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This story starts with a dog, and ends with another. It’s long, and touches on sensitive subjects, with raw, open, honesty. The last 10 months have been quite a journey, full of sorrow, shock, a moment of extreme clarity, a lot of contemplation, reflection, unexpected dreams, and then resolution, when the dream became reality.

It started with watching the slow decline of our elderly dog, Kasha, who had a number of health issues. The most difficult was degenerative disc disease, and as last summer turned to fall, she was having increasing difficulties controlling her rear legs.

Then came a shocking phone call, when I found out my spinal x-rays didn’t show the herniated disc I expected, but instead showed that I, too, have, “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease,” on top of everything else.

I was caught way off guard. I had been working on the premise that I am going to get the ME/CFS under control, using all my supplements, and that one day, once I figure out these migraines or get thru perimenopause, I was going to be back to some semblance of myself – I know there’s damage that will always be there, but I think there’s a lot that can be fixed, too, slowly, over time.

But, it’s basically going to be with me the rest of my life. There are a few things I can do, some supplements and maybe some physical therapy, and I’ve gotten a TENS unit that helps. But my spine is very unstable – I’ve been going through periods for two years, where I “throw my back out,” and I can feel the discs moving out of place, and pain and sciatica flares like a bonfire.

After absorbing this news, I walked out into the living room to find that Kasha had lost control of her bowels, and there was a trail of poop leading through the living room and onto the porch. She was lying there looking so very ashamed.

It triggered a moment of extreme clarity, a frozen moment in time, where I knew two things for certain:

Kasha was at her “red line,” the place where dogs with degenerative disc disease are no longer recoverable – it was not going to go away with rest and time, and was going to be the end of her, and soon.

And just as clearly, I felt that I, too, now have a red line, though I’m not to it yet. My mind played it out for me… me with a walker, or in a wheelchair, although I don’t know how I could even use either because of a torn up shoulder, and the weakness and utter exhaustion of ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc.

There was the feeling of a door slamming shut in my mind, those images simply shut out. I won’t, I simply can’t, live in a condition where I’m bed bound and need a wheelchair just to get around. And I won’t be that kind of burden on Rhiannon and Ben, either.

I wasn’t afraid.
I wasn’t sad.
I felt acceptance.
And, much to my dismay, I felt relieved.
Relieved, because the long fight would be over. I didn’t realise how very tired of the constant struggle I was.

I didn’t so much as make a decision as have one thrust on me from deep in my soul. Just as Kasha would find her peaceful end, in a beautiful, sacred, manner, when the pain became too much and when she couldn’t rise, I too, would find that place.

I have many friends, fellow patients, who have to use wheelchairs or walkers or scooters, and I have the utmost respect for them.

But that’s simply not something I can accept.
I have been sick for more than 17 years, and almost entirely housebound for 10 years.
I cannot accept any further limitations on my ability to move around.

I am meant to roam mountains and walk through my beloved woods.
I am meant to be a wild thing, and I can barely take the captivity I have already been in for much longer.
I am the wolf, tightly caged, pacing back and forth, going slowly crazy from my longing to be free.

But here was this realization that I wasn’t ever going to go running barefoot again, through the golden autumn woods calling to my Heart that day, because my spine is simply too unstable. That’s a huge and terrible loss, and the shattering of all the dreams and plans I’ve been holding on to… I wanted to get well enough to be able to help some of my dearest friends, my soul sisters with ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc, maybe share a house with them, all of us working to heal each other.

I watched each day as Kasha had a few ups and lots of downs, and it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, knowing it was heading my way…

In the months since that moment of clarity, and through Kasha’s gentle passing, the sacredness of her death, a gentle release with mercy, I’ve spent many sleepless nights, thinking about just what I wanted to do, and how much fight was left in me for this new, seemingly insurmountable, challenge to my health and my life. There are things I want to do, and things I need to do.

And then along came some dreams, and some info about dogs, that had me reevaluating how long I am willing to fight to go on.

Twenty years ago, living in fear from a relationship gone terribly bad, I lay awake in bed at night, too stressed and worried to sleep. I found solace in meditation and visualization (shamanic journeying). Usually, I would “go” to a beautiful forest at night, and run as a wolf until I finally curled up, safe, in my den. I’d fade off to sleep that way.

But one night, instead of being in my forest, I found myself high on a rocky outcropping, in a sea of rippling sand. I could see in every direction around me, see that I was safe. I laid down in the sand, pulled my cloak around me, and felt desert winds deposit a soft blanket of sand on me. For years, every night, I went to the desert to sleep.

I studied the desert as it is today, and as it was. I drove my family crazy with my sudden obsession with the desert. I didn’t explain that the desert had come to me, unexpectedly, but it was saving my sanity.

The decades passed, and I eventually went back to my forest – until my moment of clarity. Ever since then, every night, I retreat to incredible vistas of desert dunes, open caves and hidden chambers. This time, though, there is something else there with me: a lean desert dog, colored the same as the sand, and with electric eyes that look right through me. I know the feel of her soft ears, and my fingers remember the shape of her head under my hand.

Salukis, a beautiful desert Sighthound, have fascinated me since the desert came to me. They are perhaps the oldest of all dog breeds, and the only type of dog who was not seen as “unclean.” Desert nomads have cherished the Saluki for thousands of years. I’ve wanted to have a Saluki or Saluki mix for 20 years.

But now, through chance, I learned that most people in the middle east treat dogs in horrible, horrifying, ways. They do not value them as we do. Many Salukis and other dogs are simply dumped in the desert when the owner tires of them, or if a racing Saluki doesn’t run fast enough. Some racing Salukis have their ears cropped off “to make them run faster.”  The Salukis have bred with the many other dumped dogs, and now “desert dogs” are pretty much a breed of their own – small Sighthounds, usually with short fur and tails that spiral into a curl.

The pictures are terrible to see. Dogs so emaciated you can’t believe they are alive, or who’ve been viciously beaten, or thrown out of a moving car, leaving them with broken legs. Dogs who have been shot by the police, in front of children, when an area has too many strays. Dogs beaten with stones by children, who know no better. Need I go on?

It broke my heart.

The question changed from “when” to give up the fight, to a very simple, “do I want to die without first rescuing a desert dog? Or do I want to hold on long enough to rescue my dream dog, a true desert dog, and experience her life with me?”

Adopting a dog from the middle east can be somewhat complicated, but there are many groups and individuals there, mostly westerners, who are involved in rescuing the ones they can, fostering them a time, then finding them new homes in the U.S. and Europe. Some send the dogs to the U.S. first, and then put them up for adoption, and others work directly with those wishing to adopt.

I began watching the various groups on Facebook in late winter, and the number of dogs needing new homes is overwhelming. But if I was to rescue one, it had to be the one from my dreams…

And then, there she was. A desert dog with electric, topaz blue eyes, just as I’d been dreaming of. I really didn’t think she could exist. But she does.

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Ellie is about one year old, and was found dumped to starve or fend for herself. Despite that, I hear she’s an incredibly loving and gentle dog. She’s not too big, and not too small, either, weighing in at 40 pounds.

After weeks of working on arrangements, my Ellie will be flying from Dubai, in the UAE, home to me on Monday, June 27. What a birthday present!

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For me, Ellie is Hope – hope that I will have improvements in my health, and she is incentive to keep on fighting, keep on going, no matter how hard it sometimes is. By fulfilling my dream of having a desert dog, my motivation and inspiration to keep moving forward to experience her whole life with her is immensely boosted. That’s just how much I love dogs.

I’ve also become close friends with Ellie’s amazing rescuer, Charlotte, and with Marci, who is practically a one woman whirlwind of dog rescuing in Al Ain, UAE. I am completely in awe of what they are doing, and will be forever grateful for all the hours of work, time and money, that went into getting Ellie cleared to fly and come home to me.

I’ve set up a fledgling Facebook page for them, in the hope of helping other dogs find homes. It gives me inspiration, to know that I can still do something with my life, even if all that it takes is monitoring a Facebook page. I’m not completely useless, after all.

I believe everything happens for a reason. It was not coincidence that I learned about the desperate conditions for dogs in the middle east, and it was not coincidence that Ellie showed up in need of a home, the dog from my dreams, one I didn’t think could possibly exist.

Ellie of the Topaz Eyes is the fulfillment of a 20 year long dream. If she can happen, what else might be waiting around the corner? All I know is that I have Hope again.

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Kasha

“Veterinarians deal with death the most out of any medical profession.”

“Does it ever really get any easier, euthanization?” asked the first year student.

“Every euthanization is difficult, but some hit harder than others…”
– from “Vet School” (TV show, NatGeo Wild)

Is there any such thing as a good death? A beautiful, peaceful, passing?

Is there a right way and a wrong way for the owners, scratch that, the human family of a beloved companion animal to act, when they have to free a well loved furry family member from life, because of illness or injury? When the vet is there, administering the fatal meds, is there a proper or expected or normal way to act? Or do they see a whole range of responses?

Strange questions to ask, I know, but you ought to be used to strange questions from me by now.

Our vet cried, along with Rhiannon and I, when we put dear Kasha to sleep, on Nov 2. I’m pretty sure it was my actions that caused that.

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In her prime...

Let me back up, and set the scene… Kasha was 12 or 13 years old, quite old for a giant of a dog, weighing over 100#. She was a shelter dog, rescued from the ASPCA when less than a year old. She had been a member of the family a long, long, time.

Kasha had developed multiple issues, including deafness, a heart condition, gallbladder problems, and then, canine degenerative disc disease began taking a huge toll on her, worsening dramatically in August. She had muscle spasms in her rear thighs and legs, and stiffness, then finally started having a hard time getting her rear legs up, standing or walking. She just couldn’t coordinate her back legs properly.

I watched her those last two weeks with her spinal issues weighing heavily on my mind. I had just been told that my own back pain wasn’t just scoliosis or a slipped disc.

No, nothing is ever that simple with me. Instead, I have “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease” of pretty much my whole spine. And Kasha had the canine equivalent.

So the question on my mind that last few weeks was, “is she in as much pain as I am?” Because I was in a lot of pain, with sharp pains in my spine, feeling discs moving around, sciatica in my hips making it hard to get comfortable, no matter what position I tried.

Did she feel that way? I don’t think so, at least not until the last few days, and I dosed her with pain meds then, while we waited for it to be Monday, and the vet able to come…

Books on grieving pet loss all say when you have to be the one to make the call, that so-dreaded and very final decision, that everyone feels guilty to some extent.

I didn’t. It couldn’t have been any clearer, watching this beautiful, still so-very-loving, old friend, drag herself around with her front legs, unable to stand her rear up without assistance. How affectionate she was those last few weeks, relishing all the extra attention she was getting…

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A young Kasha, right after her adoption...

We were lucky, and a local vet has just started doing house calls. She had known we were almost there, and was waiting to get the call… and then it was clearly, so clearly, time.

The vet was running late that day, but it turned out to be for the best, I think. We had moved Kasha out into the yard, and as the sun fell and the light began to die, we brought candles, many candles, outside.

For an hour or so, Rhiannon and I sat beside Kasha, lavishing her with Love, expensive treats, and cheese. We told her how much she meant to us, swapped stories about what a good dog she’d been, shared the funny stories, and commemorated her life.

We were ready, when the vet arrived. She quietly asked questions, to understand the situation better. We managed to stop crying long enough to answer them. I suspect our tear-streaked faces told her more than enough.

The vet was gentle and patient, and Kasha was soon sedated, nearly asleep, her head in my lap… the vet waited until we were ready, to give that final injection.

My forehead rested on Kasha’s, one hand cradling her head, the other in Rhiannon’s tight grip, as tears streamed like a river over Kasha’s head. I whispered to her that it was okay, that she should fly free, my beautiful girl, away from the pain, and that we’d be okay.

Kasha’s nose against my leg told me when her breathing slowed, and stopped.

I don’t know how it is for other people in the same situation.

But as deaths go, this one was peaceful, reverential, sacred. An act of mercy, a setting free, done with so very much Love. I can only hope my own passing, when it comes, is such a gentle one.

And maybe that’s why the vet cried. I don’t suppose it’s every day she sees a sacred passing, a silently sobbing owner, forehead to forehead, eye to eye, with her beloved companion, as their soul takes flight.
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You’re in the arms of the angels, now, Kasha.
We Love you.
Now, forever, and always.


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It’s funny, what I forget, even now, after so long being sick. Sometimes, in my mind, I am still strong & healthy, as if time simply stopped passing when I became ill. Sometimes, it really feels that way, as if time did stop, and there is only The Before Times and a giant blur that came after.

But it’s been 15 years this month.

I had relapsing and remitting symptoms for a couple of years, and then in Dec, 1998, ME/CFS & FMS (and chronic Lyme) came to stay. I was diagnosed in 1999.

I just now, today, realized it was now actually the month of December, and the year is 2013, and that means it has been 15 years.

Time passes very differently for those of us with ME/CFS. I often am surprised at what month it is, or how long it’s been since something has happened. Sometimes I’m off by years when asked, “How long since…?”

One of the curses and also dubious blessings of this illness is memory loss. I remember things that happened before I became ill far, far, clearer than things that came after. Those 15 years are a fog, a ghostly mist through which I catch glimpses of events.

Sometimes, something or someone will trigger a memory, and something totally forgotten comes back. Sometimes, no matter how hard someone tries to get me to remember something, even some meaningful and important event, no matter how desperately I grasp for it, there is just nothing there. A ghostly mist where the memory should be. A blank slate.

But the not-remembering, the fog, and the complete lack of a sense of the passage of time, those things can be a blessing, too. If I had to really remember all the pain, misery, and suffering, of those 15 years, the frustrations, the losses… I’m not sure I could handle that. It is better that it is a blur.

Sometimes, because it seems like the last 15 years really didn’t happen, and I’m still that strong & healthy woman I was at 35, I forget, and do stupid things. Things my now-fragile body can’t handle.

Today, we are in something of a crisis as we are preparing for a severe ice storm, and I am totally stressed out. This stress is a huge problem.

My body’s been dumping adrenaline, making me think I am stronger and can do more than I am or should. It’s had this adrenaline dumping issue for months now and we haven’t been able to track down the cause.

Suffice it to say, whenever the slightest bit of stress happens, my body dumps adrenaline and prepares for “fight or flight.” This has led to a lot of pacing around the house like a caged tiger, sleepless nights, angry and irrational outbursts, a “manic & frantic” mental state, and is, in general, driving me and my very patient caregivers absolutely crazy.

Ice

The last 10 days have been incredibly stressful, with a severe ice storm last Tuesday & Wednesday leaving damage behind that I had to deal with, and now a second, probably even more severe, ice storm looming on Sunday.

I have pushed way far through the “energy envelope” we with ME/CFS are supposed to stay within, for day after day, goaded on by a flood of adrenaline.

And I’ve done a lot of really stupid things: walking around in the icy woods assessing damage, flagging down electric company workers…

I’ve been home alone for a week, as Rhiannon’s couple days’ visiting with Ben’s family turned into a week when she caught a terrible cold that I really don’t need to catch. So, I’ve been dealing with a lot of crap on my own that I normally wouldn’t – not just daily living, but getting power lines fixed, both at my house and a neighbor’s retreat cabin, being without cable for days and getting that fixed, etc.

Today’s really stupid thing?
When the electricians who are installing inside wiring for our emergency generator arrived, Kodi, our 125# Tibetan Mastiff/Rottweiler, went ballistic. He is head of security here, after all, and there were 3 people on the porch. His job is to protect me, and he takes that very seriously.

Kodi

2012 – He’s filled in considerably since…

The flood of adrenaline hit. I had to get him in the bathroom so I could insure their safety. I didn’t even think about it. I reached for his collar and he yanked himself away, rearing up like a wild horse. I lassoed him with a leash, and oh, he fought, just like the horses I used to have, before finally giving in.

Kodi understands something I still don’t, after 15 years sick, and 3 or so at this precariously low weight: He’s an incredibly powerfully built, 125 pounds of solid muscle, linebacker of a canine killing machine, and I am 107 pounds of skin, sinew and bone. I am not that physically strong woman anymore, who could wrangle a horse.

He is a dominant-aggressive dog by nature, and it took a long time and a lot of hard work to get him to submit to me as his pack leader. He still sometimes puts up a fight about that, especially when I’m in the frantic-manic mind-state that adrenaline puts me in, rather than the calm-assertive state I should be in.

It wasn’t until my adrenaline level dropped that I even realized my hand was hurting and damp. Leash burn, so bad it had blistered open and was oozing pus. And then pain in my fingers, my wrist, my back…

“What the hell was I thinking?” I asked myself, as I inspected my hand, noting yet again the hollows where muscles used to be. I wasn’t, I concluded.

Adrenaline fueled, my mind told me to take care of the problem.

Forgetting I wasn’t still that tough & strong woman who not only wrangled horses but also lived with wolves, I did.

Now I will pay the price. Hopefully, this time the lesson Kodi has taught me will stick, and I will approach him differently.

15 years I’ve been sick, and yet, still, there are times I don’t remember that.

And I don’t really know if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing.

But if ever I forget, and truly only see myself as this frail shell of the woman I once was, I think I would be done for. THAT woman has to live on in my mind, the ultimate goal, in order to keep going, keep looking for ways to get better. I will never be quite HER again… I will be older, wiser, and emotionally and mentally a hell of a lot tougher than I ever was. But SHE has to remain the goal, unforgotten.

I think that’s worth a little leash burn and sore muscles.

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Note: This is why I’ve been so quiet this week, my friends – I owe everybody long messages. Sorry!

I teach people not to see a bad moment as a failure. A bad moment is actually a time for you to rehabilitate yourself, and you rehabilitate your dog, so it’s actually the most important moment in rehabilitation when the dog misbehaves.   – Cesar Milan

I’m watching episodes of Dog Whisperer off the DVR to get new inspiration, insights, and encouragement, in my work with Kodi. This quote struck me. If it’s the most important moment, we’ve had a lot of them this week! Rhiannon has been gone for 8 days, since she went to go camping last weekend and has been staying with friends since. She comes back today. It’s not a moment too soon – it’s been a long 8 days.

It’s been raining. Every single day.Sometimes pouring, sometimes dribbling, but always… raining.

Kodi hates to go potty in the rain. And we’re still working on that house-training – if the backyard is dry, he’ll mostly go out the dog door and go there. But if it’s not, he’d just as soon go in the basement, where a legion of dogs have gone before him for one reason or the other.

It’s been 8 long days of constant downpours, constantly being wet from taking him out back or out front on leash, mud (and other less savory things) stuck between my toes (why wear shoes when you’ll just have to wash them? Easier to go barefoot and stick my feet in the tub when I come back in).  Dog prints all over the floor, though those lessened when we gave up on going out into the mud pit (the dog yard) and started going out front.

It’s a little easier to understand, now that we know his background, as to why house-training is such a hurdle – he was locked up on a porch the first year of his life, so presumably got used to going there as he had no other option, and has had only a couple weeks with limited inside time before he made his way to the shelter. He’s never had to learn that outside is the place you go, whether it’s raining, snowing, or whatever. And he doesn’t like muddy feet, but time to be a dog and stop being so prissy footed – we live in a forest!

And the playing… I have thrown his toys down the stairs for him to retrieve over and over, every day, several times a day. Played tug of war endlessly. Given doggie-massages & brushed and brushed. “Claimed” Kasha several times daily as she nursed an injured wrist from a canine collision – she didn’t feel like playing, to which Kodi reacts with constant barking at her.

Did I mention it’s been a long 8 days?

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention what else rain brings to my life…

Migraines. Every day. Sometimes bad ones, sometimes not quite as bad, but is there any such thing as a good migraine?

Here are a few choice quotes from messages I’ve sent Rhiannon this week – someday, I’ll look back on this post, and laugh:

“He woke up with me at noon totally full of shit. There was biting which he thinks is wrestling but didn’t feel too good, then fed him, then he stole a little scrap of sheepskin out of my room and we played keep away for a long while. Finally extracted it. Got his toy & threw that a couple times. He lost his grip on it & lunged for it & about broke my wrist in his zeal to get it back. I was not amused. He seemed subdued or apologetic for making that sound come out of me – the hurtmommy sound.”

“…he snatched a book off the dining table down there & tore back up the stairs with it. A long, long game of keep away later, I retrieved the soggy, filthy book from him & deposited it in the trash.”

“Yes, there are times when even I wonder if I love the boy, but the fact is I do, and I’ve been thru very similar things with pups before. Wolf-dog pups are the absolute worst pups on the planet – there was a time when every book I owned & every piece of furniture had teeth marks on it. At the rate we’re going here, it won’t be long before I’m back to that place! He’s just really hard to discipline – he’s eating a basket at the moment. He thinks I don’t know & he stops every time I look at him. But mama hears all. That’s what I get for having a basket on the floor of my room.”

“It is like living with a piranha! or a shark! or a crazed beast! He has to go pee at 4:30am. Okay, sure, I don’t care that’s its raining Kodi. Outside we go. Then he comes back in full of shit. I’m trying to get under the covers while he’s biting my arms & then he takes a chunk out of my shoulder blade!
He jjust finished vigorously digging a hole in my bed beside me! Twice! Raking up the covers & making a nest to sleep in!
This dog is nuts & my back hurts! He snagged all the skin over my shoulder blade in his teeth.
Gggrrrrrrrrrr!
(done venting)”

“I am watching dog whisperer for inspiration. I have decided already that I talk to him too much. But cesar’s tsst & touch doesn’t do jack shit on him – in fact it makes matters worse, as he gets the snarly face that says don’t mess with me. He also gets ramped up when you point a finger at him. I’ve been seeing a lot less of the snarly face, mostly when he’s barking at Kasha & I’m blocking him & claiming her.”

“He jumped up on the futon & I had to drag him off, but instead of going for the collar first I instead touched him real gentle & gave doggie massages. He barely bit me at all, very lightly putting up a protest.
“He barely bit me at all…” That’s a great statement about doggie-rehab, isn’t it? Well, I guess we’ve actually come a long way, it just seems like there’s a long way to go. I’m covered in bruises, btw. I keep trying to wash them off my legs but they won’t come off.”

So, we are making progress. It’s just slow, and I’m trying multiple approaches to getting this boy straightened out. I think the biggest issue we really have now is the biting-which-he-thinks-is-wrestling. I’ve gotten the aggressive-crazy-eyed-dog-biting down to near zero and can actually lead him with my hand on his collar.

But he wakes up raring to go, while I’m not so raring to go. He grabs my arm or wrist or whatever body part is handy as a way to ask for playtime, and while he is play-biting less hard, it would be really nice if he’d stop doing that altogether. Usually I respond with a chest scratch and that will settle him down, but not always.

He needs more exercise. Needs to be worn out – so tired he doesn’t want or need to play-bite me.

We need a treadmill. Seriously. Wonder if there are any used ones we could afford on our budget of zero dollars?

Did we bite off more than we can chew with Kodi? No.

Did we get more than we expected? Yes. Most definitely.

Will we get it sorted out eventually? Yes.

I do think he’s finally learning what the word “No!” means.

Now that’s progress!

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Kodi De-Coded

Since we adopted Kodi a bit over a month ago, I’ve come up with many questions about his past, and his behavior. I didn’t think we’d ever have the answers to those questions, and my guesses would have to be good enough.

Enter Facebook and a wonderful, dog-loving woman named Danielle, who friended me and proceeded to answer all the questions I had. The answers were very helpful in gaining insight into what has made Kodi behave the way he does. She was even able to provide me with a picture of Kodi as a puppy:

Kodi as a puppy

Danielle rescued Kodi in early June, after seeing him at a friend of a friend’s house. He was just over a year old – his birthday was 4/15/10. He was the offspring of a purebred Rottweiler mother with a Tibetan Mastiff father. The people who first owned him got him at 6 weeks of age.

He was never an inside dog, the poor boy was never tied or anything. He was locked on a back porch with no way getting to the ground – the back porch was very high and there was no steps leading to the yard. He didn’t even have a dog house… (The owners) are going through a divorce now so there’s no one home at all during the day so he was always alone.

Danielle kept Kodi for 2 weeks, even though she already has 5 dogs of her own. But she couldn’t keep him as one of her dogs didn’t get along with him. During the time she had him, she walked him 4 times a day – which explains why he is pretty good on a leash – and gave him his first ever baths:

He was really kinda thin then when we got him, and his coat was really badly matted from where he was shedding and was never brushed, and he also smelled really bad. I don’t think they ever gave him a bath. I know he smelled so bad I had to give him 3 baths just to get him from not stinking, lol, poor guy, but he did good with the baths and the brushing, he loved to have his belly brushed.

Danielle didn’t want to take Kodi to the shelter, as our shelter is not a no-kill shelter – they do their best, but when they get too full, if they can’t find fosters for the dogs, they are forced to put them down. So she arranged to have Kodi taken in by a rescue group, and on June 27th he was picked up by his new foster mom. However, within a few days, his new foster mom evidently died, and some of her dogs got loose – including Kodi. That was when he was picked up by animal control and delivered to our shelter.

Lucky for me, the shelter posts pictures of the dogs on their Facebook wall, and Danielle saw Kodi there, and contacted the shelter and explained his situation, but not much of that got to us. Some of his paperwork had him listed as a Rottweiler Mix, his rabies form says Tibetan Mastiff, and we were told not much about his previous owners, just that they didn’t want him. Danielle saw that we had adopted him (also on the shelter’s Facebook wall) and that’s how she wound up contacting me and kindly telling me Kodi’s history.

So, thanks to Danielle, I’m sure, Kodi knows how to sit, and walks pretty good on a leash. He also is very fond of the bathtub, and did great with the bath we gave him. He also loves drinking out of the tub faucet and will get in the tub when he wants a drink.  We thought Kodi hadn’t been brushed, but apparently he had been, but in the month of so he was at the shelter, his belly fur started to shed out.

A Tibetan Mastiff

Learning about Kodi’s actual heritage – the cross of a Rottweiler and a Tibetan Mastiff has brought a lot of insight into his character and behavior. I knew nothing of Tibetan Mastiffs before this, so here’s a little info for you:

Tibetan Mastiffs are a primitive bread of dog, now almost non-existent in their homeland of Tibet. They were used as guard dogs as well as flock protectors. They are big, big dogs, with some weighing in up to 180#. They are known in part for their coat –  they carry a very thick Winter coat, which is shed in the Spring during their “molt.” In the Summer, they are much lighter in coat, as Kodi is now – he’s quite short haired and sleek. They usually only shed once a year, and shed very little the rest of the year. The two dogs shown are colored very similar to how Kodi is, but they come in many colors. Unfortunately, Kodi is lacking in these dog’s crowning glory – his tail – as someone docked him.

Another Tibetan Mastiff

At first I was worried, learning that these are big, big dogs, as generally speaking, the bigger the dog, the younger it dies, and we’re hoping to have Kodi around a long, long time. However, Tibetan Mastiffs usually live to 14 or 15 years of age. Being such a large breed, they mature quite late – they are “emotionally mature” by age 2 but not physically mature until age 3. Kodi is now almost 17 months old. and weighed 80# in early August. How long he will continue to grow is anyone’s guess – canine genetics when crossing two breeds does not result in an offspring that’s 50/50 – the offspring of such a cross can turn out to express more of one breed than the other, or can express more of one breed in it’s appearance and more of the other breed in it’s behavior.

Like the typical Tibetan Mastiff, Kodi is very much still in puppy-mind, and expresses this through his chewing – he really loves chewing up wood items, so has been provided a number of branches, some  of which he has chewed effortlessly all the way through in a short span of time – and we’re talking big branches! He’s currently working on a section of 2 x 4. Tibetan Mastiffs are known for their love of chewing on wood, so his heritage is showing up in this respect.

Laying snuggled up with Kodi, it’s fascinating to study his head shape, his coloring, the looseness of the skin around his face and neck, those stocky legs and large feet, even the shape of his teeth (he has curved fangs), and wonder if those are his Tibetan Mastiff genes showing. Whatever genes they are, I think he is an exceptionally beautiful dog, and love his coloring so much.

Kodi on 08/21/11

Thanks to Danielle, Kodi has been decoded – we now know how he was treated in the past, the neglect he suffered through, the kindness of Danielle who taught him about being a family dog, and the trauma of his foster mom’s passing and his being a stray for a short time, followed by the stint in the animal shelter. A long hard road he’s had on his way to us.

I think Kodi understands that this is his home now, and we are his family. There was a shift in his behavior about two weeks ago. Hard to describe, but you could see he was considering this home, and he even started to get protective of it, barking at the neighbors. He certainly seems happy here, and we’re slowly working through his issues, such as his fear of a hand grabbing his collar, and his rough play involving biting. He’s loving the attention, the daily brushing, the frequent tummy rubs (we call this “sunny side up” – his belly is golden), the toy-throwing and tug-of-war, and he is pretty much housebroken (finally). I love him more with each day that passes.

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A very sweet boy is laying beside me on the bed, his head resting on my shoulder. He wanted me to tell you he’s doing much better!

We took Kodi to the vet Monday, and Petco afterward for a treat. He did terrific both places and everyone loved him & he loved getting lots of petting.

While at Petco we bought something called “Fooey Ultra Bitter Spray” – I always heard the bitter spray for pups called bitter apple, but this gets it’s bitter from grapefruit rinds. I really got it to stop the excavations happening in my room & unwanted chewing, though, all things considered, he’s done pretty well with that. He has a nose that should be in service to the DEA – he has found every dog toy & leftover half-eaten rawhide bone that’s been long buried under shelves or piles of crap, and has seemed to “get” that if something smells like dog, it probably is for a dog. If it doesn’t, it probably isn’t!  (although leather in any form smells very tempting!)

I have to give the Fooey spray a lot of credit – since we got it, and I applied it quite liberally to my arms and feet (and a little tooooo liberally to Rhiannon…) almost all the too-hard biting has stopped. When he gets that wound up look in his eye, all I have to do now is pick up the bottle, and he’s off the bed, laying down, head on crossed paws. I wish I’d gotten it sooner – had I known how effective it would be, I would have! (And Michelle – you might try some of this stuff with your “bad boy” and his biting during nail trimming.)

The Adorable Pillow Story:

Those of you who are my FB friends know I posted a status about Kodi running down the hall with my pillow in his mouth. Here’s the rest of the story – which is quite cute:

First, Kodi wanted my “knee pillow” – the pillow I keep between my knees at night. I’m quite sure it’s laden with amazing aromas for a dog like this. He first grabbed it off my bed when it was on top of the covers, and then as he he gleefully ran down the hall with it in his mouth, ran smack into me.  He dropped the pillow, then as I struggled to be stern, he picked it back up, returned it to the bed, and laid down looking as if nothing had happened.

The next day, he tried again – this time digging the pillow out from between my sheets with his paws while I was brushing my teeth. He made it to the futon-couch that time, but handed over the pillow nicely.

The next night, as I brushed my teeth, he tried again, except this time it was the pillow I sleep on. Again we retrieved it, put on a clean case, and back on the bed it went.

Two days passed and I thought we’d won the “pillow battle.” And in a way, we had.

Kodi thinks a lot – you can see it in his eyes as he tries to sort things out, like new commands. So after thinking about it, he decided there was a pillow that maybe, just maybe, he could have, and he was right! Kasha had a great huge raised dog bed in my room, and I’d put an old pillow, in a pillow case, over the hard rail she rested her head against. She’d slept on it for years, and it was saturated with dog-scent.

As I got into bed that night, Kodi first came and laid by me, his head by mine on my pillow. Then he got up, picked up Kasha’s pillow, shook it really hard (he was just fluffing it up) and brought it to the side of my bed, dropped it, and plopped down on it. He slept there all night.

I thought it was a fluke, until the next day…

I was trying to take a nap. Kodi was restless, on and off the bed. Then he picked up “his pillow,” shook it once, and jumped up on the bed with it in his mouth. He plopped it down next to my pillow, and laid down beside me. For about five minutes.

Then he got up, picked up his pillow, put it on the floor, and flopped down on it there. For about five minutes.

He got up again, gave his pillow a good fluffing, then carried it off to the bathroom, his favorite sleeping spot – he likes to sleep in doorways, for no reason I can fathom, and the bathroom doorway is the best of all. The slate floor is cool underneath (Kasha usually sleeps on the bathroom floor – right in front of the a/c vent), and he can watch the door to my room and see just about anything happening upstairs.

But he just wasn’t satisfied there this time. Back he – and his pillow – came to my room, and he leaped up onto the bed with pillow in mouth, to again plop it down next to me & flop down on top of it.

He ended up back on the floor (which is cooler) beside my bed, with his pillow, and finally took a nap with me.

Is that not the most adorable pillow story you’ve ever heard?

Today…

Every day is just a little bit better than the previous. Today we’ll leave him alone for the first time, and I must admit, I’m a bit worried. But it’s monthly doctor visit day, and we have to go. Rhiannon has been down since yesterday early in the morning with severe vomiting (3 straight hours) and an upset stomach. That makes this visit even more important.

Hope the house is in one piece when we get back. Kodi will have Kasha with him, so hopefully he’ll get over his separation anxiety pretty quick. We’re also leaving them with a fresh pair of real cow bones, and maybe a rawhide bone, too, as Kasha can be a bit on the selfish side and hog things like that.

Say a little prayer…

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For every shelter dog, and the people who adopt them, only to find “issues.” Never, ever, give up.

It is my hope that writing this will help someone else as  they struggle to sort out their newly adopted shelter dog’s behavioral issues.

Kodi is a love-bug, overjoyed at being with a loving family. He has been with us for ten days now, and most of the time, things have gone pretty well.

But there were some disturbing problems from the beginning.

Two or three times a day, usually when Kodi was doing normal puppy behaviors like “mouthing” his new humans, I would reach for him, for his collar, to tell him he was chewing a little too hard, and then he would rapidly “wind up” into borderline aggressive behavior. Wild-eyed, he would bite the hand on his collar even harder, and the more assertive I got in trying to calm him down, grabbing his scruff, or the sides of his neck, to establish myself as the alpha, or leader, of our pack, the more aggressive he would get.

Not even an “alpha roll” would calm him down – and I’ve had nearly purebred wolves who responded to an alpha roll. I’d push him down, hand on neck. He’d submit for a few seconds, but then would frantically start biting at my arms & hands, sometimes biting pretty damn hard, leaving bruises behind. His feet would kick at my legs as I postured over him in the dominant position, leaving a trail of bruises & scrapes behind on my arms & legs.

Soon I realized that the only thing that would calm him down, usually instantly, was scratching his shoulder & chest.

Slowly it became crystal clear to me.

A hand reaching for his collar was being perceived as a threat. His frantic struggling & snapping was often when his mind had been tripped into “fight or flight” mode.  Though he could have caused massive damage with his sharp teeth, he didn’t.

Sometimes, it almost seemed like a game to him, snapping at the fingers or hand coming towards his face. It may well have been the only “game” he was ever taught.

Once I got him disengaged from this behavior, he’d go back to being the sweet, lovable, boy we brought home. Sometimes he’d try to “make up” for his behavior by slathering me with kisses. We’d be fine for hours. Until the next time I tried to correct him by grabbing his collar, and it would start all over again.

Here’s what I think lies in Kodi’s past – and the past of a lot of shelter dogs:

Like most shelter dogs, Kodi was picked up as a stray, and even though his owners were told through friends that he was in the shelter, they didn’t want him back. They told the shelter they couldn’t afford him.

I don’t think that was the real reason.

It’s very tempting, when you get that new little puppy, to “play rough” with them, wrestling hard. Their normal mouthing soon becomes biting, and most people teach their puppy that hard biting is not acceptable.

But some people don’t.

Some people think it’s really fun to tease & torment their puppy, pushing them to the point of fear-biting. Teasing them with your fingers as they struggle to protect themselves.

But then that puppy gets older, and bigger, and stronger, and often the owner loses interest as their little puppy grows up into a big dog. That wrestling and teasing that was so fun when he was small is no longer as much fun, as the dog fights to protect himself, and his fear-driven responses grow more frantic, his claws & teeth scraping and bruising.

So off to the shelter he goes, or lives out his life tied out on a chain, food thrown in his general direction, when he is lucky.

I don’t know why it took me so long to put the pieces of this puzzle together.

Kodi was an outside-only dog, I think, based on his not understanding what a mirror was, not knowing how to use stairs, not even knowing what a TV is. I suspect he was tied out, likely by a heavy chain – his neck muscles are proportionally larger than the rest of him.

He was not brushed and was still carrying around his winter coat – in July (although he loves to be brushed now).

He wasn’t fed a lot, or was fed crap food – once shed out it became clear how very thin he was, although he’d been well fed in the shelter for 2 or 3 weeks before we got him.

He didn’t know what a toy was. Doesn’t know how to catch a ball (though he’s slowly learning – he mostly likes soccer). Didn’t know what a real bone was, or a rawhide bone, though he’s very quickly learned. He didn’t even know how to hold a bone in his paws to stabilize it while he chews on it – though he’s learning that, too.

There were also some very real physical clues: he wasn’t born without a tail – his tail was docked (there’s a scar); his front dewclaws were removed; he had a fair sized mostly healed wound on his head that looks like it came from a dog fight; and he wasn’t neutered, though he was a year old.

He’s not a purebred dog. Why would someone dock the tail of a mixed breed? Why remove the dewclaws on a mixed breed? Maybe they thought they had purebred rotties; I suppose a backyard breeder could have thought that, not knowing a German Shepherd (we’re guessing) had gotten to the female first, though you would think they would know right from birth – Kodi is not colored like a rottie.

Fighting dogs often have their tails docked and dewclaws removed. If he was intended to be a fighting dog, that would make his previous owner’s treatment of him be intentional – to raise a dog to be aggressive. That fits with some of his behavior, like how afraid he is of a hand on his collar, how it triggers the fight or flight instinct in him.

It could be that the only time someone grabbed his collar was to punish him, harshly.

We will never know the answers to some of my questions. But I’m glad Kodi got away, got picked up by animal control, and that we adopted him.

“There is no dog that is too much for me to handle.
I rehabilitate dogs. I train people.”
– the words of Cesar Milan in the opening to his show, The Dog Whisperer.

I may not have my own dog psychology center, or my own TV show. But I have been devoted to canines all my life. I have many years of experience with dog, wolf-dog, and wolf, many of whom were rescues.

I can handle this: avoid the triggers for the problem behavior (a hand on his collar, or fingers in front of his mouth), until he forgets that he was ever treated badly, learns to fully trust us, and gets settled in. Give him lots of exercise. I will slowly get him accustomed to having a hand on his collar by massaging his shoulders or ears, which he truly loves, while touching his collar. He is also learning that what’s mine is mine, and not to be messed with; his toys are his to do with as he wishes.

This is all new to him. He has a lot to learn. No one ever took the time and effort to teach him. You could say Kodi is in “rehab” now.

He’s a good dog. Like almost every dog, he is willing to go forward in his life offering unconditional love to his new family, and we’re willing to work with him to help him get over the past that’s haunting him, and offering him unconditional love in return. I am very patient.

As I write this, Kodi is laying on the bed with me, playing joyfully with his new “Booda”  knotted rope tug.

It’s about time this boy learned to play!

If you adopt a shelter dog, and have problems that are beyond your level of experience to sort out, I urge you to contact the shelter or rescue groups to find a reputable and knowledgeable trainer to assist you. Your dog’s life is in your hands.

Kodi

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