Friday, September 7, 2012

The Ties That Bind

As I sit down to write this, Sammi and Franki are close by my side ... the same side ... with Franki lying next to me on the couch and Sammi sitting at my left foot.

They are both calm and affectionate and look at me with sweet, submissive faces.  I stroke both of their heads and whisper against their faces, "you're such good dogs."  

I get a little slurp from each of them on my chin, then Franki turns to Sammi.
Sammi presents his face to Franki and shuts his eyes as Franki cleans his face and sniffs his ears.  Sammi just loves kisses on his face... although he hasn't always appreciated Franki.  It took some effort on my part to encourage the bond that has since formed between them.

Even after all the other dogs had accepted Franki, Sammi continued to resist her and displayed a somewhat hostile attitude toward her, despite Franki's submissive posture and attempts to engage him in play.  Sammi just didn't like her.

With six dogs living in relatively close quarters, it's very important to me that they all get along.  I needed to find a way to form a bond between Franki and Sammi. 

Taking a cue from Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan, I thought I would try putting Sammi and Franki together for a Pack activity without the other dogs.  According to Cesar, dogs are more likely to form a positive bond if they have no other choice but to engage in some kind of activity together as a Pack.  He commonly uses a Pack walk, but I wanted Sammi and Franki to spend several hours together.  

Since almost all dogs enjoy riding in vehicles with their humans, and it's something we do as families, I thought a day-trip with Sammi and Franki would be a perfect bonding activity.  Both of them were already well-behaved when riding and were always eager to go.  

So, one day in May, my parents, Sammi, Franki and I all piled into my parents' "dog mobile" to take a trip to a lumber yard for a trailer-full of mulch for my landscaping.  Round trip, we were gone for a few hours, after stopping for lunch in the car along the way and driving into another county for the mulch.  The dogs were angels.  And, even better, it worked!  After we got home, I saw the difference in how Sammi reacted to Franki immediately.  He has stopped growling at her whenever she approaches him, and they have since become buddies.  

Their bond was further cemented the first time Franki ventured to lick Sammi's face.  After that, Sammi was hooked!  They often lay down and sleep next to each other, and although Sammi isn't usually interested in playing with Franki, he tolerates her youthful energy like a slightly bossy older brother.  

     **********     **********     **********     **********

Sammi presents his face to Ripley

While we're on the topic of face kisses ... Ripley is the first dog I've known who seems to think it's her duty to clean the other dogs' wounds and clean the debris from their faces and eyes.  

Not all dogs appreciate this service, of course, but Sammi, Andie and Cookie all enjoy a good daily facial.

None more than Sammi ...

As you can see, Ripley takes her duties very seriously.

"The dogs in our lives, the dogs we come to love and who (we fervently believe) love us in return, offer more than fidelity, consolation, and companionship. They offer comedy, irony, wit, and a wealth of anecdotes, the "shaggy dog stories" and "stupid pet tricks" that are commonplace pleasures of life. 

They offer, if we are wise enough or simple enough to take it, a model for what it means to give your heart with little thought of return. Both powerfully imaginary and comfortingly real, dogs act as mirrors for our own beliefs about what would constitute a truly humane society. Perhaps it is not too late for them to teach us some new tricks."
~~Marjorie Garber

Monday, July 23, 2012

Start the Day Without Caffeine?

Here's another clever email message I'd like to share ...

"If you can start the day without caffeine,

If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains, 

If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,

If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,

If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,

If you can conquer tension without medical help,


If you can relax without alcohol,

If you can sleep without the aid of drugs, 

...Then You Are Probably .........The Family Dog."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Do All Natural Flea and Tick Products Work?

My boy, Sammi
If you're at all like me, when it comes to flea and tick prevention, you feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.  You want to protect your furries from the agonies of their bites and all the diseases that are spread by these pesky creatures.  But at the same time, you're not all that comfortable, if at all, about putting chemicals on your beloved pets.  There are many so-called effective, all-natural flea and tick remedies available these days, but do all natural flea and tick products work?

This summer, I'm on a mission to find out whether Only Natural Pet Store's "Easy Defense" Flea & Tick Tags really work.  If you follow my blog, you know I have six dogs:  Ripley the Blue Heeler mix, Shasta the Hound mix, Sammi the Beagle mix, Cookie the German Shepherd mix, Andie the herding-type mix, and Franki the Black Lab/Dalmatian mix.

Living in a place that's hot and humid every summer means the dogs need protection most of the year.  Many veterinarians recommend year-round flea and tick prevention in many parts of the world, including my own.  But I've never followed that advice, because I wanted to minimize my dogs' exposure to the strong chemicals found in the most popular preventative treatments, such as Frontline, K9 Advantix, Revolution, and Biospot.

(and Cookie in 
the background)
Earlier this year, I got an Only Natural Pet Store catalog in the mail, which is where I first saw the Easy Defense Flea & Tick Tags.  Because they offer a money back guarantee, I decided to put my doubts aside and try them.  I know it's hard to believe a simple tag could keep fleas and ticks off anything. But a 15% discount, in addition to the guarantee, gave me the extra push I needed. Plus, if you buy 2 at a time, you save even more money (about $7.50 per tag).  

According to Only Natural Pet Store, the "Only Natural Pet EasyDefense Flea & Tick Tag is a safe, chemical-free way to keep harmful pests off of your pet. Using state of the art holistic technology, the EasyDefense Tag utilizes your pet’s own energy to create a natural barrier to pests. There are no chemicals or pesticides involved. It is completely safe for pets and humans in the household."

And you needn't be scared off by the price tag ($59.99 per tag or $104.99 for 2 tags) because they last for up to three years.  If you've been buying name-brand flea and tick drops, you know that you can easily spend that much or more on just a 3-month supply!

Sweet Shasta
SO! ... I wanted to know if these tags worked, first and foremost.  But I also wanted to know how well they worked compared to the traditional chemical products.

This summer, four of my dogs are wearing the Easy Defense Tags (Shasta, Cookie, Andie and Franki).  For the other two, I'm using a generic form of Frontline Plus (Ripley and Sammi).  Because the directions on the box advise that the tags can take up to three weeks to begin working, all of the dogs were treated with the generic drops at the beginning of the season (March).

So far, at the end of June, I've seen no fleas on any of the dogs.  Because we had a mild winter, ticks are REALLY plentiful this year.  I've found very few ticks on any of the dogs (relatively speaking).  And the ticks I've found on the 'tagged' dogs, were either just hiding in their fur, or were barely attached.  I've even seen healthy-appearing ticks near the 'tagged' dogs, that didn't seem to be attracted to them.  Usually a tick makes a bee-line toward its intended prey, but they seem to be slowed down or stalled when they get near the 'tagged' dogs.

In my mind, the real test is yet to come ... as the summer gets hotter and more humid, the flea population will peak.  ... I'll keep you posted.


UPDATE ... April 2013:  I got mixed results with these flea and tick tags.  Later last summer, the tick population exploded.  Two of my dogs who were wearing the tags repeatedly became infested with deer ticks.  The other two wearing the tags didn't get nearly as many ticks on them.  A lot of the ticks attached themselves, although it seemed that most of the little pests were still crawling away from the dogs (and onto me!).

I never had any problem with fleas, but don't know if that was due to the tags or the possibility that the flea population was low last summer.   The whole summer, I saw only a couple of fleas on one of my dogs, but only on one occasion.  She and the rest of the dogs were flea-free the rest of the summer.  She was wearing one of the flea and tick tags. 

So after the ticks got really bad, and I got tired of them crawling onto me, I gave in and treated the dogs with some generic Frontline drops.  And although the tags definitely seem to have some repellent properties, from my experience, they work only on some dogs and don't seem to work well during periods of heavy infestation.

A little less than a year after I bought the tags, I decided to ask for a refund on all four tags.  If I didn't live out in a rural area and if I didn't frequently take my dogs out on hikes in the woods, I would have kept the tags through another summer to get a better idea of their effectiveness.

I had no problem getting a full refund from Only Natural Pet Store (minus shipping charges, of course).  It took about 3 or 4 weeks from the time I mailed the tags back until I got my refund check in the mail. 

Another Update ... July 2013:  I never did find another natural product that I was willing to try, so have been using a "generic" alternative to Frontline because I know it works.

By the way, I'd love to hear from anybody who's had good results from any natural flea and tick product in the past.  Please feel free to leave a comment.

*Disclaimer:  I may earn a small commission from any purchase you make through any of the links to within this article or anywhere else on this blog.  Be assured, however, that my commission does not affect (increase) the prices you pay.*

Monday, June 25, 2012

Franki the Blue-Eyed Black Lab/Dalmatian Mix?

Franki enjoys cooling
off in her pool on hot
summer days.
Hmmmmmm.  Living with a totally black dog with bright blue eyes got me curious about blue-eyed dogs in general.  It's a lot more common to see blue eyes with white, spotted, or merle coats, so it's a bit of a surprise for most people to see a jet black dog with blue eyes.  Franki is obviously a mixed-breed dog and looks "labby" around the head for sure.  She weighs 50 pounds and is much leaner than Labradors in general.  

Franki's size and body shape is long and lean, much like a Dalmatian's.

Ripley and Franki relaxing
after a hike in the woods.

And her frosty blue eyes are endlessly captivating, looking more blue or closer to white, depending on the light.

I also learned that it's relatively common for Dalmatians to have blue eyes, like this puppy pictured below.

So I am left to wonder ... is Franki a Black Labrador / Dalmatian Mix?

Regardless, she is a great dog with a sweet personality, and has brought so much joy and energy to our home. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

It's a common belief that dogs eat grass when their tummies are upset ... we see a pool of puke and partially digested grass and assume that the grass made the dog or helped the dog throw up.  But that implies that grass is some kind of doggie medication and that dogs only eat grass when they don't feel good. 

But is that all there is to it?  Why do dogs eat grass?

Dogs are not strict carnivores.  They've always been scavengers, devouring anything and everything, as long as it fulfilled their basic dietary requirements.  Domestic dogs are actually omnivores and will frequently seek out alternative foods to fulfill their nutritional requirements, especially if they are fed a commercial diet.  And most of the time (about 75%), dogs don't throw up after eating grass. If you think that they do, it's probably because you only notice your dog has been eating grass because you can see it in her puke!  

Grass is good for your dog in moderate amounts UNLESS the grass has been treated with fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides.  Since grass is a plant, it has fiber and nutrients that aren't found in typical dog food.

A great alternative to letting your dogs graze freely on your lawn is Barley grass.  It's easy to provide some safe grass by planting a special patch of Barley grass.  Dogs who like the taste of "lawn" grass will most likely also appreciate Barley grass.  It's inexpensive, grows very quickly, and is highly nutritious.  Barley grass is rich in vitamin A and C, plus it provides other vitamins, plus minerals and phytonutrients necessary for all mammals. 

I planted the Barley grass in this photo about 8 - 10 days before I took the picture.  As long as the dogs don't demolish the patch right away (which they don't), the grass will keep growing most of the summer, just as if it was growing in the ground.  They nosh for a couple of minutes each day and then leave it alone, so it grows back quickly.

I like to use self-watering containers so that the soil stays moist and I don't have to worry about watering every day during the hot summer.  And because some of the grass gets pulled out while the dogs are eating it, I continually add a few seeds here and there all season. 

When it starts getting cold outside, I just bring the container inside and place it in a sunny location where the dogs can continue to eat the grass year round.  Before bringing it inside, though, I pull all the grass out so I can either change the soil or add organic matter to it ... in my experience, the Barley grass will grow more quickly inside during the fall and winter if it has good, fresh soil. 

"Crap! I thought I was in charge!"
"Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?"
~Jerry Seinfeld 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Finding Franki

I've been away from the blogosphere for too long!  Been busy getting my house and yard ready for market ... the "for sale" sign just went up last Saturday.  Right now, I'm just trying to find Franki ... 

I think I may have spotted her ...

Whatcha doin' back there, Franki Blue? ...

Seems there is nothing like an overgrown Viburnum shrub when it comes to shade.  :-)

"He wa'n't no common dog, he wa'n't no mongrel; he was a composite. A composite dog is a dog that is made up of all the valuable qualities that's in the dog breed—kind of a syndicate; and a mongrel is made up of all riffraff that's left over."
~Mark Twain

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Franki Blue Eyes Comes Home

Well, Franki (formerly Crystal) has found a forever home ... with me! (For her back story, please read my post A Sweet Dog with Blue Eyes Needs a Loving Home.)

I had been thinking about adopting her since before she gave birth to her pups, but when I first met her, I thought she might be too wild for my more mature pack.  But I couldn't get her out of my head.  So I brought her over for a visit one sunny Sunday afternoon ... and never took her back to her foster home.  

It was a bit uncanny.  She went from being an unruly, unfocused creature, to a well-behaved (but still very active) and focused dog.  It was almost like she had just been waiting for someone to show her what was expected.  And I know that the other dogs helped her, too.  Anyone who has been around a group of dogs knows how much they can learn from each other.  

Franki sits, waiting patiently for a treat.
It took her all of 10 seconds to figure out the doggie door on her first day.  By the end of the second or third day, she stopped jumping on me.  She sits for treats and before she begins eating her meals, and doesn't try to steal the other dogs' food.  Instead, she waits patiently, watching the two slow pokes, Sammi and Ripley, as they finish their kibble.

Aside from a couple of naughty moments ... she chewed the lid off the large tub where I keep the dog food and stole some food off the kitchen counter ... she's been an angel.  And the joy and laughter she has brought into our already happy home ... well, I can deal with some spunk.  She's barely out of her puppyhood after all.  And I know I can count on the other dogs to help show Franki the ropes.  

Franki and Ripley ... just chillin'.

"I know that I have had friends who would never have vexed or betrayed me, if they had walked on all fours."
~Horace Walpole


Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Sweet Dog with Blue Eyes Needs a Loving Home

Crystal is a sweet dog with blue eyes who needs a loving home.  My rescue group, COLARS (the Circle of Life Animal Rescue Society), received a call from a concerned citizen about 6 weeks ago.  She had been feeding a dog who had been abandoned near a closed-down rural business for about a week.  She called us when it became obvious that no one was coming back for her.  

We took her in for a veterinary check-up right away and he noted she was pregnant.  The next day, she went into labor ... we had rescued her in the nick of time!  She had three pups.  Two black and one brindle.  After just one week, it became apparent that these were going to be BIG puppies.  They gained 10 pounds in only five weeks.  Since Crystal is a smallish lab-mix at only 40 -45 pounds, we had to wean them early ... in their enthusiasm to feed from her, they were causing her pain and discomfort during nursing. 

So now Crystal is puppy-free and we're waiting for her milk to dry up so we can get her spayed.  I went to meet her for the first time yesterday after she was transferred from one foster home to another.  She now has room to run in a very large fenced yard.   

The first thing I noticed was that she is VERY active ... and in need of an experienced, patient trainer. She loves people, but has bad manners, and won't even respond to her name.  But I could also see that she's got great potential. She was starting to respect me after only an hour of interacting with her. Her typical sweet and friendly lab personality endeared me to her, but she acts like a 6-month old puppy.  She has no focus and is "all over the place."  She jumps on people and needs help to learn some basic good social skills.  

The second thing I noticed about her ... once she slowed down long enough to get a good look at her ... was that her eyes appear to change color.  Sometimes they are crystal blue, but they also appear white or yellow, depending on the light.  

Crystal is definitely a unique-looking dog, at least as far as black lab-mixes go.  I hope that will help us find her a good home.  She'll need lots of attention, LOTS of exercise and positive reinforcement-based training.  I'm confident she'll make some loving person or family a wonderful companion.  She's got lab smarts, lab friendliness, and a beautiful, shiny black lab coat. 

 We'll only be giving her over to another rescue group with a trainer on staff (wish we did), or an experienced person willing to take on a project dog.  She's located in southeast Missouri.  If you are interested in adopting her, or know someone who might be, please leave me a comment here, or feel free to visit the COLARS Facebook page and leave a private message.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Am a Facebook Addict ...

I must admit, I spend too much time on Facebook.  My name is Amy and I am a Facebook Addict.  

I resisted for years before opening an account because I thought it was just a waste of time.  But since I joined in August 2011, I've found that Facebook can be a great tool and a fantastic way to meet people with similar interests and passions as my own.  Not only have I re-connected with long-ago friends, but I've found a wonderful group of like-minded animal-lovers. 

Today's post will be dedicated to some of the worthwhile images and messages I've come across on Facebook.  Just today, for instance, I saw this:

Thanks to Inside The Divine Pattern and Anthony Douglas Williams for sharing this.  It perfectly expresses what I see and feel every single time I look into the eyes of any animal.  Although there is a lot of controversy about whether animals have souls, I have no doubt in my soul, heart and mind that they do indeed have souls.  It is only the human soul that needs "saving."  Animals, like babies, are innocent.  And have pure, uncorrupted souls.  

A popular message I've seen on many rescue pages involves "forever homes" for pets.  The photo to the right was posted by The German Shepherd Dog Community.

Along those lines, I shared this photo today on my personal wall as well as my non-profit spay/neuter group's Facebook page:

Thanks to RePeace for sharing such an important message ... one that is near and dear to my heart.  I first saw this photo on another wall and one person had left a comment admitting that he/she had done this very thing and was ashamed for it.  The person admitted he/she didn't think about the consequences of abandoning the dog until he/she saw this photo, which included the horrifying ways a dog, cat or house rabbit can suffer after being abandoned:  starvation, heat stroke, freezing to death, dying of thirst, being hit by a vehicle, or being preyed upon by wild animals or humans.  I respected this person for admitting publicly what he/she had done and left my own comment telling him/her so.  I added that I hope he/she will now consider becoming an advocate for animals.

So, although I often spend waaaaay too much time on Facebook, it has added another dimension to my life and expanded my circle of dear friends.  And it has provided me with a platform to help spread the message of responsible and loving pet guardianship and kindness to all animals.

To end on a lighter note, let me share a photo and quotation I posted today:

Cookie, a formerly neglected dog, and her old pal, Teddy (R.I.P.). Teds was abandoned near my front gate.  He was lucky and found a new and better home.  Other abandoned dogs don't fare so well. 

"Home is where the dog hair sticks to everything but the dog!"
~Author unknown

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ripley Gets Knee Injections for Her Arthritis

Today (Wednesday, April 11th) I brought Ripley to the vet so she could get some fluids injected into her arthritis-riddled knees.  I knew she wouldn't be able to stay upright on the slippery floors of the waiting room, so put her in her cart.  She had a good time walking around and greeting all the people ...  She's such a ham! ... check out the short video to see Ripley walking around the waiting area like she's on the Red Carpet.  :-)


I'm trying the mobile cell phone app feature for my blog as I wait for Ripley to recover from sedation.  Dr. Ben isn't sure if the injections will help her this time ... When he examined her legs before the injections, he said they felt REALLY bad. Worse than the last time. I'll be able to tell if the meds are having a positive effect within a few days.

Waiting for Dr. Ben

........ Back at home .... I had to carry Ripley into the house.  She can't walk AT ALL!  She's always been sore after getting the injections, but she's always been able to walk afterwards.  I gave her pain meds and a couple of her favorite treats.  She's resting on her orthopedic bed and I'm hoping that after a while, she'll be able to put some weight on her back legs.

Fresh out of surgery.

Still groggy from the sedation.

So, yes, I'm a worried Mom right now!  And feeling helpless.  She's also been leaking pee a bit.  I tried to use a back leg support harness to help her walk before we came inside, but she didn't want to put enough weight on her front legs either.  If she's not a little better soon, I'll have to call Dr. Ben and see what he thinks.  Prayers and healing thoughts for Ripley, please!


I ended up calling the emergency number for the vet clinic at about 1 am.  Her right back leg was so swollen and hard, and she couldn't sleep because of the pain.  I described her symptoms and he asked lots of questions.  He determined that she wasn't in immediate danger, but wanted to see her first thing in the morning.

Thursday morning the 12th of April:  Since she still wasn't able to walk without help, I enlisted my step-father's aid in taking her in.  In the parking lot of the vet clinic, the vet tech and I loaded her onto a gurney/cart so she wouldn't have to walk.  After examining her leg and getting Dr. Ben's opinion (Doc Ben was on farm calls), the kind, young veterinarian decided to give her steroids and antibiotics. They concluded that some of the joint fluid that was injected leaked under her skin causing the pain and inflammation.  It's possible that her knee joint is so clogged with arthritis that the fluid just didn't have anywhere else to go.

Waiting for Dr. Kelvin to examine Ripley's leg.
Back at home, Ripley seemed very relieved, and I helped her walk around for a bit so she could get some of the stiffness out of her legs.  We all rested in the sun for a while before going inside for treats, more water and some much-needed sleep.  Ripley and I both slept most of the day!

Thursday morning. Resting in the sun after a morning visit to the vet.
...............  Friday the 13th of April:  The swelling in her leg is slowly coming down and hopefully the steroids the doc prescribed will help speed her recovery. ... Something that became very clear to me the past couple of days: When you live with a disabled family member, otherwise small set-backs loom large.
But small steps forward are great victories. Yesterday evening, I left Ripley laying out on the back deck for a while since she seemed to be enjoying the air and scenery. I had planned on going out to help her back in soon, but all of a sudden, I heard her coming through the doggie door on her own. She gave me her usual "woo" of hello as she walked into the kitchen and I couldn't help but laugh and cheer.
Even though her progress has been slow and she has needed help getting up several times today, I can see "the old Ripley" returning.  Her appetite is getting better and her back legs are starting to work for her again.  I hope to report soon that we've taken a walk in the woods ......
"We derive immeasurable good, uncounted pleasures, enormous security, and many critical lessons about life by owning dogs."
~Roger Caras, A Celebration of Dogs

One Man's Trash is Another (Wo)man's Treasure

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."  ~Mark Twain

One Man's Trash is Another (Wo)man's Treasure.....

Ripley, 1 week after rescue
Can you believe that someone just threw this beautiful puppy away? 
One day after work in September 2009, I was taking my two dogs, Brittany and Lacey, out to our favorite place to walk.  To get there, I had to load the dogs into my little truck and drive about 10 miles to a state conservation area, where we walked around a peaceful, scenic lake.  There were two ways to get there, depending on which part of the lake I was in the mood to wander :  on one route, I drove the back roads, and on another, I started out on Interstate 70.  On September 11, 2009, I decided to take the I-70 route.

I had just merged onto the interstate from the entrance ramp when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted her.  I had to do a double take.  For one, I was nearing a cruising speed of 70 mph, and secondly, she was just so small.  And she blended in ... she was frozen in fear along the white "fog line" (the white line on the right side of the lane).  I thought to myself, "was that a puppy?" and pulled over onto the shoulder.  I looked behind me, and sure enough, it was indeed a puppy.  So I backed up, got out of the truck and quickly snatched her up before she decided to run into traffic.  I remember feeling the 18-wheelers and other vehicles whizzing by and winced at the thought of this little creature wandering out onto the busy interstate highway.

Ripley, 3 months old

As I pulled her close to my chest, I noticed she smelled strongly of urine and grease, but she appeared to be in pretty good shape.  But rather than continue on to the lake (sorry Brittany and Lacey!), I figured I should take her home and get a better look at her.

Ripley has always been a "talker," and a great character.
Back at the house, she got a bath and a meal ... she was very hungry.  And then I wrapped her up in a towel and she slept for about 14 hours.  At the veterinarian's office the next day, she got some puppy shots and a clean bill of health from the vet.  She weighed all of 3 pounds and he estimated she was only about seven weeks old.  He and his staff were sure she was an Australian Cattledog (Blue Heeler) or a Cattledog/Australian Shepherd cross.  Whatever she was, I surely didn't need a third dog ... but almost 13 years later ... well, let's just say I'm a softie and leave it at that!

Acting the Clown
It was obvious early on that Ripley is smart ... she learned to use the doggie door and was house trained in less than 2 weeks!

Ripley has brought me years of smiles, laughter and loyal companionship.  Being a herding breed, she is extremely intelligent and has lots of energy.  It's often been a challenge keeping her mentally stimulated, but since I was already used to taking my dogs for long walks several days a week, I had few behavioral issues with Rip. 

 And Ripley has taught me so much.  She's been nothing less than inspirational.

When she was only five years old, she started to show signs of arthritis.  And unfortunately for her, it has been an aggressive and pervasive disease.  Within just a few years, her spine was nearly fused together with invasive tissue, and both of her knees were nearly unrecognizable in x-rays.  Added to that, her front right foot is also gradually being taken over by pernicious tissues.

The arthritis in her spine got so bad that the nerve to her back legs was crushed, which also affected her bladder ... she leaked urine almost constantly.  When her veterinarian, "Dr. Ben," showed me x-rays of her lower back and legs in September 2010, he said, "I don't know how this dog can walk!"  And he followed that with,  "if any human had arthritis this bad, they'd be in a wheelchair."  Then Dr. Ben looked me intently in the eyes and told me he had shown these x-rays to his colleagues.  Their immediate reaction was to put her down.  He responded to them with, "You wouldn't say that if you knew this dog.  She has the spirit of a puppy." 

And he was right.  You'd never know how bad her condition was just by watching her ... she was still happy and silly and more than willing to go on hikes with me and the rest of the Pack, and got around the house and yard well enough.  But I knew she was in pain and it was getting worse, despite daily doses of anti-inflammatory drugs and joint supplements.  I had a decision to make: take away her life, or seek advice from a specialist.  And when I looked into Ripley's eyes, I knew I couldn't give up on her.   

So Dr. Ben referred us to the best orthopedic surgeon he knew.  And I drove her 3 hours to  the University of Missouri--Columbia's College of Veterinary Medicine ... several times over the course of several months.  To make a long story a bit shorter, in December 2010, Ripley had surgery to scrape the foreign tissue from around her spine to free up the nerve that had been crushed flat.  I knew it would be only a temporary solution, but the orthopedic surgeon, "Dr. Jimi," was confident that it would make a significant difference in Ripley's life.  And it did!  Within just a few days after the surgery, I could see how much easier it was for her to walk.  And her bladder no longer leaked.  Along with the back surgery, Dr. Jimi injected steroids and other fluids into her stifle joints (knees), which made her all the more comfortable. 

For about six months, Ripley was practically a new dog.  She had to have more injections in her knees to keep them cushioned, but otherwise she was able to continue our hikes.  She couldn't run with the other dogs, but she trotted along quite well.  ...

But then I noticed she started to slow down and started to walk funny when going downhill.  She looked like a drunk, swaying from side-to-side and stumbling like she didn't have full control over her back end.  I had hoped the surgery would give her more time.  My Ripley still had the heart of a puppy ... always eager, always ready, and still the family clown.

I knew another surgery was out of the question.  She was getting too old and I didn't have the money.  So I started to ask around and search the internet for a brace of some kind to support her back during the downhill portion of our hikes.  I posted a video on YouTube showing how she walked and asked anyone who watched it if they had ideas.  Ripley got a lot of sympathy from viewers and a kind woman from Bahrain, who had become a "fan" of  my dogs (I have a few dozen YouTube videos of the dogs just being dogs), helped me search internet sites for something to help Ripley.

During my search, I came across the website  They specialize in wheeled carts for dogs.  I didn't really want a cart, though.  I wasn't sure Ripley would be able to use it out in the woods.  I contacted Dr. Jimi, Ripley's surgeon, and showed him the video.  He didn't know of any braces that existed that could help Ripley.  So I took a leap of faith, and borrowed more money from my savings, and bought Rip a wheeled cart from (And with the help of some friends and family, widened the path we walk through the woods to accommodate the cart.) 

Along with the surgery and the steroid injections, it has been Ripley's saving grace!  She only needs it going downhill, so to help keep her muscles toned, I only strap her in right before we head down the mountain.  Thankfully, the cart is very lightweight and it balances nicely on my shoulder.  Ripley is such a good girl!  She learned to use it very quickly and seems to "get" that it helps her walk much more easily ... so she stands still whenever it's time to attach the cart.

Ripley poses in her wheeled cart.

"Classic" Ripley
I can't imagine going on a hike without Ripley.  It would break both our hearts.  I also can't imagine the pain she must be in every day.  Yet she seems to just ignore it for the most part.  Ripley doesn't see herself as disabled ... or unable to do much of anything, for that matter.  She doesn't see obstacles.  She sees beyond them.  She has taught me that obstacles are almost always of our own making and that you can find a way beyond them if you look hard enough.  She has helped me to appreciate the little things in life ... simple joys and pleasures.  She reminds me to smile and laugh every day, no matter how badly I may feel.  

Ripley has taught me to slow down ... to take a deep breath ... and live in the moment.  For in such moments, there is peace.