Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Christmas, everyone.

From everyone here at Bringing up Bella, we wish you the happiest of holidays
and all the best in the new year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wordless Wednesday 135 - Photo shoot first peek

You didn't expect her to be quiet, now did you? Oh no, not my little blabbermouth.

Photo credit: Amanda Jones Photography compliments of Petplan Pet Insurance

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Not especially wordless Wednesday 134 - "Say cheese!"

Bella had a special surprise last Saturday - her very own photo shoot with acclaimed pet photographer Amanda Jones.

Awaiting instruction...

We were thrilled, Bella had a blast and I'll be writing more about the experience soon. I cannot WAIT to see the photos!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bending the rules

Hi there.

So back in August, I mentioned Casa de Bella was going on vacation. We had a blast - probably the best vacation we've had in ages. Bella may not have entirely agreed with that assessment but she still had a grand time.

We spent a week near Camden, Maine in a small town called Hope. We rented a house on a pond and, while my hopes of getting Bella in the water did not materialize, at least I enjoyed everything the pond had to offer. From late summer swimming to kayaking and listening to the loons, I was delighted with our choice of locations.

Jan doesn't swim. And apparently neither does Bella. To be fair, there was no easy access to the water, she would have had to jump in to join me. (And believe me, we tried to get her to do that.) Just something to note for next time.

I'm sorry, you want me to do what?
Neither was Bella fond of the crate. Read: She wasn't going in there again for love nor money and all the super-duper best high-value treats in all the land were not going to sway her opinion. (I should note, we had been crate-training Bella again since February.)

So, after consulting with a few dear friends, we opted to keep her "contained" rather than actually "crated" and hope that our little ploy was not discovered. She tolerated that considerably better.

Of course, we also decided to adjust our itinerary to accommodate the crazy dog.

"I get to come! I get to come! Yay me!"

We took her hiking in the mornings to tire her out so she wouldn't be as stressed on the few afternoons we left her behind.

Bella is a good dog and, short of an absolute necessity due to illness, I know she would never do any damage in the house. But she does prefer to fend for herself when frightened and her favorite method is to run. She can't do that if she's in a crate.

Hiking Mount Battie, Camden, Maine
I'm not sure what this will mean for our future adventures as it seems everyone and every place requires dogs be crated when left alone. But because of her abject fear of other dogs, we can't always take her with us either. And kenneling her is simply out of the question.

I guess we'll keep looking and trying. And if we have to bend a rule here and there, well then, so be it. We've worked long and hard to overcome Bella's fears. No 1-week vacation is worth undoing all that.

So tell me, what would you have done? Have you ever "bent" the rules to help your dog?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Miss me?

Hi there.

Remember me?

Yeah, I'm that crazy dog who this blog is supposed to be about.

I'm filling in for the hu-mom today because she can't quite figure out what to say these days.

She has figured out one thing though: she wants to talk about me.

She doesn't want to turn this blog into a business. She doesn't want to sell stuff. She doesn't want to research the most effective times to post or the best social media tools to help manage her cyber-life. She doesn't want to Pin and Tweet and G+ and Stumble or "Learn 20 Ways to Get More Followers".

She wants to talk about me and dogs like me.

She wants to help me and dogs like me be they scared or left on their own in the streets and shelters.

She says she lost sight of that in all the hoopla about how to be a better, bigger, bloggier blog.

But that's not why she started this blog. She started this blog because she wanted a place to tell my stories and all the fun and crazy stuff I do. And she says she feels like she hasn't done that in a very long time.

As for me, I'm doing really well physically and behaviorally. Mom and dad have been taking me for lots of walks to strengthen me up after having been incapacitated for so long due to my injuries last year. But I'm sure mom's looking forward to writing about all the things we're doing together these days since, as she says, that IS the point of this whole blog thing. So I won't spoil that for you here now.

For today, I just figured I'd stop in and say hello. I know you all must miss my pretty face.

Mom says she really misses your pups, too and looks forward to catching up with everybody very soon.

Be well.

Monday, August 25, 2014

On the Road (With a Crazy Dog)

Casa de Bella is preparing for a much-needed getaway celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary at a little house on a secluded lake somewhere off the beaten path in Mid-Coast Maine.

Sounds romantic, doesn't it? Yeah, not so fast.

There's a reason we are renting a house so far away from civilization and it has little to do with romance. It has to do with our crazy dog.

Who? Me?

Traveling with Bella can be a test of patience and fortitude. She is highly reactive in the car, afraid of all things new and, while crate-trained, not super-cool about being locked in her crate left by herself in a strange place. (She's a "run and hide" kind of girl and views the crate more as a trap than a treasure.)

Planning a vacation with a scared-y dog - and let's face it, we can't really plan a vacation without her - starts early and requires more than a modest amount of planning and effort.

First, we choose the locale. Since Bella will be joining us, we have to be able to drive to our destination and the search is limited by travel time. I usually pick a nearby state we haven't visited (or haven't visited recently) and begin digging deeper into various areas to explore.

This year I boiled it down to Maine or Vermont. I love Vermont but we've been there recently and Jan has never been to Maine so Maine it is. Now, we not only have to accommodate the crazy dog in our travels, we have to please the humans as well and Jan and I, while having much in common, are also more than a little dissimilar in our vacationing tastes.

"I'm a little bit country, he's a little bit" city-boy.

Jan loves to peruse art museums and antique shops. I prefer hiking and beautiful, natural vistas.

Luckily we both love to eat so as long as I can find a really good foodie culture with a few art galleries and a lake or ocean view, we're good to go.

This year Camden, Maine looks like it will fit the bill nicely.

Or rather Hope, Maine since Camden will be busy with people and tourists and other dogs and we want to survive this vacation. So we're staying in Hope, Maine.

Never heard of it? Good, that's the point.

Bella will have her own private yard with a private dock and a large pond to play in. Jan will have antique tools to browse and I'll have the natural beauty that is Mid-Coast Maine at my disposal all while enjoying an exciting, locally-focused culinary jewel.

Did someone say "Food"?

So that's the effort that goes into planning where we'll go. Getting there and being there offer their own adventures in organizational dexterity.

Some of the other preparations I have planned include:
  • Before we leave for the 3-hour drive up, we'll take our crazy beast for a nice long walk near home so she should be good and tired when we pull into town somewhere around Ogunquit, Maine to grab some lunch.
  • I've already found a few 'clam shacks' on the drive where we can get good old-fashioned New England take-out and sit on the rocks by the ocean with the pupper safely tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist scene.
  • Once we do arrive at our destination, I've taken's advice and prepared a zip-line for Bella that we'll hook up between the house and the pond so she can explore to her heart's content without us having to dig her out of the bushes every 5 minutes.
  • We've been crate-training Bella since March and she's doing well but not great. But I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve to help make her crate feel more like home than the couch in the home she'll be staying in. Lots of Kongs and my famous "Peanut Butter and 0% Fat Yogurt" stuffing are on the packing list as is our homemade chicken jerky.
  • And I'm making sure her stuff smells like her stuff for the trip. No lilac-scented bedding here - I want her bed to smell like home. HER home. Which means I'm not washing her bed before we leave. I did that a few weeks ago and now it's just sitting there soaking up all those good Bella smells to hopefully make her stay a little less stressful.
A few other "must-haves" for our travel itinerary: medications including those infrequently administered, a list of what those medications are and the dosages, her Storm Defender cape and of course, all Bella's vaccination records and the number of her ID chip.

Getting around

The house we'll be staying in is secluded and private but we do intend to take Bella into town with us and on some scenic drives but we'll do so with treats at the ready to distract her from anything that spooks her. We've also put up sun shades in the trusty old Subaru to help lessen her visual stimulation.

While we're on the subject of car travel, Bella wears an EzyDog harness that is securely fitted to the car's seat belt system and we also have a front-seat barrier to keep her safely in the back seat away from the driver.

We're planning to spend a day in Acadia National Park and will take Bella with us when we do. Again, we'll seek out less popular trails and empty beaches on the quieter side of the island. And I've found a kennel on the island that will provide Bella a private, quiet place to rest if Jan and I decide to lunch on our own. (I see this as highly, HIGHLY unlikely but you never know.)

It's funny, as I was planning this vacation, I realized we don't, in fact, search for "dog-friendly" places - too many dogs visit those spots. Instead we look for the "road less traveled" when traveling with Bella. It's easier and more enjoyable for everyone that way.

Thanks, mom.
Jan and I are private people who like spending time with each other rather than hob-nobbing about town with the well-heeled. Traveling with Bella may take some extra planning but really, she just gives us an excuse to seek what we enjoy most in a vacation anyway: peace, quiet, and privacy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wordless Wednesday 132 - Oh those ears!

Pardon the unmade bed. Bella got to it before I did and I just didn't have the heart to kick her out.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bella's list of fears grows shorter

Waaaaaayyyyyy back when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about all the things Bella was afraid of.

It was a pretty big list.

In the same post, I listed how many of those fears she had already managed to overcome.

I couldn't have been more proud of her for facing all of that.

But it's time to update that list once again.

There are still a few things that Bella needs our help and encouragement to face but her list is so much smaller now I almost wonder what I'm supposed to do with a blog about a scared-y dog when she's not so scared-y any more.

Here's where we left off back in April of 2012:
Things Bella was still afraid of
  • People (general)
  • Dogs (general)
  • The vacuum cleaner
  • Bugs that buzz (flies, bees, etc)
  • Beeps/alarms
  • Storms (wind, heavy rain, thunder)
  • The snow-blower
  • Things that fall on the roof (acorns, stones, branches, snow...)
  • Agility obstacles (in progress):
    • Teeter-totter
    • Tippy boards
And here's we are now:
Things Bella is still afraid of
  • People
  • Other dogs
  • Beeps/alarms
  • Thunderstorms
She's still not fond of bugs - but only when they are harassing her and that's not fear, that's annoyance and rightly so.

Bella's also still not thrilled with the squirrels who seem to think the shortest distance between two points is over our bedroom roof at 6 o'clock in the morning. She still gets up and leaves but it's not the distressed, frantic scamper that it once was.

And while she's learned to self-sooth for small storms by going to the basement by herself, the considerable storms we've been having here in Massachusetts as of late have proven she will always seek our comfort for the big bad booms that go bump in the day or night. 

(To be fair, there was a thunderclap so loud and house-rattling the other day that, even though I was in the basement with her, I jumped out of my skin. I think her nervous reaction to such is what one would have to classify as, uh, normal.)

But here's something new, something that jumped out at me when I looked at the pictures in that original post. When I first wrote these lists, it never occurred to me to put something like "toenail trimming" on them because it was so far outside our realm of possibility - as you can plainly see by the dagger-like talons she's sporting in those pics.

Yikes!  Look at those claws!
Well, guess what, folks? Toe-nail trimming? It is now on her "I'm not afraid of this anymore" list!

Prior to putting Bella on Gabapentin as we did in January this year, in the 5+ years(!) I had been working with her to achieve the toenail trimming milestone, the closest I had ever been able to come was holding her foot in one hand with the Pedi-Paws turned on in the other. Any attempt to bring the buzzing tool closer to her was met with a dash into another room. (I never pushed beyond that point because it was clear she was "over threshold" and I'd be doing more harm than good.)

What follows is a tragically uninspired video of Bella getting her toenails trimmed. While it will mean little to the vast majority of people who come upon it, it represents a once unimaginable step in Bella's development to me and Jan.

There has been more than one occasion in the last 6 months where Jan and I have looked at each other and said "What happened to our dog?" Not in a bad, "oh no she's broken" kind of way but in a "how did she get to be so normal?" fashion. Her reaction, or lack thereof, to the vacuum cleaner surprises me each and every time and the fact that I can trim her toenails with (relative) ease is something I never expected to witness.

She is my brave little girl even if she did need some pharmaceutical assistance to get there.

Now that we have her under threshold as a general rule, it is incumbent upon us to teach her the coping skills she needs to survive whatever life throws her way in the future. We finally feel that's a real possibility. She is a good student, quick and eager to learn. We just have to have the patience and persistence to guide her in this journey.

And now we know, it is at least truly possible.

Author's note: We learned today that Brewster has rescue in San Diego. We are in awe of our friends, Tim and Lorrie, for the incredible heart-ache they have assumed in order to give Brewster a real shot at a happy and fear-free life. We are saddened by their loss but so incredibly happy for Brewster as he engages in this new journey. Best wishes, Brewster! Here's hoping your new family will drop a line every now and then so we can watch you flourish.

Disclaimer: If you happen to click on that link to the Pedi-Paws and decide to buy one for your own pup, I'll get a small commission. I'm pretty sure I'll not be getting rich off the deal but for the sake of full disclosure, it needs to be said. Same thing with the treats in the background: Zuke's Mini Naturals if you were wondering. Both were purchased by me and are not part of any promotion or advertisement.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

So, this is awkward...

I received this message in my email on Monday:
"Hi Leslie,

Congratulations! Your blog is a finalist in the 2014 Petties category for Best Video Post. I have attached the 2014 Petties finalist badge for your category.

Voting for the 2014 Petties will begin later today. We are currently working on setting the voting page live. Voting will continue until July 31st midnight PST. I will be reaching out again soon to get more information from you.

Congratulations again! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Christina Kwan
Director of Marketing and Product Development
DogTime Media, Inc

To be honest, I found out about it from some friends on Facebook before I even received the email.

So it should come as no surprise that I found out from the same friends that there was a new "complete" list of finalists. A "complete" list of finalists that was kind of missing some of the original finalists. I never did get a follow up to the original email telling me the first email was sent in error. What I got instead was a blanket "Hey yeah, sorry for the confusion, here's the real list."


When I was first told we were nominated for a Pettie in the "Best Video" category, I was psyched. I've made a few videos, worked my tail off to do so and thought, "Hey, that's cool that someone nominated us." I still think it's very cool that someone somewhere out there thought enough of us to nominate us for one of these awards. I really do.

But when I went out to see which video made the cut, I was more than a little confused. The video that we were up for was hardly worth the nod. So I guess I wasn't really too surprised when I found out that the first email about being a finalist was sent in error. And I'm REALLY glad I didn't rush out to tell you all about it.

However, some of my friends who were on the original list of finalists and weren't on the revised list are big-name and popular blogs who had every reason to believe they were appropriately nominated as noted in the first email. Kol's Notes, The Writer's Dog and Dog House Adoptions, Oz the Terrier and Pawcurious all deserved to be on that list and believed DogTime when they told them they were finalists encouraging them to recruit their followers to come out and vote for them.

When the "complete" list came out and they weren't on it, they had every right to be angry and embarrassed for asking their followers to go over and give DogTime the traffic. And they never even received the slightest hint of an apology from DogTime for the mix-up.

Not cool, dudes.

I feel bad for everyone involved. But here's the thing with my nomination. The video that made the selection for us didn't even make sense. I barely edited it, never mind slaved over it as folks who make good videos do. I knew something was wrong. I wasn't going to ask you all to vote for us because I was embarrassed by the video that ended up on that finalist list.

It's too bad though because I've made some good videos (the one "not really" a finalist notwithstanding.)

It would have been nice to get that recognition. It would have been even nicer to get the prize money for Save a Sato had I won. But I wouldn't have won with the video that was nominated and the folks who are in the finalist list deserve to be there where I did not.

Truth is, I had a video do everything I've ever wanted earlier this year - it went "viral". Well okay, it went "viral" in parts of the the scared-y dog community anyway. But really, no award can compete with how it feels to hear from folks who have been encouraged to keep working with their fearful dogs because they've seen evidence that these dogs can succeed in overcoming their fears.

If I had a choice, this is the video I would have submitted to the Petties for 2014. Who knows, maybe I'd have given some of the real finalists a run for their money.

"Bella Learns to Jump" was 18 months in the making. (I first wrote about it here.)

Bella was afraid of sticks and poles not to mention the clicker so we literally started with just a stick on the floor encouraging her to come into the room. She made this video and it's better than anything I could have ever done on my own.

There isn't an award in the world that can make me more proud of this crazy dog than what's in that video right there.

"The Petties, DogTime Media’s annual awards show recognizes the best of the pet blogging community. Through this program, DogTime has donated over $50,000 to shelters and rescues across the nation. In addition to bloggers, the Petties honor nonprofit organizations and volunteers who have dedicated their lives to helping homeless animals."

Bringing up Bella extends our sincere congratulations to all the 2014 Petties Finalists. Good luck to all!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"A Home for Brewster"

Last week Maggie Marton spent some time over at "Oh My Dog!" considering the question "Why do I blog?" I've recently been giving this question a lot of thought.

As you have probably noticed by now, I'm struggling to keep Bella's blog going. But in considering the question "why do I blog?", I was reconnected to what started this whole silly mess in the first place: Bella. And dogs like her.

I have been so blessed with the contacts and friendships I have made through this blog and so lucky to help a person here and there not feel so alone in dealing with their scared-y dog. I don't have all the answers. Heck, I don't know if I have any answers most of the time. But if one person sitting on her bathroom floor in the middle of the night trying to help her fearful dog cope feels just a little less alone in this world because of this blog? Well, hey, that's a moment I never anticipated experiencing when I started this endeavor.

But not every story about a scared-y dog is going to end positively.

Some people just don't have the wherewithal to deal with the situation they've been handed. Others may have family situations that prevent them from being able to tolerate the potential risks that come with keeping a fearful dog.

And then there are some who realize their personal situation just isn't the optimal life for the fearful pup. The ones who will sacrifice their own broken hearts to give their dog a chance at a better life.

My friend, Lorrie and her husband Tim, are those kind of people.

They adopted their dog Brewster, a handsome hound with an extraordinary fear of thunderstorms, from a local shelter in south Florida. If I recall correctly, they actually meant only to foster him but upon coming to understand the full extent of his fear, they felt they couldn't adopt him out until they had worked this issue through with him and adopted him into their family instead.

This really is one seriously handsome hound.
That was three years ago and they have diligently sought out every treatment path and plan to help Brewster learn how to cope with the thunderstorms that terrorize him.

But they live in south Florida where thunderstorm happen every day during the summer months. There is no escape to the basement for Brewster, no respite from the barrage of daily storms.

He is a great, social and happy dog during the winter but becomes anxious and depressed 6 months of the year because he has now generalized that cloudy days might mean the arrival of these terrifying storms.

But he gets so depressed...
Lorrie and Tim have come to the difficult decision that Brewster's life would be happier spent elsewhere - in a drier climate with the opportunity to escape the constant threat of his worst fears.

Towards that end, they have put together a beautiful website detailing everything they have tried to do to help Brewster overcome his fears and why they believe he would be better served living in a more temperate zone. The video on the home page gives you a glimpse into who these special people are and how much they love this beautiful boy.

Would you please help share their story and spread the word about the "Home for Brewster" webpage? After much research, they are aiming to find a home for Brewster in southern California and will personally transport him to his new owners.

Please take a moment to hop on over to his website to read more about Brewster, his tribulations and his wonderful adoring family who are willing to sacrifice their own broken hearts for Brewster's well-being and happiness.


Loves people and other dogs - he's an ideal pet sans stormy weather.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Not a lot of words Wednesday

Anyone who follows Bella's page on Facebook knows I shared this picture there already. Sorry but it's so cute, I couldn't resist posting it here as well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday's Tails: Let's find Chipper a home of his own!

A very dear friend of mine reached out to me recently about a sweet little pup named Chipper. Chipper has some special needs but what he really needs is a special home of his very own. Please read his story below and, if you are so moved, help us share his story to find that very special family that certainly must be looking for such a cute little boy like him.

Chipper is a 4 year old male Japanese Chin mix. He had a herniated disc surgically treated a few months ago, and at present has minimal use of his hind legs and poor bladder control.

He needs someone who can lift and carry him at times (all 18 lbs of him). He has wheels to go for walks although he really prefers to cuddle. He's as soft as a bunny, a real sweetheart and loves everyone!

Chipper is currently living in a foster home in Franklin, MA. Transport is available. His contact is

The Tuesday’s Tails blog hop is hosted by Dogs N Pawz and Talking Dogs. This is the blog hop that features shelter pets. Find a pet at your local animal shelter or rescue and join us!

Monday, June 9, 2014

A thank you post to Petplan USA

When you're making a life or death decision about a beloved pet, how much it costs shouldn't be the deciding factor.

I learned the hard way about the value of pet insurance with my old boy, Beau. I know some folks have a different opinion about whether to pay an insurance company premiums or just save your own money to cover costs you may, or may not, encounter down the road but let me disclose some of my own financial experience for anyone considering it at this time in their life.

In Beau's 14 years, he had two surgeries for torn ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments), survived cancer, lived with epilepsy, went deaf, had laryngeal paralysis, pneumonia and who even remembers what else. In the last year of his life alone Beau had one life-saving surgery and hospital stay that cost us over $8,000 when all was said and done. And that last bill is the one that forever changed my mind about the benefits of pet insurance.

Me and my shadow, Beau.
When Beau was fighting for his life due to a critical bout with laryngeal paralysis we didn't know he had, we begged the vets to do whatever they had to do to save his life. The hospital estimated the cost at $4,000. Not having anticipated he also had pneumonia at the time, their estimate came in decidedly low.

Had I understood the physical toll spending two weeks in the hospital would have on his muscle mass and mobility, I may have made a different decision. But it didn't seem right that my boy, so happy and healthy the day before, should succumb to a simple flap of flesh that refused to open and close correctly.

Luckily we were in a position to handle the cost but when they presented us with a more than $8,000 bill after basing our decision on a $4,000 estimate, I had to wonder, would I have made the same decision had the estimate been more accurate?

Bella started out much healthier but we got insurance for her anyway before she was a year old. I did my research and chose Petplan USA based on online reviews, customer surveys and yes, cost. Below is a list of some such resources.

Seriously people, I am so over this crate rest thing.
Because Bella is a mixed breed, our rates were probably lower than some purebred dogs' would be. Our initial premiums were going at about $200/year. (A year!) As insurance premiums are wont to do, her's have gone up over time and ours are now up to ~$350+/year.

Petplan USA offers a few different plans - almost all are "illness/injury" based and the one we chose does not cover wellness or routine visits. However, per the plan we selected, Petplan USA reimbursed 80% of all of our expenses last year for Bella's left shoulder injury. That amounted to almost $2,000 for 2013.

At the time, we had paid in about $900 in premiums.

(We could have been reimbursed further had I realized at the time that Petplan USA even reimburses for prescriptions and physical therapy.)

This year we have already racked up (oh dog, I don't even want to think about it) $3,800 for Bella's right front lameness. ($4,800 if you count the holistic vet we tried to take her to who wouldn't touch her so we can't tie the visits to her injury but that's a whole other story...)

That means before we even got an official diagnosis, Petplan had reimbursed us almost $3,000 in 2014 (and the year ain't over yet!)

In total, over the six years we have had her, we have paid a little over $1,500 in premiums covering Bella. (Jan says they'll never sell us insurance again if we get another dog and maybe he's right. We shall see.) We have certainly received benefit from our investment in pet insurance.

Of course, the premise behind all insurance - be it pet or human, health or home - is that everyone pay a little so those who have unexpected expenses don't suffer hardship. I will get pet insurance for my next dog and may at that time pay in to a system I do not use.

But let's face it, dogs are dogs and they're going to have accidents, illnesses and injuries. Whether it's cancer or a bee sting, we will all incur an expense or two during the life of our furry loved ones.

On a final note, I want to take just a moment to say that I can't speak highly enough about Petplan's customer service - they're not just polite and professional, they're kind. When I called to ask if an MRI would be covered when Bella was in the ER, the customer service rep was very reassuring, not just giving me facts about our plan but offering her encouragement and support. Every dealing I've had with the company has been positive.

So if you're considering pet insurance, allow me to recommend Petplan USA. They have taken very good care of us allowing us to take very good care of Bella.

NOTE: This is an unsolicited post about a company that has treated us, as customers, very well. It is not sponsored by nor am I affiliated with Petplan USA except as a paying customer. The stories and opinions expressed throughout are entirely my own.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hello Again

Back at the beginning of May er, end of April, when I told you all I was going to go play with my dog, I didn't really mean for a whole month. (Insert sheepish grin here.)

Tiptoeing through the tulips.
But I did need to take a break from all things digitized and spent much of the last month doing the job thing while also playing with my dog, digging in the garden, reconnecting with my husband and just generally enjoying life away from the computer.

My friend Kelly, of the former Roo's Doins (whom I have sadly let down and lost touch with) used to take a blogging vacation every year. I understand now why she did and how healthy it is to put down the keyboard and step away from the computer every once and awhile. (Well, at least as much a computer programmer can put down a keyboard and step away from the computer...)

In the middle of taking a blogging vacation, I actually got a real honest-to-goodness vocation vacation for the first time since September 2012. THAT was much needed and long overdue.

But I have missed you all and am happy to be back behind the keyboard. There is much to tell. So let me start with a summary and over the next few weeks, we'll expound on the details.

Bella's meds:
I mentioned some time back that we have Bella on a new cocktail of drugs for her fear and anxiety and her penchant for reacting aggressively towards me and Jan when life gets to be too much for her. She remains on the Soloxine (for hypothyroidism) and Fluoxetine (for aggression) and in January we added Gabapentin (for nerve pain and possible seizures.) This has proven to be absolutely life-changing for her and for us. And I will definitely share stories soon about that.
She is also on a drug called Amantidine which was prescribed for an injury she suffered in January to her foot but may also be contributing to her improved behavior. It is used for what is called "ramp-up pain" - the kind of pain where it's tolerable in the morning but by the afternoon and evening is just unbearable.

The goal is to be able to wean her off the Fluoxetine in time (she is already at a lower-than-usually-prescribed dose) and probably ease her off the Amantidine in the next few weeks.
Bella's leg/foot injury:
The left-front shoulder issue and the acute right front lameness that occurred in January have been largely resolved. Bella has been seeing an integrative vet for a couple of months now and we couldn't be more pleased with the whole practice and especially the results.

Bella sees a doctor who specializes in chiropractic treatment but has also been having weekly low-level laser treatments. A little over a week ago, Jan and I both remarked that we hadn't seen Bella limp from standing at all over the weekend. She still has the occasional skip in her step when she's been lying on the cold ground or has overdone it a bit but she is otherwise limp-free.

Bella has shown signs of a limp be it mild or severe since 2012 - it feels weird to see her not limp now.

We are stunned and grateful.
Bella's diet:
Back in 2012, Bella injured her left front shoulder. While we saw many different doctors trying to diagnosis and correct it, we were left with medication to help her manage the pain. Unfortunately, that medication was hard on her tummy and she was diagnosed with Colitis. A prescription diet was recommended but we continued to toggle between treating her limp and treating her tummy.

The last straw was when we called the vet who prescribed the medication and asked if we could try her on something else that was easier on her insides and he recommended another drug to help fight the problems she was facing due to the first. Enough was enough and we called in a holistic vet. We wanted to treat her injury once and for all and in a way that didn't create other issues.

Things didn't quite work out with that vet (too far away when Bella came up acutely lame in January) but she did put us on the path to home-cooking for Bella. We started cooking for her meals in January and, aside from what we now refer to as the "baby bird incident" (more on that in future installments), she has had a nearly perfect constitution ever since.
Geez, mom, is nothing private?
We have been easing her back into exercise after her extended crate-rest and she's been on a diet so now she's looking as good as she feels. And we don't even have to fight with her any more to get her to eat!
Bella's behavior:
The most significant change has been in Bella's behavior. Sometimes we wonder what happened to our scared-y dog? Last Tuesday Bella slept through a (distant) thunderstorm. Her happy ear is up more often than ever and her eyes and face are soft and relaxed. She just looks so much more comfortable in her own skin.

It's hard to even describe how the changes in her feel. She is calm but not sedated, she seeks out play as well as (occasional) cuddles and she is just generally more relaxed about life all around.

We still have work to do - Bella hasn't been around other dogs since we have had to retire her from her agility for reactive dogs class. But we're feeling much more confident that we can teach her better options for her reaction to other dogs now that she has finally found some peace.
And that's all the news that's fit to print today.

As I mentioned, I'll try to fill in some of the details about all this change over the next few weeks - from the spreadsheet I use to calculate Bella's calories and protein intake to my queasy reaction to watching Bella get "adjusted" by the chiropractor and all sorts of good things in between.

Thanks for not forgetting us. We've missed you and your pups and will be making the rounds as soon as possible to check on how you all are doing.


Post title shamelessly stolen from the amazing Mr. Neil Diamond. "Hello Again"

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bella had something to say (video)

I was trying to write tonight's post.

Bella had other plans.

Bella won.

What would you have done?

"Life is short. Play with your dog."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Another week, another vet visit

So, one full week on the Doxycycline and Bella is limping worse than when she started it. Guess it's not ticks that have her limping.

As easy as it would have been to manage if it were a tick-borne disease, this is actually very, very good news to us. Especially since we think we have found something that gives Bella some relief AND identified what we think she's doing to her right side.

Let's start at the beginning.

Or at least with Bella's visit to the chiropractor last Wednesday.

We had selected this veterinarian based on recommendations from friends. When your dog is afraid of people, finding vets who know how and have the patience to work with her can be challenging. Especially when that visit will be as "hands on" as a chiropractic one. To be honest, I wasn't sure some of the hands on modalities would even be feasible with Bella since both require her to be at least moderately relaxed to provide any benefit.

So we turned to our friends and our trainers and one name kept coming up again and again: Dr. Rogers at Integrative Animal Health. The doctor roster at the clinic reads like a Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine alumni who's who so we were very confident that the doctors there were every bit as good as the doctors we have been working with. Learning that the two practices routinely refer patients back and forth as required was just more gravy.

But what about the scared-y dog factor?

Bella has never been a fan of the vets' office. Basically having people she doesn't know touch her in any way is always cause for her concern. But the last two times we went to the vets, we left her there for the whole day.

I haven't talked about it much because it's kind of low on her list of issues but Bella does have some separation anxiety. Surprise! Okay probably not a surprise. But leaving her at the hospital the last couple of times we took her there pretty much did her in. By the time she figured out we were going BACK to another clinic on Wednesday morning, she wasn't having any of it.

Pacing, panting, whining and climbing, Bella was hoping against hope that she could make this whole thing not happen.

But happen it did.

We got her into an exam room, did the whole terribly long and boring speil of what happened when and how all over again to the technician and then again when Dr. Rogers came in to see us.

Then Dr. Rogers wanted to 'do an adjustment'.

She wants to do a what???
Bella was lying on a mat in the exam room and Dr. Rogers sat down behind her and started just gently scratching Bella's bottom. You know that spot on top of the tail dogs love to have scritched so much? Yeah, that spot.

I thought my heart was going to shatter into a billion pieces as my poor dog shook from head to toe at the gentle touch of a stranger.

We've never pushed Bella into accepting being touched by strangers because she had so many other fears and issues to work through but I wonder now if we have done her a disservice? We will have to see if the good doctor can ultimately change her mind about strangers touching her.

As Dr. Rogers examined Bella she was making gentle adjustments to her muscles and structure. And she found things. Things no x-rays or ultrasounds or MRIs had been able to find.

First, was that Bella's right-side lameness likely stemmed from an injury in her right foot, not her shoulder. Jan had been saying that all along but the focus, and perhaps rightly so until ruled out, remained on her neck and shoulder.

Next Dr. Rogers found some issues in Bella's left shoulder which we pretty much expected. But traveling on, she also found potential issues in Bella's back and hips.

But as she examined and tweaked our little girl, Bella's panic subsided. 

You could almost see her pain release as Dr. Rogers found spot after spot that needed adjustment. Bella's panting eased, her face softened, the shaking stopped. She still wasn't what anyone would call relaxed but for our crazy kid, the change was night and day.

As Dr. Rogers was working on Bella's hips though, Bella's agitation began to increase again and Dr. Rogers stopped, recognizing that Bella "was done" for the day.

We finished the visit with instructions on how to give Bella Adequan injections at home. (Jan gives the shot. Leslie manages the dog. Leslie does not do shots. Leslie could barely stomach the chiropractic adjustments.)

We see Dr. Rogers again on Thursday and I have a lot of questions to ask. I think I was just so happy to have a plan that didn't involve surgery and more medications that make Bella sick that I didn't ask for as much detail as I normally do.

Jan and I have also made some observations over the weekend that we'd like to bring up with the doctor. Until then, Bella is enjoying be free of crate rest and this lovely spring weather. Hopefully now that we've got her on a rehabilitative and healing path and we'll be able to get her pain in check soon.

Thank you for all your kind words and support.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Black & White Sunday: Mom is such a slacker

And so another week has passed and mom hasn't posted anything - again. Good thing she had this pretty picture of me just hanging out there waiting to be shared to remind you all I still exist. Geesh, mom, get with it, will ya?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bella's new plan

Thanks again for all the kind words and notes to our pretty girl. Bella is doing just fine after her ordeal on Thursday.

She discovered that an MRI does not in fact mean driving to the hospital, hanging around in the car for a bit and going home. And she decided pretty quickly when it came time to get out of the car that she did not like this MRI. She did not look us in the eye. She was not going here or there. She was not going anywhere.

That's right, in front of God and everybody, Bella did the pancake move and not only refused to get out of the car, she plastered her 60 pound body to floor making Jan have to try and lift Miss Dead-Weight out. And it only got better from there. Did I say better? Yeah, I lied.

Once we finally got her inside the facility (an effort unto itself), Bella tried everything in her power to get outside again including pleading with her obviously horribly insensitive owners to take her home again by climbing into our arms and up on our shoulders. (Individually, of course. Double your horror, double your guilt.)

Moving on...

Bella did, much to her surprise, survive the event. And she was ridiculously happy to learn we did, indeed, come back for her. She was so excited in fact that she tried to do zoomies in the car. This might have actually worked if we had a Hummer, but we don't. We have a Mini Cooper. :?

She was still pretty drugged up when we got home. We gave her a little food and she devoured a bully bone she had left unfinished somewhere (ew) but we tried to leave her be for the night - she just wasn't herself and we didn't want to do anything to upset her. She slept most of Friday but by Saturday was back to her old demanding self

"Why no, Occifer, I'm not stotally toned. Wa hever would you ax?"
As I posted on her Facebook page, the neurologists found nothing amiss in her MRI. They found nothing amiss in her EMG. They found nothing amiss in her exam because the damn dog won't let on where she's hurting in front of them. Everyone is baffled.

Some very good news did come out of the MRI and that is that all the really big scary stuff has been ruled out: cancer, degenerative disc disease, degenerative myelopathy... There doesn't even seem to be a single disc injury. But we do have a game plan.
  1. Starting yesterday, Bella's off strict crate rest. She is still on some activity restriction (no stairs, no off-leash zoomies). I'm sure she'll be happy with whatever sniffing and exploring she's allowed. (I know Jan and I will be happy for her to have something to do besides eat and whine at us for more food.)
  2. We are trying Bella on a course of Doxycycline to rule out any tick-borne diseases. It's a long shot but harmless to try. The thinking is that she hasn't presented straight-forward signs and symptoms for anything so why would we expect her to follow the rules for symptoms of Lyme disease? We should know in just a few days if it's helping and if it's not, we stop. No harm, no foul.
  3. We also have an appointment with a new vet on Wednesday who does chiropractic care. The practice is integrative in their approach and other doctors offer different modalities from chiro and acupuncture to nutrition and massage so we're hopeful that someone among them can do something to ease her pain.
  4.  Finally, our neurologist seems to have made Bella her own personal challenge and spoke to the head of Tufts "Pain Clinic" who wants to see Bella because she thinks she might be able to offer some techniques not available elsewhere. (I haven't set that appointment up yet. Bella can only handle one vet visit a week.)
So the long and short of it is, we may not know what's going on with our little crazy dog but we have a pretty good idea now of what's NOT going on. And there are a variety of options we can pursue to try and ease her pain.

That's our first order of business right now: pain management. We may return to diagnostics once she's out of pain but it's time to focus on making her more comfortable. Her response to treatment could even point us in the direction of what is really wrong.

Again, I'd really like to thank everyone for their kind words and support through all of this. You have been a blessing in our lives.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wordy Wednesday 130 - Bella here

Hello friends,

Bella here.

Mom says she's sorry she hasn't been posting recently muttering something about her crazy dog taking up all her time. Does she have another dog somewhere because I do not believe she'd call me crazy. Not to my face anyway. Would she?

Anyway, I told her if she wasn't going to update you on all things me, I would and so she let me take over the keyboard for a bit. But this is really hard without opposable thumbs so it'll be short.

I wanted to thank everyone who has been sending me all their positive vibes - I can really feel how much everyone is rooting for me to get better.

Mom and Dad took me to the Foster Small Animal Hospital today for something they called an "MRI" but all that happened was mom ran back and forth between the car and the building and when she came out one last time, we drove home. That was okay with me because I was starving since they had somehow forgotten to feed me my breakfast! Can you imagine?

I think I heard that we're going to go back there again tomorrow. If this "MRI" thing means I just get to drive in the car and hang out around the hospital for a little while and then get extra treats and cuddles, I think I'd be game to go for one every day.

My front legs have been feeling pretty sore though and mom won't let me do anything like run or jump or go downstairs or even get on the furniture. She keeps saying they're going to fix me up and I sure hope they do because I'm getting a little tired of the pain.

My tummy's been feeling good though. No diarrhea or puking in a few months so that's all good. And now I get this really spiffy food for dinner that mom cooks on the weekends for me. It tastes so good I even usually eat all my breakfast without a fuss now. And mom's happy about what comes out the other end, if you know what I mean. She keeps telling me I'm a good girl but I'm kind of only doing what comes natural, you know?

Mom's reminding me that I should tell you all I've been a real good and brave girl especially considering how they've been letting people I don't know poke and prod me. Says I've been "a real trooper" through all this. (I think that means she's glad I haven't bitten anyone lately. Yeah, well, don't push it lady, we all have our limits.)

So that's all the news that's fit to print about me today. If you happen to think of it tomorrow, give me a 'power of the paw' nod because I don't think "MRI" means sit outside the hospital and eat cookies. I could be wrong but I'm a little nervous about it.

Mom's been keeping all my friends on Facebook informed if you want to drop by there tomorrow night, she'll probably tell you how it went.

Thanks again for thinking of me. I may run away from you if we were ever to meet in person but I'm okay with meeting you all in cyberspace.

Your pal,

Monday, March 24, 2014

"A list of all good things"

So before Bella blew up a disc in her neck, we were chatting happily about the behavioral path we've been on with her since just after Christmas. I told you about how she had flipped out on me just before Christmas and our conversation with Dr. Dodman and his staff and what treatment option we chose to pursue with his team. Tonight, I'll finally get around to telling you how it's been going.

When we last spoke, Jan and I had chosen to add Gabapentin - a neurogenic pain medication with anti-convulsant properties - to Bella's treatment regime.

As a recap, Bella's still on Soloxine (for sub-clinical hypothyroidism) as well as Fluoxetine (anti-anxiety) but we've taken her off the Clonidine (our original wonder drug) and switched it for the Gabapentin. She still gets a tiny bit of Clonidine for especially noisy situations like snow-blowers, thunderstorms and snow falling from rooftops.

So how has it been going? Well, here's a list of things Jan and I have said to each other about Bella over the last couple of months:
  • "She slept through New Years' Eve fireworks without so much as a blink."
  • "She closes her eyes when I pet her."
  • "She actually fell asleep when I was petting her!"
  • "Wait, did she just come in to bed without the usual histrionics?"
  • "She comes and gets in her own bed as soon as the lights are out."
  • "She sniffed a fly! Come here, watch!"
  • "She slept right through me stepping over her in the closet."
  • "She slept through the morning squirrel crossing!"
Also of note:
  • Her ears are up and happy.
  • Her face is softer and eyes more relaxed.
  • And she requests petting sessions.
I still don't really know what's going on: has she been suffering from nerve-pain and twitchy-tingling for oh these many years and has finally found relief? (I have reason to believe she has...) Or is she really experiencing a seizure-like episode? I'll go deeper into what we believe is going on in our next chapter.

Whatever it is, we'll figure it out. Because, if you haven't guessed already, we're in this for the long haul. Whatever it takes, whatever she needs. Bella is ours and we are her forever family.

We see the neurologist again on Thursday and hope to be making some decisions at that time about her neck problems. Thank you for all the kind words and helpful suggestions on how to entertain her in the meantime. We will keep you posted.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Black & White Sunday: Open to suggestions

So Bella is more than a little bored being on 'crate' rest for her second week. We've pulled out all the stops: stuffed Kongs, Nina Ottoson puzzles, photo sessions, even toenail trimming practice for treats but she's still bored.

How do you entertain your dogs when they're on crate rest? Got any ideas we haven't tried? Let us know in the comments.

Bella, and her exasperated mom, thank you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

This was supposed to be a list of all good things...

I know everyone is waiting to hear how well Bella is doing on her new protocol and believe me, I do have that list formulating. But if you've dropped by our Facebook page recently, you'll know we hit another bump in our road to Bella's happy and carefree life.

Last Tuesday night Bella hurt herself again. We don't know if she awakened an old injury or created a new one but she had an unexpected visit to Tufts Emergency Hospital on Wednesday and is in strict rest and recovery mode at this time. It appears to be a ruptured disc in her neck and we're not sure if it's a new, unrelated injury or a degenerative disease related to her previous lameness.

Needless to say we're all a bit subdued here at Casa de Bella and in a bit of a wait and see mood.

Bella has been a very good and tolerant patient through all of it. They even wrote that she was "a good girl for her exams today and wonderful to work with" in her release notes from the hospital.

In the meantime, she's getting lots of pampering and allowing lots of snuggles. And until next time, we leave you with a glimpse into a recent snugglefest.

In case you think I live in fear of my dog...

I don't.

Or she a life in fear of me.
She doesn't.

As always, thanks for following our crazy dog. We'll be back next week to tell you all how great she's doing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday 127 - I'm gonna get you!

Bella has a monkey er, cow? on her back and she's determined to shake it off. Mid-play with the crazy dog.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Little dog, Big problems

"She's a very sweet dog - when she's not biting us."

And so began our most recent conversation with Dr. Dodman and his staff. I'm sure they think Jan and I are absolutely batty.

As with any appointment with Dr. D and his staff, we completed our multi-paged pre-consultation paperwork, and the meeting always begins with a review of it: What brings us there today? What was the original diagnosis? What steps were recommended and how have closely have those steps been followed? Have there been any changes in the household? Any physical changes to the dog? Any new injuries or illnesses?

One of the things I noticed when completing the paperwork was that we had gone off-course with Bella's low-protein diet. With so many cooks in our dog's healthcare kitchen, it is easy to lose track of who said what and when and how and why we should be treating her.

In this case, even Dr. Dodman's staff was surprised to discover that, while Hill's Prescription Diet w/d was a low protein option at 19.2%, the r/d version prescribed for her to help settle her colitis, at 34.6%, was not.

So it was noted that in late July we had switched Bella to a high protein diet and by September, she had bitten Jan again.

Note to self: You alone are responsible for knowing what Bella is eating and managing her protein intake regardless of who is advising you at any given time.
Action item #1: Switch her back to a low protein diet. Add fiber via pumpkin or Metamucil to achieve the higher fiber content which was the aim of the prescription dog food.
I hear  you talking about my food. 
Next up was the discussion of what happened between me and Bella in December. I covered this last week so won't go into again here but it was acknowledged that, while I missed her signals, Bella still shouldn't fly off the handle over such trivial offenses.

We talked about her shoulder pain and stomach upset and how that can wear on one's nerves over time. If Metacam is making her sick, there are other medications we could try to help ease the pain while not upsetting her stomach.
Treatment option #1: Consider a different pain reliever. If Metacam upsets her stomach, find another and get her off this never-ending roller-coaster of ick.
We then went on to talk about the possibility that Bella is suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which could stem from her less-than-positive puppyhood on the streets of Puerto Rico or, rather surprisingly, could be associated with when I broke my arm and Bella was left alone for several hours afterwards.
Action item #2: Increase Bella's Fluoxetine dosage. We had never been successful in getting Bella up to the recommended dose of "Prozac" which Dr. Dodman prescribes specifically for aggression issues but is also used routinely to treat PTSD. He recommended now that she has been on it for a while, she may take to an increased dose better than she did when we tried previously.
The conversation moved on to how Bella responds during these incidents which is to say, she doesn't. I mentioned in our intake sheet that Bella seems to "disappear" during these episodes and it takes some effort and an external force to stop her. We also noted that these bouts go on more than just a couple of seconds lasting upwards of 15 or 20 seconds.

Dr. Dodman noted that this particular behavior was not common in 'ordinary' cases of owner-directed aggression and could in fact, indicate partial complex frontal lobe seizures. Huh. I did not see that coming.
Treatment option #2: Consider the anti-convulsant medication Zonisamide. While some of the symptoms Bella is displaying seem indicative of behavioral seizures, not everything aligns perfectly. Adding an anti-convulsant medication could help but it could be months before we'd really know whether or not that was the right diagnosis.
Finally, almost as an aside, I mentioned Bella's quirky little episodes of apparent reaction to unknown pain that I've been telling everyone who will listen about for as long as I can remember. I was taken aback when Dr. Dodman, instead of trivializing my concerns, actually took note and questioned me further about this.

What everyone else had dismissed as "probably" just static electricity, Dr. D took seriously. And on top of that, he gave us suggestions about why it could be involved in Bella's outbursts and what we could do to possibly treat it. He thought it could be nerve pain.
Treatment option #3: Consider adding Gabapentin (Neurontin) to Bella's current medication regimen. Gabapentin has both pain-relieving and anti-convulsant properties. This could potentially help manage both the shoulder pain as well as the possibility of partial seizures with a very notable side benefit being that it would also address any neurogenic pain she has that we have yet to identify.
PTSD, you say?
I can't imagine why.
To summarize, we were left with a number of possible diagnoses:
  1. Post-traumatic stress disorder which could be separate from or associated with
  2. Frontal lobe, complex partial seizures, and/or
  3. Un-diagnosed nerve damage/trauma.
After much discussion, we went home with a prescription of Gabapentin.

The choice was obvious: Gabapentin is often used in combination with NSAIDs like the Meloxicam we had Bella on to boost their efficacy. Add in the neurogenic and anti-convulsant properties combined in one medication as well as minimal side effects and we could possibly treat all of Bella's issues whether conclusively diagnosed or not.

That "not conclusively diagnosed" still gives me pause. If Bella has un-diagnosed nerve damage, shouldn't we be looking into what that is and possible options to fix it? Could we be masking something that should be cause for concern? And what about seizures? If she's having them, should we be trying to discover the root cause and address that?

We've opted to take one step at a time.

We have made the recommended changes and we're monitoring our girl's progress. I keep a daily journal of what Bella eats, what meds she takes, how she feels and behaves. From there we can track trends and gain insight into what is really going on inside that little body (and really big brain) of hers.

Next week we'll talk about how it's been going.