Monthly Archives: July 2008

Franken-shepherd, and a loss next door.

Ali had his fourth acupuncture treatment last week. Starting with the second time, Dr. Canon hooked his needles up to a little box of wires that transmit electricity (see photo). He looked like such a Frankenpuppy hooked up to those wires! The gauge on the electric box goes up to 4, which she said most dogs can handle, but once we reached 2 Ali’s hind legs sort of twitched and he sat straight up, indicating he felt something, even at that relatively low dose. So she let him “pickle” at number 2 for 20 or so minutes. The fact that he reacted to such a low dose of electricity suggests he may be more susceptible to the therapeutic aspects of the acupuncture so I think his “sensitivity” in this regard is actually a good sign. The last two weeks he was able to handle her turning it up to 4 (I could actually feel the current pumping through his muscles – they kind of pulsate – it was weird!).

Like Dr. Canon and others have said, it is difficult, or maybe impossible, to be able to tell with any certainty if acupuncture is working. Even if Ali were to show improvements after his sessions, we can’t necessarily know if this is attributable to the acupuncture, his “normal” course of recovery, or something else (like the other therapies we are doing). But, at about $40 a session it is relatively inexpensive and I do want to try everything feasible to give him the best chance. And acupuncture will not, from what I understand, hurt him, so I am not that concerned with being able to scientifically say whether it is working or not. The more I learn about this disease and recovery from it, the less I realize is actually definitively known. Nobody really knows what the heck is going on, basically. But I can say within the last few weeks that I have noticed his right leg moving slightly in the cart where until just recently there was nothing. I am going to keep monitoring this and hoping, hoping, hoping his right leg “wakes up” so it can catch up with the left. Who knows, maybe the acupuncture is helping! But I really do think I am seeing something over the last few weeks in his right leg that wasn’t there before.

On a sad note, my neighbors’ dog passed away this morning. His name was Scooby-doo and he was one of those adorable chow mixes that looks like a Teddy bear with a lion’s mane. I knew he had been sick, they thought it was Cushing’s disease, but last I heard they were treating him with some kind of medication. He was ten years old and they adopted him from the LA pound when he was 6 months old. Ali and I were heading home after our morning excursion to the park and I saw them on their porch and waved hello. Shane came up the fence separating our yards and I noticed he was crying and of course I had an awful sinking feeling. He said trough tears, “We lost Scooby this morning.” He was having trouble speaking; I felt so bad. Needless to say they really loved him and as he told me what happened and explained he was in shock I recognized all the terrible emotions I felt when I lost Kobi and how I felt when I almost lost Ali…that desperate, bottomless, raw grief that clutches your heart and squeezes until you can barely breathe. The world goes all crooked and nothing seems real. My heart broke for him and his wife and I wished so much I could just take their pain away. After I lost Kobi, I said I would never adopt another dog (I already had Ali), that the pain of losing him was just too much to go through again. Now, although I wish I didn’t and instead could just enjoy and appreciate every single second with him, I think a lot, probably too much, about losing Ali. I try so hard not to go there but it’s hard for my obsessive brain sometimes. I just love him so much. There are no words. He is a very precious individual to me. Our relationship, while of course different from my relationships with people, is special and unique. I honestly don’t know how people with kids do it. I would definitely be one of those crazy overprotective moms who would not let her child out of her sight until he was 18. I like to think I wouldn’t be, but I know myself…I am a worrier. I get that from my mom, of course. She would call me when I was away at college to warn me if it was going to rain that day and to tell me to be careful outside. She refuses to get on a plane and she did not want me to move to California because it was going to fall into the ocean any minute. You know the type. I am much more laid back and adventurous than she is (it would be hard not to – no offense, mom, you know I love you!) but I can’t shake off the anxiety completely. I am afraid of a lot of things: mountain lions, idiot drivers, heights, small spaces, and countless other everyday terrors. But most of all I am afraid of failing someone I love, someone who is dependent upon me to take care of them. And this overwhelming protective urge…I feel it so strongly sometimes. But there is only so much you can do to protect someone else.

Anyway, after Kobi died and I said I would never get another dog, people told me I would change my mind eventually. It’s been two years and I’m still not sure. Of course I have had Ali this whole time. I don’t know what it would be like to not share my life with a dog. Then again, it hurts so much to lose them, and we are pretty much guaranteed to lose them unless we meet an untimely end ourselves, given the huge disparity in our relative life spans. I strive for the Buddhist ideal of un-attachment – I know attachment only leads to suffering – but knowing and feeling are two very different things and I have not quite gotten it down yet.


Filed under Acupuncture, LOVE, Trans-Species Bond

Reasons to be happy.

Photos: Ali doing his “standing exercises” at our front door. He can stand for quite a while on his own now; not that long ago, I’d have to hold him to keep him from falling over. Also, Ali in action doing swim therapy. We found a closer place to swim at the Petaluma marina (5 min. drive vs. 50 minutes to the Russian River), but it has not been without problems – however that is a story for another post!

Well, there are certainly many reasons to be happy, but I am cautiously optimistic (okay, let’s face it, pretty darn excited) about some recent developments…mainly the fact that Ali has not yet hit a plateau, i.e. stopped improving (yes, I just knocked on my wood paneling when I wrote that, even thought I am NOT superstitious, ha ha).

We had our appointment at UC-Davis last Tuesday and met with Jackie Woelz, the rehabilitation specialist at the veterinary medical teaching hospital. I really liked her (so did Ali) and the best part was how clearly impressed she was with Ali’s condition. She said I was doing a great job with him and she could tell we had been working hard at home. She was most impressed with his strength through his middle and back – in fact, she said she had never seen a dog so strong through his core who was not yet walking! Jackie’s reaction made me feel pretty good because you never really know if all the standing, etc. is actually doing anything. But seeing how impressed she was made me realize how far we have come in the last five months. She said both the standing and swimming therapy combined have helped make him strong.

While she was evaluating him and showing me new variations on his current home therapy program, Ali was basically standing for the entire hour and a half appointment. Jackie said, “I’ll give you another first…” and she told me she had never seen a dog able to stand for that long, without getting fatigued, who was just 5 months out of surgery. Obviously, this is something else to be happy about! I’m sure Jackie has seen a lot of cases like Ali’s over the years (the vet school at UC Davis is highly regarded), so it really meant something to me that she was that excited about his physical condition.

Juli had told me a while back she can always tell when her clients are not doing the at-home therapy with their dogs. She said many times these dogs regain mobility in their legs, but their back/core is not strong enough to hold them up, so they just sort of drag and flop around, not really able to walk. So I am glad that Ali is strong! If he continues to make improvements in the area of mobility – in other words, if he regains normal motor function in his legs (could it happen??) – he will be strong enough to support himself. I don’t know if my math is accurate (in fact, generally speaking, I am quite sure it is not!), but it would seem that building up his muscle strength and addressing the post-surgery atrophy is half the battle for Ali right now. Of course the other half – movement – is the sexy part; but he needs to be strong too!

So, the plan moving forward is to continue to do standing exercises with him as often and for as long as I can, and to encourage him to take steps while doing it. Jackie said Ali was giving us a lot of material to work with. He can almost take steps with his left leg now, but his right leg holds him back because it does not have as much mobility. We have moved his standing exercises to yoga mats at home since he can do them without the cart now. While he is in standing position, I stand or sit behind him (or hover round him taking photos, ha ha) and make sure his form is good while massaging his hind legs and along each side of his spine (to stimulate the nerves). It continues to be a little challenging because, although he was a perfect angel at UC-Davis, when I am alone he just wants to turn around and look at me! He won’t stand straight; he just keeps twisting around. Jackie suggested putting the yoga mat in front of a door or window, which I did, but he is not interested in what’s outside as much as he is in turning and to look at me! Oh well, we have to keep trying.

Our saving grace is the peanut butter Kong. I am guaranteed at least twenty minute of good solid standing each day for the time he is working his way through the jumbo Kong toy, which I fill with peanut butter and freeze each morning. His attention is so rapt while he excavates the peanut butter that he stands still and does not try to wander off while we do these very important standing exercises. We have another appointment at UC-Davis next week during which we will try the land and water treadmills; for now, though, Jackie said the best “equipment” for Ali’s therapy is my own two hands.

Finally, my boss just told me I don’t have to go on the work trip I mentioned a few posts back (the Taking Action for Animals conference in DC), which is great because it will save me at least $300 in boarding costs for Ali (not to mention the stress of leaving him). Yay! I am so relieved because I have NO money. Of course I am also disappointed because I really wanted to go to this conference and if circumstances were different… but circumstances are not different, and so this is one more reason to be happy.

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Filed under At-Home PT Exercises, Milestones/Progress, Physical Therapy/Rehabilitation, River Swimming

Sociable shepherd.

Maggie and I had a party at our house last weekend – a vegan potluck BBQ in honor of July 4th and our belated housewarming – and Ali had an absolute blast. Unlike many dogs, he is completely unperturbed by fireworks or crowds of strangers tromping through his house…in fact he seems to thrive on it (the large groups of people in his house, not the fireworks). This is rather strange, given his generally higher-than-average level of anxiety, protective tendencies, and oddball neuroses about things like moving water. But there you go – all dogs are individuals with their own inexplicable little quirks! I correctly anticipated that once people started arriving I would be functioning as Ali’s virtual caboose all night, grabbing his shepherd handles to lift his back end and ferrying him from room to room so he could greet, investigate and socialize with people at his whim. But my watchful friends were able to help with this task, so I did actually get a chance to relax and enjoy a cold beer or six. Ali was so tired by the night’s end he could not keep his eyes open. I rarely see him this tired – even swim therapy doesn’t knock him out like a good night of intense social interaction. I may have to throw parties more often…anything for Ali! The one I am most looking forward to is the one where he can walk up to his friends and greet them on his own. Dare to dream!

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Filed under Social Interaction


Two years ago today my first dog, Kobi, passed away. As human beings we have a need to mark important passages, but this day is no more special than any other, really, except that it marks the day I was forced to make the hardest decision of my life. Seven and a half months before this fateful day, Kobi was 13 years old and in seeming good health (except for the slowing I thought was normal for an older large breed dog) when I discovered he had cancer. They were 98% sure it was lymphoma, a type of cancer that responds relatively well to chemotherapy. What could I do? Those of you who have been reading my blog will guess! I felt I had no choice but to, of course, start treatments. They said the chemo would not make him sick the way it does people and that he could live another two good years if his cancer went into remission. The operative word being “good” – I never would have kept him alive if he was suffering.

Kobi came into my life while I was home from college in the summer of 1994, about a month before I moved out of my parents’ house and into my very first apartment (I had been living in dorms before that). My summer job was at a boarding kennel, and there Kobi was day after day, because someone who worked there could not keep him in his new apartment. I fell in love and stayed after work to play with him every day. One day the guy told me I could have him and the rest was history. I was naïve back then and didn’t know about the tragic pet overpopulation problem. I had always thought I would have to buy a Siberian husky if I wanted one (yup, like many, I had a youthful obsession with the breed) and could not afford it, yet here a perfect beautiful mischievous creature fell into my lap. Oh, did I have no idea what I was in for!

Kobi was my constant companion for 12 years. He was there through so many relationships, residences, and life upheavals I have lost count. I always advise people not to get a dog if they will be moving a lot. Kobi and I moved on average once per year during those years and it was HARD finding rental places that would take big dogs. I could have saved a lot of money and stress had I been dog-less. Never ever would I have considered for a second giving him up, though. He was one and a half years old when I adopted him and I was his third “owner” (his first bought him in a pet store at a New Jersey mall). I vowed to him I would keep him forever, and keep him forever I did. When we started chemo treatments, Kobi responded so well it was amazing. I will never forget in the early days after starting chemo the day we went on a hike along the Russian River with Ali and my friend Steve and his dogs. Kobi was running faster than I had seen him in several years with an unmatched exuberance. It was like he was two years old again. He outran all the dogs and barely seemed tired. That memory still makes my heart warm. As his treatment wore on there were good days, bad days, and for me, many sleepless nights, but the good days always outweighed the bad. Until that last day.

Kobi was too smart for his own good, or maybe my own good. He was a difficult dog to live with, especially as a first dog because I was very naïve about dog behavior back then. Kobi was fiercely independent and never once came when I called him, much to my repeated chagrin when I would make the mistake of letting him off the leash at some park or on a hike. He was an infamous ruiner of picnics and pillager of garbage. He could escape from any enclosure, whether it was over, under or straight through, or by figuring out how to undo the lock. He was clever and had a wicked sense of humor. He did not cuddle and did not care to be petted. He did not need me at all. He was the very embodiment of free spirit. Kobi taught me what unconditional love was – not because he loved me unconditionally (ha! yeah right!) but because inexplicably, irrationally, and with no encouragement whatsoever from him, I felt this mysterious emotion…an emotion that is imbued with action. It carries a commitment.

Ali and Kobi lived together for 3 years. They got along just fine but I would not say they had a strong bond. Kobi did not really bond with anyone, human or fellow dog. They were very different dogs. Where Kobi would run away at the first chance he got, Ali would stick by my side and – surprisingly – come when I called. While Ali would play all day long (stick, tennis ball, squeaky toy, whatever – whatcha got?), Kobi would very rarely run after a ball with comically fleeting enthusiasm, only to get distracted and drop it three seconds later. Where Ali had separation anxiety when I first adopted him and could not stand being left alone, I think Kobi’s only anxiety was the agony of being imprisoned in a human world and not allowed to run wild. After living with Kobi for so long, Ali’s blatant and unrestrained affection for me nourished my love-starved soul. This is not meant to disparage my headstrong self-contained dearly departed friend Kobi. On the contrary, his spirit made me admire him tremendously – as difficult as that “spirit” made it to live with him at times. Because of those difficulties, I really learned what the word “commitment” meant, well before all of this happened with Ali.

Of course, I could not have foreseen what happened with Ali. I had some savings that were rapidly depleted once I started chemotherapy with Kobi, and then I got a credit card just to charge his medicines and treatments. Prior to his illness, I had zero credit card debt, only student loan debt. But as I have said before, I can think of no better reason to go into debt, so there I went. And in case you’re wondering: no, pet insurance does not cover chemotherapy. But I would not change a thing. I was able to buy Kobi seven extra good months doing his favorite things – going to the beach, the river, romping through the woods, and trying to run away until the very end, even though he had slowed down considerably. He never stopped trying.

On the morning of July 10, 2006, he couldn’t try anymore. The cancer had come back with a vengeance and apparently attacked his nervous system. That morning he could not get up. He couldn’t move. Even then, I still thought as I rushed him to emergency, he has had so many ups and downs, they will fix this too. But there was no fixing him this time and his cancer doctor told me the words I never wanted to hear: “If this were my dog, I would euthanize him today. I wouldn’t wait.” He said it was the “beginning of the end” and Kobi wasn’t going to get better this time. There were no treatment options left. I stayed with him for hours, asking him to give me a sign. He lifted his head once, but never again. I agonized over the decision. But I knew I could not keep him around for me. I could not be selfish. I had to do what was right for Kobi. But what was that? Who put me in charge? Sigh. I did, when I took him into my care all those years ago. Even though he had been sick for months it still came as shock to me. I told the doctor I had hoped, barring living forever, that he would pass away in his sleep. He told me it rarely happens that way. So I told him I loved him and a bunch of other things and then said good-bye.

Today I will visit the beach where Kobi spent so much time during his last months and remember his long, amazing life and all the lessons he taught me about responsibility, love, commitment, and freedom. Ali accompanied me on this pilgrimage last year, but because the beach is not accessible to dogs in wheelchairs, this year he will not be able to…so I will keep it short. I have so much more to learn.


Filed under $$$, LOVE, Trans-Species Bond

Tiny Needles.

I took Ali for his first acupuncture session with Dr. Nicole Canon at Sebastopol Animal Clinic on Thursday. I know nothing about acupuncture and had not seen it done before. Just as I had heard, the needles really are tiny! Ali did not seem to mind at all, he was a very good boy, but then he had to sit very still with the needles in for 15 minutes (including one right on top of his head, a few in his back, and a couple in each leg)…always a challenge for a wiggly, anxious German shepherd! Again, he was really good, and I amused us both by taking pictures like those I have posted here. Dr. Canon said it’s usually 3 sessions before she sees any improvement, so I will bring him back once a week for two more weeks and then usually the treatments become more spread out. Acupuncture could potentially help his front legs and/or back legs. It would help his front legs because of the overcompensating pressure being applied that is causing his joints to wear down (similar to arthritis). It will be hard to know if it there is improvement in this area because he is currently on painkillers for his front joints, but I am hoping to be able to take him off this medication eventually. And I’m sure you know what we are hoping for with regard to his back legs!! So, keeping my fingers crossed it will help. It should not hurt, and I want to give him every chance. He is trying so hard! Tomorrow we have an appointment with another canine rehabilitation specialist at the UC-Davis veterinary medical teaching hospital; wish us luck!!

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Filed under Acupuncture

Second time’s a charm.

Ali pushed himself into a standing position ALL BY HIMSELF for the second time yesterday evening… and this time I was able to grab my camera fast enough to take some pictures! He stood longer this time than the first time (at least long enough for me to snap seven photos, all the while cooing “Ali, Stay! Good boy! Good!!”); maybe it is easier for him to balance on our air mattress, or maybe it was because his back legs were in a wider, more natural stance. Either way, I am so glad I was able to capture the moment on film this time!!! I am so proud of my baby shepherd. We have so much farther to go, but this is progress! And that’s all I keep wishing for.


Filed under Milestones/Progress