Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sparkey Pollock

In his later life, Sparkey has become somewhat of an artist, specifically an action painter. As he walks along the street, Sparks likes to let his urine flow without hindrance, sketching very idiosyncratic patterns on the hot macadam. Even in the summer heat, I've been surprised how long some of these installations last, and it's always interesting to watch them slowly fade and change over time.

Now, there actually is historical and artistic precedent for working with urine, namely the famous and controversial photograph of a crucifix immersed in urine by Andre Serrano. While opponents of the National Endowment for the Arts took up arms against this form of expression, Sparkey has no fears of reprisal or condemnation, especially since his works are both ephemeral and unsubsidized by the federal government.

Apropos of action painting, one could draw some parallels between Sparkey's voided expressions and the 20th century work of Jackson Pollock, who pioneered the drippy and torturous painting style that shook the art world in the 1950s. One could also draw parallels to Chinese calligraphy, as well as modern urban grafitti, not to mention the exuberant Abstract Expressionism of Robert Motherwell, one of my favorite painters of all time.

However, even with parallels between Sparkey's work and that of Andre Serrano, Motherwell, and Pollock, I find even more of a creative relationship between Sparks and that contemporary master of ephemeral and temporary art created in nature, Andy Goldsworthy. Andy does such temporary works such as "Rain Shadows", laying in a field during a rainstorm and allowing the rain to form an image of his body on the earth, and sculpting with flowers and other natural materials. (By the way, I highly recommend a relatively recent documentary of his artistic process, Rivers and Tides, now on DVD.)

I'm sure neither Andy Goldsworthy nor Mr. Serrano would mind being creatively compared to a dog, especially a dog of such noble stature and loving demeanor. I especially think Mr. Goldsworthy would have a cosmic chuckle over how a dog with no expensive art-school training creates such singular images.

Here's to yet another manifestation of Sparkey's latter day brilliance. Gotta love that dog.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Today is day 99 since Sparkey left the hospital, and he just received his 99th IV since that time. That's alot of Lactated Ringers!

So many days of wondering how much more time we have, while relishing what we do have---today. He is still a constant companion and friend, loyal to our household and its members.

Happy 99th, old man!


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Status Quo

No news is good news these days, I guess. Sparkey shows little wear and tear, other than some bleeding on the top of his hind paws after we forgot his booties a few times. His appetite remains relatively good, with some moments of turning up his nose at otherwise favored foods. Even with the temperature in the 80's and 90's most days, he still wants to walk around the block, drinks lots of water, and understandably sleeps a whole lot. Our friend David still comes to walk and hang out with the dogs on weekdays while we're at work, and Sparks tolerates his nightly IV with little protest.

Overall, things are at a midsummer standstill, neither in perceptible decline nor incline. For this, we must give thanks.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

To sleep, perchance to wake

Even though we moved our bedroom downstairs after Sparkey left the hospital in March, we've taken to sleeping upstairs during these very hot days of summer since our only air conditioner lives in our bedroom on the second floor. Our central air died last summer, and though we miss that luxury, it seems more fitting to not have such ubiquitous climate control and be more in tune with the humid misery premeating our valley.

That said, sleeping upstairs has some benefits, even though Sparkey needs guidance making it up the steps (and sometimes catapults down the stairs, unable to check his speed or put on the brakes). The bed we're using up there is just a "Memory Foam" mattress on the floor with no box-spring, which has us really on the dogs' level while we sleep (although one of us often ends up on the adjacent futon most nights as well). Tina travels around the room during the night, her sleep disorder moving her from place to place. Sparkey, on the other hand, spends the majority of the night within arms' reach of the bed. Many mornings, all I need to do is reach my arms over my head and his bony frame is right there. Each time I awaken for the day, the room brightening with the light outside, I seek out a glimpse of Spark's ribcage and watch for signs of breathing. As I see his muscles contract and relax, the skinny ribs rising and falling, I realize we have another day together and I smile to myself. Today is another such day, and the boy's still here.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Culinary Notes

Sparkey was surfing the net today and came across a blog entry by a fellow canine. Said canine was quite miffed with his "maternal unit" for initiating a weight loss program which includes cessation of pancakes and cookies forthwith. Sparkey was up in arms about such culinary abuse, and Tina chimed in that she just might call the ASPCA. Come to think of it, Tina is equally distubed at her own decreased amounts of food on offer, and does her determined best to eat anything that Sparkey deigns to leave in his bowl. That said, Tina has consequently regained some of her girlish figure of late (much to her dismay), due to her parental units' watchful eyes and calorie counting.

As other dogs are put on diets, Sparkey's parental units do everything in their power to have him eat, and he certainly does oblige. While his ravenous appetite may be due, in large part, to the enormous amounts of protein lost in his urine due to kidney failure, he loves the taste of barbecued chicken and rice.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sparkey to the Rescue!

Sparks, circa Summer 2005

We took the dogs to our local swimming hole---a very small river about 30 feet across and 6-feet deep--where we've spent summers for the last five years. Although we've refrained from taking the dogs there this summer for various reasons (Sparkey's health, his difficulty negotiating the sandy bank, etc) we decided to give them a treat after they spent a 100-degree day in our home with the windows and shades drawn against the relentless swelter as we toiled in the hot city some 21 miles away.

They seemed to enjoy the five-minute car-ride, and Sparkey jauntily made his way to "the creek", as we call it, hesitating when he made it to the bridge with three big wooden steps. I hoisted his hindquarters as he stepped with his front legs, and we managed the bridge with ease. Mary and I jumped into the cool water to escape the mosquitos, and Sparkey and Tina poked around in this familiar haunt, a baby's shoes and some bottles littering the tiny beach.

Suddenly, Mary let out a blood-curdling scream, thinking that the resident eel had wrapped itself around her leg. (It was actually the strap of her sandal which she wore for swimming!) Apparently actually hearing Mary's cry of alarm, Sparkey hobbled down the sandy bank, plunged gingerly but determinedly into the water, and swam the fifteen feet towards Mary as if to say, "I'm here, Momma! Never fear!"

We looked at each other, realizing simultaneously that he had reacted in a protective manner (renal failure and arthritis be damned!) and took to the water in response to Mary's impassioned distress. Mind you, this was his first full swim of the year---complete body in the water, paws furiously paddling doggie-style. He must have enjoyed the weightlessness. He stayed in the water as we swam up to him, praising him loudly and offering our wet faces for a smattering of Sparkey's Special Halitosis Kisses. Joy.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vet Report

The vet called today to follow up on her visit with Spark yesterday. Lucky for us, this home-visiting vet will come to our house while we're at work. Lucky for Tina, she didn't need any bloodwork or shots this time.

It appears that Sparkey now has End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). This means that his kidneys are irreparably damaged (which we already knew) and that the damage has worsened since April (which we suspected). For those of you medically-minded readers out there, his BUN in April was 87 and his creatinine (the best overall measure of renal function) was 4.9. Now, his BUN is 115 and his creatinine is 7.2, a considerable increase. Although protein is difficult for his kidneys to break down and process, and his muscles can no longer build mass with dietary protein, his carnivorous diet is still the best for him at this late stage. All that protein is bad for his kidneys, but the poor guy has to eat something and his disdain for carbs is now legendary (at least in this house).

On other fronts, he is now anemic (due to the kidney's role in the production of erythropoietin, an essential element for the production of red blood cells) and his phosphorus levels are high at 9.4, showing even more clearly that the kidneys are very damaged and extremely compensated. His thyroid function is quite high, meaning that his voracious appetite may be due to the revved-up metabolism, overall not necessarily a good thing as it causes him to want to eat even more protein-rich foods which further compromises his kidneys.

So, as waste products of metabolism build up in Sparkey's blood (this is called "uremia"), Sparkey may begin to experience nausea, vomiting, and anorexia (lack of appetite, not to be confused with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder). When these symptoms begin to occur, we'll manage them as best we can, keep him comfortable, and weigh his quality of life closely and as objectively as possible.

In terms of medication, we are cutting back his thyroid medication in the hopes that his metabolism will be more normal for a dog his age and condition, and he will eat moderate amounts and not experience such intense hunger. His pain medication---Tramadol---is a good non-narcotic analgesic but also takes a toll on the kidneys, so we will begin to cut those in half and see if his pain control is good enough with a decreased dose. If there's any signs of pain or discomfort, we'll go back to full dose and keep him comfortable at the expense of his poor kidneys.

I told the very kind vet that he is sleeping alot, and she responded by saying that any 13-year-old dog will sleep "24/7" if given the opportunity, and that should not be a cause for concern, unless it seems that pain is decreasing his ability to rest comfortably.

She praised us for all we're doing, and encouraged us to continue to use the booties to protect his hind feet while walking. The 500 mL's of IV fluid every night is essential right now in order to replace some of the electrolytes he's losing in his urine and not absorbing into his tissues. Even though I sometimes grumble about doing the IV (this was the 85th night) and its cost ($13 per day!), it's the least I can do for this creature who has lived in our home, helped raise our boy into manhood, protected our property, ate off of our plates, and loved us unconditionally for thirteen-plus years. Even as he begins to withdraw somewhat and becomes less demonstrably affectionate (a normal occurence for a dog--or human--approaching death), we know he loves us and appreciates our love and care. This animal's beautiful soul has danced with ours for more than a decade, and we will dance with him (in the flesh) until his flesh grows tired and releases his spirit into the night sky.

And now we dream.......


Friday, July 14, 2006

There But for the Grace of God.....

Two of Sparkey and Tina's canine friends have died in the last three weeks. The latter of the two was the dog belonging to a family who are, to a large extent, a partial extension of our own. Our son Rene grew up with the two boys from that family, the eldest of those two "boys" now being a young father, with our son the proud godfather of his youngest child. This family, with whom we have shared a great deal of closeness and connectedness for almost fifteen years, had a dog a mere one year Sparkey's elder.

"Stanley" (aka "Daddy") loved Sparkey, and would, when told that a visit with Sparkey was imminent, spin in circular rotations and contortions of delight at the prospect of seeing his dear buddy. For his part, Sparkey was stand-offish with Stanley at best, apparently tolerating his ardor, yet generally giving him precious little attention, especially in their later years. Tina, on the other hand, seemed to be endlessly enfatuated with Stanley, who subsequently spurned Tina in favor of Sparkey, a tree not much worth barking up, so to speak, given Spark's apparent lack of enthusiasm for Stanley's exuberant adoration. It was generally a triangle of unrequited love.

The former of the two dogs was a wee little thing who Mary assisted a disabled friend to aquire from the pound. "Catherine My Dear" (after K. Hepburn, of course) was a constant companion for a number of years to our wheelchair-bound friend, and Mary even helped said friend to obtain "Assistance Dog" status for Catherine, even though her level of assistance consisted of riding on our friend's lap in the wheelchair, napping Olympically, and generally looking quite cute and small, peeing and pooping freely on the tile floors of the handicapped-accessible apartment.

Stanley and Catherine will be missed by not only their human pack members, but also the others who knew and loved them. Their love for their humans was exemplary, and the function which they served within their families/packs was an important and loving one. And when we learn of the passing of an animal friend, we always think, "there but for the grace of God go we".

Sparkey is hanging in there. Having just finished his nightly IV, I wonder---like Mary does---if we are doing the right thing. He seems comfortable, content, still eats his grass salad and loves BBQ'd chicken with rice. So we continue in the hopes that the months will stretch on, even as the financial burden of his care grows.

When the time comes, Sparkey---and Tina---will also go to greener pastures, and we will look back on our years with them with gladness and loving fondness. For now, here we are, and we bless the souls of Catherine and Stanley as they leave this physical plane and scurry off to new noncorporeal adventures and delights. May they be happy and free. May we all.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

...and finally from the Ms.

Funny how bad news can be good news and vice versa. A friend was going to move into our basement apartment but then changed her mind. The good news part is that now my dogs won't have to adjust to living with a cat in their midsts (or the likely torture that could well have been for little miss Tina)

Sir Keith is more savvy and patient with posting photos from our Brookstone outlet discontinued first ever digital camera and thus you have heard from him more. I am still recovering from a bronchial thing and don't feel so well these days...Since Tuesday, i have come home and fallen asleep after work each day. I think that after this missive I will google walking pnemonia and see if i have the symptoms.

What does any of this have to do with Sparkey, you may wonder? Well, its my way of saying hello out there and I am dutifully here with the dawgs, even though I feel like crap. I have slowed down and can relate more to how Sparkey feels. I am trying my best to tune into him to see if he has any desire to end this part of his path and begin his new journey. I can't help but wonder if we are holding him back with our life saving measures and pain control and so forth. He would be well into his next life had we not intervened, so I am stepping aside from our attachment or fear of pain/loss to see what I can see, to listen more deeply, and ask the important questions. For now, I await the answers and gently enjoy the bliss out of who and what matters most in life.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Boy with the Boots

Here he is, our old man, begging for a treat, even as the buffalo-hump of IV fluids makes him look like The Humpback of Notre Dawg. His hind legs splay out in front of him, his booties sliding on the worn linoleum.

These red and black boots are now necessary for outside walks as Sparkey drags his feet along the macadam, scraping the tops of his paws, resulting in stigmata which bleed and fester but are beginning to callous over.

Friday, the vet will come to our home while we're at work and draw some blood to check his kidneys and thyroid. In my nurse's mind, what's the use of giving him thyroid hormone if his levels are off? To wit, pumping him with all this fluid is fine, but I want to know if his kidneys are any worse off than they were two months ago. Just because.

Anyway, that's our boy. Another day in the life.....


Monday, July 10, 2006

Sparks Street

A street in Ottawa caught our eye........

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Poop Interdite

An example of Canadian pragmatism at its best.

No bilingual translation needed here.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


We arrived home yesterday to happy, content, and well-loved dogs. The house was in excellent shape, the dogs calm and clean, the hearth and home welcoming to travellers who can lay their bags down and put the 1200 miles and memories aside for a moment , reconnecting with the canine pack.

During our week in Quebec, Ottawa, and Burlington, VT, it seemed that there were dogs everywhere, and we were pleased to see how dog-friendly and relaxed these places were. Unlike our Little Uptight Town Which Shall Remain Nameless, in those towns where we were vacationing, dogs sat in outdoor cafes at the feet of their humans, drinking from water bowls and enjoying the freedom to be with their packs, even where food is served (Heaven forbid!) We loved our canine connections, and I whispered "have a good long life" into many a panting face.

So, here we are, dogs at our feet, laptops buzzing, the sounds of a summer evening outside the screened-in porch. Sparkey is skinny but no worse for wear, and his devoted sister Tina is still by his side (or at least trying to eat his dinner when he's not looking!)

All is well.