Rays of sunshine

This has been one doozy of a year. It’s been stressful, expensive, and has triggered my anxiety big time. But, I feel like at this back-end of the year I’m experiencing some good things.

Pets

Hannah dog is recuperating from her health crisis. I had to stop all of the supplements and herbs that had been helping her arthritis pain, and that is apparent. However, she is eating and drinking again and keeping it all down, her potty habits are normal again, and after several trips to the vet for fluid therapy, she no longer shows signs of elevated bilirubin in her urine. She even shows interest in play, and still gets excited when I bring out the leash. I’m relieved and thankful that my online and IRL friends were so supportive to us during a difficult time.

Money

Oh my has this been an expensive year! I had to pay for my first eye surgery out-of-pocket in full, install a system of french drains and a sump pump around my foundation, and pay a lot in vet bills this year. There were also a few more typical home repair expenses/glitches that needed to be addressed, and I bought new tires for my car. My savings account is depleted, and it was hard to watch all that money fly out of it.

But some of that money is starting to wing its way back to me. After submitting the claim for the July eye surgery to the insurance company again, they actually paid for it! The eye surgery center sent the claim, so I will have to talk to them about getting a reimbursement for the money I already paid them. (And I still got to keep the cash rewards from the credit card company!) I’m also submitting the receipts for the post-op medications, since they had initially refused to cover it. I’m hoping to get a check for that before the end of the year.

Also, I will be getting some additional money from the IRS and State of California. Way back in the spring when I was doing a final review of my tax forms, I realized that I had forgotten to include my 2016 property taxes on the forms I sent to my tax preparer. When I contacted him about needing to correct this, he suggested that we file anyway since we were close to the deadline, and then do an amended return later in the year. I tried to get the amended return prepared as early as June, but he wasn’t responding to me. It took a lot of persistent follow-up, but I finally got the amended return a few weeks ago and mailed it off. (Yes, I will be looking for a new tax person to work with; that I had to follow-up at least 6 times via email and phone to get this addressed is unacceptable.)

This month I will get three paychecks instead of two. This happens at least once, and sometimes twice a year because I’m paid every two weeks. Since my budget is based on two paychecks a month, that third one is a welcome “bonus.” I could have used it to replenish my savings account, but instead I decided to use most of it to pay my future self and withheld about 35% to my standard 401(k) as a catch up contribution. I’m making a note to adjust my withholding again in a couple of weeks, because I want that large amount to be a one-time thing. Going forward, I’ll drop that amount to the single digits.

The balance of that paycheck can then be used to pay back savings account, and also to make some charitable contributions. I try to be generous with my contributions, but this year has been tough. Right now I’m mostly giving via auto-billing to a few charities, but not nearly as much as I have in past years.

Relationships

There has been a huge positive development in my relationship with my sister. She had surgery last week, and I was helping her out in various ways. Her husband had to be out-of-town for business during this time, so I stepped in to take her to the surgery center and pick her up. I’ve stopped by the house to help with a few chores, checked on her throughout the days, and run a few errands for her, too. Her recuperation period has led her to a new understanding of what I’ve had to go through with my various surgeries. Yesterday, as I dropped off some groceries at her house she got tearful and thanked me for helping her so much. She said she didn’t think she had been very kind to me after my surgeries and she apologized. Wow. That felt really good. I was gracious in accepting her apology and thanked her for it. There’s still hope for a better relationship here.

 

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Staring down the inevitable?

For the past week my beloved dog, Hannah, has been very ill. The onset was sudden. Last Monday she had her acupuncture treatment and all seemed well. Very early Tuesday morning, I was awakened by the sound of her vomiting in the corner of the bedroom. From there, we have had trips to veterinarians nearly every day.

Her usual vet didn’t seem too concerned when I brought Hannah in on Tuesday afternoon. Hannah had been refusing food all day, yet took the small treat the vet gave her. “Let’s wait and see how she is tomorrow,” the vet suggested. That night, when Hannah started shivering, I couldn’t rest easy. I knew there was something going on with her, so I bundled her up and took her to the emergency clinic.

At the animal ER, her exam was unremarkable, but they did offer to take blood and run some tests, and I agreed. The results showed all her liver health values were much too high. Her ALT level, which we’ve been monitoring for about two years now, was over 4,000. (A normal level is under 100, and at her last check the previous week the value was 280). The ER vet told me that Hannah needed an ultrasound, and that I should check in with the regular vet the next day.

As soon as the clinic opened on Wednesday, I called and was connected with the vet right away. She told me that they did not have the correct personnel to do the ultrasound that day, and that it sounded like Hannah needed hospitalization with round the clock observation. I had two options to consider: taking her to UC Davis, or taking her to a pet emergency and acute care center in the opposite direction. The vet recommended the Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin in San Rafael, so that’s where we went.

Traffic was light, so it only took 40 minutes to get to San Rafael from Napa. When we arrived they were ready for us, as my vet had phoned ahead and provided all the necessary information. I had to leave Hannah there so they could run new blood work, do the ultrasound, and give her IV fluids and antibiotics. The vet thought it safest to assume Hannah had an infection, and the hope was that she could be released the next day, on Thanksgiving.

I should have been working that Wednesday and preparing dessert for the Thanksgiving feast I was invited to the next day. But I couldn’t do either of those things. I stopped to talk and cry with a friend on my way back from San Rafael, I texted others, and I asked friends on social media for their good wishes.

Thanksgiving morning I got a call from PESCM that she was doing well. She had eaten some food, and they were going to try giving her antibiotics orally. They thought she could go home later that morning. It seemed fitting that on Thanksgiving — a day set aside for celebrating our blessings and bounty — I got to pick up my precious dog, my boon companion. Hannah was eager to be out of that place, too!

We had a pleasant ride home, and after we got inside the house she headed straight for her water bowl and drank quite a bit of it. I headed for the bathroom, and when I came out I saw that she had not held down much of the water she drank. I called PESCM back to report the problem, and the vet said that her nausea meds had probably worn off. She said that if I brought Hannah back she could get an injection of the nausea med, and they would give me some tablets to give her at home. I decided to wait a few more hours to see if the problem passed, and prepared to go to the Thanksgiving dinner with friends.

In the late afternoon, when Hannah was still refusing to eat or drink anything, I put her back in the car and made the round trip to San Rafael and back. She was given her nausea med via injection, and I also got the tablets to take home and give her orally.

We managed to get through Friday without a trip to the vet, even though it was clear that the nausea med wasn’t helping as long as it was supposed to. The med is supposed to work for 24 hours, but she was showing signs that all was not well after only 14 hours. I needed to give her antibiotics with food, so this was a problem. I gave her the nausea med early a few times so I could get her to keep some fluids and food in her system and give her the antibiotics. Then, first thing Saturday morning when her regular vet was open I called for a same day appointment.

Yesterday the vet we saw (not her regular one) prescribed yet another nausea med for her to take in addition to the other one. She loaded Hannah up with fluids, and told me to bring her back this morning (Sunday) for more fluids and an injection of nausea meds.

Today I’m cautiously optimistic that Hannah is on the mend. She managed to keep water and some food down over night and again this morning. She acted more normally last night by spending the night in her own bed instead of velcroing herself to me all night. (Not that I mind her being close to me; it’s just not her normal routine.) And while she has still been sleeping a lot and generally low energy, she doesn’t seem quite as lethargic as she was.

Throughout this entire experience, I’ve been worried that this is it: the end of our time together. She is nearly 15, which is more than 80 years old in human years. When I start thinking/saying, “I’m not ready to let her go,” I quickly correct myself because this decision shouldn’t be about *my* needs, but instead her comfort and quality of life.

I’m not sure if she will fully recover from this or not. For now, she seems comfortable enough and ready to keep chugging along. So despite how horribly expensive this has been (we’re roughly up to $2,300 in vet bills from the past week alone), I’m not going to give up yet. But I have to get myself comfortable with the fact that she is likely nearing the end of her time.

My boon companion

My boon companion

The extreme introverting continues. Besides picking up a few groceries and some occasional visits to the gym, I’ve gone out a scant handful of times in the past month.

Once I went out to shop for clothing. I did this out of desperation and an acknowledgement that there were times I needed to be able to dress in something other than yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a fleece hoodie. I had to go to the office on days that bookended that weekend, and when I realized I literally had only one stretchy skirt that would fit me, I went out to find some more suitable work wear for my current body.

I find it discouraging (to say the least) that I’ve gained so much weight over the course of a year that I couldn’t fit in the vast majority of the clothing that filled my closet, nor could I wear anything from the small storage bin of larger sized clothing I had brought with me from Chicago. That’s right, I couldn’t even fit in the “fat clothes” that I had brought from when I was at my previous heaviest weight. (Obviously, I have set a new personal record. Not one of which I’m proud.)

A kind friend keeps reminding me that I have had two major surgeries in a year and that it will take some time to get back in shape. Yes, it’s true that in a one year time span I had two surgeries that resulted in the removal of my uterus, both ovaries and fallopian tubes, 10 inches of colon, and my appendix. Logically one would think that taking that many organs out of my body would result in a loss of weight, but that’s just not the way the world works, sadly. I suspect that I shall never be the same shape again due to the hormonal shifts I’ve been through, but we’ll see.

Anyway, I went to some shops and bought some things to wear. A couple of pairs of pants, a few blouses, and one of those swingy sweaters that can be worn as a jacket. Because I recalled that my office has adopted a “jeans Friday” thing all year-long, I was able to wear a pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt on the Friday I went to the office, and I was able to wear one of the blouses with the one skirt that fits me when I went into the office on the Monday. Crisis averted.

Sister was in town a couple of weeks ago and she brought her lovely daughter with her. (Niece is turning 30 this year, so she’s not a child.) While I did have to work most of the week, I was able to spend a Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday with them. We enjoyed the break in the weather by doing a lot of touristy things in San Francisco, as this was niece’s first trip out to these parts. I hope she comes back often as she really is a well-adjusted and fun person to be around.

These excursions from my hidey hole are fun, but they still exhaust me. Last week I was tired all the time and just couldn’t seem to get enough sleep. I’m sure having meetings that necessitate me setting my alarm for 4:30 or 5 AM every damn day of the week doesn’t help, either. For a while there the early morning meetings were only happening twice a week, but now they are happening nearly every work day. Ugh.

But today I really want to move away from all this negative crap and instead recognize my boon companion, my wonderful dog Hannah.

img_2595 In a recent Twitter exchange, I was reminded that she and I have been together 13 years. Wow. My dog and I have had a relationship that’s lasted longer than my marriage; longer even than some of my human friendships.

Hannah is roughly 14 years old and is doing quite well for a someone who would be about 78 years old as a human. She loves to go on walks, play “keep away” and “tug” with her toys, chase squirrels and cats, and get belly rubs and petting from humans of all ages, shapes, and sizes. She still does not like other dogs to get close to her or even show interest in her, but we’ve diligently worked on keeping her from getting reactive 95% of the time.

Nearly two years ago some blood tests revealed that Hannah has an elevated ALT, which is a measure of liver health. When the elevated results persisted and even got a little worse, there were ultrasounds and eventually a biopsy performed, but there doesn’t seem to be any underlying disease causing the issue. So for now we just monitor the levels and I give her a daily medication that is helping to keep the ALT from climbing quickly.

In the past 6 months I’ve noticed that she has some issues with slightly dragging her rear feet when she walks, and her gait hasn’t been as smooth. The veterinarian suggested she has arthritis in her lower back, based on examination and manual manipulation. She recommended some medication, and also suggested I may want to consult a vet who does acupuncture.

Now Hannah gets electro-acupuncture treatments roughly every 3 or 4 weeks. (Acupuncture vet thinks that Hannah may actually have a disc issue rather than arthritis in her back, but since the treatment is the same I really don’t care to have her x-rayed to confirm either diagnosis.) Between the medication and the acupuncture she seems to be doing better. She’s surprised me by leaping over the back of the couch a few times during play or in enthusiastic greeting.

Acupuncture vet also recommended some changes to Hannah’s food, which I slowly adopted. While I’m not willing to cook my dog’s meals daily, I did switch her to a quality kibble that uses beef as the first ingredient rather than chicken. I’ve also started adding more real food to her bowl. She’s been getting a soup-spoon full of canned pumpkin for a few years (it helps her from getting constipated), but now I’m adding cooked kale, and canned sardines every morning.

Those sardines are like a superfood, and I’m really impressed with the condition of her skin and coat now. For many years she’s had bald spots on her tail. When I asked the vet back in Chicago about them she suggested I put Hannah on fish oil. I’ve been giving her a fish oil capsule every day since then and there had been a slight improvement. But now that she’s been on the sardines for while those bald spots are completely gone and her coat is softer and shinier. I’m now singing the praises of sardines to every dog owner I meet.

Hannah and I have gotten to know each other very well over our years together. She is an excellent communicator. When she thinks it’s time for a walk, she noses her leash and looks at me. When she wants to play she gets my attention by walking up to me first, then when I look at her she walks over to her toy shelf and pulls out a toy. If she thinks it’s time for her dinner or for bed, she walks up to me and “sings” a little bit to get my attention. She also grabs my attention by flopping herself noisily onto the floor near the sliding door into the yard when she needs to go outside. She only barks to alert me when a person, dog, or cat comes near the house or into the yard. Otherwise, she “sings” or whines very softly to get my attention.

Hannah’s ability to read my moods is also exceptional, and she’s a great “comfort dog.” I hope we have many more pleasant years together, and I send out gratitude every day that she is here with me and is staying so healthy.

Odds and Ends: Hello Summer! edition

Yeah, I know summer doesn’t actually start until next month, but this coming weekend is the long Memorial Day weekend, and that’s the unofficial start to summer. This weekend is also BottleRock weekend here in Napa, and I’m very happy that a) unlike last year, I have no urgent work projects that prevent me from fully using the weekend pass I bought several months ago, and; b) my health has recovered enough that I can enjoy wine or beer and should be able to find something to eat there (as long as it isn’t too spicy and it’s very high fiber). 🙂

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Speaking of health, I have an appointment with a surgeon on June 1 to talk about surgery to address my recurrent bouts of diverticulitis. I met with a new primary care doctor last week and he seconded the doc that diagnosed this most recent occurrence by saying surgery is something I should seriously consider. I’m not excited about another abdominal surgery this year, but I want my life back. I want to be able to travel for work or pleasure. I want to be able to develop a consistent diet instead of vacillating back and forth between high fiber and low fiber. I want to not have to deal with pain and “bathroom issues” several times a year. I want to not be put on heavy, nasty antibiotics several times a year, too. If I need to have another surgery to have a better than average chance of avoiding all these issues, then I’m game to try.

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Dad asked me for my email address a few weeks ago when I was in Chicagoland and had breakfast with him and stepmother. Somehow he had lost it. Now I regularly get spammed by my dad with stupid chain emails. I never open them, as I can tell just from the subject lines that I don’t want to read them. :-/

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I had an eye exam a few weeks ago and got new frames and a new prescription. Things are still not very clear in my right eye when I’m reading, but it’s OK. I’m sticking with reading ebooks over paper books since I can adjust the type as needed.

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My dog is now 13 years old and it’s upsetting to me that she is starting to show her age in some ways. Last fall she started occasionally vomiting and having diarrhea for seemingly no reason. She woke me up one morning when I heard her vomiting on the bathroom tile floor, and I was scared when I saw there was blood in it. No one seems to know exactly why she has these problems pop up here and there, but I’ve been taking her back and forth to the vet regularly to get her ALT levels measured. This is a blood test they use to measure liver health (not function, per se, but as a marker for potential disease or damage to the liver). Since the values have been abnormal for months she had an ultrasound of her liver yesterday. She has some nodules, but the vet said not to get too worried about it right now. We’ll do another ultrasound in 6 weeks. She also got a bladder infection last fall that took a couple months (and two antibiotics, one very costly) to shake.

She’s on a bunch of supplements now: Vitamin E, fish oil, Cosequin for joint health, probiotics, and a cranberry supplement to ward off another bladder infection. Needless to say, my budget for pet care over the past year has been seriously out of whack. I’m not complaining about being able to afford good care for my dog (I can), just that it’s difficult to budget accurately how much her care is going to cost since there are all these tests and vet visits. I love her fiercely, so I’m not going to scrimp on her care.

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My food budget continues to be a challenge for me. It doesn’t help that I have to restock my pantry with each new bout of diverticulitis. When I’m in the midst of an “attack” I have to be on liquids only for a day or two. While I usually keep broth on hand, I don’t consume fruit juice or gelatin on a regular basis, so I have to buy that. Then I have to buy and consume regular (as opposed to whole grain) pasta and noodles, white rice, white bread, white crackers, canned vegetables and fruit, and ground meat for a few weeks. When I’m able to eat normally again, I go back to eating whole grain products, beans, spices, and crunchy/high fiber veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.

Truthfully, even without the pantry challenges the biggest bite into my food budget is dining out. When I’m well, I eat out at least twice a week and my preferred vendors aren’t cheap, fast food. That means each week I’m spending at least $30 – $40 on dining out. I’m just going to have to bow to reality and adjust my budget to account for this since I’m not willing to give it up right now. I’m not broke or skating close to the edge every month, so there’s no reason to deprive myself. I merely want to get a handle on what my “average” expenses are and make a budget that reflects it.

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April and May were very good money months for me. First of all, April was one of those months where I got three paychecks. Since I’m paid every two weeks, there are always two months out of the year where I get three paychecks: one of these “bonus months” always happens in the spring, and the other in the fall. My monthly budget accounts for only two paychecks per month, so the extra paycheck is always a nice bonus that gets tucked into savings.

I also had a big federal tax refund this year. I know it’s best to engineer your withholding so this doesn’t happen, but this was truly out of my hands. My employer has set up several “legal entities” for risk mitigation purposes, and due to some changes in my team structure that took month 6 months to work out, I was sequentially employed by three different legal entities last year. Each one started my withholding for social security from scratch (as they were legally obligated to do) so I had way too much withheld in this area last year. Between that and an investment loss, I raked in a refund that was greater than the ones I routinely got as a homeowner with a mortgage and business expenses related to my room rentals. Again, this refund was deposited immediately in my savings account.

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Despite having a healthy amount of money to use as a house down payment, I’m still priced out of affording a little house in my preferred neighborhood here in wine country. I’d have to put down much more than 20% to get a monthly payment I could afford without introducing making big changes to my budget (such as cuts to pet care and dining out, for starters). I still keep looking at properties as they pop up, though, so I can remain educated about the market. If I really, really needed to buy something, I could do so in a non-preferred neighborhood or town, but I have no deep need to do so at this time. I’m getting better at cultivating patience in this area. And I’m working on ways to increase my monthly income. But that’s something I should write up in another post.

How are you doing these days?

 

Easing in

I’ve been so worn out from work and life lately that I just didn’t want to make time to write on the blog. But today I’m feeling refreshed and ready to ease back into blogging with a short post.

It’s Sunday — a much-needed day off– and it’s sunny outside. We rolled the clocks back and resumed standard time, so I didn’t feel bad about lounging in bed for extra time this morning. Because it’s dry and sunny I’m heading out to work in the garden and yard after this, though, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time in front of the computer.

We had a brutal summer here. A couple of weeks ago while B and I were doing some yard work on a perfectly lovely day, we took a break to sit on the porch. B noted that we had barely spent any time out there this summer. It was much too hot and humid, and we holed up inside staying cool. Now that we’re moving quickly towards winter, I need to catch up on the yard work that I would normally have been doing all summer: weeding, trimming, transplanting, and tending to the veggie garden.

During that lovely day two weeks ago B helped me to the biggest chores of closing down the garden. The tomato and pepper plants were taken out, and the supports put away. B turned the compost and chipped up all the small branches and twigs I’ve collected over the year, and I got in some weeding and transplanting, too.

Today we’re going to rake and bag leaves, then put them into storage for the winter. I use dry leaves as bedding in the chicken coop all year ’round, and look forward to replenishing the stock. I’m also going to plant garlic today in one bed, and maybe even part of another. Last year I planted two 4×8 beds with three varieties of garlic, shallots, and multiplier onions. The onions didn’t work out very well (they were quite small) and some of the varieties of garlic produced disappointingly small heads. This year I’m going to just plant the garlic variety that produced larger heads. (I really wish I knew the name of the variety, but I failed to write the names in my gardening records and relied solely on markers with permanent ink that turned out to be not so permanent!)

To close I’m going to mention a new morning ritual that we’ve developed over the past few months. I call it the morning love fest. When I start to stir in the morning (either because the alarm clock woke me, or my internal alarm went off), I hear Hannah dog get up from her bed in the corner and start to stretch and shake. (Dogs always stretch after getting up from a lie down; we could learn from that!) I call her, and she jumps up on the bed and settles down near me. This is when the love fest starts in earnest, as I pet her and stroke her and talk about the dreams and goings on the night before. If B is feeling awake enough, he may join in and start petting Hannah, too. I’ll ease out of bed and stretch my legs while leaning into the bed and continuing to pet her (usually she’s on her back by this time and I’m giving her a good chest and tummy rub) and talking about the day ahead. And then it’s time for me to get really moving, so I stop the petting and she leaps off the bed in a show of great agility, all ready to  go outside and embrace the day. Isn’t that a lovely way to get started in the morning?

Rough week

This has been one of the roughest weeks I’ve been through in a while. Maybe it had to happen to balance out all the good stuff and satisfaction I had been feeling. You name it, I’ve experienced it within the last week: mayhem, illness, injury, and death.

Mayhem: My dog, Hannah, got skunked in the pre-dawn last Sunday. This was the same day I was expecting friends and other visitors to my house for the Windy City Coop Tour, so I was pretty distressed. Not as much as Hannah dog, though. She suffered a direct hit to the face and I can’t imagine how painful it must have been to have skunk vitriol sprayed into eyes and mouth. When Hannah finally approached me after the attack, her eyes were red and watering and her mouth was foaming as she tried desperately to get the acrid substance out of her mouth. I never got a close look at the skunk, but from the size of the tail I saw it must have been pretty large.

So I started my Sunday by washing my dog (outside!) and trying to dissipate the odor in the yard. Of course the attack took place right near the chicken coops, so the smell was quite strong in that area. I was so glad that I had prepped extensively the day before. If I hadn’t made the food and put everything in order in advance then I doubt I would have been able to accomplish that in addition to cleaning up the dog. I made Hannah stay outside until late in the afternoon, but she still has some skunk odor about her.

Illness: It’s no wonder that I started feeling achy and tired during the work day on Tuesday. I skipped my knitting group Tuesday night and instead stayed home to rest. There was still leftover soup from Sunday, at least. (It was minestrone not chicken noodle, but hot and satisfying nonetheless). I spent the rest of the week at home, attending critical work meetings and providing guidance to my team via telecommuting. But I also spent a good portion of my day resting and drinking hot tea. Several days later, I’m still not feeling 100%, but I am feeling improved.

Injury: One of my chickens, Honey, got herself stuck under the fence on Thursday afternoon and is quite badly injured. I was convalescing on the couch when I heard a knock on door; a kindly neighbor notified me about Honey, as she had seen her while walking the dog. I had to pry off part of the cedar fence to release Honey, and once I got a look at her injuries I bundled her up and took her to the avian vet. She had a puncture in her neck (from a fence nail, perhaps), but the worst injury was to her left wing. I could see that she had a laceration along the shoulder, but when I picked her up yesterday the vet told me it had been much worse than he had thought at first glance, too. The laceration was extensive and left exposed bone, a dangling nerve, and an exposed artery. If she had wiggled just a bit more, she would have nicked the artery and bled to death.

I’m not going to disclose how much I’ve spent on her treatment because I’m a bit embarrassed. And the total cost is on its way up as I had to take her back to the vet just this morning and leave her for more treatment. She had been in fairly good shape last night but this morning she was very subdued, not eating or drinking, and had started contorting her body in an odd way every five minutes or so. We’ll see what the doctor says when he sees her this afternoon, but she’s there for the weekend now…unless something worse happens to her.

Death: My aunt died on Thursday morning. I’m sure part of the reason I’m throwing money at the problem of my injured chicken is that I just don’t want to deal with another death right now, even the death of a pet I’ve only had for a little over a month. I got to visit with my aunt over the Independence Day holiday when she was still in very good shape. Back then she was walking, talking, and up to taking a long car trip with her twin sister to visit her far-flung nieces and nephews.

I saw her again the last weekend in August (the same week I got Honey and the other chickens, by the way). For that visit I drove to visit her as she was bedridden and tired easily, although still up for short visits throughout the day. My sister and I had lunch with her and then had another short visit in the afternoon after my aunt had a chance to rest for a bit. We knew the end was coming and I knew that was likely the last time I’d see her.

My aunt enjoyed her life and her end most likely came completely painlessly. But when we grieve, it’s not because we regret their sickness and pain. It’s because we regret the loss of their presence in our lives and the possibility of sharing time with them ever again.

About a dog

Hannah dog

This is Hannah. She’s almost eight years old.

When I first met her at Chicago Animal Care and Control she was about 10 months old. I know nothing about her life before the shelter, but from the beginning there were problems to address, some of which added up to be much more expensive than planned.

First, she had worms. She was supposed to have been treated for worms, but right away I discovered that she had tapeworms and hookworms. Since she wasn’t completely house-broken, I often had to take her out into the yard during the middle of the night. Seeing something wiggling in the dim streetlights one night was a major clue. Worming treatments were one of the first things we had to arrange with the family veterinarian.

Then there was an unexpected surgery. A condition of her adoption was that she be spayed at the shelter first. Hannah had some sort of reaction to the suture material, so by the time her sutures were scheduled to be removed she had developed a large abscess. She required a follow-up surgery to remove the internal stitches that had been originally put in place and replace them with something non-allergenic to her.

So for her first month within my home she had stitches in her abdomen. During the 10 days or so that she had the original sutures, she pretty left them alone. But once she started into the second set of 10 days, she apparently decided she was fed up. Hannah had to wear a “cone of shame” so she wouldn’t mess with the stitches.

Hannah in the "cone of shame"

Hannah has also proven to be a very orally fixated dog. (As if there were another type, right?) Within her first year, she destroyed a pair of fairly new Naot sandals; damaged a cedar chest by gnawing on the wooden lid; and chewed up several throw pillows and lap blankets. But her love of chewing on duvets has proven to be her main claim to fame.

So far she’s chewed holes (some of them fairly substantial, textbook-sized holes) in duvets with both feather and synthetic fills. Furthermore, she’s destroyed several duvet covers. Since duvets are not cheap, I’ve tried to fix these things with some crude hand stitching or patching. She chewed her most recent hole (about the size of a half-dollar) in a previously patched feather duvet just a couple days ago. I guess she’s too proud of her claim to fame to give it up.

Besides her duvet-destruction skills, Hannah is most well-known for her inability to relate to her own species in a socially acceptable manner.

Before Hannah, there was another dog in the household: Sadie. Sadie was the special darling that did everything right when mixing it up with other dogs. She had poise and confidence and just the right amount of deference. She was queen of the household, though, and wouldn’t give up her top dog spot. Hannah seemed OK with this arrangement. In their first meeting, Hannah lay down and rolled over onto her back, in the classic submissive posture.

Other than her numerous physical issues, the first four to five months were great. Hannah went to training classes with other dogs and comported herself well. She went to the dog park and ran around with Sadie, while mixing it up with other dogs. But little problems started to appear.

She would get incredibly worked up whenever another dog walked past the yard. A trainer was engaged to help deal with what at first seemed to be “barrier aggression,” but soon proved to be something much different: Hannah had serious issues with unfamiliar dogs. On her last trip to the dog park, she jumped another dog within minutes of entering the park, so I leashed her up and hustled her out of there.

There were trips to a behaviorist who pronounced her issue “fear aggression” and provided us with exercises that were supposed to gradually — very gradually — get her to look to me for cues on how to react whenever she was feeling anxious. And he said these discouraging words “She’ll likely never be a dog park dog.”

So, if Hannah would never be able to mix with her own kind in a social way, what was the point of all the exercises? After a few months, I stopped them. She was getting along OK with Sadie, yet the whole situation left me feeling sad. I knew I couldn’t bring her back to the shelter because she would end up being destroyed. I contemplated whether I should try to find her a new home. I cried. I mourned the loss of a well-adjusted dog who could be taken nearly everywhere at will: the homes of family and friends with other dogs, the local parks, and kennels for extended stays during vacations.

But I also started researching the hell out of dog training and behavior modification, and I found some really useful books:

The Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson

How to Be Leader of the Pack…and have your dog love you for it, Patricia McConnell

The Cautious Canine, Patricia McConnell

The Other End of the Leash, Patricia McConnell

Don’t Shoot the Dog!, Karen Pryor

On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas

I got lazy and didn’t work with Hannah very much over the last few years. Losing Sadie so unexpectedly about two months ago was tragic for me, but for Hannah it meant that she lost the only other member of her own species with whom she could relate. Suddenly Hannah and I were alone.

Looking for...something

Now I have a new opportunity to work one-on-one with Hannah, and I’m trying to rise to the challenge. Reviewing all my training books again, and talking with her dog walker, I have hope.

I think (and the dog walker agrees) that much of her problem is one of manners due to poor socialization. She likely didn’t get much exposure to other dogs before her adoption and so she hadn’t learned how to nicely approach other dogs. My reaction to her problem — sequestering her away from all other dogs — didn’t help the situation, although it’s apparently all too common. So much of the “problems” with dogs are really more problems with human interpretation of dog behavior. They usually work it out by themselves without any intervention from us.

The trick is finding a way to smooth off her rough edges while not alienating or harming any other dogs that she tries to mix with.

So we have our challenge ahead of us. But we also have the luxury of time, too. I hope.