Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bailey's back!

This morning, after almost a week in the hospital, we brought Bailey back home. She's doing much better (thank you again everyone for your kind notes!), though she's still not out of the woods yet. I still need to give her three different medications, feed her through a feeding tube five times a day, give her physical therapy exercises 4 or 5 times a day, and, since she still can't walk, express her bladder and clean her up when she has accidents in bed. Poor Dempsey isn't getting as much attention as he'd like.

Bailey seems pretty content, spending most of the day (as usual) napping. Even when she was younger, she was never very fond of eating, so I think she might actually be happy that she doesn't need to get up and actually walk to her food bowl. She's purring again whenever I touch her, and she even purrs sometimes when I just look at her.

It was a pretty rough week for us. The vet who saw her on Tuesday suggested that maybe it was time for Bailey, and so did the E/R vet who took care of her Tuesday night. We love Bailey dearly, so of course it's a difficult decision, especially when we consider that we might be selfish and not necessarily looking out for what's best for her.

But I'm pretty sure we made the right call, because the main symptoms the vet described, aside from her weakness from an electrolyte imbalance, were dehydration, which feels like a hangover; and lots of gas in her GI tract, which feels like, well, gas. I thought it sounded like a couple of seis de mayos I'd had, after a night of too many cervezas and bean burritos: miserable, no doubt, but nothing I would call Dr. Kevorkian for. Now that she's hydrated, well fed, and less gas-sy, she seems more content. We're hoping Bailey will get her strength back, and since she doesn't seem to be in pain, we're willing to give her lots of time and TLC.

Luckily for us, Dempsey's sister Boston is coming to visit tomorrow! Even if the pups don't get much attention from us, I figure at least they can play and keep each other company. I'm hoping we can figure out a schedule where we have more time for both the cat and the dogs. We haven't hosted Boston yet, so we're really looking forward to getting to know her better. I hope next week will be better than this week!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bailey update

Many thanks to everyone who has sent us notes expressing concern about Bailey. I wish I had good news, but she hasn't been doing too well since she came back from the vet on Monday. She's now in kitty ICU, with an IV drip (to get her electrolyte balance back), a feeding tube (hasn't eaten since Sunday), and ongoing enemas to try to clear her colon (poor Bailey has been too weak even to poop).

Bailey, despite feeling sick, remains a princess. When she came home Monday night, we kenneled the puppies so she could have some quiet time by the fireplace. She walked right past her own bed and took over Dempsey's.

Dempsey and Nala have been very patient, if not quite understanding. They're always so happy, no matter what! I think we need to have them tested for drugs. Or, more likely, it's just the way they've been raised, where they can't even imagine having a bad day, since they've had nothing positive experiences their whole lives.

With all the time we've spent running back and forth to the hospital and reading up on renal failure, we haven't spent very much time training or going on walks with the pups. (We always feel guilty about something.) Luckily, they have each other, and are giving each other plenty of exercise. Well, at least Nala is getting exercise. Dempsey just enjoys the ride.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sick kitty and double dog time

A big thank you to everyone for your comments and suggestions about Dempsey's energy! Dempsey is our very first dog, so it's very reassuring to us that other people have been down this road before.

On Friday, we started babysitting Dempsey's sister Nala. It's a little surreal having two dogs in the house that aren't "ours," but it's been a lot of fun. We've been paying a lot more attention to their personalities, and it's interesting to see the differences: Sawyer is easy going, and Nala is sassier, to put it very broadly. I hadn't really thought very much about the matching process for service dogs, but now I can see how two very different dogs can both be great service dogs. Off duty, Nala and Sawyer are pretty different, but in uniform and on duty, they both perform quite well.

But the most interesting personality difference, to me anyway, is how they like to get affection. Sawyer prefers to sit in my lap, while Nala likes to "hold hands" (i.e., put her paw on my arm).

It's impossible not to love dogs like these!

In other, sadder news, Bailey has been diagnosed with chronic renal failure. It's progressive and terminal, but if it's caught early like Bailey's was, it can sometimes be managed for months or years. We're looking forward to getting Dempsey back tonight, but he and Nala may have more quiet kennel time than they would like as we research low-phosphorous cat foods and learn how to take care of Bailey's condition.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

So, what do you think?

Since the odds of me becoming a rock star when I grow up are zero, it's been gratifying to have Sawyer here the last few days. He follows me around everywhere, hanging on every word I say, happily doing anything I tell him. It's like having a groupie.

But now that he's more comfortable here, he doesn't follow me around quite as religiously, and he's started balking a bit more at going into his kennel. Yesterday, Sawyer started making faces to let me know what he thinks of being in his kennel.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Who's afraid of (service) dogs?

Now that we've had Sawyer for a few days, we've taken him on a few field trips. We're happy, if a bit jealous, to report that Sawyer is a rock star.

"Wow," people tell us, "You have such a beautiful and well-behaved dog!"

"Thank you! But, he really isn't our dog. Our dog is Dempsey. This is Sawyer. He's Dempsey's brother. They're both in training to become service dogs at Helping Paws, and as part of their training, we trade dogs occasionally, so this week we have Sawyer and Sawyer's family has Dempsey. If you had seen Dempsey, he's practically twins with Sawyer, they look so similar! And he's a pretty good dog, too!"

I suppose we could leave it at "Thank you," but as Dempsey's parents, we feel strangely compelled to fish for compliments for our little boy. Plus it explains why I still sometimes call Sawyer "Demps-uh-Sawyer."

Everywhere we go -- the hardware store, the mall, the fast food restaurant -- people fall in love with Sawyer. With one exception: the girl handing out samples of "teriyaki" chicken at the mall food court, who literally ran behind the counter with her platter of samples when she saw Sawyer, apparently afraid that he might try to steal some chicken.

I looked down at Sawyer. "It looks like we can do some education about how service dogs behave. Sawyer, are you ready to show your stuff?"

Sawyer just stared back at me. Translation from pup-speak: "Yes! Just tell me how to help!"

I walked Sawyer over to a table near the teriyaki chicken place and put him in a drop. Then I pulled out a piece of kibble and dropped it on the floor. Sawyer stayed put, watching the kibble bounce a few times, and when it came to a rest, he looked right back at me. I gave him a high-value treat.

Next I dropped 3 pieces of kibble. Same response: nothing. Then 3 more pieces. Nothing. I bounced a piece of kibble off Sawyer's head. Nothing.

"That's a very good dog!" said the girl with the samples. She came out from behind the counter, with her platter of samples, to join the small crowd that had gathered to watch us.

I explained that Sawyer is a service-dog-in-training, and that we had worked hard to teach him good manners. People were surprised that Sawyer was just 11 months old, but I explained that we had started when he was just 8 weeks; it had taken nine months of hard work before he was even allowed to train at a mall. With a real service dog, I said, people should have nothing to fear.

I pulled out another 6 pieces of kibble and dropped them at Sawyer's feet. He looked longingly at the 14 pieces of kibble that were now on the floor, but he didn't move a muscle. I called his name, and Sawyer immediately looked up at me. I clicked and treated him to a big yummy peanut butter cookie.

At this point, a few people in the crowd starting applauding, which startled Sawyer. He got up and looked around, but he still didn't touch any of the food on the floor. I got Sawyer to sit, picked up all the kibble I had dropped, and then rewarded him with another peanut butter cookie. Impromptu demo done!

Afterwards, a few people came up to me and asked how I (or rather, Sawyer's family) had trained him, and I had a chance to explain how we use clicker training and gradually raise the criteria. I also met a man whose friend was severely depressed after he had lost both his legs in Iraq. The man thought his friend could really use a service dog like Sawyer, and I told him about Helping Paws as well as some other programs that are specifically geared to the special needs of vets.

It was one of those great days when I felt like I was helping people just by being out and training. Awesome job, Sawyer! Way to represent!

P.S. Needless to say, I didn't get any of this on video. But before we took the show on the road, Sawyer and I practiced a lot at home. Here he is perking up when he thinks he's getting breakfast, but then staying put when I "accidentally" spill his food from the bowl. We're very proud of Sawyer!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


There are many reasons why Bailey hates Dempsey: the way he gives her big, sloppy kisses right after she has given herself a bath; the way he wants to play, play, play, when all she wants to do is nap, nap, nap; the way he must follow her every time she ventures out from her private quarters (i.e. the powder room). To this list, Bailey would like to add one other item: the way we volunteer her to help train Dempsey.

It's hard to tell from the picture above, but we were working pretty hard to get Dempsey to relax in bed. We wanted him to just lie quietly by us and ignore the cat (and the socks on our feet, and the remote control, and whatever might be on the kitchen counter or under the sofa), but we had to constantly give him reinforcement. If we didn't reward him often enough, he'd wander off, and we'd have to give him another task (and more treats). He couldn't just relax.

Since we've been home, he's been constantly angling to get attention -- stealing the remote, trying to get Bailey to play, ringing the "bathroom bell" to ask to play outside. At first I thought Dempsey just missed all the attention he got from our families at Christmas. But having Sawyer here now for a few days, I'm amazed at the difference between the two dogs. Here's a video of Sawyer, checking out Bailey, and deciding - on his own - not to bother her:

Can you believe that? We really want Dempsey to learn to be a good member of the family like that, so that he can sit nicely with us by the fireplace. Instead, we seem to have a dog who is constantly extorting us for treats: Pay me, and the cat doesn't get hurt. Combined with the time in Wichita he tried to bust my kneecap with a stick, I'm starting to think we're raising a Mob dog.

I'm wracked with guilt as a puppy parent. Oh, what did we do wrong? Maybe we shouldn't have let him meet the garbage collector when he was little?

The dog exchange is such a great idea. In addition to the experience the dogs get, it really forces us as trainers to examine what we're doing. Dempsey has great service dog skills, and in public he still performs beautifully, but we have a lot to teach him about how to behave when he's not in uniform.

Bailey has requested that Dempsey take a lesson in cat etiquette from Sawyer. We've taken that under advisement and agree. Now, we just need Dempsey to comply.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dog swap

This week, Dempsey and Sawyer will be trading spaces: Sawyer will be staying with us, and Dempsey will stay with Sawyer's family.

I know it sounds like a reality show stunt, but there's a good reason for this. We're trying to get the dogs used to being in different environments and different schedules, working with different trainers. We don't think Dempsey is particularly rigid, but we wouldn't really know; he's always done things our way.

We brought Sawyer home today after class, and he settled right in. He was here for a few days in October, and incredibly, he remembers everything. I thought I'd have to show him around the house again, but no. He remembered where Dempsey's toybox is (first thing he went to find), where the water bowl is, and even where the bathroom is. I'm always amazed at how smart these dogs are.

We already miss Dempsey a little, but it's fun having his "twin" here. (Here's a pic of the two of them in October.) I'm looking forward to taking Sawyer to Dempsey's usual haunts to see if anyone notices that we've secretly replaced our dog with another, very similar one.

Anyone who's at home, however, would never mistake Dempsey for Sawyer. Although he's only been here a little bit, we were stunned to see that Sawyer can actually play by himself. Here's Sawyer playing by himself with a Frisbee:

Amazing! We can't have Dempsey out of our sight for a second without him getting into some kind of mischief. Dempsey always needs to be the center of attention -- sort of like a reality show contestant.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Where'd he go?

The other night, we showed Dempsey a really cute video of one his colleagues at Helping Paws, Rocket.

Dempsey wasn't interested at first, but once the audio came on, Dempsey dropped his bone and started watching intently. The cutest part is at the end, when Rocket walks down the hall, and Dempsey tries to figure out where that little puppy went.

Of course, Dempsey isn't allowed on furniture -- bad dog! -- but I was having way too much fun watching him try to figure it out. Sometimes I think it would be much easier to train Dempsey if he stopped doing cute things all the time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

But wait! There's more!

The January thaw is finally here, and not a minute too soon. With the temps in the 30s, I've been able to take Dempsey out to potty in my shirtsleeves, and -- more importantly -- we've resumed our walks. The poor boy had been going crazy with so much indoor time, and driving me crazy, too.

As you may recall, Dempsey is not a fan of fetch. But with so much indoor time, I had decided to keep working on it, until it was fun.

Not surprisingly, this didn't go over too well with Dempsey. The other day, instead of running after the tennis ball, as I had hoped, he started sniffing around the refrigerator. Then he barked. Then he started scratching at the foot of the refrigerator. I knew this could only mean one thing.

I put Dempsey in his kennel, wheeled out the vacuum cleaner, and pulled out the fridge. There, just as Dempsey claimed, were two (2) pieces of dust-encrusted kibble. I can only guess how long they had been there, happily hidden from Dempsey, until he got bored and decided to find them.

The space under the fridge now nice and clean, I put away the vacuum cleaner, pushed back the fridge, and let Dempsey out. He immediately ran back to the fridge, took a few sniffs, and sighed. I tried tossing the tennis ball again, but instead of chasing after it as I had hoped, Dempsey walked to the dishwasher and started sniffing.

"But wait!" he said. "There's more!" He started barking and pawing at the base of the dishwasher.

I couldn't see what he was talking about, so I got a flashlight and peered under the dishwasher. Lo and behold, there was one (1) piece of kibble, about 6 inches back.

I put Dempsey back in his kennel and wheeled out the vacuum cleaner again. With the flashlight in one hand and the vacuum cleaner hose in the other, I tried sucking out the one (1) piece of kibble, but to no avail: It was back just far enough that it just sort of wobbled in place, without moving. Aargh.

I put the vacuum cleaner away again and got out a chopstick. With the chopstick in one hand and the flashlight in the other, I deftly nudged the one (1) piece of kibble towards the front. Unfortunately, it turns out there is a small lip where the hardwood floor sits on the subfloor, which makes it very easy for the kibble to go in, but very hard to come back out.

I batted around the one (1) piece of kibble, hoping I could get it to pop up. It didn't. I put the chopstick away, and got out the vacuum cleaner again. Still, no luck: Instead of simply being sucked out, the one (1) piece of kibble flipped onto its side, and got itself stuck on the lip.

Mindful of the last time I had tried using a chopstick and a vacuum cleaner at the same time, I very carefully put the vacuum cleaner hose in one hand, the chopstick in the other, and the flashlight under my chin. I turned the vacuum cleaner on, knocked the one (1) piece of kibble around with the chopstick, and voila! -- success! And I didn't even poke my eye this time.

I put away the chopstick, vacuum cleaner, and flashlight, and let Dempsey out of the kennel. Again, he dashed towards the dishwasher, took a few sniffs, and sighed.

"Happy now?" I asked.

Dempsey didn't reply. I lobbed the tennis ball one more time, and Dempsey desultorily walked towards it. When he got to the heating vent, he sniffed it, and, with his paw, lifted up the register cover: "But wait! There's more!"

I put Dempsey back in his kennel, got out the flashlight, chopstick, and vacuum cleaner again, and peered into the vent. There was nothing there, except maybe some kibble dust. I vacuumed the vent anyway.

When I let Dempsey out of the kennel again, I mocked him for being wrong about the vent. To which he replied, "I didn't bark that time, so I never actually said, 'But wait! There's more!'"

True. No one appreciates an infomercial dog, but a lawyerly, hair-splitting dog is even worse. Good thing the little punk is so cute!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Puzzling the dog

We've only been back in Minneapolis a few days, and already Dempsey seems stir-crazy. We've been playing a lot of hide and seek in the house, but Dempsey really seems to miss his long walks.

Our instructor told us that exercise is not the only way to tire out a dog; mental stimulation also works well to wear out an energetic little puppy. She mentioned a doggie puzzle she bought for her own dog, but being cheap -- Doreen says: "frugal" -- we balked at the $50 price tag.

Instead, we've created our own little puzzles for Dempsey: complicated retrieves. Dempsey really does seem to enjoy figuring out the best way to retrieve an object, and he works very hard at it. It's great training for his job, though we're sad to report that it doesn't seem to tire him out very much. Hopefully the weather will warm up a bit soon; we're all looking forward again to our long walks.

The Wichita stick

Ask Dempsey what his most favoritist part of his vacation to Phoenix and L.A. was, and he'll tell you it was the Wichita stick.

The Wichita stick is a 3-foot long stick that he found in our friend's backyard in Wichita. When he found it, he proudly pranced around the yard, carrying it in his mouth. It was so big, he tripped over it a couple of times, and he even whacked me in the knees with it once when he was running by. (Another alternate career for Dempsey: Service dog for Tony Soprano.)

We didn't think to shoot a video of him with the stick until just before he got over-excited, jumping up to grab it, instead of sitting politely until we threw it. Since jumping is very bad manners, we decided to take the stick away. But where to put a 3-foot stick? Doreen found a clever hiding place. Here are two videos: The first shows Dempsey running to the usual places, looking for the stick, and the second shows him after he finally found it, trying to show he can be a polite little dog.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Beach boy

It took a couple of tries, but Dempsey finally made it to the beach.

On our first trip, we went to Venice -- Venice Beach, California, that is. There are canals in Venice Beach, too, but instead of gondoliers and stunning waterfront scenes by Canaletto, there are a lot of weirdos, this being California, after all. Dempsey walked along the canals and then Muscle Beach and the Venice boardwalk, where he got to meet some of the famous locals, such as the roller-skating-electric- guitar player with his backpack amp and the 60-year-old bodybuilder who, despite his fabulous physique, should not be wearing Speedos. Dempsey also practiced his retrieves in front of the boardwalk's only medical clinic, which sells medical marijuana.

As you can tell from the picture below, neither Dempsey nor Doreen were exactly thrilled that I picked this spot for Dempsey's first beach experience.

But what a great socialization experience it was! Dempsey was completely unfazed by any of it, except for one thing: a loose basketball, which he thought was an invitation to play ball.

Luckily for Dempsey and Doreen, we discovered that dogs are not allowed on the beach at Venice, so we headed up the coast to Santa Monica, which is much fancier. Alas, we discovered dogs are not allowed on the beach at Santa Monica, either, but we had fun anyway, walking along Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Pier, and the sandstone cliffs overlooking the Pacific.

Since everything is a socialization experience for Dempsey, we spent some time by the trapeze school and the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes, which depicts the birth of humanity's saviour, as told by department-store mannequins. Dempsey did not find this nearly as unnerving as the mannequins he saw in the windows at the outlet mall; his fear of mannequins has been conquered, thank God.

For our second trip to the beach, we headed to Oxnard Shores in Ventura County, where dogs are welcome on the beach. We spent a good half hour just walking along the shore, watching the waves. Then we discovered the Stick.

As you may recall, Dempsey was afraid of going into water, but the Stick has magical powers that not even peanut butter has. Dempsey loves the Stick so, he was willing to willing to run into the waves to get it. Here are a couple of videos, before and after the Stick:

What a brave little boy! We spent another half hour playing Stick retrieve in the waves. But the fun wasn't over yet; after a short nap, Dempsey headed to Point Mugu State Park, which has a very tall sand dune.

Dempsey and Paul had fun climbing to the top of the dune, and then running down. Well, at least he had fun running down. Paul climbed the dune three times, but Dempsey only wanted to do it once.

While Paul was busy running around like a dog, Dempsey kicked back and watched his first sand sledder go by.

Dempsey also discovered a talent for engineering. The nice warm sand was a little too warm for Dempsey, so he dug himself a little hole and then chilled out in the cool sand below.

Dempsey says he likes sandy beaches ok, but that he really prefers snow. That crazy little dog.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A bad woofer

The day we went to the beach in L.A., it was 74°; last night in Iowa, it was -20°, a difference of almost 100 degrees. I mention this because on the way home from L.A., we had some car trouble, and I had to spend a good ten minutes outside trying to fix the problem in subzero weather.

We first noticed the problem just south of Des Moines, when we heard a loud "Woof!" from near the right rear wheel. I looked back to see Bailey asleep in her bed, and Dempsey sitting, sphinx-like, in his kennel. Everything seemed ok, so I didn't stop. A few minutes later, the noise was back: "Woof!" This time, the "woof" was accompanied by a loud rattling noise.

I knew the problem could only be one thing: A bad woofer. Sometimes at home, Dempsey spills food from his kennel and becomes obsessed with trying to get it, barking and clawing at his kennel. This seemed to be what was happening in the car, though with a 10-hour drive, -20° weather, and a fully packed car, I was very reluctant to stop. I decided to keep driving, fixing the noise the same way my brother-in-law used to fix his rattling car during his poor, student years: Turning the radio up to drown out the noise.

It didn't work. After a few miles, the woofing and rattling were getting on everyone's nerves. "Don't make me stop the car," I warned Dempsey, but of course this didn't work, either. I pulled off the interstate onto a deserted country road.

I'm glad no one saw us, because I'm sure we looked like the Clampetts. For one thing, when I opened the door, I noticed that I was playing my Webb Pierce CD way too loudly. And then there was the car itself. The Jeep was fully loaded: three kennels, two beds, four bags of pet food, three bags of treats, a bag of toys, a backpack full of chewed-up retrieve objects, medicine and syringes for the cat, three leashes, a dog harness, four rolls of poop bags, a roll of paper towels, Odo-ban, Windex, puppy training pads, a kitty blanket, a kitty pillow, a kitty litter box, an extra bag of kitty litter, a box of kitty litter liners, two food bowls, two water bowls, a dog, and a cat. This was in addition to everything we had for us, namely one suitcase and a sack of lemons. If we had been building an ark for more than two animals, it would have sunk.

Doreen had packed the car, and I'm sure a grad student somewhere could write a Ph.D. thesis on her volume-maximizing close packing. It took me a good five minutes to unload enough stuff to get to the floor mat. As I suspected, Dempsey was wrong: There was nothing there. Dempsey seemed to agree, as he sat quietly during my unpacking.

To reward him for his patience, I gave him a doggie treat, and then started re-loading the car again. When I was about halfway done, I heard the noise again: "Woof!" Rattle. Rattle. Aargh!

I unloaded everything I had re-loaded, and looked again: Still nothing. But Dempsey insisted there was something there. I turned over the floor mat, dug around under the seat, and finally lifted up Dempsey's kennel. It was there I found one (1) piece of kibble. For those of you unfamiliar with dog food, let me explain that a piece of kibble is smaller than a dime.

I gave Dempsey the one (1) piece of kibble that had taken me ten minutes to find in subzero weather, and he was a happy boy, lying quietly in his kennel for the rest of the trip. Out of all the food in the car -- the bags of dog and cat food, the treats, the inevitable French fries between the seats -- he was upset about one (1) loose piece of kibble under his kennel. I think our boy has an unhealthy obsession with food.

P.S. Doreen and I are still pretty tired from our trip, but we'll have more vacation pics and vids up in the next few days.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Drive by shootings

We're all in Wichita, Kansas, today, en route back to Minneapolis. Thanks to the weather -- freezing fog in Amarillo, snow and badly plowed roads in Oklahoma and Kansas -- it took over 18 hours to get here from Phoenix. Ugh.

I normally like road trips, but with such a big distance, we didn't really have time to look at stuff, so we ended up doing a lot of drive-by shootings: Snapping pictures of stuff as we drove by. This was fine with Dempsey and Bailey, since they didn't seem too interested in a lot of stuff. They were great kids, though, never once whining or asking "Are we there yet?"

Here's some stuff we saw, on the way out and back. Our first "stop" was Cadillac Ranch, a lame piece of art that nonetheless inspired some great rock and roll. Unfortunately, this set the stage for Dempsey and Bailey, as you can see in their subsequent reactions.

Dempsey when we told him we'd be stopping:

What he saw:

Dempsey and Bailey when we told them we're doing a drive-by of Shamrock, Texas:

What they didn't see:

Dempsey and Bailey when we told them we're doing a drive-by of the snow-covered Painted Cliffs in New Mexico:

What they didn't see:

Dempsey and Bailey when we told them we're doing a drive-by of the Salt River Canyon in Arizona:

What they didn't see:

We have more pics coming, which we'll upload when we get home. Eventually.