Poop on the ceiling

Image result for poop

About a week after meeting Lynn’s first potential adopters, I woke up to a surprise.  Nope, not a snow day or even a fresh dusting of the stuff.  Heck, I don’t even like snow and two feet of it would have been preferable to what I saw when I went to get Lynn to start our day.

Lynn had gotten a bad case of diarrhea overnight.  Bad, you guys.  There was liquefied poop all over her crate and all over her.  She had so much of it in the long fur of her tail and she was so happy to see me that she flung diarrhea everywhere with every wag of her tail. 

The walls, the closet doors, the carpet, the guest room bedspread (which was white!)…..and the ceiling.  Yep.  Poop on the ceiling.

I didn’t have too long to figure out the physics of the situation.  There was no time to sit and cry (though certainly my first instinct was to melt into a puddle of despair).  Lynn was dancing around in the crate totally perpetuating the problem if that was even possible.

I was grateful that Ryan was home.  It was thankfully (for me, definitely not for him!) a Sunday.  Spouses help each other in overwhelming situations, right?!  I was totally within my rights to wake up my loving, supportive husband and tell him to help me with some aspect, every aspect of cleaning diarrhea off, well, everything, correct?! 

While I wrapped Lynn in a towel and hustled to the bathroom to bathe her (how much easier this would have been if it had been summer and I could have used the hose!), Ryan tackled the crate and the surrounding areas.  After bathing and drying Lynn, I took her outside where she had more explosive diarrhea. 

I knew she would need to be in her crate a lot this day, as she hadn’t quite mastered the “ask at the front door for a let out” trick and would be unreliable with diarrhea.  I put a tarp under her now-clean crate and put several fresh towels inside.  I let Lynn hang out with the family, and Livie (figuring they were already together so much that if Livie was going to catch whatever this was, she probably already had; had our veterinarian been right to warn me about contagious shelter dogs?), for a while, took her back out where she had more diarrhea, and then crated her for a bit. 

I let Ann know what was going on.  Ann reported back that the shelter vet had recommended not feeding Lynn today, and then to put her on a bland diet (chicken and rice) the next few days. 

All day, I let Lynn outside on the hour.  She had diarrhea each time.  Then she would drink some water and hang out for a while.  As soon as she started wandering around the house, however, back in the crate she would go. 

I went to bed with fear in my heart.  And the fear was justified.  I woke up to the same scene as the day before.  Poop smeared all over the crate, all over Lynn, all over the doors and walls…and on the ceiling.  Why was there poop on the ceiling? 

Again, I had to fight the impulse to despair.  Ryan had already left for work so I had no backup as I set about cleaning first Lynn and then the room (while hoping, hoping, hoping Lynn wasn’t walking around dripping poop throughout the house).  This was a school day, so I was on the clock as I scrubbed and gagged.  I would certainly have no time for a shower, which I so desperately needed.

When the kids were all at school, I let Ann know that Lynn was continuing to have diarrhea and now wasn’t interesting in drinking.  I was worried about her…and my sanity.  We needed a vet to fix this issue.  Ann said I could bring her in that morning, thankfully, so I loaded her up and we headed to see the shelter vet.

Because she was dehydrated and starting to seem lethargic, the vet wanted to administer some IV fluids.  I would have to leave to pick Nora up from preschool, so they said they would call me with an update later in the day. 

While in a shelter kennel, not being let out on the hour, Lynn demonstrated the quality of her diarrhea.  The shock and horror in the voice of the tech who was relaying the info to me mirrored my own upon discovering Lynn’s mess the past two mornings.  I was even able to chuckle a little, now that it was happening in a washable kennel instead of on my carpet (and ceiling!).   They wanted to give her some probiotics and other anti-diarrheal meds along with the fluids.  Could I pick her up the next morning?  (You mean sleep all night and not wake up to diarrhea?!  You betcha!). 

While Lynn was gone, I set up her crate (still with a tarp under it) in the basement.  There was more space and fewer fabrics in the basement and I thought that if Lynn still had overnight diarrhea when she returned, her new location would be a lot easier to clean.

When I picked her up, Lynn was ecstatic to see me.  The vet gave me a few meds that should help alleviate the diarrhea.  She could eat a bland diet for a couple days, then transition back to her regular kibble.  When I asked what had caused the sudden and profusive diarrhea, the vet didn’t know exactly (we later found out it was giardia).  I hoped that she would improve quickly and that Livie wouldn’t get ill.

At home, I let Lynn out often.  Her poop was still soft that first day home, but it wasn’t completely liquefied, and it wasn’t as frequent as it had been the two previous days.  Improvement! 

Overnight, Lynn did poop in the crate, but the damage on her was mostly her back legs and her tail and scrubbing the poop flecks off the basement floor didn’t faze me the way cleaning upstairs had.  (I eventually painted the guest room ceiling because even after lots of cleaning, I could still see where the poop had been.  I also got a new guest room comforter and the other one became a foster blanket.  Rest assured, guests!).

Day by day, Lynn improved and was soon back to her firm poop, peppy self.  She even returned to her funny antics like scaling furniture of all kinds!  I was traumatized, surely, but also slowly recovered. 

Friday, several days after Lynn had been home from the vet, I got another email about a potential adopter.  He was hoping to meet Lynn the next day, Saturday!

Lynn meets potential adopters

Lynn became available for adoption after her heartworm treatment.  She still needed a (long) while to recover and couldn’t be deemed heartworm free for months so would remain with us in foster, but if a potential adopter met her and fell in love, they could finalize the adoption and complete her care and treatment.

Lynn chewing on an indestructible bone toy

I received an email that a potential adopter was interested in meeting her!  We could bring her to the shelter for the interaction or we could communicate with the interested person about meeting at our house or somewhere neutral.  I got the contact info and reached out to see what was best for Andrea.

Andrea and her boyfriend Tom were located close to us, and we thought meeting at our house might show Lynn in her best light.  We anxiously awaited the meeting, four whole days from when we set it up (nothing like having something that you’re nervous/excited for to really slow down four days!). 

Andrea and Tom were right on time to meet Lynn.  They were a young couple eager to adopt their first dog together.

I had secured Livie in another room.  We didn’t want her soaking up any of the attention that Lynn deserved nor distracting Lynn from giving all her attention to her potential adopters. 

Andrea and Tom asked a lot of questions about Lynn.

“When would we know if she was heartworm free?” – 4-6 months

“What if she isn’t?” – you would need to consult a vet about that; maybe she would need to restart the treatment.

“Is she housebroken?” – not exactly.  But we’ve been working on it and she is showing improvement.

“How is she with other dogs?” – fabulous!

“What is going on with her bottom?” – and here I explained vaginal prolapse.

“Will she ever look normal?” – I really don’t know (but don’t you think she’s beautiful?!).

“We are both gone all day.  Do you think she will be okay with that?” – she does enjoy company and stimulation.  But a lot of people work all day and there are solutions for that like dog walkers and doggie camps.

When they were done asking questions, I raved about all of Lynn’s most endearing qualities.  She was the sweetest, most good natured dog.  I could say that enthusiastically and honestly.  She was great on a walk. 

Did they want to take her for a 5-10 minute walk around our cul-de-sac to chat about her and see what a good girl she was?  They did.

Andrea and Tom returned Lynn, gave her some pets, and said they would be in touch with me and the shelter staff about their decision over the next couple days. 

A couple more long days…

I tried to process how it would feel to have Lynn leave.  I had totally mixed feelings because I was excited for her to start her “real life” and it would be a relief to have completed this bridge between the shelter and that forever home, but I had also fallen in love with sweet Lynn and knew it would be difficult to actually say goodbye.

The email arrived!  I clicked on it with anticipation… 

But Andrea and Tom had decided to pass on Gerralynn.  They didn’t feel like she would be a good fit for them.  I wondered if I should have been less honest about her desire to be with humans all the time.  But then Lynn would be less happy, and probably her owners would be too.  She really did love a lot of interaction.  She deserved that.  She would have to keep looking. 

Meanwhile, Lynn continued to be a bright spot and the humor in many of our days.  She kept us laughing with her antics, fretting with her shenanigans, and loving her with her snuggles.  Livie had clearly fallen in love with her too.  Maybe she had already found her forever home?

Reframing the past

Caring for Lynn through her heartworm treatment brought up memories of my past and how my family treated the animals that we owned and loved.

I already mentioned in a previous post the MANY, MANY litters of kittens that we allowed our barn cat, Snooze, to deliver.  Looking back, I really can’t believe how little regard we paid to the fact of her continued contribution to the cat population.  I don’t think Snooze, or any of our other barn cats, ever took a trip to the vet.  Not spaying her wasn’t a deliberated decision; the fact that she was having litter after litter was just a fact of barn life. 

When I was about 11, my family visited a backyard breeder of labs to pick out a puppy.  We had recently lost our beloved lab Sandy to the perils of old age.  I sat among the litter of yellow labs, in absolute bliss.  The first one that approached me (and actually bit my hand rather roughly!) stole my heart.  I don’t know why I would have been the specific member of the family allowed to pick our newest pet and maybe my parents actually already knew which one we were getting and it coincidentally coincided with my favorite, but I believed that she picked me, and I picked her. 

We brought Maui home a couple weeks later.  She was raised at our home for the next six months. 

When she went into heat for the first time, it was quite a mess!  We tried keeping her in the garage for those few days.  Once, she slipped inside and ran upstairs, me hot on her heels.  I eventually caught her and tugged her back out, but she had left a trail of blood drips through the house and I spent the rest of the day scrubbing the carpet, hoping my parents didn’t return from work and find out what I had let Maui do. 

Each time she was in heat, Maui was a flight risk.  She frequently escaped our yard to gallivant around the neighborhood.  Likely, she was driven by her instinct to find a mate.

Maui was exiting the puppy stage, making huge messes monthly, and roaming more and more.  My parents told me that she would need to move out to the property we owned a few miles away from our home.  At the barn, we had a chain link kennel for dogs.  Inside the kennel was a large tree for shade, two dog houses for warmth, food and water bowls.  The kennel was an octagon with four foot panels.  It was spacious.  But it wasn’t home. 

Almost a month after Maui moved out to the property, my parents told me that we were having her spayed.  I was surprised as I had never considered that we might spay her.  Later, my mother told me that the decision was made when they figured out that she was pregnant.  Not knowing who the father was, nor having any interest in raising puppies, my parents chose a spay surgery as the most convenient (and permanent) abortion option.

Maui was an incredible dog.  She was always by my side when I was out horseback riding or hiking through the woods.  She was my faithful companion as I mucked stalls or groomed horses.  Maui was by my side through the many hours I spent at the barn.  She was a friend, a best friend.

I only heard her growl aggressively twice.  Once was when a man drove up the long and rural driveway and approached my mother and I at the barn.  Maui started a low, intimidating growl and lowered her body while staring at the man.  He left quickly.  My mother later told me that he had made her feel uncomfortable and that she had been nervous.  I had been surprised by Maui’s behavior, but it makes sense in the context that she had picked up on my mother’s fear. 

The only other time I heard Maui growl was when I took her to my high school for my senior pictures years later.  When the first picture was snapped, with a popping and a flashing light, Maui lunged at the photographer.  Thankfully, I had a tight grip on her leash and she settled quickly.  I think in each of these cases, Maui was prepared and determined to protect her people.

One time, my mother genuinely needed Maui’s help.  We had a new and spirited horse, Twister, who my mother was taking out on the trails.  Maui accompanied them.  About an hour later, Twister tore into the barn like, well, a Twister (though she got the name from the tornado shaped marking down the front of her face).  She was panicked…and riderless.  Worried, my father set out to see if he could find my mother while I untacked Twister.  A few minutes later, Maui ran up to the barn.  My father and I got on the four wheelers, and Maui led us right to my mother, who had been thrown from Twister’s back and was hobbling back toward the barn, ever so slowly, when we found her.  Smart pup!

I loved Maui, but I never questioned that she lived outside, year round.  I never questioned the lack of vet trips.  I knew that she was with us hours of the day.  I knew that she got ample exercise, following along on countless trail rides.  But she wasn’t underfoot as we prepared meals or did homework.  She wasn’t invited on the couch to watch movies.  She didn’t cuddle up with us as we relaxed for the night.

I left for college with a heavy heart when Maui was 8.  By this time, my parents had divorced and taking care of the barn was more perfunctory.  I knew Maui, and our other animals, wouldn’t get as much exercise or attention in my absence.  I asked a friend who lived near the barn and loved animals almost as much as me to check in on them and give them all extra love.    

When I went home over winter break, I spent many hours with the animals at the barn.  It was snowy that year (yes, it snows in North Carolina…sometimes!) and Maui seemed a little slower than usual, but she was deep into middle age and I didn’t blame her for hunching down against the cold; I hated it too.

In February, my dad called me one morning to tell me that he had discovered that Maui had died overnight.  My heart sank. 

“What happened?”

“I don’t really know,” my dad replied.  “She must have had cancer or something.   She hadn’t been wanting to eat as much as usual this week.  Maybe it was pneumonia or something like that though.  She was coughing some too.”

I fought tears through my morning classes.  I never imagined that Maui would die at 8. 

I accepted the idea that Maui had died from cancer.  While I thought of Maui often through the years, I never considered the more likely cause: heartworm.

Maui lived outside.  I can’t remember or imagine giving our dogs heartworm preventative.  They were often covered in fleas and ticks.  I am sure they were often bitten by mosquitos too.  Because they were dogs, that was just a fact of life.

Having Lynn in our home during her heartworm treatment was an impetus to research and learn more about heartworm.  So many of the risk factors and early symptoms resonated with me and made heartworm disease seem like a very possible cause of Maui’s death.

Heartworm disease is so preventable in dogs.  Please remember to give your dog a heartworm preventative.

Someday soon, I will dig through my many boxes of decades old photos and find one of sweet “Mau Mau” (Snooze and Twister too!) to update this post.  I can see her so clearly in my mind’s eye.  My emotions get stuck in my throat for a second, but ultimately I smile at her memory.  I can’t go back and invite her into my bed or give her a heartworm preventative, but I can do better with my dogs now and help educate others too.                  

Heartworm stinks…so does the treatment

Once a dog has heartworm, it can be treated, but the treatment is costly, painful, and dangerous.  Lynn had already been treated at the shelter with her first injection of melarsomine, an organic arsenical chemotherapy agent used to kill heartworms.  Dogs with heartworm typically have three melarsomine injections, spaced out by 4-6 weeks to ensure that worms in all life stages are killed and that the dog is cured. 

Side effects of melarsomine injections include pain, swelling and tenderness, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, gagging, lung conjestion, and depression.  After dogs are treated, the dead worms can become more dangerous and the risk of sudden death increases.  The need for exercise restriction is increased immediately following the treatments as well.

After Lynn had been with us for a few weeks, she was due at the shelter vet for her second injection.  The plan was to administer the second injection on a Wednesday morning and keep her at the shelter clinic overnight for observation.  She would have her third, and hopefully final, injection the next day, Thursday.  If she appeared well enough to go home, we could pick her up Thursday evening. 

After the treatment, Lynn would need another 6-8 weeks of exercise restriction, and it would be months before she could be tested for heartworms and hopefully deemed cured. 

I took Lynn and Livie for a slow walk before we headed to the shelter.  I had fallen in love with Lynn, despite her destructive, goofy habits, and was worried for her.  I felt awful loading her wagging self into the car, her not knowing what the plan was. 

I felt worse dropping her off at intake.  She politely greeted everyone there, but followed me when I headed toward the door.  The leash grew taut and she leaned against it.  Oh, my heart!

I headed right over to adoptables to walk some dogs.  I needed the shelter pups to distract my mind from the painful procedure that Lynn was undergoing.

The following video includes a good explanation of heartworm treatment and shows a dog receiving the injection to treat heartworm.

I got a call that afternoon.  The injection had gone well, and while Lynn was not her usual boisterous self, she was awake and okay.  Whew!

We snuggled Livie a little extra that night.  We also relaxed a little.  While hosting Lynn was rewarding and amazing, it was also a lot of work.  I missed her, but I have to admit, it was also a relief to have that bit of respite from constant alertness. 

The next afternoon, we got the green light to pick Lynn up.  Yay!

Lynn on the way home after her heartworm treatment

The kids and I hurried to the shelter.  Our girl greeted us enthusiastically and I had to remind the kids not to pet her along her back where she had received the injection.  Lynn wasn’t complaining, but I knew from my readings that she was in pain. 

We were sent home with some pain medicines, antibiotics, and steroids (meant to reduce her body’s reaction to the other drugs). 

Lynn was really low key Thursday evening.  She seemed alert and happy, and she was interested in dinner and Livie, but she was walking more slowly and had less pep in her step.  I had been advised to keep her really calm over the next couple days and to watch for warning signs, like coughing or gagging, that indicated that heartworms had become lodged in her arteries.  Now that Lynn knew us well and felt settled at our home, I felt confident that we could keep her calm.  She was well on her way to a successful heartworm recovery.

Exhausted Lynn after her heartworm treatment

Please, please, please…give your beloved dog a heartworm preventive!

Lynn settles into life at the Barbaro house

Lynn was such a sweet, good natured pup.  She never gave me a reason to worry about her with Livie or the children.  She was a smiler, a lover, a wagger. 

And yet, life with Lynn was not always simple.  Even if she had once been loved, Lynn had never been trained.  She just didn’t know the rules of being an inside dog.  This naivety, coupled with her reluctance to be confined, made for some interesting, sometimes frustrating, weeks. 

Lynn had to spend the nights in her crate.  I tried to let her sleep by my bed (Livie’s spot of choice), but she ripped up a shirt that was left on the dresser one night and a book another night.  She paced around restlessly and once even peed on the floor right by the bed, despite having just been out.  We all needed sleep.

Lynn quickly learned where the crate was and would not come to me once she saw that my intention was to confine her.  I tried to make the crate as positive of an experience as it could be with cozy blankets and special toys, but the rouse was up: being free to roam and enjoy the family was way better. 

To her credit, despite disliking confinement, Lynn rarely fussed anymore about being crated.  She made me work to get her there (often, I ended up carrying the 70 pound pup up the stairs and into the guest room before she would willingly enter the crate with the bribery of a treat), but once in, and especially if she had enjoyed some light exercise and sufficient mental stimulation, Lynn settled in quietly.

We started the days with a trip outside.  Then, Lynn and Livie would help me prepare the children’s lunches (Livie hoping some things would hit the floor, Lynn helping herself to the more delectable bits right off the counters or out of the lunch boxes if I dared turn my back). 

We woke up the children and helped everyone get ready for the day.  During this time, I kept a close eye on Lynn, because if she hadn’t pooped on her first outside trip of the day, she would sneak off to do it now.  After she taught me this routine, I started keeping her attached to me with a leash in the mornings.

Lynn and Livie out for a walk

After the children were off to school (Nora was going to preschool three mornings a week and the other kids were gone from 8am-3pm), I took the girls on a long walk.  After the walk, they would lay down with their toys or Kongs and I could trust Lynn to stay out of trouble for a couple hours. 

They got another walk at noon, 3:30pm, and before bed, with some outside time in between. 

The problems arose whenever Lynn got bored or when I wasn’t watching her closely. 

She thought everything was a toy.  Items she chewed and destroyed while in foster included numerous kitchen towels, a Barbie, a shirt, a book, a shinguard, a shoe….and this was with vigilant supervision.

Lynn thought anything edible was hers for the taking.  She had no qualms about surfing the table or counters for scraps (or our dinner!).  She snagged a couple sandwiches, a slice of quiche, cheese, apple slices…the list goes on and on. 

Lynn did not understand the ins and outs of housebreaking.  Despite amble opportunities to eliminate outside, Lynn gave me (and the steam cleaner!) a regular workout! 

Also, Lynn assumed she had full access to any part of the house.  She broke our “no dog on the living room couch” rule on day 1 and every day thereafter.  She leapt up on the kitchen table even when there wasn’t food there.  I even found her up on my dresser one day, just hanging out!  Funny girl!

I found that keeping her close worked to reduce each of these issues.  I learned when I could trust her to be on her best behavior (for the hour after a walk!) and when I had to be on guard (every other hour!).  Lynn trained me as much as I trained her, for sure. 

Many an hour was spent reading about dog behaviors and working with Lynn.  With each article I read about improving these behaviors, with each positive reinforcement tactic I employed, I knew that I was helping Lynn to become the best companion animal she could be.  I was helping to ensure that her forever home was indeed forever.  While she was recovering from heartworm and her vaginal prolapse surgery, she was also learning to live peacefully alongside people.  She was learning some basic manners and some fun tricks (sit, stay, shake, down, rollover!).  She was getting better (physically and behaviorally) week by week.

Livie and Lynn are the best of friends

Lynn’s other affliction

After Lynn taught us to leave her out of her crate to keep her calm, we all settled into a routine.  She became a member of the household, following along with us as we transitioned through our days.  She loved joining us in the kitchen while we prepared meals and ate.  She loved exploring the neighborhood on (longer than prescribed!) walks. 

Out for a walk with Lynnand Livie

We had to find the right balance of giving Lynn the exercise and enrichment she needed in order to calm her mind and body while not overdoing it.  Finding that calm was crucial to the success of her heartworm treatment

Lynn was in foster to recover from heartworm.  But the poor girl had a double whammy medical condition that wasn’t emphasized when we were bringing her home but that we certainly had to keep an eye on.  Lynn had a prolapsed vagina, a condition in which the structures in and around the vagina fall out of position.  In Lynn’s case, much of her vagina had been out of her body and had been surgically reinserted.  While Lynn’s backside was startling and painful looking by the time she came home with us, reddish pulp the size of a cherry tomato hanging down, a shelter staff member told me that the red and exposed flesh of Lynn’s vagina had been the size of a cantaloupe at intake.  Yikes!     

In humans, a common cause of vaginal prolapse is a difficult child birth (as opposed to all those easy ones!).  I wondered if Lynn had delivered puppies at some point.  She didn’t have the tell tale droopy nipples of a recent mom though they were longer than Livie’s. At 2 years of age she may have had puppies even more than a year ago. 

I also wondered if she had been someone’s beloved pet and they just couldn’t afford to take care of her surgical and heartworm treatment costs and had therefore surrendered her.  She was so friendly and good natured that I imagined she had been loved and loved on quite a bit.  Maybe the previous owners saw her vaginal prolapse and knew they had to get her the medical care she needed, even if it meant letting her go forever.  

The Humane Society of Huron Valley, like many shelters, offers a refuge to animals, including those with vast medical needs.  They have cared for animals needing amputations, tumor resection, heartworm treatment, treatment for infections of all kinds…the list is really endless.  They also offer a Safe Harbor program for those needing temporary housing for their pets through life’s most trying moments.  Additionally, they sponsor the Bountiful Bowls program, in which they provide pet food for owners with limited income. 

Regardless of her back story, Lynn had certainly ended up at the right place at HSHV.  She was getting treatment for her heartworm and her prolapsed vagina and was getting top notch loving and care at our foster home. 

Lynn was a huge fan of belly rubs so it was easy to keep an eye on her surgical site.  Daily, I checked it for signs of increased swelling or redness.  While it didn’t get worse, it certainly didn’t get better as quickly as I, or I am sure Lynn, hoped. 

Lynn’s long, beautiful fur had been shaved around her surgical site and she was always wagging her tail on walks.  As a consequence, we got lots of interested questions about her from the neighborhood children.

Why is her poop red?”

“Is she having a puppy right now?”

“Are her heartworms trying to come out?”

We have always been extremely honest with our children about life and death, body parts and puberty, and had explained to them exactly what Lynn’s backside affliction was.  But I wasn’t sure how the explanation that Lynn had heartworms and a vaginal prolapse was going to translate at the respective dinner tables.  I gave the parents I knew fair warning that their children were receiving a crash course education in dog anatomy!

Lynn teaches us a few things about heartworm treatment

Lynn

Lynn was clearly distressed and anxious in her crate.  But the instructions with which she came said that she should be crated for her own good.  What was happening in my guest room did not sound like it was good for anyone, however. 

The point of keeping an animal more or less sedentary during heartworm treatment is to prevent excessive blood flow that may dislodge the worms from the heart and cause arterial blockage.  I listened to Lynn’s struggles for an excruciatingly long 5 minutes, weighing the options and reasoning with myself. 

First of all, I HATE the sound of an animal in distress (and Lynn was clearly in distress).  I don’t do well with babies crying either.  I was never a good candidate for sleep training my own children through any method that involves crying, and spent way too many months hopping up around the clock at the slightest peep from any of them. If I can be a source of peace and happiness for another, that will always be my choice. 

Next, the intention of crating Lynn was to keep her calm…but it wasn’t working.  Her blood flow had to be increased in such a state of frantic anxiety than when she was simply moving happily about on the walk and throughout the house.

Could I in good conscious let her out?  If she dropped dead minutes later, would I still think that I had made the right decision?  With all the information I had at hand, with the goal of keeping her as calm as possible, letting Lynn roam around the house was the solution that made the most sense. Making the decision in good conscious, with the best of intentions, I thought I could live with whatever the consequences would be (but please, please, please don’t die on me, Lynn!!).

Lynn was sooooo happy to see me when I entered the guest room!  She was wagging like crazy and gave me a gazillion licks as a handsome reward for my common sense. 

You came back!  You came back!  You came back!

Just when I was starting to question myself because Lynn’s exuberance was borderline manic, she starting pacing around the house slowly again, exploring. 

She visited with each family member easily commandeering all the cuddles. 

She was friendly and happy visiting with Livie.  They mouth wrestled but were not running around the house at full speed. 

Lynn and Livie playing day 1

Finally, Lynn laid down in the kitchen as the family began dinner preparations. 

She was calm and happy.  We were all calm and happy.

I am, at heart, a rule follower.  I like being provided with clear instructions and I like to follow the instructions to the letter.  But Lynn was teaching me that she was an individual with individual needs that might deviate from standard heartworm treatment care.  After all, many shelter pups endure the long and painful treatment in the shelter environment, but Lynn had been identified as needing out!  We would have to work together to get her through this challenging time in her life.  It was only day one, but I thought that with a little patience and mutual respect, we were well on our way!

Gerralynn comes home

After my tentative email offering our home for Gerralynn’s foster during her heartworm treatment, I got an email back from the foster director, Ann.  I had hesitantly offered our home because it wasn’t the perfect, calm household that a dog recovering from heartworm needs, but Ann responded back that it was indeed the perfect home…because it was the only one offered outside of the shelter environment. 

I would become familiar with the wording (and the sentiment) in the coming years as I offered our “not quite the right fit” house for other animals seeking foster. 

I packed up Livie and drove to the shelter for her second dog interaction with a potential foster.  She would meet Gerralynn in a controlled environment at the shelter.  A behavior professional and I would be on hand to observe their interactions and make sure there wasn’t any tension between them. 

Livie and Morgan had passed this test easily, and that relationship certainly hadn’t bloomed into true love.  Despite this, or maybe because of it, I felt a bit jittery as we introduced the dogs.

Image result for humane society of huron valley
HSHV. We walked Livie and Gerralynn around the parking lot and then let them hang out in the large education room inside.

Gerralynn was, as advertised, a peppy pup!  She was all wags and licks with me, and with Livie.  Livie was a little uncertain and stayed right by my side, but Gerralynn’s body language put me at ease and we made the arrangements to bring her home later that day.

Livie and Gerralynn out for a walk

At home, I brought Livie outside and took the two girls for a quick walk to reintroduce them.  They trotted along, happily sniffing and eliminating.  I followed the instructions to the letter and kept the walk under 10 minutes to protect Gerralynn’s worm infested heart.

Back at the house, we let Gerralynn explore for another 10 minutes.  She quickly checked out all the nooks and crannies of the house while Livie followed her at a distance, sniffing the air behind her.  We kept Gerralynn’s leash attached to her collar in case we needed to break up any scuffles quickly.  But her body language was relaxed and friendly and, after a few minutes, even Livie seemed at ease with her being in the house.

Her name though…  Gerralynn was a mouthful for a four year old (and, well, for all of us!) and this sweet, goofy, oblivious pup didn’t seem to pay any particular attention to it at all (though she did enjoy ANY and ALL attention and sweet talk!), so we decided to shorten it to just Lynn for her stay with us. 

Lynn on her first day home

After the exciting car ride home, a 10 minute walk, and a 10 minute home exploration, I thought it was probably prudent to put Lynn in her crate for some rest.  After all, her care instructions clearly stated that she should be crated except for very short, 5-10 minute, breaks. 

We had her crate set up in our guest room.  We thought we would keep it behind closed doors to reduce the stimulus and keep her calm.

Lynn very happily and willingly followed me upstairs and into the guest room.  She went into the crate and wagged at me as I offered her a treat and a toy.  I smiled.  Well, this should be relatively easy.

Less than a minute after I left Lynn, the shuffling and then banging started.  I thought Lynn should be resting, but she had other ideas!

Learn more about volunteering at and fostering for the Humane Society of Huron Valley at HSHV.org!

Gerralynn

After returning Beans and Daisy to the shelter for adoption, I expected to continue to receive foster request emails by the dozen for kittens in need of foster while they grew.  We cleaned what had begun to be referred to as the “kitten room” and waited.  No emails featuring super adorable kittens arrived.

At that point, I didn’t really know much about “kitten season,” the time of year from late March to October when shelters are absolutely flooded with kittens.  In the winter, fewer kittens are born and shelters (and kitten fosters everywhere!) get a little reprieve. 

Having just started fostering, however, I wasn’t ready for a reprieve.  I was high on the feeling of having successfully fostered Shadow and Midnight, Beans and Daisy (and beginning to forgive myself for things not going well with Morgan).  I was ready for the next foster!

An email arrived requesting canine fosters.  Several of the pups needing foster had requirements like no children in the home or no other dogs in the home.  Not a good fit for this household!

One such dog, Gerralynn, caught my eye despite having a “no other dog in the home” designation.  Gerralynn was being treated for heartworm, but was such a high energy, anxious, young dog that the shelter was a poor environment for her during this time.  She was constantly barking and bouncing around in her kennel when she was supposed to be calm. 

Gerralynn as featured in the foster request email. Thunder shirt to keep her somewhat calmer.

Heartworm disease, as a relevant aside, is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets.  It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body.  It can be prevented by administering a monthly pill (often in an inexpensive and tasty treat-like morsel)…a monthly pill that an alarming number of pets are not given. 

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Mosquito

Heartworm disease is spread from animal to animal through the bite of a mosquito, making the disease’s prevalence more epidemic in warmer climates, but certainly not uncommon in cooler climates like here in Michigan.

Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse.

Heartworms

Once an animal has contracted heartworm, the treatment is extensive.  A concoction of several drugs is administered to first prepare the dog’s body for the treatment and then to slowly kill the worms and allow them to pass through the dog’s system.

An important requirement of successful treatment is reduced activity.  Dogs should remain calm and relatively inactive throughout the heartworm treatment process, which takes months. 

For a hyperactive, anxious, young dog like Gerralynn, this requirement would be a problem. 

I realized that with a dog, Livie, in the home and four children, our house was probably not the calmest, most appropriate foster fit for Gerralynn.  I didn’t respond to the foster request email, though Gerralynn stayed on my mind.

After seeing several foster requests for her over the course of a week, I thought we might at least be a good temporary fit for Gerralynn.  Or, at the very least, better than the shelter environment in which she was constantly aroused. 

I definitely had apprehensions:  Would Gerralynn bite Livie?  Would Livie feel comfortable with her?  Would she react well to the children?  Would we be able to keep her calm enough to survive her treatment?  What would it be like if she didn’t make it?  What if she got over excited and a worm lodged in her heart and she dropped dead?

I knew I was getting ahead of myself.  I collected a deep breath and sent a tentative email…

Back to class

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Today I went back to dog walker training.  It had been about two years since I originally took the class.

No, I didn’t mess up so many times that they sent me back to training (though I did mess up quite a bit!)!  In recounting my early experiences, I was reflecting on why they didn’t go as well as hoped and what could have been different to make them go more smoothly.  I found myself wishing there had been another patient volunteer accessible to lean on for the questions that inevitably arose during those first couple shifts. 

I decided to reach out to the volunteer coordinator and suggest a mentorship program.  That sounds so official, but really I simply suggested that she feel free to pass out my contact information at Level 1 dog walker training sessions.  Then, if desired, the newly trained dog walkers could contact me to set up a time to do a dual shift and they would know that I was specifically on hand to answer any and all questions that arose.

They are cleaning the kennels? 

You forgot how to put on a harness?

What does that new kennel sign mean?

An unexpected behavior popped up?

I was hopeful that one or two walkers would take advantage of, and benefit from, this service.

Well, as it turns out, the last slide of the training slideshow does indicate a website where the volunteers can find the names and contact info for several volunteers who have offered the same thing!  Of course it does!  But I had never noticed this in my own training.  Nor do I think that I would have used it if I had noticed it tucked in there, to be honest. 

The volunteer coordinator said that she would add my name to that list, but that maybe I could become more involved in the training of new walkers in order to encourage them to use a mentor.  She suggested that I attend a Level 1 dog walker training class to observe and see if I would be a good fit for teaching one in the future. 

At the training session I, of course, met several cool and awesome dog loving people.  And while I looked around at them all, and the information was being doled out rapid fire, they all looked so capable and competent.  They nodded along and took notes.  I couldn’t imagine them forgetting that they should read the information book before taking a dog out.  Or that they should return a dog to its kennel ASAP if it is displaying difficult behaviors.  It was hard to imagine them struggling. 

I was able to offer some pro tips for the newbies.  I told them to only pick dogs to walk that they felt 100% comfortable with. I advised them to let how the walk is going dictate if they chose to enter the play yard (and what to do if things didn’t go well once there). I reminded them of the importance of checking the info book, even if they had walked that same dog before.

The flow of the class, however, didn’t provide much time to answer the questions that I knew they wouldn’t even have until they were starting their first shift.  I pointed out my name and contact information as someone they would (briefly) have met and may feel more comfortable meeting up with, but I am not expecting many, if any, messages. 

I remember the feeling of FINALLY being able to JUST GO WALK A SHELTER DOG (because how hard could that be?!), and I wouldn’t have wanted any additional obstacles (like coordinating a time with another human) to stand in my way.  These new walkers will likely be just as eager to forge their way into being experienced walkers.

Will they make some mistakes along the way?  Doubtful, just based on watching them today.  But probably, because I bet I looked pretty confident at training too and I have committed some doozies of mistakes in this role. 

I wish them all the best and I will certainly be on the lookout for newbies to help while I am walking dogs.  I hope to catch them in the “I have a question” phase.  But if I do see them making any mistakes (ones that aren’t dangerous of course), I will do my best to turn my head and let them believe that their mistakes are secrets between them and the dogs. 

In dog walking and life, I think it’s best to give others (and ourselves) some grace and the trust to repair our own small fractures. 

“If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You are doing things you have never done before, and more importantly, you are doing something.” Neil Gaiman

Learn more about volunteering and/or fostering for HSHV.