Ham is great!

One evening after Bob and I had gotten home from work, he was in the kitchen making sandwich.  At this time we were still living in the mobile home, where the kitchen was less than ideal.  The counter space was very limited, and the height of the countertops seemed shorter than what is probably standard in a normal house.  This, of course, was great for Charlie.  He could easily smell everything on the counter without having to hardly tilt up his head.

While Bob was in the kitchen, Charlie was with me down the hall in the bedroom.  All of a sudden, he raised his head in the air and sniffed like he had just caught whiff of something very interesting.  He immediately left the room and headed towards the heavenly scent that had grabbed his attention.

Bob had pulled out one of those 5 lb., flattish hams with the rounded ends that always kind of remind me of a football.   It was on a cutting board, sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter.  Bob had cut several slices, but then left it sitting there while he walked to the edge of the kitchen to watch something that was on the TV in the living room.

While Bob’s back was turned, Charlie walked right up to the ham and grabbed the biggest chunk off the counter.  As if it was perfectly acceptable for him to do this, he carried his prize into the living room and sat down to eat it.  He was so smooth in his motions that Bob didn’t hear anything at first.  But all of a sudden he yelled out, “Hey, that’s my ham!”

I walked down the hall into the kitchen a few steps behind Charlie, and saw him with the hunk in his mouth just as he was heading around the couch.  As soon as I realized what was going on, I couldn’t help but start laughing.  He acted so casual about the whole thing.

Bob ran around the couch, telling Charlie to drop the ham, which surprisingly, he did.  Bob reached down and grabbed the chunk of meat, trying himself not to laugh, while explaining to Charlie that it was not his ham.  Fortunately, Charlie didn’t growl or attempt to bite Bob as he picked it up.  He just turned up his head as if he was looking at Bob and saying, “What?  You’re not even going to share?”  The expression on his face was a priceless mix of surprise and disappointment.

Bob was able to salvage most of the meat.  And we both learned that we needed to pay more attention to the big dog in the small kitchen, especially when there was food out on the counter.  Charlie’s never done anything like that since, but that’s not to say that even today, he won’t put his nose up on the counter to take a good whiff.

2nd Acupuncture Treatment

Charlie had his second acupuncture treatment this past Wednesday night, January 22nd.  It still amazes me that Charlie just sits there while the vet inserts the needles.  In the picture above, you can see the lavender-colored needle tip sticking out from between Charlie’s eyebrows.  That’s the first needle that the vet inserts during his treatment.  She says that it’s supposed to relax him.  It must work, since he pretty much just lies there while she inserts all of the other needles.

Charlie is doing better overall.  He is still limping on his left shoulder a bit.  But his back end doesn’t seem as weak.  I don’t know if it’s due to the acupuncture or not.  But there is a definite improvement since he started the treatments.  And the focus of his treatments are supposed to be in improving the strength and use of his back legs.

His energy levels have also improved, and he’s back to wanting to play every night.  Unfortunately, he always gets geared up to play about an hour before we’re set to go to bed.  Then when we tell him it’s bed time, he wants to keep playing.

I guess we’ll see how the treatments progress over the next month.  He won’t be able to have his next acupuncture session until after February 11th, which is two weeks out.  I hope he continues to feel better until then.

I suppose that, at a minimum, no harm is being done to him, so we’ll continue the acupuncture.  And I’ll let you know how it goes.

Still sore

It’s been a few days since Charlie’s first acupuncture treatment.  He seemed to respond well to it.  He was doing absolutely great yesterday, but I think he may have went a little overboard.  It’s so hard to tell him that just because he feels better doesn’t mean that he’s up to bouncing around like he used to do.

We live outside of Lewiston, ID, and Charlie goes with us whenever we head in to town for groceries and to run errands.  He absolutely loves to ride in the car.  (Partly, because he doesn’t like being left behind at home.)  So, I took him into town with me yesterday, as I met up with a friend to go for a walk on the levy.  We hadn’t been in this particular section of the levy for a while, so he had some good smells to catch up on.

There was one other dog being walked by his human, and so I pulled Charlie off to the side to sit until they passed.  However, Charlie smelled the other dog, and proceeded to bounce around on his front legs, barking in his high-pitched, play bark.   Unfortunately, I don’t think his injured shoulder was back up to doing that yet.  He’s been limping a bit today.  And when Bob took him for today’s walk, Charlie went only about 100 yards before stopping and turning around.

We usually let him pick the pace and how far we walk, so if he wants to stop, we don’t push him.  He has another acupuncture treatment this Wednesday, which I’m anxious to see how it goes.  As I said before, he was doing really well after the first one.

How do you explain to an old dog that he’s not a puppy any more?

Meeting the grandparents

We’d had Charlie for a couple of weeks, when my grandparents-in-law and aunt-in-law decided to pay me a visit at work.  My husband’s grandfather loved dogs, and was really anxious to meet Charlie.

Because I had felt bad about leaving Charlie at home all day while Bob and I worked, I had been bringing him to work with me.  We hadn’t had him very long, and we weren’t yet sure about leaving him alone in the house for so long each day.  He was still a puppy – a 95 lb. puppy – but a puppy nonetheless.  He would stay in the car, and I would go out on my breaks and at lunch to take him for walks.  I figured it was better than leaving him in his crate all day.  It was autumn, so the weather was cool outside.  And he loved (still does!) being in the car.

Anyway, the family showed up at my workplace, so I went outside with them to introduce everyone to Charlie.   My husband’s grandfather was very excited.  He had heard us talking about Charlie the blind dog, and how we had driven all the way to Utah to get him.   I attempted to explain to them that he was still a bit nervous around new people, because of all the changes he’d been through recently.   And I asked them not to crowd around me while I got him out of the car.

So much for that!  I opened the door and reached in to put on his leash.  When I backed up to give him room to get out, all three of them were standing right behind me.  Charlie didn’t know who they were, and didn’t like them all crowded around us.  So, before I realized what he was doing and where they were, he lunged out at them and snapped at Bob’s grandmother.

Fortunately, he didn’t connect with her, but he did just about give her a heart attack.  I felt really bad for both the family and Charlie, for different reasons.  I felt bad for them, because I know that that was a pretty scary first impression of our new ‘child.’   And it took quite a while before the grandmother ever trusted Charlie.

However, I hated that Charlie had made such a bad first impression with them.   I had explained to them that they needed to stand back and not crowd him, but I guess in their excitement, they didn’t hear me.  I really do feel that if they had stayed where I asked them to, their first meeting would have gone much better.

All I can say is thank God for second and third chances, because as you will read in future stories, they all became good friends.  Charlie loved the grandparents, and enjoyed visiting them in their home and, later, in the nursing home.  Even Bob’s grandmother trusted and loved Charlie, saying that she thought he was a really good dog.

Shoulder injury and 1st acupuncture session

Charlie is doing much better with his shoulder injury.  At least, I’m guessing that was where the injury was.  He’s not limping anywhere near as much these days.  And his mood has definitely improved.  He’s mostly back to his spunky, happy self.

He had his first appointment today for acupuncture.  He did remarkably well with it.  It’s too soon to say if it worked or not, but he certainly didn’t seem to have a problem with it.  The first needle went into the skin on the bridge of his nose, right between his eyes.  He rubbed his face a little bit while the doctor was first poking it in the skin, but once it was in, he didn’t seem to mind the needle all.  The doctor said that this one was to induce relaxation for the remainder of the process.

He ultimately received 12 needles, including the one on his face.  There were six in various places along his back, one in his left elbow,  and four in his back legs.   They stayed in for about 10 – 15 minutes, until Charlie started getting restless.  The vet said that dogs usually let her know when they’re ready to come out, and it’s usually after about 10 minutes.  So, Charlie was right on par with the timing.

When it came time to remove them, the vet had trouble finding one of the needles in his right, back leg.  The hair on his haunches is so long that the needle got lost in it.  She found it finally, and all was well.

We were told that some dogs respond after the first treatment, but many don’t really show much improvement until after a few sessions.  I’m hoping that I notice something major within the first four treatments.  Charlie’s spinal arthritis (spondylosis) is already somewhat advanced, so it may take a while to see improvement with his back legs.  My hope is that he’ll have better control with and strengthening of his hind legs.  He doesn’t seem to be in pain with them, but he has definitely gotten weaker over the last couple of years.

I’ll keep you posted on his progress through his treatments.  He’ll be getting a weekly treatment for four weeks to see if there is any improvement.  If we do see some positive changes, then we’ll continue the treatments as recommended by the veterinarian.  She hopes to get to a monthly schedule for maintenance.

Back to the vet

I took Charlie back to the vet today.  He’s been limping a lot on his left, front leg.  And he whimpers when he attempts to lie down on that side.  So, evidently it wasn’t gas pain causing all the problems.  (That’s not to say he didn’t have gas, though.  He almost always does.)

We had a few more x-Rays taken of his neck, shoulder, chest, and leg.  He’s a big boy, and so they couldn’t get everything in one image.  The good news is that he doesn’t appear to have any arthritis in his neck, shoulder, or arm.  However, that just leaves us not knowing what exactly is causing his pain.

We’re thinking that he must have pulled a muscle or sprained something in his arm or shoulder.  So he is now on another pain med.  The medications help some, but I think the best thing they’re doing right now is knocking him out.  If he’s asleep, then he’s not up moving around or in pain.  Keeping him off his leg is probably the best thing we can do for him right now.  And Charlie doesn’t like to just lay around.  He gets bored very easily, and insists on going for his walks every day.

So, I guess we’ll be keeping him a little doped up for the next few days.  If there’s no improvement after a week or so, then we’ll have to take him to the WSU veterinary hospital for an MRI.  I think he’ll be ok in a few days.  But I’m really glad to know that he doesn’t have any arthritis in his neck or shoulders.

I’ll give a status update in a few days.  In the mean time, please pray for my boy to get better.  It’s hard to see my child in pain.



Charlie’s In Pain

I had to take Charlie to the vet yesterday (01/06/2014).  He seemed to be in a lot of discomfort and couldn’t sit still very well.  And occasionally he would whimper when he went from lying flat out on his left side to lying with his head up, resting on his left elbow.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since he was feeling great the day before.  And he still had his appetite.

I mentioned to the vet that Charlie might have swallowed part of a bone that he had eaten the night before, but I couldn’t be sure.  Charlie gets a beef bone once a week, but we usually only give him the round, cut-up leg bones so that he can just eat the marrow out of them.  We had gotten this bone from his grandmother (my mother-in-law), however, and I didn’t inspect it well enough before I gave it to him.  Completely my fault.

So, his doctor, Dr. Hoch, took an x-Ray of his abdomen to make sure that wasn’t the problem.  And the image showed what looked like a lot of gas, but no other new problems.  Too much gas would definitely explain the uncomfortableness.  He gave Charlie some pain medication and food supplements, and I brought him home.  He ate his dinner and took his medication, but still wasn’t doing very well this morning.

After observing him more last night, it appears that he might have pulled a muscle or pinched a nerve in his neck or left shoulder.  So, after speaking with Dr. Hoch again this morning, I am going to continue his medication and keep him resting.  He’s going to be disappointed with no walk or rides in the car, but he needs to rest.

In thinking back to Sunday when he felt really good, there was a point when we were visiting my husband’s family, and Charlie leaped down the short flight of two stairs to go outside, rather than stepping down each one at a time.  He used to do that quite a bit when he was younger and was excited about something.  I guess two and three steps are just too much of a hassle for a young dog.   Unfortunately, he’s not a young dog any more, and he’s paying for it today.  I hope the meds and rest work.  I’m not ready for him to be acting so old.

Charlie and the cats.

We have two cats, Sam and Ellie, who are about two years older than Charlie.  In general, they’re both great cats in their own ways.  However, as litter mates, they couldn’t be more different.  Sam is a lover and a snuggler. And, once she warmed up to Charlie, he became her best bud.

Ellie, on the other hand, is a very smart, princess kitty who acts as if all other creatures are beneath her, and likes others only if they have something to offer her.  She is very sweet to my husband and me, but since Charlie offered her nothing, he needed to go.  When Ellie realized that Charlie wasn’t leaving, she decided to give Charlie his first lesson in who’s boss.

The mobile home we were renting at the time had an additional room about eight feet wide that ran about 55 feet along the length of one side.  About ten feet from the far end of the room was a workbench with a full sheet of plywood along the back of it.  The workbench was perpendicular to one of the side walls, making a sort of room divider out of it.  The rest of the room was just a long, open, empty space where we kept Charlie’s kennel.

A couple of days after we first brought Charlie home, Ellie and he were both at the opposite end of the room from the workbench, with Charlie trying to get a good smell of her.  Ellie didn’t want any part of that, and immediately decided to get Charlie to chase her, and so ran off really quickly. Charlie, of course, followed in hot pursuit.  I was yelling for him to stop, but I was no match for the excitement of chasing a cat.

About two feet from the workbench, Ellie jumped to escape him and landed on the top of it. Charlie didn’t realize that Ellie had jumped up, and he kept running … smack into the back of the workbench.  Ellie sat on the top shelf of the workbench, just above where Charlie was standing, shaking his head.  And I swear she was laughing and looking smug.

Ever since that moment, it’s been ‘Game on!’  When Ellie thinks we aren’t watching, she will walk by Charlie, swishing her tail so that he gets a good whiff of her.  Then she’s off, with him right behind her.  She usually does this outside these days, and either runs under the car, our jumps on top of it.  But he’s on to her, and rarely hits anything.  And quite frequently, she doesn’t have to do anything but walk within smelling distance, and he’s after her.  It’s kind of funny to watch, but they both get chastised when we witness one antagonizing the other.

After nine years together, they’ve gotten older and accepted the existence of each other.  However, I do recommend that if you’re bringing home a blind dog to a house with a cat, make sure the feline isn’t a sadistic diva intent on running him into things.

Not off to a good start.

We arrived home midafternoon on the Sunday after adopting Charlie.  We had been informed that our house would be the fourth place where Charlie had lived in less than a month’s time.   We don’t know much about his origins, except that he had been living with a divorced mother and her two year old boy.  Their apartment was not big enough for a dog Charlie’s size, and she couldn’t afford to feed him.  By 11 months old, he already weighed 95 pounds, which is quite a bit larger than the average, male German shepherd.  From there, Charlie went to live with some friends, who then passed him off to the German Shepherd rescue organization in Logan, Utah.  He had been there about a week when I saw his ad on the web site, and another few days until we were able to bring him home.  Transitions like that would be hard enough on any dog, but imagine going through all of that without being able to see what was coming at you, or who was taking care of you.  Needless to say, Charlie was a little bit stressed and insecure.

At this time, Bob and I were renting an old, 1970’s model, single-wide mobile home.  It was a bit of a mess, but we were just staying in it while we built our current house.  We led Charlie around the small house and ‘showed’ him were all the rooms were, and how the furniture was positioned, letting him smell everything as we went.

After we the toured inside the house, we walked Charlie on a leash around the property, allowing him to familiarize himself with the trees, vehicles, carport, shed, and every other item that might be unforgiving if a blind dog ran into it.  The trailer sat on about an acre of land, which was part of a larger piece of property owned by Sarah and Bernie, our landlords.  They were a very nice, elderly couple, who’s house was about only 150 yards from ours, down a gentle hill.

While we were out in the yard, Bernie must have seen us with Charlie, because not too long after we went back in the house, we heard a knock on the front door. Bernie was there holding his Shitzu.  We weren’t sure how Charlie was going to react, so we tried to introduce them slowly.  However, Charlie suddenly growled and then lunged, with snapping jaws, at the landlord and his dog.  We were completely shocked, because up to this point, Charlie hadn’t acted at all aggressively, and he had lived with several other dogs at the Logan GSD rescue house.  I was so afraid the landlords were going to make us get rid of him.  We explained that he was probably irritable from the long ride home, and that we should have let him relax for a few days before introducing him to other people.  Fortunately, the landlord was very nice and seem to accept that as a reasonable explanation.

But, that was an important first lesson for us:  We needed to put ourselves in his place and get his perspective on his entire world, and not just worry about what he might bump into.  After all, pain comes in many forms.

In the beginning…

In 2004 my husband and I decided that we were ready to get a dog.  I have had German shepherds since I was a baby, and so, that’s what I wanted.  I know and am comfortable with the breed.  But I don’t like buying dogs from breeders when there are so many in shelters that need homes.  So, I went searching on rescue sites specifically for German shepherds.

I found a place in Logan, UT, that had several dogs, and that’s where I first saw Charlie.   The picture above is the one that drew me to him.  This picture really doesn’t do him justice; but this image with the injury over his eye, and his story of being born blind really made my heart ache for him.  I knew we could give him the home he deserved and needed, with lots of love and encouragement.

So, I told my husband that I had found the dog I wanted.  I explained that he was an 11-month-old German shepherd puppy.  I gently broke it to him that we’d have to drive about 10 hours (one way) to go get him.  Bob, of course, gave me a hard time about having to drive so far to get a dog.  “You can’t find one closer?  There are dogs in the shelter here….”

THEN, in a small, muffled voice, I said, “and he’s blind.”  So, not only were we going to spend all day driving to get him, he wasn’t even going to be able to see us when we got there.  Talk about a tough sell!

I explained that we could drive down on a Friday, and pick up Charlie for the weekend to see how things worked out between us.  We could drive home Sunday, with or without him, depending on how our time with him went.  My husband already knew, though, that there was no way I was leaving without Charlie.

We were able to get Charlie Friday night and keep him at the hotel with us.  We spent all day Saturday at a park with him, playing and getting him used to us.  He had had some basic training, which was nice.  And we were convinced that he wasn’t completely blind.  He made his way around so well that we figured he had to be able to see shadows or blurry shapes.

On Sunday we went back to the rescue house and learned that Charlie had been examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist.  It was determined that the optic nerves and retinas never fully developed, and he was, in fact, completely blind.  He didn’t look like it, and didn’t really act like it.  He was definitely not what I expected from a dog that was unable to see.

But I was in love with him already, and so we adopted Charlie and brought him home to Idaho with us.  That was the beginning of our 9+ years of education and adventure together.

The love and joy of living with a blind dog.