Odds and Sods

Time for one those update like posts full of information (possibly TMI). Here goes:

  • My mother is in the hospital. She has been told she has emphysema. Without an external source of oxygen she cannot get to a 100% sat level. I suspect they may discharge her with oxygen. Her pneumonia is resolved now but her breathing is not much better. She has decided to quit smoking, Hands down, that will be the hardest thing she has ever done.
  • I have been a devoted nurse-maid to Zoe for the last couple of days*. We have to make sure that her drainage sites stay open. This involves several hot compresses after which, I put hydrogen peroxide on the drainage sites and let it sit for a while. Then there is lot of massaging and trying to move the accumulated fluid out. Zoe is an amazing dog. She rarely complains about any of this routine. We could not ask for anything more.
  • My ulcerative colitis has been quite bad lately. I am in a full-on flare. Lots of pain, blood and nausea lately. Plus we seem to have added a new symptom – my inability on some days to keep food down.
  • Our house is so changed without Gemma Joy here. No one runs at me full-bore and launches for a cuddle. No dog could cuddle the way Gemmie could. She would launch – which, if you were not paying attention you could get hurt as she weighed over 20 pounds. She loved her belly rubs too. As much as we all miss her, I do have to say that it is better for the other dogs. The stress level has been reduced greatly. The gates are all open now so everyone has free range of the house most of the time. The only times they are closed now is when dogs are eating. When the gates were closed, inevitably there was someone who did not want to be where they were. Not naming any names but her name starts with a ‘C’ and ends with an ‘O.’ (photo below) She has an ability to make everyone crazy by scratching and digging at whatever is in her way.
She has perseverance!
  • Logitech Remote – We bought a remote that I can program to watch TV or watch a DVD or watch Apple TV. All of these things have multiple things that need to happen. For example, to watch tv the following things need to happen: the TV needs to be turned on, the PVR box needs to be on and he TV needs to be set to HDMI1. They say it will take about 30 minutes to set it up. Bull crap I say! We spent the first 30 minutes trying to read the model numbers on all of the devices! Then in the middle of trying to program it yesterday the Logitech site went down. Finally after getting it all up the ‘skip’ button didn’t work for the PVR. For anyone who has a PVR box knows that all powerful skip button that takes you past all of the commercials. The instructions almost made it worse when I was trying to figure it out. Finally I put 2 different pieces together and got it figured out. I have no idea how someone who is not a techie could figure it out. I guess they would be paying the Geek Squad to program it.
  • I am off this week. I love to have a week off at Easter. I can usually combine the statutory holidays with my flex day then I only need 3 days to get a week off. It works well!
  • Another Zoe update – she is well today. Her and Sawyer are playing right now. It is too cute for words. Sawyer is too cute for words.

*With pleasure I must add. We completely adore that little shihthead!


Gemma Joy with one of her 'babies'
Gemma Joy with one of her 'babies'

We said goodbye to Gemma Joy yesterday. As many of you know we have been agonizing about how and when to make the decision to let her go. Her aggression had been escalating and we were finding it increasingly difficult to keep her away from Zoe. For some reason she had taken a severe dislike to Zoe and had attacked her on at least 2 or 3 other occasions. The only way we could move them from one part of the house to the other was to let one outside, move the other one, then let the first one back in the other part of the house. We had to keep 2 sets of gates between them. If Gemma was in the living room she had to be in the X-pen because she could climb the gate and did so even if someone was with her.

No one can be 100% vigilant 100% of the time. It is humanly impossible. They accidentally got together yesterday and Gemma attacked Zoe the second she saw her. I was able to break up the fight fairly quickly but not before there were injuries to Zoe and me. Thankfully Gemma did not get Zoe’s ear again. Zoe has 2 small wounds on her head in addition to being traumatized. If I had not been here Zoe would have likely been seriously injured at the least.

This was a very hard decision to make. We know Gemma has mammary cancer, lung cancer and brain cancer. She had been having complex-partial seizures for most of her waking hours the last couple of weeks. However, she looked great! She loved to cuddle and to launch herself at you from the floor. Because she looked good, the decision was complicated. What we realized yesterday is that Gemma was going to kill one of the smaller dogs due to her cancer. We could not let that happen.


We took her to the vet this afternoon and she was humanely euthanized. She was given a sedative first and she almost went with that medication. Once the drug was administered she was gone very quickly. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was right. We know it was right, she was calm, surrounded by love and she went to sleep. She didn’t fight or struggle. Gemma Joy was ready.

Making these decisions is very complex. Dogs can’t talk to us and tell us they hurt or they are scared or anxious or that they just don’t want to do it anymore. I think Gemma loved her life with us as much as we loved her. Sadly our love and her desire could not fix her health problems brought on by over-breeding and not being spayed as a young dog.

I have to thank Yvette from Turtle Gardens, not only for rescuing Gemma but for her kind words yesterday. She had seen Gemmy recently and she knew that we were struggling with decision about when the right time would be for her to pass. Yvette’s words, filled with love and compassion, soothed our broken hearts. If I could change one thing about how this happened it would be that Zoe did not get attacked again. Zoe will heal and for that I am grateful. Watching her tonight as she is scared and anxious I can’t wait for it to be a couple of days from now when she will be back to her usual self.

She had the best fuzzy face!

We have lost 3 dogs in less than 6 months. We will be having a serious conversation about whether we can do this again. What is for sure is that it will not be any time soon. Our hearts are broken and we need to hear. The other canine members of our family need a break too. Bringing in new dogs all the time is really hard on all of them too. We have several seniors who need peace and quiet. We do too.

We love you Gemma. You are a very good dog. I hope you are at peace now.

Gemmie loved her belly rubs

Gemma Joy Update

I talked to the vet yesterday. He said that the biting at the air is called a complex partial seizure. These seizures are different from full on seizures. The vet does not think there is pain involved because she is not having a full on seizure where her muscles are contracting and she may injure herself. She is still aware of her surroundings and happy to see people. We have not seen any increase in her aggression.

We have not made a decision yet but our criteria revolved around her quality of life and if she is in pain. Her quality of life seems good. It would be better if we did not have to keep her and Zoe separated. We try to make sure that they each get approximately the same amount of time. She seem engaged in life and genuinely happy to interact with us. Her appetite is good and she is not coughing. We have her on metacam as we believe there is pain associated with cancer.

I suspect that we are in a holding pattern again. We will carefully watch her symptoms and behaviour to determine how she is doing on a day-to-day basis. In another couple of weeks, Gemma will have been with us for a year. We knew then that we would likely only have 6 months to a year. We will treasure what time we have with her. We love you Gemma Joy.

How to Decide

We are faced with having to make some decisions about Gemma Joy. I have blogged about her before. She has cancer that has metastasized to her lungs and brain. Since the cancer has entered her brain it has materialized as some aggressive behaviour and biting at the air. Initially she only bit the air in the evenings. It seemed like it happened when she was tired. Now she is biting at the air for the better part of the day. The air biting is actually a seizure. The other issue with cancer is dogs and ultimately quality of life.

Right now we are faced with the prospect that Gemma is seizing all day. We have no idea if she is confused by the seizing. She seems to be aware of what is going on around her. She seems happy to see people and she eats most of the time. She really enjoys her cuddles and spending time with us. The other serious issue is that she and Zoe cannot be together. Zoe really ramps her up when she barks and Gemma has figured out how to climb the gate in the living room which is a big risk as she will go after Zoe. She is also not safe with Sawyer which is another concern. The problem with the aggression is the isolation that results for Gemma. It is very difficult to manage this situation.

Our plan is to get in touch with the vet. I will call tomorrow and let them know about the increasing air biting. We want to understand how this is impacting her quality of life. We also need to know if she is in pain. She is on metacam for pain right now. The answers we get will dictate our next steps.

It is an incredibly hard decision to make. We do not want to keep her alive if she is in pain and has no quality of life. Conversely, we do not want to euthanize her if she is still enjoying life. Hopefully our vet will help us to navigate this difficult situation.

Dispatches from the Swamp

Blogging every day is not an easy task. Quite often there is nothing I find inspiring enough to devote a blog post to it. Sometimes there are events that are happening which I either don’t have an opinion on or I can’t be bothered to formulate one. Today is one of those days. I could blog about the Olympics and the fact that we are kicking some gold medal ass. We actually seem to be owning some of the podium – the gold part. I do think our athletes have done very well and all the naysayers can suck it up.

On these days, I tend to blog about goings on at chez Shihtzustaff. I am going to do that today, in bullet form:

  • Clio is doing well today. She has not coughed at all. Ya Clio!
  • Deb has a new name for Zoe. She is ‘da piggy huntah.’ She has been given this name because that dog is completely obsessed with the guinea pigs. She barks at them, and tries to get into their cage (did so once because of human error). Last night while Deb and Angelina were cutting Edith’s nails, Zoe was literally trying to crawl up Deb to get to Edith. She is one crazy-ass little shithead!
  • Still on Zoe, AKA ‘da piggy huntah’ she has learned to play so well. For a dog who spent 9 years in a puppy mill she is definitely embracing life as she knows it today. Everything she does is done with gusto, her head and tail held high. She owns the world and she knows it! It is such a pleasure to watch a dog grow in this way. It is one of the true gifts of rescue.
  • I am constantly amazed at how loyal Piper is to me. She sleeps molded around some part of me every night. She knows when I am having a bad day and she sits with me. She never demands attention like some of our other dogs, instead she leans against you so you know she is there. She is incredibly cuddly in the mornings and even submits to have her ever-filthy wrinkle cleaned.
  • I suffer a great deal from very tense muscles in my neck, shoulders and lower back. Today I bought a shiatsu back massager for my chair in the living room. While it is not comfortable to sit on all the time as the roller protrudes far out, it works very well. Basically the roller goes up and down your back slowly. You can press into it for added pressure. It is going to work very well to my back in a little better shape. I also bought a heating pad to continue to help to reduce some of the pain I feel in my back. Maybe I will take less muscle relaxants now.
  • Gemma continues to do very well. We have not noticed any progression of her disease at all. She no longer behaves aggressively but we still keep her and Zoe apart. Zoe has a long, long memory and just seeing Gemma sets her off. She is a scrappy little girl!
  • My colitis is acting up quite a bit these days. I will spare you all the details.
  • I am back to work Monday after having 2 weeks off. I am not really sure how I am going to pull this off as I am still sleeping 12 hours a day. Should be interesting to say the least. I do feel rested and a little bit more relaxed. We will be going into a very busy time over the next couple of months.
  • If I blog tomorrow I will have actually completed a full month of blogging. There was a technical glitch that saw one of my posts submitted the next day so technically I guess I did not manage to do it. However, in my mind I know that I did. Now we are on to March. For those of you who blog, NaBloPoMo is a great way to help you blog daily.

That is it until tomorrow!


I have done a few renovations here at chez Shihtzustaff. Most importantly, I have added a direct link to vote for Turtle Gardens in the Shelter Challenge. Everyone can vote everyday. We are hoping that Turtle Gardens wins this time! We were very close last time. I will try not to nag too much here on the blog.

I have also added an updated blogroll. I had one before but I took it down. The new one has many of my ‘must’ reads everyday. I hope that you will check out some of them.

In other news, I worked at home today. I love working at home especially when the dogs are quieter. I get to save myself a commute and I am very productive! Today ended up being policy development day. I need to do that kind of work when I am not going to be disturbed constantly. I know that most people would find policy development boring but I actually quite enjoy it. It is definitely a linear process – one to which I am well-suited.

All of the dogs are doing well. Gemma seems to be holding her own. We have not seen an increase in her aggressive behaviour. However, the dislike between Zoe and Gemma is so entrenched that they have to be kept separate. Even if they see each other through a gate the growling and snarling begin. The ongoing battles have more to do with Zoe than Gemma. Zoe is a very scrappy and she does not take much crap from anyone. Luckily our house is well set-up and gated so we have about 6 areas where we can separate dogs not including crates and the x-pen. We try to make sure that everyone gets lots of attention and equal time.

So far, I have had a rough week. It seems to be directly related to sleep. I had a work-related event to attend on saturday night and we were out late. I went to bed late. It seems that I have a window of time in which I get the best sleep. Generally between 11pm and 5 am. If I am not asleep by 11 or 12 it is not a good thing. I got up late on Sunday morning. Sunday night (early Monday morning) I was still awake at 3 am. Not a good sign. I was exhausted Monday. I had to get up early for a meeting on Tuesday morning. I was utterly exhausted. I worked at home today so I got to sleep in which was great. Tomorrow morning I can sleep in too.

When I am tired I find that my colitis symptoms are worse. Fatigue is also a major symptom. The last two days have been hellish in terms of pain. Yesterday I had tenesmus all day. Of all the symptoms this is one that really annoys me. Besides the fact that it is extremely uncomfortable and painful, I am never sure when/if I will need a bathroom. Eating only makes it worse. Today I am recovering from a bad bout of diarrhea. Needless to say it was a great to work at home. I am sure things will be better tomorrow.

I have a question. I have been trying to find a good set of tweezers. Deb said that she found a pair that had a light. I can’t find them now. So, I have been trying to figure out why tweezers range in price from $2.99 to like$39.99. Do the expensive ones work any better? Thoughts?

Living with a Dying Dog

Gemma Joy with one of her 'babies'

Living with a dog who is actively dying of cancer is excruciating. Our dog, Gemma Joy, came to us with metastasized mammary cancer. Gemma had several litters of puppies and was not spayed until she arrived at Turtle Gardens. Once in rescue, she was spayed and had her tumours removed. The vets said they got good margins but with aggressive forms of mammary cancer it really does not matter. We had her for 2 months before we took her for an x-ray to determine if the cancer had spread. Sadly, at that appointment in June we were told that there were tumours in her lungs and that we had about six months.

Gemma has been really good for almost all of this time. In early December we noticed her attempting to catch flies with her mouth. She was biting at the air a lot. I didn’t think much of it because we still have flies in the house. After a couple of weeks, and the flies mostly gone thanks to Deb swatting them Gemma was still trying biting at the air with increased frequency. Finally, I googled that symptom and found out it could be a type of seizure. So off to the vet we went. We did blood work because, according to the vet, cancer in the liver could cause this symptom as well. However, the vet was fairly sure that the cancer had now spread to her brain.

Gemma playing

I was quite upset by this news as we went home. Almost as soon as we got home, she attacked Zoe for no apparent reason. It was one vicious fight and we had a really hard time separating them. Zoe’s ear was bleeding quite badly but she did not need stitches. We stopped the bleeding with corn starch. Gemma and Zoe had fought before but it had been a couple of weeks since their last fight and they had only fought in our bedroom, on the bed. The fights had been mostly noise and there had never been an injury.  A couple of hours later I was sitting with Zoe in the living room and Gemma had been laying on the couch. All of a sudden she jumped down, and then jumped up on to me and latched on to Zoe’s injured ear. I am not even sure how we got them apart. She also caused a small tear in Zoe’s ear but we did not see it due to the blood from the other cut opening up again. We patched Zoe up again and decided they would be separated from now on.

So how do you live with a dog who is dying and who is showing behavioural changes as a result of cancer in her brain? For all intents and purposes Gemma looks just fine. We can see that sparkle has gone out of her eyes but strangers would not notice. She is able to run and play with if she chooses. Her appetite is not great. She does not eat every day which is disturbing. She does not seem to be losing any weight. Also she is a little overweight so she has lots to fight with.

I know that I value every bit of time she graces me with. I like her to come and cuddle with me in my chair. She is a little bit more aloof than some of our other little dogs. Sometimes she needs a little coaxing to come up. Other times, she will just arrive which can be a little disconcerting because all of a sudden you have 22 pounds of Gemma Joy on your lap and in your face. She is a lovely dog to pet because she looks into your eyes and you know there is a connection there. She contorts her body so that your hand goes where she wants it. She sighs deeply and for that moment you forget that she has cancer and you love her even more. And when she goes you remember that she does not have long and you want her to stay, maybe you even make her stay past the time she wanted to go. You know this is not fair and you really should just let her go but you can’t help yourself.

The practicalities of living with a palliative dog are many. You have to ensure that the dog is receiving adequate pain relief. Carol from SAINTS points out that many vets are not in the practice of treating pain. She also believes that any dog who has cancer has pain and therefore needs pain meds. We talked to the vet and he agreed to put her on metacam. Once you have the pain under control hopefully things are ok until they are not. That is the thing with cancer, the dog goes along and then there is a crisis of some sort at which point there are considerations and decisions that have to be made. You may need to look at upping pain medication or maybe the dog has gotten to the point that all the meds in the world are not going to control the symptoms of their cancer. Once the dog has no more quality of life it is time to let them go. Keeping them alive after that point is an extremely selfish act. Part of being a pet guardian is the unspoken covenant that you will look after all of their needs for their entire lives. This includes making the decision to humanely euthanize. Personally, I would rather euthanize days early than risk the dog suffering past the point where they just can’t do it anymore.

I am sure some of you would wonder why would adopt a dog who was going to die. I would ask why not? We did it for many reasons some selfish some not. Gemma had been transferred to SAINTS and we knew that SAINTS was pretty full at that time. Carol takes in so many sick and dying dogs we felt that we could step up and help Gemma. After all we are involved in rescue and this is a part of rescue. When I saw her picture I fell in love. We also hoped, deep down, that just maybe she was going to catch a break. We have learned a lot from Gemma. Deb has discovered that little dogs can like her – in fact Gemma chose Deb as her primary person. This is out of the ordinary as usually little dogs gravitate to me. Gemma is a great comfort for Deb who is grieving the loss of Mackenzie. You get something from every dog you welcome into your life. They all have different things to teach. For me, Gemma is amazing. She has cancer and she does not seem ill. As Deb says “it is like no one has told her she is sick.” She is not as resilient a dog as Zoe. They both came out of the same puppy mill and they were both subjected to the same treatment. Zoe now embraces life. It is like she is making up for lost time. Gemma on the other hand is more reticent. Even thought I know all to well what the end will be like, I would not have given up the privilege of having Gemma Joy in my life.

We are not at the point with Gemma Joy where we need to consider humane euthanization. When that time comes it will be evident to us and we will do the right thing. We have to. We have a covenant.

Gemmie getting a belly rub

*The three photographs used in this blog were taken by Big Air Photography.

Letter to the Swamp Rats (aka k-9s)

Dear Swamp Rats – I am not the pied piper. I will not lead you anywhere. I am only going to the bathroom. Honest. Oh, and FYI, I can do it by myself – I have had a lot of practice but I appreciate your concern. Now, on to some other issues:

1. When I get up to go somewhere in the house it is unnecessary for you to get up and follow me. With at least 5 of you trying to everywhere, we are going nowhere in a hurry. 22 legs makes for a very crowded space and prevents me from actually reaching my destination. Tripping is a real hazard especially when we are moving along and one of you decides to stop. Right in front of me. For no particular reason. Oh and I have news for you all – YOU ARE NOT PSYCHIC!!! Please do not walk in front of me and try to anticipate where I am going to go. All this does is impede my progress and causes me stress!

maddie and the little girls
Madison and the little girls

2. Food – just because I have food does not mean that you have food. Sometimes I would like to be able to enjoy a meal without 20 eyes staring at me, hard. At times I can even hear the faint strains of the music from “Jaws” playing in the background. I do not covet your food and I would appreciate if you reciprocated. Oh and if food is on a PLATE and on a TABLE it is meant for human consumption, not k-9.

concerted turkey begging
Zoe and Gemma involved in serious turkey begging
Tucker waiting for a treat
Tucker waiting for a treat
Clio looking for food from above
Clio waiting for food from above

3. Rain – we all hate the rain. No one likes to get wet first thing in the morning. However, you must still go outside to do your bizness. I will go with you so we can all be miserable together but I will expect that you actually do what you need to do and not run up to the back door and whine to get back in. Come on, I am happy to meet you half-way here. It would also be appreciated if you could do your bizness in a timely manner (Piper). Oh and Piper, I have news for you! You are a dog and not a cow. You need to spend less time grazing and more time peeing!

Piper in motion
Piper in motion!

4. Running into the back of my knees is not a good idea (Kiefer). I have enough difficulty staying upright without you knocking me off my feet! Running into me on the stairs is equally annoying as well – just in case you were wondering.

Kiefer waiting for a treat

5. Madison – it would be great if you stopped trying to kill me. You have been at it for about 10 years and it is getting old. Standing up as I try to step over you does not bode well for my personal safety. What you don’t know (or maybe you don’t care) is the main reason you came to live with us is because I pursued your adoption with ARF. We know that you would have rather been an only dog but that was not your luck.

6. Zoe and Gemma – what is it about dogs from the North? We are all for formerly abused dogs becoming self-actualized but you two take it too far. Is it necessary to lay on the table in the dining room. I must admit you look very cute there but I have to say that it is probably not a good idea. Especially given that your main reason for being up there is a more comfortable view to look out the window and bark.

Zoe on the table
Zoe chilin' on the table

That is all I can think of right now. However, I do reserve the right to add to this list as time goes on!

Zoe and Gemma Joy’s First Thanksgiving!

Every time a new dog enters our lives we celebrate their ‘firsts.’ Their first roast beef dinner, their first chicken dinner etc. Holidays are no exceptions. We generally fast the dogs on turkey days so they do not get sick. This year was no different.

Zoe and Gemma waiting for turkey dinner
Zoe and Gemma waiting for turkey dinner

In this pic you can see the bandage on Zoe’s abcessed paw. We also found out why one of her eyes is smaller than the other. Apparently she is blind in her right eye and it is quite noticeably smaller than her other eye.

Notice how her right eye is smaller than the left.
Notice how her right eye is smaller than the left.

The vet thinks that she was injured and it was never treated which is why she is now blind in that eye and it is significantly smaller. I hate hearing this kind of thing. I can’t stand to see her in pain because of her foot. Even though we were doing a big Thanksgiving dinner and had a guest coming I ran her into Vancouver to the vet so she could get some relief. The thought of our precious Gemma and Zoe living outside, having litter after litter of puppies, being injured and not getting proper vet care is horrifying. We can’t do anything about their pasts but we can sure as hell make sure that they have a great life! I think I will adopt an idea that my friend Heather had – we will make Thanksgiving Zoe’s birthday. The vet said she was 9 or 10, so today is Zoe’s 9th birthday. Zoe will go in for a dental on Wednesday, she will have her foot drained and an ear flushed. She will be good as new! The best news was that her heart and lungs were good and she does not have mammary tumors – always a worry with former puppy mill dogs, actually in any dog that has not been spayed.

So, back to the topic of this post. This is what they were waiting for:

Thanksgiving turkey 2009
Thanksgiving turkey 2009

We had our usual turkey from Hopcott Premium Meats – who also donated 50 pounds of ground beef to the not for profit where I work. Their beef is awesome and all their meat is high quality without all the hormones and antibiotics. If you are ever out in Pitt Meadows drop in and see them. They also have great, in season, local vegetables, preserves and other things in the store.

Thanksgiving 2009 was a great success! Deb made every kind of vegetable possible: squash, candied yams, carrots, green beans, brussel sprouts, turnip, parsnips, mashed potatoes and we had homemade stuffing too! We had our friend ME over and enjoyed lively, informative conversation. Oh and the dogs? Well the dogs ate their body weight in turkey and vegetables. None of them went to bed hungry!

Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. It is one of the few without religious overtones. I love the idea of taking time to be thankful for what you have in your life. Telling people how much you value them is a cathartic act as it makes us grateful for what we have rather than always looking for what we don’t. I think we are all richer when we take a moment, appreciate it and value it. I know that I have done that this weekend and I feel refreshed and rejuvenated for the week ahead with a better attitude.