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Tag: herniated disc

Settling in at the ancestral homeplace

I think my paper towels — flowery as they are — say it best.

We’re moved — not settled, but moved – into the apartment in Winston-Salem, N.C., in which my parents lived when I was born.

After 40 different residences in 10 states over 57 years, and  nearly a year on the road with Ace, circling the country twice, I’m back where I started.

Life, that is.

Here in the apartment in which I spent my first year — none of which I remember — we’ve still got a few weeks of unpacking/organizing/decorating ahead, but we’re getting comfortable (always dangerous). We’re back on the grid (always expensive). And we’ve got enough tiny bars of Motel 6 soap to last until 2015.

Returning to the ancestral homeplace was purely accidental. It was about the time Ace was diagnosed with a herniated disc. I started looking for a place that, unlike our mansion basement, didn’t require going up a lot of stairs. On an outing with my mother, who lives in Winston-Salem, I — seeking a better connection with my white boy roots — asked her to show me the apartment where she and my father lived when I was born.

When I saw a “for rent” sign in its window, it seemed to be fate – even though moving in, since it was unfurnished, would require reclaiming all the possessions I placed in storage 11 months ago, when Ace and I departed on our journey, and hauling them down south.

Moving day was also a homecoming for this desk (left), which my parents purchased on a trip to the mountains nearly 60 years ago, and which, when my mother moved into a retirement community, I took home to Baltimore.

It’s fragile, in need of repair, and I thought one more move would surely kill it, but it survived and now holds a prominent position in the living room in which it resided long ago.

That’s in College Village, an apartment complex when it was built in the late 1940s – in anticipation of Wake Forest University’s move to town.

It was built in a neighborhood – or what there was of one then – of far ritzier homes. And several longtime residents have told me there were objections to its construction at the time. All that affordable housing would lower property values, it was feared. My mother recalls a friend, back then, telling her, “You’re looking at the slums of tomorrow.”

Whatever feathers it ruffled, it was OK then — in the days my mother pushed my older sister down the street in this contraption (left) — and it remains OK now.

It’s quiet, very quiet, and pleasant, most pleasant, with lots of grassy expanses. Birds are constantly chirping, and chipmunks are everywhere. There’s also an opossum who’s not shy at all.

The housing units themselves are small and unassuming, but sturdy — made when things were built solidly, with plaster walls. I haven’t heard the slightest peep from neighbors — a pleasant respite from my nights in Motels 6’s, where, more than once, groans and slamming headboards kept me awake.

Still watching the old budget, I’m trying to settle in without spending too much money — buying bookshelves from Wal Mart, my sheets from K-Mart, and hitting Target for my high end needs. It’s amazing how it’s impossible, even at so-called discount stores, to walk out having spent less than $100.

Unpacking, at first, was a little like Christmas, for I’d forgotten about many of my possessions during their time in storage. After a week, it has gotten old, and I’m down to mementoes and junk. and it’s all I can do to get through a box a day.

I wonder if, when I do get everything unpacked and put away in another week, that will be the time the urge to hit the road hits me again. If so, this time, I plan to ignore it — well, mostly.

Ace, who doesn’t like the noise involved with unpacking, likes to sit outside while I rip through boxes, amid the big oak trees, probably about my age, that line the street.

He seems to enjoy watching the squirrels feast on the dropped acorns, which pile up in mounds. He doesn’t chase the squirrels — unless they start to do that running around the tree trunk in circles making squeaky noises thing, in which case he’ll rush over like some overzealous lifeguard to get them to knock it off. He’s content, otherwise, to just watch them sit on their hind legs and nibble away. After a few days watching, he tried an acorn himself. It wasn’t to his liking.

Although there have been one or two more painful yelps since Ace finished up a second round of the medicine for his herniated disc, he seems this time to be getting better.

I’m not sure if he’s up for any more long trips, and I guess, as I try to read his mind, that he’d prefer hanging around and meeting the dogs and humans in the neighborhood. He’s still up for short trips though, eager to get in the back of the Jeep, which he’s no longer permitted to do by jumping. The handicapped ramp is part of his new routine.

He has met two dachschunds who live a few doors down, but not the Chihuahua a few more doors down, who I’ve been told is not one to toy with.

Conveniently, there’s a bar and restaurant half block away, where my mother says there used to be a grocery store. Next door to it, there’s a gym I have no intention of joining, and in the basement, according to a sign on the window, ballroom dancing is offered. ( I checked with Ace and he’s not interested.)

The restaurant’s a little pricey, so when I visited I just ordered an appetizer — one whose selection may reflect the fact that, though you can take the boy out of the south, and the boy out of Baltimore, you can’t entirely take the south, or the Baltimore, out of the boy:

Crab hushpuppies.

I will tell you this much, hon. They was some goo-ood eatin’.

Now you see him; now you don’t

The mansion whose basement I’m living in has a big back yard, and in that big back yard is a big swimming pool, covered with a big black plastic tarp.

Ace likes to venture deep into the ivy behind the pool to do his business, and he’s always careful to avoid the pool on his way back.

Yesterday — and I blame the Valium — he didn’t.

As I watched — I’m monitoring him closely because he has been diagnosed with a herniated disc – he finished up and started walking straight for the pool. As I yelled “NOOOOOO!,” or words to that effect, he stepped right onto the black plastic tarp, which, unable to hold his 127 pounds, split, causing him to fall into the pool with a huge splash and disappear.

As far as scary moments in our continuing travels, it was right up there, second only to when, while I was holding his leash, he jumped over the railing at Niagara Falls, landing on a patch of grass that led to a sheer unprotected drop off into misty oblivion.

Fortunately, he jumped right back over then. And fortunately yesterday, his head almost immediately popped back up through the same hole he went through, and it was close enough to the side that he could drape his front paws over the edge of the pool and cling to it with a look of panic in his eyes.

On doggie swim days at Riverside Park back in Baltimore, Ace only went into the big boy pool once, preferring to wade in the baby one. When he did try the big one he was unable to get out. It took me and two friends to hoist him up and over the pool’s edge.

Yesterday, thanks either to adrenalin or the harness he’s been wearing instead of a collar since his diagnosis, I was able to pull him up enough for him to be able to get his back paws on the edge of the pool. I pulled, he pushed, and within a few seconds, he was out.

At that point, either invigorated by the cold and slightly green water, or just happy to be alive, he took off, darting around the yard for five minutes over my protestations. He’s supposed to be limiting his physical activity.

Once he calmed down, I noticed how bad he smelled and, with a public appearance scheduled for tonight, a bath was in order. In the middle of that, fully soaped up, he took off again, running in circles around the yard.

His herniated disc seemed far from his mind. I feared the incident would lead to a relapse, but all day, as in the past two days, it appeared to be bothering him less and less, and the yelps have ceased.

Between the tranquilizers and the the NSAIDs — and despite an unplanned morning swim in a yet to be opened pool — I think he’s making progress.

I haven’t yet told the lady of the manor about the damage he did. Earlier, she offered me the job of pool boy, if I end up staying into the summer, which would certainly look good — unlike the actual pasty and balding, pot-bellied, 57-year-old pool boy would himself — on the resume.

Now I may have no choice, needing to work off my debt for the torn tarp. How’s this for a deal? If you pay me extra, I’ll keep my shirt on.

Serenity? I second that emotion

Ace’s Valium is really working for me.

No, not in the manner you might assume. I am refraining from sharing his stash. Nevertheless, I have calmed down – because he has calmed down.

When I get on the floor next to him, or even glance at him there, it’s as if the drug is somehow passing into me. Seeing him more comfortable makes me more comfortable, just as hearing his yelps put me on edge.

By way of background, I took Ace, 6,  to the vet last week after, a few days earlier, he began yelping every time he made a sudden motion. A herniated disc was the diagnosis, and the course of action recommended by the vet was NSAIDs to relieve the inflammation and doggie valium — Diazepam to be precise — to keep him unnaturally calm during the two weeks of bed rest prescribed.

I’ve heard of some negative side effects associated with NSAIDs and dogs, and I’ve never been big on pharmaceuticals that mask symptoms and alter moods, but the conservative – and least expensive – approach struck me as worth trying first.

The effect was almost immediate. Ace had been restless, pacing slowly and holding his head carefully, as if anticipating another burst of pain. His tensing up made me tense up, which made him tense up more, which made me tense up more.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed before – how our emotions and moods tend to play off each other and snowball.

Say a big scary bug comes in the house. I, upon seeing it, will jump up and reach for a magazine, shoe, or other instrument of death. Even before I jump up, though, Ace, even if he hasn’t seen the bug, mirrors my startled (assuming the bug is scary enough) reaction, almost as if he can sense, like a pending earthquake, my heart rate increasing from the other side of the room.

There’s a kind of emotional synchronization that occurs between dog and owner – and maybe it’s true of any two beings that co-reside, even spouses.

In our duality, we find a oneness, to the point we think we can read each other’s minds – and often we react based on that.

When Ace is happy, which is usually, it makes me happy, which makes him even happier, which makes me even happier. One of the things at the root of our love for dogs, I think, is that spiraling contentment and joy. Of course, the same is true, at least with Ace and me, when dog or human are unhappy.

Our dogs are a reflection of us, and we are a reflection of our dogs.

This reflection stuff gets reflected on a lot in my book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” which recounts the history of cloning dogs and its emergence as an industry that, in the view of critics, exploits the grief of bereaved pet owners.

One of the reasons losing a dog is so tough – on top of it bringing an end to all that respect and admiration we see in their eyes, all that loyalty and unconditional love – is, I think, that we see ourselves in them.

Cloning our dogs – as some people are doing – is not just a futile attempt to skirt death, but also, it can be argued, an attempt to recapture one’s own youth, via a puppified version of their own dog. When the old mirror dies, we can get a new, genetically identical one – one that looks exactly the same, but has the added benefit or making us feel younger when we look into it.

How dogs reflect their owners is the subject of another new and fascinating book, “Your Dog is Your Mirror,” which we will get around reviewing soon. (Those of you who visit ohmidog’s dog book page may have noticed it’s a bit behind, and doesn’t even include my book.)

Written by dog trainer Kevin Behan, “Your Dog is Your Mirror,” puts forth the theory that a dog’s behavior is driven by its owner’s emotions — that dogs respond to what their owner feels, even when the human isn’t aware they are feeling it. Behan says dominance – or being the pack leader — is not the key to dog training. Instead, it’s understanding what emotions you, the human, are passing on to the dog.

It’s the heart — more than dominance, treats or anything else — that connects dogs and humans.

Sometimes the dog helps carry your emotional baggage. Sometimes, as with Ace’s current situation, you try to help it with what it’s carrying.

For now, controlled substances are giving us a hand, providing Ace and me with a symbiotically snowballing sense of serenity. Yes, it’s somewhat artificial. And yes, I worry that the drugs will make him feel better before he actually is, leading him to attempt things he shouldn’t attempt.

So we are staying mostly in our current temporary lodgings — a mansion basement in North Carolina. He is under orders not to romp. So I shan’t romp, either. Instead, we’ll limit our outings. We’ll pop the occasional pill. We’ll read, and watch TV,  and watch each other, the way we do, having plenty of time for some quiet reflection.

Ace’s diagnosis: A herniated disc

Ace apparently has a herniated disc – a condition his temporary veterinarian hopes will go away with several weeks of rest, a ban on strenuous physical activity, some anti-inflammatory drugs, and multiple daily doses of doggie Valium.

Seeking to solve the mystery of the periodic yelps he has been emitting the past few days, we paid a visit to Ard-Vista Animal Hospital in Winston-Salem, where Ace – after two days of being poked and prodded by me – was poked and prodded by someone who actually knew what he was doing.

It was the first time, other than our stop in Santa Fe to get updated on vaccinations, that Ace required medical attention during our travels – ten months during which he has probably jumped in and out of the back of my Jeep Liberty 3,000 or so times.

There’s no knowing what caused Ace’s disc to herniate, but I suspect that’s the culprit, which is easier to say than I suspect I’m the culprit – for I’m the one who dreamed up this trip, I’m the one who repeatedly says, “Getinthecar, getinthecar.”

Veterinarians – the one Ace visited included – make a point of telling owners of dogs so afflicted that it’s probably nothing they did, that it could be genetic. But guilt is like an old faucet – even when somebody tries to turn it all the way off it still drips.

Drips.

Drips.

I’d felt the guilt even before we got to the vet, back three days ago when Ace, who is six, first balked at jumping into the car. I ordered a ramp the next day, and it came today, about two hours after we got the diagnosis — and thankfully before I had to lift him into the car, in which case we’d probably be talking about two herniated discs right now.

We arrived at the vet early, after a morning in which Ace’s behavior turned even more bizarre. He followed me everywhere I went, toilet included, and sat at my feet, peering sadly into my eyes. I’m not one to put words into the mouths of dogs, but many of us dog people receive messages whether they’re being sent or not, and the one I was getting was, “This pain I’m experiencing – the one I refuse to let on where it is (because, after all, I’m a dog and can’t talk)? It’s getting worse.  Is there nothing you can do about it?”

Uncharacteristically, he didn’t jump up on the front counter at the vet’s office, another sign that something was wrong. I passed along his history, and they weighed him in – 127 pounds.

Dr. Raymond Morrison ran his hands along all of Ace, moving his legs, testing his joints, none of which produced a yelp – only a couple of mild growls. When he pushed down on Ace’s head though, Ace yelped, just as he had when I did the same thing the night before.

Dr. Morrison’s diagnosis:  A herniated disc, something that’s not uncommon in either little dogs, like dachshunds, or big ones, like Rottweiler’s. With Ace it appeared to be a disc located near the neck. The vet opted for conservative steps – a Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (or NSAID), administered once a day. Despite having heard of some pretty bad side effects from NSAIDs in dogs, I agreed.

The drugs and bed rest might possibly take care of the situation. If they don’t, and his pain continues, he’ll need to get x-ray, CT scan  or MRI and be evaluated by a neurologist. Surgery is a possibility.

A herniated disc is a tear that allows spongy material to escape from the disc and protrude into the spinal canal, like jelly oozing out of a jelly donut. By pushing on the spinal cord, it causes inflammation, resulting, in Ace’s case, neck pain. In more severe cases it can lead to weakness and a lack of coordination in the limbs, loss of bladder and bowel control, and paralysis.

Based on the diagnosis, there will have to be some lifestyle changes – some temporary, some permanent. No more jumping in and out the car. No more jumping in and out of my bed, at least not for several weeks. No more collar around his neck; instead we’ll use his harness. And for the next two weeks, no frolicking, no wrestling, no playing – except for perhaps a quiet board game.

Well be laying low in the basement, during which time I’ll likely continue to ponder that grey and squiggly line between pampering and over-protecting one’s canine and  letting a dog – ala “Merle’s Door” — be a dog.

Just now, eight hours after our vet visit, six hours after administering medication, we stepped outside. Ace, for the first time in several days, gave his body a full shake, and crouched into a play stance, full of life. All his guardedness about moving his head – at least for a moment – was gone. As Dr. Morrison said might happen, he was raring to go, wanting to play and seemingly feeling no pain.

“That’s just the Valium talking,“ I said. “No playing. Stop being joyful.” He obeyed, and started looking sad and droopy again.

With that I grabbed his harness (his collar being garbage now) and, like two stoop-shouldered old men, we walked slowly back to the house.

At least for the next few weeks, I plan to err on the side of being over-protective.