Thursday, May 31, 2012

K9Kamp Week Two: Play with!...

Mindy never cared much for balls, so when we adopted Paige she inherited a fair number of them: tennis balls in various colors, hollow rubber balls that squeaked, a hard rubber ball that sounds like a turkey call when rolled or bounced (dubbed the "gobble" ball), balls on ropes, even a ball that looked like a relief map of the earth complete with blue oceans and green continents. Within a few minutes of being given each one, however, Paige had reduced most of them to unrecognizable shreds! She acted more like a puppy than a three-year-old dog. Never having had toys to play with, she didn't have a clue what to do but to chew!
Part of Paige's ball collection.
So, in addition to the three balls that survived (the gobble ball, a puzzle ball that holds treats, and a fuzzy, squeaky one that looks like an over-sized softball with a rope through it), we bought her a Kong ball (virtually indestructible) and a squeaky soccer ball.
Paige pauses to gobble a treat from
her puzzle ball.
Paige's favorite is the puzzle ball. Mindy never felt the amount of effort required was worth such a tiny reward, but Paige LOVES it! In no time, she had figured out how to roll the ball upside down to get the treats. She spends about twenty minutes rolling it all over the house, pausing to gobble its delicious contents (the liver-flavored treats are her favorites), before pawing the ball, or nosing it across the floor, and resuming the game. If it rolls under a table or chair, she will retrieve it and carry it in her mouth to her dog bed (home base), and the game begins again. We now use the puzzle ball twice a week as part of a meal.
Paige carries the puzzle ball
back to  her bed.
I was a little nervous about giving her the soccer ball because it's hollow, and I figured she'd have it demolished in no time. But she seems to have learned that if she wants to be able to keep playing with it, she has to leave it intact. She loves the loud squeak, chases after it, skidding to a halt (or into the wall or door, if inside), then bounds back proudly bearing her prize. 

Game called on account of rain?
No way!
Paige thinks the best part of the game is playing "Keep Away" when I try to retrieve the ball from her so I can throw it again, so I got a lot of exercise this week, too. When I say, "Paige, give," she will--but not until I actually have my hand on the ball. Until then, she'll bob and weave, duck and run, until she thinks I've had a good workout. Talk about a tough personal trainer!
Paige runs to score a goal!
In spite of a week filled with doctor appointments, thunderstorms, and farewell activities for our daughter Sarah and her family, who are moving out of state, Paige and I were able to do between ten to twenty minutes a day of ball play. By the end of the week another three pounds had vanished!

What do you like to do with your dog? Does she have a favorite toy? Does he love to exercise, or is he a couch potato? There's still lots of K9Kamp left, so why not join us--have some fun, shape up for summer, and enjoy special time with your furry best friend! For more information, just click a link below:

Kol's Notes

Peggy's Pet Place

Thursday, May 24, 2012

K9Kamp 2012 Week One: Walking on Sunshine--Results...

Goal: Walk for at least 60 minutes this week.

Challenge criteria:
  1. walk with your dog;
  2. start off slowly at your current pace;
  3. spice it up by stepping up the time by 5 or 10 minutes or more, if able;
  4. add one EXTRA to your walk: interval walking, walk w/weights, include a hill, change your route, climb stairs, jog or run, etc.
Day 1: Putting our best
foot forward, admiring
the violets
My husband walks Paige daily, and I use her various toys to make sure she gets exercise. But because of chronic pain and exhaustion, my ability to be active has greatly diminished over the past several years. Knowing we might not be able to complete all of the challenge criteria, but also knowing that ANY exercise would be better than NO exercise, with Paige by my side, we plunged into K9Kamp with a mixture of enthusiasm (Paige's) and apprehension (mine).

Friday, May 18, Day 1: Awoke with a pulled muscle in my lower back. Part of the adventure of living with chronic illness is never knowing how you'll feel when you wake up, but I didn't want to wimp out on the first day of K9Kamp! So, how to adapt? I knew I wasn't up for much of a walk, so after Paige had her supper, I took her out in our tiny back yard, and we walked around and around, first in one direction, then another, then figure-eights. Paige got lots of practice in making right and left turns! After about five minutes my back was hurting too much to continue. But, it was a start!

Day 2: Learning to
slow down. Mom says,
"Paige, no pull."
Saturday, May 19, Day 2: Back still hurting, though not as bad as yesterday; but the temperature was in the 80's, and the heat is not my friend. Again, I waited until almost 5:30 p.m., and Paige was raring to go. I walk a lot slower than David does, so at first Paige had a hard time adjusting to my shorter stride and slower pace.

She also needs to learn the difference between pleasure-walking with him, and working-walking with me as my service dog. So, during today's walk we worked on Paige staying on my left to avoid tangling with my cane, keeping at heel, right turn, left turn, and "no pull."

Paige walks at heel
with Mom
After a few false starts, she caught on and we took a 10-minute walk, double yesterday's effort. It might not seem like much to some, but for me it was huge. As the arthritis in my spine progresses, walking becomes more difficult; so being able to walk for 10 minutes was very encouraging.

Sunday, May 20, Day 3: Took the day off to rest and relax. Lots of cuddle time with Paige, and review of commands learned thus far.

Monday, May 21, Day 4: Pain and exhaustion during the day, then family came for supper. No walk today.

Paige waits on the
landing until "Mom"
reaches the bottom
Tuesday, May 22, Day 5: Very hot, so instead of walking outside, we exercised on the stairs. It provided a great opportunity to work with Paige on learning to "wait" until I reach the landing before coming up the first flight of stairs behind me, then "wait" again until I reach the top. After four trips up and down the stairs, Paige was doing great, but my back said "enough." It took four minutes to do four trips up and down, so I did a minute of walking in place before gratefully sinking into my recliner.

"Okay," says Mom, and
Paige heads down
the stairs.
Wednesday, May 23, Day 6: Used the stairs again, and did five trips up and down in four minutes, then a minute of walking in place; so although I didn't increase my time, I did increase the speed slightly. Paige was running extra laps up and down the stairs while I was turning around at the top or bottom. (Show off!)

Thursday, May 24, Day 7: Another rest day. I have learned that, if I don't pace myself, don't listen to my body and rest, it makes the pain and exhaustion worse; so I use the "down time" for writing, reading, knitting, and interacting online. Paige, however, decided that "stair time" should be a daily event whether I participated or not. She also stepped it up a notch by incorporating "chase the cats" with her stair exercise!

So, let's see how we stacked up against the challenge criteria:

1. walk with your dog....check!
2. start off slowly at your current pace...Since my pace prior to K9Kamp was zero, walking for 5 minutes was an improvement!
3. step up the time or pace by 5 or 10 minutes...Increased our walk from 5 minutes on day one to 10 minutes on day two, so check!
4. add one extra...we added the stairs, so check!

And our results for Week One? My total exercise for the week was 30 minutes, half the challenge amount; but Paige got in way more than 60 minutes. It would be easy to feel discouraged, but instead I feel good. I feel good that Paige and I spent additional time bonding. I feel good that I was able to walk outside twice this week, whereas normally I wouldn't have walked outside at all. I feel good that I was able to complete the trips up and down the stairs--Day 6 without my back hurting! I feel good that I increased my activity by 30 minutes this week. Oh, and another bonus--I lost another 2.25 lb! 

Paige says, "Why wait?
Come join us
at K9Kamp!"
Tomorrow, the new challenge for Week Two will be posted. Regardless of what it is, Paige and I plan to also keep walking, aiming to increase our time and distance, little by little.

By the way, there's still time for you to join in. Just click on the links below for information:

Kol's Notes

Peggy's Pet Place

Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 K9Kamp Challenge: Why Paige and I are Kamping...

A few days ago I read a post by my Facebook friend and writer, Peggy Frezon, about K9Kamp, which piqued my curiosity. Peggy explained that there would be exercise challenges each week for participants to complete with their dogs, and assured me I could modify them to fit my physical limitations. Another component of K9Kamp would involve blogging about our weekly challenge experiences. This sounded like fun, but there was another reason I decided to participate. 

Paige is prepared for "walkies" in all kinds of weather.
I've only had my dog Paige for about five months. She was a rescue, and was underweight when we adopted her; but at her last checkup, the vet said she'd filled out a little too much and needed to lose two or three pounds. I needed to lose...more, and had started doing Weight Watchers online. I was doing well with weight loss, but finding it difficult to exercise and was looking for a weight-loss/exercise buddy. I had just finished reading Peggy's book, Dieting with My Dog, and found it very inspiring. It was then that I thought perhaps my buddy could be Paige!

I originally began this blog as an extension of a print column I've written for over twenty years for a monthly newsletter. But shortly afterward, a year-long series of events, including the death of my service dog, Mindy, and two weeks later Paige's adoption, took a toll on my health which was already taxed by chronic pain and illness. So, I'd had to put the pet blog on the back burner. K9Kamp sounded like a great opportunity to revive "PetWise Online."

Is that a squirrel over there?
Paige is all muscle and, being a young dog (she's about three years old), has more energy than Mindy had, and certainly more than I have. Due to years of chronic pain, my body has become an alien entity that reacts to movement with pain and exhaustion. It has become very energy efficient, preferring inertia to exercise. So, while Paige's biggest challenge will be focusing on what we're doing (she's easily distracted), mine will be to tackle the exercises in a way that won't land me flat on my back in bed.

Both Paige and I have already taken some steps toward becoming more fit. I've cut back on her dog biscuits and substituted pieces of an orange or apple (without seeds) which she really enjoys. I also now limit her puzzle ball (filled with treats) to a couple of times a week as a meal replacement instead of every day in addition to meals. For myself, I've replaced high calorie desserts with fruit, increased intake of fruits and vegetables and cut back on carbs, and keep a food journal.

K9Kamp, here we come!
Paige has a lot of enthusiasm and enjoys the training I'm doing with her (basic obedience, as well as learning the service behaviors I need her to perform for me), so I'm sure she'll dive right in when we start the challenges. I'm a bit skeptical of my ability to keep up, but I'm willing to try. So, K9Kamp, here we come!

If you'd like to be part of the 2012 K9Kamp Challenge, you can get more information at these links:

Kol's Notes

Peggy's Pet Place

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Filling in the Gap, Part 2: Saying Hello...

Before we ever bring a dog or a cat into our lives, we know that we will only have them for a short time--perhaps ten or twelve years or, if we're extremely lucky, perhaps twenty or more. Knowing we will lose them, we adopt them anyway, believing that the rewards of sharing life with a companion animal are worth the emotional pain when they die. Whether from illness, accident, or old age, it is never easy to say goodbye. They are family, and just as we grieve the loss of human family and friends, so we grieve the loss of our furry friends who are also a part of our family.

Everyone handles grief differently. For some, the thought of bringing another animal into their lives is too much. They don't want to endure the pain of loss again, or they feel disloyal to their deceased pet if they bring another animal home. When our cat, Dickens died, we waited five months before getting another cat. But when Mindy died, we felt like our hearts had been run through a shredder. I couldn't sleep, food had no appeal, and the house felt empty. As my husband said, her absence was "loud." The only comfort was knowing that we had given her a good home and lots of love, and now her death opened the door for us to offer a "forever home" to another dog in need.

Paige enjoying her new bone, toys, and bed.
After two weeks, the pain of Mindy's loss seemed only to intensify. Not only did I miss my beautiful friend, but my health began to suffer because she was no longer there to meet those needs. I found brief moments of comfort by looking at dogs on the internet, but none of them "clicked." Then I saw a picture of a black, white, and brindle dog on the Humane Society of Chittenden County's  website, and felt drawn to her, so I called and asked about her.

On December 27, two weeks to the day of losing Mindy, we visited HSCC, and spent time with Paige, a Border Collie-Pit Bull mix, or "fuzzy Pit" as they called her. She was about three years old and had been rescued from a horrendous overcrowding/breeding situation. We were warned that she seemed skittish around men, yet she seemed to take to both of us right away.

Sometimes you're just too tired to make
 it all the way onto the bed!
Her appearance and background were as different from Mindy's as night from day. Paige was half Mindy's size, totally different color, and different breed. Mindy's first family had taken excellent care of her, including having her spayed, keeping her up-to-date on vaccinations, and providing a clean environment. Paige had had several litters of pups, had no vet care, and had been kept in a small pen with seven other dogs plus her puppies, up to their elbows in their own waste. Yet, in spite of her rough beginning in life, Paige was affectionate, intelligent, and eager to learn. The HSCC staff had taught her to sit, and when I gave the command, she quickly obeyed. Then I tried her out on a few other basic commands. After two or three times, she understood what I wanted and did it. We knew she was meant for us when we found out later that someone else had already begun the adoption process for her, but never followed through. We filled out the paperwork on the spot, and Paige became a member of our family. She continues to shower us with affection and puppy kisses, enjoys her training, and is doing well with socialization. Her biggest challenge is to remember that the cats are family, too. When she licks them, I'm still not sure if she's giving them kisses or conducting a taste test.

       Paige in her new fleece-lined, waterproof coat.
During those two weeks between Mindy and Paige, I learned that I need a dog in my life. Maybe it's because when I was two years old, I woke up Christmas morning with a puppy licking my face. Perhaps it's because, over the years, I've had the privilege of knowing and sharing my life with many wonderful dogs, each with its own personality, and each of whom taught me something about myself and about what dogs are capable of. Maybe it's because dogs were my confidantes and best friends when I was growing up, or maybe it's because of their unconditional love. Whatever it is, I do know that when I don't have a dog in my life I feel an overwhelming loneliness that nothing else can fill. And now, at this stage of my life, I need a dog to assist me with the stresses and tasks of daily living.

Maybe the reason God put dogs on earth was to teach us how to love, how to enjoy the simple things in life, how to be in the moment, and to mirror His love. Whatever the reason, I am grateful every day for this little "fuzzy Pit" that has helped to heal the pain in my heart, makes me laugh every day in spite of chronic pain, and fills each day with joy.

Filling in the Gap, Part 1: Saying Goodbye...

When I posted pictures of Mindy on National Dog Biscuit Day in February 2011, I had no idea we would lose her to cancer just eight months later. She would have been thirteen years old in January 2012, though we used her adoption date, July 13, as her birthday.

Mindy's first family had moved from Tennessee to New England, but their new housing didn't allow dogs, so six-year-old Mendon (her former name) found herself at the Humane Society of Chittenden County in South Burlington, Vermont.

About the same time, my doctor said I needed a dog to help with some of my health issues. One look at Mindy's photo on the HSCC website and it was love at first sight, so we made an appointment to see her in person. David, whose previous experiences with dogs had been negative ones, knew I had grown up with dogs and trusted my judgment. But when he first saw her, his only thought was, "Oh, my gosh, she's HUGE!" At 100 pounds, this gorgeous Australian Shepherd-Collie mix was certainly no lap dog! But she was gentle, sweet, and very intelligent. As we filled out the adoption papers, another family came in to see her. Had we been just five minutes later, we might have missed out.

Mindy was a dream to train. She quickly learned both the obedience commands and service behaviors I needed her to perform, occasionally modifying one or two to  make the easier for both of us. And, if she saw a need, she filled it without being trained or told to do so. She loved people, bonded with our cats and with us, and feared nothing but thunder. She even picked up after herself!

Because she was an older dog, it wasn't surprising that she had some health issues. She had been shot in the foot as a puppy, the paw had healed crooked, and she still had several pellets in her forearm which predisposed her to arthritis. By the time she turned twelve, it impossible for her to go up and down the stairs, or hop into the car. So, I began sleeping downstairs so she wouldn't be lonely, we bought her an orthopedic dog bed, and a dog ramp for the car. 

Shortly before Christmas 2011, Mindy had a brief stomach illness, but appeared to quickly recover. Then, when David took her out one morning, she collapsed on the deck and couldn't get up. With both of us helping and coaxing, we got her into the house. After a brief rest, she stood up and walked into the living room, but we decided the vet should check her over. Our regular vet wasn't in, but the one who examined her thought she might have a urinary tract infection, and that perhaps the collapse was due to increased arthritis pain. She said if Mindy threw up overnight, to bring her back the next day. Not only was Mindy sick, but the next morning she collapsed again. We took her in and our vet ran tests and took x-rays. Mindy was dehydrated, so we had to leave her there to receive IV fluids.

We returned home to await the test results. Two hours later the phone rang, and the vet said, "Mindy's in serious trouble." An abdominal fluid aspiration showed cells from an aggressive cancer in her abdomen, and her kidneys were shutting down. She said they could do an ultrasound, but it would only tell us the specific kind of cancer that was killing her, and wouldn't change the prognosis. We rushed back to the vet's office, and they brought Mindy in on a gurney. As David, our daughter Sarah, and I gathered around her, it was obvious that Mindy was suffering. It was time to let her go. We spent time with her, assuring her of our love; and when the end came, it was very peaceful-- for her; but for us, the shock and pain of her sudden loss was devastating.

[see Filling in the Gap, part 2: Saying Hello...]