Peyton Turns Nine

This could be a very short post or it could be long. One never knows when it comes to the world’s happiest dog. Peyton turned nine two days ago, not that anyone seeing her would ever know that unless they saw the grey around her muzzle. That’s the only clue you have that this dog is getting older.

 photo 10468145_10205520726083950_5024329844388026414_o_zps94d8be3b.jpg

Peyton has had a tough transition this year. Sam was the boss around here. Everyone, including Peyton, danced to Sam’s tune whatever it happened to be that particular day. My first true realization that Sam might be in trouble the night she died was the way Peyton was acting. She was whimpering and trying to shove in the gate that separated the two of them. The next morning, we let Peyton in to smell Sam and to see her so she would, hopefully, understand that Sam was gone. We think she did, but she’s been a very different dog since that day.

February brought more stress in that we had discovered lumps on Peyton a couple of months prior. Given our experience with Sam, we all agreed that removal and biopsy were the only option. The kids were told that Peyton was going in for a routine teeth cleaning (which was also happening), but I knew there was a chance we’d lose her on the table if he opened her up and found cancer everywhere. I was more or less prepared for that possibility and thank God that he had someone call me the second she was open and he DIDN’T see anything indicating she was essentially a walking dead dog.

So, after that drama, we settled into life with Peyton as an only dog. She doesn’t love this life, I don’t think. She doesn’t like being the one in charge. She doesn’t like having to remind people to feed her. She’s not a noisy dog, so there have been days she’s been forgotten for awhile until we start looking for her. Every time she can, she escapes into my room and lies down in the exact spot where Sam died. It is more than a little freaky. The first time she did it, she scared me to death (to be honest) because lying down, you really can’t tell the difference between the girls.

Peyton had her annual pain in the backside ear infection. I swear, when I schedule Ben for full day camp this summer, I’m just going to go ahead and schedule a vet appointment for Peyton. Every year since he’s started going to full day camp, I have had to take her to the vet.

Peyton went to her first animal blessing this year. I’m not sure she really understood it. She was so excited to be OUT with PEOPLE. She almost doesn’t know what to do with herself.

 photo 10628431_10153175738553906_8916194634489974266_n_zpsc063986f.jpg

She’s also enjoyed, sort of, the slightly more open house where we let people come here. The last two years of Sam’s life, no one came to the house unless it was absolutely necessary. Now, the kids have friends come over and we have a dog who doesn’t think a kid playing with one of her kids is necessarily attempting to kill her kid. In fact, Peyton likes to join in. What kid doesn’t enjoy being tackled by a 68 pound Lab?

So, the happiest dog in the world remains the happiest dog in the world, with occasional melancholy moments. She did allow me to get a birthday photograph and I will be very grateful for that.

One week ago . . .

You were here, and now you are gone. One week ago I thought I had plenty of time. You were suffering with your pressure sickness and it would be gone in a day or so and you’d be back to yourself. Note, I don’t say happy self or playful self. Those were never words that accurately described you, but loyal, true, steadfast, dedicated. Those were you.

At this time last week, I knew you were in trouble. I didn’t know quite how bad yet, but I knew there was a good chance that my phoenix wasn’t going to rise again. I hope that by the time I figured out how bad it was, your spirit had made the journey to the bridge and that you were playing with Carson and having the best time you ever had. I hope you have had plenty of steak.

I feel so bad for your dad. He made steak tonight and he thought it tasted wonderful and was expecting me to comment on it. It tasted like ashes to me. We had steak last Wednesday and I painstakingly cut you pieces from my steak so you could share. What did I care if you ate table scraps? For one thing, the only way you were getting them was if someone gave them to you. No way you were getting up on those back legs of yours to steal. For another, you needed the food. Your body was starting to waste away and I knew I wasn’t far from having to make a decision I didn’t want to make.

Dr. Chip sent me a card telling me how sorry he was that you’re gone, but glad that you took the decision out of our hands. I don’t know if you did that consciously or if this just happened to you like you slammed into a brick wall (and you’d actually know something about that feeling — what a klutz you could be at times). He’s right. I don’t think I would have had the heart to let you go as long as you were in the fight. And that’s how I saw most of your life.

And that is how I will honor your life. I won’t walk away from a fight, Sam. You never did. You never quit. You never gave up. I would be shaming your memory if I did any less. But I understand, too, that there was a difference in “fight” for you. You had to care about the outcome and it had to matter *to you* for you to fight. Being with me mattered and you fought. Peyton stealing your toy? Eh, there are others and her big bowling ball head couldn’t get to the good ones anyway.

We’re all starting to adjust to life without you, but it is so different, so weird, and so hard. We keep waiting for you to come to the gate, the door, the window, and you don’t. So far, no one here has dreamed about you. If you can, visit Ben. He misses you so much and he needs to know you’re okay where you are.

And this is mama being brave. Who knew I would have to put this word into action so quickly? I should have known that this word choosing me was going to bring a whole new level of stuff to the surface, but I am brave and it is a big brave and you will always have part of my heart.

A Brief Update

Sam had a massive stroke late Thursday night. She died at 4am on Friday morning. I am so grateful that she likely never knew what hit her and that, for her, it was incredibly quick even if it took her body awhile to catch up with her spirit.

I know that she is running free and eating what she wants and she has no pain. I know that she is finally free of fear and is truly happy. We loved her no matter what and that won’t change even with death.

Good rest and Godspeed, Sam.

If you want to make a donation in memory of my girl, her favorite organization: Labrador Life Line.

We Are in Pain

We are in pain today. Sam has had a rough 24 hours culminating in barfing up large amounts of mucus tinged with blood. We know this may be the end of a very long road for Sam. I claim I’m prepared; I claim I understand, but really, I don’t. I want her to keep going. I want her to be okay. I want her to go peacefully in her sleep rather than in a blur of confusion and pain. I am not okay with this. Not with one bit of it. And I have cried this morning. I fought tears when I talked to her vet, and I think he was fighting them too when he said, really, there’s nothing we can do for her at this point. We need to give her a bit, maybe through the weekend, and see how she is. I am afraid. I don’t want to lose her this way. Though why I think there’s a good way to lose her, I don’t know. I guess I just did.

P and I had plans this weekend, but now they are up in the air depending on Sam. As much as I love both of our families? I am not spending hours with any of them if this is truly Sam’s last weekend. She deserves our time and our attention. I know, we didn’t get to see anyone over Christmas; I understand that, but you know what? Sam is always there for us when we need her. If she needs us, then she gets us. End stop.

My heart is breaking because I can see she doesn’t know what to make of this newest development and she’s not sure what to do or how to cope with it. Peyton is running around looking panicked, which makes me think this may really be the real end (shamelessly stolen from Tim McGraw; I’ll give it back if she turns around. I promise).

The thing with Sam is in the last year, she’s had three very close calls. We’ve had two appointments scheduled to put her down and ended up canceling them because she rebounded and was back to herself. I don’t know how many more times she can go down and pull back up, but maybe she has one or two more in her. The thing is she has a pattern, and I’ve learned I have to let the whole thing play out to make a fair decision, otherwise I will spend the rest of what I imagine will be a long life second guessing whether it was really time or not. I know myself. No matter how many people tell me I will not regret putting her down too early, I don’t think that will happen for me. I think I will regret the missed time and the missed affection, such as it is from Sam.

We talk all the time about how much easier it is for pets because we can make this decision for them and we don’t have to let them suffer. Some even wish for this power for their loved ones. Being one with a dog who refuses to give a definitive sign of anything, I can say I am glad I don’t have that decision making power. The agony of trying to do the right thing for Sam would be magnified by 10,000 if I was trying to make the same decision for a loved one. At least, I imagine it would be.

So, for those of you who have made the decision for your beloved pet, how did you know it was time? What made you turn that corner and say, s/he isn’t happy anymore and it is time to let him/her go?

Long Time, No Post

When I put the blog on hiatus back in April, I honestly thought I would be back in a matter of a month of two. My dog was dying, my son had a scary diagnosis to deal with, and I was struggling in a lot of areas. Well, it turns out that the dog is still dying, my son is still trying to navigate his diagnosis (not life-threatening, just life-altering), and I’ve adjusted my balances and realized that balance may just not be achievable. I never had the intent to make this blog about any one thing. I have no illusions that I’m going to suddenly be a guru that people turn to or amazing like a lot of the bloggers I admire. But I miss my little piece of the world and want to get back to being me. 

Part of being me is writing about what is going on around me and what we’re doing as a homeschool family and about my girls (the dogs, for those not familiar or meeting me for the first time). One of the things that we’ve been working on is eating more healthy snacks and foods that are less processed (within reason given my on-going gluten-free status). Anyway, I’m not promising regular posts or a regular schedule, but I miss blogging and I miss being part of a community so back I come to try this again from a somewhat different, somewhat less confident place.

Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

Sam Age 15

 photo 2013-03-14100135-1_zpsf54a27da.jpg

It’s hard for me to even write this because I suspect it will be the last birthday post I write for my girl and I don’t quite know what to say. Sam is fifteen years old today. She’s old. For any breed, she’s old; for a lab, she’s ancient. And some days it seems obvious that she is ancient, and other days, she seems like herself.

Most days, she’s just Sam. Mom obsessed, emotionally left of center, and utterly devoted to her kids and to me. It’s hard to believe she’s the same little being that we brought home fifteen years ago in a cardboard box. I can’t believe she’s the same dog that was on death’s door three months before Ben was born. We almost lost her that first weekend. We waited too long and we taxed Dr. Chip’s abilities to their max, but he pulled her through (oh, who am I fooling, Sam’s iron will pulled her through that just like it got her through mushroom poisoning, quilt pins, and host of other self-inflicted injuries).

She’s still a hot mess of allergies. She had a really rough go this year and developed some scary looking patches on her skin because of those allergies. Heavy doses of Benedryl and she’s doing a lot better. She’s taking Tramadol full time now. It keeps the pain at bay and that allows her to do the things she wants to do.

Her goals seem lower now. She’s not interested in chasing squirrels anymore (they don’t realize that and run at the sight of her), but she likes to take a few ambles out in the yard. Her life has been limited for years, so those ambles are her walks. She likes to be with me. That’s her main thing. Be with mom. If she’s with me then she’s happy and I’m happy to have her. She loves her hamburgers and her fries. She’ll be getting those in a bit. She takes each day as it comes and doesn’t seem to be particularly bothered by not being able to do some things she used to do.

I hope I age as gracefully.

 photo 2013-03-15113523-1_zps012874f5.jpg

Love you, Sam. Happy 15th.

The Fear Aggressive Dog and Children

In the comments on my post about dogs and where to find one, The Momsomniac said she would have been afraid to have Sam around kids and wanted to know how I did it. I’m going to point out, right here, that I am not an animal behaviorist, I am not a vet, and I am NOT advocating that ANYONE attempt to manage an aggressive dog with small children. I was asked what I did and how I did it, and I’m answering the question. That’s it.

Okay, so first thing, before we realized that we had a “problem” on our hands, Sam was around children. She grew up around a sweet little girl (who is now almost 16, OMG) who was very willing to listen to what she had to do when she wanted to be with Sam. One of the strongest, most indelible images I have in my mind is letting her walk Sam (with a gentle leader on Sam), and not going with them. Her father was concerned, but I knew Sam and knew what she would do. The second that the young girl started to lead Sam past a point where Sam could see me, she balked. Sam sat down and refused to move one more step. The little girl shrugged, turned around and started walking back. It was so much that Sam was protecting the little girl as her sense of security has always been wrapped up in my presence. It is very hard for P to take Sam to the vet without me and we try to avoid doing that. Typically, I’m in the exam room with Sam, the vet, and at least one vet tech. I’m the one who mans the “bitey end” because I know what the hell I’m doing with her. Normally, vets discourage you from being near your dog when she needs treatment, but our vet realizes if I’m not at her head, where she can see me, she will fight like a demon to get away and no one needs to experience that. No one.

Also, it is very important to understand that Sam has a diagnosis of fear aggression. She has been seen by behaviorists who do not understand how I’ve learned to manage her as well as I have. She is on medication for thyroid and pain related to two medical conditions that underlie and can aggravate her aggression. I have not labeled her myself and I have not reached the conclusions or the decisions that I’ve made by myself. Our vet(s) have been our partners in treating Sam since the day the first Dr. K figured out that Sam had “a screw loose.”

So, when we found out that we were expecting Ben. I dug out something that I’d picked up in New York a couple of years before — a newborn Cabbage Patch doll. We refer to that doll as Sam’s practice baby. I had read in numerous places that, used properly, you could teach a dog how to treat a baby by using a doll. However, you don’t give the doll to the dog. This is where most people make a mistake. You play with the doll and teach the dog how to be around the baby.

I would sit on the floor once or twice a day with the doll and play patty-cake with it or whatever until Sam got interested and came over to check things out. Then she’d be told to lie down next to the area where the baby was playing and stay. She learned to do that and was very respectful of the doll’s space. I made sure to make the doll make random movements like a baby might and to make crying noises and so forth. I’m convinced these things helped Sam adapt to Ben’s presence more than anything else that I did.

I also read Childproofing Your Dog: A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Dog for the Children in Your Life. This book helped me with the next phase of training both my dog and my son.

Sam loved Ben from the start. She thought he was the most interesting thing, though she quickly learned to be wary of those little arms as they moved without warning. She became more wary when Ben got bigger, but my job was already started. From the time Ben could make self-determined motions, he was cautioned about Sam. Practically from birth, he’s been taught that there are things you don’t do with Sam.

As he’s gotten older, he’s made some mistakes, and fortunately, Sam sees him as her small person so she doesn’t take exception, too strongly, to his mistakes, but he’s gotten that warning grumble that raises the hair on the back of my neck. At one point, when Ben was in the super-dropping toddler phase, Sam was kept behind a gate during meals to keep her from competing with him for food. He would lose. We’re heading into the stage where we’re going to have to do the same thing for Katie.

My kids are never left unsupervised with Sam. NEVER. Since she tends to follow me everywhere, this hasn’t been as large an issue as it might be for some. Sam has her own space and the kids are not allowed in it, no matter what. Sam is given some level of preferential treatment.

Even with all that, she was almost put to sleep a few years ago because she bit again and I was worried that she was going to attack Ben. And, to be honest, had I not insisted that our vet check every possibility she likely would have bitten Ben. But now, we know what one of the underlying issues was that caused the dramatic (even for a dog with fear aggression) change in personality. And there’s medication and it helps her.

Sam is never going to be a calm dog. She’s never going to be a dog who can be trusted with small children. I drug her with tranquilizers when Ben has playdates so she doesn’t fuss up a storm while other kids are over. She can’t be trusted to understand that a small child chasing Ben isn’t a threat to him. I would be in constant terror if I let her loose.

She can be managed. But that management comes at a price. A fairly steep one. She can only be boarded at our vet’s office. And he can only take her when there aren’t emergencies taking up all of his space. Usually, he will find room for her. We don’t have people over as often as we might like because it’s too stressful for her even with the drugs. All the drugs do is force her into a drugged up stupor, but they do not lessen her anxiety over the situation.


She’ll be twelve in March. Hard to believe for me. It still seems like I brought her home yesterday. Again, I would not advocate trying to manage a fear aggressive dog with a young child unless you feel confident that you know your dog and know him/her really, really well. I had eight years of experience with her under my belt before we had Ben, and I was STILL caught off guard when she developed her additional problems. If you think you have a fear aggressive dog, get HELP. There are animal behaviorists who specialize in fear aggression who can help. Ask your vet for recommendations. Do not try to do it on your own.

A Tale of Two Dogs

I owe the germ of this post to Queen of Spain. She posted the other day on Twitter about going to get a dog and she received a large amount of advice about where she should get the dog. As I read it, I realized that most of us speak with passion about where to get animals, but most of us don’t give the reasons why (hard to do in 140 characters), so Queen of Spain here is the tale of two dogs (or why you want to be careful where you get your dog).

P and I had been married for four years when he seemed to appear open to the idea of getting a dog. I don’t know what opened his mind that particular weekend (Mother’s day weekend, 1998), but open it did and I jumped at the chance. Now, understand that P is about as far from anti-dog as you can get, but he was recovering from the loss of his beloved Trigger (went to the bridge in November 1993) and simply could not contemplate being disloyal to her by getting another dog.

In any event, he finally FINALLY agreed that we could get a dog. People who know P know that he changes his mind, so I knew I would need to move VERY quickly if I wanted a dog (which, in all honesty, I wasn’t sure I did, but he hated cats so much I knew that would NEVER happen). I waited eagerly for the Sunday paper to come and when it did, we looked through the ads for a lab puppy. We had decided that we wanted a lab. P is, um, prejudiced against small dogs (who he typically refers to as dust mops) and we knew we needed something with short hair to try to contain my allergic tendencies. Lab seemed to fit what we were looking for. I really wanted a black one. Like any good English major my wardrobe tended to be black on black, so a black dog would not show up on my clothes. Yeah, these are the considerations I was making and no, I’m not proud of them, but as I’ve reminded our vet since, before getting this dog my only pet had been a goldfish. It’s not as if I had a lot of experience :). P was adamant that the dog had to be female. He had had both and really felt females were better.

We made probably three phone calls and found someone with a black female puppy for sale. We found a cardboard box, got in my Toyota Tercel and drove over to see the puppies. There were two we could choose from. One was adventurous. She was into everything. She ran around a lot and made me tired just watching her. The other one laid down and went to sleep while we were visiting. She checked us out, but then just snuggled down for a nap. I took this as a good sign, thought it meant she was somewhat lower energy, and picked her. We paid for her, put her in the box in the back seat and drove her home. We have some pictures of her from that first day. She was small, shy, and clearly terrified.

Once we had her home, P ran out, got her a crate, bowls, some food, a few toys, and so forth. I thought it was the first day of heaven. Little did I know that it would be almost nine years of hell.

I’ve written about Sam before. But most of that is about her as her present day self, which is why it’s only nine years of hell instead of all eleven and three quarters. Sam today is vastly different dog than she was at nine. Just before Sam turned nine she missed being put to sleep by the most narrow of whiskers. She had bitten, again, and this time she bit P and not me. It was a line she had never crossed before and I was certain it was a harbinger of worse things to come. I need to back up a little, though. When she was a puppy Sam bit to a degree that I’ve never seen in a puppy before or since (granted, I didn’t know a lot about puppies, but I had nip marks up and down my arms — I looked like a serious heroin user). Sam would have these moments where she would completely wig out and not know who anyone was. She was aggressive, she was difficult, she had bizarre fears (she was afraid of a broom for heaven’s sake, now my son doesn’t know what one looks like because we can’t have one in the house). She has severe allergies. And by severe I mean, if she eats the things she’s allergic to or is exposed long term to something she’s allergic to it could kill her. She has always had a very fragile constitution. She gets deathly ill at the drop of a hat and requires enormous reserves to make her better (both financial and emotional — we joke that if our vet ever expands his office he’ll need to name it the Sam memorial wing because we will have financed it). She has good hips, but that’s a freak of nature miracle.

What I know now, that I didn’t know before, is that not meeting Sam’s parents (at least her mother) was a huge mistake. Being told that the mother was aggressive toward people taking her puppies? A clear warning sign that something was very wrong with that dog. But I didn’t know. And this was before Twitter, before blogs, and I wasn’t even really aware of list-servs (I was educated shortly there after and have been active in Labrador retriever communities for the last eleven years). I didn’t know that a dog who exhibits the kinds of bizarre fears that Sam does has something wrong mentally. I spent a very long time shouldering a huge load of guilt thinking that I had “done something” to Sam to make her the way she is because I didn’t know what I was doing. Sam doesn’t socialize well, never did. She flunked out of two different obedience schools before I gave up. I seriously wanted to send her back to her breeder at one point, but P talked me out of it.

If I knew then what I know now, Sam would not have come home with us. While yes, I would miss her terribly and I will cry like a baby when she passes to the bridge (probably for hours), I recognize that we spent years living with a time bomb and that had the veterinary advances not happened when they did, Sam would likely not have made it to her twelfth birthday; she wouldn’t have made it to her tenth. I have three scars from very nasty bites that I received from “the bitey end” of Sam. All three were to, some degree, my fault because I didn’t understand how to handle her. There are really no books or trainers who are prepared to handle a truly fear aggressive dog, which is what Sam is.

My point here, which may get lost in the clear conflictedness of my feelings is that the more you know about the background of your dog the better off you are. If you’re getting a dog from a pet store, you will know nothing. If you get a dog from a shelter, you’ll likely know very little. It is possible to get good shelter dogs, but you have to really do your homework and understand that shelters are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you just never know what you’re going to get.

On the other end of the experience spectrum, we have Peyton. When we decided to add Peyton to our family, we knew just about everything you could possibly know about her mother. Her breeder has been a friend of mine for over a decade. I know how the puppies were raised. I know what sorts of experiences they had. Heck, in this case, the breeder had a live feed to the puppy play room where you could see EXACTLY what the puppies were doing all the time. When we went into this with the breeder we were pretty clear we don’t care about color (which wasn’t relevant since we knew the puppies were likely to be all black) and we didn’t care about a gender. What we cared about was personality and fit with our family.

If you’re going with a rescue or a shelter, try to find one that really talks to you about things like activity level in the family, other pets, lifestyle, and so forth, and then will work with you to find the best fit for your family.

This is what Peyton’s breeder did. The key concern was Sam. In all honesty, Sam (at the time Peyton came home) could have easily killed an eight week old puppy she took a dislike to. She wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. At the time Peyton came home, Ben was four months old. Did I mention that I might be slightly insane? Many breeders wouldn’t sell to someone with such a young child, but she was willing and it worked out for us. She evaluated us and had the puppies evaluated by a professional puppy evaluator (now that? is a cool job). Ultimately, it was decided that Peyton (then known as Hunter or Miss Orange Collar) would be the best fit for us. If you’re dealing with a good breeder, you’re going to give up some control. You aren’t going to be choosing the puppy.

I’ve written about Peyton before, too. But I want to make sure I give a clear picture and a fair one. A dog from a breeder is no more guaranteed to be healthy and free from issues than is a dog from a shelter or a rescue or even a newspaper. Good breeders are up front about the potential issues in their lines and will tell you what sorts of risks the dog faces. And even then, there are the things you can’t predict: cancer, accidents, and so on.

Peyton has a two congenital health issues that could, possibly, cause her serious trouble as she gets older. There is no guarantee that either will be a problem, but there is also no guarantee that she either won’t have a shortened lifespan or a serious operation that may or may not repair her. We have made some adjustments to her life to attempt to guard against the latter situation; she no longer does agility or anything that requires her to jump. P lifts her in and out of vehicles so she doesn’t jump balance all her weight on her front paws. We have a ramp for her to use, but she, like the princess she is, prefers to be lifted, thank you. People who own dogs probably have a good idea of what Peyton’s problem is. Those who don’t, wouldn’t understand the implications of it anyway.

For the other, it’s a condition noted by her vet and that we keep track of in terms of the kinds of medications he can prescribe for her. For a dog of her size, her liver is abnormally small. This is not necessarily a problem, and it may just be that her liver is supposed to be this size, but it does mean that we have to be very careful about medications that are metabolized through the liver or that have an effect on the liver. Dosing her by her size would be a significant mistake. Fortunately, her vet is awesome and knows this.

Ultimately, my point is get a dog, but do your homework first. You wouldn’t buy the first car you see while walking down the street; don’t buy the first dog you see either. Take your time. Think. And then be prepared to have your world turned upside down because that’s what every good dog does :).


I admit that I have slacked off in the last week with the blogging. My younger dog, Peyton, has been having issues with her ears and it takes up time to deal with those problems. Miss Peyton is a 3 1/2 year old black lab out of CH Snowden Hill Mango Crazy, JH. P fell in love with Mango when she was eight weeks old and we waited the two plus years until she had a litter. Peyton is one of nine siblings and is an absolute darling of a dog.

Her nickname at the vet’s office is “Crazy Peyton.” At home, though, she’s usually found sleeping somewhere or playing with Ben. Right now, she’s sleeping in the green chair that she’s claimed as hers.

Those of you who can do math might realize that Miss P and Ben are approximately the same age. He’s actually about two months older than she is, but yes, I was precisely that crazy. She’s been the best thing we could have done for our household. She has jobs that she takes very, very seriously. She is the chief monster hunter. She checks Ben’s room most nights for monsters and makes sure that no grumpy wizards (or lizards, I’m not sure) get through to his room during the evening hours. She is alternately Sam’s biggest antagonist and her biggest protector. I have watched Peyton shove her way in when Sam is getting attention (not good), but also watched her shove her way in between Sam and something we could all tell Sam doesn’t like (excellent). She has a command “go get Sam” and she knows what it means. If Sam seems lost or confused in the yard, Peyton will go out, get behind Sam, and basically herd her to the door. Given that Sam is going blind, this will be a more important skill in the coming years.

Peyton is supposed to be P’s dog, but she is utterly attached to me and to Ben. She follows me everywhere and sits outside the bathroom door waiting for me. I am rarely allowed to work by myself. Right now, she is asleep in the green chair that she has claimed as hers. Most every night, I’ll find her asleep there. We were planning to get rid of the chair, but now we’ve decided that we can’t do it because it belongs to her the way the dog bed Sam is sleeping on belongs to her.

Peyton’s motto in life is Go big, or go home. To demonstrate this, Miss P nearly died a year ago (February 2008). She started throwing up coffee grounds. Dog people know that this means that she’s got partially digested blood in her stomach and that is usually a bad sign. She spent the night at our vet’s office. The next day he called and we had to take her to an emergency vet clinic because they also have a critical care facility which is what he felt she needed. I took her there, and she started bleeding from her IV port, so the back of my truck and my clothes were covered in blood. But she was bouncing, happy-go-lucky when she went into the clinic and they could not believe this was the dog they were expecting, given that she was, supposedly, at death’s door. She spent a night there and they released her. We’ve never quite figured out what happened to her and she’s never had another recurrence.

Last summer, Peyton suddenly developed an incredibly nasty ear infection that I couldn’t get to clear. I have been treating my dogs ears myself, initially, for about seven years. Sam used to have seriously problematic ears, and we got in the habit of having me try to treat first. Since our current vet is a bit farther away than one might normally go for a vet, he has continued the pattern of letting me attempt treatment on my own first.

At any rate, she got a nasty infection that took me four months to clear. She finally got the all clear 20 days before Katie was born — good for her because she would have been living with her vet at that point.

Now, she has it again. Sigh. We’re in week 2 of treatment. We’re looking at a minimum of six weeks of treatment. She is so patient about treatment. I have to say that I appreciate that. Heck, I treated her tonight while she was asleep.

Peyton is more of a clown than Sam and she’s much calmer at the same time. She’s stubborn, pushy, and sweet. When you think typical lab? Peyton is what you’re thinking of.

Oh, for those who are wondering . . . her AKC registered name is Grampian Believe in Blue. This is the motto for the Indianapolis Colts . . . I’ll leave it to you to figure out who she’s named for ;).


Also known as Samantha Anne or Samantha Annie or Sam Anne. Today, I talk about my dog, well, one of my dogs.

I haven’t really talked about the girls before now, but they’re as much a part of my home/work balance as my children, some days, more so. I will never forget the day when Ben was about three months old and I had just come back from a doctor’s appointment. My mother had stayed with him and Sam. When I came in, she said, I’m not sure but I think something is wrong with Sam. Sure enough, I watched her and realized she was hobbling. I looked at her foot, realized there was a serious problem, called the vet, threw her in the car and drove like a crazy person. I never once fretted about Ben or if he would be okay without me. Mom was there, P was headed home, and right then, Sam had to be the priority.

This makes me something of a strange parent, I suspect, because I cannot say that at all times my kids take priority over my dogs. There are times when the dogs take precedence due to illness or other overriding concerns.

Sam is an eleven year old black Lab. She shouldn’t be here now, but she is. She is stubborn, willful, and determined to do things her way. Sam is fear aggressive. This means, in basic terms, that she becomes super-aggressive/dominant when she’s afraid of something. Most fear aggressive dogs, Sam included, have triggers. Sam’s triggers are enclosed spaces, being backed into corners, and people touching her feet. To trim Sam’s nails requires two people, a muzzle, and a bucket full of treats. She also has serious allergies and a degenerative condition of the spine that causes her immense pain some days. She can be a difficult dog and a challenging one to have little kids around.

She adores Ben and Katie — absolutely adores them. She thinks Katie is the greatest thing on the planet right now. Mostly because Katie still stays where she’s put. If you put Katie in the swing, two minutes later, barring adult movement, Katie is still there. Ben moves — a lot. She doesn’t like that so much. We have trained Ben right along side Sam for the last 3 1/2 years. He can recite the things you don’t do to Sam the way some kinds recite the alphabet. We’ve taught him healthy respect for what dogs are capable of. Every dog can bite. I don’t care how well trained the dog is; there is always a risk that the “right” combination of circumstances could happen and that dog could bite. We’ve done everything possible to minimize the chances of that combination of circumstances happening in our house.

Among the important things we do is not let Sam out in mixed company. If there are little kids other than Ben and Katie here,we “convince” Sam to go into a crate (yeah, an enclosed space, trust me, I know how to shut the door VERY FAST), and leave her in the bathroom with music turned up nice and loud for her. It doesn’t do a lot to calm her, but it keeps her from injuring herself or otherwise making a fun occasion less fun.

We have spaces in the house where Ben and Katie are simply not allowed to go. Those are Sam’s places and you don’t invade them. We have a gate on our room for the days when Sam is not feeling up to company. Those days, we close the gate and leave her be. These are the days when the pain is hard for her to deal with and she needs some help. She has pain medicine and she takes it when she needs it. Right now, we’re talking maybe a pill every week or two, so the pain isn’t excruciating or every day. If it was, I hope and pray I can do the right thing for her and let her go. Right now, though, there are way more good days than bad days.

Sam is very loyal to the people she loves. When I’m sick, as I am right now, Sam will literally lie next to me until such time as I am ready to get up. After I had Katie, Sam could barely be convinced to eat or to go outside. She wanted to be with me the entire time.

The thing about Sam, and the reason I’m talking about her here, is that she requires time and care to a degree sometimes that is greater than my children. It’s a tough thing to balance taking care of her needs in addition to the two kids and, oh yeah, lest we forget, the other dog. My days can be very full of incredible highs (watching Peyton play tag with Ben) to incredible lows (watching Sam moan as she tries to lay down).

We’re blessed to have dogs in our lives and our children are blessed to be raised with dogs. I can’t wait to see how Katie responds to my girls as she gets bigger.