Do you want the bad news first or the really bad news?

My 45th birthday party in October.

How’s your pandemic going?

Ours has been bad, epically bad. The worst thing that happened is that we lost Mia in May, but it wasn’t unexpected. We were so so lucky to have her in our lives as long as we did. I actually went to a pet loss support group in February, thinking we were close to having to make the hard decision.

When the world locked down, having Mia in our home for those first couple of months meant everything. Caring for an elderly dog is much easier when you can be home with her all the time.

In April, seemingly out of nowhere, I found out I had ovarian cancer. I had three chemotherapy infusions and then surgery in June. The chemotherapy didn’t work on the cancer, but the surgery did. I have a rare type called low-grade serous ovarian cancer, which did not respond to chemo, but at this time, I have no evidence of disease.

In September, twelve weeks to the day from my ovarian cancer surgery, I stumbled over my own stupid feet and fractured my ankle in three places. The injury is called a trimalleolar fracture, and the surgery to fix it is called an open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF). That experience was worse than having cancer. I spent a miserable night in the emergency room in Seattle, and then I couldn’t put any weight on my right leg for six weeks. However, once the cast came off, I progressed very quickly from walking with two crutches, to one crutch to no crutches.

So I had two really terrible medical experiences within a six-month period. Neither hurt as much as losing Mia.

While all this was going on, Leo started having seizures more frequently. He’s been on anti-convulsants since his second seizure a little more than a year ago. In July, he had an MRI that confirmed what I suspected: he has a brain tumor. He also has intervertebral disk disease. In August, he had three treatments of stereotactic radiation, which we hoped would give him up to a year and a half to live. He’s 10 years old now, so that sounded like a good deal.

Leo poses with a lion the day we learned that his seizures were caused by a meningioma in his brain.

But he had increasing mobility problems with his hind end, and continued having breakthrough seizures. A follow-up MRI in November showed that not only had the radiation not shrunk his brain tumor and his IVDD was worse, but that he ALSO has two tumors in his abdomen.

Remember in E.T. when Elliott and E.T. were so linked that they seemed to be dying at the same time? That’s me and Leo. I had three tumors. He has three tumors. In October, neither of us could walk.

Then the psychic link was broken and Elliott got better and E.T. didn’t?

My tumors were removed and my ankle got better. Leo has three inoperable tumors and can’t walk.

But he’s still here. And for that, I’m thankful.

Four weeks after my cast came off, I could walk around the block with one crutch, but Leo couldn’t. Rob got him an XXL wagon to take him on adventures.

Not as naughty as he looks

Since Leo is 100 pounds and leash reactive, I often assume he will be perceived as scary. He proved otherwise to me during this past month.

At the end of October, he started limping. I had to leave him at the vet for a couple of hours while they X-rayed him. I worried that he’d whine or cry or bark from the kennel while he waited his turn, but I’m told he did not. Everybody seemed totally crazy about him.

The bad news was that he had torn his cruciate ligament and needed TPLO surgery. I had never heard of this surgery before, but apparently it’s very common, and there’s a 50% chance he’ll need the surgery on his other leg too!

I took him in for the surgery two days later. A brand new place, brand new doctors. They loved him. When the surgeon called me to tell me he was in recovery, she said, unprompted, “I like him,” in such a wistful way I knew she meant it. She doesn’t say that about all the German shepherds.

After his sutures came out, we had a consult for underwater treadmill therapy and the new vet asked if our other dog is as mellow as Leo. Ha! The other dog (Mia) is the mellow one! And here a little video of him on the treadmill a week later.

TPLO surgery is serious business with a long recovery period. Leo has been a total champ. He wore the cone for two weeks without complaint, and hangs out in his crate quite comfortably. He did have a few snarly incidents (fights, if I’m honest) with Mia, triggered by his barrier frustration (vision blocked by cone plus separation with a gate), disorientation from pain meds, and pain. It’s been a few weeks since the last skirmish, so I think that’s behind us.

He’s been walking on the new knee since day one, which has led me to be too cavalier about confining him. I let him get up on the couches, because he’s tall enough to climb up without jumping. But that also leaves him with access to jump on the couch when delivery people come to the door.

And at one point while Rob was decorating the backyard for Christmas, Leo raced toward the back door, sliding across the wet floor, his legs splayed out on both sides—exactly what they told us we didn’t want to happen.

So there have been a lot of times this past month where my heart rate has spiked and I felt like the worst nurse ever. If you ask the people in my TPLO support group on FB, I might be the naughty one for not following the strict directive to confine him and keep him away from furniture.

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Senior doggie aging with grace

Sweetheart

Mia had a bit of fur shaved last week at the vet. She’s been so itchy, they wanted me to be able to get the medicine to the skin. It’s not a great haircut, so Mia’s been rocking some adorbs hoodies while it grows back. I bought a couple of new ones too, because I think it could be a while.

She also had a funny looking bump aspirated and pathologized. Usually my vet leaves long voicemails for me with test results, and I hadn’t heard back from him. I thought maybe he was waiting to deliver the news in person this week when I brought Leo in. I started researching cancer treatments, and wondering whether my vet accepts the Care Credit card.

Last night I checked the email account I don’t use very often and found a message from the vet: “mixed inflammatory cells. No cancerous or neoplastic cells were seen.”

Yay!

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Never Drink Alone

Mia and Rob and beer

Mia’s limp is getting better. Thanks for all the well-wishes last week. Rob felt bad that Leo was getting to go to the park without her, so he took her out for a beer. Maybe that explains why she’s been wobbling when she walks. Too bad Rob wasn’t wearing his Hundhaus Hefeweizen shirt.

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Queen Mia B

Queen Mia

Photo by Rob


The B stands for Bear. Mia Bear.

I’m starting to feel like a senior dog blogger, but maybe that’s how things are going to be now that she’s 12(ish). She started limping severely the other day. So wobbly she wasn’t seeming to put any weight on her rear left leg. Two people I told this to said, “That happened to my dog/cat. It was cancer.”

Thanks.

Anyway, had her checked out today. No sign it’s cancer or a torn anything. We’re mixing up her meds and letting her rest and I expect she’ll be feeling better very soon!

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My strong and sassy senior dog

Mia, being a trouper at the eye doctor. Her dry eye is being managed well, and now we’re waiting for the results of her thyroid panel. I blew it by giving her the tiniest amount of cheese with her thyroid pill, so they wouldn’t do the cholesterol test. I ask you, if your dog has to have her thyroid medicine within 4-6 hours of the bloodwork, but she also has to fast for 12 hours… how do you get her to take the pill?

Anyway, we’ll have to do a second fasting blood test, I guess.


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Why my senior dog is starting to hate me

Yard work is exhausting

I recently reported about the erosion of trust between me and Mia since I’ve had to give her eye medicine twice a day. She’ll still let me cuddle her in the mornings, but when I get out the tube of ointment, she runs under Rob’s desk, and other times, she’s super evasive when I ask her to come in from the backyard (although she’ll still come in for Rob).

As part of our regular maintenance for her arthritis meds, we have her blood tested every three months. Usually, they take her in back to do this, but yesterday, she slammed on the brakes and refused to go with the tech unless I came too. So I guess she still prefers me to strangers. I held and kissed her head while they drew the blood. She pulled her leg away before they filled the vial, so we had to do this twice, with a couple of aborted attempts when she yelped at the needle. (Pretty soon she’s going to refuse to get out of the car at the vet’s.)

The eye specialist suggested we have her thyroid levels tested too. Oh the irony. Several years ago, our trainer was certain Isis’s reactivity was related to hypothyroidism. To be extra sure, I had our regular vet take Isis’s blood and give me the vials, which I then sent to Dr. Jean Dodds’ Hemopet lab.

Isis did not have hypothyroid. Mia, it turns out, does. Like, off-the-scale low levels. Looking at the symptoms, I don’t see it. Maaaybe we can attribute Mia’s few extra pounds to her thyroid (or maybe she eats too many treats because she won’t come inside the house otherwise). I don’t think she sheds more than Leo. Her coat might not be as lustrous as his, but I attributed that to her age. All said, she looks great, and doesn’t exhibit any of the other physical symptoms. (But her low thyroid might have something to do with her anxiety.)

Of course I’ll still treat her for it. Especially if it improves her goopy eyes. Even after a month of giving her the ointment twice a day (almost) every day, she still has the goop. I’m so not looking forward to taking her back to the eye doc, where they’ll make her sit still with a tear strip in her eyelid for one minute (per eye). Not to mention our thyroid follow-up to have her blood drawn again in one month.

I took her back to the vet today when I picked up her medicine, so she could have an experience there where she got a bunch of treats from me and the receptionist, and no one stuck her with any needles. She was pretty happy about it, but I know she hasn’t forgotten what I put her through yesterday.

So, that’s why Mia’s starting to hate me. The new pills are small though, pretty easy to hide in a treat. If she’s going to be taking thyroid pills twice a day, though, I plan to mail-order the chewables.

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How not to medicate dogs

A frame Mia

After we started treating Leo for pannus, Mia’s eyes started looking goopy. Tempting as it was to just start giving her the same medicine we give Leo, I took her in for her own eye exam. While Mia has better social skills than Leo in many ways (as far as people are concerned), Leo is actually the friendlier dog. Mia is not very cooperative when it comes to being examined, and will try her hardest to escape.

We managed to get her up on the motorized, elevated exam table, and I held her still long enough to have her eyes looked at. I tried not to be offended when the vet tech asked if she needed to be muzzled. Nothing against muzzles, but in this situation it would have only increased her aversion. We have never muzzled her, and she doesn’t bite. It seems my eye doctor has had bad experiences with German shepherds before, so rather than be defensive, the best I can do is hope for my dogs to be breed ambassadors.

Anyway, she was diagnosed with dry eye. Not as serious as Leo’s pannus, but requiring one of the same medicines. They gave it to me in drop form, even though Leo was getting it as an ointment.

Mia hated the medicine. She ran away from me when I tried to put it in, and afterward, would wipe at her eye. I told the eye doctor this and she said maybe to try the ointment because the drops might sting. Owie! Poor Mia!

For several weeks, I only managed to give her the medicine once a day, because she clearly hated it so much. She didn’t wipe at her eyes like she did with the drops, but she ran away from me afterward. If I gave her a piece of cheese afterward, she’d run away from me next time I offered cheese. If I gave it to her after she came in the house at bedtime, she’d refuse to come back inside next time.

Mia is totally on to me. I have to vary the routine so she doesn’t form a negative association with anything that happens anywhere near the time I give her the medicine. She does hold still when I give her the medicine, but she obviously holds a grudge.

For several days, I gave it to her right before or right after we went on our evening walk, which was working out pretty well. But it became clear that getting the medicine once a day is not enough, so now I have to find a time to do it in the morning that doesn’t ruin our entire relationship.

I feed them right before I leave the house. I put Mia’s bowl in her little condo outside, and close her in the dog run. She used to trot right into her condo for breakfast. After just one day of my giving her eye medicine before feeding her, she refused to come back into the dog run from the big yard. I’m telling you, she holds a grudge!

Any trainer would say the trick is to give her a really high value reward to give her a better association with the medicine. But you see what’s happening here? The medicine is such an aversive it’s poisoning whatever reward I try to give her. I’ve made up my mind though, that it’s important for her to get the medicine twice a day. She’s due for her 3-month checkup, and I don’t even want to subject her to it until I’ve been giving her the proper dosage.

So I’ll be chasing her down twice a day, and hoping that she still loves me in between doses.

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Temple of the Dog

I recently had Lasik surgery.* Contact lenses had become really uncomfortable, so I preferred wearing glasses, but they interfered with my ability to take pictures using a DSLR. (Not to mention they got rained on and fogged up all the time.**)

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been slacking on taking pics of my pups.

No excuses now. Here’s the first batch of post-Lasik pics!

*Lasik is amazing, by the way. I highly recommend it. Find a good surgeon who’s done lots of surgeries. (I wouldn’t go to a discount place, but that’s just me). If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, go to Restore Vision Centers. The procedure couldn’t have been smoother, they were very calming, and they had chocolate and valium. Nothing but good things to say about the whole deal.

**I went on my first post-Lasik dog walk in the pouring rain on Sunday. It was magical to be able to see in the rain. It was also very cold and wet.

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