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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Birthday Surprises...

Does that title sound familiar? It might if you're a "Harry Potter" fan. It is the title of chapter 18 in "The Half-Blood Prince". If you haven't read the book, beware! Spoilers ahead! The chapter is about how Ron, Harry's best friend, gets poisoned by accident on his birthday. Thankfully, he makes it. You're probably wondering why on Earth I'm bringing this chapter up, as it sounds pretty horrifying. Don't worry, no one gets poisoned...

Yesterday was Shelby's birthday. She turned the big 0-6 yesterday! I cant believe that my "little one" is 6! It seems like she will always be "the baby" to me...

We started the day with our requisite snuggle in bed before getting up. I told her Happy Birthday over and over, but I did not sing. I did not want to hurt her ears on her special day! I usually don't make a huge deal out of the girls birthdays; I don't throw parties for them and their doggy friends (partly because they're so snobby!) and I usually don't go overboard with buying them lots of things. Now if there is something that they need (OK, let be honest...something that I want and have had my eye on for a while...) I will buy it under the guise of it being "for their Birthday". There is one tradition, however, that we honor every year for each of their birthdays: we always go to the doggie bakery for some special goodies.

You're probably shocked that I, the anal retentive Sheltie-Mom who feeds a specialized raw diet on a very strict schedule, would feed my dogs something from a doggie bakery. But come on. To quote Jell-o, "every one needs a little wiggle room". It's their birthday! They deserve something special.

For Shelby's birthday, which again was yesterday (February 27th), we go to the doggie bakery that is close to home. "The Barkery" opened up in Tewksbury (my home town) a few years ago and we've been going ever since. They make everything on premises and use only human grade ingredients. (In fact, some of their stuff is REALLY good...I only nibble on a cookie or two!) They make doggie birthday cakes and a full bakery counter with canine canoli's, baked apple pies and decorated cookies. If you'd like to check it out, here is the link: www.thebarkeryonline.com/ We ended up getting two canine cupcakes (in place of a real cake) and two "Lucky Dog" frosted shamrock cookies. Oh, and a party hat for the birthday girl. (I snuck that in when both girls were fogging up the glass while they stared fixedly at the goodies inside...) Now, I admit that my girls aren't very picky when it comes to food. They'll eat anything that stays still long enough. I always tell people that if they mashed up cardboard and made it look like their thawed-raw then my girls would eat it. But they do seem to have more enthusiasm for some things; their raw for example. But the doggie bakery tends to bring out a whole new side of them. They become wide-eyed crazed demons, with the salivatory capabilities of a Newf on a hot August day. They go nuttier than squirrel poo. I mean, I know some people who have this same reaction when they walk into human bakeries. Trust me. My mom has worked in one for over 21 years; and I was suckered into working there for a little while too. Ive seen that wild look in peoples eye when they smell the fresh hot bread or baking cookies. It's SCARY.

Anyways, for Heidi's birthday it's a little different. Well, the routine isn't different, just the location. It seems like every year for Heidi's birthday, which is July 1st, we're away camping. But we always find our way to the dog store and bakery in North Conway, "Four Your Paws Only" (www.fouryourpawsonly.com/). Now this bakery doesn't make all of their stuff on premises, but it too is all hand made with human grade ingredients. And we can get "Yoghund" frozen yogurt there, which is a little more welcome by hot Shelties in July. We usually end up leaving with both ice cream AND cookies. (And then we go across the street to the 5 and Dime store to get me some fudge!)

So even though we don't usually hold a party, their birthdays are still pretty special. Their bellies feel pretty special anyways! And that brings me to the title of the blog, and it's relation to Chapter 18. I got Shelby ready to celebrate her big day: I put on her very special "It's my paw-ty Birthday Hat! Needless to say, she wasn't happy. In fact, she was pretty miserable. And of course it was made worse by her evil mother taking pictures of her to put here:






Once the "OHMYGODIAMSOPATHETICLOOKING" faces were over (I TOLD you she was a master at looking pitiful...) she decided that she would turn to her sister for help. Maybe Heidi would assist in ridding her of this feather trimmed cardboard piece of shame. But no such luck. However, with the promise of birthday cupcakes, her mood lifted significantly. No surprises there. So I had them sit while I carefully
(and tantalizingly) placed each of their frosted treats in front of them. I had enough time to snap this picture before I released them; I was erring on the side of caution: both dogs were vibrating with hungry excitement, and I wanted to make sure that they didn't explode!


However things started to go wrong when I said "OK" which told them that it was time to eat. Shelby, no doubt using her "Its MY birthday and I can have what ever I want!" card, proceeded to CUT ACROSS her sister (very rudely, might I add...) and STEAL HER CUPCAKE! I had to quickly intervene to make sure that Shelby (being the speed-eater that she is) didn't wolf down her (previously Heidi's) cupcake and go back in for the other one! I snatched that cupcake up and gave it to Heidi. Shelby in the mean time had peeled off her frosting and was chewing the dense little cake so furiously that tiny bits rained on the floor. I checked back with Heidi. Heidi's always had problems eating. She seems to be laboring under the delusion that she has no teeth. She LICKS everything. It's a good thing their raw food is very soft after its thawed; she licks every bit of it. When I give them raw bones, it takes her HOURS to eat them because she tries licking the meat from the bone. (Which, for obvious reasons isn't that successful.) The only things that she does seem to chew are bully-springs and MY CLOTHES. I have had many socks perforated by her "non-existent" teeth. So I watched her pretty close to make sure that she was in fact trying to eat it, and not just lick it to death.


She was, in fact, trying to figure out how the heck to eat this thing. Finally, after many minutes of softening it up with Heidi spit, she was able to eat it. This is when the second bout of trouble started. She kept breaking off little pieces, swallow them, and would then stop eating. I couldn't figure out what was going on; why would she stop eating this seemingly delicious snack half way through? I kept picking up the pieces and offering them to her, to encourage her to finish eating them. I told her that if she didn't finish them, then Shelby would. She ate a few more, and then could be persuaded no more. I decided to let Shelby have the rest. I got a few pictures of Shelby snatching up the crummies off the flood before I rechecked on Heidi. That's when I noticed something was wrong. She was standing stiff and still, but seemed both hunched and diminished at the same time. She was kind of gagging; not coughing or sputtering, but clearly trying to unstick something. I made sure she was breathing and then thumped her hard on the back. I thumped and thumped, and then tried the doggie Heimlich. That's when she started retching. Suddenly a thick, white foam started bubbling in her mouth. She spit some of it out onto the floor and I could see a hunk of cupcake in it. But she was still not right. Her eyes were liquidy and seemed to be sparkling with tears. I thumped harder and heaved her stomach again. More and more frothy white foam laced with cupcake. Finally after the third batch was hurled up, she started to look and act better. She was able to move and walk around.

I stopped panicking and calmed down; I was not going to have to rush her to work (the veterinarian) to get her checked. She was improving. I offered her some water and she turned away from it. I begged her to take a drink; "do it for mummy" I pleaded...and she took a few laps. She stopped again, and I knew that she still wasn't 100% Suddenly Shelby's attack dog instincts kicked in when she heard someone on our street. She started barking in her her big-dog scary voice, and ran to the window. That's when Heidi joined in: jumping and barking right alongside her sister. I knew she would be fine.

She took a few more sips of water, and let out a VERY un-ladylike belch, and has been OK ever since. It was a scary moment there, for a minute. What started out as happy birthday celebrations quickly turned into a tense, white knuckle situation. Luckily, just like with Ron, everything turned out OK. Shelby was even able to finish looking for crummies:




Just as an afterthought, (in case anyone is wondering) things with me have been pretty quiet. I was able to see some friends this week, thanks to their willingness to share their free time to hang out with me. It was nice to talk about other things and hear what was going on in other peoples lives, rather than sitting and always thinking about my own circumstance.

I've also spent quite a bit of time planning for a trip that I'm planning to take in October. My best friend since the age of four is getting married in Miami (on a cruise ship!) this year. I took two weeks off of work to drive down there with the girls. Its been fun finding neat things to do both down and back along the east coast during that time; I'm really looking forward to seeing so many great things with my kids. More on the trip to come!!

Well, that's it for now. I've got to go and check on the Shelties. I've got to make sure that they're still not high on birthday cupcake. You know what they say about too much of a good thing...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Who needs whom?

So today was the day. They day to see the doctor, and to get a progress report. I was nervous because although I fell better, I certainly do not yet feel 100%. But I definitely feel well enough to go back to work. I wanted to make sure that I got that particular point across. (I sure am sick of sitting at home...but of course it has been made easier by the unwavering companionship of my girls.) We waited for a little while for my name to be called, and after what seemed like forever, we finally were ushered in. In general, the appointment started off pretty good. I explained that I was doing better with my breathing, and had started walking. He then asked me all of the routine things: meds, anything else going on, etc. This is where we hit the snag. I explained that my palpitations were getting worse. I had complained about them during our previous visits, and during the time that I spent in the hospital. They showed up every time on the monitor as PVC's (premature ventricular contractions). No one seemed to be worried at that point. But at mentioning them this time, he became fairly concerned. He asked me to describe them. I told him that it felt like my heart was pounding; not in a fast, racy way, but in a smacking-against-my-sternum kind of way. I told him that they were AWFUL. Yes, they were enough to effect my life. If I was doing something and they started, then I would definitely focus on them and less on the task at hand. They were bothering me so much the other night that I took my meds early because they were POUNDING so hard. And it doesn't matter what I'm doing. They occur at rest, and both during and after activity. They occur when it is 9:00 in the morning, 12:30 in the afternoon or at 7:45 at night. They're definitely feeling stronger and occurring a lot more often.

As he was doing his exam, he said that I had described them perfectly. He said that what I was feeling was essentially what was happening. OK, good. I'm glad that he knows what they are. Or does he? He is the type of doctor who likes to have EVERY base covered. (Which is why he ordered an echo before my 2nd cath to rule out a possible clot. After the echo that pretty much cleared that problem, he still went in through my neck to make absolutely sure that there really truly was nothing there. Yeah, he is nothing if not thorough.) So he decided he would attach a Holter-Montitor for 24 hours (which I'm wearing right now.) I have to write in a journal when I eat, sleep, feel anything and do any type of activity. I then have to turn it in as soon as I can. This last part is pretty important, because at the end of the visit when I was checking out and making my plans for the next follow up appt (8 weeks from now) I was told that no, I CANNOT go back to work until we figure out what this arrhythmia is. He was also really adamant about me still not driving. He wants to make sure that I do not suffer some sort of episode and pass out. Yeah. That thought was comforting. But at least we're going to get to the bottom of it. For me, these palpitations have been tougher to deal with, and a bit scarier than even the shortness of breath. I FEEL these in a very strong, and annoyingly painful way. And they worry me because these are coming directly from THE HEART. They're not some blood clot in my leg that MIGHT later be dangerous; not extra vessels branching from a vein on its WAY to my heart. This IS my heart. And to have it feel like it is pounding so much and working so hard is scary. As I type this right now, the palpitations are RAGING. Good for the monitor, I guess...

So, after I got the not so good news of being out even LONGER, I went to work to let them know. They were, once again, very understanding. They told me to make sure that I was continuing to heal, and to come back when I was healthy and ready. I am really thankful and lucky to be able to work for a really understanding company, and with such kind people. With their understanding and help, I have really been able to worry less about the goings on at work and how I was "screwing" everyone over, and more on getting better so that I could come back well. AND they not only check in on me, but on everyone in our family; they always ask about how my mom and girls are. It's really sweet, and it is really appreciated.

But on that note, I've realized lately how lonely I am. I mean, I know that I have amazing friends and family, but no one is living in a disease with you. Of course what ever illness your trying to get through effects everyone around you; my mom, extended family, friends and job are all examples of that. But to actually be dealing with your bodies shortcomings and breakdowns day in and day out is really taxing on your mind and spirit. I generally am able to keep both positive and upbeat but on some days (days like today, for example) I just find myself feeling pretty alone and a little down. Especially when I need to walk away from my friends at work, or watch my mom walk out the door without me.

I'm sure that lots of people feel this way. And that's because you cannot possibly tell the people in your life everything. Although they would never admit it, if you were to tell them every emotion that you felt, or shared with them every thought or opinion that sprung to mind, they would quickly grow weary of your company. Your relationships would be worn so thin that they would eventually snap. And it is certainly not anyones fault. Everyone is just trying to get through the things tossed into the path of their own lives. Everyone is just trying to make the most of the time that we are given. So, when the people who love you most in life are busy with their own things, between your emergencies and when you really need them, what do you do with all of these feelings? You can either bottle them up, tell your therapist who is trained (and paid!) to make sense of it all, or you confide in your pets.

As I've said before, this particular time dealing with sickness has taught me a lot. It has really opened my eyes and my heart to things that I had been previously been missing out on. And my girls have definitely helped me in this area most of all. You see, dogs don't have their own lives to be getting back to when yours has been "stabilized". YOU are their whole lives. They not only depend on you for everything that keeps them alive, but they also want to be with you more than they want anything else in the world. And that bond is not only because you are the one holding the dish of food. It is because they are love. Pure love. If you lost everything and found yourself living in a cardboard box and suddenly there was no filled food bowls to be found, your dog would still stick by your side. Because they are all love. All the time. They give you the whole of their beings. All of their hearts. All of their souls. And they ask for very little in return. As fickle, unpredictable and temporary as people are, pets are always honest, constant, and permanent. They are a true gift. And for me, a reason to keep going.

But I wonder if I am putting too much of my problems and stress on my dogs. I wonder if I am burdening them emotionally; I know that I am leaning on them more heavily now than ever. My relationships with them have become more intense; which is both therapeutic and terrifying. On one hand, they are the perfect therapists: they will never take what you told them in strict confidence, and throw it back in your face during a fight; they will never think your crazy; and they will never share your secrets with another living soul. But although they are helping me emotionally and spiritually, there are just some things that they cannot, and will not ever be able to do. This is when the fear sets in. Although our relationships with dogs are as intimate (or maybe more intimate) than our relationships with the closest people in our lives, our dogs dependence comes back to haunt us. Not only will they not be able to drive you to a hospital, sit with you while you lay sick in your bed, or offer you encouragement before a major procedure, but they will sometimes make the already difficult situation a little more complex. Some one will need to take on the duty of caring for them while you are unable to. You are now depending on people: friends, family and strangers (doctors and nurses) for support both in the hospital and out. It is a tough pill to swallow. The beings that fill in the "love void" when all of those people are busy leading their own lives (and rightly so) in between the crises that arise, are suddenly banned from your side. Even if you are in a small local hospital that allows the patients pets to visit, there will still be limitations. Your dogs cannot drive; they will need a ride to and from their visit. They also will not be able to stay all day; even if the hospital were to permit it, you may be to weak or unstable to be taking care of their potty needs.

So what are we, myself and the people in similar positions, to do? On one hand, we find ourselves drawing more closely and becoming more dependant on our pets, but on the other we are unable to truly have them close by when we truly need them. It seems to be a delicate balance; a balance that I am really struggling to find. I have never been able to be really close to people. Even friends that I have had for years I have drifted from. It seems that once the physical distance grows, the emotional distance does too. And I know that I alone am to blame for this ever growing rift. I feel uncomfortable and unreachable by people because I feel so different and out of place. My interests vary so greatly from my other friends that I find myself in a heightened state of anxiety when I am with them and unable to really be myself. The person who wants to talk dogs. The person who wants to talk about MY dogs. Again, I know that this is all crazy. My true friends and close family would of course listen to all I have to say. I know that they do love me for who I am. But the social anxiety that I have when I feel like people are making fun of me, or not taking me seriously is enough to induce a panic attack.

I just want to be able to explain to people why I love my dogs in such a way. It's often a hard conversation to have. It is hard to articulate your points on "dog love" when you have people sneaking skeptical looks or trying to vaguely disguise smirks as you speak; or at least it's hard when you feel like that's what they're doing. (But I have already written enough on this. See "Black Sheep" post.) So I blog. I put down my thoughts and feelings on an internet page that will allow people to see them, and then let them decide if they want to keep reading them or not. Anonymity at it's finest. No rejection. No harsh words or rolled eyes. I'm finding the writing, posting, and sharing of the blog world almost as therapeutic as sharing with my girls. Almost. As soon as the computer becomes fuzzy and can curl up with me on the couch, then maybe the rewards will start coming close to those I get when I spend time with my dogs. Until then, I will continue to love my dogs, heal and keep learning life's lessons; no matter how difficult they may be. And I of course will be ever grateful to the people and dogs who continue to CHOSE to spend their time with me; of course they do not have to. But knowing that there are beings that make the decision to remain in your life and in your presence is a really powerful and awesome feeling. Love is love. Whether it be "dog love" or love from the people in your life, their love is all you need.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cardiac Rehab: Walking my dogs

So, here I sit. Once again on the couch, typing on the computer, with the T.V. on in the background. Everything that has been realatively familiar to me for the past five weeks. I say realatively familiar, because where I spent so much time in the hospital, I have to be honest and admit that being there is pretty familar too. When I got home from my first, quite lengthy stay, I felt like I had some twisted version of Stockholm-Syndrome. It felt as if I had forgotten how to function in my own home. I missed the people who were my captors (very kind doctors and nurses). Instead of being monitored by both machines and caring people 24 hours a day, I was now alone. Instead of having meal choices offered on a menu, I had to decide what to eat. And then I had to make it. No more deliveries of food between 8 and 9, noon and 1, and 5 and 6. It was an odd feeling; not remembering my life before being hospitalized. But one thing brought me back to the reality of being home. Well, two things I should say. My two dogs. I had to snap out of it pretty quick in order to take care of these two beings who depended on me so. I had to remember that they also needed to be fed. I had to get up and prepare their food too and then make sure that I fed it to them in a timely manner. (I probably would have fed them breakfast at noon time if I wasn't forcing myself to pay better attention.) And they also had to go outside. Now, they had been forced to hold it for quite a while while I was in the hospital. My mom was trying to get a little bit of work in, and because I was having so many prceedures and meeting with so many different doctors, she was spending most of her remaining time with me down in Boston. She wanted to make sure that she didn't miss anything. Although I ALWAYS kept my girls needs in mind ("mom, you fed them at 7 am, they probably need to go out soon", or "it's really late and the'yre probably really hungry for dinner"), no matter what was going on with me. My mom was worried about her child in the hospital, but I was worried about MY children at home. But there were still a few days that their needs were put on hold perhaps longer than they should have been. On days when I was in surgery, my mom needed to be with me before, during and after the procedure, in case something went wrong. But no matter how long they were left alone, they never had an accident. Never got into anything inappropriate, or chewed anything out of boredom. They were perfect angels; as was my mom who went home every day and not only took care of their basic needs (letting them outside and feeding them) but she also played games with them too.
So because they were really reliable and good, when I got home I had to remember that just because they COULD hold it for a longer time than some, didn't mean that I should let them do it. I had to make sure that I was taking care of them, because they had immediately started taking such good care of me. And they still are. Right now, as I type this, I have both snuggling with me on the couch. Now, Heidi isn't much of a snuggler. She's usually much more comfortable on the floor, in her crate, or on her memory foam bed. But when she does come up and sit on the couch with me and Shelby, she pushes her body right along mine, lies down so that I can feel the warmth and pressure of her body right through the thickest blanket I may have on, and sighs deeply. Im not sure if she knows just how comforting that this is for me. I think she does, which is why she still does it. I pet her, and tell her how she's such a precious angel, and how pretty she is. And when she isn't up on the couch snuggling, Shelby can usually always be counted on. For a very special hour yesterday, She curled up in a "Shelby ball" on the other side of the couch, and I had my arm draped across the cushion so that I could pet her while I read. She shifted her position just so that my arm was the curled into the ball as well: she had placed her paw and leg over my arm, and rested her head and neck on it too. Again, just the loving warmth that I felt her giving me was glorious. I immediately felt relaxed, and made sure that I wasnt moving too much, as to not disturb her.

So here I have sat, day after day, with both dogs keeping me sane and upbeat. But tomorrow this all may change. I am hopeful that it will, but at the same time fearful of how much "adjusting time" I'll need to get back to reality again. Tomorrow is the day that I see my cardiologist, and I have every expectation that he is going to let me go back to work next week. Now, I'm sure that I will go back either part time or with some restrictions, but just the ability to go back is a little overwhelming. I'll be leaving the comfort and familiarity of my home and my girls, and going back out into the real world. A world that will suddenly become completely open to me once more. Driving. Work. Walks. The thought is both incredably uplifting and terrifying at the same time. Needless to say, I'm a bit nervous about how tomorrow will go.

But, as money makes the world go round, as much as I fear it, I do need to go back to work. The medical bills have started coming in, but not the money to pay them. Luckily I have good insurance, and have had some money saved to keep me afloat while I've been out. And of course, because of my mother (I told you she was a Saint!) has helped out quite a bit: driving me back and forth from doctors offices and hospitals and fronting the money for gas and the parking fees. And I can't forget keeping food in the house! Now it is time for me to retake my responsibility and start earning my keep. My mom will need to be repayed, bills will need to be taken care of, and my girls will need to eat. (Luckily I bought their frozen food about a week before this all started, so the freezer has been well stocked while my mom was taking care of them. (No need for her to blend tripe!) So as nerve wracking as going back to work will be, I might as well start preparing myself for the return, right? I'll need to start figuring out what I can do so that I can tell the doctor in what capacity I can return.

Now, what better way to get up and moving than walking my dogs? I wanted to start by doing the river-walk a few towns over from us. The walk is a nicely level, paved path with the Merrimack river flowing on one side, and a stretch of grass dotted with trees on the other. It is well lit at night, when we would probably be going, with old fashioned iron post lamps. It's a nice walk; easy. A good place to start. Unfortunately when I had this brilliant idea, it was the night that I decided to make the inconvenient trip to the ER for uncontrolled bleeding. And then the next night, it was way to cold and windy for us to take that stroll for the first time. I still wanted to walk somewhere though. I spent a while trying to think of somewhere we could walk that was indoors; somewhere large enough for me to really get moving, and somewhere that would allow dogs. The mall was out. But what about the big-box pet stores? Those are pretty big and of course allowed dogs. My mom thought it was a good idea, and took us that night to PetSmart. I like petSmart. It just seems less like a warehouse than Petco. The first lap we made around the store was for shopping purposes. I went there not only for exercise, but with a purpose of buying a specific toy for Heidi. Our Blogger friend "Cosi" at "Shelties 4Us" said that this was his favorite toy because it was a ball that he could tug. So, I decided maybe Heidi would like it too. Shelby plays with toys too, but it is at her discretion. Where Heidi will pick up ANYTHING that she can play with, Shelby really has to be in the mood to play. Granted when she IS in the mood, she usually has a blast and ends up just as exhausted as Heidi.

So, we found our "Holey Ball" and continued to walk. About half way through our time there, we ran into another pair of Shelties. A blue merle and another Sable. Both were super sweet and close to Heidi and Shelby's ages. After a good round of "Sheltie sniff-butt", we went out seperate ways. (After I got in some additional Sheltie pats and snuggles, of course.) We continued walking, and I didnt have that bad of a time. I was tired after, but what can you expect from your first baby-steps, right? I certainly wasn't having as difficult of a time breathing as I thought I would. So, it was good! We got out; we walked. And I was eager to try again.

So the next night, we finally were able to take our river-walk. It was still a bit cold and windy, so I decided to go well prepared. I wanted to make sure that I would be able to go as long as I could, as far as I could, without having the cold stopping me before my body did. I also wanted to make sure that the girls were comfortable too. I put on their "Mutt-Luk" booties (I don't know what they use to sand and salt that path, so I wanted to be careful) and put on their fleece coats too. I wanted to make sure that the wind that was still a little biting didn't get through their double Sheltie coats. I know, I know. A little excessive? Maybe. But it made me feel better about bringing them with my for my 2nd round of cardiac rehab walking. So we got there, all bundled up, and we walked. The walk away from the car was beautiful; we were walking into the last light of the setting sun. Those vibrant oranges, reds and pinks were blending beautifully with the deep star strewn blue that was rapidly taking over. My "new" eyes brought me these pictures that before I might not have fully appreciated. And then my other senses sprung awake too. I could hear the soft padding of my girls bootie covered feet on the path, and I felt the cool breeze play lightly across the little bit of skin still exposed on my face. Everything felt great. And sharing it with my girls was wonderful.

Now this walk wasn't just about my recovery. I was also worried about how the girls would do because it was their first real exercise in a while too. I was especially concerned about Heidi. She had some type of shoulder injury that has since caused many of the joints in that leg to become arthritic. This is what stopped her from jumping: ending her agility career, and preventing her from reaching the upper levels of Obedience. (See "NADAC: the career saver" post.) So I was trying to keep my eye on her too. Make sure that she didn't become too fatigued or painful in that leg; usually noticable because she starts pacing instead of maintaining a normal gait.
But I was surprised to see how far we could make it. I did have to stop twice to take breaks on the benches that were strewn along the path, but I made it quite a long way. And although my breathing wasn't exaclty as easy as it should be, and in no way was it back to normal, I really did feel pretty good. The girls were WONDERFUL. They kept a pretty brisk pace, and checked back frequently to urge me along. I had them hooked up to flexi leads, (which I normally hate and only recommend for certain situations: situations where there are no other dogs or people around who can become tangled in the dangerously thin cord) which allowed them to be ahead of me with the freedom to keep driving forward, and the safety of still being on leash. (There is a busy, 4 lane road after the grassy knoll on the non-river side of the path.) I also wanted to make sure they didnt hit any joggers up for snacks, although the path that night was pretty deserted.

There is a boat house almost all the way at the end of the path where the regatta boats are kept. We almost made it there, but I figured that I still had to walk back, so I shouldn't push us too hard. We took that second break and walked back. After the turn back is when I started to feel fatigued. My legs were tired and felt as if I had just hit the stair-master for an hour. But the girls were great. They just turned right around, and drove me all the way back. Heidi slowed up her pace a little at first, as she tends to shut down on our walk back if I cue her that we're going back to the car. But I didn't cue her at all this time, and my ears were once again filled with that "tap tap tap tap" of their boots on the pavement. All the while she kept up the same brisk, driving speed and never paced at all.

Even though we were all pretty exhasuted after the walk, we all also felt really good. The girls slept on the drive home and I slept pretty good that night. Both my body and mind were at ease not only because of the walk, but because I know I have two furry angels by my side. I know that this is just the beginning, but I also know that my girls will be with me every baby-step of the way.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A new day

I started this blog with the intention of filling it with posts and stories of living with and learning from my two very special dogs, Heidi and Shelby. I named the blog "Heart-Dogs Heal", because that's what my two canine companions are, and what that is what they do. People in the dog world will tell you that a "heart dog" is that once in a life time dog; a dog that all others will be compared to. A dog who knows what you are thinking, what you are asking of them (even if they have not yet been trained to perform that specific task), and a dog who is your constant companion. Ask a dog person about their heart dog and you will usually see their eyes go misty and hear their voice constrict. They will usually tell you amazing stories of how this dog changed their lives; and how they are a different person because of that dogs love. The bond that we have with any dog that we share our lives with is amazing, but the connection between a person and their "heart dog" is something truly magical. It is something that often cannot be expressed in words, but can only be felt in pure, raw emotion. But often times we true dog people don't need those words to explain. Because we know what the connection is like. We understand because we have felt it ourselves.

Every ones experience with their heart-dog is different, although those raw feelings and emotions all tend to be the same. I know that every ones beliefs are different too. Some people, for example, think that we only get one chance with a soul mate. Once we find that person, or dog, we only get that one experience with them. Although their spirit always stays with us, we only get that one brief breath of time with them here on Earth. I know that some people think the opposite; once our soul-mate leaves, they can choose if they want to return to us. We can call them back, but ultimately, they have the final say. This thought can be overwhelming; daunting. What happens if we call them back and they decide the time is right? How can we be sure that when we go and look at a litter of puppies, we chose the right one? And that's if we even find the right breeder with the right litter! Its a challenge that seems insurmountable. But if you believe in the theory itself, then you also believe that there is a way.

For me, my belief right now, is that my heart-dog is actually two dogs. I truly believe that a very special, heart-dog soul has been split, and now resides in two bodies. I know that people out there may be thinking I'm crazy. There may also be some who think that this is an indecent thought. A soul is not meant to be split; it is not meant to be torn in two. A soul is meant to stay whole and unchanged. And it is meant to reside in only one body. But if you lived with my two girls, you would understand where my belief comes from. There are just too many coincidences to have this not be true. They just compliment each other in so many ways; both in their individual personalities and the relationships that they have both with me and with each other. I hope that in future posts I'll be able to show everyone why I believe what I do. I hope that everyone can see how they really are two halves to one whole. And my life is made fuller and more complete because I am lucky enough to have the pair of them.

On that note, I realized that I had gotten away from the true intention of this blog. I was using it as a posting site for all of the general, mushy posts that I had done through another blogging forum. I haven't posted anything here in weeks. I have been using our other blog, "Sheltie Musings", to publish all of the recent things I have written. Which is fine because those stories tend to be sillier, and more humorous, and we've made quite a few friends there! But I want to get back to this blog; back to posting what it is really like to be living with my heart-dogs. And how it feels to be able to have them use their healing powers to help me through whats been a very difficult and trying time.

I was born with a serious congenital heart condition, and therefore have been living with it and the various problems associated with it for my whole 25 years. I've gone through the trauma of two open heart surgeries, being diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia (which is dangerous enough, but having only one ventricle makes it a bit scarier for me...), having a blood clot in my leg and being placed on coumadin because of it, almost bleeding to death because of the coumadin, and these recent episodes of "fluid overload" (aka, congestive heart failure) and being diagnosed with collateral vessels which are causing blood to bypass my lungs and renter my body unoxygenated. This last issue has caused extreme shortness of breath and low oxygen levels. And for those reasons, Ive been out of work and unable to drive for a month and a week. Its been an extremely lonely and trying time. I've had three additional cardiac catheters (one of which resulted in a stent being placed to try and "block off" the collateral vessels), 2 wisdom teeth pulled (without sedation), and have been placed back on coumadin. I wasn't worried about it too much (except for the frequent blood draws...I'm a big needle baby!) but just the other day I started bleeding, and it quickly got out of control. I once again ended up on the ER, and then stayed the night for observation.

I mention all of this not because I'm looking for any kind of sympathy, but to illustrate how important my dogs have become to me. This situation has been difficult because I have been unable to really do even the simplest of tasks. I now know how my Grandfather feels when he becomes depressed and agitated because he is slowly losing his Independence. I can't drive any where by myself and have to now rely on rides. I cannot go to work, which is a huge blow in itself, but the anxiety of having the bills (but no money to pay them) coming in the mail every day has robbed me of quite a bit of sleep. I find myself sitting day in and day out here, on the couch, on the computer, reading or watching t.v. I could have very easily went into a dark place; found myself in a deep depression. But I have two furry therapists that have kept me from getting there. Two Sheltie-shaped life preservers that have prevented me from drowning in a sea of self sorrow. Although I have had dogs (even these very two dogs) with me during the other difficult times of illness, this is the first time where I am fully aware and appreciative of their healing powers. Before they were just my dogs. Sure, they obviously helped me in many of the same ways that they are helping me now, but now I am only now fully conscious of their abilities and attempts to get me back on track. What before was an unhelpful behavior that bothered me, is now something that I recognize as an act of mercy; it's their own way of bringing me back to the present, and keeping me focused on a positive outcome and future. They're trying to break up the monotony of the day by engaging in play. They're pawing and whining at me to break the trance I sometimes find myself in: sitting for hours in the soft glow of the computer monitor. Yes, they are trying to interrupt me. Only now I see their interruptions as loving interventions, where before they were annoying and time consuming.

What brought around the epiphany? Several things, I think. My maturity and the intense love for my dogs that has grown over the years has played a big part. But the other thing has been the amount of reading I have done. I obviously have had a lot of time to catch up on some good books. And my extremely generous friends from work have given me gift cards to allow me to vastly expand my library! I've chosen books specifically written on the human-animal bond. A few books were researched and written by well known authors, and a few books were written by people like you and me about their special heart-dogs, and how their lives were changed and bettered by them. One of the books that really contributed to my change of thought (and change of heart!) has been "The Healing Power of Pets" by Dr. Mart Becker. In it, he tells how pets help their people through some truly difficult and life altering illnesses: cancer, heart disease, disability (physical and mental) and the aging process. The chapters speak to the illnesses, and are filled with well researched facts and people's personal stories. The book is really well written and easy to read. For me it has been totally enlightening. Towards the end of the book, Dr. Becker brings up a very good point. If animals are such good medicine and are so effective at healing their people, why are so many people with pets still suffering from illnesses? Especially those that are self inflicted, like obesity? It's because, to paraphrase what he says, that just like any medicine, pets need to be used effectively. People need to be open and aware of the help that their pets are offering them. They must be willing to listen to their pets when they try to offer them help: when they try stirring them into activity, and when they signal that something is wrong.

This is how I am now going to live my life. I was, before, just a dog parent. A dog parent who loved my dogs as if they were my own children. But like so many parents, of both human and canine children, I wasn't really listening to them. We were coexisting. I did not have my eyes, ears or heart open to what they were offering me; the ability to have a better life. But I am listening now. I have started to really enjoy the little things that I am able to do with them. Before I looked at bath/grooming time as if it were a chore. A necessary one, but still a chore. This time I enjoyed the entire process. I enjoyed it as the social bonding time that it is really meant to be. I enjoyed being able to do something physical; to use the muscles that have been resting for over a month. I liked feeling tired after the job was done. I revelled in the feel of their hair: dry, dirty, wet, lathered, conditioned, cleaned and dry again. Every stage was a wonderful tactile experience. And my spirits were lifted to new heights when I was able to laugh during the process. Laughing and smiling is not something that you can help when you see your previously furry, fluffy dogs turn into skinny, naked ones. And when you see some of the looks that they give, or the expressions on their faces you really can't help but chuckle. All in all, the whole experience was great. The girls and I felt better after all was said and done. And it has since affected me too. Because my mom brought the grooming stuff (table, bag of supplies etc.) from the garage to the house, I have been using it every day. We do our daily "who's so pretty!?!?" routine before we play Sheltie-Speedway. It continues to be a really nice bonding time for us all, and I know that they will continue to feel nice and clean long after that last bath. I I really enjoy seeing them clean too. It really makes me smile when I see them outside, the wind playing with their silky hair, and their highlights sparkling in the sunlight that, like me, is growing ever stronger.

I feel like it is a new day; like I have been reborn with all of my senses fully awake. There are so many possibilities life still has to offer both me and my girls. There is kayaking and hiking this spring, summer and fall. There is getting back into obedience, rally and agility training. And maybe even competition. And there is a new business idea that's slowly taking root and growing in my mind. All made possible by the love and healing that my heart-dogs have given, and are continuing to giving me. I am so thankful, and so blessed.

I hope to be updating this blog more frequently, if not daily. I really hope to start using it for the original reason that it was created: to bring stories and updates to our friends, and to share the stories about my heart-dogs, who continue to inspire me every day.
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*I also wanted to mention the huge amount of support that I have received from ALL of my family and friends. Although this is a blog about my dogs, I do want to make sure that I mention all of the overwhelming support and love from all of the humans around me too. I truly appreciate every well wish and warm thought! I wouldn't be here if it weren't for both the dogs, AND the people!!