Yara (& Eli)

One of the casualties of the switch over to a Mac was I went a few weeks without all of my programs installed, specifically all my Adobe software like Photoshop and Dreamweaver. This was good in that I didn’t spend my nonexistent free time playing around editing images or breaking making new websites. It was less good in that I also had no real ability to go through any photos I’d taken, which meant I wasn’t posting any photos.

Anyway, long story short, I came across these photos of Yara from Easter:

I only have these two because all the others included or were solely of Uschi who was apparently was still channeling all her playful energy because she’s just as much a motion blur in those as all the shots I took of them playing. I should have just taken a video, but at the time I couldn’t remember how to do that on my camera. (Note to self: Use camera more so this is less an issue in the future.)

Related, Yara has a new little brother! A few days after these photos were taken my father officially adopted a German shepherd rescued by a North Carolina shelter named Eli. The fact that he shares his name with a very beloved mutt we used to have when I was growing up was probably enough to melt my dad’s heart, but what solidified it was finding out that he was surrendered because he has EPI, like Yara. The whole thing is a rather involved story, but I’m happy to say he’s been settling in pretty well. Uschi and I have yet to meet him what with my Dad living in the Middle of No and Corner of Where and the fact that Eli’s still recovering from being very emaciated.1 Not to mention he’s basically a puppy and, well, in her own way so is Uschi. :-)

  1. The vet figures he’ll top out well over 100 pounds; he was 43 when he arrived at Dad’s.

Addendum

I rambled so nonsensically yesterday that half of what I intended to ramble about didn’t get mentioned. I’ll likely do the same today because while I’m far calmer I’m still relentlessly neurotic about that thing I can’t talk about. Also, I am cryptic.

Anyway, the biggest thing I didn’t mention was this article on the Health and Wellness blog at The New York Times about EPI. I am so thrilled that this article has seen the light of day because it is really big exposure for EPI. I can’t stress enough how important it is to spread awareness of EPI because that lack itself is one of the largest hurdles to deal with. And even among those that are familiar with the condition, it’s still one that is mostly associated with German shepherds, however, it is not exclusive to the GSD or even just to dogs!

Yara and me lying in the grass togetherI sincerely hope you take the time to read the article, but even more I’d appreciate it if you would share the link with others and help increase awareness of EPI. And, if you’re in a particularly generous mood, there are a bunch of fine products you can purchase that will benefit EPI research and the campaign to spread awareness, including, but not limited to the 2013 calendars which features this lovely photo by Red Cottage Photography. (Thanks again, Mike!)

Speaking of guide dogs, I also neglected to mention my sort-of-kind-of resolution for next year to really get guide-dogs.org off the ground. I know I’ve been saying that for, well, awhile, but in my defense I need to eat and so unfortunately things that actually help with that need took priority. Also, there was that whole pain issue. But I still have everyone’s contact information who voiced any interest in helping and I fully intend to pester those people relentlessly. Along with anyone else who wants to help out!

Oh, and I also totally forgot about the pain stuff. Well, honestly, there’s not too much to report. My new doctor remains awesome and she is in total agreement with me about not prescribing drugs with crazy side-effects just on the off chance they might help. Unfortunately, she’s exhausted any ideas beyond that and so has referred me to a rheumatologist. My appointment isn’t until after the New Year, but frankly at this point waiting is the least of my issues. As far as I’m concerned it may well be fibromyalgia and everything we’re doing is pointless because there really isn’t anything that can be done. But I’m relieved that my new doctor is on board with me and isn’t taking that diagnosis as the ultimate answer. The stiffness in my fingers is what concerns her the most, which was something my previous doctor didn’t seem to think was much of an issue at all. Personally, I’m really fond of the ability to use my hands and those few weeks where I couldn’t even bend my fingers to hold a coffee cup were almost worse than the few weeks I was in so much pain I couldn’t move.

Pupcakes

It seems everywhere I look lately there’s someone touting their cupcakes made for dogs! Bettie’s Cakes has their “puppie cuppies” that Uschi is quite a fan of. Sloppy Kisses has a wheat-and-corn free cupcakes that Yara can eat! Even Sprinkles has one! Given all the cupcakes I make it’s no wonder that one of the most frequent questions I get asked is about homemade dog treats even though it wasn’t until last year that I specifically made my own “pupcakes.”

Since Yara was first diagnosed with EPI I’ve had a few people call me out for being a “dog food snob.” I’m certainly not the last word on dog nutrition, but I have done more than my share of research and I’m certainly far more knowledgeable on the subject than I was before having a dog with digestive issues. Yet, while I’ve become quite the advocate for feeding raw, I couldn’t help but feel baking for a dog seemed like too much of a fad and I just couldn’t see the point. Granted my pet dogs all had more than their share of people food so making anything specifically for them would have been absurd. Dolly was always so distracted by food that such an effort would have been largely a waste since her allotment of treats was small and infrequent.

Anyway, since I first made them, I’ve had few things be requested more than those pupcakes. So, much to Uschi’s joy I made a huge batch:

"Pupcakes" in yellow liners topped with peanut butter sitting on a cooling rack

As you can imagine, Uschi was very pleased by this. Oh, and no, there was no specific reason they’re in yellow liners other than the fact that I seem to the most excess in that particular color.

Trials and Triumphs

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a genetic condition where the pancreas does not produce the necessary enzymes required to digest food and absorb nutrients causing starvation regardless of the amount of food taken in. For further information and other resources on EPI I highly recommend visiting epi4dogs.com because my knowledge comes entirely through my experiences with Yara. Much of which has been chronicled here on my blog.

EPI is highly treatable, thankfully, but to say the entire thing was a struggle is truly an understatement. Yara has a penchant for stubbornness and from practically the moment she entered my life her choice method to showcase this was refusing to eat. Looking back it’s hard not to focus on all the mistakes that I made. Signs of her EPI were present from the moment she entered my life; her bowel movements were a tan color and always disproportionately large in comparison to how much she ate. Our instructor assured me that this was normal and so I never gave much thought to it. At her first annual checkup she got a clean bill of health, but had dropped an alarming twelve pounds! The weight loss continued steadily over the next three months, which was certainly baffling but not exactly alarming. Other than a noticeable increase in her bowel movements and an occasional bout of diarrhea or vomiting Yara seemed fine.

Portrait of me and Yara on a white background; Yara is standing beside me with my arms wrapped under her bellyThroughout this I was in constant contact with Yara’s school, Fidelco. They were very sympathetic, but hardly alarmed by the weight loss. They offered a bunch of suggestions that included adding everything from vitamin supplements and probiotics to canned dog food and raw beef to her daily meals. At her peak Yara was eating what amounted to more than nine cups of food a day! The addition of the raw beef ignited the first undeniable symptoms of EPI; Yara’s stools morphed into a bright yellow “cow plop” and she started vomiting almost daily. It was exactly the worst thing she could have had in her diet, but I’m strangely grateful that we did because it alerted everyone to how serious things were. Still, it would take nearly two months before she was formally diagnosed. She had a battery of different tests run and they all returned normal results; in fact, the GI test that determined her EPI diagnosis initially showed that she was “marginally” in the range.

By that point I was fully on board with whatever the vet told me. Yara was clearly sick! She never was as ravaged as some EPI dogs I’ve seen, but her ribs were clearly visible at the height of her weight loss. (This photo is the best example I could find.) A fact that the general public made me aware of almost constantly. In fact, there was even a formal complaint made to Fidelco! I tried not to take it as a personal offense when they sent a trainer out within a few days to check on things while for months before they were made aware of the entire situation at every interval and had been completely nonplussed.

The resounding memory of these six months is the amount of stress I was under. I felt pressure from Fidelco to take their advice against my own better judgment or that of my vet’s. This greatly influenced the length of time it took to diagnosis Yara. On the rare occasion that I didn’t side with the school it was made abundantly clear they felt that decision was the root of the problem. I had changed her food, for instance, so that might be the culprit because she was used to the other food. Admittedly, I took a substantial amount of time off because of Yara, but my superiors at work were largely unsympathetic. The level of passive aggression and outright punishment directed towards me probably only furthered my own health issues with chronic migraines. So, when I needed time off because I was sick it was a Big Problem. And I got no respite because everyone from my family and friends to outright strangers made it known how bad things were. People made a point to remark about how thin Yara was and suggest ways to offset this. (“I think you need to feed her more.”) On countless occasions I was accosted in public about my “obvious” abuse; one woman actually dragged me by the arm while literally in the middle of crossing a street to yell at me!

Portrait of me and Yara on a white background; Yara is in harness, lying on the floor beside me, resting her head on my kneeWorst of all was my own personal struggle. I scoured every possible resource for anything that might help. Perhaps she was sensitive to chemicals and so along with her various food alterations she drank only purified water. For months. I changed all of my cleaning and laundry supplies to green products, which I admit I had wanted to do anyway because of my migraines. I went so far as to replace all of her bedding, including a very expensive bed, thinking that she might have an allergy (which she does but that’s a whole other story) and began a long process of eliminating things one by one to determine the cause. But with every change that netted no resolution I kept coming back to one constant: me.

Part of me couldn’t believe that this was possible. I rejected the notion that I was the problem by reminding myself of her nearly flawless work in harness. But every time she refused a morsel of food or had an accident in the house I became just a bit more convinced that she was stressed out by her job. I felt like a rotten human being; I was selfish to want to keep working her and cruel to continue to do so if she wasn’t cut out for this life. Mostly, I felt like a failure. The partnership was faltering and I couldn’t fix it. I was increasingly convinced I was doing something wrong, but proud enough that I wouldn’t dare admit it. Friends tell me they guessed as much, but I never told anyone how bad it really was for me or how close I came to calling Fidelco to take Yara back. To this day I can’t tell you what stopped me. I could say I didn’t want to give up, but I did. I could say that I didn’t want to be parted from her, but that’s hard to believe when every room in the house is covered in dog sick.

Obviously it wasn’t all for naught and we made it through all of this. Yara’s recovery was very swift and though I did eventually retire her because of her health issues it actually had very little to do with any of this or the fact she has EPI. I’ve since remarked on how profoundly she impacted my life in her short working career even though we had more than our fair share of “downs.” Not that I want to repeat it, but I don’t regret the struggle. For all I know it only made the bond we shared even stronger. Mostly, it made me appreciate all the positives we had. Sometimes it was a way to distract myself from how miserable things were and other times that focus was the driving force behind figuring it all out. Together, we accomplished so much!


This post was written as part of the fifth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Achievement” and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.

Déjà Vu

Yesterday, Dad called about Yara. She had been vomiting and having loose stool all day, though, otherwise she seemed fine. I chalked it up to an EPI flare-up, which Dad confirmed was plausible since it was likely she could have gotten into something given the current state of chaos his house is in presently thanks to new window installation. Anyway, I advised him to give her a bland dinner and see how she was in the morning noting that it was possible she would still vomit some and/or have loose bowel movements. So long as it’s a decrease and she isn’t acting lethargic, it’s pretty routine stuff for an EPI dog.

I couldn’t help but feel bad about the whole thing. I’ve been through three years of her revolving health, but this is Dad’s first foray into the symptom flare-ups and the unpleasant by-products. I think if I were honest, the clean bill I kept hearing from him only worried me more that this was going to happen. It was bound to.

Anyway, I don’t have to feel too bad about her being sick because this morning Uschi decided to give me a local demonstration. Yup. She had diarrhea. A lot of it. In her crate. For no reason that I can tell. And honestly, I’m rather shocked that she didn’t try and wake me up. She certainly hasn’t had any problem before waking me up at ungodly hours of the morning to take a break outside.

I am a bit concerned about this only in the sense that she did have her normal two bowel movements yesterday. And this was quite a lot of stool. But I think perhaps while she loves peanut butter a great deal, it doesn’t love her back and she before bed I did stuff a bit in a bone for her. I don’t know. But aside from picking at her breakfast, she seems fine otherwise. So, I’m trying not to worry.

I just can’t express how exhausted I am when it comes to canine health issues. I can feel that heavy curtain of stress settle over me and I literally could break down and cry. I keep reminding myself that for each of the dogs it was probably an isolated incident and hardly serious.