No Fleas Allowed

Uschi had her annual checkup yesterday morning with Dr. Kucskar. $355.75 later she has a clean bill of health!

She checked her for fleas and found more flea dirt and a lone dead flea. We figure the K9 Advantix II is doing its job if there are dead fleas. The vet gave her a Capster pill to help eliminate any live fleas. I haven’t been bitten again since we’ve been home, so I’m confident that between these steps and my rigorous cleaning we’ve kept the little bugs from moving in for good.

I was very pleased with how well Uschi did at the vet’s. All of my girls have proven to be quite well mannered at the vet’s and in fact seem to enjoy the experience. I was complimented a few times at Parkside over Yara’s good behavior that even surpassed that of other working dogs who came in. However, Uschi puts both of them in the dust; she was totally unfazed by everything! Being a shepherd, she isn’t too fond of having things shoved in her ear so she did move a bit when the vet examined those. Otherwise, she was the picture of calm. She even gave an unprompted, long sigh when Dr. Kucskar was listening to her lungs!

And yes, she was duly admired for her cuteness. Everyone commented on how adorable she was and her beautiful markings. I think being colorblind I’m missing some big point over her coloring? Someone mentioned red in her coat — and thinking back it’s not the first time I have heard that. Anyway, she was adequately praised up and admired.

My uncle’s memorial was last night and my lasting memory of it will no doubt be that the minister came over at the reception to tell me how impressed he was with Uschi. He said that he often brings his dog to church and leaves him in the back, so he was glad that she wasn’t distracted by dog smells.

Dad also brought Yara, since she’s back on the Prednisone and urinating constantly, so the girls had a reunion of sorts. Yara stayed in the car during the service, but we brought her into the reception with us. Both girls were very good, lying under tables and ignoring each other. We were some of the very last to leave so when the majority of guests had left I let Uschi off harness and they got some crazy fun playtime. Linoleum is not the best surface for a game of chase, but they did pretty well regardless!

The one sad point of the night, aside from the obvious, was that I found out that Kerry Hawver passed away. I’ve known her since elementary school, we graduated together, and her younger brother Frank was one of my uncle’s foster kids. ;_;

Traffic

Uschi in harness, looking very serious, standing in my snowy driveway

Training today was pretty short since we were doing traffic checks. I always find traffic check day to be incredibly nerve-wracking, especially since I took a pretty good spill last time and then managed to slip and fall on my own driveway this morning. Anyway, Tommy came up to drive while Jason walked the route with me to prompt us on the appropriate time. Without a doubt, Uschi is the most sensitive guide I’ve worked when it comes to traffic, not only making a clean stop but often backing up quite a bit. Tommy joked that she actually “multi-tasked” a bit referring to a cat we came across that clearly distracted her, but she was still very mindful of the van turning in on her.

Both Jason and Tommy noted that because of Uschi’s incredible sensitivity they didn’t want to completely stress her out so we didn’t do an incredibly lengthy walk. Maybe two blocks or so, which did seem to take awhile to navigate since it’s so damn icy out! But even so I feel very confident in Uschi’s reaction to traffic and even during that short walk she was starting to display some avoidance, showing me nearly every house on the street and trying to walk me further up a few driveways. It was pretty amusing, honestly.

After all that we took a trip to City Hall to get Uschi licensed. The clerk who was helping us seemed to defy the physics of incompetence and somehow gave me a piece of paper that says I renewed Uschi’s license. But I have a tag and they didn’t charge me, so I guess that’s good enough. We also took a trip to Parkside Vet to start a file for Uschi and give them the necessary paperwork on her medical history and vaccinations. They also took an initial weight for her that neither Jason nor I agree with. But they weighed her twice to be sure and it still came out as 60 lbs. Jason said he personally weighed Uschi when filling out the “current” weight on her medical history form from the school and she was 70 lbs. I have to side with him because she definitely feels substantially heavier than Yara, who was 65 lbs at her highest. No way does this dog weigh less than that! Oh, well, I’m glad he was present for that initial weigh-in because I’d have probably fainted if I had another dog lose double digits in her weight. We’re blaming it on different scales for the moment, though I did point out that I weighed Yara on both and the result was similar.

Anyway, that’s it for today. Tomorrow we’re doing more inside stuff, including my mortal enemy: the escalator.

Parkside Good-byes (and Cupcake How-to)

Yara sitting next to her vet, Dr. Jackie Kucskar

For the most part, Yara’s last trip to Parkside Vet was a very good one. Aside from very nearly being trampled in the mad rush to grab a cupcake by the vet staff and Yara making a huge fuss while getting her nails trimmed. In fact, Yara exhibited a kind of elation that might lead one to believe her B12 shots are laced with LSD. She didn’t stop wagging her tail the entire time and this included the entire purpose of our visit: a rabies vaccine. She did find the lube on her rear-end to be a might disturbing and indulged in one of her less desirable habits.

I’m very pleased to report that Yara is a healthy 63.5 lbs and our vet was very happy with how good she looked, remarking especially that her coat appears wonderful. When posing for the above photo, Dr. Kucskar also remarked that after everything we’ve gone through in the last several years, she’ll really miss seeing Yara. And, possibly best of all, the entire trip only cost me $20. Even though she had a full exam and had her nails trimmed, I was only charged for the vaccine. I guess I should bring a cupcake bribe more often.

Speaking of the little pies, I’ve gotten a few emails about how they were prepared and a request to expand upon the ordeal of their preparation. If I had realized there was so much interest in how the various cupcakes I’ve made are done, I’d have made sure to do a photolog. Though, given the love for my kitchen floor these particular cupcakes had; maybe it’s for the best. But next time I’ll be sure to chronicle the steps with photos.

Anyway, follow the jump for some further details (or scroll down if you’re reading this outside of my website’s main page):

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Last Vet Visit

Saturday Yara had what was hopefully her last visit to Parkside Vet. Because she was still suffering from her allergic reaction last month when she had her annual checkup, I didn’t fast her and have the blood work done that was needed for some of the tests we wanted done.

Since her diagnosis in November 2008, Yara hasn’t had her TLI, folate or B12 levels checked. Her vet just called and informed me that, obviously, her TLI level shows that she’s EPI. But her folate is normal and her B12 is at 228, which while quite lower than normal is still significantly higher than it was when she was diagnosed. Given that she weighed in at 64 lbs, the highest she’s ever weighed, and is doing so well, the vet and I both agree that B12 injections aren’t necessary for her unless she starts exhibiting severe EPI symptoms or drops her weight drastically again.

So, basically, yay!

Yara

While I don’t feel the need to share every last detail of my life with the whole of the intarwebs, I’m not exactly a private person. So, the fact that this announcement is not news to a mere five people is saying a lot.

On June 17th I started the process to retire Yara and obtain a successor guide dog from Fidelco. It still feels incredibly surreal to me. Many of you who know me off the web and probably a good portion of you who do not but are familiar with service animals and our particular health struggles are most probably not surprised that this has been a decision I’ve mulled over for quite some time. Actually making the final decision and going forward from there was hardly easy. Not that retiring a guide dog is ever easy.

Aside from her health issues, I sincerely have no complaints about her as a guide. I won’t say that she never has a moment of distraction or doesn’t make a mistake now and again, but from that very first day in frigid downtown Schenectady when we took our initial steps together she has always been my partner. I don’t think I can adequately express it in words without sounding like I’m exaggerating or being boastful so you can believe me or not. So far as I’m concerned, she is without a doubt a wonderful match for me and constantly proves that she’s practically precision in harness and it is because of these things that retiring her nearly breaks my heart.

One thing that I have mostly kept to myself was how rough that first year was while we tried to diagnosis her weight-loss and assorted health issues. There were days that I would just break down and cry because here I had this amazing working dog and for whatever reason she was having accidents all over my apartment on a daily basis. I felt like a failure as a guide dog user because I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong that was affecting her so adversely. Worst of all, I felt I was being selfish for wanting to keep her as a guide and cruel for doing so when the reality of it could have been that she just wasn’t cut out to be a guide dog. At least not for me. I was so very near calling Fidelco and begging them to take her back at several points that I remain to this day shocked it didn’t happen. Especially when as I explained once before how she is when she’s being particularly stubborn about not eating.

In fact, it was only a few short weeks before she was ultimately diagnosed with EPI that my paranoia over being the cause of her issues was set to rest. I won’t say that the circumstances were especially ideal, but it was such a relief to voice the fear that Yara was possibly too stressed by the job and have a guide dog instructor calmly reply, “She doesn’t look stressed to me,” without missing a beat. And if my own inner-battle as a competent handler wasn’t enough to drive me towards the idea of giving up on our working relationship, there was also the months of going between Fidelco’s suggestions and my vet’s as to Yara’s health.1

Somehow, though, I muddled through it because I just kept coming back to the fact that she’s such an awesome guide dog. And, perhaps naively, I felt that things would get better. She would always have EPI, but once she was recovered and was back to a healthy weight it would no longer rule my life. Except, it totally does. The fact is I have taken off twice as much sick time from work because of Yara than I have for myself. Rather than call in sick, I went to work all five weeks I suffered from a horrendous viral cold last year because of the pressure from my superiors to not use my paid leave. I’ve gone to work with migraines because I have practically exhausted all of my accruals, which only serves to make the headaches worse through strain and stress. I don’t blame Yara in the least for this; she can’t help being sick. But that fact doesn’t make it less frustrating when she stubbornly refuses to eat for days on end and then is sick from not eating and not getting the proper dosage of enzymes in her system.

On top of this she’s also developed some severe allergy issue. My best assumption is that she’s reacting to something at my grandparents’ house, since both of her major attacks have manifested after we’ve spent extended time there. I realized after our most recent trip to the vet that I can no longer risk her health and can’t bring her to my grandparents’ any longer. And the moment that thought passed through my mind, I quite literally had to catch my breath. Many times through the years I have come across two major situations with my guides in terms of taking them places: I didn’t feel comfortable bringing them with me; or, I’ve been told that I can’t bring my dog to such-and-such place. With the first, it’s always been my own initiative to determine this and has more to do with my willingness to subject them to an uncomfortable environment for them (e.g., a loud concert) or me (e.g., a job interview) or a situation where I wouldn’t feel safe working them (e.g., Friday nights during college wherein I’d most assuredly get drunk while clubbing). On the second, I usually find myself responding that I most certainly can and am eagerly waiting for someone to try and argue differently. But never have I been limited by my dog itself in where I could take her. It was with this realization that I came to the conclusion that this partnership isn’t working.

There’s a lot of good, but the few negatives that exist are far too much to handle. If she were a pet, I think I’d feel differently, but because she is a working dog her health issues greatly impact my own ability to use her as a guide dog. I certainly can’t work a dog that is displaying signs of being ill, but as I live alone I have no one else to step in to care for her and I definitely can’t leave her alone for a day while she’s sick. Frankly, I don’t want to not work her and use a cane instead or leave her in someone else’s care since as her handler that really is my responsibility. Still, the fact is that when I made the decision to work with a guide dog I signed on for a healthy animal. The expectation is that the dog will be as dependable as a white cane. And while it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a guide dog will become ill anymore than a white cane being unbreakable, the reality here is that I have gone above and beyond a bit of give-and-take in this respect. I don’t regret any of that; not the money spent or the time off work or the endless hours stressing myself sick. But it has gotten to a point where I have given as much as I can and it’s time to admit there is no more left. And so, the best alternative is for both of us to move on.

This is a bittersweet event, though, because there are many things I am truly happy about. One, I will be working Yara until Fidelco finds a match for me and as it stands currently the earliest they will call is December.2 So, while her retirement is pending, it is still quite a ways off. I plan to soak up as much enjoyment from this fleeting time we have as I can. Two, while there is no firm answer as to where she will go once retired beyond the fact that I am not keeping her3 there are two very viable options for a superb post-retirement home. Either of which will allow for us to remain connected! I’ll natter on that later. Most probably when there is solid news to share. And, third, as difficult as it is to let go of a guide dog, it’s hard to not be excited about getting a new dog. Even if that is still a ways off, I’m still a bit giddy about the prospects of my next guide and making a new friend.

I was going to get into the specifics on the retirement/reapplication process, but this post has gotten a might long, so I’ll save that for a subsequent post. Instead, I want to end this with a very heartfelt thank you to the handful of people who have been “in the know” about this entire situation. I was hardly in the best frame of mind before this became official. I had many qualms about this and a list as long as my arm of questions that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get answered. And without those few ears and shoulders I probably would have shattered into pieces. But just as important was that these same glorious people were around after the decision was made to listen intently to my play-by-play of the most finite details and reassure me. Everyone should be so fortunate to have such a great support system as you. <3

  1. I won’t even get into the aftermath of her diagnosis here because just thinking about it sets my teeth on edge.
  2. I am not entirely happy about the very real possibility of training during the winter again.
  3. Much as I would love to, keeping her as a pet wouldn’t alleviate the issues of her health impacting my life. Also, as spacious as my apartment is, it’s not an ideal home for two big dogs.