Old and New Friends

Copyright 2008, Randy Strauss

Background. I didn't want a dog- my wife and kids did. One Friday evening in April, 2002 they dragged me to see a 3-year-old rescue poodle, showering me with promises that they'd take complete care of her. When we met her, my family was uncertain, but I knew we had to take her home. The following Monday, at the height of the tech bust, I was laid off, beginning a 2-year period of unemployment. Lambda and I became fast friends. (We named her Lambda ostensibly after the particle- my then 10-year old son B was into such things. Since my wife didn't allow joke names, I kept my mouth shut for 2 days! After that, I would ask people if they knew why we named her that. "Because she looks like a lamb, duh!")

Now, 4 years later, I'm 50 and my two boys are just turning 13 and 16.

Last Spring, I noticed Lambda slowed down. She still raced around at times, but not as much. Over the summer, this continued. She still often ran and was eager to chase squirrels, but wouldn't run and chase other dogs for more than 5-10 minutes.

In December, I started a new job that demanded long hours while my wife gave up her part time job. I could no longer walk the dog twice a day, and especially run her with the other dogs in the morning and evening, but my wife could walk her most days.

One Saturday morning in January, we did one of our usual 2-mile walks. After about a mile and a half, she slowed down, dragging behind me instead of walking ahead. A week later, when she didn't recover, I took her to the vet. Our $315 visit included a blood test and x-ray. She had a high white-cell count (indicating probable infection), and borderline hemoglobin and platelet levels (possibly suggesting auto-immune disease, or maybe it wasn't a problem- it was in the normal range, just low.) An x-ray showed no sign of arthritis. The vet gave us an antibiotic and told me to bring her back in a week for another blood test.

In a few days she was perking up. Instead of taking her back right away, I decided to supplement her diet for another week, giving her an egg a day and a few chicken livers daily. At the end of the next week, she was much better. We were busy and she was improving, so I decided to just keep her on the regimen.

At the end of the next week, she seemed to be skinnier, and still had moderately low energy. I then asked my wife and kids how often they'd been filling her food bowl- never! She wasn't eating. I held off the supplements for a day, but still, she wouldn't eat her food. So I gave her some canned food we had stored away and kept her on the supplements.

Toward the end of the third week, she slowed down even more and her abdomen started to swell. My wife brought her into the vet and an ultrasound revealed pervasive cancer in the spleen, some in the liver and a few pockets elsewhere. Since it had spread, surgery ($2500 or so) was ill-advised. The vet thought she wouldn't live through the weekend. Her abdomen was swelling because her spleen was leaking blood- she'd get weaker and weaker.

She made it through the weekend, but just barely. Tuesday (Mar 11, 08) morning she began to be visibly uncomfortable, so our family said good-bye to her and I took her to the vet one last time. After a quick injection, she passed quietly, calmly, and quickly.

The house was strangely empty and quiet, while full of memories. We missed our friend.

It seemed especially important for the kids to move on. B didn't want to dwell on the past. J, however, was taking it hard. He's been having some illness as well, so while he was home, he searched the web for a dog.

Leah's parents got a dog, a poodle mix, from the animal shelter in Santa Cruz in January. The dog had had a brother- was he still there? Since B's school had a day off on Friday, they decided to drive down there to visit Leah's parents and stop by the shelter.

Meanwhile, J found what he thought was the perfect dog, a Wheaton Terrier named Poppy, at the Companion Animal Rescue Effort. We could meet him Saturday morning, at a pet fair. (We did not get her.)

Friday my phone rang about 2pm. Leah and the kids had fallen in love with a miniature poodle at the Santa Cruz shelter. It was a boy, not a girl, but they wanted to bring him home. Could they?

When I got home, around 8pm, he was happily curled up with J in his room. And he was scared of me. He was very, very tentative about even taking a treat from me. So I settled in to the challenge of naming him.

It was tough- we must have gone through a hundred names or more. At most, 3 of us liked any name. When Leah tried "Jupider", he came running! B didn't like the name, but surprising us all, he relented.

Saturday we went to see Poppy. She's not a Wheaton Terrier, but some other sort of terrier mix. But she seems like a wonderful dog and we wanted to take her home. J is busy and won't have too much time for her, but Leah said she'd cope.

But the rescue people thought it was unwise. Poppy's very active and physical, Jupi is skittish and tentative, and not yet comfortable with us at all. If Poppy came home with us, he'd dominate the household and Jupi might never settle in. Plus Jupi was miserable and lonely at the shelter, while Poppy is happy at a foster home. J was sad, but understood. The rescue people will keep in touch with us, and we'll see how Jupi adjusts in the next 2-8 weeks...

It's Sunday, and Jupi's still skittish around me. That's ok, he tolerates me, I'm committed to working longer hours this year and this is the kids' dog. And we'll give him some time.

Note that standard poodles are expected to live to be 12-15. We heard the ones with tighter curls (like Lambda) often have more problems. Miniature poodles are a heartier breed, often living to be 18 or 20 (a lot longer than I had planned to own a dog, but since when does anyone care about Dad's plans?) Hopefully this one will be healthy.

The drama isn't quite over yet. It turns out Jupi has kennel cough. After a trip to the vet yesterday (a 2-hour wait, and $90 for the non-weekday visit, plus something for the antibiotic), the cough seems to be better, but he still has low energy.

Today I picked him up and brought him into the kitchen. Leah noticed in passing that his parts were a little red. After a minute on my lap, I noticed a bit of color on his fur- he had emitted a bit of blood! Another $90 visit to the vet (and 90-minute wait by my wife) revealed nothing...

While my wife was at the vets with the dog, my younger son fell asleep. Upon waking, he seems to have a 101' fever- this in a kid who had pneumonia in December, missed two weeks of school earlier this month for a sinus infection warranting two more rounds of antibiotic, and had another malady- perhaps dog/stress related- that kept him out of school last week...


Note: the Artificial sweetener Xylitol is fatal to dogs. (Article: Two breath mints almost kill a dog, by destroying its liver.)
Other things to avoid: Alcohol, chocolate, macadamia nuts, coffee, avocado, onion, grapes