Friday, January 22, 2010

A Bitter Pill (or Two or Three) to Swallow

It is not easy getting old. My father always told me "Don't get old, Elizabeth." I don't know what choice we have, especially if we like food. I like to eat, and as long as I am able to channel Homer Simpson and say, "Mmm, [fill in the blank with food of choice, like say, pizza or pho or chocolate chip cookies]," I think I'll be okay. Roma was always the same way. Very rarely was that dog off her food. As most of you  know, she'd eat just about anything, including things not so good for her, such as cat poop, ant bait, and rat poison.

So it has been a great shock lately to see her appetite waning. In the past few weeks, there have been days—series of days—where she has not eaten. In fact, she has fled from the bowl as if repulsed. It's not good when she doesn't eat because food has always been her medication delivery system. I have never had a problem giving this dog a pill. I'd wrap it in some cheese or a lump of soft food, and she'd inhale it. So now she has not only gone without food, she's gone without medicine, and that compounds her weakness and her discomfort.

I called the vet and his advice was to give her more medication. I felt he wasn't hearing me. "But she's not eating. How can I give her more medication?" Then I recalled a dog I lived with many, many years ago. He was my roommate's, an Irish wolfhound named Moose, who, despite his great size, could suss out the smallest pill in his food and spit it out. If you wanted to give Moose a pill, you had to open his enormous jaws, toss the pill toward the back of his throat, and then massage his neck to help him swallow it. Of course, Moose had the maw of a lion. Giving him a pill was like bowling. It was almost impossible to miss getting the little round object into the gaping hole at the back of his throat. Also, Moose aimed to please.

Roma is a completely different animal. Still, I had to try in order to alleviate her suffering. Here is what I have had to do: First, I get Roma in a gentle but firm headlock between my knees and use both hands to pry open her mouth by pinching the jaws just behind her still impressive fangs. She fights like a gator, let me tell you, thrashing and bucking. Then, I have to pick up the pill and maneuver it into her mouth, stuffing my hand past the teeth that are gnashing and grinding against my tender flesh and the tongue that is undulating like a black mambo. Finally, I position the pill, snatch my hand away from the snapping jaws, and rub her throat while she chokes and gasps and then runs around the room. Holy moly. One pill down; two to go.

The goal is better living through chemistry, and it seems to be working; she has started eating sliced chicken from my hands. If I continue to get enough medication in her, she may regain her interest in more nutritious dog food. If she eats properly, she may continue to feel better—maybe even well enough to need fewer pills, but let's not get crazy hopeful here.

If anyone has advice about a less strenuous or stressful system of pill administration, I'd love to hear it. One friend suggested rolling the pills in butter first. That makes them tougher for me to hold on to while I am subduing the Roma. Maybe I just need more practice. In any event, thanks for listening. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Walk (the Dog) Like an Egyptian

Years ago, I took a dance-movement class with a choreographer named Andrea Ariel. She tried to set us inexperienced dancer-movers at ease by telling how, when she first started learning to choreograph pieces, she imagined dancers as two dimensional, like paper cutouts. As a result, her early works featured dancers moving awkwardly, arms outstretched and angular, like figures in Egyptian wall art—like this fellow here.

I often think of that class as I walk my dogs around my neighborhood. The age difference between Muzzy (2) and Roma (14) is pretty obvious now. Muzzy pulls ahead; she's in the lead and on the prowl. Roma, however, creeps along, either because she's tired or she's bored senseless from walking the same three blocks every day for seven years. Or she simply wants to torment me. In any event, I walk the neighborhood sidewalks with my arms outstretched and my rotator cuffs extended to their limits by two leashes pulled taut by two dogs with differing agendas. I always feel faintly ridiculous. Then, to make things even worse, that old Bangles tune starts rolling around in my head. You know the one I mean. Part of it goes like this:

" . . . All the kids in the marketplace say
Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh
Walk like an Egyptian.

 Slide your feet up the street; bend your back; 
Shift your arm, then you pull it back
Life is hard, you know (oh whey oh);
So strike a pose on a Cadillac

. . . Walk like an Egyptian."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hang Up and Catch the Ball!

This article in last Sunday's New York Times discussed the rise in self-inflicted injuries caused by people who walk while talking on the phone. They fall off curbs, walk in front of oncoming cars, collide with parked cars, telephone poles, or street signs—often seriously enough to require medical care. The number of incidents ending in visits to the emergency room doubled in one year, according to the article. The reporter, Matt Richtel, explains: "Sometimes, pedestrians using their phones do not notice objects or people right in front of them—even a clown riding a unicycle." He then tells about a recent study that tested people's awareness of a clown riding a unicycle down the street. Half the people walking without phones noticed it. Only a quarter of those on phones did.

The part that interested me, though, was a comment by a California neuroscientist about the effect of use of phones on the human brain. Phones allow us to "pursue goals that feel more important than walking down the street." The article continues with the doctor's next point: "'An animal would never walk into a pole," he said, noting survival instincts would trump other priorities."

The dog owners I talked to about this rolled their eyes. Perhaps a wolf or a lion or an elephant is focused enough on its objectives—i.e., walking and surviving—to avoid colliding with trees or street signs. But most dogs I know have had many blooper reel moments while chasing a fast moving object instead of watching where they were going. My Muzzy routinely ends up clattering over or into the dog bowl in our back yard while chasing one of my poorly executed throws. Or she ends up in the rosemary bush, which, like Charlie Brown's kite-eating tree, seems to suck the ball out of the air no matter how carefully I aim it. I'm sure that if the writer of the NYT article had called local veterinary clinics, he would have discovered some significant statistics of doggie collisions while ball-chasing. So, which is more important? The spectacular catch or eyes on the road? I think how you answer that question will say a lot about your dog's personality—and your own.

Ta. -z

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Walkabout III: Turkey Creek

Yesterday, a bunch of us Parkers went for a walkabout in Turkey Creek, a leash-free trail inside Emma Long Park, off City Park Road and FM 2222. As it was a holiday, there were plenty of other dogs and people enjoying the sunny day. We started out as a party of two adults, three children, and two dogs, but some wanted to turn back. Muzzy, our young friends Lydia and Aidan, and I made the full 2.5 mile loop. The creek has been dry for years due to drought and over development of the surrounding areas. It is really a thrill to see not only pools of water in the creek bed but rushing streams Here are some highlights of our walk. If you have not been out to TC before, check out this link at Enjoy. -z

Monday, January 18, 2010

Words of the Day

The entry to Schott's Vocabulary the other day made me smile. The word of the day was Avatards, which fans of the James Cameron movie Avatar use to refer to themselves. Schott noticed that the word—self-selected by the film's admirers—is neither politically correct nor complimentary. (Avatards were, apparently, deriving their nickname from the more virile one chosen by fans of the Twilight series—Twihards.)

Naturally, I thought about a moniker for folks at the Dog Park. As you know, I often refer to regular Park attendees as Parkers, even though I have horrible memories of a boy with that name who tormented me throughout middle school and high school. (He had acne and a squeaky voice, and became a born-again Christian. One time he turned to me in French class and asked me how, if I hated Christians so much, could I listen to Bach? Huh?) But Parktards, I like that one. In my mind, however, a parktard is not a desirable label. Parktards are the ones—both human and canine—who just don't get how Park works. You know who I'm talking about—the dog that doesn't know how to play and all the other dogs find annoying; the old guy who hits on the women under 30; the owner who doesn't let his dog play because he's teaching it retrieval skills and screams when it gets distracted. Tsk. What a parktard. Try it in French. Oof! Quel parktard.

Another interesting phrase I stumbled across appeared in an article in The New Yorker a few weeks ago. Fen Montaigne writes about his time tagging along with American scientists who study the dwindling colonies of the Adelie penguin in Antarctica. The phrase was global wierding, which refers to how species can get out of sync with the environment because of the changes wrought by global warming. In the case of the penguins, the loss of sea ice around their breeding grounds has made it harder for them to find enough to eat. But because the birds are hardwired to breed at certain times and are unable to adapt, either by moving to new breeding grounds or changing their breeding schedules, they are certain to become extinct. Again, I see an application to Park. We are experiencing clashes with the good people who work at TxDoT because of park wierding. Because of seasonal changes—late sunrises, early sunsets—we are showing up at Park when employees are making their way to and from their cars. We are out of sync with our environment and the price we pay is not extinction (though it could eventually) but random visits from Animal Control and snarky e-mails on the Park listserv. Fortunately, now that we have passed the winter solstice, the sun will be more and more accommodating of earlier mornings and later evenings, and soon we won't have to show up while workers are at the office.

So be patient and bring your leash. There have been more reports of tickets issued by Animal Control. One Parker received a ticket last Wednesday, around 2:30 pm. She asked the officer why Animal Control did not come out at 5:00 pm, during "prime time." According to the Parker (I heard this story third-hand), the officer shrugged and said, "We can't be bothered. Besides, we get off at 5 o'clock." So there you have it. Our tax dollars at work—between 9 and 5. Unless—the officer's comment was a ruse to make us all feel relaxed about walking leashless in the evenings and then WHAM!, Animal Control shows up in force for a clean sweep. Run for the creek. (And don't be a Parktard.)