Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Itchies, Part II

Leo’s first summer in Portland was a disaster. After lots of scratching and licking resulted in a visit to the vet, I found out that he had numerous infections. The vet prescribed antibiotics for the infections and steroids for the itching, and so began Leo’s new health regimen.

I squirted cleaner in his ears (though admittedly, most of it just trickled down the side of his furry face, making a mess of his fur, because I was too squeamish to really get down inside his ears). I switched him to a pricey raw meat diet, hoping that real food with no fillers might do the trick. And I dutifully took him to the vet to have his anal sacs regularly expressed. Anal sacs express themselves? This was new to me (and technically, they don’t express themselves—they require someone else to express them).

Eventually the ear infection went away, and so did the staph and anal sac infections. But the overall itching and hot spots proved more stubborn. Several different vets gave me their opinions yet all remained stumped. I spent a fortune on Leo that summer, and still he had little relief from the itching and irritation.

Finally we were referred to a veterinary allergy and dermatology specialist. She remarked that Leo looked very dignified with his gray eyebrows, and took him into a separate exam room. A few moments later they returned.

Her diagnosis? He was most likely allergic to northwest pollens, just like the rest of the population that had moved here from another part of the country (namely, me). “Duh,” I thought. For another $1,000, she could do allergy testing to determine the exact cause of his allergies. I would then be required to give him injections that would, over the course of a year, desensitize him to the allergen(s). And cost lots more money.

I told her I had to think it over, and ushered Leo out the door and into the car where I promptly burst into tears. How could I possibly afford this allergy treatment stuff? And how could I possibly give him regular injections when I had a hard enough time cleaning his ears? Clearly I was a rotten dog owner. Words like “unfit,” “negligent” and “cheap” bounced around in my head as I drove home.

Eventually summer faded into fall and miraculously, Leo’s allergic reactions faded away, too. The itching stopped and his coat became bright and shiny once more—until the following summer, when he exploded with hot spots again. By now I had found a new vet, and this one not only gave him steroids for the itching but also put him in the cone.

Ah, the dreaded cone. Once again, people on the street would point and laugh. At home, we made the requisite jokes (“Son, you’ve got a lampshade on your head.”) Leo wasn’t happy about this new contraption; the cone made it difficult for him to perform everyday tasks. When he tried to hop up onto his couch, the cone would deflect off the couch, sending him back to the floor. Rounding corners took repeated efforts and even smelling flowers was a challenge.
Taking care of Leo in the cone was no treat, either. It was like taking care of a special needs person: after every meal, the inside of his cone was filled with raw meat splatter that I would carefully wipe clean.

Despite my lifelong love of summer and sunshine, I found myself pining for rainy days that would wash away the evil pollens. There had to be a better way!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Itchies, Part I

I adopted Leo in January 2006. That year, summer arrived early in Portland. It was hot in May—really hot. And with his thick shag of black fur, Leo wasn’t digging it. To make matters worse, I lived in a tiny apartment with only three windows and a ceiling fan to stir the dead air around. On a hot day, we were both miserable in our (oven) den.

So I thought I was doing Leo a favor when I had him shaved. What I didn’t realize was the emotional impact that shaving would have on him. He came home from the groomers looking—how shall I put it?—diminished. Underneath all that gloriously thick fur was the scrawny, wrinkly body of an old man—a scrawny, wrinkly body with a bushy tail and a furry bobble head attached. He looked ridiculous.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. People on the street would point and laugh when I took him for a walk. He looked ridiculous, and he knew it. Accuse me of anthropomorphizing him, but robbed as he was of his thick, showy fur, he was depressed. I could see it in his eyes and in his body language. In an attempt to cheer him up, I bought him a very macho studded collar. It did little to console him.

And then a cold spell descended on Portland and we were plunged back into rainy winter days. I worried that he would catch cold and scoured the city to find a raincoat. I bought two and returned two; they wouldn’t fit over his giant head. On the chilliest of nights, I swaddled him in an old flannel shirt.

“You look great in flannel!” I told him. “The grunge look really suits you.”
The look in his eyes said, “Bite me.”

As May rolled into June, his fur began to grow back and his spirits lifted. But by July, he was itching like mad. At first I thought it was just the fur growing in, irritating his skin. But the itching persisted. I wondered if he had contracted some strange skin condition from the filthy flood waters in New Orleans that was only now manifesting itself.

Then the licking and chewing began in earnest, mostly in his groin area. I worried that he had the canine equivalent of jock itch. It was disgusting to hear him licking and snorkeling (like a pug, a breed of dog I’m not fond of) until he was literally out of breath and had to come up for air, panting like mad.

My husband (then just a mere boyfriend) said I worried about Leo too much. He said Leo was just doing what dogs do—itch and lick and snorkel.

I ignored him and promptly took Leo to the vet and got a not-so-definitive diagnosis: Leo was allergic to….something. Something in his food? An environmental irritant? My friend Heather was allergic to grass of all things. Was Leo allergic to grass? Whatever it was, it had resulted in an ear infection, an anal sac infection, hot spots (areas where he had chewed away the fur to reveal a bald and bloody spot on his skin) and a staph infection. My poor Leo was a mess!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Little House in Willamette Valley

Rather than barbeques and fireworks, our July 4th weekend was spent tearing the roof off the house in preparation for a new one. Most people would hire someone to do this sort of thing for them. But to my husband, this is a perfectly reasonable task to take on yourself (with the help of some friends, of course).

You see, my husband grew up the son of a carpenter and was a carpenter for many years—it’s one of the things I love about him. In his late 20s, he went back to school and earned his Masters degree in education—another thing that I love about him. (A guy who can fix things and build stuff AND talk educational philosophy and children’s books? This was the man for me.)

My appreciation of the sensitive manly man—the man who can do guy stuff and still carry on an intelligent, insightful conversation—was inspired early in life. I credit the “Little House on the Prairie” books for planting the seed that blossomed into the notion that men should be well-versed in tasks requiring brute strength and stamina, yet still refined.

It was the book version of Pa—not the curly haired boy-man of the TV show, Michael Landon—who served as the benchmark by which all other men would be judged in my life. Pa Ingalls was a guy who could fell massive trees, build a log cabin, tame wild horses, hunt down dinner, and then come home to bounce you on his knee, beguile you with stories, and play a jig on the fiddle—all while a plague of locusts swept across the prairie, engulfing your house.

So when my husband came down from the roof after spending 12 hours in the blazing sun—sunburned and grimy with soot and sweat, yet still his usual easy-going, cheerful self, quick with a goofy laugh—I felt a strange mixture of concern (it’s hot and dangerous up there, and he was obviously exhausted), pride (show me a harder working man than my man!) and, oddly enough, arousal (sure he was filthy and stank like road kill, but it was nothing a shower couldn’t fix.)

Day One of roof removal transformed me into a pioneer woman. It was my responsibility to keep the men fed and watered. I served breakfast, lunch and dinner; made sure there was plenty of ice water with slices of lemon available; and even tried to lob a bottle of Gatorade up on the roof (unfortunately, I throw like a girl and the bottle went crashing through our back kitchen window, spraying broken glass everywhere, much to Leo’s disgust and my embarrassment).
Day Two I hit the yard as the clean up crew. I waded through knee-deep piles of shingles, loaded them onto a wheelbarrow and wheeled it over to the rented dumpster where my husband would pile drive it up into the dumpster (my flimsy girl arms, not much good at throwing, weren’t much good at dumping the wheelbarrow, either).

Day Three I divided my time between clean up, grocery shopping and more cooking. Days Four and Five, the guys were on their own—I had to go back to work.

But now we have a new roof. And my husband tore off the horrible vinyl siding on the exterior walls to reveal a lovely little 1920s house underneath. All that’s left is patching and painting and resurrecting the demolished flowerbeds and erecting the picket fence…and a million other things. But my husband will surely weather it all with his cheerful nature and goofy laugh.

I only hope a plague of locusts doesn’t sweep into town.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Love & Marriage

Why is June considered the classic wedding month? Though I got married in June, I’m hardly what comes to mind as a fresh-faced (read: young) “June Bride.” As a first-time bride at the age of 38, I was more of a Geriatric Bride. Maybe I should have gotten married in October (a month that suggests decay) or December (a month that suggests age, as in “May/December romance”).

Be that as it may, wedding season is upon us. If you needed further proof of that, just take a look at this story that recently ran on findingDulcinea: “More Dog Owners Performing ‘Holy Muttrimony’

Wow. Dogs are getting married but homosexual human couples cannot. I wonder if gay canine couples are allowed to get married? I’m sure the whole canine marriage movement was probably started by a dog clothing/accessories company trying to increase sales. So many things in our soulless, capitalist culture seem to be, at the core, all about the act of making money. (Even a gay friend, when talking about gay marriage, recognized the economic boost that would occur as a result of legalizing gay marriage. “Just think of all those gay couples registering at Crate+Barrel,” he said.)

Though the Wedding Industrial Complex may be unstoppable, I don’t see marriage in Leo’s future. Sure, I wanted him to be a part of our wedding ceremony as our ring bearer. I pictured him wearing a snappy bowtie with the rings nestled under a little hat on top of his head, like those that bellhops wear in old movies. But there was no way I would stress him out with a flight to the East Coast, so he stayed home with our roommate.

Then I tried to incorporate him into my vows: when I talked about the reasons I loved my husband-to-be, I said, “And I love you because you love my dog, Leo.” After the rehearsal, my future husband said, with arched eyebrow, “Do you really have to mention Leo in our wedding?” So I took that line out. Begrudgingly.

Alas, Leo was not part of our wedding. And I’m pretty sure he’s a confirmed bachelor. Until he was rescued and brought to Portland, he was “fully intact.” We like to joke that he has puppy offspring all over the South—that he was a ramblin’ man who spread his seed far and wide.

When “Dark Water Rising” (a documentary on the animal rescues of Hurricane Katrina) was released, I had to see it, if only to see if Leo made a cameo appearance. He didn’t, thankfully—given the awful conditions those poor animals were found in.

One animal rescuer in the film commented on the large number of pit bulls that were rescued, and the number of dogs showing evidence of dog fighting, and the alarming number of dogs that weren’t spayed or neutered. “I’ve never seen so many balls!” she declared.

Yep, Leo was one of those dogs. But now he has no balls, and no desire to fraternize with other dogs, and is stubborn and headstrong with little in the way of communication skills—not exactly the makings of a Good Husband.

Sorry, Leo. You’ll never know the joys of registering at Crate+Barrel.