Thursday, January 31, 2008

Making sense of canine healthcare


The medical world has always been a mystery to me – all those hundred dollar words (and hundred dollar prescriptions), complications, interactions, and contraindications. Increasingly, though, I have been leaning toward alternate health care both for myself and my animals as I learn more and more about the effectiveness of such treatments as homeopathy and acupuncture, and the inherent problems (not to mention expense) of pharmaceutical treatments. Educating ourselves on healthcare alternatives, advocating for our own treatment, and seeking out solutions for the health problems we face is each person's responsibility - the doctors are merely one resource we can use in the quest for comfort, wellbeing and longevity.

Nowhere has this become clearer to me than dealing with Caleb’s cancer. Although I have a great conventional vet, I am also reading everything I can and consulting a holistic vet in an effort of give Caleb the greatest quality of life for whatever time he has left. But talk about confusing! Probiotics, prebiotics, transfer factor, digestive enzymes, Essiac tea, immune enhancers, immune suppressors, vitamin this and vitamin that, and so on and so on and so on. Trying to figure out what Caleb should get, when he should get it, in what dosage, is enough to make my head spin.

Caleb has been on prednisone for five weeks now, in an attempt to shrink the cancers. His lymph nodes have decreased from golf ball size to the point where my unprofessional touch can no longer feel them. So Tuesday I had the bloodwork repeated, thinking that it would help clarify if we had successfully kicked those nasty cancer cells into remission. Today I got the call with the results, only to discover that the bloodwork can’t answer that question. What it does tell me is that the white cell count is still about the same, but the kidney tests show a bit of a problem – slightly above the acceptable range, where it was within range before.

So now I get to chase Caleb around the yard (which is a foot deep in slushy, heavy, slippery snow) trying to catch his pee in a cup so we can check it out. Right. I’ll be really skilled at that, with my less-than-stellar balance, bad back, and somewhat overweight bulk. Obviously the vet has never seen Caleb racing like a demon around my yard, snow or no snow.

I suppose next they will tell me the elevated kidney readings are the result of the high protein diet he is on (a common argument used by those that don’t like high protein dog foods). However, carbs and sugars feed cancer cells, so foods with fillers (most dog foods contain tons of corn) are out of the question. I guess I’m going to become a rawfood or homecook convert yet. As it is, I have more food in the fridge for the animals than for myself. Belle's pancreatitis requires different foods than Caleb's cancer, and sensitive-tummy Charley requires something else again. My dogs need a personal chef, and I seem to have been elected.

As for the cancer, a definitive answer would require another aspiration of a lymph node and possibly a repeat of the xrays and ultrasounds which led to the diagnosis before – a $1000 day and a trip into Vancouver through rush hour traffic. Oh joy.

Sigh……..I really think those of us who dote on our dogs should be able to claim them as dependents, at least on our health care plan if not on our income tax. And I’m pretty sure my dogs would agree.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Keeping warm in snowy weather

According to the radio, this is the worst winter storm of this season. Where I live, up in the hills above the Fraser Valley, we routinely get more snow than down below, or we get snow when it is raining below. So the animals and I are quite used to dealing with the white stuff.

However, even the animals sense something different today. It began at about 1:00 AM when the dogs started playing musical beds in order to find a warmer spot to sleep. I keep my house very cool at night (some of my friends and family say I keep it very cool all the time! ) but last night even I woke up chilly. Caleb, however, won the prize for creative solutions. He jumped onto the bed (which is perfectly permissible in my household), but instead of stretching out next to me as he usually does, he dove under the covers, resting his head on a pillow I had under my knees to ease a backache (no doubt caused by shoveling snow yesterday in order to get out of the driveway). And there he slept – head on pillow by my knees, butt and tail sticking out from under the comforter on “his” side of the bed!! Silly dog!

The piggies hate the cold and snow. Last night I gave them extra hay (I must get some more straw in soon!) and extra blankets to help keep them warm. This morning…well, Janice the Piggy Lady who runs the Hearts on Noses sanctuary will be proud of me…I fed them warm oatmeal!

When I first agreed to fostering the pigs and piglets, Janice had told me that in winter she feeds them hot oatmeal and I rolled my eyes and said “No way am I doing that – I don’t even cook oatmeal for myself in the morning. Piggy feed and fruits and veggies will have to do!!!”

Little had I known how sorrowful a piggy’s eyes can look when it is cold out……And so I mixed up a big bowl of oatmeal to feed the little gluttons today and to warm their bellies. They are happy piggies. I just hope they don’t expect the royal treatment every cold morning.

Derby enjoying his oatmeal:

Oatmeal on a piggy's snout:

Martin the alpaca likes a bucket full of warm water on a cold day – it is the only time he sucks back the water like he has been wandering the desert for days. A lipsmacking thankyou from him and my morning was complete.

I’ve cancelled my class today – it is a good day to cocoon with the dogs and cat, read a good book (I’m in the middle of “Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog” by Ted Kerasote), tidy the attic, and do some advance prep for my courses this term.

I’m hoping the road will be passable by mid-afternoon – Caleb goes to the vet to have his bloodwork re-checked to determine if we have made progress kicking the cancer cells into remission. Keep paws and fingers crossed for him.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

We has a feast!!

Hi, this is Toddy and I’m one of the little piglets and my foster mama is letting me use her ‘puter.

We is vewy excited. Yesterday our foster mama took the dogs to the park for a run with Auntie Ewwen’s dogs, and Auntie Ewwen had a WHOLE TWUNKFUL of goodies for us that some nice produce place had given her. She had a big big bag of gweens like lettuce an spinach an cewery an bok choy an kale an cawwot tops. We loves greens, specially in winter when there’s no new gwass growing in our piggy yard.

AND she had a WHOLE BOX of fwuits and vegables for us. We LOVE fwuits and vegables. We gots bananananas (they is our favourites) an blackbwerries (no, they is our favourites) an apples an pears an mushrooms an peppers (not the hot kind, the other kind!) an tomatos (oh, they is our favourites) and blackbewwies (did I mention blackbewwies – they is our favourites!!!) an all sorts of stuff. Foster mama says there is enough to last us for at least a week or two.

After we ate our grains this morning, our foster mama spread some fwuits and veggies in the yard for us and we had a paaarty!!!

Thanks Auntie Ewwen – you is the best Auntie in the world. And thank you for the long tube which we played with before beds last night an for the soccer ball too – our foster mama says she doesn’t know much about soccer but she figures there’s enough of us to start our own team an maybe we can win a gold medal.

We’d rather win a box of bwackbewwies and tomatos and bananananas – piggies can’t eat gold medals.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The singing sheltie

Belle, in the pasture yesterday morning! A simple point-and-shoot camera but the combination of sunrise and morning frost created the halo effect.

Pasta, pigs, and nice clean clothes

I usually wear my sweats or very old “barn clothes” when I visit with the piggies, but this morning I ducked back into the barn after getting dressed in my clean clothes as I’d left my mitts in there. At the last minute, I grabbed a bowl with some leftover pasta to take Scotch, the papa pig, for a treat. (By chance, I’d discovered last fall that Scotch will follow me anywhere for some noodles – I’d been wandering around the yard eating a bowl of noodles while Scotch and Soda were out exploring the garden with me. One fell from my fork, and after that Scotch did every trick in his repertoire to make sure he got the rest of the meal).

Anyway, this morning I took a bowl of leftover spinach and cheese ravioli in tomato sauce out to the pig stall, where the whole piggy family were buried deep in the straw and blankets. (They’d taken one look at the cold frosty ground after breakfast and decided to wait a while before venturing outside).

As usual, one of the piglets – I think it was Fizz – wiggled noisily out of the straw and stuck his snouty between the rails of the gate to say hello to me. I rewarded him with a piece of ravioli, and something about his lip-smacking, oof-oof-oof thank you noises motivated the others to jump out of bed too.

Without thinking, I stepped into the stall and through to the piggy yard, my little charges in hot pursuit. I dropped pieces of ravioli and tomato in their mouths trying to make sure everyone got some. However, some piggies are a bit more assertive than others, and before I knew it I had tomato-y trotters climbing on my clean pants in a desperate attempt to reach the bowl, and tomato-y snouties shoving at my knees to make sure I knew certain piggies wanted more.

Sigh……back in the house to change my clothes. I hope tomato sauce comes out of nice new cords. But at least the piggies had a great time. And, for that matter, so did I – there’s nothing that makes me smile more than eager companion animals clamoring for my attention!

Off to take the dogs for a walk at Rolley Lake.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It's darn cold out here tonight - perhaps not by northern or prairie standards, but minus ten celsius is darn cold for the great wet coast. The water lines to the barn, freshly insulated and boxed in this fall, have finally frozen up so I'm back to hauling warm water from the house two or three times a day. Pigs are big water consumers, and it doesn't help that they are also sloppy ones - Scotch routinely shoves his chin on the edge of the bowl to spill it all over the floor as it flows into his mouth.

I picked up 50 pounds of carrots today and 40 more pounds of apples, so they had a great pre-dinner treat this afternoon, outside in the snow and bright sunshine even if the sun provided no warmth.

Now they are all buried deeply in the straw under their blankets. I have never figured out how they manage to take piled-up, twisted-up, shredded-up blankets and get all twelve of them neatly covered with every inch of piggy skin hidden from view. I swear Martin the alpaca must be tippy-toeing into the barn and nicely spreading the blankets over them once they are nestled in straw.

Tonight they didn't even move when I walked through the straw to close the barn door for the night - now that tells me it is really cold, because those piglets never miss a chance to talk me into giving them just a little more to eat before bed!

Belle had her first real visit to the groomer's today. She had briefly seen Sam when she first came into rescue, to get her much overgrown nails clipped. Today she had the full monty - nails, ears, bath, trim, brush - I wouldn't be surprised if she even had a massage! Sam at Markeyda's Dog Grooming in Langley is just awesome and a great supporter of the rescue community.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Some days are pure joy

It was very cold and crisp out today with a brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine – my very favourite kind of day – so perhaps that influenced my outlook on life as I did the barn chores and walked the dogs and spent time with all my critters. But it was most likely just the animals themselves, each with their own personality, their own quirks, their own way of displaying affection and appreciation for the human who looks after them and the home that gives them shelter, that brought that wonderful sense of contentment to my soul.

I arrived home from work about 2:30 – one of my shorter days – which left me lots of time to enjoy the afternoon outdoors. As I stepped through the barn door, I was greeted with a cacophony of piggy squeals and squeaks and oinks and oofs and grunts, as they struggled out of the bed of straw and blankets and raced to the other stall where they customarily are fed.

“Piggies! It’s much too early for dinner – it’s only 2:30! I’ve come to open the barn door to your yard because it was much too dark and cold when I left for work this morning.”

“But Foster Mama, you fed us breakfast soooooo early today. We are starving; please please please please please!”

Swizzle has the biggest eyes of any little piglet – it is almost like he has white saucers surrounding those sweet blue sparklers. And he holds his eyes W I D E open. It always takes me aback, as most pigs have quite small eyes sunk well into their dark little faces. Looking at those big eyes looking at me, I caved. And so I opened the fruit bin and fetched out a dozen or more apples and took them outside, followed by my little herd of piglets – a Pied Piper with a different tune for a different procession. The babies have learned to take apples nicely from my hand now, but their little mouths are not quite big enough to handle a whole one and I hadn’t taken the time to cut them in half. And so there I stood, surrounded by 10 hungry piglets and two equally hungry adult pigs, trying to help each piglet to get its sharp little teeth into an apple deep enough to get a bite.

Tom, Fizz and Lizzie were smart little piggies . When one of her siblings took a bite, severing it from the rest of the apple, Lizzie grabbed up the fallen apple and raced to the bottom of the field with it, Fizz in hot pursuit with a second fallen apple. Tom thought of another way to avoid sharing with his sibs – he nudged one from the basket while I was busy handing them out and with one quick shove of the snout rolled it down the hill where he could consume the whole thing uninterrupted. What little characters they are!

Then it was Martin’s turn. Martin was up the top of the pasture, where he had been visiting over the fence with the llamas next door. I wanted him back in his pen so I could walk the dogs in the pasture without worrying that one of them would get an undeserved kick in the head. Martin kicks HARD.
I got his food and called him, and watched in delight as he galloped down the path towards me, coming to a screeching halt (I swear he would have laid rubber if he was a car and the path was pavement) less than two feet away. And then he sauntered into his pen but instead of going to his feed bucket he reached out and nudged my hand, expecting to see his container of grain still there. He started himself when he realized he had actually touched a human and did a quick hop back, but then slowly reached out again for the proffered apple I had pulled from my pocket.

So with Martin safely in the pen, the three dogs and I headed up to the end of the pasture. Belle and Charley get to run off leash as Belle stays right beside me and Charley has reliable recall. But obsessive, determined, long-legged Caleb with very selective hearing is usually kept on leash so he will neither slip under the barbed wire fence in pursuit of a coyote, nor fill his belly with the piles of alpaca poop so generously deposited by Martin.

Today, however, I took a bag of high value treats (dried liver) in my pocket, undid the leash, and kept calling him back to me. Except for one mouthful of alpaca poop (for which he got scolded) he stayed close by and decided that trying to trip me was just as much fun as dragging me on the end of the leash – especially when he was getting rewarded for it.

The best moment of the walk was when we reached the top of the hill and I sat down on the little bench I’ve placed there, soaking in the sunshine and enjoying the snow-dusted mountains, the thin layer of ice on the creek, the prairie-yellow of the winter grasses in stark contrast to the brown tree trunks, all three dogs sitting at my feet, side by side, watching me intently for more treats and nudging my hand for that prize scritch behind the ears. How lucky I am to have such great friends, such wonderful companions in my life.

And just to make the day complete, after our return home I sat hemming some pants and watching a video when Allie came over to curl up on my lap. Caleb hasn’t quite got used to seeing this as it has taken many months for Allie to relax around my obsessive prey-driven lummox of a dog. But today they were friends. Caleb came and nosed at her back end, nudging her and licking her and making little tiny nibbles with his lips. Allie just buried deeper into my lap. Caleb went around to the other side and stuck his nose in her face, his version of kisses. Allie put both paws around Caleb’s nose, gently, and meowed at him. And then they played – Allie rolling over and grasping his face with her paws, Caleb nibbling and not being too sure what to make of this. Eventually he decided she was getting a little too rough and backed off.
At that point I was beginning to nod off, Allie still in my lap. I stroked her head but my hand went limp….and gently I feel her paw reach up and pat me on the face a few times. I stroked her again…then stopped again…..up came her paw to pat me a few more times. Very softly, very light little cat paw taps on my cheek, she reminded me that she, too, needed her lovings.

Each animal, letting me know their needs in their own way, communicating and showing affection and bringing smiles to my face.

Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The piglets trash the barn

The piglets wrote this on Thursday, to their very good friends The Piggy Lady (Janice of Hearts on Noses) and Auntie Ewwen (a piggy fan and volunteer). They are a little challenged on the computer (try typing with trotters instead of fingers!) and their spelling leaves a bit to be desired, but enjoy:

Dear Piggy Lady and Auntie Ewwen:

We has been vewy naughty piggies today. Our foster mama made us get up in de middle of the night for our breakfast cuz she had ta leave early for werk. It was still vewy DARK out. An then she was gone all day an it was startin to get dark again and we was vewy vewy hungwy.

Well, we guess maybe she was pwetty tired this morning at o-dark-thirty becuz she forgots to put the extra bar on the gate from our beddy stall to the big barn an maybes she didn’t lock the latch properly or maybes we is just vewy vewy smart piggies but we busted that gate open and had a lot of fun making our own dinner in the big barn. We knocked over three garbage bins of yummy garbage and spread it evewywhere and cleaned all the food wappers an evewythin. Then we pulled all the tarps off the straw and alfalfafafafa and had LOTS of fun spreading that all over the barn too. We didn’t eat all the alfalfafafafa though, just maybe a flake or two. And a half bale of straw. An some hay. An the tweet can –we gots the lids off that and ate all the tweets ‘cept we got interrwupted cuz we ended up leaving sum peanuts an we loves those best!

An we knocked over the garbage bin with the alpacacaca foods in it. It tastes way better than piggy food so we ates some of that too. But we didn’t’s have time to eat all of it, just about a small pail full maybes. And we knocked over the apple box but we couldn’ts get into it, so we took some more tarps and dragged them all over the place and sum blankies too. We didn’ts bother wiv getting into the containers that holds our piggy food though because we gets that all the time so its not fun. We dids knock over a big water pail cuz we were thirsty an Papa Scotch had dumped our water bowls in the stall. Hmmm….we knocked over some saw horses – that scared us! And a bunch of empty pails too.

When we heard foster mama's car turn into the driveway just as it got darks, we hightailed it out of their and were all just wandering around in the pig yard when she came into the barn. Then we looked real innocent and scared – cuz even though she didn’t yell or nothing we knew she was not happy. We didn’t go “wee wee wee oink oink grunt oof oof” like we usually do when she comes home – we stayed out in the yard and we ran aways from her when she came out there and lined up along the fence as far aways as we could. Even RobRoy would only go about a foot or two from her and wouldn’t let her scratch him, and he's the biggest wuss who is always sucking up to her!

We made her think something hads scared us and maybe it was some other animals that trashed the barn. And she still wonders bout that cept if it was some other animals we woulds probably be hurts or deaded. An besides, if it was some other animal then we woulds have still wanted our supper but we didn’t – while our Foster Mama was pickin up the garbage, we all went vewy quietly into our stall an snuggled down in the straw and blankies an went to bed. We knows naughty little piggies get sent to bed wiv out any dinner!!!

We’s sowwy foster mama. We won’t do it again, we pwomise.

Love Scotch an Soda an Derby an Whisper an Tom an Toddy an Lizzie an RobRoy an Rickey an Fizz and Spritzer an Swizzle

Friday, January 18, 2008

Introducing the critters

Welcome to my blog. For the past few years I have been volunteering for animal sanctuaries and writing about my experiences with the animals on their blogs and in private emails. It's time to create my own blog, even though I am a technophobe who has very few computer skills.

Let me introduce myself and my family. I am a fifty-something slave to seventeen animals - three dogs, one cat, one alpaca, and 12 potbellied pigs. In my other life, I teach sociology (mostly gender and family studies) to college and university students. But my passion is the animals - they are my companions, my friends, my confidantes, my family.

Charley is my border collie/rough collie cross. She was purchased as a puppy from a backyard breeder before I knew better. She is 10 1/2 years old, a laid back black and white girl who likes to police the others, making sure they abide by the rules. She is chief cop and tattle tale.

Caleb is my pitti/lab/shep cross. He is about five years old and was adopted in May 2007. He has a sad history - his first mama died, and her boyfriend who took on Caleb and his canine family abused and neglected them. Eventually the SPCA seized the animals. Caleb sat there for seven months before a friend of mine alerted me to how incredibly sweet he was and how much he needed a home. He is a gem, quiet and serious and protective of those he loves.
Sadly, he was recently diagnosed with lymphosarcoma - cancer of the lymph nodes - and I am currently on a steep learning curve to help build his immune system.

Belle is my 12 year old deaf sheltie. She just came to me through a rescue organization in December, after spending her life with a senior pair. Her human dad passed away and the mom needed to return to family in another country to be cared for. Belle has pancreatitis, but is doing well with a carefully managed diet.

I have a fourth dog, Emma, who is a three year old yellow lab. She is the happiest dog I have ever known! Emma lives with my ex and I have visitation rights. We obtained Emma as a pup and I stayed home for the first 9 months training her. She is a very sweet beautiful girl and I would love to have her with me.

Allie is my cat, a tortoiseshell obtained from the SPCA as a kitten. She is now about six. Allie has a great personality, full of curiousity and mischief, and she particularly likes to torment Caleb.

Martin, the alpaca, was abandoned by a previous tenant on the land I currently rent. Martin is about 8-10 and lived most of his life under a tree in the back acreage. He now eats from my hand, has a shelter near the barn, and has lots of hay and grain and fresh fruit. He is now a member of my family and will not be abandoned again.

And then there are the piggies. I volunteer with Hearts on Noses Pig Sanctuary in Maple Ridge BC ( Last June they received a call from the SPCA. Could they take on two adult potbellies who were part of a large seizure for animal neglect and cruelty? The sanctuary had no room, but I had a barn stall not being used so with the help of others we built a pen and brought in the pigs, who I named Scotch and Soda. What we hadn't known at the time was Soda's impending pigbirth - on July 28th she gave birth to a phenomenal 12 piglets (most potbellies have 4-6). Sadly one died just after birth and one the next day, but I am now fostering not only the parents but 10 healthy, noisy piglets - nine males and one female. Needless to say, all have been spayed or neutered! The piglets are Tom, Toddy, Fizz, Spritzer, RoyRoy, Whisper, Lizzie, Derby, Rickey, and Swizzle.

And that makes my family. The stories of their antics will fill these pages, as well as a few other reflections of life.