Friday, February 17, 2017

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


She was a semi-rough border collie… classic black and white with a split face. Her black parts were sleek and shiny, with a big white ruff around her neck that was prefect to bury your face in- to muffle a laugh or dry a tear. The very tip of one ear was blue merle… the only merle spot on her whole body, and we called it her “kissy spot.” On the white side of her face she had a thin line of black that formed a perfect eyeliner which even curled up at the outside…. in the style of Gina Lollobrigida. She was patient, sweet, gentle, quiet, fast, protective, and smart. And her name was Murphy.
It may seem odd to begin one dog’s story with a description of another dog, but to fully understand Maggie, you have to first know Murphy. Murph was our first border collie.

The County Fair
It was 1994 and I had been looking for a blue merle Aussie for about a year. Aussies had only recently been recognized as a breed by the AKC and I was excited to have one of these beautiful working dogs. But either there were not many Aussie breeders in Missouri at that time or else I traveled in the wrong circles, because I just never found one and had given up on the idea of getting a new dog.
In the fall of that year we went to rural Missouri for a visit with Grandma and it happened that the local county fair was that weekend. For those of you that have never experienced a real county fair, there isn’t really anything else that compares. Sure, there are carnival rides, but that isn’t where the heart of the fair is. First, there are the competitions… baking, sewing, art and agriculture. Future Farmers of America (FFA) members will parade their shiny Black Angus or bold Charolais calves, trying to earn that coveted blue ribbon. And no one is concerned that these freshly bathed and brushed entries may be the entrees at next year’s fair.
There is always a "Miss County" pageant for which girls have prepared for months. Decorated coffee cans sit near cash registers at every gas station, feed store and restaurant throughout the county asking for "votes" with your loose change. And the daughters of the owners of those businesses always have the advantage as mom and dad remind the patrons to vote for their little sweetheart. The girls show up at the fairgrounds with their hair in intricate updos, wearing southern-belle style ball gowns-often made by mom or grandma-in the hope of winning the rhinestone crown and getting their photo on the cover of the county paper.
The ladies from the Baptist church sell pies and the Lion’s club men BBQ. The Job’s Daughters have a ring toss game, and the High School principal and some of his friends play their guitars on the main stage while people from the audience get up and sing a song or two. And we all know one another… maybe not well, but well enough to say things like “isn’t that Maude and Ed’s granddaughter? When did she get braces?”
But my favorite part of the fair, and that part that attracted us this year, was the rodeo. Not like PBR (professional bull riding) but real rodeo. Calf roping, team penning, barrel racing… real rodeo excitement provided by our neighbors. We settled into our seats early with our BBQ and some goodies from the band bake sale and waited for the rodeo to begin. As they unloaded the calves and cattle from the trailers into the arena, three slender dogs jumped from one truck and began helping sort the cows and load them into the right chutes so that they would be ready.
First was team penning- an event where three horses/riders separate three cattle from the herd of 30 and push them into a pen.  At the county fair, the cattle are numbered and numbers are drawn at random.  The three cows wearing that number must be separated from the heard and penned at the opposite end of the arena.  I don’t know if these are the real rules or not… I’ve never seen a team penning outside the fairgrounds, but that is the way they do it at the fair. Once the cows had been penned or time ran out, the cows were driven back to the end of the arena to begin again. Often, these black and white dog-bullets were turned loose to drive the cattle back and people in the audience often applauded. After the last team ran, the announcer thanked the owner of the dogs and said “if anyone else was as impressed with John’s dogs as I was, they might want to stop over here by the booth, because his favorite stock dog, Lucy, brought her litter of pups with her. And you might be able to talk John out of one or two if you have a few dollars to spare.”
“Oh Momma, can we look? Can we just go take a look at them?” I knew that it was probably a bad decision, but I said yes and we went to take a peek at Lucy’s pups. Five wiggly little balls of black and white fur were in the cardboard box lined with straw. John said he’d take $40 if we wanted one. They were all pretty much alike except for one… a split faced female that caught our interest. They were wormy, dirty, smelly, and adorable. The forty dollars was out of my hand before I even had a chance to think about it. I didn’t have a leash with me, but John threw in a yard of baling twine for free.

Our New Pup

We stayed to watch a little more of the rodeo, but it was clear that the puppy was afraid. She was afraid of the little string around her neck, afraid of the noise, afraid of the smells. She was even afraid of me. Fortunately, she was not afraid of the kids… I suppose she identified with them, and she trotted alongside them as we worked our way back to our car parked in a nearby field.
On the walk to the car, she would occasionally poke her nose into the rough stubble of weeds and grass in the “parking lot” and take a long intake of air. And it was clear that she would love to dig for whatever it was that smelled so good. Eventually we found our car and once again her fear returned. She did everything she could think of to escape before we loaded her in… thank goodness that the little baling twine collar and leash not only held but didn’t choke her. Once in the car she found the only place that she felt safe was sandwiched between the car seat back and my son’s back. He had just turned 6 and already had a soft spot for animals… both figuratively and literally in this case. As we left the fairgrounds, we could still hear the announcer at the rodeo arena introducing the barrel racing contestants, and following one of the rides he said “and if you were wanting to pick up one of John’s pups, you are too late, they’ve all been spoken for!”
We arrived at Grandma’s and unloaded the little sleepy kids and little pup. We knew better than to let her off the string yet and we encouraged her to walk into the house. It was clear that she had never seen stairs and never been inside a house. She wanted nothing more than to crawl under the car… a trait she continued to display most of her life when she got a little frightened. Through the years I often worried that her life would end under a car; fortunately that fear was never realized, yet she always saw it as some kind of refuge and more than once I had to get on hands and knees to insist that she came out. And more than a few times I had to scrub black axle grease off the top of her head and off the tips of her ears.
After a bowl of clean water and a dish of dog chow she seemed to settle in a little. Grandma was willing to let the little pup sleep indoors, or even in bed with us, but not so willing to allow the fleas that she brought with her. So, poor little pup had to endure a flea bath and later a powder on her first night with us. Looking back, it was a horrible beginning to a relationship. Thank goodness that she saw the kids as her refuge from this adult human who yanked her from her mother and everything she knew and then subjected her to multiple traumas.
By the next morning we were able to create a collar for her by punching a few new holes in one from Grandma’s collection. She bonded quickly and easily with the kids and I had no fear of her taking off, so they would take her out many times a day, and almost every time she made a little potty. People asked how we housebroke her so quickly, but the truth is she never needed to be-she came to us preferring to do her business in the grass.
Because we had no plans to get a dog, we obviously had no name either. We tried on names all day but nothing seemed to fit. The show “Murphy Brown” was popular at that time, and when it came on that evening, the kids called the dog “Murphy Black and White” and the name stuck. Though everyone assumed Murphy was a male, because we associated the name with Candace Bergman, it always seemed like a good girl’s name to us.
Murphy immediately bonded with both the kids and chased them through the grass and up the gravel roads of Grandma’s house. By Sunday afternoon, they were all tired, dusty, a little smelly, and two of them ready to head home. All but Murphy, who once again put on the breaks at the thought of going IN the car. But once in, she quickly established herself between David’s back and the seat back again and seemed content. I prayed that I would not have an accident with them like this, and we began the drive home.

Ignorance is Bliss

Looking back it is embarrassing how ignorant I was. I thought I was super dog-savvy… I could identify most breeds and even tell you something about their personality and their history. I had read all of the James Herriot books so many times I could recite portions. And somewhere in my mind I thought about the Border Collies that Herriot wrote about and called simply a “sheepdog.” And I dreamed of the stories he told about the sheepdogs that would follow their master into the local pub and wait patiently under the stool while they drank their pints and swapped stories. What I didn’t think about was the 12 hours of sheep herding that the dog had done that day which tired him out enough to take a nap in the pub. Goodness I was ignorant and had just done something that was incredibly stupid. I bought a dog on a whim. And not just a dog, a high drive Border Collie from a breeder that raised them for cattle. I was bringing her home to a house in the city with a medium sized yard and two little kids. She was unsocialized and I had no idea about her health. Hell, I didn’t even know John’s last name. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
But my ignorance didn’t stop there. Back then I didn’t believe in crates. I didn’t even call them crates; I called them CAGES. And no one that really loved their dog would put them in CAGES, right? But at least I was smart enough to know that she couldn’t run loose in the house while we at work and school, so I penned her in the kitchen using two baby gates. Somehow in my pea-sized brain this was waaaaay better than a cage. We had recently remodeled our house and the kitchen had brand new cabinets and vinyl floors. Really it was a pretty good place to “crate” her. (ha) I would leave her with a few toys and a bowl of water and it always looked the same when I came home. The toys would be moved and some water would be gone, but that was about it. I would always come home and tell her what a good girl she was.
Many months later I was on my hands and knees looking for something that had dropped and I noticed that the bottom edge of the cabinets were rough. Apparently all the days when she was penned in the kitchen she relieved her boredom by chewing on the wood. Some places the wood was shredded, and in others just dimpled. To this day tiny holes from her baby canines and dents from her adolescent ones remain a permanent part of my home. Of course you have to lay on the floor to see them.
I took her to obedience class just for fun. I never expected to compete with her- back then Border Collies were not recognized by the AKC and if they had such a thing as an ILP[1] , I never knew about it. But it is sort of a shame, because she was really good. She was one of those dogs that watched the handler all the time, staying in perfect heel position even when I tried to trick her. She had several different “finish” methods… the traditional move to heel position on handler’s left, the “around” the back to end up in heel position and she was even working on the “swing”… a move where she would jump into the air, twist around and land in heel position. Frankly, I was not comfortable with the method to teach this at the time which amounted to jerking up on your dog’s choke collar and then stepping into them when they jumped up. Because back then, we didn’t use treats in the training ring. Or toys. We just jerked them around by the neck until that ended up where we wanted and then we said “good dog!” But Murph was forgiving and she went willingly along. And I guess my “good dog!” was enough for her, because she learned quickly despite these archaic training methods.
But even if we had wanted to compete in obedience, there was one other huge obstacle besides her registration-the wretched “stand for examination.” This is where the handler leaves the dog on a stand-stay and the “judge” walks by and gently places their hand on the dog. The dog must stand quietly without moving and allow the examination. For some reason, Murph HATED this. She would stand perfectly still for as long as I asked, until the judge came up. And then she would cower… she would shrink, close her eyes, whine, and do anything except move her feet from the spot she was told to stay. And I felt so bad for her… I could feel her anxiety. And I did what any good mom would do… I comforted her. “Poor Murphy… it’s okay… you’re a good girl… nothing to be afraid of… gooood girl.” And week after week of training this went on, and she got worse and worse.
Then, one night, one of the fellow trainers said something to me that totally changed my relationship with dogs from then on. Something that was absolutely brilliant and at the same time, stunningly obvious. As I sweet-talked her while she shook with fear he said to me “you do realize that you are training her to do that, and that you are rewarding that behavior, don’t you?” What? Training her? Rewarding her? And then I realized, week after week she heard… “blah blah blah Murphy blah blah good girl blah blah good girl” Yikes, I had taught her to behave this way as surely as I had taught her to play dead when I said “bang.” And on that night, my pea-sized brain grew a little and I took on a new role in my dog’s life. Beginning the next week, Murphy had a new no-nonsense handler which didn’t allow that kind of behavior. It took a while to change, but certainly less time than it took to create the problem in the first place. And while I can’t say today that I am a good dog trainer, I am certainly much better thanks to the frank words of a fellow trainer a long time ago.

Our Own Lassie

Murphy turned out to be an ideal family dog. She was the kid’s constant companion, climbing the ladder to the top bunks and then leaping the 6 feet down onto a pile of toys. She would swim with them for hours… in fact I would have to put her in the house for a break or she would wear her pads raw patrolling the pool. And if one of the kids swam underwater for too long, she would jump in, swim down until she could grab their arm and drag them to the edge of the pool.
Outside the pool she was a good babysitter as well. She knew the kids by name and I could send her to get them. Whether they were in the basement or playing in a neighbor’s yard, Murph would track them down and give them a little bark that meant “Mom said come home right now.” Kids, being kids, they would often ignore her. But a Border Collie, being a Border Collie, will not be ignored when told to gather the flock. If another bark or a bump didn’t get them started, she’d give them a little nip on the ankle, which could not be ignored. Then I would hear little feet running into the house and someone crying “Murphy bit me!” We’d always go through the same routine… “Did she tell you to come home? Did you listen? It’s just a little scratch isn’t it? Well good. Then maybe next time you will come home the first time she tells you.”
And even without the twelve hours of sheep herding, she did become one of the sheepdogs of Herriot stories. She could and would go anywhere with me. We took a leash for other people’s comfort, but Murph never needed one. We would go for walks and I could leave her on a stay outside a store or restaurant to wait. We even went to the elementary school where we took Kim Lewis books about Border Collies and read them to the class. Murphy would stand quietly to be petted, even when a class of 20 third graders were doing it. I can’t imagine how she kept her herding instinct in check… you know that she wanted to gather them.
She did have the instinctual herding drive and she wasn’t always able to control it though. One evening we had a small group of people from church at our house. One of the gentleman was older and used a walker to get around. As we would move from one room to another, he would naturally be slower than the rest and more than once I caught her getting ready to give him a little ankle nip to encourage him along. And when people would stand around and chat, Murph would sometimes bump into them ever so gently at the back of their knees, causing people to take small steps forward without thinking about it. And before long, we would all be in a tight little flock in one corner while she laid in the center of the room and just watched… waiting for us to get unruly.


As the kids got older, we bought a camping trailer so that we could take the dogs along on family vacations. Murphy enjoyed the long walks at campgrounds and especially catching Frisbees… if I had been a better thrower, we could have been competitive, because there was almost nothing she couldn’t catch. One summer we took the camper to South Dakota and we played Frisbee every day. Not long after we returned, however, Murphy began to limp a little. Nothing big-most people couldn’t even see it. But I saw it, and I assumed that I had worked her too hard on Frisbee or that she had stepped in a hole. She was only about nine years old, and had always been healthy. I kept her pretty trim because she was such a jumper… I assumed it would go away in time.
Over the next few months I had her examined multiple times. Most of the vets could see a little issue, but no one was very worried. They all said that after all, she was an active dog, and she was 9, so what did I expect but a little soreness once in a while. As the months progressed, she seemed to age right before our eyes. She limped more, she tired more easily. She didn’t have the energy she once did and she just seemed like a different dog. Another vet appointment and another “well she’s getting older” diagnosis.
One morning it was markedly worse. She clearly was ailing, and I just didn’t believe it was aging. We went to the vet again, and again saw a different vet. The practice that we use has a lot of different vets, and we always saw whoever was available first, so we rarely saw the same vet twice. This time, though, the vet we saw took Murph’s condition a little more seriously and started by drawing blood. The news was bad, and additional tests brought only more bad news. Murphy had an auto-immune disease, and her body was attacking its own blood cells. We did every treatment that we could, she received blood transfusions and massive drug doses. Over the next months she would improve for a while, and then she would slip. I spent countless nights sleeping on the floor beside her, in case that was the night she decided to quit fighting. One morning she seemed to be improved and went outside to potty on her own. She came back in and curled up in a spot of sunshine.
And from that spot, on July 31, 2004 Murphy crossed the rainbow bridge.

Mending our Broken Hearts

Our hearts ached to the point we thought they would break. This dog had been such an intrinsic part of our lives that none of us could imagine a home without her. The kids and I wept almost daily. Thank goodness we had a second dog, and the little black and white cocker served as tear catcher more times than I can count. And though I was the first to say that we could never replace Murphy, it was clear within the first weeks that we needed to fill this gaping hole with another dog.
A week or so later I decided to begin some research. I would have gladly gone back to look for the farmer that sold us Murphy if I had any idea where to look, so I began to Google “Border Collie Missouri.” My plan at this time was to spend a couple months of research to find Murph's breeder or another good breeder, then maybe get a puppy in about 6 months or a year.
I tried my best to locate “John” but I had little to go on, and it is highly unlikely that he was advertising on the internet anyway. And it seemed that no matter what I typed into Google to refine my search, the number one hit was “Missouri Kansas Border Collie Rescue.” I’ll be honest… I never even clicked on it once in the first week or so of searching. I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought there would only be old, mixed breed, or problem dogs there. One day I did a Google image search-since I had been so unsuccessful doing a web search for text-and up popped all these beautiful dogs… some young, some old, rough, smooth coat… a smorgasbord of BCs all tagged by Missouri Kansas Border Collie Rescue. So I picked one and clicked on it.
The link had landed me on the “success” pages of Mo-Kan’s website and the stories that I read of dogs that had been pulled from shelters or found wandering without a home filled me with emotion. And I read the stories of the people that fostered them, renewed their health and their spirits, and the stories of the families that adopted them. Again, I am struck by my own ignorance; I didn’t have a clue about the wonderful work a rescue organization does. Once I had reached the bottom, I took a deep breath and clicked on the “available for adoption” button. And silent tears filled my eyes as one of the little faces filled my monitor.
Her name was Tulla, and she had been born shortly after a good Samaritan caught her mother running loose, just four days after Murphy died. She had five littermates, all of which were cute, but it was Tulla that held my attention. She had a split face, almost exactly the same as Murphy’s except in mirror image. Her eyeliner didn’t curl up as far at the corner, and she didn’t have a blue merle kissy spot. Other than that, they were mirror twins… her paws, her legs, her rough… they all were the same as Murph’s, down to the pattern of black freckles on her front leg… again, as reflected in a mirror. The shock of it was overwhelming. I called my daughter out to look, and she immediately burst into tears. The little pup WAS Murphy for us.
I immediately began filling out the application and struggled with the question “is there a particular dog you are interested in?” Obviously there was only one, but I didn’t want to look like a crazy person, so I put “any of Freckle’s pups, but ideally Tulla.” I don’t know what I would have done if they had said that Tulla had been spoken for. I suppose I would have taken one of the other pups, but in my heart, I knew that I had to have her. Any other pup would have given me the feeling that someone had taken MY dog. Fortunately, though, our application was put in the “pending” stack with Tulla’s name on it.
Obviously, the pups were still too young to go to their new home, and the rescue has the job of checking up on the applicant. I was not worried about them calling the vet… in the last few months we had become regulars there. During the times that Murph was hospitalized, I would go by three or four times a day just to sit next to her. I would take books and read outloud, so that she could hear my voice. Even my elderly mother would go over and visit, sitting on the hard floor next to her crate, so they knew us as devoted owners. Besides, the treatments and tests for Murph's extended illness had been quite expensive… surely we were one of their best customers. It was the home visit that concerned us most-so we worried and we cleaned-hoping to make a good impression (like someone would say, "I'm sorry, your house is too dusty for our dogs" ). When the volunteer stopped in to interview us, we showed her photos of Murph in the pool with the kids, pictures of family vacations, even pictures of her opening her Christmas presents. We talked about obedience training and Murphy’s brief exposure to agility. And then she asked the question that would surely ruin us. I could feel sweat erupt from my forehead when she said “do you crate your dogs when you are gone?”
I don’t know what I said. I danced around it and then I gave some non-answer like… “we have never needed to.” I think I mentioned the kitchen baby-gate set up, but cleverly left out the oak cabinet chew-a-thon. I didn’t know if she was suggesting that this was a good thing or a bad thing, and I didn’t want to wreck my chances at getting this puppy by guessing wrong. You would have thought I was on “Millionaire” and Regis was saying “is that your final answer?” The volunteer thanked us for our time and left, saying that she did not make the decisions, she only reported what she saw to the board who made the final choice.
The waiting was pure hell. But within a few days I got an email that said we were approved for adoption, and to contact the foster home to work out the transfer … of Tulla.
I know it sounds crazy, but somewhere deep inside, we all felt like Murphy was coming home.

Not the Best Babysitters

“Oh my. What did you do?” This was the greeting I received from our vet, the one that we had begun to see exclusively during Murph’s illness. He came around the corner with a big smile on his face, but shared with us that he was a little afraid when he saw our name on his schedule, thinking that the other dog was sick. He grabbed the puppy and laughed at the little pup we named Maggie, marveling, like we had, how much she looked like Murphy.
We had learned a lot (through certainly not enough) about raising puppies in the years since we got Murph and I was dedicated to making sure that she was properly socialized. We went to puppy school and she was the star. Walking on lead, sits, downs, stays… she was smart and eager to please. She played with the other puppies but was reluctant to have strangers pet her. After she knew someone for a while, she would accept a treat, but was uncomfortable being handled. We went to Home Depot and Lowes a couple times a week, even when we didn’t need anything, just to get her out. She was a little on the shy side, but nothing for me to worry about. Most of the time the little cocker would walk alongside her and provide her with confidence. I exposed her to every possible environment that I could think of… well except a crate of course.
One issue that she had from the beginning, and still has today, was an unwillingness to eat. She was tall and lanky and old folks would tell me she had worms. But no matter what I bought for her, she would not eat. Pretty soon I was buying the most expensive dry food I could find, and then I was buying freeze-dried raw diet which I had to reconstitute with hot water. I tried gravies and pastes. I even replaced her food bowls (she did not like seeing herself in the shiny steel bowls-still doesn’t). I would write emails to the rescue group about her eating disorder and it wasn’t until I’d mentioned that I was now sitting on the floor with her and feeding her by hand that someone finally kicked me in the butt. “Knock it off” I think was the advice I got. “You are creating a monster. No healthy dog will starve themselves” and “pick up her bowl of food after 10 minutes… she will be hungry by the next meal.” It was one of the hardest things I had to do, but I did it. Ten minutes after I put the bowl down, I picked it up. Next meal, the same thing happened and I began to worry. But after missing two meals, she was happy to have a meal and while she didn’t “scarf” it down, she did eat it.
And so it went, eating fine for a few days and then skip a meal. One day, she skipped a meal and then a second meal. While this normally would not have concerned me, she just didn’t look well either. She was about six months old and we were accustomed to her crazy antics. One of her favorite “games” was to race through the living room and use the back of the sofa as a springboard to jump to the floor and continue racing. (Looking back, I can’t believe how I spoiled this dog) Anyway, she not only stopped eating, but stopped racing and jumping and her little face just looked sad. So we made a vet appointment for that day and drug her sad little face in. Our vet tried to reassure us that everything would be okay, but after the last year, I could not help but panic a little. “I’m sure it’s nothing big, but let’s snap an x-ray just to be sure” And he took my little baby with him while we waited. What seemed like an eternity went by when he returned, not with Maggie, but with an x-ray. He put it on the viewer and said “I have no idea what this is, but it looks like she ate something” Looking at the x-ray I saw part of a mechanical pencil that I had recently “lost.” And it didn’t take a radiologist to see that it looked bad for my little girl.
Painless Solution, Painful Lesson
Despite the fact that she was still pretty small and that she had swallowed a mechanical pencil (or at least a large part of one) the veterinarian suggested that we “wait and see” rather than immediately go after it. He said that dogs will often pack stool around objects and then they pass on through. But to play it safe, I was to look for the object in her stool, and she would go in every day for an x-ray to track the progress until it passed.
I was very thorough, closely examining each little poop that she passed using latex gloves bought especially for poo examinations. Each little piece was carefully picked up, looked at and smashed, even though I was looking for an object several inches long. And you could tell the days that the pencil reached a place that hurt, and the days when it was “free flowing”… those were the days Maggie acted like a normal puppy. And every day we went in for her x-ray and they would report the progress. And each day she got more and more reluctant to go in. She started balking at the door and by the time she had a few x-rays, I could tell that she was becoming really fearful of going back with the tech. Just for the record, I don’t think that they were really mean to her or anything, it is just that she was young, it was scary, and I’m sure that my own anxiety made it worse. Day after day, we watched the progress of the pencil until one day… it… was… gone. Gone! Didn’t show up the x–ray! And to this day, I have no idea when or where she passed that pencil. I was so thorough on my poop check, I will never know how it got past… or passed.
It was also during this time that I learned something very important about my pet’s medical care. Since Murphy passed, I had continued to do research on auto-immune diseases in dogs, because the cause had remained a mystery that I felt obligated to solve. On one of our “pencil” visits, I mentioned to the vet that I was convinced that Murphy had acquired a particular tick-borne illness that led to the auto-immune. He said “no, if it had been that, we would have seen joint pain and her getting lame before it got that far.“ I was speechless. Murph had been in multiple times in the preceding months with joint pain and lameness, but had seen a variety of vets… never this one. And by the time he saw her, there were pages and pages in her chart about her most recent visits, and I suppose he never turned back the pages to the visits for her joints. I didn’t talk to him about it… there was nothing he could do at this point, and there was no reason to make him feel bad. But I did learn two good lessons about animal care. The first is about consistency with your vet. Now we schedule all of our visits with the same vet, no more taking whatever vet is available at the most convenient time for me. The second is that I have vowed to take an active role in the research for any pets I have with a serious or continuing medical issue. Not that I suggest that I am smarter than my vet, only that I have a lot more time to dedicate to research. No vet can do as much research for every animal in their care as I can for just one dog. And while I was relieved to finally find a probable cause for Murphy’s illness, it was very sad as well, to realize that this was something that would have been curable had it been treated early on.
I’m so, so, sorry Murphy-girl, that you suffered needlessly.

We Become a Foster Family

Maggie remained healthy and stopped eating foreign objects, so our trips to the vet were few in the coming months. But the episode had left her quite wary of strangers, though; especially those that she thought might pick her up or put their hands around her like an examination. Despite my continuing to take her into public and despite the fact that I never reinforced this behavior, it continued to grow worse. Her fear grew to the point that I stopped taking her into public, and I worried that she would eventually snap at a stranger. It was also about this time that I realized how much she counted on our little cocker spaniel for support. When Maggie was a puppy, she would walk alongside Mopsy, holding onto her big flowing cocker ears like they were a security blanket. I thought it was cute and so I never stopped her. I knew that if she ever actually hurt Mopsy, the old cocker would take her down in an instant. She might look cute, but this little girl was tough. Anyway, I realized that she really was being used as a security blanket and when the “blanket” wasn’t around, Maggie was much more apprehensive. But it wasn’t all that important to me, they went together with me most of the time, anyway. Besides, it really was very cute. : )
During these months, I continued to stay in touch with the rescue that Maggie came from and on occasion, they would send an email asking for help with a home visit, or a transport. One day, an email arrived that asked for help with a transport on behalf of another rescue. There was a young guy in Stillwell OK in a shelter that found a home in Chicago and he needed a ride to St. Louis, and a place to spend the night. Other Mo-Kan volunteers got him as far as Rolla, and I picked him up from there. Such a sweet little boy named Jake. He was a smooth coat and had very little muscle mass, especially in his hindquarters. He had one ear up and one down which gave him a mischievous look and he was wearing a cheap collar in which someone had poked an extra hole to make it big enough. If you closed your eyes and imagined a homeless dog, Jake would fit the picture.
Nevertheless, he crated easily and rode carelessly. When he got to our house, I quickly took pictures and emailed them to his adoptive family. “Oh. He doesn’t really look like what we thought. We were hoping for a high-drive agility dog” was the response I got via email. Are you kidding me? They were going to change their mind about a dog that they rescued from a shelter based on one snapshot! I called them and said, “No problem. If you are not jumping up and down excited to have him, then I won’t bring him to you.” The reply was “we will take him if we have to, but no, we are not excited to have him.” I hung up… probably not very politely.
Not only was I angry at these people, but it made me realize that all rescues are not the same. This situation would never have happened with Mo-Kan. There is no way that a transport would have been initiated without the adoptive family having a lot of information about the dog, and them being certain it was the right thing to do. And no way would someone who volunteered to transport get “stuck” with a dog. But stuck we were.
So Jake became our first foster dog. I was surprised how gentle and sweet this shelter dog was. It was clear that he was not accustomed to living indoors (he had to learn to climb stairs) and he had NO obedience training. He was a few months younger than Maggie, and they quickly became best friends. She would even hold onto his ear now and then. And we posted Jake’s picture on Mo-Kan’s website and began looking for his forever home.

Jake finds a home

Some of the first applications for Jake were from homes in the St. Louis area. However, even without the home visit, I had already decided that they were not going to be good homes for him. I suppose because he is not a traditional-looking border collie (and at the time I think we said that he was probably a mix), the really good applicants were looking at other dogs, and not Jake. And the ones that wanted Jake did not meet my expectations. But I was patient, knowing that the perfect home was out there waiting for him, somewhere.
I began doing some general obedience with him, and gradually began increasing the length of time that I asked him to sit. In the beginning, I was happy with 20 seconds, but we were working up to over a minute. Some days we would take a walk, but even a short walk would leave him lame a few hours later. He wanted to run and play with Maggie, but we really had to limit the running especially, or he would be almost unable to walk the next morning. We continued to visit the vet and talk about his hips and his strength. We also discussed the complications and cost involved with hip replacements; and we talked about keeping his weight low so that someday he might be a candidate for removal of his femoral head when his hips finally gave out. But, he did remind me over and over to keep him moving… keep pushing him as far as I could without causing him any pain or lameness. And so we kept working on walks, a little farther all the time, and sitting… a little longer every time. I tried to get him to swim, but he was terrified of the water, so it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
By the time Jake had lived with us for 3 months, his coat was becoming shiny, and he was gaining strength in his hips. He was now able to play with Maggie, though I would have to intervene if it got too crazy. He was becoming a great little dog; yet most of the applications that arrived showed interest in one of the other dogs, and not Jake.
Once a year the rescue invites everyone that adopted a dog for a get-together and that fall, we headed to the Kansas City area for the rescue reunion. Obviously, I would take Maggie to see her foster family and some of her littermates. I took Jake along for the ride and maybe drum up some interest in getting him adopted. I also took my daughter who was about 16 at the time. We stayed at a nice hotel that had a patio door that opened to a courtyard, making it easy to take the dogs out. A little after midnight they whined to go out, and she offered to take them both. Armed with poopy bags and a flashlight, she went out. Not long afterwards, she returned crying. A truck with several drunk young men and driven up to her. One got out and was walking toward her, making lewd suggestions. Maggie hid behind Sarah and cowered, but little Jake turned into an attack dog. She said that Jake lunged at the end of the leash with all his might. She said he growled and barked and foam flew from his cheeks. She said that the young man stopped in his tracks and returned to his truck saying something about a vicious dog. And as soon as they had gone, Jake went back to his happy-go-lucky self and finished his potty trip.
As soon as she told me the story I realized how foolish I had been to let her go out. And how Jake had likely saved her from who-knows-what. And I knew at that moment that I owed him a debt that I could never repay…but I promised him that I would never stop trying. And on that day, in Independence MO, Jake found his perfect forever home-ours.

the Teeter

Choosing which of my dogs I love the most is like asking me which of my kids I love the most. I could not possibly choose. However, I must say that Jake will always have a special place in my heart… perhaps because of the way he protected Sarah or the fact that he has suffered such hardship, yet continues to greet the world with such happy enthusiasm. About a year after we got Jake I started looking into taking him to nursing homes. He is not only good-natured, but always very gentle when I ask him to be. He would be completely unfazed by wheelchairs, loud noises, or even hands that might pet too hard or grip too tight. And, he would fetch tennis balls for hours, each time gently returning them to your hand. I figured that some older person in a nursing home could benefit from the interaction. I started looking into getting him certified for pet therapy, and found out that the first step was to get him some formalized training. I found a place not too far from home and enrolled him in the next beginning obedience class.
Jake loved it. He loved getting out, he loved the attention, he loved the treats… and we had the best time together. And he was very easily trained. In fact, by lesson four or five, I was beginning to see a competition-worthy obedience dog. He is one of those dogs that heel by looking at the handler’s face the entire time, rarely looking at where he is going. He stays in heel position like we are have Velcro holding us together. And even his long sits were getting better.. he was now up to several minutes and his hips were much improved.
The lady that was teaching the class complemented us on how fast we were progressing and suggested that we consider agility as well. She also taught agility and had an indoor agility ring next to the obedience area. I longed to give it a try, but I knew that Jake’s hips would not allow him to do it.
We also talked after class about Maggie, who, by this time, was becoming overcome with anxiety when introduced to strangers and strange places. And, as she got worse, I took her out less, compounding the problem. The trainer suggested that I bring her and let her try agility… that perhaps putting her to work would help. It took a while for her to convince me, and I made an appointment for a private lesson, because I was too nervous to bring her there with other people around.
From the first moment, she was addicted. At the first lesson she was jumping, doing tunnels, and running the dog walk. I couldn’t remember when I had seen her so happy. We scheduled a second private lesson and I went home. The following week on our way to the facility, Maggie began screaming when we got near the place. Not a scared scream… more like the kids in the “we’re going to Disneyland!” commercials.
About halfway through the lesson, the trainer suggested that we work the teeter. She explained that she would keep Maggie from jumping off by holding onto her if necessary, while I encouraged her to the end. I said “but you don’t understand…no one but me can grab or hold Maggie. I have to muzzle her at the vet… she gets so frightened, that I’m afraid she will bite you.” In true Caeser Milan fashion, the trainer said “That was before; this is now… she loves agility and her mind will be on this, not on the past. As long as you stay calm, so will she” And sure enough, Maggie went up the teeter, the trainer put her arm around her to guide her to the end and Maggie never blinked an eyelash. And as that teeter tipped, Maggie’s life and mine, changed forever.

The first trial

After only three private lessons, our trainer suggested that Maggie join in a regular class. In retrospect, it was the perfect idea… Maggie was so hyped by agility, that a bomb could have gone off near her and she still wanted to do a tunnel or jump. So the strangers in the class gave her no stress, she focused on the obstacles alone.
There were other people in our class that had their own issues… a big weimaraner that was more puppy than dog and another rescue, a schnauzer, whose apprehension of strangers was probably worse than Maggie’s. Together we took lessons and they soon talked about competing. I repeated my original idea that we had only done this to improve Maggie’s social skills, we had no intention of competing. In addition to that, Maggie was a tall, stringy border collie with a thin tail… I was not sure that the AKC would even provide us with an ILP. But as the weeks got closer, and my classmates began talking about their first trials, I began to think that perhaps this might be fun. There was a local show that I planned to visit, but something came up and I never made it. I pushed the idea back again. One night after class one of my classmates brought out a camera and an ILP (PAL) application. She said “if you don’t send this in, I’m going to” and that night we took the required photos. I can’t say that I was really all that anxious for the result, because I had not yet become addicted. But a few weeks later, the envelope arrived with her AKC certificate. As it turns out, the next show in town happened to be scheduled on my 50th birthday. We entered.
I doubt that I will ever have a more memorable birthday. Maggie ran great for a Novice A dog, and we took home two 1st place ribbons. But more than that, it turned a corner in Maggie’s mind. There were many strangers there, strange noises and strange smells. At first she retreated into her fear, but when I took her to the practice jump and then onto the start line, she forgot about her fear-it pretty much disappeared into the air.
And from the first run, we were as addicted as any junkie.

A New Chapter

We had so much fun at agility that we immediately entered every local show. At first, we did not travel, in fact, I thought that we never would travel for a show. We would enter whatever shows were local, but that was about it. Maggie and I continued to improve, and she read my signals like most people read books. Unfortunately, I do not learn as fast as she does, so we continue to have small mistakes when I give her mixed information. But more than that, her entire demeanor changed to the point that I forgot she was ever anxious or afraid. But the following spring, I was reminded.
We were at an outdoor trial at Purina Farms. It was nearing Easter so there were many little kids at the main building, but not too many at the agility ring. However, at one point, when we were taking a short walk around the area, a group of 4 or 5 little kids ran up. One of the older ones yelled "look! It's Fly!" (I suppose he thought that Maggie looked like Fly from the movie Babe). With that, the whole group came running straight at us. I could feel my panic begin, there was no way to head off all these kids and this was exactly the kind of situation that I had feared the most in our fearful days. It was why I never took Maggie out unless I could avoid people. I looked down at Maggie to give her a "heel" command and try to walk the opposite direction, even though the kids were very close. But when I looked down, her tail was wagging and she was actually looking right at the nearest child with a totally relaxed face. I was in shock... I couldn't believe that she had changed so much, so fast. It was more than I had ever expected.
Today, I can (and do) take her almost everywhere. There are a few people that she will shy away from, but there is no great fear associated with it... she will just lean away as she walks past. But I can't really blame her, there are people that I feel the same way about. We continue to trial in agility, and hope to continue until one of us has to retire. It has changed both our lives... not only did it heal Maggie's fear, but it brought us a huge network of friends that I cherish and that I would never have met otherwise. It takes up most of my free time and most of my disposable income, but I love every minute of it, counting the days to the next lesson, next trial, next seminar.
This is the final chapter in this story, but hopefully not the final chapter in Maggie's. And someday, years from now, like Murphy wrote the first chapter of Maggie's life, Maggie will likely be the first chapter in the life of another dog, and who knows where that story will take us. We'll just have to wait and see.

[1] Individual Listing Privilege. This is a number issued by the AKC to purebred dogs that do not have registration papers. The owner provides pictures of the dog along with a description of why they believe the dog is a purebred. The AKC then decides to agree or decline the application. In 2004, ILP was replaced by PAL- purebred alternative listing which is essentially the same.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Born to Be Wild

Well I promised one more update on the hip surgery and here it is.... just to close the book on this story. 
Tulla had x-rays at 8 weeks post surgery to verify that all was healing well, and it was (is).  We got approval to let her do anything she wanted, but I was still too nervous to completely let her off leash, because I knew that there was a bundle of explosive energy locked inside.  So the first several days we did long lead and swimming.  Finally the day came and the leash came off- setting her free for the first time in two long months.  As I expected, it took me a while to catch her!  But the only problems we have had were a few days of tender feet from running too hard on the concrete.
So for all the worry, the fear, the prayers, and the indecision, this turned out to be a pretty uneventful surgery (well except for the bill.)  The surgeon sees no reason why she cannot lead as full a life as a dog born with good hips.  So if she decides to become an agility dog, then that is what we will do.
Meanwhile, run Tulla, run.  You deserve

a few extra laps around the yard.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Crate Rest Hump Day and Staple Removal

I began writing about Tulla’s DPO to give other people who are facing the same experience information about what to expect.  In the weeks leading up to the surgery, I scoured the internet for anyone who could provide a clue of what to expect.  And now that we made it through week two, I understand why no one wrote about it.  There really is nothing to tell.

From the first days she could walk and squat to potty.  I took her off pain meds in 3 days just to try to keep her from jumping around.  So far, it seems like the biggest irritant has been the hair growing back and getting itchy….

We still have two more weeks of crate rest, but now that we have survived the first two, and have passed “hump day,” we are getting the hang of it.   She is a little stir crazy and wanting to get out, so we are playing more games, and trying to take more slow and easy walks around the yard.  But sort of like letting a dieter have one lick of an ice cream cone, it just makes her want more.  She stands and looks at the pool, wanting to jump in, and she carries one of the smaller jolly balls around, hoping that someone will throw it for her. 

Our check up and staple removal went well, and in one month we return for x-rays to tell us how much the bone has healed and of course, admire how nicely that hip joint fits together.  Once we get that report, we will begin making decisions on any necessary rehab and begin returning to normal.

On the “keeping Tulla busy” front, she now has about 5 new tricks, and we are looking for ideas for more.  Despite all the hours she has spent there, she is still willingly going into her crate and waiting patiently to come out (thanks to the two Sues- Susan Garrett and my friend Sue who bought us “Crate Games” in the first place).  That alone has been invaluable. 

I will probably make one more post, following her x-rays in August, but beside that, this is the story that isn’t.  I continue to be shocked at how she has taken this whole thing in stride.  And I’m very thankful for the hands of a skilled surgeon that made this possible in the first place. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ten Days Post bilateral DPO

I certainly appreciate how well Tulla is doing. We leave the cone off when we are around her, and she has not tried to do anything to her incisions.  She is completely off pain meds, and has a great attitude all the time- even in her crate. She moves smoothly through sits, downs, and stands showing no signs of lameness. 
Despite using every mealtime to teach new tricks through, it continues to get more and more difficult to keep her quiet.  It seems that she is significantly more over reactive to things that she would normally not react to.  For instance, if there is a bird or a squirrel in the yard, we have to lift her from the floor or she will attempt cartwheels at the door.  Today, Greg left the mower in the yard and she had to point this out, loudly and with all vigor- charging the mower.  It's like she has all this energy pent up inside and it just spills over once in a while.  Nevertheless, in the big scheme of things, this is a very small problem.

I did manage to get a few photos today and it is easy to see how ready she is to be off leash by how hard she is pulling against her collar.  We let her carry the Jolly Ball around for a while, but had to take it away when she decided to shake it.  I'm thinking that doesn't fit in the "crate rest" plan.
Four days until our first checkup and removal of staples.  It seems like the forward-most parts of her incision pull a lot when she squats to pee, so I'm a little anxious about what happens when the staples are removed.   But I guess that by two weeks it should be healed enough. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Week One.

I remember people saying “the hardest part of this surgery is keeping your dog quiet and I totally underestimated this.  We were told “crate rest” for 4 weeks, with only a short walk to potty and this has proven to be extremely difficult.  The moment she hits the backyard it is GAME ON!  I have begun to take her out once in a while on a prong collar to prevent her from “digging in” with her hind legs to pull.   And as soon as she goes potty and we start to move back to the door, she is distracted by EVERYTHING.   She picks up every leaf, stick, rock, and bug she can find and will toss them in the air to catch.  And as each day goes by, it is getting more and more difficult to keep her quiet.  In fact, if we let her go, she would gladly get the zoomies, running and jumping like crazy.

But here are some lessons that we have already learned that may help someone else prepare for this:
·         Crate training long before the surgery is an absolute must.  Thanks to a puppy gift from a friend, months ago we did the Susan Garrett “Crate Games” and thankfully Tulla will go willingly into her crate and wait patiently to come out.  Without these 2 skills, we would be in deep, deep trouble.

·         As a puppy, Tulla jumped up on people to great them, and while we were breaking that habit, I wish that I had completely eliminated it before the surgery.   We cannot walk near anyone else or she will try to get over to them and jump up. 

·         We have 2 “puzzle” games (one from a friend and one from my daughter).  Between this and trick training (next), Tulla has not eaten out of a bowl since we got home.  It isn’t a lot of exercise, but it does give her something “to do”

·         After a whining Facebook comment about how I am struggling with the crate rest, a friend sent me a youtube link of a bunch of tricks that you could train to a crate bound/mobility impaired dog.  This has been working very well!  But because of her reduced exercise, I can’t load her up on treats, so she “works” for her dinner.  She has already learned two tricks using her dinner and a clicker.

·         I’ve learned that she is more difficult to keep quiet when she is on pain meds.  Therefore, we have reduced them away and she is now on only antibiotics and NSAIDs.  No more pain meds. This surprises me-I thought the Tramadol would have a sedating effect.  It did not.    

·         The most important thing I’ve learned is that a network is THE most valuable aid that you have.  Between puzzle games and hints on tricks, I have had people to whine to when I’m at the end of my rope, people to encourage us both, and people to ask “what do you think about this?”

On last Sunday night, my husband said “well at least we are through the first week” and I said “no, this was only 4 days!” and he said “well it seems like a week already!”   This sort of sums up how it is going at our house.  Tulla seems to be recovering nicely while we continue to struggle and worry.  

Pictures this weekend, I promise!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Surgery Day

In the weeks leading up to this day, I alternated between wishing it was further away and wanting to just get it over with.  Almost daily I searched for information about what to expect, and found very little.  I didn’t know how debilitated she would be or how much I would have to care for her and her wounds.  I wrote a long email to our surgeon with some very tough questions, and, bless his heart, he answered every single one in great detail.  This gave me much more confidence and relieved a great deal of my apprehension.  Still, I didn’t know what I could do to prepare.  I put a crate in the living room and washed all of our dog bedding, adding a little bleach to the wash cycle to ensure that there was no bacteria.  I made a cute little sling out of fleece to help carry the weight of her hindquarters.  The night before surgery, I gave Tulla a bath, paying close attention to her feet as I was worried about the possibility of tracking bacteria into her bed and into her wound later on.  I also trimmed her nails extra short and tried to think of anything I had forgotten.  And we snuggled.
On surgery day, I took her in the surgical center early in the morning.  Just like her normal self, she bounded in the door and off down the hall with anyone that wanted to hold a leash.  Like a little kid that was ready for her first day of kindergarten, I didn’t even get a glance over the shoulder as she walked off.  And because the surgery was being performed out of town, I had nowhere to go.  So I wandered around for hours, shopping and remembering none of it.  I called a couple of times and apologized for bothering them, and then I got the call that all had gone well and the surgery was over.  I waited an hour or so (about as long as I could) and I went by to see for myself.  Still very groggy, she lifted her head when she heard my voice.  And even though I was probably in the way, I sat on the floor next to her crate for what seemed like hours. 
During this process we actually had 2 doctors, one surgeon and another that took care of everything else.  This second doctor was amazing nice and she helped me figure out how to lift her and she told me that she really thought Tulla was well enough to go home, but I said that I would feel better with her spending the night since we had a 2 hour drive home.  She also told me that our biggest problem would be getting her to be quiet for our upcoming 4 weeks of crate rest. 

The next morning, I was stunned to see a wide awake, tail wagging Tulla who was now missing all her surgical dressings (being helpful, she removed them herself!)  But most shocking was that she was standing on her own four legs.  Maybe a little shaky, but still, she was standing.  Both hips have 4-5 inch (or so) incisions that are stapled shut.  One had quite a bit of bruising, and the other had none.  Most obvious of all is her new haircut, with most of her hind end completely shaved, but with a big fluffy tail remaining.  I was thrilled to see her happy little face and I could not help but think of the “warning” I had gotten the previous day about trying to keep her quiet for 4 weeks when it was obvious that she was ready to “go.”  After a quick check of her incisions, an extra dose of pain meds before the IV came out, a big bag of pills, and a new cone of shame, we began the trip home. 

I’m sorry that I have no photos of the first days at home.  I have a few blurry shots from my phone, but that is about it.  I will try to do better!