Living in the Liminal Space

Well, it’s been awhile. It’s been a year of ups and downs and changes and feelings and adapting, and while I haven’t been much in the writing mood I think it’s time for an update.

First, we lost Pip in July, shortly after my last post about him. I miss him. He was just a really good, easy, sweet old soul.

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Second, Maisy tore her second cruciate ligament and had surgery to repair it at the end of June. So her summer was spent recovering and rehabbing (she’s fully recovered and back to normal now).

Third, I was contacted about the possibility of taking Squash’s littermate brother, Aspen, who was being retired from Hillside Huskies, a small recreational racing kennel where he had been living since he was a puppy.

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Baby Aspen (photo by Amanda)

I had a lot of feelings about this, many contradictory. When I was first contacted, Pip was still with us. I very much did not want to add stress or disruption to his life, and I really didn’t know how much time he had left. He’d already outlived all the predictions and I was hoping he’d continue to pummel the odds even though it wasn’t likely. And frankly, it felt wrong to be thinking about the next dog already.

BUT, it’s no secret that Squash is just about the perfect dog for me and I’ve often joked that if someone were breeding them on purpose, I’d have Alaskan Bulldogs forever. By all accounts, Aspen’s personality was very much like Squash’s with one important addition – he was a great mushing dog with good drive for the sport, and already trained to boot. So it seemed like an opportunity too ludicrous to pass up.

BUT, Maisy. Maisy, who adores puppies but is very selective about whether she wants to be friends with strange adult dogs or throw down with them. Maisy who does seem to have mellowed over the years, but…

It is kind of a blur in my memory, but as I recall it went like this: First I said no. Then I said yes. Then I said no, this doesn’t feel right. Then, after Pip was gone, I did some soul searching and said yes again with a promise that I wasn’t going to flip flop anymore IF Maisy got along with him. I was committed.

And so, I found myself for the second time driving to Ohio to pick up an Alaskan Bulldog. This time I had Squash and Maisy in tow and I was fully prepared to leave Aspen-less if my girl didn’t like him. But, she did. Or at least, she didn’t immediately NOT like him. She barely even acknowledged him, really, which for her is a win. So the next day we all piled into the minivan and came back to Minnesota together.

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He’s been a delight.  He’s an amazing joring dog and we’ve been doing a lot of bikejoring both alone and with Squash or Maisy, although I haven’t been brave enough to try all three together yet. He and Maisy run beautifully together, and he has the size and strength to force a work ethic on Squash. He’s sweet as can be and fitting in great with the other dogs. I’m pretty sure he and Squash share a brain. He’s still overexcited about the cats and learning to tone himself down with them, but he’s not dangerous or predatory towards them. He’s a good fit for me, I really like him and I’m very happy that he’s come to be part of our little family.

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Still, I can feel myself holding back a little bit emotionally. I know part of it is losing Pip and gaining Aspen so close to one another. It’s just a lot to process and it’s been hard to let myself be fully happy about the latter on the heels of the former. But if I’m honest I think part of it that I’m afraid to let myself get too attached. I haven’t been fully confident in my ability to successfully integrate a new dog into my existing household; that part of me took a pretty big hit after Toast left (who is doing great in his new home btw). Some days it seems easy, and some days it seems like a lot. Like so much. Like something I’m going to fail at again.

So here I’ve been sitting in the in-between space with change and uncertainty, the twins at the boundaries. Love them or hate them, they’re going to usher you across that threshold from what things were like before to what things can and will be from now on… if you let them. I’m going with a few butterflies in my stomach, but I’m trying real hard to trust that we’ll all make it into the next space together.

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Coming into the End Zone

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After Pip had his spleen removed and we got the pathology report back, I promised him that he would never have to take a bath again. It seemed like a reasonable promise since the prognosis was about as bad as it gets; the metastasis rate for hemangiosarcoma is described as “approaching 100%.” The only thing we didn’t know was how long we had, but by most estimates somewhere around two to three months. Once the initial disappointment and hurricane of grief had passed, we tried to use our remaining time well. For the most part, we did a good job and have had a real good time.

 

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Soon those two to three months had passed. Then four. We celebrated his birthday, and a few weeks later it was five months since his surgery. Right now we’re sitting at six months. So much more time than we ever expected, and though I knew it was dangerous I’ve slowly allowed a tiny part of myself to believe maybe we had dodged a bullet. That my dog  was one of the lucky ones who allowed that “approaching” to sneak in ahead of the “100%.” And since we’d been taking him down to the river a lot, I thought maybe I was going to have to break that promise about the bath.

Then earlier this week he had a real bad day. We repeated some blood work and x-rays, and it was the worst news… evidence of metastasis to his liver, and he’s anemic. (HSA is essentially a tumor of blood vessels, so they can rupture and bleed; the anemia suggests that’s what happened although he didn’t lose a critical amount of blood.)

The better news is that there is evidence that his body is repairing the anemia by producing new red blood cells. And by the next morning, he was acting like himself again. He’s eating well, jolly and excited about the things he normally gets jolly and excited about, chewing his bones, coming to work with me and working the crowd for snacks at lunchtime, yelling at Squash when he gets out of line. (Maisy isn’t really in a position to get out of line right now, having torn her other cruciate ligament last week and surgery a few days ago, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.) All we’re really seeing right now is that he doesn’t have much stamina; he gets tired more easily and sleeps a lot more.

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So now I know for sure what I really knew in my heart knew before; that he’s not part of the “approaching.” And I’m sad, really sad, although part of me realizes that in reality nothing has really changed… we just have that final piece of certainty plugged into the equation and a more specific time cap. We’re down to a few weeks, mostly likely a month at most, and I don’t want him to go. But at least we’ve had so, so much more time than we ever expected. Really good quality time, and I’m so grateful for it. He can’t really hike or birdwatch at the park with me anymore, but he can still chew sticks in the backyard while I read and there are some boat launches nearby where I park close enough that he can wade around in the water and eat grass on the riverbank… the things that make him happiest.

 

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If the rules were relaxed before, we’ve gone positively feral at this point… chicken with breakfast, a spoonful of whipped cream at lunch, roasts in the slow cooker specifically for him, bites of Kit Kats. He goes where he wants, when he wants.

And absolutely no baths.

 

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Posted in Health, Not Mushing, Pip | 1 Comment

Roadkill Willpower Depletion

Now that I broke the seal, we’ve been doing more bikejoring than scootering this spring. Aside from some stretches of rain and a few random heat waves, the weather has been pretty cooperative.

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Yesterday we had a couple of encounters with a turtle that had been run over (RIP, turtle and SLOW DOWN, state park drivers! The speed limit is already only 20mph here.). The first video is on the way out and the second video is on the way back.

 

 

Pretty different!  One thing this makes me ponder is the concept of “willpower depletion” as it relates to my training and expectations of the dogs. You can read more about it here, but the basic idea is that we all have a limited amount of willpower to dole out during the day and as it gets used up, it gets harder and harder to exert self-control in tempting situations. It’s not settled science by any means, and you can find just as many articles that refute as support it.

The danger lies in either using it as an excuse rather than an explanation or ascribing it too much power and lowering your expectations as a result. There are lots of things that were different about these two encounters to explain the difference, chief among them that none of us knew it was there on the first pass but we all knew it was there on the second pass – and a Squash never, never forgets.  Also, the first time we went by we came around a corner off a dirt trail to the road and had a very short distance to even see and register what it was. The second time, we had a long straight stretch of road ahead of us where it was visible.

So I suspect that on that second pass he’d mostly just had an awful lot of time to see it, realize/remember what it was, think about much he wanted it, and commit to a plan.  With maybe just a little pinch of being a little tired and bored and willpower depleted.

Why what’s really going on here even matters to me is that there can be a fine balance between training challenges that are just that, challenges, vs those that are unfairly setting a dog up for failure. One of my great weaknesses when training my dogs is that I too often err on the side of the latter and in my efforts to avoid making things unrealistically difficult, I make them too easy. In this case, that might look like taking another route to avoid the turtle on the second pass and missing out on the opportunity to “win” the standoff. I’m not a master dog trainer, and my dogs and I are far from perfect, but I do like to try to learn from things like this.

In other news… Pip continues to do well, which is both surprising and welcome. He’s already outlasted his prognosis and while the old man is slowing down a bit, we’re still having a good time together.

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Squash is taking a beginner’s disc (frisbee) class and that’s going ok. He does not have much natural interest or drive for toys so it’s been a learning experience to try to build that up in him.  I’ll try to get some pictures or video up at some point.

I hope everyone’s spring and summer are going well, and although we’re heading into summer and the weather might start limiting us, I’ll try to update a  bit more often.

Posted in Bikejoring, Training | Leave a comment

Accurate Live Reading by Gifted Bikejorer

Either I can control the future or predict it, because after presciently discussing traditionally being scared of having to bail off a bicycle in a recent post, I had to bail off the bicycle.

I was stopped, straddling the bike, on some soft-ish ground for a brief sniff break when the dogs successfully calculated the exact vector needed to apply force in order to make the wheels slip out sideways. Probably purely out of scooter-bailing reflex, I nearly simultaneously let go of the handlebars and stepped over the crossbar. I like to think it all looked very badass to the casual observer, like a perfectly choreographed and executed movie stunt. Sadly, no pictures or video; you’ll just have to use your imagination.

So, THAT was no big deal. As deals usually turn out to be.

 

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To Own a Dog

Look how lovely this is.

Denise Fenzi

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Think about this for a minute. What it is to have a dog, another species, for a friend.  A companion who will be there with you, day after day, asking little more than something to eat and a safe place to live.

I can take my dog’s leash off and know that she’ll return to me. She will chase critters, smell good smells, snack on fresh grass or play ball, but always with an eye on me.  When she is done with her most current adventure, we’ll go home together.

I can ask her to come to me and remain by my side, and she will choose to respond because it’s our habit to cooperate with each other, even though she has freedom to choose otherwise.  Yes, I trained these things but she does not follow my requests out of obedience.  She follows because it works for both of us…

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Maisy is Nine

Oh yea, while I was wallowing around in my feelings I forgot to mention that Maisy turned NINE this week. I can hardly believe it.

 

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In case we need a reminder of how perfect she is, observe:

 

 

That’s my girl.

Posted in Maisy, Not Mushing | Leave a comment

Do the Thing, and Pip Update

Soon after I started scootering (probably that very first autumn) and before I had learned to bail safely from it,  I took a really bad tumble off the scooter and landed on my head. Fortunately I was wearing my helmet (I might have even posted pictures of it at the time) and my noggin was saved, and rather than making me more fearful of falling it did the opposite. As they so often are, uncertainty and unfamiliarity were the scary things rather than the actual experiencing of falling since it turned out to be no big deal in the end (although I did have to buy a new helmet).

So I’m not sure why I’ve persisted in being terrified of bikejoring pretty much forever. At one point I gave it a couple of half hearted attempts but never got serious about it. Maybe it was because that one time I tried biking with Squash with a side attachment, he broke it inside of ten minutes? There was a practical aspect to it; for a long time I didn’t have a vehicle that could transport a bicycle. But mostly I think it’s because I am unfamiliar with an easy way to bail off the bike if things start to go south and that’s pretty uncertain.

But recently I found myself as the only one in a bikejoring group on FB talking about scootering a lot, and realized that since getting the minivan I don’t really have the space/transport excuse anymore, and figured I should probably give it a fair shot, so I decided to just do the thing.

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It went quite well actually. To my surprise, so far the dogs (and by that I primarily mean Squash because we all know Maisy is perfect) seem to run much better in front of the bike vs. the scooter. Steadier pace, much better ON BY, just all around more consistent. I think it’s because we are going a little faster and they are not just straight-up pulling as much; I can assist by kicking the scooter, but it’s not the same as pedaling the bicycle.

I didn’t die, or even need to bail off the scooter. For some reason I thought it would be a lot easier to lose my balance and fall over if I had to stop short or than it was and a lot harder to hold my ground if the dogs (again, Squash) did try to pull off course than it was.

We’ve gone a handful of times now, and while I’m not going to hang up my beloved scooter any time soon we’ll continue to bike as well.

 

In other news… Pip continues to do well. Like, really unexpectedly well. As of this writing we are just about four months out from his surgery, which is longer than we expected to still have him with us, and really just living a normal life (*knock wood*) other than having fewer rules and more treats in his life. His birthday is in a few weeks, and I feel hopeful that he’ll actually see twelve. He’s even growing his tummy feathers back.

I’m so happy and grateful that we have gotten this spring together; we’ve been going springtime birdwatching together a lot lately. And by that I mean I birdwatch while he meanders around eating grass and standing in the river. He’s really the perfect dog for it, because he doesn’t actually care about wildlife anymore and the slow pace suits him at this stage of his life.

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And we get to see lots of nifty birds. I mean, look at this little guy.

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I have to admit, though, that I’ve been having an odd time of it lately. And I’m only going to talk about this next stuff because I’ve found that it’s an odd road to walk and it sometimes feels lonely and I want anyone going through the same thing to know they’re not alone. The chances of having a close friend or family member navigating these end of life waters with a pet at the same time you are? Fairly slim. Friends, especially dog friends, understand it completely on one level but on another level you can only hoist your feelings on other people so much and many don’t really know what to do or say.

Make no mistake, day to day and when I’m with him I’m sincerely able to enjoy the time we’ve got and I’m so happy and grateful for it and wouldn’t trade a single day for anything. As we navigate these final months I’ve tapped into a deep appreciation for and patience with all my loved ones, I smile and laugh and play with them as much as possible. But at the same time I’m finding the uncertainty (there’s that damn word again) and the proverbial Other Shoe have become more weighty with time instead of less as I expected.

I guess I thought over time that Shoe would fade into the background and we’d live our lives and it would be like we weren’t watching or waiting for anything at all. Instead, it’s more like procrastinating right up to a deadline; at first it feels like, while limited, all the time you do have left lies ahead.  But as it’s running out it feels more and more precious and while I honestly don’t think I’m obsessing over it, I’m also always just a little bit aware of it. And sometimes feel overwhelmingly sad, or scared. And I feel sometimes like I’m doing this wrong, feeling wrong things. Like, I should only only have the happy and grateful without the fatigue and irritability that come along with naggy small stresses, and I certainly shouldn’t be feeling sad yet because he’s RIGHT HERE literally at my feet as I write this.

Then while I was having all these feelings, that social network’s algorithms recommended a canine hemangiosarcoma support group to me. Great, I thought. A place to commiserate with people experiencing what I’m experiencing.

Except it was just post after post of… we said goodbye to Dog today, we were X weeks from diagnosis. And don’t get me wrong, support during grief is super important and I wouldn’t take it away from anyone or suggest they shouldn’t seek it out. But I was expecting more of a… support before grief kind of thing. I just wanted to tell someone in my situation who might be feeling my same feelings that I was feeling them, and be reassured that normal human being with feelings indeed feel these things and I am not some kind of ungrateful monster. And reading them all, I was really rattled. Just really shaken. I don’t want him to go. I don’t want to be making a post like that.

So… at the end of the day I’m not writing this to garner sympathy, I’m honestly not. Mostly I’m writing it for the catharsis and because it helps me sort out my own feelings. But also if you’re going through this now or ever, please know… Sometimes you’re going to feel stressed and sad and mad and scared and that doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate or deserve the time you have or that you don’t love your dog or don’t want them to stay. It means you’re a normal human being with normal feelings. Be easy on yourself, hug your dogs and go birdwatching if that’s your thing. Or if it’s not, do some other thing instead.

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