Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Professor Mac

Beware, cheesiness ahead. Those who read themacinator for dry wit and serious analysis, skip this post. I flatter myself- "those who read themacinator"- ha ha. And here I go with the dry wit.

I took Mac to the vet today, again, for the second time in two weeks, or maybe in one week. Mac has been in pain, although it took M to kick me in the ass and remind me. Just this December I started a running program for both Mac and myself. It was amazing- Mac was a puppy again and I was in shape. When I say running, I mean a slow trot for myself and a fast paced walk for Mac, mostly on flat ground, never for more than half an hour. It seemed to bring Mac into a new energy- energy he's never really shown, since he's mostly a slug, willing to energize when I ask it of him, or when he's on the beach. The we had some setbacks- one day he wouldn't run, I had a weird itchy thing (don't ask)- and we stopped running in about May or June. I took him to the vet in May and he was diagnosed with lumbar-sacral disease- some kind of scarring around the very back of the spine by the tail. The vet told me I could keep running with him if he told me he wanted to keep running. Mac was prescribed a low grade herbal pain medicine.

Lately, maybe the last two months or so, Mac slowed down. Walking became a peaceful easy stroll with him. He stopped hulking out over c.a.t.'s, and never pulled on the leash. And for the first time ever, I saw him pant on walks. Even when we were running, he rarely panted until the very end of our runs, his jaw slowly dropping and then heavy breathing would start. Recently, our walks would include true panting after only a block or two of strolling. In the last month, I've been walking only a couple blocks- sides of blocks, not whole blocks- before turning back, because Mac was panting, telling me he was done. I had been slacking on the glucosamine supplement that I had been giving Mac for years, and had completely forgotten about his herbal pain meds.

I was dumb and blind. M gave me a much needed wake up call and said what I needed to hear- Mac was painful, not just slowing down due to age. At first I was mad at myself- duh, themacinator, Mac is painful, why couldn't I see that 9 years is not THAT old, and I should have seen this. But when you live with a dog (or a person) every day, subtle changes just become routine and hard to see. I appreciated Mac's new pace, and that it was easier to walk him. After 8 years of constant scanning for c.a.t's and working on leash walking, it was such a relief to walk him easily. Sometimes it takes an outside person to see what's right in front of you. Two weeks ago (one week ago?) I took him to the vet, where the vet found nothing specific wrong with Mac- he refuses to show pain. Remember when he broke my windshield? That had to hurt, but it didn't. So the vet prescribed "real" pain meds and took blood work. The pain meds haven't helped and the blood work turned out fine. I cried when I heard this- I wanted so much for there to be something wrong, something that would be easily fixed with a pill.

This morning we went back to the vet again. (They love me. They love Mac because he rocks, but they love me because I am a big spender.) More xRays showed that Mac has a disc issue- right above the lumbar sacral thing, he has scarring around the disc, which is probably what is causing him pain. We changed his meds and added a muscle relaxant. Hopefully this will help, since we have a more precise idea of what is causing Mac's pain.

But this isn't the point. The point is that I started crying again a little, and spilling my guts to the receptionist, because Mac is my teacher, and my teacher is getting old. (Read the quote on the sidebar at Running With Dogs for an awesome quote on the subject of dogs as teachers.) He's my partner and my teacher, and the epitome of what dogs can be as partners. I told her our story, and I thought I would write about it, because it helps me process. When I was little, I started my autobiography. It seemed a little premature, even at the time. Precocious, but premature. When I started this blog, I swore it would not be an autobiography. Yucky overshare. This is not an autobiographical posting as much as a panegyric to Mac and the life lessons he has taught me and continued to teach me. I think I've written about some of them here, maybe all of them, and I apologize for any repetition, but I'm sad about my old dog. It is what it is.

I loved my family dog, Kozi. When I went to college, I kind of begged to bring her. It wasn't practical, my mom would have missed her too much, and Kozi would have melted in the snow. She hated getting her feet wet. By the middle of my freshman year, I had a boyfriend in a nearby town, and I *really* missed Kozi. I bought an old Volvo for a couple thousand dollars and started driving back and forth to visit my boyfriend and to volunteer in the animal shelter. I was hooked. I was especially hooked on pit bulls (much like my shelter now, the shelter was full of pit bulls, rottweilers, and chihuahuas.) I quickly fell for the pit bull optimism and love of people, and was charmed by their unconditional love for any volunteer who took them out of their kennels. I became a regular volunteer, coming at least two times a week. The spring before my senior year in college, I spoke to my upcoming roommates and landlord, and all agreed that I could foster dogs for my final year.

That summer, I was set to volunteer for Amigos for the second half of the summer. The first half of the summer, I arranged to do a mini-internship at a different shelter by my house, full time, every day. Maybe a month into it, I found Mac. You've seen this picture before, but he was really really cute.

When I got him, I didn't know what I know now in so many ways. We (shelter workers and I) aged him, by his teeth, as a year old. We though, based on that, his size, and his shape, that he was a beagle/pit mix. (I still get asked occasionally if he's a beagle, but it's sort of like asking if he's a rottweiler. He's not.) He had those huge hound ears, and he was about 40 pounds. He carried his tail at flag tail all the time like a pit bull, and pointed. He was only a little bigger than Kozi, the wheaten. Oh, the things I've learned about dog conformation. He also submissive peed, on every man, woman, child, tree, dog, stick, person, building, sidewalk, etc. He wasn't scared, he wasn't flinchy, he was just soft. Oh, I'm so happy to see you! he said to everyone, let me show you by squirting all over you. You like pee, right? There was this great time where he peed on someone my thesis-advisor was mentoring. That was great.

I kept him on a leash all the time in the house I shared with my college friends (this was before I even knew this was a good idea), but I had to keep him on one of those chain leashes, because he chewed through the other ones. We had an open floor plan downstairs, and if I didn't do this, he used our house as an obstacle course, and of course, if anyone said hi to him, he jumped on them and peed. Everywhere. Everyone hated the noise of that leash. He didn't chew anything that wasn't his, but he did love to shred paper. He was generally a Very Good Dog. But he was a puppy- not a year old, as we thought. He was probably 6-10 months, and he grew. Into a pit bull. Maybe a pit mix, maybe just a badly bred pit bull.

Mac taught me a LOT. He kept pointing. First he was obsessed with squirrels. He would silently point, much like a real beagle. He treed them, but didn't do much else. Then he forgot squirrels and moved onto pigeons. He didn't point at pigeons. He lunged at them, silently, hitting the end of the leash. Then he forgot about pigeons. He moved onto cats, and I believe I've discussed cats and how Mac turns into the Hulk around cats. See above post about the windshield if you need a refresher. For another reminder, I at the vet today, Mac heard a cat and growled and hackled. The vet had never heard him growl or seen a hair raise on his body in almost 7 years of going there. The Vet! I worked on his submissive peeing and had that mostly under control after a year, with occasional slip ups for the first 3 years or so. Mac also had what I thought was separation anxiety. He wouldn't stay in a crate, and I believe he ate through 7 or 8 of them, starting during our first year, in college. He would bust them, and then pee and poop. One time, we left him in the car, in a crate. This was in the back of a jeep. The crate was carabinered shut on top of the normal latch. The crate had approximately 2 inches of room between the door and the sides of the Jeep walls. We left him for 10 minutes- I came back to check on him and he was in the front seat. Mac has a big head. It was a miracle of physics.

The first year that I was out of college, I got a job at a fancy pet store, selling fancy beds and fancy food and fancy shampoo to fancy people. I brought Mac to work, because I couldn't leave him at home. I learned much from my boss who had been "doing dogs" for decades, and from the pit bull rescue that I was volunteering with. I brought Mac everywhere in the car, where he was fine, or stayed home. And then I decided that this had to stop. I left Mac alone one day, for about an hour, out of the crate. I got home, and found Mac sleeping on the bed. He didn't have separation anxiety. He just hated to be crated. So I got a new job, at my first animal shelter. I haven't looked back, and I've only tried to crate Mac when I'm in the room. It still doesn't work very well.

My first shelter job was cleaning kennels, evaluating behavior/temperament both at other shelters, and at that shelter, and training dogs. I did adoption counseling, and learned to teach training classes. I learned a lot and continued to learn from my dog. He was developing some leash reactivity, but this was maybe the easiest challenge I have ever dealt with with him. I made tons of "dog friends" and we worked together with our "problem dogs," especially pit bulls and pit mixes. I moved and worked at an animal control facility, where I staffed the shelter, and learned more about community issues, and also about cats and other small animals. Mac developed a fear of and prey drive towards children that I'm still working on, partially due to the dramatic decrease in our socialization opportunities. He learned to co-exist with "the kids" (the dogs belonging to T, although Abby wasn't around yet) and we fostered Ditty, who Mac did not coexist with- we crated and rotated.

There have been all kinds of emotional events, eventful events. The time Mac literally swam to sea in the bay, and we had to have a yacht rescue. The time Mac almost bit someone, and I thought I was going to euthanize him. The next time he almost bit someone, and I was sure I was going to euthanize him. The time I moved in with my dad while I tried to find somewhere to live with a big-head-dog. The time I got pulled over with Mac in the car and I held it together while holding my breath hoping the cop wouldn't shoot the big head dog. All the awesome time Mac helped me help my friends with their leash reactive dogs. My second parents who actually *like* Mac, even though they don't like dogs. My parents, who told me they turned down one apartment building because Mac couldn't come there, whether that was true or not. These are all parts of our time together.

Since my first shelter jobs, I've done a variety of animal welfare jobs, including teaching humane education and currently, working as an animal control officer. I continue to learn about raw feeding- when we moved back to California after college, Mac began his spell of "mustard poop"- nothing came out of him that wasn't the color and texture of French's. After trying what felt like everything- bland diet, different "prescription" dog foods, antibiotics, etc- we switched to raw, and Mac was better two days later. I've learned tons about dog behavior, dabbled in dog sports for Mac's benefit, and taken at least one dog training class every year. He has slept in my bed almost every single night since I've had him- for over eight years.

I have a hard time leaving Mac alone- I joke that I have separation anxiety, but it's not really a joke. And I've been stressing about his back, even though I tell myself to "be here now." Which is why I wrote this: the point is, our life together has been a life together- a journey. Mac has taught me so much. I've become an adult while I have him, whether I feel like an adult or not. He's aging now- all of those problems he's had, and I've only listed a few of them, believe it or not- these are old dog problems. And now, I'm going to have to learn how to deal with them, with Mac, and also for Mac. He has taught me so much, I owe him to learn a little more, about how to age gracefully. Change is hard, but I'm going to do it as best I can, for Professor Mac.


Sarah said...

You and Mac share such a wonderful connection, I love your story together! I'm sorry he's slowing down, and I hope the meds help him feel better.

Jennie said...

It seems like all my favorite internet dogs (Mac included) are dealing with aging issues right now. It's hard to hear - even if I never actually meet any of them, I still feel connected. What's not hard to hear is the beautiful and eloquent descriptions of life with these dogs - it makes me look forward to growing and learning with my young dogs, even if they can be difficult at times.

harleymom said...

This makes me feel like I need to write up something about Harley - but then I would have to admit that she is almost 12 and that I don't have a lot of time left with her. I am ignoring that.

I am lucky that she has been so soo healthy. She gets tired a lot quicker now but she still has way too much enery sometimes. She is cranky though - I don't know that we could walk her and Mac together anymore.