Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tomato Patch

This will always be one of my favorite pictures, despite that steely gaze. Taken back at the end of September (also at the farm), we had known each other two weeks. Three if you include the week I met her at the fair. I have to say, she looks a little bit more relaxed now than she did then.

This week I've been shooting pictures on a midway that is setting up near the house here in two different locations. Stella hasn't gotten to go of course but there are a couple of carny dogs there, who may make an appearance on this page if their owners don't mind. They're totally great dogs.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Waiting

When she first got to my house, long flights of stairs were a complete mystery. She learned to go up without any trouble but was at the age where descent was just a little overwhelming. I decided to let it ride since Gigi (the cat) had chosen to move to the basement and more importantly, the litter box was housed there too. It has never been a dream of mine to have a puppy and a litter box in the same room together. For the time being I thought, it was good she couldn't make the trip.

Every morning when I went to feed the cat, I'd tell her to wait and she did, patiently at the top of the stairs. Three weeks in, she was growing faster than I ever thought possible. I knew the day would come when she'd follow me and I'd have to address the situation but she never did more than put her paws on the top step. Then we went to South Carolina where she went up and down a short set of steps with three other dogs. There, we stayed two nights in a hotel that had four flights of stairs outside the room and she went up and down them all (repeatedly) without ever giving it a second thought. I figured it was over then and prepared myself for her new found access to the basement at home but when we got back, it didn't happen.

Ten months old now, she still waits. Even if I leave her alone in the house, she's never ventured down there. The funny thing is, out in the world, she goes down every sort of staircase, gets on elevators, goes in and back out of Home Depot, Kinkos, the bank, you name it; she'll even ride down a slide at the park (don't ask) but the basement - still belongs to Gigi.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Out of the Gate

She runs. From the very beginning she wants nothing more than to run like a race horse. Once in Edwin Warner Park I changed out her collar and forgot to switch the leash so when I dropped the harness from her body, the leash fell to the ground with it. She was off like a bolt of lightning. When she looked back after what seemed like ages, I was holding her tennis ball. I bounced it once on the ground and she ran to me with exactly the same enthusiasm.

When we go to the dog park, or rather when we did go to the dog park, she goes around and asks all the dogs - starting with the largest ones, if they want to chase her and if none of them accept her offer well, she runs without them. She runs so fast and with so much conviction that everyone, humans and dogs, do what I like to call the dog park pirouette. They can't take their eyes off of her. I remember watching a Jack Russell Terrier run the middle school soccer field once. I'd seen these dogs race, jumping hay bales along the way but I hadn't seen one run full out. It was incredible much the same way it is when Stella does it. She's focused, on what I'm not quite sure. Maybe it's the turbo power of her own physique.

Having not been on a walk for close to four weeks now, for the first time ever, Stella bolted out the front door today (no jumping or running says the doctor; she could easily injure the newly minted knee). She made two laps around the front yard, one around the patio and one last one around the yard. Both of us got a free shot of adrenaline. I skinned my knee but hers seems to be working beautifully.

This shot was taken the last of September, on the farm where my friend Beverly lives. She did a little cow-inspired running that day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Vacuum Cleaner Trapped in the Body of a Dog

I was lucky. In the first few days, Stella put her mouth on everything she could reach but she learned pretty quickly what she was allowed to chew on. One minor extension cord (for my mouse) was sacrificed as was a small spot on the baseboard in my (landlord's) bathroom. That was it. For the first time in years, there weren't any shoes, clothing or camera gear lying around and fortunately for me I guess, dust bunnies became her main focus. She scoured the perimeter of every room like an anteater. She spent enough time following her nose, (and still does) that I wondered if she weren't mixed with some sort of hunting dog. Meanwhile, I may have the cleanest baseboards in Davidson County.

This habit was dramatically reinforced in January when she and I visited a nursing home across town. I signed us up for a day of pet therapy - hoping no one would notice that she was a pit bull puppy (at least until she'd had time to charm them all) but it was clearly printed on her rabies slip so I wasn't even sure we'd get in. This particular place didn't require the dog be certified as a therapy dog, only that it be well-behaved. Happily, when we arrived the lady at the front desk, mistook us for a dog therapy pair who comes regularly and waved us through without looking at her papers. We got straight on the elevator and once we got visiting, I actually had to drag her out from under the beds of several residents (I hadn't realized but there are tons of rogue cookie crumbs and corn kernels in these places). Hoover likes to talk about their wind tunnel technology but I've got news for them. When they can make a vacuum cleaner with a nose, they'll really have something. By the time we left there, the nurses had declared Stella a better asset than some of their orderlies.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Puppy Dreams

People are shocked sometimes to learn that I never did let Stella sleep in my bed. They're equally shocked when I tell them that despite my banning her from the bed, I've been known to sleep in the floor with her on occasion. Apparently that makes me a bigger freak than having a big honking cover-snatching dog in the bed with me every night.

This was taken on the first day I brought Stella home. When she finally did fall asleep that day, she had no trouble figuring out where to do it. It took exactly two and a half months for her to completely outgrow this bed and now she has one that I found on sale at Mammoth Dog Beds. It's pretty uptown for a dog that might otherwise be sleeping on asphalt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

House Arrest

Stella got the staples removed from her knee a couple of days ago. And the big satellite dish collar came off. The surgeon said she's doing great but can't go for a real walk for six more weeks. That means she's going to miss the carnival that's coming to town next week. Shame. It also means she'll be insane, with a capital "I", by the time we finally do go. Eight weeks is an eternity for a teenager (and sometimes for the parent of a teenager too) so we're ticking off the days already.

Several people have asked (as I did) what does knee surgery for a dog cost? There are some shifting variables of course, like the size of the dog, where you live, how experienced the surgeon is and which procedure is necessary (there are two, I think). I was given an estimate of somewhere between $1650. and $1850. Add a pre-op visit, and two post-op visits with x-rays and the total with tax, came to about twenty three hundred dollars. Strangely, once the bill was itemized, it all seemed really reasonable. For example, the surgery itself, was only $500. I don't mind saying that I wouldn't think of doing major surgery on someone's dog for less than a thousand dollars. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't paid a penny of this bill yet (I was forced to charge it) but I have entertained countless funny ideas about how to raise the money and get it paid. Most of them were even legal.

Corndog Stella Pearl Bianco

"I am not cut out to be a dog person."

These words flew from my lips more than once that first two weeks as did a number of other colorful expressions and phrases such as: "Why God? Why?" and "Kill me NOW.""

As I said before, the puppy operated on a schedule that I in my freelance adulthood could no longer understand. For example, it woke up every morning at sunrise, and stood by my bed sniffing. It was just tall enough then, to clear the edge of the mattress with that pink nose and I learned quickly what others already knew, that simply opening my eyes to acknowledge this act was tantamount to a standing ovation. It inspired dog dancing.

I was lucky in that from the first night forward, she never doused the carpet down during the night. I'd get up reluctantly and congratulate her on it and the minute we'd step across the threshold of the bedroom, she'd squat - before I could even get my shoes on, before there was coffee, or even a lucid thought in my head - there was cursing. It didn't seem right but I blindly assured myself that it wouldn't last forever and it didn't. It lasted about four or five weeks, which only felt like forever.

She needed a name.
I tried not to rush this despite friends who were already making suggestions. If she had been a male dog, it would've been easy. I could've named a male after something on the midway or some old ride jock. Corndog, Harry, Mad Dog, Jimmy; the possibilities were endless but girl's names were different. I couldn't decide. Finally, I wrote a bunch of names on strips of paper and tossed them into the pile on my desk. If I remember right they went something like this: Yo-yo, Tammy, Pearl Bianco, Cupcake, Stella, and Rosie. The first piece of paper I picked up and opened was Stella. I called it out and she came trotting into my office from the other room. Now understand, I had called out a gazillion names in the week prior, with no response at all so it seemed pointless to go any further.

"Alright, I declare your name is Stella", I said to her.

It turned out to be a good choice although if I had to name her now that I actually know her, I'd call her Sunny. Just like every carny I ever knew, her favorite place in the universe, is outside - in the sun.

(Note: Pearl Bianco was the first person to ever talk to me about life on a carnival. She had been told not to, which made it all the more attractive. We wrote each other for years and although she hasn't passed on yet, that I'm aware of, I really miss her funny, insightful letters)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Give and Take

Tomorrow, will be two weeks since Stella's surgery. Not positive but I think when we revisit the surgeon, also tomorrow, he'll remove the staples and the Elizabethan collar we've come to love so much. Stella, in her teenaged grace, has bashed that thing on every stationary object in the building, including every door frame, every stick of furniture, the cat and my calves. It's difficult to say who'll be happier to see that thing go. To my knowledge, she's only actually jumped off the floor once although there have been a lot of sassy threats over the last week or so. It's hard not to laugh at a dog that's growling at you through fish lips and making facial expressions. One raised eyebrow from me and she'd be leaping through the house like a deer. Ordinarily that's not the case but as I said, we're low in the exercise department. Two days ago, I extended her post op walk to include a grassy plot of land two doors down, owned by the electric company. That same day, she managed to round up a tennis ball, showing up at my desk to rock it back and forth on my knee, again with the growl added for effect. She's been a good sport, I have to say. Her immobility has forced us to visit some of the more finite details of canine English language skills. Give it - Take it - Drop it - Open. She's clear on all of those now.

Get your ass in that dog house and LAY DOWN... not so much. Too many words maybe.

(Note: Thanks for all the kind notes and phone calls from readers and friends. I appreciate it very much. So far, everything has gone along as we hoped it would.)

This (little bit scary) shot was taken the day I brought Stella home. I am including it mostly for those who are headed in the direction of such surgery with their own dogs. After a couple of days, the inflammation subsided and it became much less disturbing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stella's patellas

For those just joining us, which is pretty much everyone, it's important to note that several months have passed since I began this page and Stella is a teenager now nine and a half months old. She has become a muscular, 54 lb. fireball of lovable, boundless energy. I have every intention of finishing her story from the last post forward but I want to interrupt along the way to basically keep track of some of the more current events in her life. Bear with me.

About a month ago, she was diagnosed with a right medial luxating patella. That's a trick knee to you and me. For a kneecap, it's a little like when your kitchen drawer jumps the track. It can simply slip off an be replaced manually or it can splinter the wood, damage the drawer and the track, and never work again. It occurs most often in little tiny dogs. If you've ever seen a little dog running full blast on three legs, there's a good chance it's because of a luxated patella.

Sometimes I'm told, these things right themselves with time but Stella's sadly, did not. Our walks went from four miles a day to zero over a period of four weeks and it became clear that she would have to have surgery or face chronic pain and (eventual) lameness at such a tender age. A couple of people I discussed this with naturally assumed I'd have her put down. Before anyone gets enraged over this sort of thinking, I should say in their defense, that they were people who generally don't have too many options. I don't have a vast supply of them myself, but putting her down was never an option. To make a long story short, she had the surgery on Wednesday and was released from the hospital this morning. I asked the vet staff if their itemized surgical estimate included any Xanax for owners, but was told that it didn't. I spent two days carrying the phone around and thankfully, working.

Not surprisingly, she was happy to see me this morning and I her. I was stunned when her doctor offered to walk her to the car. So far, the prognosis is good. The next four weeks however, are critical to her future quality of life, the idea being the nine and a half month old puppy isn't allowed to play or have any fun at all. I hope for her sake, that it all becomes a distant memory wherein I get to tease her occasionally about that day she came home dressed as a satellite dish.