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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Celebrating Twelve Years of Abbey!

Where on earth did the time go?

Little Miss Abbey just after we adopted her on October 12, 2004.

It's been TWELVE years since we adopted Abbey. If she'd been going into first grade when we got her, she'd be starting her freshman year of college right now. She's been by my side for a third of my entire life. She's help see me through severe depression, years of awful medication withdrawal, the onset of chronic migraines... It's seemed both like she's been in my life forever and that it's been only a few years since she joined our family.

Our first photo together.
We still like to tell ourselves the story of how we went to the shelter and all the dogs were barking except for one, a stray identified as Keta on her kennel card. Keta sat quietly and patiently, just waiting. "What about the brown dog?" my mom wondered. I went over to the kennel and knelt down at the door and Keta came up to it and I was able to stroke her little muzzle with my finger through the wire. We took her outside to a play yard to get to know her and we liked her, but we decided we needed to think it over before taking the step of adopting her. On the ride home, we renamed her Abbey and in our minds she became ours. My mom and I went to the shelter before it opened so we could be first in line, worried that someone else might try to get our dog before we did. But she was still there and we signed the paperwork that made her ours. "She's a real sweetheart," one of the kennel workers said. She was, and still is.

She's also fourteen years old now.

Abbey's hoop-jumping days are behind her.

When we got her, the vets estimated that she was a year and a half to two years old. After taking care of Curly the Puppy, I'm quite convinced now that she was definitely on the older end of the spectrum. While she was most certainly a young dog, there was nothing puppyish about her. Add a dozen years and I think it's safe to say that she's fourteen.

An old dog needs a place to rest her head.

No front room for you!
Fourteen is old for a dog. In some ways, that age has been reflected in Abbey's life this past year. There was the UTI, for example. Bladder infections are really common in older lady dogs because the sphincter muscles around the urinary tract weaken and bacteria gets in. Abbey's UTI was caused by E. coli and it took two rounds of antibiotics to defeat it. While it was still in the process of being treated, Abbey had a couple of accidents in the house out by her sunning spot in the front room and then she got kind of confused and started going to the bathroom out there. Once we figured out what was going on, Abbey was exiled from the living room and dining room until we could be sure that we had cleaned up every last drop and no scent was left to trigger her mind into thinking she should pee on the rug. For a dog who has always been exceptionally well house-trained, this was rather a shock for all of us!

Abbey's UTI antibiotics affected her behavior: for the first time EVER, she chewed on something she shouldn't have! As it so happened, it was an antique book that had been given to me as a gift...

This was Abbey's first basking day by the front windows after being forbidden from going into the front room for more than a month. She looks wonderfully content.

I was expecting that sooner or later Abbey's teeth would start giving her trouble, so when she didn't want to eat her kibble a couple meals in a row until it had softened in the water I always add to her food, I knew what was up and took her right to the vet. She got her teeth cleaned two weeks ago and was able to keep almost all of them: only three tiny teeth in the back needed to be extracted. Her breath, which had gotten ghastly, is now completely odor-free! I would have had her teeth tended to earlier, since I know halitosis is caused by diseased and infected teeth and gums, but I've been reluctant to have Abbey sedated unless it was absolutely necessary after last summer's sedation-related debacle. She did great when she was anesthetized to remove a mast cell tumor on her belly last December, but I was nervous about having any work done around her head. Fortunately, she only needed twilight sedation and was ready to come home about an hour later. I can start ordinary dental care again with a clean slate and she should never need more dental work done in her lifetime. She's back to happily eating her hard kibble!

Having had a mast cell tumor removed from her belly earlier that day didn't interfere with Abbey's winter sunning program.

Abbey, feeling slightly woozy, minus three tiny back teeth and a whole lotta plaque.

Cuddled up.
This was also the year when Abbey ceased to tolerate me being gone for extended periods. She'd always been a champ at waiting patiently, but not anymore. I think that the loss of her hearing was a factor, but for whatever reason, daily visits when I was dog-sitting weren't enough: Abbey needed me at home. It was when my mother came home one day and found Abbey standing on my bed, howling mournfully, that I made the decision to scale back on dog-sitting so I could be with her. The last thing I want is to cause my loyal companion undue stress and loneliness during her final years.

Sometimes a dog just needs her girl.

One of Abbey's fleas.
The most dramatic thing that happened this year had absolutely nothing to do with Abbey's age: she got fleas! In twenty-five years of dog ownership, we've never had fleas before, so it was a shock! I took Abbey with me one day when I was watering a client's yard while they were out of town and she picked up a few fleas while romping through the undergrowth. Fleas are bad enough, but the timing was terrible. I'd come down with a brutal throat infection just weeks before my sister's wedding, so instead of resting up ahead of the wedding and getting the programs done (I'd overseen the designing and ordering of all the paper goods), I was laid up in bed and trying not to cry out involuntarily every time I swallowed. It was while I was in bed with Abbey snuggled up against me that I figured out she had fleas--one walked off her and on to me! We did have the advantage that I knew exactly when and where she'd gotten the fleas, which had been precisely one week before. It meant that we were ahead of the next generation of fleas emerging, so I did a bunch of research and got to work. My dad picked up some Advantage from the vet and I'd applied it within a couple of hours of seeing that flea, but we decided that for my health and Abbey's, it was best to go nontoxic for everything else. We were thinking of having Fleabusters treat the whole house, but the first day they were available was first thing in the morning on the day before the wedding--in other words, bad timing. So we settled on salting the floors and since I was worried about getting the carpet treated before any new adults formed, I got down on hands and knees and did most of the first application myself despite still being sick. I was also washing Abbey's bedding every day (or at least running it through the hot dryer for half an hour), wiping her crate down with vinegar, flea combing Abbey every day or every other day, and washing Abbey once a week. Never before have I cursed Abbey's wonderfully thick, soft undercoat! I caught one flea with the flea comb and had another one abandon ship when I was flea-combing her after a bath, but that's been it. I think I can safely say now that the fleas are all gone.

"Hi! I'm happy because I just ran through a bunch of underbrush and got fleas!"

Turns out that dense undercoat is a real disadvantage when trying to rid your dog of fleas.

Abbey's just had yet another bath in this photo and is not very happy with me!

I want these feet to have feeling for as long as possible.
In the middle of all this--fleas, a bacterial infection of the adenoids, my sister's wedding--Abbey had a seizure. She hadn't had any tiny ones since she got her ears cleaned last summer, so I'd been hoping we'd solved the issue. This one was much larger than the previous seizures. I woke up at 3:00 in the morning because she coughed, which can be sign that she's going to throw up. I was out of the bed with a bucket in hand in a flash (I'm well trained), but she didn't throw up. She looked awful, though, like she was about to hurl any moment, but instead she suddenly threw back her head and arched it waaaaaay over her back in an extremely unnatural way, held it there, and when her head came back down, the whole front half of her body jittered in a way that I was unfortunately familiar with. The tiny seizures Abbey'd had before had been just a few seconds long and she didn't even know they happened, but she knew this time that something had gone wrong. She was restless and anxious for the next hour before she could finally calm down and go back to sleep. I informed the vet in the morning and then we were on "watch and wait" alert. Two weeks later, Abbey had another. This one scared me because right after we came back from a walk, one of Abbey's legs stopped working. Abbey's been experiencing some very gradual decline in function in her hind end over some years now and it's one of my big fears that the decline will go from minor to major. When I saw her leg collapsing under her as she kept trying to walk, I thought that time had come. Shortly afterward, though, she regained full use of both her back legs, ran up the stairs as usual, and jumped up on my bed for a post-walk nap. I decided that a trip to the ER vet wasn't necessary, at least not at the moment, and was replaying the incident in my head when I thought, "It was like the back right leg suddenly had a mind of its own," and then it clicked. In addition to her little "jitters" seizures, Abbey had had seizures that consisted of her tail doing something of its own accord, just as if it had a mind of its own. I took her back to the vet and explained that she was having these much bigger seizures and he thought it was almost certainly the flea meds, which had been my hunch, too. I was ordered not to give her any more (the timing was actually great because she was due for a second application in just a few days), to continue to use only nontoxic treatments, and to watch her carefully. If she didn't have another seizure in the next two weeks, the flea medication, which she'd never had before, was almost certainly the culprit. It's been more than a month now and she's experienced no further seizures, so I think we're in the clear.

Seizure free? We hope so!

There is some good news, though. The vet, when he did Abbey's most recent exam, said, as he's had in the past, that she's in great shape for her age and he'd never would have guessed at a glance that she's fourteen. He made me extremely happy by saying that as long as we kept on top of her care, it is quite possible that she could live to be as old as seventeen or eighteen. Having cared for a number of geriatric dogs in recent years, I can attest that she is doing well. Yeah, she's deaf, and she's got lots of little growths hiding under her wonderful coat and half a dozen lipomas lurking under her skin, and she doesn't like to play rowdy games much any more because if she gets going too fast and is bouncing too much, sometimes her legs go out from under her, and she sleeps a lot, and the other day I watched her make the conscious decision NOT to chase a squirrel that ran along the fence in front of her, but she doesn't have arthritis (thank goodness for that!), she's still mentally sharp, and she's still got a bright quality that old dogs lose in their final years. I know cancers can arise at any time and act swiftly, but despite UTIs and a couple of little rotten teeth and medication-induced seizures that have had to be dealt with this year, she's still my vibrant Abbey, always at my side, eyes alight.

Sometimes it's fun to run...

...but as she gets older, Abbey is more and more content to just watch the world (and squirrels) go by.

Being an old dog requires lots and lots and lots of sleep.

She still moves her ears around, but she can't hear anything.
Funnily enough, and I kinda hate to say this, Abbey's deafness has had certain benefits. It's made her much less anxious, since she can no longer hear thunder, fireworks, delivery trucks, the doorbell, or the vacuum. (Who knew it was the SOUND of the vacuum that triggered her antagonism all these years?) She's much more social, too, and is put out if she is not allowed to visit with company, which is just amazing considering how averse she was to strangers even just a few years ago. I think not hearing people's voices is a big factor in this new level of sociability. When we took her to the ER vet to get started on antibiotics the evening that I figured out that she had a UTI, despite being worried and not feeling well, she voluntarily approached the vet tech and asked to be petted, which is so different from how she would have behaved under the same circumstances in the past. The downside of her deafness is that if she's facing away from you or in a different room, you can't call her to get her attention and if she's asleep, you have to (gently) shake her to wake her up, but she's so adept at reading our faces that her responses to us are exactly the same as they ever were. Also, I've taught her hand signals for all of her old commands and after dinner, instead of playing a bouncy-pouncy game like she used to, she's always suggesting that we play what I call "tricks for treats."

Abbey uses her nose more now that she's deaf. Here, she's trying to determine who just came home by smell.

Puzzles are so much fun!
I am trying to keep her mind active in other ways, too. She gets her breakfast in one of two feeding puzzles (a Kong Wobbler and a Nina Ottosson Tornado) and I got her a new game, Chess by Trixie Pet Products, that's a little bit more challenging that she LOVES, even if she hasn't figured it out exactly. I make it more complicated by sitting with her as she does it and refilling the treat compartments so she has to keep hunting. I also put it up on a stool so she is forced to use her nose to open and close the compartments, which is trickier than doing it with her paws! I figure that keeping her mentally engaged and having fun will help prolong her life and ward off dementia. (Yes, dogs can get dementia!) Of course, her mind is pretty much always engaged because her primary occupation in life is to look after me. It's a little harder for her to keep track of me when she sleeps so much and is deaf, so I try to make it easy on her and not relocate to a different part of the house without getting her attention. I catch her eye, cock my head in the direction I'm going, and she's ready to follow.

The Wobbler.

The Tornado.


Chess is more challenging than the Wobbler and the Tornado, but she probably enjoys it the most of all.

"I'm so happy to see you!" sings Abbey.
Now we have come to the topic of what I love about Abbey. I love her loyalty and her sense of fun and her sweetness and the softness of her fur, but one of my favorite things about Abbey is her expressiveness. I've taken care of eleven other dogs over the past seven years, so I'm not simply biased (though of course I AM biased) when I say that Abbey is by far the most expressive dog I've met. Her face and her body and sometimes her voice all have a great deal to say. I love when she expresses an opinion with just her eyes, like the particular look she gives me when she wants me to get out of bed and come downstairs in the evening. I love the dance she does when she tries to entice us into playing a game with her after dinner. I love when she gently and briefly touches my leg with her nose, just checking in. I love when she drums on hard surfaces with her tail when she's happy. I even love the new saucy look that she sometimes gives me these days when she decides not to obey me! I love how she lines herself up beside me when she knows I'm going to be moving to a different part of the house. I love the way she yodels when she's happy to see someone. I love her vocabulary of head tilts, ducks, bobs, and tosses and the myriad positions of her ears. I love the way she stomps when she's happy. I love how she packs so much opinion into how hard to she bangs her nose against the pantry door, which is her signal (that she invented) for wanting to go out. I love how her face lights up when she sees me, especially if she has mislaid me, and her soft, gentle, tender expression of love.

A friendly face and wagging tail greet me at the top of the stairs.

This is what a content and drowsy Abbey looks like.

Abbey doesn't "smile" much--grins such as this one are rare.

"Why are you doing that?" wonders Abbey when she sees me kneeling on the path to photograph her from a lower angle.

A moment of goofiness.

"Hey," says Abbey, pausing in her basking to acknowledge my approach.

Demonstrating her patience and restraint, Abbey allows me to photograph her wearing a ribbon. She's not going to smile for the camera, though!

"Wherever you are going," says Abbey, "I'm going, too!"

Abbey has just banged on the pantry door with her nose and now stands, tail wagging, to see if her request to go outside has been acknowledged.

I know this look so well. "It's you, my beloved girl!" her eyes say.

I just can't get enough of her dear little face!

And here are the things that Abbey loves:

Curling up like a brindle bean in her bed.

Squishing into a really comfortable position on "her" couch.

Rearranging my bedding for maximum comfort.

Going on car rides.

Keeping up with her friends on social media.

Squeezing between the kitchen cabinets and the legs of whoever is standing next to them.

Collecting chew toys and using them as pillows instead of chewing on them.

Rolling around on her back and clapping her jaws when she's happy.

Basking in the sun.

Anchoring herself to a wall or a piece of furniture or the edge of the rug whenever possible.

Receiving belly rubs.

Helping out in the kitchen.

Sneaking bites of the forbidden ornamental grasses.

Eating peanut butter.

But most of all, she loves being with her girl.

And I love being with her.

The thing is, for these past seven years, I've been largely housebound. If I'm not dog-sitting, I'm at home. I live with my parents, but during the day, it's the two of us, me and my dog. She follows me up and down the stairs, watches over me when I'm in the kitchen from the comfort of her favorite bed, and settles herself outside the bathroom door when I shower. When I look up from the computer in my study where I spend most of my time when I'm feeling well enough to be out of bed, I can usually see her because she's on the pillow by my bookcases, in the hall between the doors of my study and my bedroom, or hanging out at the top of the stairs. If I can't see her, it means she's asleep in my bedroom, where I can often hear her peaceful deep breathing. When I'm not feeling well enough to be out of bed, she's either snuggled up against me or keeping watch by my bedroom door. At night, she's usually sound asleep in her crate at the foot of my bed or else on the bed itself. Unless there's some really good sunning to be had out by the front windows, Abbey is pretty much always within fifteen feet of me. And we interact all day long. I talk to her in my language and she responds in hers. A lot of petting goes on, much to the satisfaction of us both. In her company, I am never lonely. She gave me courage during the years when I was grappling with severe depression and she gives me company now that I must spent nearly all my days at home. Abbey, with her warm brown eyes and soft brindle fur, her patience, love, and loyalty, is a bright star in my life, shedding light (and a great deal of dog hair) over my world.

Dearest Abbey, dog of my heart.

May we seldom be separated (unless I'm trying to photograph the tulips without you sneaking around the corner to eat the ornamental grasses).

May you always be at ease.

May the final years of your life be full of sunshine.

I will carry you forever in my heart

You were meant to be my Dog and I was meant to be your Girl.