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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Sam

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.