Archive for January, 2010

A Dog of Unusual Luck

amywink January 30th, 2010


This is a photo of my dog Tristan, about 15 or 16 years ago, when he was a young dog living in College Station, Texas— the third dog of my little pack of dachshunds that included his mother and his half brother. He’s the last remaining dog of the pack, now almost 17 years old, and he remains the luckiest of the bunch. He wasn’t originally intended to remain with me but when his mother, Maggie, fell ill with pemphigus vulgaris during her pregnancy, I planned to keep one of the puppies, a little female, in case Maggie didn’t make it. Unfortunately, the puppy I had planned to keep, Zoe, and the last puppy of the litter, a red dapple male, both came down with parvovirus.

Zoe didn’t make it, but the little male did, and I couldn’t let him go. After all the work my veterinarian (Dr. Van Stavern) did to save Maggie and the puppy, I named him Tristan, after Tristan Farnon from James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. While he was always a dog of nervous temperament and delicate digestion, he was also a most amusing animal, a “cartoon dog” as a friend called him. He loved to play, loved his obedience class buddy–a very large German Shepherd, Allie–and developed a deep attachment to all large dogs. He’s a sweet, funny dog, distinct from his half-brother (who was sweet but deeply serious, an “old man dog” even as a puppy, and a one person dog.

Since puppyhood, he hasn’t experienced a day of illness until the Pet Food poisoning in 2007. During March of that year, the month of his 14th birthday, he ate a can of Iams Chunks and Gravy and developed with acute kidney failure over the course of 3 days. It was just a couple of days after the recall of the food was announced. Though the vet explained the unlikely success of treatment, I couldn’t let him go and we spent 4 days in the hospital while he underwent fluid treatment. I went and sat with him every day while he struggled to survive. And he did survive, rebounding out of the kidney failure surprisingly well. I started him on a home cooked diet, because I found I could no longer feed him anything off the shelf. I administered fluids over other day and he thrived. Really thrived. Thrived so much his kidney values are normal, three years after his kidney failure.

This month, however, I thought I was going to lose him. On January 16th, he ate his dinner too fast and after an hour or so, suddenly swelled like a balloon with bloat. It was dire. I rushed him to the ER Vet and they, with the help of a stomach tube, released the air trapped in his stomach but he had to spend the night. I was able to pick him up the next day, but late that night, he swelled again and we rushed back. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad this time and we came home with medications and new instructions. He was fine for over a week, but then, on Tuesday the 26th, he started to swell again and I wondered if we’d be able to go on.

He spent the day at the regular vet’s and I received regular calls about his progress–by mid afternoon, the vet had released the gas and Tristan could come home. But she had felt a mass in his belly. A mass that might be cancer. So he would have an ultrasound on Wednesday to see what was there. All night I wondered if I should just let him go, even bother with the ultrasound. But I found I could make the decision and we went ahead with the ultrasound.

It wasn’t cancer. But it was a blockage. Perhaps something untoward he ate, a piece of cloth, a sock, or carpet. I was unprepared for that. And, no, he never ate anything of the sort. Never has. But the outcome of a blockage is grim and I almost let him go….except I couldn’t. I could feel the hard knot in his belly but I couldn’t. We came home with meds and I had a plan for saying goodbye if he deteriorated.

Except he didn’t. When we got into the car, I felt his belly again and the lump was smaller. When I got home, I could barely find it. I called the vet and let them know. In the morning, he passed the offending material. And bounced.

After a quiet day resting, he’s returned to better than normal– active, hungry, eager, almost trotting around–which is saying a lot for a 17 year old dog (119 in human years). I’m beginning to wonder if he has a portrait in some closet that takes all the health hits for him, a Portrait of Dorian Dog. He has aged, of course, but he’s still with me.

And I’m very glad neither one of us was ready to let go. I think I can see a smile on his face.


On Achieving Goals

amywink January 7th, 2010

This past weekend was very hectic, with a family health emergency that resolved positively on Tuesday, and today we expect Arctic air that will drop our temperatures to the teens and twenties overnight, and leave us in the 40’s during the day– temperatures 20 degrees below normal.

This, of course, means no driving but I am still considering my goals for 2010. In December, I returned to Haven Hill for a lesson and it was wonderful to return and see all the activity continuing even in soggy conditions. After visiting with Marlene and Tom, Jerry and I went out for as much of a drive as we could in the slurry caused by recent rains. I hadn’t had a lesson in a few months, (since August, I think) so it was wonderful to get back and see how I’d improved after practicing more consistently this fall with Will. Jerry and I chatted about my progress and past and future goals for driving, which we had not really discussed in much detail before.

Since then, I’ve been considering what goals I achieved and what lies ahead. I consider our Anniversary Drive the complete achievement of my past goals for driving: we were able to enjoy fully driving at Agarita; Will was responsive and willing; I was confident and relaxed. The joy of that day remains with me still and I often look at that photograph and feel the warm core of strength and calm happiness I felt that day.

As important as that glorious day was, our first drive at Agarita was probably even more important because I was able to manage Will’s fear, work through his introduction to the new place, using my skills as a driver to work through his anxiety while never feeling the fear myself. I had worked long and hard to overcome my own fear, to calm that internal electrical jolt that I often felt when I started working with horses. That fear did not originate with horses but certainly materialized most visibly when I was with them–as if I was plugged directly into their own startle reflex. That fear tangled with the Ridiculously Rigorous Perfectionist who was unveiled during my lessons, and made for a . . . .well, a challenging learning experience. Jerry once said ‘Confidence, confidence, confidence” was the necessity for driving and working with horses. Tom says there’s no “I think” in driving (and interestingly, this is exactly what I tell my students about writing “I think”). Fear and Perfectionism make confidence impossible.

When I stopped feeling that electrical jolt, when my heart stayed in the right place and didn’t rise to my throat, when my body did not tighten, but remained relaxed, when my voice did not rise, but deepened to calm my horse (and when he listened and stopped), that was a momentous occasion. That was the beginning of our new work together, the moment when we became a team. That was the moment I achieved what was most necessary goal.


I’ve been watching This Emotional Life this week on PBS. Extremely fascinating stuff about our brains. Also The Human Spark started last night and I was amazed by the wonderful cave carvings and cave paintings of horses shown early in the first episode.

Happy New Year!

amywink January 2nd, 2010


We toasted the New Year with carrots yesterday afternoon.

Everyone was very eager for more.


And Will was sporting the latest fashion in mudimg_5101.jpgimg_5105.jpg

I don’t think we’ll be driving very soon. More rain is expected this week…..