Category Archives: Skye-dog

My Old Dog

I know there are a lot of dog lovers out there and it’s not just me. So forgive me if I spend this time to talk about mine.

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You see, for about the last three years my beloved border collie Skye-dog has been living on borrowed time.

Some of you may know that in late February 2011 she was diagnosed with lymphoma.  After we got over the shock of such a gut-wrenching diagnosis and put our proverbial ‘big girl panties’ on, and remembering that my first dog, Riley, lived only a month after her diagnosis of auto-immune hemolytic anemia brought on by a cancerous tumour in her chest, we were keen to fight and said yes to treatment.  In the case of canine lymphoma it is chemotherapy.

Never having had a friend, family member or even acquaintance who had gone through chemotherapy, but only feeling scared and apprehensive, we asked about how it would affect her quality of life.  We were told that most dogs do very well and show very few side effects:  the possibility of diarrhea, perhaps vomiting, some inappetence and likely tiredness within a few days of treatment was what we should expect.  So we and Skye-dog embarked on a six month course of chemotherapy.

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Our goal was to achieve remission and to stay cancer-free for as long as possible.  The veterinary oncologist said statistically the first remission was likely to last 12 to 18 months at best.  If she relapsed, successive chemotherapy treatments could be given but the succeeding remissions would get shorter and shorter until such time as we would have to accept the inevitable. Our luck had not been good with treatment for a chronic condition so we did not have very heroic expectations.  If Skye didn’t react well to the chemotherapy we could always stop.

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However, she surprised everyone by not only flying through treatment but also by continuing to live without any symptoms of her lymphoma for what has now been three years and five months.

She is now just over 12 years old and still with us.  I am happy to say that lymphoma is a word rarely mentioned in our house and we choose to believe that we have it beat. But she is now an old dog suffering from old dog ailments, the most serious of which is spondylosis.  This is a condition that affects the spine, resulting in ‘bone spurs’, which are bony growths that manifest between the vertebrae.  Some say they form as a result of trauma others as a result of a genetic predisposition — most common in older, larger dogs.  This growth can affect the nerves along the spine creating pain, stiffness, limited range of motion and sometimes, lameness.  If severe, treatment for younger dogs can involve surgical correction but for older dogs, it is simply pain management, restricted activity, relatively benign procedures like laser therapy, neural therapy (sub-cutaneous injections of homeopathic remedies), acupuncture and physiotherapy.  We have done all of the above except for acupuncture and Skye’s first foray into hydrotherapy begins tomorrow.

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Skye loves water so I’m hoping that she takes some pleasure in this new experience.  Her first visit will include getting used to the environment (a long, narrow raised pool with warmish salt water) and the hydrotherapists themselves who will introduce her to the routine by first giving some underwater massage. She’ll wear a doggie life jacket to ensure she doesn’t need to work too hard and may not even swim at all until she feels comfortable.  I’ll be alongside the pool during the exercise, praising her and encouraging her on.

For a dog who has always been fast, fearless and bossy, seeing her struggle with her back legs, choosing to bypass the stony beach and its floating dock on our daily walks and finding new hobbies like toad hunting and short-distance ‘two-ball’, has been a real transition for the both of us. As an older dog, I know her time left with us now is limited.  I am so grateful that the lymphoma didn’t take her three years ago — but — accepting this ‘new normal’ of restricted activity, abbreviated walks and lots of snoozing is making me sad.  I understand it can be characterized as anticipatory grief, and that we can become mired in it if we don’t pay attention.

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So, we will be off to the swim therapy tomorrow, thankful that we are still a team, thankful that each day starts off with our walks and is marked by doggie meal and ‘pill time’, that our kitchen counter is full of her bottles and potions, that her beds are almost in every room of our house, that her snore is music to me and that our car will always smell of ‘dog’, that is, her.  No matter what the future holds, she will always be my Skye-dog.

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Adieu to winter

The only real reason for winter is for Skye-dog to demonstrate her ability to torture a ball in the snow.

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Teeth and fuzzy feet….

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…or torturing it in a snowbank.

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What?

The melts and succeeding frigid temperatures have made the snow throughout March (and into April) crispy and unyielding.  Not a good combination for ball pouncing and unstable doggie feet.

There is nothing left of winter that still charms me.

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Oh, perhaps I’m wrong.

Skye is pretending to be non-plussed.

All I can say is, she must be cold.

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I think the river is melting.

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The snow can’t be far behind.  Mud is just around the corner.  Oh joy.

Winter holiday 2014: Part II

With every day and every new snowflake that falls, Florida feels very far away.

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But hold on a minute.

For all of you who haven’t had a chance to escape this wretched winter, I have something for you:

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There.  Do you feel better?  There is indeed retribution for the gall we exhibited in leaving this frigid climate and seeking out some kind of paradise.

Yes, that’s right.  Poison ivy.  And if you missed it, you can read the label.

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So you might ask, “How did you get it on your hand?”  Karma.  And the sheer impossibility that poison ivy would be growing WITH A LABEL alongside a path at the Calusa Heritage Trail within the Randall Research Center in Pineland, Florida.

On their website, it lists what to bring:

*  Hat

*  Sunglasses

*  Sunscreen

*  Insect repellent

*  Water

I would (somewhat sarcastically) add:

*  a Hazmat suit

No offence.  This spot was beautiful and taught me things about this area of Florida of which I had no idea.  For example, did you know that the Calusa were an early indigenous people that lived along the coast in southwest Florida.  They did not farm but rather fished, fashioning nets from palm webbing and patrolling the coast in dugout canoes made from cypress trees.  They even sailed as far away as Cuba.

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This site is minimally managed but incorporates mown lawns, natural pathways, osprey platforms and scattered benches and picnic tables.  Dogs are allowed, mind you on leash, and we visited it many times during our holiday.  It was one of the only places within a 15 minute drive from our cottage where Skye could chill.

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Despite my contact dermatitis, I do have good memories of this holiday.

This was the view from our waterside cottage.

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And this was our neighbourhood resto-bar.

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…where you could order and eat very, very slowly, home-made key lime pie…

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When we weren’t eating –

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(and drinking) –

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– we were looking for places to walk Skye.  Like here:

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But before you get the idea that we had little direct contact with the water, you will see that is not true.

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My first kayak expedition.

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Bliss.  Even for someone who doesn’t (really) swim and is afraid of sharks.

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Soon after that paddle, we packed up the car again and set out to return home.  Goodbye blue skies.  Goodbye southern sun.  Goodbye sand.

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Skye is happy again.  Traitor.

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Winter holiday 2014: Part I

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The morning of our last day in Ottawa before heading south…the blowing snow should have been a portend of things to come…

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My biggest anxiety about crossing the border was our unusual doggie paperwork.  You see, Skye, our 11 1/2 year old border collie who accompanies us everywhere, continues to be in remission from lymphoma.  As such, she has not been vaccinated since before her diagnosis.  For anything.  Not even rabies.  This is apparently a problem if you want to cross the border.

There is something called the Rabies Challenge Fund and the website has a list of states that accept medical exemptions for rabies vaccinations.  New York is one of those states and the state into which we were crossing.  Your vet can fill out a form which indicates that although your dog is otherwise healthy, she is not healthy enough to receive vaccinations — cancer and other chronic illnesses compromise the immune system so much that this could spell disaster.

We did not have this form.  However, we did have certification from our vet that Skye had a rabies ‘titer’, which indicated that her immune system had high enough levels of antibodies against rabies for her to be protected.  Ever skeptical of bureaucracy, I also came armed with a million pieces of paper and websites in my brain.  What good they were in my brain, I don’t know.

As we approached the border, the sun shone as we clutched our passports and Skye’s paperwork.  Passing them out through the window to the sullen and scary customs agent, he was more concerned about whether we were bringing fruit across the border than a rabid dog.

And with that, we drove through.  The sun that had shone brightly suddenly turned to this.

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And then this —

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And then, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse —

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GAAK!

This was the worst whiteout I had ever driven through.  Well, maybe not.  Once I was driving somewhere in Ontario and had to pull over on the shoulder because I COULDN’T SEE AT ALL.  When the whiteout subsided, the shoulder was filled with cars that had lined up like soldiers — one after the other — and no one had crashed into the one ahead.  It was a miracle.  As was this very slow drive along Highway I-81 S in upstate New York.

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Fahrenheit and miles seem so strange to me now that I have to translate Celsius and kilometers first.  About minus 8-9 degrees Celsius = 15-16 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s not much different from where I left.  But I know it will get better….

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The moment when I kicked the last piece of cr*ppy ice from the car’s wheel well was a cause for celebration.  Yes, I am petty.

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I had forgotten that anywhere south of Virginia is land of the very small white fuzzy dog.  Skye was appearing increasingly out of place.

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Hotels requiring dogs less than 10 pounds.  Rules requiring dogs to be on a leash no longer than six feet.  Heck, the distance a small white fuzzy dog can run between the end of that leash and your feet is enough to exhaust them.  But not Skye-dog.  She needs space to run.

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Finally reaching Florida, we see evidence of the standard American grasp of the obvious.  Not to mention insistence on politeness.

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Aaahh.  Sun and heat at last.

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Reflection

The Christmas season is upon us and I have noticed that everyone is distracted.  People seem to be driving around town wrapped in a fog of multi-tasking, walking in and out of stores with a grim determination rather than a smile.

Excuse me while I slow down the pace a little bit.

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It is such a beautiful time of year, especially with this layer of healing snow.  As gardeners, it allows us the opportunity to rest and reflect.

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 If you can, take a moment to think about your year.  What were the highlights?  Here are some of mine…

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First, and perhaps most importantly for me, celebrating another year with my beloved Skye-dog.  As many of you know, she was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 8 1/2 years old back in February 2011.  After undergoing six months of chemotherapy and complementary holistic care, the first with Dr. Bravo and her team at Alta Vista Animal Hospital and the second with Dr. Eddie Beltran at Blair Animal Hospital, Skye-dog remains healthy and in remission.  We are very grateful and hope that she stays with us for another lifetime.  Surely not too much to ask.

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My trip to Francis Cabot’s garden known as Les Quatres Vents with my friend Patti was a bit of a marathon, in a good way.  A long drive and much anticipation ended in several hours of horticultural wonder, not to mention post-viewing garden analysis.

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If that wasn’t enough of a feast for the eyes, I saw the spectacular glass creations of Dale Chihuly at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which were just so alive and organic.

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My year was also filled with smaller, but no less meaningful moments…

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Slow down, take a breath.  What have your moments been?

Autumn: Day 1

Today was the first full day of autumn.

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It was crisp and the clouds came and went.  Sometimes they threatened rain (and delivered) and other times not.

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Skye-dog led the way.

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There are surprises in the fields.  Sometimes they were placed there to attract bluebirds:

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And sometimes they appear if you look down amongst the brush…

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The afternoon sun looks warm, but its reflection on the river is only an illusion of heat at this time of year.

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The sumac is showing its full colour now — isn’t it early?

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Another few moments and this day of change shifts suddenly.

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Soon we’ll be huddled inside in front of the fire…