Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back to the (now) big brown boy!

It's been awhile since I posted and my recent ones may seem somewhat off topic. I considered not writing anything about our cat, Millie, on this blog but she was an important part of (Laurel and) Hardy's life so I decided to include her. 
Today is the last day of March and we have snow on the ground again. I've been feeling pretty cranky recently - it's been a long winter and I've been feeling kind of crummy due to an ongoing sinus infection since November. That means we haven't been getting out as much as I'd like and although Hardy and I are working on manners, basic obedience, public access skills and task training at home; I know that isn't the same as getting out and about. 
We made it to a CPE Agility trial the weekend of March 11th - 13th. Laurel had a chance to compete with the teeter and the weaves for the first time which was very exciting! Unfortunately, I developed an uncontrollable nose bleed that went until Monday afternoon. Monday morning we went to my doctor who sent us to an Urgent Care that sent us to an ER. The MD there tried cauterizing my nose but that didn't work so she packed it. By Thursday, I was sleeping about 23 hours a day and the ENT told me that it was due to the blood loss, would take about a month to recover from and that we wouldn't be able to work through the ongoing infection for another month because of the other issues with the nose bleed and packing.
Hardy had a good time at the trials - he is learning about wonderful, quiet, calm crate behavior even in the midst of over-the-top dogs. Brent took him for some long walks around Janet and Scott's beautiful property and he got to work with me in the training hall. He has learned the "What Else Can You Do?" game and has become very good at it. He was wowing people with all the different behaviors he can come up to throw at me when I ask him, "What else can you do?" Each behavior has to be a new one that he hasn't done before during the sequence. 
I had complained to my service dog trainer, Sue Alexander, because it seemed like Hardy might be "marking". When I described what he was doing - urinating occasionally inside the training hall but without any leg raising or other deliberate behavior, Sue said that didn't sound like marking and suggested that I take in a urine sample to check for a urinary tract infection. I made arrangements to do that on Saturday and to our surprise, Friday night Laurel was up from about 3:00 on doing multiple urinations outside. When we collected a sample from her to take with us, it was blood. We were stunned to find that both our Labs had urinary tract infections! Laurel obviously didn't feel well; Hardy didn't seem much affected! They each have a 20 day supply of Keflex! We asked our vet if it was okay to go to the C-WAGS trials at Medina Kennel Club the next day and he thought it would be fine.
I decided to try Hardy in the Zoom 1 class (which has no stationary exercises). We haven't been working on rally much but Hardy can do all the exercises and I thought it would be a good place to see where he is right now. I was fully prepared to take out treats and use it as a run-thru. We went through many of the exercises Friday afternoon and he did very well (but of course, we were at Canine Affair - a place he knows and feels very comfortable at). 
Laurel and I had 4 classes before Hardy's debut and I will admit to being quite frustrated because of some issues with the facility. Keeping in mind that I'm the only person who competes using a power wheelchair (or any type of wheelchair, actually), the fact that the rings were very small and the mats rolled under my chair doesn't really affect anyone else too much. Laurel was obviously not herself (not sure whether it was the UTI or the rolling mats and other environmental issues) but she still tried her best for me and we Q'd in 3 out of 4 tries (our NQ occurred when I got completely lost on course). I'll probably try competing there one more time when I know Laurel is feeling fine and see how she reacts - if she is still stressed, I'll skip those trials with her in the future.

Hardy's class was the last one of the day so it had been a long time for him spent in the crate with some opportunities to come out and visit and work. At the beginning of the day, Hardy had alerted to muscle spasms in my legs and then about 40 minutes before our class, to spasms in my arm & hand (I mentioned it had been a long day, right?!). Hardy was sniffing and wandering around at the end of his leash some during our class but I'm not sure whether that was because there were smells that he thought were too good to ignore or whether he was stressing some about the rolling mats too. Part way through, I couldn't open my left hand due to muscle spasms (that he had alerted to) which made handling the leash difficult. But he had moments that were really lovely and we did Q, a nice bonus. 
I'm really hoping that the weather will break and that the MDs and I will figure out what is going on with the nose bleed/sinus infection issues so that Hardy and I can work more consistently away from the house! I can tell you though, that even with our setbacks; as Hardy's 1st birthday approaches in April, he is a lovely, funny, enthusiastic young man who continues to show all sorts of promise to become my service dog (first as Laurel's partner and then her successor) as well as my dog sport partner!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Honor of an Extraordinary Cat, Thoroughly Modern Millie (Millie)

Laurel & Millie visiting in bed - something they never did!
We lost an important member of our family yesterday - we said goodbye to our 9 1/2 year old cat, Millie. She was our family's first cat and obviously made a good impression because my husband and I have another cat, my parents' now have two cats and our son and his boyfriend also have two. We first met Millie as a scared little 9-10 month old kitten in the dog room of the our local APL (Animal Protective League). I was there with my daughter, Kristen, who was struggling to live with an anxiety disorder  in a post-911 New York City . We hoped that having a cat would help her so we were looking for an older kitten that would enjoy keeping Kristen company in "the big city". Kristen was drawn to the little kittens but I kept going into the dog room to see what looked like a lovely grey female cat who was obviously not liking the dogs' barking but would come over to say hello and when I brought her out, loved to snuggle. It took a bit of persuasion but I talked Kristen into the little grey girl. We took her home and realized that she wasn't grey at all but rather, a dilute calico. Her name seemed obvious (since Kristen was in school for musical theater) - Thoroughly Modern Millie (Millie for short) since she was leaving the small town (Cleveland) for the big city (New York). Millie stayed with us for a couple weeks while Kristen got settled into a new apartment before we took her to their new home. 
Brent is allergic to cats but while Millie was with us, he saw what a lovely addition she was to our family and told me that he would get allergy shots so that I could get my own kitten.
Millie was a huge hit in NYC - without her help, we believe Kristen wouldn't have been able to stay there and she made friends with everyone who came to visit her. In fact, she paid particular attention to people who weren't fond of cats, winning any number of them over. 
Kristen (and Millie) moved into a different apartment the day she graduated from AMDA (American Musical and Dramatics Academy) with two roommates. Brent, Devin and I were there with our cat, Maggie, for graduation and to help them move. While we were watching their Showcase Performance the evening of graduation, the usher came to tell us that their new apartment building was on fire. Of course, our first concern was the two cats and thankfully, someone had gotten Maggie and Millie out of the building. As it turned out, their building was not on fire but rather one right behind them - it was a huge 12-alarm arson fire and of course, we weren't allowed back in the building until early the next morning. We spent the night in a Barnes and Nobel and McDonalds.
Kristen got a job acting in a children's theater tour right after school. She was gone for four months and her room mate took care of Millie. Unfortunately, her room mate wasn't into cleaning so she didn't change the litter box and used roach spray all over everything: fresh fruit and clean dishes on the counter as well as Millie's water and food bowl. When Kristen was finished with the tour, she discovered that Millie was having neurological problems - the vet confirmed that she was being poisoned (in fact, everyone was - just Millie was the smallest). Although we took the roach spray away from her roommate, it was apparent that we couldn't trust her to take care of Millie when Kristen was gone, so when she got a job and had to leave, we made arrangements to pick Millie up and fly home with her. After Millie made several trips back and forth, Kristen got a job about two weeks after taking her back and when the job lasted almost a year, we suggested that Millie stay permanently with us. She has been here ever since.
I never expected Millie to grow old - she always seemed delicate and I didn't think the poison had helped. She vomited with hair balls and we had to be careful about leaving clothes on our tub. Because the litter box had gotten so dirty when Kristen was on tour, Millie had started urinating outside it; something that is very difficult to correct. Thankfully, she usually used the shower as the alternative and we could just rinse it out. Around the Holidays last year, we realized that Millie was losing weight quite rapidly and was vomiting even more than usual. We were used to her vomiting with the hair balls so at first, we didn't find it too alarming. We also knew that going to see the vet was going to be traumatic and tried to weigh the benefits versus that trauma. By the beginning of February, we realized that Millie wasn't going to get better on her own and that we couldn't feed her enough for her to gain weight. We also had an idea that something bad was wrong with her. That was confirmed with the diagnosis of lymphoma. We had decided that we weren't going to do anything heroic to keep her alive. We tried steroids and feeding her a grain-free wet food. At first, it seemed to work nicely. She ate everything we would feed her and was keeping it down. But after about two weeks, she started vomiting again and that became a vicious cycle. Since we put the steroids in her food, she wasn't getting them and vomited more. Over the weekend, we made the decision to let her go and enlisted our friend and veterinarian, Kate, to help her pass peacefully and with dignity. It was as good an experience as a death can be and we are very grateful to Kate and her staff at Mentor Veterinary Clinic for that. We spent time thanking Millie for all she has done for us and passing along messages from many of the people who loved her. If we had any doubts it was the right thing to do, seeing how accepting and peaceful she was in the end have stopped them. Our home is a lonelier, quieter place without her but we are certainly better for having had her in our lives.

Laurel & Millie visiting in bed
Millie snuggled in bed
Millie played an important role in the early training and socialization of Laurel and Hardy. After her experience being barked at in the APL, she held a lifelong grudge against all dogs. I got our other cat, Maggie as a little kitten and she loves our dogs - she will tease them and invite them to chase her. Millie was a kind and gentle soul but she just tolerated the dogs - she taught them that they were not allowed to chase all cats, even if they are running (they chase Maggie, they didn't chase Millie); she taught them that if a cat hisses at them and beats them on the nose, they aren't allowed to retaliate and she let them know that not everyone is going to want to have anything to do with them (an idea quite foreign for a Lab). I don't think they ever understood why Millie didn't care for them but they accepted that she didn't. And just the other night, Millie and Laurel laid with me with their heads right together - something I couldn't remember seeing ever before. Our entire family will miss our sweet girl, Millie!
Thoroughly Modern Millie, an extraordinary cat

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hardy's first competition

Hardy and I are home from our first weekend of APDT Rally trials. I had considered competing with him in the Puppy Level in November and decided against it. Now, he is almost 11 months old and I decided to give it a try with him in order to see where he is right now. We left Laurel home because I wanted to be able to focus on Hardy. I find the facility where the trial was to be difficult for dogs. It was a World War II manufacturing plant and although the training club has done extensive improvements, the building is still less than perfect. The hall is long and narrow with big pillars in the middle and things tend to echo. However, it is accessible and no longer has a chemical smell and was nice and warm. Laurel never does her best there but she also got her first rally and agility titles there. 
The puppy course on Saturday was nice and flowing with space to move. The judge emphasized having fun with the puppies and making it a positive experience. I was not surprised that Hardy was distracted and interested in sniffing but he did all the exercises and the bonus. We got points off for tight leads but I was very pleased. We Q'd with a 2nd place.
Sunday, the puppy course map indicated it would be much more challenging. 1/2 the exercises were stationary (at the most 1/3 are allowable) so I talked to the judge about it. She changed a couple signs and emphasized all the things we couldn't do. Hardy was less distracted and we had fewer tight leads (since I have only one hand to use on the leash it's hard for me to let go and take it up in order to avoid a tight leash) but I got tons of "extra cues" deductions. I'm not sure I deserved them but I have to keep my goals in mind - I wanted to see where Hardy was even though I knew he wasn't ready to really compete yet. Only 2 puppies Q'd and Hardy was one - with another 2nd place. I was very pleased with my boy, even if I wasn't thrilled with the score. I think Sunday went much better than Saturday and I think it shows an inconsistency between judges that we got a 197/200 on Saturday and a 180/200 on Sunday. So, I need to let go of being annoyed by that and remind myself that Hardy did lots of good things - he was super in his crate, he walked on a loose leash everywhere (not just in the ring), the pillars and strangeness of the building didn't bother him and I think he's doing great for the amount of work we've done with rally. 
I probably won't start competing much with him for awhile - I'd like him to be really ready before we get serious but in the meantime, we might try a Zoom class in C-WAGS (no stationary exercises). Again, I have to manage my competitiveness and remember our goals - he is my next service dog, before anything else!