Goodbye, sweet Martha.

This may sound weird or morbid, but for all of my beloved Martha’s 14 years and 2 months of life, I thought almost every day about how wonderful she was and that I would have to say goodbye some day. She developed arthritis in her spine as she aged, and I had many moments with her and conversations with my vet about how to know when it was her time. In early July, she suddenly lost use of both her back legs, was in extreme pain, and wouldn’t eat. That was when I knew.

I had always planned to get another dog, and after she passed I called the breeder of her sire, and asked if any litters were planned. To my surprise, she told me she had two males ready to go, one was “small,” and I drove the hour and a half away to go meet him.

Marty came home with me only four days after Martha passed. He is her cousin, her sire was Marty’s great great great etc grandsire. I swear she sent him to me.

And it’s been bittersweet, realizing how much pain she suffered for a very long time in her last years, months and days, yet having the joy of a loving puppy to help ease the tears.IMG_6753

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March on the Plains

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Yesterday morning Martha and I joined the group for a walk on the Plains. We were a little late, and the road where we parked was hard packed dirt, glazed with old ice. Not a great walking or driving surface. Martha got off to a slow start, obliged as she was to sniff everything. We finally got going along the packed down snowmobile trails and caught up with the group.

It was pretty cold – high teens – but I was warmly dressed. The trail was a little tricky, because if you stepped off the packed snow, your foot went down deep into the soft powder on the sides of the trail.  The group moved along at a brisk pace.  The dogs were quite a mix – three large labs, a golden, a beagle, and few tiny ones including a chihuahua, a teacup yorkie, and some others. It was a great walk, even if we were only out for about an hour.

I expected that Martha would be a little sore afterwards, since we’d been inactive for so long and she had pushed herself pretty hard.  I gave her some pain meds when we got home. Later that evening, when we were at my folk’s house for dinner, she was pretty stiff. I stayed overnight, but I slept on the couch on the first floor because Martha wasn’t able to climb the stairs. Uh oh.

She hadn’t improved much overnight, and I gave her some more meds when we got home this morning. She has an appointment to see the chiropractic/acupuncture vet on Wednesday. She can just about get onto the couch, but can’t leap up to the bed, and it breaks my heart to see her like this.

She will be twelve in May.

Memory of a near miss

I was walking Martha last week when I heard a dog bark and looked for the source. A black dog came running from the street and went straight for her throat, knocking her down. People started yelling, I was frozen in fear. After only a few seconds, the dog let go and ran back into traffic. Martha seemed OK, so I looked to see where the attacker had gone. I saw a woman grab the dog, pick it up, and load it into the back of an SUV.

The dog had apparently jumped out of the window of the SUV.  The owner of dog the came and found me, and apologized, and we made a report to the police department for the record.  Martha was fine, but just to be certain I had her checked by the vet the next day. We found a one inch by one half-inch patch of fur missing on her neck, but no puncture wounds.

The shock of the attack and the speed with which it occurred really threw me.  In the days since, I realize how terrified I was, and how my fear affected my ability to remember what happened. For example, I know that there were other people near me on the sidewalk, but I have no idea how many or whether they were men or women.  I don’t really know how long the contact between the dogs lasted.  I think I just stood there, frozen, but I may have been yelling at the black dog to let go.  After the attack ended, and Martha stood up, all I could focus on was getting the license plate number of the SUV. I tried to take a picture with my phone camera, but my hands were shaking too much, so I typed it into a note instead.

After the report to the police, Martha and I walked back to the office.  I wanted to cry, but didn’t, since I needed to see where I was going and didn’t want to look like a crazy person.

Yesterday I found this article online.  Why Police Lineups Will Never Be Perfect – The Atlantic. The story was about how unreliable witnesses are at identifying criminals.   As a lawyer, I am well aware of the incredibly fragile nature of witness memories.  Any trial lawyer will tell you that the longer you wait to take a case to trial, the worse the memory of the witness.  Most of us probably cannot remember what we had for dinner last Tuesday night.  Add a stressful experience to the mix, and our memories become even more distorted.

I do remember that the photo at the top of this post is of Martha’s foot, her eleven year old toes and nails surrounded by the white hair which encroaches into her shiny black coat more and more every day.  And I remember being very, very relieved that she wasn’t killed or injured by that other dog.  And I treasure her even more because that threat was so real, and I am so very grateful to have her companionship every day.

Beware the Flabrador, my friends.

When Martha was a puppy, I took her to the vet for regular check-ups and weigh-ins.  I first met her when she was only four weeks old, and brought her home at eight weeks.  I was so excited to watch her grow up and gain weight.  She was such a beautiful, healthy puppy.

So you can imagine my surprise and embarrassment when the vet gently informed me that Martha’s remarkable weight gain had gone a bit too far.  She  was getting fat.  It was then I learned that certain breeds are especially predisposed to weight gain.  Martha was becoming a Flabrador.  What do to?

Changes in diet and exercise help both dogs and humans to lose weight.  The techniques are not mysterious or difficult.  This article about dog weight loss covers the basics.   Martha learned to love a wide variety of vegetables, including bell peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, and leftover salad (with dressing, no onions or croutons, thank you.)  I learned (in consultation with the vet) that she could be perfectly happy and well nourished while eating about half or less of the recommended portion size on the dog food bag.  The biggest challenge I faced was learning how to resist those soft brown eyes and that sweet face looking up at me whenever food was anywhere around.  Drooling was even worse.  With practice, however, you, too can learn how to resist such a beggar.  No matter how much he tries to convince you otherwise,  your dog is really not in danger of starvation.  Just say no.  And stop looking!

Keeping Martha slim has been a work in progress.  She’s at her ideal weight now, at nine years old, and I know that makes it easier for her to get around and stay active.  One of the greatest risks for older dogs is excess weight gain placing a burden on the dog’s circulation, breathing, and mobility.  Any tendency to arthritis, dysplasia, or muscle weakness is made much worse by excess weight.  The challenge of keeping your dog fit and trim is well worth the health benefits.  If we could only manage to take such good care of ourselves.

She thinks she’s still a puppy.

It’s Monday morning and another week begins.  Martha ran around like a puppy on Saturday during our  group walk on the Migratory Way, and we stopped for a cooling off swim in the river before heading home to the air conditioning.

And yesterday the effects were evident.  She was very quiet, didn’t come out of bed for her breakfast until I prompted her, and slipped while jumping up on the couch.  She’s had lameness for about a year now, helped by acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and some pain meds.  It’s caused by arthritis in her spine, according to the vet, and there’s really nothing to be done but treat the symptoms when they occur.

I have always known she would grow old sooner than me.  It breaks my heart to see her in pain.  But I’ll let her run like a puppy whenever she wants to, for as long as she can, because that’s who she is and always will be.