Monday, August 25, 2008

A Houseguest

We have a houseguest this week: she’s a nine-year-old blue heeler/pit bull mix named Ripple. Her people are on the East Coast for a wedding, so Ripple is staying with us for awhile.

Leo and Ripple met two years ago on a camping trip. Their introduction took place with little fanfare—some sniffing in various areas, some circling. Then they pretty much ignored each other for the rest of the trip.

Leo has been to Ripple’s house a couple of times, and Ripple has visited us on several occasions. For the most part, they have continued to ignore each other.

Until this time, that is. Once it became clear to Leo that Ripple wasn’t here for just a visit--that she was actually going to sleep over and eat her meals here and join him on his walks--then things abruptly changed. He became hyper-aware of Ripple’s every move, and of the brand-new, 15-pound bag of dog food that accompanied her.

On her first morning with us, I put Leo out back and busted open Ripple’s bag of dog food. Rather than pounce on the small bowl of food that I placed on the floor (as Leo would have done), Ripple made a cautious approach to the bowl. She sniffed the food and with her nose, ever so daintily rearranged the nuggets in the bowl. Then she nudged the bowl around, here and there, pausing to survey her progress, as though trying for a more aesthetically pleasing placement. My husband’s flip flops were nearby, and she nudged those around as well, finally arranging them in an L shape around the bowl. Then she deserted the whole project and went to the living room.

I stood back and watched in amazement. Leo would have emptied the bowl instantly.

“Ok, Ripple,” I announced as I grabbed her dish and put it on the counter. “We’ll try this again after our walk.”

Walking the two dogs together was a challenge, to say the least. Ripple is quick and limber and focused on getting ahead; Leo pokes along, stopping to sniff and/or pee on every tree/bush/garbage can/object that cries out to be peed on that we pass. The worst is when they decide to go in different directions and I find myself tangled in crisscrossing leashes, or when they both lunge for a nearby cat. But with Ripple at the helm, encouraging progress and efficiency, Leo was inspired to try and keep up, and we covered our usual distance in half the time.

When we returned, it was time to try breakfast with both dogs. I shut Ripple in the living room with her bowl of previously arranged food, and fed Leo at his usual spot in the kitchen. At first, he was distracted—mesmerized, even--by the now opened bag of dog food standing nearby. After inhaling his raw chicken patty, he returned his attention to the dog food bag, gazing lovingly at it.

I went to check on Ripple. Her bowl was empty save for five nuggets. “Good job, Ripple!” I grabbed her bowl and put it on the dining room table. With the door now open, Leo came rushing in and sniffed around the table. He could smell those five remaining nuggets and it was driving him mad. When Ripple came by to see what all the sniffing was about, Leo lunged and snarled at her, telling her to back off.

I scolded him and he returned to his vigil by the dog food bag in the kitchen. At last glance, he was sitting and staring at the bag. I went outside to trim my roses and came back in to find Leo’s head buried deep inside the dog food bag, a muffled sound of inhalation and snorting and crunching taking place inside.

I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him out. Ripple quietly made her way into the kitchen and watched with a forlorn expression as I scolded him.

I put the bag of food on the kitchen table and went about making my breakfast. Leo stood watch nearby and when Ripple came by for some affection, Leo warned her again to back off by pouncing on her with some prehistoric barks and snarls.

Is this what it’s like to have kids who fight constantly?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hair Limbo

As luck would have it, after I completed The Itchies Trilogy, Leo had a flare-up of hotspots and scratching. I thought that maybe a bath in his special soothing shampoo might offer him some relief, and decided that a haircut would make it easier for me to keep the fur out of the hotspots—and keep them clean. So I made an appointment at the groomers.

I instructed the gal to give him a brush cut, thinking that if the fur wasn’t shaved down to the skin that it would be less irritating, and that Leo wouldn’t feel so defiled afterwards. I was wrong (at least about the Leo feeling defiled part).

When I picked him up from the groomers, he gave me nary a glance as he hustled out the door. Where was the usual tail wagging, head bobbing, “Am I glad to see you!” greeting? Once outside, he took a long, self-satisfied pee on the side of the building and then hopped in the back seat for the ride home.

I offered him a bowl of water; he wasn’t interested. I petted him and told him he looked very handsome (this was a lie; with the fur so close to his body, his large head is accentuated and his ears stick out, making him look like a fruit bat). He ignored me and looked out the window, his nose pressed between the window glass and the door casing, fervently sniffing, sniffing, sniffing.

We rode home like this; me occasionally shooting glances in the rearview mirror and cooing at him, him ignoring me, the wind of the moving car making his protruding nose run all over the glass (my husband wouldn’t be happy about this; I was driving his car and the window looked like a dozen first graders had sneezed on it, then taken up a finger painting project).

When we got home, he made a beeline for the house. It was like he was a teenager who had just gotten a bad haircut and didn’t want any of his buddies to see him (a teenager who would wear a baseball hat until his hair grew out again).

I can feel Leo’s pain. I’m in hair limbo myself. My hair is coming in gray—no, white, actually—and I’m tired of trying to hide it. My hair first started going white when I was in my mid-20s. Everyone in my mom’s side of the family grays early; I have two male cousins just one year older than me who have heads full of shocking gray/white hair.

So what to do? Continue coloring it? Or let it go? At the moment I have about an inch of white on top of my head, followed by an auburn color that fades into an orangey red at the ends. It’s truly awful. I wear a hat whenever I leave the house.

Should I give in and color those roots again? Or should I color it all a lighter shade (blonde?) to blend with the white? Or should I get a buzz cut like Leo and just let it go au natural?

While I languish in hair coloring purgatory, wondering what to do, Leo and I will suffer our bad hair days together.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Itchies, Part III

So where is all this talk of itchiness and skin allergies and cones leading to? It was meant to provide a bit of history on Leo’s chronic condition and bring you up to date on his current state of itchiness.

Last year, Leo was itchy well into November. I was beginning to worry that maybe his seasonal allergies were going to become a year-round state of affairs. I did tons of research online and kept coming across glowing recommendations for a product called Solid Gold Seameal (read the reviews on Petco if you don’t believe me).

I decided to give it a last-ditch try and started him on the Seameal in December. It took about a month before I saw a difference in his coat but there it was: the bald patches filled in and his coat was shiny and silky overall.

And how is Leo doing this summer, you ask? Drum roll, please: Here we are in August and Leo has only been to the vet once this summer.

This is a huge improvement over the past two summers, and I believe this miracle of skin and coat improvement is due to the Solid Gold Seameal. Forgive me while I perform a little product endorsement here (you can be damn sure I wouldn’t do this if it didn’t work, and no—I’m not getting kickbacks from the company that manufactures it) but I had tried other supplements and shampoos recommended by pet store owners and vets, to no avail.

The Seameal looks and smells like seaweed that has been dried and pulverized into a powder. At first, I had my doubts that Leo would even eat it. Sure, he eats the poop of other dogs and cats without discernment but when it comes to the stuff I put in his bowl, he can be a bit finicky.

Like when I started adding salmon oil tabs to his meals: at first I cut open the tab and squirted the salmon oil on his food. He gave it a sniff and refused to eat. Then I tried mixing the whole tab in with his raw meat; he would eat every last drop, save for the lonely salmon tab at the bottom of the bowl. Somewhere along the line, though, he decided the tabs weren’t so awful; now his bowl is always empty.

So I’ll keep giving him ½ teaspoon of the Seameal with each meal (though I’ve learned to buy it on Amazon; there are better deals on it there) and keep feeding him the expensive raw meat diet (I rotate between lamb, venison and turkey/chicken patties by Nature’s Variety, and keep taking him to the groomer for therapeutic baths. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed that he remains cone-free for the rest of the summer.

And that concludes "The Itchies Trilogy" (I swear).