Tegan, the Aspiring Therapy Dog

This is Tegan. (https://amylaw.blog/2017/01/29/puppy-play/ , https://amylaw.blog/2017/02/19/what-went-into-this-mutt/) She loves to go up and say hello to people. Her life-long goal is to be a Pet Therapy dog, but like so many dreams, it’s been put on hold by the coronavirus.

Still, she wants people to be happy, and she knows how hard that is right now. So she and her best friend Zoe are going to demonstrate a very sophisticated technique for keeping their spirits up — playing chase.

She demonstrates basic techniques here with Zoe. Notice that Tegan lets Zoe have a nice lead before she catches her.

Tegan advises that you need to pace yourself with frequent breaks for maximum endurance.

Then, it’s Zoe’s turn to chase Tegan. Again, Tegan is careful to not get very far ahead of Zoe. Most Important Note: The game has to be fun for everybody.

Only quit when everybody has run until their tongues hang out. (Zoe never lets her tongue hang out very far. She doesn’t think it’s a good look for her.)

When everybody is tired and their stress gone, it’s time to go in and have a nap on the couch with your best buddy in the world.

Dog Hugs

Did you know dogs can hug? I don’t mean when they jump up an put their forelegs on you — but emotionally?

It doesn’t look like what you’d expect. A dog gives you a hug when they squint their eyes at you, with their mouths open and relaxed. And it doesn’t last long — just a moment. Dogs consider looking directly at you for more than a few second to be rude.

Look at how relaxed Zoe is. Her mouth is open and the corners of her mouth are pulled up. But it’s her eyes that are “huggy”.

Tegan isn’t usually a huggy dog. Here, she was walking with my daughter in a 5 k run/walk event, and was surprised to see me on the sidelines taking pictures.

We met Misty when we went to Denali last summer. She loved everybody, and showed it with her relaxed posture and soft, half-closed eyes. Her mouth was closed so she could nuzzle me.

Not all dogs give hugs; some show their affection in other ways. But when you get a squinty-eye look from a dog, with their mouths open, know that it is a really special emotion they are sharing with you.

When I could not go to nature, nature kindly came to me.

My life has been busy, hectic and stressful for the last few months. One of my problems has been that I haven’t had time to go find interesting things in nature to share.

But a wonderful thing about nature is that if you are patient, and observant, sometimes it comes to you.

The dogs were going berserk at something in the backyard yesterday morning. Usually, this is just a person next door. We try to quiet the dogs down and bring them in, because nobody likes to be the subject of a barking frenzy.

But when I looked out the back door, I saw what they were barking at.

Young mule, or black-tailed, deer buck.

It was a small family of mule deer who have been living in the neighborhood this fall. We’ve had deer in the backyards before, but it surprises me that they are in backyards this early in the season.

You can see Tegan, our black mutt, in the lower right corner. Zoe the Corgi is behind the bird feeders.
The buck is looking back at the doe, who is out of the picture to the left.

As the dogs continued their mad barking, I saw that there were a doe and a yearling in the next-door yard, as well.

The dogs refused to quiet down. I was going to go shoo them inside, but at this point, the buck turned to look at the dogs, his head lowered a little.

The doe is in the upper left quadrant. The yearling is very hard to see in the branches of the background.

Very deliberately, the young buck walked up to the fence to consider the dogs. This concerned me, because I know that deer can be aggressive when they feel threatened. What puzzled me was that the buck shouldn’t feel threatened, because he could walk away at any time, and the dogs couldn’t follow. And he knew it.

Young mule deer buck comes to the fence.

At this point, the dogs barking changed a little, and I noticed Tegan doing play bows. This was predictable. Tegan loves to play. She does play bows to the vacuum sweeper. Because she was bouncing around behind lots of yard stuff, I wasn’t able to get a shot of her doing this.

Buck taking it all in.

With the fence safely between them, the buck watched the dogs, unsure of what to make of them.

Lip-licking is a near universal sign of nervousness or uncertainty in mammals.

Three young animals of two different species that are normally antagonistic to each other considered each other for a few minutes.

But the buck decided he had seen enough, and ambled back to the doe and yearling.

And then, he effortlessly jumped the chest-high fence and moved on.

The fence is up to the buck’s chest.
But he rises on his hind legs…
…springs…
…and tucking his hind legs beneath him …
… is over the fence.
On his way to the next yard.

Nature redeems, once again.

I can go back to dealing with my problems, a little less frustrated.

Zoe the Mighty Hunter

Winter Storm Ulmer has been an incredible storm so far — we woke up to rain that quickly changed to sleet, then snow. The atmospheric pressure keeps dropping — Pueblo, Colorado, set an unofficial low pressure record already this morning, and it’s supposed to drop further.

But even in the middle of a bomb cyclone, animals gotta eat. And so we had a robin and a squirrel at the feeders this morning.

And there are those who must keep watch…

The feeder is in the top of the photo, Zoe is waiting in ambush behind the steps, as my husband took this picture from inside our sunroom.

We called her in after we took this photo. If an animal is trying to eat in this, it must be really desperate. And Zoe was glad to come.

Just after we took this shot, five hours into this storm, we had a significant peel of thunder.

Stay home if you can, and stay safe.

Zoe the Corgi’s First Day of Pet Therapy

Zoe turned two yesterday, and so we were able to visit the hospital as a pet therapy team for the first time today.

Zoes First day of Pet Therapy 2_edited-2

Don’t you just love the little corgi tongue sticking out?

I’m often asked what it takes for a dog to be a pet therapy dog. Requirements vary from program to program, but here’s the minimum for the pet therapy program at Lutheran Medical Center:

The dog has to be friendly to every person it meets.

It absolutely cannot growl, snarl or snap. If it does for any reason, it’s out.

It has to be well behaved — no jumping, lunging, or bark. Basic obedience is nice — sit, stay, settle, down — but not mandatory, as long as the owner has control of the dog at all times.

It can’t lick or give “kisses”. I know. I love them, too, but mouths are germy places, and that’s bad for people who are sick already. More surprising, it’s not dog hair that people are allergic to, it is dog saliva. It’s just that the hair has saliva on it. So, no licking.

It must be able to take a treat gently.

It must pass a fecal screening to make sure it is free of parasites.

And finally, the one Zoe and I have been waiting for, the dog must be two years old.

When Zoe first came to us (A little corgi dropped in and wanted to stay.), she was a little skittish around men and other tall people. Hats and umbrellas freaked her out, too. I can’t blame her for being nervous — she’d had a lot of changes in her short life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just a little worried…

But I could sense even then that she would be a great pet therapy dog if we could get her used to new things. So we started encouraging her to “say hello” to every person she came across. Treats may have been involved.

Zoe & Tegan_188-1.jpg

We worked on “no kisses” after Zoe got over being shy.

The end result was visiting the hospital, with all it’s strange sights, sounds and smells, and greeting new people, some of whom who wear floppy gowns — and loving it. I was ready to leave before Zoe was.

Zoe's first Pet Therapy day_edited-1

Why are we stopping?

Next up — being evaluated by other pet therapy program people to make sure I’m not biased or missing something. I don’t think she has any serious problems, but we’ll see…

Tour de Corgi

My daughter and I went to the 4th Annual Tour de Corgi festival in Fort Collins on Saturday. Tour de Corgi started a few years ago as a corgi meet and greet, and exploded into a major fundraiser for 4 Paws Pet Pantry, Low Riders of the West, and the Wyoming Dachshund and Corgi Rescue.

My photos don’t really do it justice, but I was having too much fun to take pictures. There were corgis everywhere. It was like seeing double.

Zoe meets her twin.

Zoe, center, meets her twin. Tegan is to the left.

Or triple.

Tour de corgi (3)

Zoe greets another new corgi friend.

Or hundred-iple.

Tour de Corgi Crowd

Hundreds of corgis and even more people met at Fort Collins’ Civic Center Park for a costume contest and corgi parade.

There were pounds of hounds and even more people.

Tour de corgi (4)_edited-1

Zoe was so proud to be surrounded by her people — er — pupple. Or something.

Zoe Amy Tegan Tour de Corgi

We brought Tegan along as a corgi groupie. She’s a mutt, but she might have a little corgi in her?

Tour de corgi (5)_edited-1.jpg

Zoe was a pooped pup by the time we left. She collapsed in the center of the car.

Zoe totally relaxed

Tired but happy, Zoe had a well earned nap when we got home.

The Gift Of the Dying Dog

Hemingway said that all true stories end in death. This, then, is a true story…

Autumn, 2011

My son wanted a dog of his own. We said no.  We already had two dogs. He only had two years before he went off to college. There was no point in getting him a dog that he was going to leave. I didn’t need to take care of three dogs.  The question was settled. We weren’t getting my son a dog.
Then my daughter started talking about a puppy at veterinary clinic where she worked. It was adorable, she said, a little corgi with big ears and inquisitive eyes.  And then she mentioned that it had been relinquished to the veterinary clinic because it had an incurable heart problem.  The clinic was trying to find somebody to take it so that its last days wouldn’t be spent in a kennel at the back of the clinic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The prognosis was not good.  The puppy had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) with reverse flow. Translated, patent ductus arteriosus means that a valve in his heart didn’t shut properly when he was born.  This open valve allows oxygen-poor blood from his body to mix with oxygen-rich blood from his lungs, diluting it.  Without treatment, dogs with this heart problem typically live just weeks to months.
By itself, PDA is fixable with surgery; the veterinarian would just operate and sew the valve shut. The problem is in the reverse flow.  In a small percentage of PDA cases, the blood vessels in the lungs thicken and narrow, causing the flow of blood to reverse from left to right, hence the name “reverse flow.” Once the blood vessels thicken, the veterinarians can’t shut the valve without forcing too much blood through the narrowed vessels. It would be like trying to force the flow from a garden hose through a straw – the extra blood would blow out the narrowed vessels.
But my family agreed that we couldn’t let the puppy live out its life without at least being able to lie in the grass, and watch the squirrels, even if he couldn’t chase them. And so we brought the puppy home. A Welsh corgi (are there any other kinds of corgi?) needed a Welsh name.  My son named him Darwin. It means “dear friend.”
A few days before we adopted Darwin, the veterinarian tried him on a new medication – Viagra, of all things.  Viagra was originally designed to treat pulmonary hypertension (“high blood pressure in the lungs” –  the problem causing the reverse flow).  Viagra just happened to have other, more profitable, side-effects. For Darwin, the drug changed his life from one of lying on his bed watching the world, to one of being out chasing those squirrels.  But we have no idea how long the improvement would last.
Darwin, of course, doesn’t know that he is dying. He’s a cheerful, active,
busybody. Every morning starts with him bouncing stiff-legged down the stairs, his ears flopping on each step. Then it’s time for a game of tug, or a ball-throwing session.  If you try to ignore him, he pops his short front legs up on your lap, drops the toy-of-the-day in it, cocks his head at you and let out an insistent Yarp! This is corgi for Hey! Play with me!
Once the game is over, he supervises getting everybody out the door to school or work, and then makes sure that the birds don’t get too comfortable on the bird feeder. After that, he rootles around in the garden, or barks at the neighbor’s dogs, flaunting his toys.
And he does flaunt his goodies.  He takes them to the back fence to show to the dogs in the yard behind us.  Once they are nicely frenzied, he tosses the bones in the air. La la lah la la!  What do I have here?  A bone!  Would you look at that?  Don’t you wish you had one?Darwin holding Kuramas leash ed 2
As everybody settles down for the evening, Darwin makes little piles of his toys, sorted by type: balls go in our room at the foot of the bed.  Bones go in my son’s room by his computer, where he can step on them when he walks around in bare feet. Prized chewy things go at the top of the stairs, where Darwin can keep tabs on the other two dogs.
He’s had a busy day.My Ball
Darwin has enemies, though. Cleaning utensils are a constant threat. He has reduced the kitchen broom to a fringe of bristles sticking out at every direction.  The vacuum sweeper is an angry menace, to be attacked on sight. The snow shovel has teeth marks on it where he has wrestled it away from us, saving us from some horrible fate.Darwin in the snow-09
Our feeling is that if Darwin has a short life span, we are going to give him every opportunity to experience the world. We take him on walks, to the dog park and on errands around town. As if trying to make up for time he won’t have, Darwin dashes toward everyone he meets, ears back and a smile on his face.  He proceeds to charm people as only a puppy can. The biggest proof of this is that the grandparents no longer ask about their grandchildren.  They want to know how Darwin is doing.Darwin in dog food bag-6_edited-1
But in the back of everybody’s mind lurks the knowledge that he won’t last.
Grasping at straws to cure Darwin, we took him to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The canine cardiologist there listened and looked and took blood. But in the end, she shook her head.  She could adjust Darwin’s medications so that he had more energy. But she couldn’t cure him.  He might live three to five years, seven at the most, but in the end, his body will become adapted to the Viagra, and the drug won’t work any more.  And he’ll die.
The knowledge of his shortened life makes our time with Darwin more precious.  And to make sure that they aren’t left out, we pay more attention to the other two dogs than we did before, too. In fact, the constant nearness of death makes us pay more attention to everything about life.
But it’s hard to stay glum about Darwin’s future when a twenty-five-pound fur ball jumps on your chest in the morning, gently placing a ball in your sleeping hand. You’re wasting the day! he yips. Toss the ball!
My son says Darwin has given him a gift. Darwin has taught my son that “Every day may be my last day.  But every day may be my best day.”
Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Just throw the ball!  

Darwin-2_edited-1

September 2017
Darwin lasted six years longer than anybody expected, living a full and happy life. Finally, though, his body adapted to the medication and his great heart gave out.
But Darwin had one last lesson to teach us: how to die with dignity. So on a cold grey September evening, we said good-bye to our dear friend.
Godspeed, Darwin. We hope there are balls to chase, where ever you are.Darwin on Apex-4_edited-1

What Friends Do, Puppy Play