Friday, August 26, 2016

Three Strikes Should Be Enough!

If misfortunes come in threes, I’m done for this year.

First, my Walking Horse got caught on my fence, and suffered some scratches that required oral antibiotics, pain shots and daily water therapy for a week. Then my dog died. The third misfortune is the foundering of my paint pony, Jazzy.

Foundering is a very serious problem for horses. It results from a chemical and/or metabolic imbalance in the horse’s body that restricts blood flow to the feet. This can cause the lamina (the white line that attaches the outer hoof wall to the inner hoof capsule) to detach itself from the hoof wall. In severe cases, the coffin bone rotates and starts pushing through the foot.

My vet, Dr. Jason Coe of the Animal Clinic in Oneonta, told me last summer I needed to get some weight off her. How do you put a horse on a diet? I wasn’t feeding much grain, but my horses stay outside day and night, with access to their stalls in case of inclement weather. On his annual farm call in July, he was more specific. He told me to stall her at night, because that’s when the grass has the highest sugar content.

I tried that for a couple of days, then noticed she was walking stiff-legged. Dr. Coe said she was about to founder due to her weight, and instructed me to keep her stalled 24/7 for a week, give her a gram of bute (Phenylbutazone, for pain and inflammation) twice a day, and feed her a small amount of hay. My two horse stalls have no doors, and open into a 22x20-foot covered area that’s enclosed on two sides and has a gate at one end. So it wasn’t as if she were cooped up in a stall.

After a week, I opened the gate to her enclosure and she bolted out. Next morning,  she was in her rubber-matted stall waiting for me. That’s not unusual at feeding time. She was there that night when I went to put her up, though, and I noticed she seemed stiff again. This really worried me. “I can’t lose another animal,” I wailed to my other barn and pasture critters, who looked at me blankly. Coe said to put her up for two more weeks and continue the bute.

She lost about 75 pounds, but she got so bored, she started cribbing (chewing on any wood within reach). Within a couple of days, she had almost chewed her way out of her compound. The farrier took off her shoes and trimmed her hooves. With Coe’s permission, I turned her out in my arena that day to relieve her boredom. It has only a small amount of grass. When I walked her back to her enclosure four hours later, she could barely walk.

That’s normal after a hoof trimming, Coe said. He assured me it would get better. That night, I got a bad scare. I texted Coe at 7:09: “She’s down. Can you come or send someone NOW????”  My phone rang before I could pocket it. “I’ll come if you want me to,” he said, “but there isn’t much I can do.” He told me to double the bute dose that night and the next day, make some Styrofoam “shoes” to cushion her feet, and keep him posted. He also recommended putting coarse masonry sand five inches deep in the covered area outside her stall. 

Dr. Coe called the next morning to check on her. I called him about a week later to come out and x-ray her front feet.  Her coffin bones have rotated about 16 degrees. That’s bad. She has a 50-50 chance of pulling through this. If she doesn’t, she’ll have to be euthanized.

I added the sand, and she seems more comfortable. She stands up a little more. Dr. Coe said that’s good news. Any improvements will come in small increments. It’s going to be a long haul, and even if she recovers, she’ll never be a trail horse again. 

I can live with that. But it’s killing me to see her in pain.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Missing Moses

Moses two days after I got him, 7-8 weeks old.
The first time I brought Moses home was in a small, soft-sided doggie carrier that fit under an airplane seat. In a few days, I’ll be bringing him home for the last time, in a small hardwood box with his nameplate on the side.

He was 22 months old in this photo.

I fell in love with the American Mastiff when I researched large dog breeds on the internet. It was November, 2004, and my 15-year-old Yorkie had just died. Fredericka Wagner of Flying W Farms in Ohio developed the breed by crossing English Mastiffs with Anatolian Shepherds. I loved his black facial mask and the fact that, unlike other Mastiffs, he didn’t  drool. Wagner had a waiting list longer than my leg, so she directed me to a woman in Houston, Texas, who had purchased a male and female from her.

I don’t know how I came up with the name Moses, but it proved appropriate. Crowds parted when he entered a room. Yet the most he ever weighed was 115 pounds, nowhere near the 180- 220 pounds the breed can reach. Perhaps his weight contributed to his longevity.

My research showed that a Mastiff’s life span is 10-12 years, but my vet said it was closer to 10. I praise God for that extra year and a half. He was showing signs of aging, though. His black mask had turned gray, he got winded after short runs, and had some arthritis in his hips. I had to help him up onto my bed, and he’d growl when I lifted his back legs. He started sleeping under my bed. He chased rabbits in his dreams, or perhaps he was simply scratching, but his thumping would wake me. I really missing that thumping.

He was more than just a dog. He was my buddy and my protector. I felt safe with him around. For the first time since I moved here, I feel alone and vulnerable. 

Morning coffee and afternoon wine on the front porch aren’t the same without him lying nearby, his head propped on the bottom rail as if it were a pillow. I used to love coming home to the peace and quiet of my log cabin in the woods. My house seems so empty without him, despite having two other dogs. The silence is deafening.

I miss his exuberant greetings. He reacted the same whether I had been gone a week,  overnight or for a quick trip to the grocery store. He would bare his teeth in a smile that, if you didn’t know him, you would take as a threat. But his tail would be beating the air like grandmother used to beat her quilts on the clothesline. 
January, 2016: You can see how gray his muzzle was.

I miss his smell. Each of my dogs has a different smell, and I loved his best. I used to lie down beside him on the floor and stroke his face and soak in his unique odor. His sleeping blanket retained a faint hint of him for a couple of weeks. At the vet’s, I kept sniffing his paws, trying to get that smell to embed in my sensory memory. The pads of his paws were still soft, even though his body was rigid.

I haven’t had an animal’s death to affect me like this since I was a child. For the first two weeks, waves of intense grief kept rolling over me, and I would sob until my nose stopped up. I fell into a deep depression, and though I’m gradually pulling out, I still see the world in shades of gray.

I look at his feeder and cry. I hear the doggy door flapping and I look for him. I catch a glimpse of Major, my yellow Lab mix, out of the corner of my eye, and for a nano-second I think it’s Moses.

I no longer have to lock him in my office when my grands are here. He had been aggressive with Gabe, and I couldn’t take any chances. I can get new sofa cushions now. He had torn up my old ones, and my office carpet (down to the subfloor), with his “nest building.” I can leave chicken thawing in the sink, bananas and butter on the counter. I remember coming home one night to find an empty crock pot on the floor, the pork chops gone.

I have many precious memories of him. I don’t want to forget them, but I do wish I could remember without hurting.

“His spirit is probably out there running through the woods,” my friend Annette texted me. “He will be near you always.”

Yes, he will. But I just can’t touch him any more.

This is the one I chose for his urn.
December 26, 2010