The cycle of life…

My kitty Guido has spent the past couple of days coming to work with me at the vet hospital.  He just hasn’t bounced back from this apparent kidney infection the way he should have.  Yesterday, although his kidney enzymes were back down to normal, an ultrasound revealed some fluid in his abdomen.  It was enough to warrant having the radiologist/ultrasonographer come take a closer look.

I have a fairly extensive medical vocabulary but honestly all the details of today’s findings from the ultrasound are kind of a blur.  There was nothing definitive but it seems it is a choice between one fatal disease or another, most likely some form of cancer.   The ultrasonographer said we could do an exploratory to determine the diagnosis for sure but the veterinarian that I have known, worked with and trusted for nearly 25 years said that none of the possible scenarios were good ones and it would be highly likely that we would not wake him up once we found out what was wrong.  We could do it; it was up to me but in the end it seemed rather academic to put him through the stress of surgery at 14-1/2 years of age just to decide which really bad disease he had.

Guido 8-22-13
Guido has lived a good life.  He’s never been to the vet before last Saturday for anything other than routine wellness exams, dental cleanings and the like.  He never missed a meal until this past Saturday morning but it’s clear that his quality of life is not good now.  He’s better than he was on Saturday but not himself.  So, I brought him home to spend one more night and tomorrow I’ll take him to work with me and let him go.

While I am extremely sad I’ve had enough pets and have worked in veterinary medicine long enough to know that one of the kindest things we can do for our beloved animals is to let them go with dignity when it’s time.   We are fortunate that we have the ability to relieve suffering.  I’m grateful for that just as I’m grateful for the life that Guido lived and the joy that he brought to mine.   It is all a part of the cycle of life.  Good kitty, Guido…you will be missed.


My name’s Guido…wanna buy a watch?

I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday morning, ready to get Pippin, my hiking gear and head to Pedernales Falls State Park to catch the sunrise.  Unfortunately, Guido, my 14-1/2 year old cat had other plans.

Guido, who has never missed a meal in his life, was nowhere to be found.  Typically, he is tromping around the bed and over and on top of me whining about being fed.  I called…no Guido.  I searched and finally found him hiding under the bed looking pretty pathetic.  I pulled him out and took him to the laundry room to feed him; he’d have no part of it.  He went and curled up on the sofa and didn’t move.  Hiking trip canceled, a trip to the vet revealed a kidney infection so he was treated with fluids and antibiotics.  His improvement has been slow but he is eating small amounts each meal and drinking–making progress. 

All this has had me looking back over Guido’s life.  He and his littermates were found in a dumpster by a client of ours.  She bottle-fed them until they were about 4 weeks old and then Guido came home with me.  He was a firecracker from the start and earned the nickname, “The Incredible Flying Sarducci Kitty”.  He thought my Doberman, Gretchen was a carnival ride.  She was old and spent a good bit of her time sacked out on her side on the floor.  Guido thought it was great fun to run from her head along her side to her tail and back again.  She tolerated it with great patience but would look at me with this look that said, “Seriously?  You want me to raise another kitten?”

Guido was a thief.  He stole so many things that we used to joke that if he was a human he’d be on a street corner somewhere saying, “Hi, my name’s Guido…wanna buy a watch?”  He stole baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene at Christmas and baby Jesus was never seen again.  My sister came to visit and had some of those little white cheese balls in her suitcase.  The next day they were gone–every single one of them–I found them three or four weeks later underneath the sofa.  He just wanted to play with them.

He was always getting in to something.  My parrot Cowboy learned to say, “Quit that! Put that down!  Stop that!” all from listening to me yell at Guido.  One of his favorite things to do was to chew up AC adaptors.  Back when I actually had a landline I went through three AC adaptors for my phone in a single week.  I finally stopped him by putting heat shrink tubing on the wire.  The trouble was that I had to get fairly large tubing so that it would fit over the plug end of the adaptor.  There was no way that it would shrink down to fit tight against the wire so I ended up with this strange, uneven tube hanging down from my phone to the wall plug.

Guido 8-17-13_02He’s mellowed over the years but he still gets on a tear from time to time, ripping through the house like a 12 lb rocket.  It’s hard to think of him getting old.  I’m grateful for many things when I think of Guido.  First, I’m grateful that he seems to be recovering from this infection.  I’m also grateful for all of the joy and laughs he has given me over the years.  Our pets bring so much to our lives and I’m so grateful for all that Guido has brought to mine.  Good kitty, Guido.

The bed lump…

I’ve had an assortment of Italian cats over the past 30 years.  I loved to tell people that they were Italian Longhairs as if they were some exotic breed.  They weren’t…just your average stray cats.  It started out with Mafia, so named because we wanted him to be tough enough to defend my dear, sweet, harmless June Bug from the feral cats that lived around the barn.  He wasn’t particularly tough but he was a great cat.  After that there was Aldo and then the two Guidos.

This story, however, is about Aldo.  In 1991 I moved to Austin with Mafia and my Border Collie, Bruiser and had purchased my first home.  Aldo came to live with me the day I closed on the house.  He was only about 8 weeks old and a typical, playful kitten.   I had no furniture and can still remember him zooming up and down the hallway darting in and out of each room. 

As he grew he loved to lie up on the toilet tank in the morning and watch me put my makeup on.  I’m not quite sure why that was so fascinating but he did it every morning.  Fortunately, he never offered any critique of how I looked.

When he was a few years old I rented out my house and moved out to my friend Bill’s place for a year to take care of his house, dog and horses.  By then there were three cats; Bruiser had passed on but I had my Doberman, Gretchen.  Bill lived in Dallas but kept the house as a weekend house.  I could live there for free in exchange for looking out for things; the only stipulation was that the cats couldn’t come in the house.  No problem for Mafia, who had been a barn cat, but Aldo had never slept outside and neither had Guido (the 1st). 

I kept them in a big crate to get them used to the place for the first week but sure enough, Aldo and Guido disappeared about 24 hours after I let them out.  I was heartbroken.   The house was on 5 or 10 acres with a lot of woods and we walked everywhere looking for them.  They were nowhere to be found.  Three days later I heard some meowing in the woods behind the house and there was Aldo.  He let me pick him up and was happy to be fed but he was pretty freaked out.  He hung around after that but he mostly hid in the woods and got to be about half wild.  Sadly, Guido the 1st never came back.

A few months before I was due to move back into my own house I got married.  We moved into the garage apartment on the property while we were waiting for the lease to run out on my house.  Every now and then my husband and I would sneak Aldo into the apartment but he wanted none of it.  He would frantically pace back and forth in front of the door until we’d let him back out of the house.  When we packed up to move back I wasn’t sure that Aldo was going to survive the 20 minute car trip.  He was in a crate but was so stressed he was practically hyperventilating by the time we got to the house.  My husband was skeptical.  “How in the world are we ever going to make this cat a house cat?”, he’d ask.  I wasn’t so sure myself but I was determined to give it a try.  My neighborhood was no place for a roaming cat, especially a frightened one and I certainly didn’t want to leave him behind.

I let him out of the crate when we got into the house and he transformed.  He walked out of the crate, jumped up on the sofa, curled up in a ball and went to sleep.  He immediately went back to being the sweet, affectionate cat he had been before he had been uprooted.  My husband was stunned.  “Who is this cat and what did you do with Aldo?”  I didn’t have an answer but it certainly solved my dilemma.

He was still an odd cat.  He was afraid of strangers and anytime we’d have company or the doorbell would ring he’d make a beeline for the bedroom.  He could slip his way up under the comforter on the bed in the blink of an eye and except for the lump in the middle of the bed the comforter was not an inch out of place.  It was a sight to behold.  We took to calling him the “Bed Lump”.

The Bed Lump

The Bed Lump

After my marriage ended I took in another kitten which eventually came to be called Guido the 2nd because he was so much like the first Guido in personality.  He and Aldo were big buddies and you could generally find them asleep in a pile together.  Aldo got to where he wanted to sleep on my pillow, practically on top of my head every night.  It got so bad that I had to start shutting the cats out of the bedroom at night.  Aldo didn’t seem too put out but it thoroughly pissed Guido off and he would literally yowl and fling himself up against the door all night long.  I took to sleeping with a box fan running right by my bed to try to drown out the sound of a 10 pound cat going thud against the hollow-core door.  I had visions of him backing up to get a running start, I think he was convinced that eventually he’d be able to break the door down.  He never stopped until Aldo was gone and I could start leaving the door open at night again.

Aldo and his buddy Guido the 2nd

Aldo and his buddy Guido the 2nd

Aldo had been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy when he was about a year old.  He did really well on medication and was still going strong at 13 years of age.  Then one day I got a call from one of our vets that they had picked up some unusual results on his annual bloodwork.  He had lost a little weight (Note:  his other nickname had been Fat Aldo and I think he lived on a reducing diet the last 11 years of his life) but other than that and his heart murmur he seemed healthy.  Turns out he had a rare form of cancer and within three months he was gone.  He had lived a good life and I just couldn’t see putting him through chemotherapy when the odds were it wouldn’t be curative or give him more than a few extra months.

Aldo was a great cat and never ceased to be entertaining.  He taught me a lot about cat behavior and about the love that a cat can bring into your life.  Good kitty Aldo…I’m grateful.

It’s just a cough, isn’t it…?

I have been the Hospital Manager at Westgate Pet & Bird Hospital since April of 1994.  I have been a client even longer—since 1991.  During that time I’ve had quite an assortment of animals many of which have had some significant health issues.  Over the years I’ve come to understand the importance of diagnostic testing and routine wellness labwork.  Many times this has helped to diagnose a serious health threat in its early stages thus allowing me to give my pets the best possible quality of life.

A few years ago my beloved Border Collie, “Jake” developed a cough.  At first I didn’t think too much of it but when it persisted for over a week it was time to get it checked out.  Dr. Davis gave Jake a thorough examination and recommended that we take some x-rays of his chest.  She indicated that we could treat the cough symptomatically however, because of his age (12 years) it would be wise to rule out something serious and the x-rays would help us do that.  I’m so grateful for that recommendation!!  The x-rays revealed a tumor on Jake’s lung—something that was not even on my radar screen.  A consultation with a board certified radiologist confirmed the diagnosis of a primary lung tumor – something that is quite uncommon in dogs.

Needless to say I was heart-broken by the diagnosis.  What was going to happen to my buddy Jake?  What was the best and most humane course of action to take?  Was surgery an option or would I be putting my pet through a painful procedure only to have him die from the cancer a few months later or have to be euthanized due to poor quality of life?  So many things to consider as I tried to decide what was the most loving thing I could do for Jake. 

After consulting with the doctors here at Westgate that I have come to trust so much over the years we decided that a consultation with a surgeon was in order.  Dr. Brandt put in a call to Dr. Kerpsack at Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital who gave me very straight-forward and valuable information to help in my decision making process.  He indicated that, without surgery his cough would worsen to the point where it would make his life miserable.  He also said that, while the surgery would not be curative that, depending on the type of tumor Jake could have good quality of life for 6-12 months after the surgery and that the most common type of tumor held the best (and longest) prognosis.  He said that he would be hospitalized for 2-4 days after the surgery in order to control pain and that the challenge for most dogs was keeping them quiet during their recovery period.

So, Jake was scheduled for surgery the following Monday, less than a week after his diagnosis.  Dr. Kerpsack called me just before the surgery began and two very long hours later called to say that Jake was in recovery and doing well!!  He said that the tumor was much smaller than what he normally sees and that there was no sign that it had spread to his lymph nodes.  This was great news!  We had caught the cancer very early which meant that the prognosis for a longer, quality life was good.  Once again I had to thank Dr. Davis for her recommendation of that x-ray that helped provide that early diagnosis. 

Jake Post-op

Jake resting up after coming home from his surgery — did I mention one of the instructions was no jumping? Jake…what are you doing on the bed!

Two days later Jake was on his way home from the hospital with instructions for “no running, jumping or playing” for two weeks.  As I walked Jake into my house with him bouncing up and down on the end of the leash I knew this would be a challenge—he was already more energetic than he was before the surgery!  Within three more days his cough was completely gone.  Soon he was back to his old lively self and you’d never know that he had a life-threatening disease.   Jake didn’t live forever; but I was given the gift of an additional 8 months of good quality life with my dear friend for which  I will always be grateful :-).  Good dog, Jake!

Turkey bird…

I’ll never forget the day that the injured Eclectus parrot came in to the animal hospital where I work.  His name was “Turkey Bird” because he had been hatched on Thanksgiving Day the year before.  He belonged to a breeder who had put him in with a female to mate.  The female Eclectus are known to be somewhat aggressive and she apparently wanted no part of that.  “Turkey Bird” ended up with his lower beak ripped into three pieces.

The breeder couldn’t justify spending a lot of money on him; the prognosis wasn’t great and he didn’t think he’d be able to sell him if he did make it.  Plus, there were concerns as to whether or not he’d ever try to mate again after the trauma.  Rather than euthanize him he decided to relinquish him to the clinic in the hopes that maybe one of the employees would take him and try to fix him up. 

I had just lost the last sick, abused bird that I had brought home because the owners didn’t want to spend any money on him.   “I’ll take him”, I said.  “What do we need to do for him?”  That’s how “Turkey Bird”, now “Cowboy” came to be a part of the menagerie. 

Two surgeries later he ended up losing the middle portion of his lower beak.  Essentially, he has tusks now.  He ate mush for about a year and a half but then he figured out how to work those tusks to break up all kinds of hard foods.  So, despite appearances Cowboy is a happy, healthy, normal bird. 

I was concerned at first about how Cowboy would get along with my Doberman, Gretchen and the two cats.  I need not have worried.  Any thoughts that the cats may have had about having Cowboy for dinner were quickly put to rest the first time he took out after them and chased them off of their favorite sleeping spot on the back of the sofa.  The first time Gretchen put her pointy nose down to investigate and Cowboy pecked at it she wanted nothing more to do with him. 

Cowboy is a delight to have around and often provides comic relief.  Like the time I came in from the garage where I had been testing the smoke detector and he yelled out, “Fire, fire, save the bird!!!”.  Now, I had taught him to say that but how he knew to say it right then is beyond me.  Sometimes when I’m talking on the phone he must feel left out.  He’ll start having his own little conversation; not repeating things I’m saying but just talking, “Well…so…how ’bout that!…sure…ha, ha, ha”.  I’m not sure who he’s talking to but it sure is funny to listen to. 

Then there’s the time he was in my office and one of my receptionists buzzed back: 

“Mr. Smith is on line one”
“Yes, Mr. Smith is on line one”
“Judi?  Can you hear me?”

About that time I walked up behind my receptionist and she realized that she hadn’t been talking to me at all.  I wasn’t in my office, but Cowboy was!!

There was the time I was up sick in the middle of the night.  I had finally gotten up out of bed and was sitting in the dark on the sofa bent over double from a stomach ache.  From the other side of the room I heard a little voice, “What’s the matter?”.  Awwwwwwwww!!!  It didn’t make my stomach stop hurting but it sure did make me feel better.

Cowboy loves to take a shower; so much so that if he’s loose in the house and I’m taking one he will walk down the hallway and into the bathroom yelling, “Shower? … Shower.”

Cowboy preening himself after his shower.

Cowboy preening himself after his shower.

I must say I was shocked at how attached I have become to this entertaining little green bird.  He has an amazing vocabulary and he does and says some of the funniest things.  I love him dearly.  And, as he would say, “Cowboy’s the best bird in the world!”

Devil dog…

Pippin 16

What me? It must have been the cat!

As hard as it may seem when you meet the sweet, loving dog that Pippin is now, he turned into the devil at about 12 weeks of age.  I have trained my own dogs all of my life and I have to admit it…I was at a complete loss as to what to do with this incorrigible, stubborn puppy.  What was I thinking??  It had been years since I’d had a puppy, 29 years to be exact…why didn’t I just get another Border Collie from Border Collie Rescue of Texas?  The last one had been a wonderful dog!

Nevertheless, I loved the little devil and wasn’t about to give up on him.  And, lucky for him he was adorably cute.  When not in his crate he lived on a 25 ft. leash tied around my waist to keep him from running rampant in the house.  He was good in a crate but he couldn’t stay there 24 hours a day.  He would occasionally take after me like I was some big, two-legged sheep biting at my feet as I tried to walk down the hallway.  Every time I would reach down to pick him up he would bite at me.  Oh, he never bit like he was serious about it but those sharp puppy teeth could still hurt.  And for such a smart dog he didn’t seem to learn very quickly that it didn’t stop me from picking him up anyway.   I remember thinking to myself, “This is why so many dogs end up in shelters.”  Not that I ever entertained that idea for Pippin.  No, I still loved him dearly and this was a commitment I had made and I needed to do right by him.

I had a friend living in my spare bedroom for a few months and he loved her.  He would run to her gleefully when she walked in the door like she was his savior or something.  Complete strangers?  He loved them too.  But me?  I was the one who insisted he behave, stopped him from trying to chew on everything in sight, made him sit, lie on his bed, kept him from tormenting the cat…I was convinced that he thought I was the devil too.  I remember vividly the night that I burst into tears on the living room floor crying, “I just want my puppy to let me pet him without trying to bite me!”

To make matters more difficult he couldn’t have cared less about food.  “You have to find a really high value treat”, trainers would say.  Ha!  There were no treats that Pippin considered more valuable than getting in to mischief and half of them gave him diarrhea.  The one thing that Pippin did love was his toys.  I had never had a dog that really cared much for toys and it took me a while to figure out how to use that to my advantage.  Pippin was (and still is) obsessed with toys.

I had taken him to a few K-9 Nosework classes but hiding treats for him didn’t really seem to motivate him.  Then I found a book that talked about naming toys and hiding those instead of treats.  That was the beginning of a transformation for Pippin.  He had a job.  It takes him less than a minute to learn any given toy’s name and if that toy is hidden he is on a mission from the time you say, “Pippin, where’s Frodo?  Go find Frodo?” until he finds his toy.  The only thing I have to be careful of is that he’ll ransack the house in his search.  He’s now up to about 25 toys that he knows the names of.  He can find them hidden in the house, buried in the back yard, up in trees — even in the dark.  We’ve started working with a trainer on trailing — one of the methods used by search and rescue dogs — and turns out he loves finding people too.

A sampling of Pippin's toys and their names.

A sampling of Pippin’s toys and their names.

So aside from turning into a good companion and a wonderful hiking dog Pippin now has a “job” to do and with a lot of work and even more patience I can honestly say that he is no longer the “Devil Dog”.  I am grateful…

Jake and the treat cage…

Jake was a delight to be around.  I got him from Border Collie Rescue Texas but he was far from a “rescue”.  A happy, well-adjusted dog, he was about 8 months old when he came to live with me and my old Doberman, “Gretchen”.    As far as Jake was concerned every day was a great day to be alive.  He would wake me early every morning by bounding on the bed as if to say, “C’mon Mom!  We’re burnin’ daylight”!!

Jake loved life and pretty much everyone he ever met.  On days when I knew it would be difficult to get home at lunch Jake would come to work with me at the veterinary hospital I have managed for many years.  He was perfectly content to stay in the cage in the hallway not too far from my office.  He wanted to be close to me, right?  Hardly!  The cage was just outside of the hall to the exam rooms and my technicians, who loved him dearly couldn’t resist feeding him treats all day long.  Jake had it figured out.

Every morning we’d arrive and Jake would go flying, gleefully down the hallway to what became known as the “treat cage”.  He would then proceed to bounce up and down in front of it until someone would let him in.  Periodically, throughout the day I would take him for a walk behind the clinic.   The minute he’d get in the back door he would go streaking for the treat cage.  You could leave the door wide open and he’d stay right there just waiting for someone to come by and give him a treat.

Until the day.  That horrible, horrible day.  They moved the treat cage into the grooming room.  Jake, as usual went zooming down the hallway to where his happy little haven had been and it was nowhere to be found.  I was not too far behind him and he came running back to me with a look of panic on his face as if to say, “Mom!!!  The treat cage!!!! IT”S GONE!!!!!!!!”

I’m not sure coming to work for Jake was ever quite the same after that.  Oh, he was still a happy dog.  Every day was still a great day to be alive.  But staying in the newly relocated treat cage just wasn’t quite as much fun.  Or, at least not as fulfilling for his stomach.

I am so very grateful for Jake and dogs like him.  They teach us powerful life lessons about living in the moment and finding pleasure in simple things.  Good dog, Jake!