Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Living Memorial

Today was the day for our weekend-long Living Memorial for Sparkey. Friends, neighbors and dogs stopped by for snacks, pats, kisses, and time in the front yard.

Sparkey seemed to enjoy the company, gave a great deal of affection, and received gifts of cooked chicken, raw hamburger, rawhide bones, and the blessings of many.

This photo catches him in a moment of repose amidst the general tumult.....

This elderly dog, Puka the Wonder Dog, makes Sparkey seem like a spring chicken as she totters on her 17-year-old legs. She loved her rawhide bone, but seemed intent only on carrying it around and pretending to be looking for a place to bury it. Soon after this photo was taken, she was found lying on top of her bone, seemingly having forgotten where she put it.

This lovely young neighbor of ours shared some very special moments with the old guy, and was the kind person who brought him the cooked chicken.

Overall, it was a lovely and glorious day which we plan to repeat tomorrow with another afternoon of an open house and new visitors to visit Sparkey and wish him peace and a gentle passage when the time does come.

Our kind Buddhist neighbor gave us this chant on a piece of paper for Sparkey:

"I pray for peace in this world, and the happiness of all beings."


Friday, April 28, 2006

"Won't you be my neighbor?"---Fred Rogers (R.I.P.)

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood,
a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
would you be mine?
could you be mine?
won't you be my neighbor?

Today was a live version of Mister Rogers' neighborhood with Sparkey and Tina and me:

We saunter down the footpath to the pond where the 3 of us hang out, smelling the air, just being with Mother Nature and enjoying the present moments like dogs can do so well. We rest in a sunny/shady spot (so all will be happy) where I have taken a liking to brushing Sparkey. (He has been shedding his winter coat all winter, but now he does so in springtime earnest.) I am brushing away, but ever so gently, noticing more intimately how much more thin he has become, how little flesh there is between the brush and Sparkey's bones, so I am more careful with the poor old guy. But he's not in pain and is tolerating the attention, especially enjoying my talking to him and scratching around his ears. (Sparkey has been an itchy scratchy guy all his life but now he can't even scratch his itches very well and has fallen down too many times trying. He used to love rolling around on his back as an expression of his bliss)...

With Sparkey's golden hair flying all about in the breeze, it occurs to me that local birds may be interested in some fluffy nest material so I tuck a huge handful into a bush branch. Taking in the sight, strangers smile warmly at us as they drive slowly by, some neighbors stop and chat from their cars and I invite them to Sparkey's living trubute party on our forested lawn this weekend.

Along comes the mail truck with our favorite mail carrier at the helm! This woman is a hero of ours for extending her kindness over the years to Sparkey and Tina, going out of her way many times to place 2 biscuits with our mail and always, I mean always, stopping to say hello with ample treats in hand whenever we see her. On this day when she sees us, she parks the mail truck and crosses the street with her ever-reliable doggie treats in hand. We talk pet talk and then she mosies on with her important work.

On our way home, a consistently dog-friendly walking neighbor asks about Sparkey and pauses to bestow lots of affection upon both canine pals. I tell her about the baby owls in the nest perched high in a tall white pine tree nearby.

And finally, when we make it back to our driveway, over comes someone from the neighborhood home for people with developmental disabilities to see how the old boy is doing. The staff there bought a jar and filled it with treats, each employee signing a card for Sparkey's recovery from the hospital!

I agree with Anne Frank, and will paraphrase her here, that people are basically good. We are indeed blessed to live in such a place, especially this sometimes Fred Rogerian neighborhood. Sparkey is loved by almost all here, and his remaining days with us are all the more special by sharing him with others.



So many questions---rhetorical and otherwise--- come up at this time in Sparkey's life....

What if he's still alive when we're supposed to go away the first week of July? We always have dog-sitters, but will we need to hire a veterinary technician to do his home IV? Would we cancel our trip?

What about burial? We have a spot picked out in our yard where we'd like to bury him---nestled in a nook with three rhododendrons where ashes of our dear friend Woody also nourish the soil. Mary called DigSafe since we need them to make sure we won't hit any power lines or pipes in the process. And what do we wrap him in?

Will he be OK when Mary returns to full-time work on Monday? We've all had the luxury of her being home for the last two years.

How will it feel when he stops wanting to eat? How do we make it through these tough transitions?

What will it be like for Tina when he's gone? They've been siblings/housemates for eleven years.

How long will we grieve his physical absence? I still miss my cat Rama who disappeared in 1990....

The list will grow.......


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Calm Eagle on where pets go when they die

Mary here, Sparkey's female pack leader, with my first post...Many more to follow!

There is a sweet painting that accompanies this post. (Follow the link and scroll up.)

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that animal goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food and water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing: they miss someone very special to them; who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. The bright eyes are intent; the eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to break away from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. YOU have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.


Bitter Pills

How do you get a recalcitrant dog to take his many pills without forcing them down his unwilling throat, especially after he so tolerantly received his IV fluids yet again?

Cream cheese? Failed.

Peanut butter? Nix.

Butter? Non.

Encased in a rich chocolate-covered peanut butter confection? Rejected.

A piece of cooked liver impregnated with meds deep within its chewy organ tissue? Bingo!


All in a Night's Loving

Mary was out late last night at a play, so on my way home from work, I stopped at Whole Foods to buy Sparkey some fresh meat for dinner (and some human food for us as an afterthought) and made my way to the house.

I was greeted by happy dogs, Sparkey limping but wagging his tail and eager for a walk. We circled the neighborhood, stopped at the beaver pond, Sparkey had some grass---he generally likes a salad before dinner---and I let them chew on some marrow bones while I made dinner. Vegetarians that we are, we assume that a nice juicy bone will stimulate the boy's appetite and keep him content.

The following hour was subsumed by slow-cooking Sparkey's boneless chicken thighs and (gulp) organic chicken livers in organic chicken broth in a large wok set up on the outdoor gas grill. After it cooled, they both ate with gusto, a small amount of rice snuck into Sparkey's bowl. The greatest challenge is keeping Tina away from Sparkey's food while he takes frequent breaks to walk around the house and eventually return for further munching.

When Mary came home, it was time for meds, replete with wrenching open Spark's jaw, holding the lower mandible firmly, and depositing the pills on the back of his tongue. Long gone are the days of enveloping his pills in cream cheese for ease of administration. He knows every trick in the book, so the direct method is now the only way.

Next, the IV fluids. I think he's growing to dislike the process. I try to find that sweet spot in his scruff where he doesn't seem to feel the needle go in, but sometimes it's obvious that the pinch is felt and he tries to lurch away. Then, during the ensuing fifteen minutes of infusion, he tries in vain to get up. I've taken to crouching over his back, a knee on either side of his lower ribcage, as I hold the needle in his scruff and make sure the fluid is flowing as rapidly as possible. Despite his displeasure, when I leaned over during last night's treatment to talk to him, he licked my nose. Forgiveness.

It's time well spent, love well given, life sustained and shared. These are the latter days.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Of Kidneys and Protein

One of the challenges of Sparkey's care right now has to do with protein. The old guy is eschewing all foods with the exception of fresh meat and chicken which we're cooking for him in small quantities every day or two. While he used to eat rice, some cooked veggies, canned food, and dry dog food, he will only touch these high-protein foods now. The risk of such a high-protein diet in the face of renal failure is that the kidneys can no longer process the waste products of protein metabolism and the blood levels of these waste products are now chronically elevated and will eventually cause him problems which could hasten his demise.

That said, a dog can only live 7-10 days without food---less without water---and without such special foods, Sparkey would definitely waste away to nothing and die anyway. The vet says that he cannot really build new muscle at this point in his life, and he is now quite thin and bony. Still, protein is essential for many other physiological processes other than muscle building, including maintaining blood volume, enzyme and hormone production, etcetera.

Thus, we are faced with a difficult situation to finesse, and we can only do what we can to keep him afloat. Mary has found that he will eat some corn tortillas at times, but the vet warns us that his food likes and dislikes will change rapidly and frequently and we'll just have to keep trying different things. Acupuncture is one thing we have yet to try, but first we must look at our financial state. (Any donations towards acupuncture sessions would not be refused, and we plan to hold a Sparkey Tag Sale to raise money towards his treatment.)

For now, we keep fresh water on hand (although he much prefers the toilet!), and offer him marrow bones, tortillas, various treats which he may or may not reject, and high-quality cooked meat, chicken or fish which we cook outside. Our general feeling that he might as well eat whatever he likes in the moment and his kidneys will eventually fail no matter what. The overall goal, of course, is just to keep him happy and comfortable every day.

Any ideas, recommendations or advice would be well-received.

Til next time, keep Sparkey in your hearts.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Living Memorial

This has been sent out by Mary and I to various friends over the last few days.....

Greetings friend of Sparkey,

You are receiving this because Sparkey is getting ready to leave :( and he would like to see you before he goes. He had a dramatic health crisis on Easter Sunday and after a life saving stay at Angel Animal Hospital, he is home safe, getting daily IV fluids, lots of TLC and, yes, his people are finally cooking real meat for him! (His sister, Tina, is surely loving this part!)The diagnosis is chronic renal failure, low thyroid, arthritis and too many atrophied muscles in his legs to be able to walk or run very well, poor baby.

Sparkey has loved his many visits from friends over the 13 years of his good life, not to mention the many walks, hikes and adventures that he's thrived on--and expected! He has also always enjoyed a good party and would welcome you with his now raspy bark, a wag of his tail, or maybe even a kiss in the mouth if you're really lucky.

Sparkey remembers all his friends and the kindness extended to him, so please drop by for a fond farewell:

Open House @ Sparkey's Home
Saturday, April 28th or Sunday, April 29th, 2006
1-3:00 p.m.

(If these dates don't work and you really want to visit 'Bob', call to come at another time. He may make it another month, provided he is not suffering too much.)

What to bring: Any memories/stories you may care to share and your blessings for a peaceful passage. Sparkey would especially welcome a parting gift of cooked red meat, cooked chicken or fish with no bones, or two marrow bones from the butcher.


Of Dogs and Love

Since Sparkey's return from the hospital, we've moved our bedroom downstairs to preclude his need to climb up the stairs (and my need to carry him). For various reasons---is it the tramadol or the IV fluids?---he's much less wobbly and has fallen considerably less in the last few days. His appetite is fairly good, and he looks very handsome after a good brushing by Mary.

Moments of denial creep in when I allow myself to think that perhaps he'll live a few more years. We may be extending his life a few months, but beyond that is alot to ask for. That said, the best thing to do is take this day by day and enjoy every moment with him. Even though it cramps our style, I'm enjoying the fact that he's going to the trouble of hoisting himself onto our bed (sometimes with an assist) every night, my feet occasionally cramped beneath his skinny but still substantial frame. He sleeps a great deal these days, and remains flat on the bed long after we get up, make tea, and begin our day. Once Mary starts working next week, we'll probably need to force him out of bed to take him for his morning constitutional.

Speaking of Mary's return to work after a long sojourn of un- and under-employment, Sparkey and Tina will again be without constant human companionship through the long days. Luckily, our dear friend David who has known the dogs for more than a decade will be coming by for a few hours every afternoon to walk them, keep them company, and call us with The Sparkey Report. With a modicum of flexibility in my job, the need to work from home at times will definitely be on my radar, especially as Sparkey begins to decline, or becomes acutely ill again.

Our sweetest feelings for the old "Bob" are more and more acute as we file through memories of times past and appreciate him for who he is in the present moment. The present moment is what he's really about---he's a gifted teacher---and beyond the worry, the grief, and the sadness, there is always that moment to embrace and fold ourselves into.

The human-canine partnership is a symbiotic one of great emotion and sweetness, and we're so blessed to have had so many wonderful years with Sparkey and Tina. Woody used to say that our dogs were so loving because they were the recipients of so much love. Perhaps they've been the recipients of so much love because they love us so unconditionally. Whatever the case, love breeds more love, and that is certainly the bottom line.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Welcome to Sparkey's World!

Welcome one and all. This blog was created to honor and document the latter days of Sparkey the Dog, aka "Bob".

Sparkey is a well-loved thirteen-year-old lab mix who is now in the winter of his life. He was discharged from our local New England animal hospital on April 18th following an episode of intractable vomiting on Easter Sunday. Sparkey has been diagnosed with chronic renal failure (CRF) which often manifests as anorexia, nausea, and vomiting in dogs, a set of symptoms which mimic gastroenteritis. He is now receiving 500 cc's of Lactated Ringer's Solution IV fluid into the subcutaneous tissue of his shoulder blades (scruff) every day in order to supplement the rapid fluid and electrolyte loss via his failing kidneys. He also takes thyroid hormone, glucosamine with chondroitin, and tramadol for pain.

Sparkey's 11-year-old sister Tina appears to be aware of his failing health, and has become much more deferential to the old guy, although she has no problem with trying to abscond with his special foods which have unfortunately added to her weight, making her much more of a barrel-on-sticks. The girlish figure seen in this photograph belies her more corpulent substance of late, but we will see Spring Training and a slimmer Tina in the months to come, following this long winter of snacks and naps and an ailing brother.

This blog will be a chronicle, a tribute, a gallery, as well as a place for friends of Sparkey to share, gush, remember, and eventually grieve this fine and loyal canine being. Thanks for stopping by Sparkey's world, and please leave a comment here and there if you care to.