Baked Potato of a Dog

The world lost a very special, very loved little brown dog this week.

My first meeting with Oscar was when Vet Tech Annik brought him over to our building, along with his “girlfriend” Squeaker. Annik had taken on the dogs as a project, and was determined to help them both gain enough confidence to pass their Canine Good Citizen tests, so they could be adopted into homes of their own.  Every single day, without fail, she would pick up the dogs at lunch and take them on outings.  Today it was to experience the noisy environment I work in.

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It was immediately obvious that Squeaker was extremely nervous being in a new place.  She gave all the signs of a stressed, fearful dog.  All the while Oscar stoically sat, staring out the front door….no signs of stress…no lip licking, yawning, or actually any sign of movement at all.  I mentioned how much better he was handling the whole experience and was stunned when Annik corrected me immediately.  “Look at him” she directed “he is completely and totally shut down”.  And she was right.  When Oscar was stressed he just checked out and went somewhere far, far away in his own mind.

My husband Kevin began joining Annick on her daily outings, helping her work with both dogs, but concentrating on trying to help Oscar, who was very frightened of men.  He walked hundreds of miles with that boy.  Oscar would go almost anywhere to follow Squeaker….she was his bravery.  I joined the team too, and started having both dogs as “office dogs” once or twice a week.

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It was an easy transition to move him into my office when he needed a place to stay after Squeaker had ACL surgery on her leg.  How much different could it possibly be to have him in my office full time?  A lot actually.  Oscar didn’t know how to function without Squeaker. He was afraid of literally everything.

 

We worked every day to help Oscar learn the skills he needed to go into a home.  But it is very difficult working with a dog who won’t take a treat from you, and doesn’t want to play or receive affection.  What in the world do you use as a reinforcer?  Trainer Pat Whitacre worked with us to help us fined ways to help Oscar learn. Mostly we just worked to gain, and keep his trust.  Without a loving relationship, no forward motion was going to be possible.

The day Oscar walked up to me as I worked at my desk, and nudged my knee for some attention was one of the highest points of my life.  After literally months of being together 8 hours a day, he had finally decided I was safe.  From that point on, he made tremendous gains.  But it still took a massive effort to get this little brown dog through his CGC.

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Besides his discomfort with new people (the CGC test requires handling by a new person and a couple of “crowd” tests) Oscar had two major hurdles:  he would do a “fly by” when asked to come….heading straight at you and then veering at the last moment, and he HATED the feeling of sand on his stomach and refused to do a down on the ground.  It took repeated efforts to get him through these two items.

On the day of his actual CGC the tester allowed us to do the “stay” and “come” portion of the test first.  If he was going to pull his idea of a joke by running past me, there was no sense in continuing.  He nailed the test items, coming right to me when I called.  We left the “down” portion of the test until the end.  When the time came, I gave the cue, and Oscar turned his head away from me…..I almost panicked, but tried one last time: “Oscar, down”.  He heaved a sigh and lay down.  I promptly burst into tears.  Oscar had passed his CGC.

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It was just a short time later  I was told that a potential adopter was coming to meet our boy.  For those of you who foster, you know how difficult this is….a dog you have poured so much work into…is anyone really good enough to be his family?  I typed up a letter to this unknown person, trying to give her a sense of who Oscar really was.

Dear Potential Adopter:

When Oscar first came to live here, he spent all of his time in a corner, or under my desk.  We’d have to drag him out to go for a walk.  He refused to eat in front of us, and I’d have to leave his food in the evening, so that he could eat once we were all gone.  If I touched him, his skin would twitch like a horse with a fly on its back.  He refused to make eye contact with me, and would stare off into the distance if you looked at him.

Taking him for walks could be an exercise in futility.  He would walk 2 or 3 steps and then just stop.  The only way to get him going again would be to pick him up and set him down again a few steps later, or to pull him a step or two.  If there were people in sight, nothing could convince him to walk in that direction.

Slowly, over time, these behaviors started to change.   He now runs to me in the morning for a good butt scratch.  He goes for walks with Kevin without hesitation.  He will even take treats from strangers.  He is still very scared and shut down if he doesn’t know a person, but the time it takes to get comfortable has gone from weeks to a few days.

It will take Oscar some time to get comfortable in new surroundings.  He is very nervous and unsure of anything new.  It will take him a few weeks to know someone enough to trust and respond to them.  But this is a wonderful dog, who truly deserves a home of his own.  I can’t tell you how amazing he is.

There are a few things to keep in mind about Oscar:

  • He is scared to death of cameras.  Even if he is with someone he loves and trusts, cameras (even cellphone cameras) cause him to flee instantly.
  • Oscar has absolutely NO aggression.  When he is uncomfortable, he just “goes away” mentally.  You can see that he has checked out.
  • Oscar likes to have a safe place to hide.  I have never had a problem getting him out of these safe places, although sometimes you have to pull him.  Again, he shows NO aggression.
  • Oscar loves car rides.  The problem is getting him out of the car at the end!
  • Crowds and groups of people terrify him
  • He loves the packaged bones that you can get at Pet Stores
  • He loves to destroy stuffed animals.
  • He prefers jerky type treats to biscuit treats.
  • He loves a fluffy bed.
  • His favorite way of being petted is a butt scratch, followed by a body massage.  He is not all that fond of being petted on the head, unless he really trusts you.
  • He does love to tear up paper and will pull files off my desk to tear them up.  Garbage cans are another favorite.
  • He has only had one accident in my office, and that was when it was storming, and I think he was afraid to go outside.
  • He hates bread or a lot of other things that most dogs like.  But he will do anything for cheese.
  • Loud noises bother him a lot.

Thank you for being willing to give Oscar a chance.  It will take awhile for him to respond to you, but once he does, it is amazing.  I have never felt so honored as the day he came to me for affection.  This is a remarkable dog that we love very much.

It only took one meeting with Rachel to know she was the right person for Oscar.  I sobbed like a baby as we loaded Oscar into her car, but it wasn’t because I was worried about her as his person.  Only that I was going to miss him so desperately.  It was instantly apparent that Rachel was the one. The two of them were meant to be together.  Rachel was willing to let Oscar live life on his terms, and arranged her schedule around his needs.  She was the most perfect home possible.

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We were very fortunate to have built a relationship with Rachel so that both her and Oscar became part of our extended family.  Kevin and I were able to visit them on several occasions.  Rachel called him her Potato…and it was the best possible name for him.  The happiest I ever saw him was when he was living with Rachel and her mom in Colorado.  He had a little dachshund friend, and played with that dog all day long.  He looked so happy when we visited him there.  It made me tear up to remember how far he’d come.

This week Rachel had to say goodbye to her boy…this dog she had spent so much time with, meeting his special needs, earning his trust.  She let us know that it was time to let Oscar slip away.  I know how devastated she is……and I ache for her pain.  Please keep her in your heart……She needs your good thoughts right now.

One very special little dog is finally free from fear……

Group W Dogs

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My husband calls our small pack the dogs from the “Group W Bench”.  Those of you who are familiar with Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant will get the reference immediately.  Kevin means that our 3 dogs started out life in pretty traumatic circumstances, which have marked them psychologically.  They aren’t “normal” dogs (if there is such a thing).  In some cases they need special handling or routines.  We’ve learned to deal with each one’s foibles and idiosyncrasies.   That’s our job as their human caretakers.

Almost everyone knows that our late dog RayRay was one of the dogs from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.  He taught us a LOT about living with a dog who has a traumatic past. Ever since we’ve been drawn to dogs who need special handling…..

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After we’d had Ray for about a year, we adopted Turtle, who is one of the Fearing Six fighting dogs.  She was, without a doubt, a fighting dog.  She has the scars and damage to prove it, including being Babesia positive (a blood borne parasite that can be passed by tick, or more commonly in dogs, by deep puncture wounds). Turtle has never met a human she didn’t love.  She wants to be with her people at all times.  Her tail wags if you even look at her. With humans she is a rockstar.  However, she is highly “dog selective”.  That means that it takes her a long time to accept another dog as a companion.  It takes time, patience, and a lot of skill to integrate her with another dog.  She lashes out easily at other dogs, and will re-direct in a heartbeat.  Thankfully she only has one canine and no front teeth, so it limits the damage she can do to another dog.

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Our Turtely Girl

When Ray passed away we adopted Bubba G.  Bubba is an amazing boy who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.  What he does have is exuberance and the mass to be somewhat intimidating.  When he first came to live with us he was so mouthy it could be frightening.  He would knock me down.  He would bite me on the butt.  He would have zoomies that would shake the house and threaten our electronics.  He loves other dogs but fails miserably at reading their cues, so he gets himself into a lot of trouble socially.  We have to limit his time with other dogs as he gets so overstimulated that it causes problems.  With time and training Bubba has become an amazingly calm companion who accompanies me everywhere.  But every once in awhile he gets “crazy eyes” and we know all hell is about to break loose.  Anymore that generally means zoomies….in the past it meant he was going to “play” with me, just like he’d play with another dog.

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Then there is Bosco.  This little dog came to us from Lucas County Ohio after he had been declared a “dangerous dog” for a bite he gave his new adopter.  The bite was minor, but that doesn’t matter to the legal system.  Bosco leads with his mouth.  He is easily the mouthiest dog I have ever met.  He is full of energy, basically a happy little clown of a dog.  Unless he is frightened.  Bosco is a fear biter.  We have learned that it is critically important to keep a strict routine with him.  He wants the same thing to happen the same way, by the same person, every single day.  Routine soothes him.  It keeps him happy and calm.  This is a dog who cannot tolerate surprises.  Bosco has the best dog skills of any of our kids.  He reads Turtle’s cues perfectly, and plays when she wants to play, and backs off if she is crabby.

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We are extremely conscientious dog owners.  All three of our kids are fixed, immunized, licensed and chipped.  We walk them every day.  They are trained.  They are never outside without us.  They do not run loose.  We take our responsibilities very, very seriously. Thankfully we live in a small community where it is readily apparent to everyone that we are extremely responsible with our dogs. That is critically important to this post, because we found out, strictly by accident, that BSL isn’t the only law that dog owners need to worry about. Especially owners of Group W dogs.

The day after Thanksgiving Bubba and Turtle got into a spat.  Mostly it was storm and fury, but things were heating right up.  Because of Turtle’s background, once she starts a fight, she is in it.  Period.  Kevin and I tried to separate the two, and Kevin ended up getting his hand in the way of Turtle’s mouth.   And Bubba, who’d been just trying to get away from his sister, ended up biting her to get her to back off.  I sent Kevin off to the ER to get his hand cleaned up and a tetanus shot, and I took Turtle to the vet to get her checked out.  Kevin and I both realized that a lot of what had happened was totally our fault, and we calmly set about dealing with the fall-out.  No biggie.

Except that it was.  It was huge.

Once Kevin got to the hospital, the police were called to come take photos of his hand as “evidence”.  Apparently, in our community, any dog who bites anyone or anything is declared a dangerous dog and must be removed from town.  Immediately.  Standard operating procedure is to seize the dog at the time of the incident.  Turtle would be taken for causing Kevin’s injury, and Bubba would be seized for nailing Turtle.

Somehow Kevin convinced the police officer NOT to seize the dogs that night, and he made arrangements for them to come “evaluate” the dogs the next day.

Can  you imagine the degree of terror we were feeling? We had put so much effort and training into making our dogs good, safe citizens, and in the blink of an eye, it could all be gone.  Because of our inattention, our dogs might be forced to pay the ultimate price.

The next day a very nice, polite young Marshall came to the house to meet the dogs.   I had both dog’s paperwork laid out for his inspection. Both dogs were both models of perfect canine behavior.  I asked him if we needed to either a) retain an attorney or b) start packing to move.  He assured me he wasn’t there to seize our dogs.  He mentioned the fact that Kevin and I are seen walking our dogs daily.  They are all up to date on shots. They are licensed with the city.  They are never outside unattended.  They aren’t allowed to bark or disturb the neighbors.  In short, we are the type of dog people that police like to see.    That somehow allowed the city to “look the other way” regarding this incident.

I was always very aware of our dogs and their interactions with others; especially unleashed dogs.  We always carry both citronella and pepper spray.  But now I am hyper-aware.  If a strange dog runs up and one of my dogs bites him, my dog will pay the ultimate price.  Even if they are leashed and the strange dog isn’t.  Because that’s the way the ordinance is written.  It doesn’t allow for any shades of grey.

My whole point for sharing this situation is to tell people you MUST check out your city’s ordinances.  Although you may not be dealing with breed specific legislation, your dogs may be at risk if there is a zero tolerance policy.  What a law like that overlooks is that all dogs can bite, given the right set of circumstances.  The sweetest little mutt I ever met bit his mom severely when he was badly injured and scared.  Dogs can bite.  Good dogs can bite.  And you want to be very conscious of how your community deals with situations like that.

 

We Must Never Forget the Truth

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At the beginning of the month the Dodo did a beautiful piece on Cherry, one of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.  It was a video montage of Cherry since rescue, showing how frightened and shut-down he was, and the amazing, really amazing job he has done recovering from his abuse.

There were so many players in his journey towards recovery.  The folks that originally assessed him in Virginia.  Best Friends Animal Society trainers and caregivers.  And not least of all Paul, Melissa and their kids.  Cherry has become the dog he was always meant to be.  And it is a wondrous thing to see.

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I remember watching the original video of him at Best Friends.  He was featured on one of the episodes of NatGeo’s Dogtown.  It was physically painful to watch as he would pancake on the ground, too afraid to stand upright.  I cried when the episode showed him crawling to Michelle for some love and comfort; finally conquering his fear enough to accept physical touch voluntarily.

A few years ago I was incredibly honored to meet him in person, spending time with Cherry and his family at a lodge in Utah.  They had come back to the sanctuary for a reunion of the adopted Vicktory Dogs.  I sat on the floor and fed him pieces of dehydrated liver, which he gently accepted from my fingers. The change from the dog who had arrived at Dogtown scared and broken was amazing and thrilling.  It is a tribute to the resilience of dogs in general, and the calm loving care that Paul and Melissa give him.

The Dodo piece was lovely, but in ways somewhat confusing.  Video clips from the past ten years were spliced together to show some of the high points of Cherry’s life.  Some people thought this was a new situation with Michael Vick.  But I think most of the confusion stems from the fact that people are already forgetting the facts about this case and these dogs.

Some of the comments on the Dodo post were stunning in their ignorance.  The more I read the more agitated I became.  There were even people who said there was no proof this dog was one of Vick’s.  That the piece was a lie.

Ree Person Smh ….. I don’t believe this mess . What I do believe is this is attempt to slander Michael Vick.If you wanted to get the message out ,to stop animal fighting , you really could’ve done that in a more tasteful way .We the viewers don’t really know if the dog came from a ring of dog fighting ran by him .
So full of it !

Also among the comments were several references to the documentary that was released about Michael Vick last year.  That piece was an attempt by the NFL to whitewash Vick and his involvement in dog fighting, or as they contend, his lack of involvement.  The piece inferred that Vick only bankrolled the operation, but played no part in the actual abuse of dogs.

Zuriel Kirkwood I respect everything the dodo does, but the Michael Vick mention was unnecessary. Anyone who hasn’t seen the “Vick Documentary” should go watch it. Just like we all make mistakes, Vick made a huge one but now has changed his life. Take the worst thing you’ve ever done and imagine people remembering you by that the rest of your life.

Anyone who has followed this case knows that is a flat out lie.  Vick has admitted to personally killing under-performing dogs.  There is plenty of documentation of that fact.  Read The Lost Dogs.  Watch the Champions on Netflix.  Read the court transcripts.

I think the statement that hurt the worst was the woman who said she wouldn’t allow any of those dogs near her children.  Sheer ignorance when you look at  Jonny Justice and Hector doing certified therapy dog work, or the public events that Cherry or Ray attended and the children they interacted with.  We can’t let those type of statements stand.  If we do not challenge them, we are allowing the spread of hate and bigotry unchecked.

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The biggest thing I take away from those comments is that people are beginning to forget.  The dogs are aging, slowly passing away one by one.  It offends me to think that their story might be forgotten, swept away.

Those of us who know and love these dogs must work to keep the truth in the mind’s eye of the public.  We need to make sure everyone knows that not one of the adopted dogs has had any problems with aggression of any sort.   These dogs are proof that pit bull terrier type dogs are not inherently vicious, and we mustn’t let the world forget that.

I have been remiss myself.  I’ve let this blog slowly fade away.  But no more.  I can’t let Ray’s life and death go unnoticed.  He deserves better.  All dogs deserve better.  And I have a responsibility to speak my truth.

As Darcy Dennett’s documentary showed, these dogs are true Champions.  And they deserve our respect.

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Service Dogs vs Fake Service Dogs

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Yesterday there was a video posted on Facebook about a man who was on a cable car with his service dog, who happened to be a pit bull mix.  The driver was not comfortable with the dog, and tried to throw the man off the car.  The man, knowing his rights, refused, and the police were called.  They threatened to charge the man with trespass.  The man has now stated that he intends to seek legal representation to sue the city.  He is well within his rights to do so.

A service dog is allowed to accompany his/her human anywhere the general public is allowed to go.  A perfect example of this is, your dog can go to the hospital with you, but not into surgery.  Hospitals are open to the public, surgery is not.

There has been a lot of uproar recently because of “fake” service dogs.  People buy a vest off of Amazon, and take their untrained dogs everywhere with them.  That makes life much harder for people who have dogs trained to assist them.

A real trained service dog does not need to wear a vest (although most of them do to avoid issues in public).  There is no such thing as a registration for a service dog (although many of us do carry documentation from a trainer saying that we have been evaluated as a service team).  There is no test.  There is no certification.  All those things are scams that people use to take their untrained dogs in public.  I’ve even seen it happen here at the sanctuary.

So how do you know if a dog is a real service dog?  You are allowed to ask two things: 1) is this a service dog? and 2) what has this dog been trained to do for you?   The handler must be able to answer both questions.  The dog has to have been trained to do something that makes living with a disability easier. That cannot be something any dog would do for his/her person, such as offering comfort/support.   Bubba has been trained to keep people at bay, when I am starting to panic in a crowd.  He’s been trained to get my attention if I start getting worked up.

A real service dog will have completed public access training.  He/she will know not to bark, pull, lunge, growl or behave in any other inappropriate manner.  He/she will not soil in a public place.  Any dog acting in any of these ways can be asked to leave, even if he/she is a service dog.

One time Bubba and I were at Walmart.  We were standing in line at customer service.  A small yappy dog wearing a service dog vest was barking and lunging at us.  Bubba sat at my side, as he has been trained to do, but he did look up at me with an expression that clearly said “hey, you told me I’m not allowed to do that in public.  How come he can get away with acting like such an idiot?”.

The ADA guarantees people with verified disabilities can have a trained service dog at their side.  A dog can’t be treated any differently than any medical device such as crutches or a wheelchair.  But I agree….these idiots who are trying to pass their pets off as trained service dogs are making things difficult for the rest of us.  There are hefty fines associated with lying about your dog.  I wish we would start to see people actually being prosecuted for violating the law.

What’s the Big Deal? #NoDAPL

Here’s what the DAPL site says about the pipeline:  “The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is a new approximate 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that will connect the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.”  According to the company, this pipeline  will reduce the number of trucks/trains needed to transport oil.  (Keep in mind that trucks/trains limit the amount of damage to the environment if there is an accident or leak.)

The pipeline is scheduled to go through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North/South Dakota, and under the Missouri River.  That is the problem.  According to experts, pipelines leak.  They always leak.  If there is a leak under the river, it will adulterate the water table, affecting drinking water for millions of people.

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The Native Americans who are camped in the path of construction consider themselves protectors of the water.  They are trying to make sure our children and grandchildren will still have potable drinking water.

On top of the danger of water contamination, there is the fact that construction is tearing up sacred burial sites and other other places that are culturally significant to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  I guarantee that there would be a public outcry if this pipeline was tearing up Arlington National Cemetery

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Since April, the camp of the protectors has been constantly manned.  But confrontations with law enforcement and private security forces have become increasingly violent.  Rubber bullets, pepper spray and sound cannons are being used against men, women, children and elders.  People who are unarmed and are carrying out a peaceful, prayerful protest.

Two days ago there was a massive arrest at the site.  Security forces marked arrested protectors with numbers, and locked them in dog kennels.  Seriously.  In the United States of American in the year 2016.

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This comes down to what’s right.  For centuries we have forced indigenous people to move wherever we want.  We have taken their lands, their culture, their language.  It’s time to STOP and actually hold to the treaties we signed years ago.  This is Sioux land, and they should have the final say about who or what uses their traditional sites.

As Sitting Bull said, so many years ago “They want us to give up another chunk of our tribal land. This is not the first time or the last time”.

It’s time to say “no” to big oil and the millionaires, and “yes” to the environment and native rights.

 

Bubba G Update

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Thank you to everyone for your concerns yesterday.  It was a difficult day for me, because of what I had experienced with Ray the Vicktory Dog.  Happily, this time we had a much better ending!.

On one side of his head Bubba has smooth skin where his ear should be.  Everyone assumed that meant the entire ear canal had been removed.  Horrifyingly, that isn’t the case.  He has a full formed ear canal, that the skin grew over as he was healing from his horrific injuries.  It is hard to understand just how badly he had been hurt.  According to his medical records (which I received from Denver Animal Control on Saturday), it was touch and go if he’d even make it for the first few days.  He weighed 55 pounds when he was discovered bleeding to death.  He weighs 80 now.

Because the canal is sealed off, with just a pinhole opening, it is going to be very prone to infections.  We will have to monitor carefully, and in the future we may have to do surgery to keep him from having even more severe problems.

Bubba was placed under anesthesia while his ear was flushed out with sterile water, and then the entire ear canal was packed with a long term antibiotic paste, which is meant to stay in place, gradually dispersing naturally.

Last night was rough for our boy, but this morning he is full of the dickens. He has been tearing around my office, getting in to everything.  That just tells me that he has been feeling bad for awhile. I feel badly that he was in pain, but all I can do is vow it will never happen again, now that I know what to watch for.

As the vet told me yesterday, those of us in animal welfare tend to be drawn towards the challenging or broken.  Bubba will always have ear problems because of his abuse and mistreatment.  That’s who his is, and I wouldn’t change him for the world.

Now I have to go…Bubba is standing on the freezer in my office, trying to get to a box of parrot toys.  It’s going to be an interesting day.  LOL

A Minor Procedure for Bubba…a Major Crisis for Mom

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I had to drop Bubba off at the clinic today, for what should be a small procedure.  If I ever doubted his importance in my life, today graphically demonstrated how much I depend on him.  As I walked away from the clinic after dropping him off, I had a total panic attack.  I am still crying as I write these words.  Not because he is in any real danger, but because the last time I dropped off my heart dog for surgery, I never saw him again.  I don’t think I can survive another loss like that.  The loss of Bubba would be every bit as devastating as the loss of RayRay.

I think most people are aware that Bubba had extensive dog fighting injuries that cost him both of his ears.  Not everyone knows that he lost one entire ear, including the canal.  A skin graft covers what should have been an ear, with a tiny little pinhole left, most probably for drainage. You can see what I mean in the photo below.

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In the past couple of weeks Bubs has been shaking his head, and pawing at his “no ear”. I noticed the pinhole had increased in size, and it looked like there had been a little drainage.  So I made an appointment to check it out.

Yesterday we discovered he had a nasty infection in that no ear.  It took three of us to hold him while the doctor used a tiny catheter to flush it out.  We could tell it was incredibly painful for him, and he was showing signs of being really stressed by the handling.  So she decided the best thing to do would be to sedate him, clean it out, and pack it with an antibiotic paste that is meant to stay in place.

Last night we could tell  he already felt better.  He had a prolonged case of the zoomies and was just a total handful.  It makes me feel terrible that I didn’t catch the issue sooner. It must have been extremely painful to have that nasty build up. This medical procedure is just going to help that much more.

I know this is a minor issue.  I know he will do fine under sedation.  I know this will help him feel so much better.  But I can’t help crying about what could go wrong.  I need this boy in my life.

Until they call to tell me I can come pick him up, I’m just going to be a basket case.