Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Message from Mitzi

Hi!  It’s me, Mitzi!  I’m not sure where all the other critters disappeared to, but I is the only dog around here now.  So when Mama Jean is too lazy busy to blog, I hasta do it for her.

But that’s okay, because I haz something Very Important to blog about.  It is about my family and bicycles and cancer.

Me and my Auntie Sooze
I luvs her lots.

Y’see, I had visitors the other weekend.  My Auntie Soooze and Uncle Franklin came to see me, all the way from Vancouver, and they didn’t bring a car.  They rode their bicycles!  Well, not on the ocean – they took a ferry for that – but all the rest of the way, via Tsawwassen and Nanaimo to Crofton, and back again via Salt Spring Island.  That’s a lot of peddling!

Mah Uncle Franklin and Auntie Sooze
riding down MY street!

And why would they do that?  Other that it being a boootiful weekend for a ride?  Well, they is training for a very important event that happens at the end of the summer – The Ride to Conquer Cancer! 

Readers might remember that I came to live with Mama Jean when my first mama, Mama Anita (who was Auntie Sooze’s sister), died of pancreatic cancer. But y'know what? Auntie Sooze’s mama and papa also died of cancer, and Mama Jean’s papa died of cancer, and lots and lots of people in our circle of family and friends have been hit by cancer - some are cancer survivors, some died, and some are currently battling cancer.  Even my Mama Jean had skin cancer about thirty years ago, but surgery and radiation got rid of it.  A lot of people aren't that lucky though, which is why the doctors and scientists have to do lots and lots and lots of research to find ways to beat it.

So on August 29 and 30th,  Auntie Sooze and Uncle Franklin are participating in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, riding their bicycles all the way from Vancouver BC Canada to Seattle Wa USA!  That’s like TWO HUNDRED kilometers! (And don’t tell them I said this – but they ain’t no spring chickens – I happen to know Auntie Sooze is only a few years younger than Mama Jean, and that is ANCIENT!).  But they is practicing lots and they is fit and they is looking forward to a hard cycle and a good time.

Ah'd have to have a helmet to participate - -
and much longer legs!
And because the ride is all about raising money to support cancer research, my Auntie Sooze wants to raise lots and lots and lots of money. On the Ride to Conquer Cancer website, you'll find her page here, where she tells you all about why she’s participating and how you can help.  

I gave up my treats for a month, and told Mama Jean she had to give up her treats too (and let’s face it, a bottle of good scotch costs a lot more than a little ol’ bag of dog biscuits!).  So I’m hoping some of you might give up your treats for a month – or even just for a week – or a day -  and help sponsor my Auntie Sooze.  Cause it’s a really good cause and she is workin’ really hard to get ready for it. 

Any closer we get to conquering cancer is good not just for humans but for us dogs too – because lots and lots of dogs battle cancer and the more we know about it the better. 

Bye Auntie Sooze!
Haz a good ride!
So please consider sponsoring her. You can donate online, by clicking her link to take you to her Ride to Conquer Cancer page, and then clicking the donate button on her page. It’s that easy!  Here’s the link to her page again:

Love and hugs, Mitzi

(PS:  If you sponsor my Auntie Sooze and send me your mailing address using the email link at the side of my blog, I’ll even send you a personal thank you card with an autographed photo of me! How’s that for bribery? Mitzi )

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Walk on the Wild Side

Wild flowers, that is!
(Camas lily) 

It is much too quiet in my house and my days are too empty and unstructured without Eddie and Shiloh to boss me around.  So in the absence of needy dogs (Mitzi is more like a cat - very independent and aloof, and with a very capable bladder), I signed up for some Elder College outdoor activities.  This week I went on a Spring Wildflowers Walk with them, at the  Somenos Garry Oaks Reserve  and then the Ecological Reserve on Mt. Tzouhalem. We saw dozens of kinds of flowers, and saw or heard many birds (heron, red winged blackbird, quail, ducks and geese, pileated woodpecker, and the usual assortment of sparrows, swallows, juncos, and chickadees) and a couple of bunnies.  

While the flowers were not as plentiful at the Somenos reserve,  that park had many other interesting features.  This post will focus on the Somenos Garry Oaks Reserve, and I'll do a separate one on the amazing Mt. Tzouhalem reserve in the next couple of days.  

The Somenos Garry Oaks Reserve is located just behind a residential area off Lakes Road and Trillium, in North Cowichan.  It is an 8-hectare park, where dogs on leash are welcome, and visitors are requested to stay on the trails.  It includes meadows, forest, and bog ecosystems.  

Entering the park

There are several information boards at the park entrance

Second largest Garry Oaks in BC

Because garry oaks are late coming into leaf,
they provide an excellent canopy of sunlight
for spring flowers. 

Camas lilies under garry oaks.
Camas lilies.
Camas bulbs were collected by First Nations,
the edible bulbs valued as a source of  food which tastes somewhat like sweet potato and
can also be ground into flour.
The First Nations people often burned off the underbrush on camus fields to encourage
the growth of the lilies, but the very thick bark of the garry oaks was resistant to
fire and thus the oaks survived.

When this tree was cut down, the core revealed old
surveyors marks from many, many years ago.  After the marks were made,
the tree continued to grow around the marks, and it was only when the newer growth
fell away under the saw that its secret was revealed. 

Old Surveyor's Marks

This tree bears permanent damage around its trunk, where
long ago someone had attached a barbed wire fence to it.
(Note the newer fence, with its own posts, in the background)

Sedge in the bog.  Sedge has triangular stems,
which differentiate it from grasses (round, notched stems) and
reeds (round smooth stems). 

More colourful sedges

A stump with bark growing over the top.
The garry oaks are often nourished underground by a beneficial fungus
which travels from tree to tree via the roots and allows the
bark to keep growing even after the tree has been cut down.

On the edge of the Garry Oak meadows,
we found these chocolate lilies in bloom

Lovely yellow sepals inside
the chocolate lily. 

Wild mustard growing near the bog

Wild red currant,
native to our region

Fawn lilies amid the garry oaks -
but too far away for my lens.
Splashes of white amid the green.

Further resources on the history and preservation of this beautiful area: 




Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bird on a Wire

I was doing some gardening yesterday when I heard the familiar sound of a hawk who, with a partner, is nesting in our neighbourhood.  I'm not sure if they are Merlins, Coopers Hawks, or young adult Sharp-Shinned Hawks, and my birding friends have mixed opinions.  But the larger of the two is quite fearless, and carried on a running patter of bird small talk while I circled right below to capture these shots:

I see you!

What do you want?

Get outta my face, lady!

Oh, really?  You're a bird lover?

Hey, everyone!
We got a live one here!
Says she's a "b i r d  l o v e r." 

So if you love birds so much,
where's our free lunch, eh?
Don't think I'm gonna share
with YOU! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Two Word Tuesday

Sunset Tonight
(c) Jean Ballard 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

Eddie hikes to the Rainbow Bridge

August 24, 2003 - April 6, 2015

Last Monday,  just four days after we lost Sweet Shiloh, Eddie followed her to the Rainbow Bridge.  Cluster seizures – seven or eight within 36 hours - were doing permanent damage;  once the meds kicked in he had respite from them but quickly developed an adverse reaction to the medication.  Frenetic agitation and hyperactivity were too much for his already compromised heart, and he kept losing consciousness.   In consultation with my vet, and keeping his quality of life foremost in mind,  I made the heartbreaking decision to let him go.  Bless his vet for coming out Easter Monday morning – Eddie was able to leave this world in the safety of our home, in the comfort of my arms, and his leaving was quick and peaceful.  

Eddie, dear boy, you were not the easiest dog to love – which is, I suppose, a strange way to begin my tribute to you.  Your over-the-top food obsession, your barking, and your many anxieties earned you the nicknames of Annoying Eddie, Excitable Eddie, and Anxious Eddie.  But your good points redeemed you and you wormed your way into the hearts of all who knew you. You were a good companion in so many ways.

Of course I was!
I graduated from school!

You were a friend to everyone - human, canine and even feline.  You loved picnics on the beach, especially if egg salad sandwiches were involved, and parties in the back yard.  You heard the sound of the cookie jar from three houses away, and no crumb on the floor escaped your attention.  You had a big personality yet you could settle down quietly when your needs for food, exercise, and attention had all been met.  And you were unique - there was no other dog quite like you!

Didya remember the
egg salad sandwiches, mom?

Eddie and a few of his
many friends and family
Party Animal!

We had such great times hiking – your very favourite activity next to eating – and you quickly earned the privilege of being off leash.  Liver treats sure helped with reliable recall.  This week as I went through the thousands of photos of our hikes together, one image occurred over and over and over – a very happy dog running back to mama!

I'm coming, mama, I'm coming!

Travelling to visit friends and family was another matter.  The journey was great;  going into unfamiliar buildings not so much.  Still, you wanted to please me and you wanted to be with me, and so you braved trips to the lower mainland and the Okanagan, put up with being carried up and down stairs, hesitantly slunk down apartment hallways or into strange houses.

Road Trip!!

Eddie on the shores of
Okanagan Lake

But if there were bumper stickers for dogs, yours would read “I’d rather be camping!”   If you had to sleep away from home, a tent was your shelter of choice.  I wish we’d done more camping together.  You owned the tent from the moment it was set up, slept happily in your crate, paid no heed to the sounds of the forest. By day we hiked, or lazed around the fire visiting with friends.  If you’d had access to the food supplies, I’m sure you’d have been roasting hotdogs and making s’mores.

Camping out at Emory Creek, BC
and visiting with
King, Molly Dawg, and Lady May

But hiking?  That was what you lived for.  It was as if you wanted to cram into the short time you had with me all the fun you missed out on during your first eight years.  So hike we did.  Maple Mountain and Mt. Richards, Grace Road Park and Swallowfield, Chemainus Lake and Crofton Lake,  Osborne Bay Park and Mt. Tzouhalem,  so many walks and hikes with so many good friends. Those places won't be quite the same without you.  Your friends and I will miss you.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.

Happy trails, my little hiking buddy.  Happy trails.

Love, Mom. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What is it about long weekends......?

I think every time one of my dogs has had a major health issue requiring a vet, it has either been on a long weekend or heading into a long weekend.  Eddie has had two more grand mal seizures in less than twenty-four hours - one just before dinner yesterday and one just after lunch today.  My vet is starting him on phenobarbital (which might make some matters, like his food obsession, worse) in the hopes that we can put a stop to them.
But, realistically?  This is very, very bad news.  And I won't prolong the situation if it worsens, or even if it doesn't improve.  Quality of life is far more important than quantity.  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sweet Shiloh, My Sunrise Sheltie

May 11, 1998 - April 2, 2015
This morning my sweet Shiloh, lover of sunrise walks, left this earth for the Rainbow Bridge.  She was just shy of her 17th birthday,  and she had lived with me for just 17 months. We know only that the months of her life immediately before rescue were pure hell, and I am so grateful that I had the honour of turning that around and loving her to the end.

To my sweet Shiloh, my sunrise sheltie,

You came to us thin and weak, with matted and flea-ridden fur and a broken spirit.  With Sheltie Rescue’s help, you began your new life. And then I adopted you, and  I fed you and walked you and most of all loved you, and soon you were whole again.  

People sometimes thought you still looked sad, because your tail was always down and your head seldom up, due to neurological damage from your former home.  But I knew differently – you just showed joy in other ways.  A sparkle in the eyes, a slightly open mouth, a mischievous prance with the paws, and I knew you were enjoying yourself.

There were three things that gave you great pleasure: food, comfy beds, and walks.

You loved your food.  In your previous life you had sometimes been left for days without food, and your appreciation of regular meal times was apparent.  Your old dog soprano joined in with Eddie’s and Mitzi’s meal time chorus as soon as the food bowls came out.

My funniest memory of you was on your sixteenth birthday, when you had dozed off by the time we served the frozen yogurt and dog biscuit birthday cake.  I place it on your bed by your sleeping face, and slowly you awoke, saw it, and jumped up with the biggest smile on your face I’ve ever seen! 

Yes, you loved your food. Until a week ago.  And then food ceased to have meaning for you.

You loved your beds.  You had more beds than any other critter in the house – baskets and crates, xpens and foam mattresses and soft round plush beds – though sometimes you rolled right out of them. Perhaps that’s why the raised beds were your favourites.  First you chose Charley’s old raised bed, but it was a bit high for you so I bought you another.  You’d jump up into that bed and stretch out and watch the world go by.

You loved your raised bed best.   Until a week ago.  And then you could no longer get in unassisted.

But most of all, you loved your walks.  Twice a day, you paced the hall and ran to the back door, in and out and in and out until I got the message – Walk Time!  It didn’t matter if my breakfast eggs were just at the perfect consistency, or my dinner had just come out of the oven, or my favourite TV show was ten minutes from the end of the season finale – when you said it was time to walk, it was time to walk.  Every Single Day.  A couple of kilometers in the morning, another kilometer at night.

Sunrise walks were the best – you’d drag me out of bed by ringing the little bell on your xpen, enthusiastically eat your breakfast, and tell me Let’s Go!  I’d grab the camera, gulp a few sips of coffee, pull on some jeans and a jacket over my pjs, and we’d be on our way to the waterfront to watch the fishing boats go out and the sun spill pots of  reds and yellows and purples across the bay.

You loved your walks.  Until a week ago, when you could no longer even walk across the street and the sunrise strolls ceased.

You had a Swan Song Monday, but Tuesday your body and spirit began to ease their grasp on each other. And so for most of the past two days, we cuddled, you and I – your head against my shoulder, your breath soft on my face, you sound asleep in the safety of my arms, me half awake stroking your soft fur. 

I was not ready to lose you, but you were ready to go.  Thank you for being a part of my life.  I love you more than these words can express, more than all the sunrises the world has ever seen.  And I shall never watch another sunrise without thinking of you, my sweet sunrise sheltie. 

To those involved in Shiloh’s rescue:  Katie, Wendy, Joanne and Julie – thank you.  Without your help and love, Shiloh and I would not have had those 17 wonderful months together.  I am forever in your debt. Just as she touched my heart, I know she touched yours too.   

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

They Know

I have never had dogs who were best buddies in the sense of playing together or sleeping together.  But in the last waning days of one of their lives, the other dogs (and even the cat) have always watched over them and lain close by.  Charley watched over Caleb, Sadie watched over Charley and Belle and Oliver, Eddie watched over Sadie....and now Mitzi and Eddie are watching over Shiloh.  She has not awakened for the past twelve hours. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Rather Tough Few Days

A few readers have emailed to ask how the critters are doing, and it is only right that I bring you up to speed. I shall relieve your anxiety by prefacing this post with "All the critters are okay for now!"

Eddie's seizure, mentioned in the previous post, happened on Wednesday.  On Thursday, he was right as rain. But Shiloh wasn't.  She went for her morning walk as usual, but ate hardly any breakfast and refused all dinner.  Not a good sign in my food-loving gal.  And she was getting stuck in strange places, falling over, restless, and just not herself. She didn't want her evening walk.

On Friday, she didn't get up until I woke her and had to carry her outside for a pee.  She was unable to stand or walk, disinterested in food or water.  She did not have typical signs of vestibular disease, something that often afflicts old dogs - no head tilt, no circling, etc.  By noon, she displayed all the signs of imminent death - signs I am all too familiar with from the many senior dogs I have loved:  lack of coordination, extreme fatigue, complete loss of appetite, vomiting bile, confusion, bladder and bowel leakage, tremors.

She's not usually a cuddler, but her tremors settled down and she slept deeply, with no fussing or obejections, when I held her.  So we spent Friday night curled up together - first in my recliner, then in my bed. She was completely limp and nonresponsive to touch or voice - I could touch her paws, put my fingers in her mouth, play with her ears - things that usually either make her shake the body part or try to nibble me.  I doubted she would last the night, certainly not the weekend.  Since I had the mobile vet coming to see Eddie on Monday, I gave Doc the heads up that if Shiloh had not gone of her own accord over the weekend, I may be wanting her to help Shiloh pass when she came to see Eddie.

Saturday morning, I noticed her licking her lips and making smacking noises in her near comatose state, so I used an eyedropper to place a few drops of water on her lips and tongue - which she swallowed!  A few more, and a few minutes, and she was trying to get up from her bed.  And throughout Saturday, several times she got up staggered, drank some water, went outside with help, before going back to sleep again.

Sunday was better still - in fact, in the morning she seemed almost back to normal!  She even went to the gate as if she expected our usual sunrise stroll.  But we got no further than across the street and down one house before she collapsed again and I had to carry her home.  All that day, she alternated between being up and alert for progressively longer periods of time, and sleeping.  She even showed interest in chasing the cat - the spirit was willing but the body was weak. She drank water, but still didn't eat - her last meal had been Thursday morning. Only a small bite of toast (one of her favourite treats) even tempted her, and she was unable to propel it to the back of her throat. I was pretty sure today would be her last.

And this morning?  She popped up at first light.  She trotted outside for a pee. She drank water. She chased the cat,and managed to get a few tail hairs in her mouth.  She ate a little breakfast , though most of it fell back out. She was alert and following me around the house and garden  for at least a couple of hours.  And all day long she got stronger and stronger.

When the vet came at 3:00, I was still undecided.  Was this a swan song?  Was she going to recover fully from whatever it was that had nearly taken her Friday?  What to do, what to do?

The vet examined her and observed her and decided one of two things (or possibly both) had occurred. She had suffered a stroke or similar neurological event and/or she was coming into heat.  Okay, that may sound strange - dogs come into heat all the time without exhibiting harbingers of death.  But some of you may recall we almost lost Shiloh last spring/summer when she had a two-month heat with discharge that just wouldn't end,  she stopped eating, stopped going for walks, just lay in her bed sleeping, day in and day out.   (In case you are wondering why she is not spayed - since coming to live with me in October 2013,  three vets have advised me not to spay this old girl who will be 17 years old in six more weeks - the risks of her dying during the spay, given her age, overall frail condition, and boggy uterus, are as great or greater than the risks of her dying from another prolonged heat.)

If what happened was a stroke, she will likely have another one from which she will not recover.  If it was heat, she may or may not make it through. But she might also have several weeks or months of good living left to do.  So we decided, based on how well she was doing when the vet was here and the fact that her heart and lungs sound good and she's drinking lots of water, that we would wait and see. She was simply not ready to go today.

I do have another tentative appointment booked for Thursday in case this is but a swan song  (we are heading into a four day weekend here when my favourite vet will not be available) - but I will cancel it if she continues to regain her quality of life.

For now, for today, she has improved exponentially,  and she ate a nearly normal size portion of dinner tonight before jumping up onto her favourite raised dog bed, unassisted, and settling down for a nap.  She is one amazing sheltie.

As for Eddie, he has developed at serious heart murmur - minimum grade 4, possibly a 6 on the six-point scale (with his anxiety and panting and barking it was hard to hear the nuances that differential 4, 5, and 6 beyond knowing it is very, very noticeable).  However, that only explains his recent fatigue on hikes and is not related to his seizure.  For that we have taken blood tests and stool tests and should have some results Wednesday.  The results will likely not tell us what caused the seizure, but may help us rule out some things like renal failure, liver disease, and thyroid problems.

The bad news is that dogs his age rarely suddenly develop epilepsy, which shows up in young dogs and can be controlled with medication.  Grand Mal seizures in an eleven year old dog are more often caused by a brain tumor. The good news is there are many cases where a dog of any age has one seizure and never has another one. However, between the seizure and the serious heart murmur, Eddie's hiking days are pretty much over - gentle short walks for now at least.

And that's life at my house with the critters.  I'm sorry there's no pretty picture to accompany this post.  It has been an emotionally and physically exhausting few days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Best Laid Plans....

I fully intended to do another blog post today, possibly even prepare more than one so I could post several days in a row.  After all, I have been hiking two or three times a week since the beginning of the year, and there are lots of hikes to tell you about.  I could have blogged about climbing Mt. Tzouhalem for the very first time, with my friend Pat and her pom puppy Cosmo.

View of entrance to Cowichan Bay
from top of Mt. Tzouhalem

Or going back to hike the other side of Mt Tzouhalem on several other occasions with Pat, Cosmo, and her other new pom puppy, Lexi.

View of Maple Bay
from northeast side of
Mt. Tzouhalem

Or I could have blogged about hiking to Crofton Lake with my friend Margaret and Rajah, and coming back the long way with the great views.  Sadly, this could be one of my last hikes with them, as they are moving to another island this weekend.

View of Osborne Bay
from east side of Mt. Richards.

Or I could have blogged about the awesome hike with my friend Barb and her dogs Ollie, Scooter and Clancy.  They were a hoot, and I managed to capture this shot of Scooter the Springer Spaniel, one of my better shots so far this year:

But those stories and photos will have to wait for another day.  Today Allie, Shiloh, and Mitzi were all under the weather and causing me to worry.  Allie had the runs, and one bout of vomiting, starting yesterday evening and on through the night and morning.  She's been just fine since early this afternoon. Shiloh was a little off her food and had not had a poop since Monday afternoon. The addition of a little hemp seed oil to her breakfast and she finally did her business this evening.  Mitzi has been fussy fussy fussy about her food - an attitudinal thing, not a stomach thing, since she was quite happy to beg for  MY food or to take treats.  Tonight, day three of her self-imposed fast, she finally tucked in to a yummy meal  of poached sole and mashed potato.  She spit out the pieces of kibble though.

I'll eat what I want, when I want,
thank you very much!
And then, just as I thought everything was pretty much back to normal, Eddie sent my world into a tail spin. We were out for a walk just around dinner time when suddenly he collapsed on the road and had a full out, massive seizure - complete with tongue lolling, mouth foaming, eyes rolling, legs paddling, and finally total unconsciousness.  The active phase lasted 3-5 minutes, though felt much longer, followed by two or three minutes when I thought he was dying as he went completely limp with his tongue hanging out to the left, his breathing and heart so slow and shallow I couldn't hear/feel them. As he came out of it, I was able to get him to a nearby home belonging to someone I knew and she stayed with him while I ran home for the car.  By the time I came back, you'd hardly know anything had been wrong.

I'm okay now.
I think. 

So forgive me if I don't blog about any of those hikes tonight.  I shall try again tomorrow.  For now I need to watch over my critters and hope tomorrow is a better day - - for all of us.