened to March!!!) I went looking for what number Follow up Friday this would be and realized I seem to have misplaced an entire month. :(

Anyway, on to some follow up and then I want to take a moment to talk about some blog-keeping notes.

First, the follow-up:

  • "Black & White Sunday: Let me in..." had a lot of people wondering why Bella, apparently already inside, wanted to be let in and in where? This picture was taken Christmas morning and Bella wanted to be let in to the room with her presents. (Which is actually the basement.) Sorry about that.

  • Going back just a little further to a week ago Wednesday's post "A little nervous", this was actually a fairly recent picture taken just in January of this year in her agility class. As far as Bella has come, she still gets nervous sometimes but is learning more and more to look to us for assurance.

  • And now a word about Wordless Wednesday 82 Thanks for all the kind words about my beautiful boy, Beau. He was handsome and he knew it. Of course, everyone who met him told him that so, you know...

    I will undoubtedly wish Beau a happy birthday every year. I spent a third of my life with him and his presence left an indelible mark on me. But don't worry or feel bad, I no longer dread the day. Although I won't commemorate the day of his passing, his birthday has become a day of appreciation. Beau was A Good Dog.

So, you might notice that this follow-up is a bit thin. That's because I haven't been posting as much as I would like. Which leads me to some blog-keeping issues:

First, allow me to apologize for not keeping up with everyone. I miss you all and look forward to maybe having some time this weekend to do catch up.

Second, allow me to apologize even more profusely for doing such a crappy job at recognizing the kind folks who've presented us with awards over the last several months. I swear I had a post written to get me back in to the groove and my PC shut down on me crushing all my pride and enthusiasm that I was finally getting "a round tuit".

Finally, allow me to apologize for letting Bella's agility story wane a bit. I know the next chapter, I just need time to write it.

Now, please, allow me to offer this series of lame excuses for all of the above:
  1. My job is simply out of control. I can't say much more than that but I'll be lucky to have time to breathe over the next 3 months. If I live through the experience, one would hope it will make my life easier going forward.

  2. Jan, being retired, has decided this is the perfect time to begin work on finishing the ceiling in our master bedroom. Fair enough, I've been whining mildly about the lack of such for some time. However, it demands some of my time and attention at times or, at the very least, creates an interesting ambiance what with the scaffolding and air compressor hanging about.

  3. At the same time, our master bath shower decided to crumble and we've spent the last several weeks at glass and fixture stores, talking to plumbers, and fighting over designing the tile layout for a new one.

    And let's just say I find myself regularly considering a change in profession as my mind boggles over the estimates people keep delivering to us with a straight face. Really, if you've never been through it, it an incredibly eye-opening experience.

  4. Finally, there's the reason you all are here: our beautiful Bella.

    Bella is still doing well in her agility class and her behavior modification program continues as well. However, since September 2012, she has been limping and doctor after doctor hasn't been able to figure out what's wrong or offer her much relief.

    She has been going to rehab (details on that forthcoming) and been through a number of vet exams, x-rays and ultra-sounds. It is frustrating and heart-breaking that we haven't been able to ease her pain and on top of it, she can't run and play because we don't know the impact doing such would have on whatever is wrong with her.

    She is still our little darling and has been a plucky little soldier through the whole thing but it's discouraging and sapping my energy in ways I never imagined.

    Over the last few weeks, she's started having tummy issues (diarrhea, a bit of lethargy, and even a morning barf-fest) and we were back at the vet again today. We're trying a special, limited diet and pro-biotics for now but will probably have to cancel her rehab and agility class if she can't have her special "go-to" treats that help her get through those scary events.

    I don't mean to whine. I know this is what life is. But with Bella, just going to the vet is a traumatic adventure and requires careful planning and preparation.

    It's also unspeakably heart-breaking to know that, despite all we've done to allay her imaginary fears, when push comes to shove, we can't protect her from real danger.

    On the bright side, she has an appointment with a neurologist at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston on Tuesday. The doctor we are seeing has been presented as something of a miracle worker by absolutely everyone we have spoken to so our hopes are high for some sort of resolution or at least a path to progress. We will keep you posted.
In the meantime, I ask for your patience and forgiveness. Bella is the reason I started the blog and right now she takes priority over it. But I do miss you all.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

(Not quite) Wordless Wednesday 82 - "On the day that you were born..."

"...the angels got together,
and decided to create a dream come true...."*

Beau would have been 19 years old tomorrow.
Instead he has been gone from us for 5.

Still miss you, buddy. Happy birthday.

* Close to You - The Carpenters - Please tell me I'm not the only one here old enough to remember them....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Two steps forward, one step back

Lest you think life with Bella has been all unicorns and rainbows since we started her on the 5-pronged approach recommended by Dr. Dodman including medications and her Agility for Reactive Dogs class in the Fall of 2011, life just never really seems to go in a particularly straight line.

Even while we were making progress training Bella over the various agility obstacles, and she was taking her prescribed medications, eating a low(er) protein diet and getting as much exercise as we could work into our schedule, in January/February 2012, Bella started showing signs of increased anxiety at home again. She began darting from the room at the slightest sound, not sleeping through the night and becoming even more frantic about storms and unexpected events.

What? Me, worry?

Things came to a head in February culminating in 2 events that made us realize not all was well in the state of Bella:

  • First, Bella and Jan had another scuffle in February. I called Dr. D.s' office immediately but it would be April before we could get back in to see him for a follow-up.

  • Then, a week or so later, we learned how quickly things can turn south in a classroom full of reactive dogs.

In the early days of class, our trainer, Carolyn, would have us walk the dogs around the room in a parade route fashion - each dog staying appropriately distanced behind the next to keep them under threshold. The idea was for the person following to be responsible for maintaining the distance behind the dog in front. But sometimes the dogs have other ideas.

Bella had been toodling right along in class for a couple of months when one night, while she was stalled admiring the alluring aroma of classmate Elmo's mat, classmate Willie decided to trot his way over the dog walk heading straight towards Bella at a pretty good and noisy clip. I, sadly without eyes in the back of my head, was watching Elmo in front of us and missed the signals Bella was most certainly sending me before she blew up like a mad dog in Willie's direction behind me. Hrumph.

Landing solidly on one of my knees and following that with my face, the best I could do was hold on (and pray I hadn't just broken my knee). Bella continued to lunge and growl at the end of the leash and Willie gave his owner a good tussle mimicking Bella's behavior back at her. It took a moment for everyone to realize I wasn't able to get up and suddenly Jan and Carolyn sprang between the dogs - Jan getting Bella back under control and Carolyn helping Willie's owner handle him and herd him back to his mat.

Sweet little Elmo remained rather oblivious to the whole encounter as he was now on the opposite side of the room.

Still not quite calm but getting better.
The trick that salvaged this situation was the the double leashes we use on the dogs in class and Carolyn's requirement that we wrap the loop end of both around our wrists. In my case, I often push the loop up over my elbow since my hands are small and I worry that the loops will slip over and out of my hand.

That practice may have sent me sprawling but it saved Bella from breaking free of my grasp and getting to Willie which would have been a disaster. (Willie had previously been attacked by another dog IN a training class. No wonder the poor guy has reactivity issues.)

The mark of a good teacher, in my mind, is the ability to read a situation, understand the needs and motivations of her students and change her teaching methods if and when they're not working for any individual. Carolyn is a very good teacher. And she has made several modifications to her approach in teaching us and helping our dogs over the life of our class.

After Bella's little outburst, Carolyn stopped having us walk around together in a circle and had us all line up along the same wall. Baby gates and sheets separating the dogs so they couldn't see each other at all except during controlled warm-up periods. Over time, as the dogs got better at that, we started working them on some of the obstacles during the warm-up sessions, first one dog at a time, then two and finally the whole class working together at the same time.

Bonding over treats and training.
So while we waited to get in to see Dr. D and get his recommendations for Bella's continuing anxiety, it was a great relief to be able to rely on Carolyn's experience and advice on how to keep working on Bella's reactivity and improve her relationship with Jan through the classes.

Jan and I learned we need to take turns as Bella's handler each week. Improving Jan's relationship with her is our highest priority but at the same time, we can't have mine suffer as a result. We could end up having the same problem but just reversing to whom it's directed. Everyone has a role to play in helping Bella heal and we each have to be a part of the solution if this is going to work.

Thank you, daddy, for teaching me.
Jan and Bella's relationship has improved over time and with a great deal of effort and patience. I am fortunate to have married the most amazing man in the world, one who clearly never gives up on those he loves. Bella surely is one lucky girl.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Black & White Sunday: Ever the skeptic

(Jan is building a new ceiling in our master bedroom. I'm not sure if Bella is critiquing his work or waiting for a beam to drop on her head. ;)

Happy Sunday, everybody!