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Live, Play

Living with a terminally ill dog

March 30, 2016

First of all, I wanted to say thank you so much for all the emails, messages, and comments about our sweet Maddie girl. I’m happy to report that she is doing really well! She had a rough afternoon on Sunday but other than that, she’s been acting like her old self again. We feel incredibly lucky.

It’s been over a week now since we rushed our girl to the vet and learned that a mass on her spleen (most likely hemangiosarcoma) had ruptured. The days following that news were a blur as we grappled with the diagnosis and the tough decisions we had to make about her treatment (or lack thereof). For a while, I woke up every morning filled with dread, wondering if today would be the day. That’s no way to live. And I don’t feel like that anymore.

We’ve come to terms with what is happening, at least as much as one can. Life has mostly gotten back to normal. Assuming the vet was right in his diagnosis, her condition is terminal. There will come a day, and it’s probably not too far off, when she will start to decline or maybe a morning when she just doesn’t wake up at all. And it will be hard – really freaking hard – but we will get through it.

Figuring out how to manage her activity levels during this time has been a challenge. She feels good and because she feels good I want to do all the things with her. I want to take her hiking or snowshoeing or skiing. But that feels too risky. Even long walks seem like they may be too much. I want the remainder of her days to be as full as possible – but I don’t want to push her. So we are mostly sticking to short strolls around the neighborhood. We go up the street. We walk around the block. We say hi to all the people and dogs we meet. And we try not to wonder if this walk will be the last one.

Planning is hard and awkward. This is the time of year when we start looking forward to summer. It’s when we start penciling in dates on our calendars – camping trips, bike races, long weekends in the desert – and not knowing what our family will look like on these trips feels strange. Will we be taking one dog? Will we be taking two? Will one of those two dogs be someone besides Maddie? A dog that we haven’t met yet who will be going on their first camping trip and learning to love the mountains, just like she did so many years ago?

We’re staring into the unknown and trying to live life as normally as possible. Mostly we’re succeeding. At the very least, we’re doing the best we can.

Live, Play

A Life Update: Our Dog is Sick

March 26, 2016

Monday morning was bright and sunny. It was the first day of Spring Break and the kiddo and I spent our day wandering around the Botanic Garden and soaking up the sun. That afternoon we went to the gym and then to the brewery for dinner and drinks. I was looking forward to a great week and thinking about summer.

When we got home that night I tried to take our dog Maddie for a walk. We made it as far as the neighbor’s house when she put on the brakes and refused to move forward. We turned around. I gave her dinner. She didn’t eat. Never in her life has she turned down a meal or a walk.

I was worried.

First thing Tuesday morning I called the vet. The receptionist said they were booked all day but to bring her in so the doctor could take a look at her between appointments. An hour later the phone rang and the vet was on the other end sounding very concerned.

After a long day and a series of tests we learned that Maddie has a tumor on her spleen that had ruptured and was leaking blood into her abdomen. The vet said it was possible that it was a benign hemangioma but that it was more likely that it was hemangiosarcoma which is malignant, aggressive, and nasty. The only way to determine what was going on in there would be to open her up and remove her spleen. He said that if she made it through surgery and the tumor was benign she’d go on to live the rest of her life normally and die of something else someday. If the tumor was malignant the prognosis was much poorer. The surgery could buy her a few more weeks, maybe a few months. But that was it.

We opted out of the surgery and brought our girl home.

It was a hard decision but I think it was the right one. Maddie has always been exceptionally healthy (she had a UTI once – it was the only time she’s ever been sick) but she’s getting up there in age. Our best guess is that she’s eleven and a half but she may be twelve or more. The surgery would be hard on her and would most likely only buy her a little more time. Putting her through a major operation would only be delaying the inevitable. It’s also expensive and, while I hate that the cost is part of the decision, it is part of the decision. I’d pay any amount of money to keep her healthy forever – but I won’t put her through major surgery and pay thousands of dollars to keep her around for a few more weeks.

So we’re riding the canine cancer roller coaster and trying to hang on. We’re spoiling her rotten, giving her her favorite treats and smothering her with more love than she probably wants (being the independent girl she is). We’re taking her for walks when she feels up to it and opening all the blinds so she has access to sunny spots galore. We’re taking care of her as best we can.

The day after she was diagnosed we were hit with an unexpected blizzard. The snow fell hard all day but when night came the sky had cleared. I was putting on my boots to go shovel the snow when Maddie came running down the stairs and stood there wagging her tail at me like she does when she wants to go for a walk. I put her leash on and we slowly made our way around the block on slippery sidewalks. There was a foot and a half of fresh snow on the ground and a full moon in the sky and we were out adventuring (even if it was in the most tame way possible) and things felt good again.

She’s been feeling really good for the last couple days and is mostly back to her old self. She’s barking at the neighbors, playing with her sister, and bouncing around when it’s time for dinner. I know these moments are fleeting but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of them while I can.

Live, Play, Travel

Hiking with Dogs – How to keep them happy and healthy

August 3, 2015

I saw a bumper sticker a while back that said “Colorado: A dog in every Subaru” and I had to laugh because it seemed pretty damn accurate.

We’ve been in Colorado for almost a decade now and we don’t have a Subaru but we do have a couple dogs. Dogs who have lived awesome, outdoorsy lives. They are our hiking buddies, our camping buddies, our biking buddies, and our paddleboarding buddies. They have probably spent more nights sleeping under the stars than many people have in their entire lives and they are pretty much up for any adventure.

Allow me to introduce them to you!

This is Maddie. At almost eleven years old she is the matriarch of our little pack. We adopted her from the Leavenworth Animal Welfare Society when she was around a year old and she has been the best adventure buddy a girl could ask for. She has climbed 15 of Colorado’s 14ers, ran more miles with me than I’ll ever be able to count, accompanied me on mountain bike rides all over Kansas and Colorado, and kept me warm on cold nights in the tent. She’s getting up there in age and starting to slow down a bit but, for the most part, she’s still got it!

hiking dogs

This crazy girl is Spotty. We adopted her from the good folks at Boulder Humane Society when she was just a pup. This dog is seriously up for anything. Hiking, running, mountain biking, camping …. you name it, she’ll do it! She’s also the dog that I take standup paddleboarding with me when I don’t have a kid on board! She is a big cuddly teddy bear of a dog with a bit of a rebellious streak. She’s been known to sneak out of the tent in the middle of the night, go romping around in the woods for an hour or so, and then sneak back in before anyone noticed she was gone. We’re pretty sure that she’s out meeting her boyfriend or knocking back whiskey sours in the woods.

These two have been our constant companions in all things outdoorsy and over the years we have learned a lot about how to keep them healthy and happy when we are out and about. We’ve had a lot of grand adventures, a couple failures, and learned a ton along the way. And now I’m going to share some of what we’ve learned with you!

We’ll leave water and snow-based adventures for another day. For now, let’s talk about how to keep everyone safe when out hiking in the backcountry.

Know their limits.

hiking dogs

Maddie on the lower slopes of Mt. Massive.

Before you take any dog on a hike it is important to have some idea of what their limits are. Dogs are a lot like people in that they need to be conditioned to both the distances that you plan to do as well as the environment that they are going to be hiking in. If you live at 2,000 feet above sea level, don’t exercise regularly, and have never hiked more than a few miles, you probably won’t have a very enjoyable time trying to do a long hike at 12,000+ feet. The same goes for your dog. Five miles into a ten mile hike is not the time to learn that five miles is your dog’s limit!

Know your limits too.

Hiking with a dog is not at all unlike hiking with a small child. You are responsible for their health and well-being. You need to be clear-headed enough to make decisions about what is good and safe for the both of you. And you are going to be the one that will have to figure out how to get both of you off the trail in the event that things go very wrong. There are plenty of horrible stories about dogs being left on the side of mountains because their owners needed to make a quick getaway. You don’t want to be that guy.

Bring the right gear for your route.

Maddie had probably done 12 fourteeners with us when we took her on Mt of the Holy Cross’s long and jagged Halo Ridge. At 15-miles, this was a long hike for her, but she had easily knocked out several hikes that were much longer. We really weren’t too worried. And then, halfway across the sharp, talus filled route, her feet began to hurt. As soon as we realized what was happening we put her Ruffwear GripTrex booties on which made the situation infinitely better. Without those booties, there’s a pretty good chance we would have been carrying her down from 14,000 feet. We don’t use booties all the time but when they are necessary, they are really necessary.

hiking dogs

Maddie enjoying the view, and her booties, on the summit of La Plata Peak.

Dogs need water too!

Just because a dog can’t ask for water doesn’t mean that it isn’t thirsty! If your hike happens to parallel a stream or lake, this isn’t as much of a concern, but if you are hiking in the desert or above treeline where water sources are few and far between, you’ll want to be sure to have plenty of water with you for both you and your dog.

Know when to leave them at home.

Much as we may want to take our dogs with us everywhere, not every hike or trip is a dog friendly one. And just because your dog can do a hike, doesn’t mean that it should. Dogs are notorious for chasing wildlife and knocking rocks down onto hikers below them. Our dogs can certainly handle Class 3 scrambling but, to us, the risks to them and others aren’t worth the rewards. We also leave them home pretty much anytime we will be heading into the desert (not that dogs can’t hike in the desert but, for us, it’s not worth the extra worry) or when the temperatures will be hot.

Looking down on the final stretch to the Class 3 summit of Kit Carson Peak. My dogs would have probably handled this much better than we did but I was really happy that we left them at home!

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