Last dog

Last month my mother had to have Charlie, her spaniel, put down.  It was time, but of course that didn’t make it any easier on her or my dad.

My mother inspired my love of dogs.  She loved having animals around and cared for ducks, geese, lambs, cows, and cats as much as she did for dogs.  But now she is 75, unsteady on her feet, and has some heart troubles.  She thinks that Charlie may have been her last dog.

Mom getting ready for a meeting of the Red Hat Society

Of course any of them can be our last: I could get hit by a car tomorrow, leaving Kunga and Lucy behind.  But it’s different as you age, and have to think more about your responsibilities.  I think my mom would love to have a new pup, but there’s no way she’d be able to take care of an active dog or go through the potty training at this stage in her life.  I’ve seen her get smaller and smaller dogs (we had Danes when I was growing up), but at this point any dog may be too much to walk, feed, and play with. I know she wouldn’t want to leave the burden of a dog on my dad in case mom should be the first to go.

How do you decide this? What has to happen to make you say, when this one goes, there will be no more? And how must that feel?

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Different theories of the walk

On one recent morning, I realized that Kunga and I have entirely different ideas about our daily walks. I think of this time primarily as exercise for the big guy.  Like all Danes, he’s a couch potato and sleeps as much as possible.  I like to get him up and out and move those big muscles around; of course for showing I want him in condition as well.  If this stimulates his mind, all to the good, but for me, the walk is about the movement.

Kunga spots a rabbit during a walk

Kunga has a decidedly different take on the walk.  For him, it’s partly entertainment and partly reading the paper: he loves to amble and sniff and watch the rabbits and see who else might be out.  He especially likes new routes or those we haven’t taken for a while.  It’s his Facebook. He investigates who’s been there before and pees copiously and frequently in place of the “comment” or “like” button. He’s giving his come hither to the girls in the only way he can, and declaring himself to the boys at the same time.

One thing that surprises us both is the bond we forge as we walk together. I learn his body language, and mostly indulge his fun.  He learns that I really mean it when I say, c’mon, let’s go.  It’s a continuing negotiation, a kind of conversation about what he wants and what I need from him. Without words, we have a very complete understanding. I pity the people who talk on their cell phones and check their texts while they walk their dogs.  I think they’re missing out on the chance to have a very compelling connection with another being.

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Dogs and Horses

Went to watch an evaluation of Trakehner mares this weekend, to support my friend Fiona with her big young mare.  An expert judge evaluates the horses on size, conformation, and movement (7 different points), and grades each; if the total score exceeds 49, the mare is accepted as an official Trakehner for their stud book.

“No dogs” was specified in the invitation, and yet there were barn dogs around: a small, pitty type who befriended anyone who cared to pet her, and a little border terrier who dodged the horses like an old pro.

Even more than the actual dogs, though, I could feel the dog vibe at this event.  It’s interesting how many people who show dogs came from showing horses, and vice versa.  One of the owners there (whose horse won “high point” mare) used to show Great Pyrenees when her kids were young.  There were so many similarities in temperament of the people and their behavior at a show: the nice ones, the chatty/gossipy ones, the superior ones who looked down their noses. There was the continual checking in to be sure you weren’t late with your horse for your turn in front of the judge.  There was the careful judge/competitor dialog, with a deferential overtone. There was even the difference in type within the breed, and the judge had a marked preference for one type over another.

It was interesting to watch the movement portions, too. I used to show horses, but not in conformation, so I never connected good movement with good structure.  As I watched the horses go around at the walk, trot, and canter, though, that conjunction became clear to me.  Funny how a well put together animal of any kind just shines in comparison to others, and draws the eye.

And not once did anyone say, “do you have a saddle for that thing?” since, of course, they all do.

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Kunga’s gastropexy, 3 weeks later

About 4 weeks ago, Kunga underwent a laparoscopic gastropexy, surgery intended to prevent the torsion (twisting) of the stomach that goes with bloat.  He had a single incision, about 1.5 inches long. I posted a photo of that incision right after the surgery.  Here it is three weeks later (taken last week):

About 10 days after the surgery, the area around the incision developed a small pouch of fluid.  I’d been told to expect this or it would have freaked me out! The pouch was soft and about the size of half an apricot.  Slowly, over the course of about another week, it disappeared as his body absorbed this extra fluid around the operation site.  Now it is almost gone.  From the grand height of about 4.5 feet (the distance from my eyes to the ground), the whole area is hardly noticeable except as a small white scar.  In fact when Kunga is standing, you can’t see any of this at all.

I’m hugely relieved the whole thing went well, and very glad he is pretty much safe from the fatal gastric torsion that has killed so many of our beloved Danes and other deep-chested dogs.

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Heat Stroke

It’s blazingly hot here in Colorado–literally.  The forests are tinder dry and the heat is astonishing.  It was during a summer like this that my last Dane, Tucker, suffered heat exhaustion.

I was out of town and had left Tucker in the care of two wonderful friends.  They took him to their house and loved up on him, walked him, and played with him endlessly.  The man of the couple was a runner, and he took Tucker with him on the nearby trails for companionship. One day it was very hot, but he thought Tucker was ok since the dog refused to drink from the river when they stopped for a rest. He was wrong: this is one of the signs of heat stroke, or heat exhaustion, in dogs.  Other signs that the man didn’t recognize were a darkening of Tucker’s lips and tongue.  Had he pressed his finger into the flesh of Tucker’s gums, the man would have seen that the place remained white rather than returning immediately to its normal pink color.  Not until my dog collapsed on the trail did he realize that something was terribly wrong.

Fortunately, my friend immediately took the right steps.  He was big enough to pull Tucker to the river and get the dog’s paws into the cool shallow water.  He took off his shirt, wetted it in the river, and put it over Tucker’s belly.  He gently massaged the dog’s ears and face with the wet shirt as well.  After about half an hour, Tucker stood up and seemed full of energy again, but the guy wasn’t fooled; he very slowly walked Tucker back to the car, stopping frequently to rest in the shade and drink from the river. My happy dog spent the rest of the day snoozing in an air-conditioned room.

The incident had a happy ending, but many don’t.  Watch for heat exhaustion in your dogs on these hot days of summer. The dog likely won’t stop running and playing with you until it drops to the ground, so it’s the human’s job to monitor them carefully.


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Puppy party

What a lot of fun we had this weekend!  Our friend Kathryn Kudron hosted about a dozen people (some of whom had Dobermans, Samoyeds, and Pomeranians) to help her evaluate the 7 Great Dane pups from her bitch Gimme’s litter.

All the colored collars had been removed, so those of us who’ve seen the pups and maybe already had favorites had no color coding to go by.  Kathryn let us all play with the pups for about half an hour to assess temperament and movement (though this was kind of hard in the house), then stacked each pup on the table so we could view it from the side, front, and back.  She showed the teeth to whoever wanted to check.

These photos don’t do justice to the pups, since they were taken by a camera phone as I perched on the arm of a sofa!  But what an interesting idea to bring your friends and give them all evaluation sheets.  As each pup was presented, we were asked to evaluate various aspects of the pup–front, back, head, topline–in detail.  At the end, Kathryn totaled all the sheets.  I don’t know if it will affect her choice or ranking, but I’ll bet it will give her some different perspectives.

I think it would be pretty cool to do a little video of this process, with the breeder presenting the pup and knowledgeable people discussing what they see.  What a great way to learn!

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Video from GDCGD specialty, 2012

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Kunga’s gastropexy (tack)

A warning: one of the pictures below is of a stapled incision after surgery.

Last week I explained a little about the condition called “bloat” and mentioned that Kunga would undergo an operation that should prevent most of the damage if he ever bloats.  A gastropexy, or “tack,” is surgery that attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall. This doesn’t prevent the build-up of gas in the dog’s stomach called bloat, but it WILL prevent torsion, or twisting of the stomach, which is what can kill your dog in a matter of an hour or so.

Kunga’s surgery was performed last Thursday at Deer Creek Animal Hospital in Littleton, CO.  I was willing to travel nearly an hour to them, rather than going to my regular vets, because Deer Creek performs the tacking operation laparoscopically, and with only one cut rather than two.  This means they make a very small incision in the right side of the dog, behind the thirteenth rib, and use a camera mounted on a tube to view the organs.  The surgical instruments go in through the same small hole. (Many vets do this by making another, separate incision.)  The vet cuts into the surface of the stomach, which is tough and has many layers, then sews the resulting stomach flaps to the side of the abdominal wall. The scarring that occurs as the stomach heals itself also helps to hold this attachment in place. The small hole is then stapled shut, and looks like this afterward:

As you can see, this incision is only about 1.5″ long, much smaller than for a standard gastropexy, which can require an incision of 5-6 inches minimum. Healing should be faster and the time under anesthesia, always an issue for giant dogs, is less.

Yep, it’s expensive to do this, ranging from $750-$1,000 in various clinics near where I live. (That includes meds and all after care.) I’ll tell you from experience that this is FAR less than emergency treatment for bloat!

The overall “failure rate” is said to be about 10%, but I hunted for a clinic where that rate is near zero.  Deer Creek is a teaching hospital and the vets actually train others around the country in this procedure.

For my show friends, make sure you tell the vet your dog is a show dog.  They can get away with less shaving, both on the surgical site and on the forearm, if they know.  In fact the techs at Deer Creek managed to get a catheter into Kunga’s leg with no shaving.  Also the operative incision(s) are on the right, “non-show” side. (The vet I saw  asked: don’t the judges look at both sides? I had to say, generally no!)

Because the surgery was done around 11 am, I was able to take Kunga home with me at the end of the day, though he was a little woozy. Some vets prefer to keep the dog overnight, but I really wanted Kunga home with me. I was instructed to remove the pink vet wrap on his forearm in about an hour after leaving the clinic.  He does not have an Elizabethan collar (a “cone”).  He has been uncomfortable mostly from the air that remains in his abdomen, left over from when they inflate the abdomen to see the organs clearly. He’s not best pleased with me, but I’m very glad I had this done for him.

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The Dreaded Bloat

Its technical name is Gastric Dilation (bloat) with Volvulus (torsion): we know it commonly as bloat.  And 3 people I know have had their Danes suffer this appalling event in just the last week. One at least did not survive.

For those who don’t know, GDV is an emergency: your dog’s stomach fills with gas (bloat), and the pressure pulls it–and often the spleen–away from the abdominal wall, flipping it and displacing it within the abdomen (torsion).  The inlet to the stomach and its outlet to the intestines are both blocked, and the arteries and veins are twisted closed.  Tissue starts dying immediately.  The only known cure is immediate surgery, which must be performed quickly, or the stomach will be irretrievably damaged and the dog will die anyway.  If you haven’t seen a dog suffering bloat symptoms, go to, and watch a video of an Akita in the mid to late stages of GDV. If, like me, you’ve seen a dog bloat, you will begin shouting at the screen: get that dog to a vet!! (The Akita survived, by the way.)

While the current research suggests that dogs fed only once a day, those with nervous temperaments or under stress, dogs with a near relative which has bloated, and older dogs all face a higher risk of bloat,  it can strike even when none of these factors are present. Depending on which study you believe, anywhere from a quarter to a third of all Danes will bloat some time in their lives. GDV is the second most frequent cause of death in large breed dogs. (See, Glickman, LT, et al., 2000, Journal of the American Veterinary Association, 216: 40-45.)

There’s a preventative: gastropexy surgery, or “tacking,” where the stomach is actually sewn to the right side of the inside of the abdomen.  The dog can still bloat with gas, but this prevents it from torsioning, which does most of the damage.  It can be done in conjunction with spaying or neutering, and where I live, it can be done laparoscopically, through two smallish incisions (on the non-show side!).

We have put this surgery off for Kunga long enough.  Today he is visiting Deer Creek Animal Hospital, where he will have the preliminary blood work before getting tacked in the next few weeks.  I just do not want to lose my precious boy to this horrific syndrome.


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2012 GDCGD Specialty

Our club put on its annual specialty last Friday, June 1, with two shows on the same day.  We had the usual difficulties trying to remember exactly how the canopies go together (though it’s easier these days thanks to Carol Volleberg’s labeling), but it was great to have the support of some of our newest and prospective members.  Good thing we keep renewing the work force by adding to the club, huh?

We had a smaller entry this year than in previous years; I wonder whether that’s the effect of the tremendously high price of gasoline, or the general economic difficulties.  The club turned out in force, though, and we got to see not only some new babies but also some of our old veterans.  It makes me feel kind of old to remember seeing those dogs showing in their primes.

Some of our club members took home rosettes in stiff competition from visitors, and we were all especially proud when one of our own, “Deuce” (CH Gilham’s Boogie Woogie Piano Man), took BISS in the afternoon. As usual, we all cheered for each other and laughed together and helped out with setup.  I was glad to hear one of our out of town competitors remark on how friendly and welcoming our club is.  What more could we ask? (Except a BISS for Kunga, who wasn’t even entered.)

Results and photos will be posted soon at our club’s web site:

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