Tag Archives: River

RIP, River

It has been a hard month here. On Feb. 27, we lost our retired mare, Guin. On March 22, we suffered a much more unexpected blow: we lost our precious River, our youngest curly coated retriever, to bloat.

When I woke up in the morning, River would give me kisses, washing the sleep out of my eyes. It’s much harder to get up now, to convince myself to crawl out from under my warm covers. Maybe I just don’t want to.

Then we — I and all the dogs — would go walkabout. Every morning I would have to tell River not to chew on his brother’s ears, not to chew his sister’s face, not to push Pax down the stairs, not to stop in front of me and trip me. Walkabouts are boring now.

Mornings are the hardest.

I occasionally get a bit wrapped up in my computer. (Hard to believe, I know.) River would come over, paw my leg in a most annoying way, and gaze up at me in the most endearing way. He was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Ever. He would persist with this until I got up to feed them.

I was half an hour late feeding Pax and Pflouff this morning. Neither said a word. They might starve to death.

Mealtimes are the hardest.

When he was a puppy, River didn’t nap. He would lie sternal, looking around, for hours, waiting for someone to get up and entertain him. That is, until I sat on the couch. Then he would throw himself at me, shiver and sigh, and settle close. He would fall asleep almost immediately.

A form of that ritual persisted throughout his life. Someone on the couch was a lap for him. He snuggled close, gave sweet kisses, and then lay down with his head on your thigh. Every moment we sat on the couch, we had a River.

River was an anxious dog, and those moments on the couch were the thing that most soothed him. And me. Now sitting on the couch feels very empty.

Quiet moments on the couch are the hardest.

The very first night River came home, he slept between me and Jay. That was his spot until his legs got too long. That was when we added the dog bed, a twin bed wedged between my side of our king-sized bed and the wall. He slept across the top of that bed with his head on my pillow for a long time. Eventually he moved back between us.

Jason reminded me last night of the time when River had surgery on his hips. He had to be crated for eight weeks. I spent those eight weeks sleeping on the floor next to his crate, my fingers through the bars, stroking him. It was for me as much as for him. I couldn’t bear to be separated.

Most nights, he and I would start the night cheek-to-cheek on my pillow, snuggled as close as we could get. Like when he was a puppy, he would shiver a little and sigh as he settled. Pure contentment. Eventually I would have to turn over, because he kicked in his sleep. It was like sleeping with a jack rabbit.

There’s too much room now.

Night time is the hardest.

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It’s the little things that catch me unaware. Often it’s the things that drove me crazy when he was here.

I miss tripping over his toys and telling him to get out of my kitchen. I miss scratching his riblets. (I really want to scratch his riblets.) I miss the puddle of drool at my feet at the kitchen table. I put away all the drool cloths. I threw away a paper towel tube because he wasn’t here to play with it. I miss his eagerness to be first in line — for anything. Opening the cabinet and seeing his seizure meds brings tears to my eyes.

I talk to him a lot.

Last night I felt a dog settle next to my leg in bed when there was no dog nearby.

Breathing is the hardest.

2015-04-23 15.16.19

I love you, River.

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2015 Year in Review

I’ve neglected this blog for much, much too long. Occasionally I would look at it and think I should post about something that had happened, but after being away so long, it seemed out of left field to do so.

But you know what isn’t out of left field? An end-of-year Christmas letter! I’m one of those people who really enjoys receiving these letters tucked inside Christmas cards, but since I don’t actually send Christmas cards, I can’t return the favor. So here is the Alexander year in review.

TL;DR: Ups, downs, we all survived. Now go drink some eggnog.

For those of you who want something a little more detailed:

5-year-old River had a tough year

5-year-old River had a tough year

We went into January happy and content. We were both employed, had a nice cushion in the savings account, and everyone was healthy. Then on January 3 — just three days into the new year — River reacted to a rabies vaccine and began having cluster seizures.

Fortunately, after a few days in the emergency clinic, he adjusted to the medication and has been largely seizure free since. In fact, we’ve identified just one on-going trigger: the vet clinic. Unfortunately it’s a consistent trigger. He gets so anxious that he has his first seizure as he approaches the door to a vet office.

This wouldn’t be a problem is he were a healthy dog, but he’s rather a fragile flower. I’ve got a plan to do some counter conditioning, but I have yet to implement it.

March saw a major change in my job situation. To my great disappointment, my contract at T-Mobile came to an end. I’ve worked there since 2007, and I would have loved to have stayed there for the rest of my career, but alas, it was not to be. Most of the company is moving away from contractors, and more than that, they’re moving away from work-from-home. Sad. I’m keeping in touch with my friends, but I still miss that place.

My lovely fireplace and red accent wall. That wall is my favorite part of my house.

My lovely fireplace and red accent wall. That wall is my favorite part of my house.

March had an upside too. We were finally ready to make serious progress on the basement remodel we started several years ago. We had originally planned to make the basement a large living room area, but I had an epiphany and it turned into a master bedroom. We have a gas fireplace, a gorgeous tile floor, a working-but-not-finished bathroom (that will eventually have a large walk-in shower), a walk-in closet, and bonus storage space. We moved down there in June, and I absolutely LOVE it.

Moving into the basement meant we were able to finally organize the house. I hired a neighbor boy and his friend to do the heavy lifting and FINALLY all the furniture is in the rooms it should be in, junk has been thrown out, and stored things are in storage. It’s quite a relief.

Finishing the basement cleared out that cash we had squirreled away, so by summer I was anxious to replenish it. When my contract at T-Mo ended, I moved right into a new position with a company called Trillium Creative Solutions. They’re a learning consulting company that primarily functions as a Microsoft vendor. I freelanced through them steadily until Microsoft’s fiscal year end at the end of June. They warned me that work would be unpredictable in July, but July turned into August and August into September. Small projects here and there, but the months crept by without anything steady. I began looking for work, but work-from-home is a deal killer to so many.

All of the job news isn’t bad, though. After 18 years working for University of Washington Medical Center Information Systems, in July Jay got a job at Philip’s Healthcare. And it’s work-from-home! Jay’s commute was 1.5-2 hours EACH WAY every day, and it was killing him. He loves his new job, but more than that, he loves all the time he has gained by giving up the commute.

7-year-old Pflouff -- thankfully healthy!

7-year-old Pflouff — thankfully healthy!

So as we moved into the fall, we had less money than we were used to, and my work was spotty, but we were doing okay. Then in October, the dogs started getting sick. River bloated. Pax had a serious attack of IBD. They recovered, and then a wave of kennel cough went through the house. First Pflouff — our strong, healthy Newf — had a mild case. Then River — the dog we can’t take to the vet — couldn’t breathe. Our incredible vet worked with us on the phone to diagnose and treat him for pneumonia. Just when we made it through that crisis, Pax developed pneumonia.

Pax. Too stubborn to pose for a picture

Pax. Too stubborn to pose for a picture

Our beautiful Pax is 14 years old. I wasn’t concerned initially, because River had just had this and came through it fine. But we took him to the animal emergency clinic… and he was there for three days. They didn’t think he would make it. When we brought him home, I think they thought it was hospice care. But he fooled everybody. He’s feisty. He rallied, and he has fully recovered.

Happy but dirty ponies

Happy but dirty ponies

That brings us to the end of December. Right now all is peaceful and content in the Alexander household. Pax is well enough to be an ass. River is curled up at my side where he belongs. I had a short project in November and early December that brought in some much-needed money. Jay is still enjoying his job. Pflouff and the ponies are, thankfully, staying out of trouble.

I’ll be glad to see the end of 2015. I’m hoping 2016 is better. I have a few resolutions, one of which is to update this blog more frequently. Hope all is well with you, and I hope to chat with you again soon!

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading!

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And time marches on….

Fall has fallen in our little corner of the Pacific Northwest. I’m a southern transplant, and though I’ve lived here for more than 13 years, I’m still surprised when the season changes in September instead of late October. Of course, I should be equally surprised that summer arrives in July rather than April or May.

Here, Fall means the return of cool weather and rain. The maples, oddly, start turning in early June, but most trees start their transformation now, in early October. Not much color yet. Not sure we had enough extreme temperature this year to kick off a big color show. Summer was shorter and cooler than usual. The few warm weeks we had were stunningly perfect, but there weren’t many of them. Those native to the area tend to crave those hot, over 90* days, and probably feel they didn’t get any summer at all.

No big updates for the Alexander family. Work has been steady for both of us. Jay played manager for a month while the senior managers were on vacation, and he hated every minute. Neither of us likes that particular career path. The dogs are doing fine, all healthy and happy. River is still torturing his siblings, but he is such a delight it’s difficult to be upset with him. Pax and Pflouff are happy, contented dogs, but River is the living embodiment of JOY. It’s impossible not to fall in love with him. Just seeing him makes me smile.

Life on the farm has been uneventful. Blue and Guin are down in Olympia, rather than here at the house. Blue, in fact, is no longer mine. He officially belongs to his 13-year-old soulmate, Heidi. They are amazing together, and I can’t imagine a better home-for-life for him. Guin doesn’t like to be alone, so rather than keep her here, she’s living a happy retirement and being spoiled by children who like to comb her long mane and tail. Without the horses, the farm is considerably less chaotic. I raised a small vegetable garden with sugar snap peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Corn too, but it didn’t do so well up here on the ridge. I planted roses too.

We haven’t done any work on the house yet this year, but Jay is anxious to start on the basement. We’re planning to gut it, floor to ceiling, so we can redo the electrical, add heat and air between stories, update plumbing if necessary, and move walls around. We’re going to move the stairs around too, which will probably be the most expensive part of the process — and definitely the most inconvenient. Not sure what we’re going to do with the basement floor, but I’m determined to get the leak fixed!

I’ve been working on my novel. Slowly. But positive, forward progress. I like it, and I’m determined to get it finished. In the meantime I’m living vicariously through my dear friend Sharon Fisher whose first book, Ghost Planet, will be published by Tor in November 2012. I’m beyond excited for her. She deserves every bit of her success (and I highly recommend the book!).

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River

I tried, tried, tried to get at least one photo for this post, but really:

  • My camera sucks.
  • I have a black dog.
  • I suck as a photographer.

Yeah. That means no cute smiling dog photo.

River, our youngest curly coated retriever, is now 11 and a half months old. He was the runt of his litter, so it was natural, when we got him, to call him Little Bit. He was just a little bit of a thing, especially next to Pax and Pflouff. Now the nickname seems ironic — like calling the bald guy “Curly.” He is the tallest of the three and the second-heaviest. And he’s still growing. Little Bit will be our  largest dog when he matures. Even bigger than the Newf.

From the beginning I noticed something odd about him. He loved to run, loved to wrestle, but he almost never jumped. If he couldn’t climb up, he put his front paws up and waited to be lifted. That was not normal, not for a puppy of any breed, much less a curly. In March I took him to the vet and had his hips x-rayed. The ball and socket of his left hip joint didn’t fit well.

For the record, I don’t believe this was breeder error. He has an awesome breeder, Dawn Fleming in Ohio, who did all the research and health checks. (No dysplasia in either side of the pedigree for generations.) River was the runt of the litter and developmentally behind his siblings throughout his early life. My personal theory, truly, is that he just wasn’t done baking yet. No one’s fault.

The vet referred us immediately to a specialist, Dr. Byron Misseghers at Puget Sound Animal Hospital. Dr. Misseghers recommended a triple pelvis osteotomy (TPO) on that hip. It shot the budget for working on the house this summer, but we didn’t hesitate — not about money anyway. We were scared to death about the post-surgery recovery process. River is a somewhat. . . emotionally fragile. . . dog. Would he be able to handle eight weeks in a crate? Would I? I was an emotional wreck when I left him for surgery. I understood then why parents fall apart when their children are in the emergency room. He was so frightened, and I was so helpless. I still choke up thinking about it.

He came through the surgery amazingly well. When we picked him up the next day, he was walking without a limp — even the surgeon and vet techs were amazed. I was armed with a bag full of antibiotics, pain pills, and sedatives. A dear friend of mine had been a vet tech at this vet hospital for five years and had a dog go through the same surgery. “Use the sedative,” she told me. “It will make the confinement bearable for both of you.”

I took her advice to heart. The first week was easy — much, much easier than I’d ever dreamed possible — because he was on so many meds and still healing. He was in his crate except when he had to go out to pee, on leash only, straight out and straight back in. I put the crate near my desk, and I moved a mattress downstairs to sleep next to him, so he wouldn’t be alone at night. When he came off the bulk of the meds, we had to up the sedative a tiny bit. He began to get a little more restless and a little more vocal. We followed the vet’s instructions to the letter, though: crate rest, on leash to pee, no stairs, no playing with the other dogs.

After four weeks, he had follow up x-rays. The vet said they looked great, and so he lightened the restrictions. Still no stairs and no playing with the other dogs, so he moved from his crate to an ex-pen in the same area. Through the next few weeks we increased him freedoms gradually. Off leash to pee. Access to a larger area with some stairs. Pax (who won’t wrestle) in the area with him. Despite the added freedoms, those were difficult weeks. He had been a good soldier for the first few weeks, but he was making it clear now: He was DONE. It was time to be a real dog again.

On June 4, eight weeks post-surgery (almost — it was three days early because it got too hot to restrict him to his ex-pen), River was given his final freedom: access to Pflouff. I don’t think they’ve stopped wrestling since. “River, stop torturing your sister!” has again become the most often heard mantra of the house. I and all three dogs have moved back upstairs to the master bedroom with my husband.

What does it mean long-term? I don’t know. I hope it means that he’ll have essentially normal hips and be mostly pain-free throughout his life. He isn’t jumping much, but that could be habit rather than pain. He won’t ever be an agility dog, but I’m okay with that. I just want him to be happy and healthy.

And now that he’s a completely normal teenager again, I want him to grow up and stop torturing his sister. You know, I kind of liked him in the box. . . .

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I forgot!

I’m so sorry. In my haste to get my post out yesterday, I completely forgot about adding a photo and a personal update. As recompense, here are a couple of extra pictures.

First, here are two pictures of the snow we had last week. Both are taken from our back deck, looking out toward the pastures. We have a fair number of trees in our pastures, which I like, because trees provide shelter from sun, wind, and rain when the horses don’t want to go back to the barn.

And here’s a picture of Little Bit with his daddy. River is a snuggler; sit on the couch in the evening, and you’re guaranteed to have him squeeze in beside you for a nap.

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