Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wonder Dogs!

Two years ago I found out I have metabolic syndrome (means I get fat easily! hehe) and that I'm borderline pre-diabetic (note the PRE). Since then I've tried to stay current with how to manage my issues "naturally" (that is, without medications, using only diet modifications and exercise).

And, so far so good. I'm losing weight (yay!), and my numbers (A1C, glucose levels, cholesterol, blood pressure etc...) all fall well within the healthy, normal ranges now (well, except triglycerides, which I'm still working on, but they ARE significantly lower). Some of this I attribute to my working hard on lifestyle changes.

But some of my progress I have to attribute to our canine crew -- especially my weight loss (they keep me busy) and improvement in blood pressure (they calm me down).

Call me crazy... but...canines really can impact our health for good. Get this...

Even though I'm not technically diabetic, I subscribe to the ADA's (American Diabetic Association's) newsletter. In this week's headline, lo and behold, here's what I read:

Could a Dog Save Your Life?

I've long been aware of seizure alert dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, hearing dogs, various aid dogs, therapy dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, drug or bomb detecting dogs, and even dogs that can sniff out cancer in its earliest stages -- all dogs who routine save lives.

But I'd only recently heard about dogs helping people with diabetes. Researchers have learned that our canine friends can somehow detect falling glucose levels. When they sense rapid drops in glucose in their owners' bloodstreams, these "sixth-sense" canines can alert their diabetic owners before the owner falls into a diabetic coma, giving the owner time to call for help (you can read about it here)!



Wonder Dogs. They save lives -- in huge, dramatic ways.

But lately, I've been feeling like my guys here -- Baxter, Elsie, Ridge, Kenya, and Pinot -- have been "saving my life" (if you will) in countless small ways.

No, I'm not blind or visually impaired. I'm not deaf or hearing impaired. I'm not physically challenged. I don't have a seizure disorder, cancer, or diabetes.

But life right now is hard, and they help me hang on.

Regular Reader knows things here have been crummy and crisis-filled since October (and it still is). And, truth be told, it's catching up to me. It seems like I'm here to cheer and support everyone else, and I do, or at least I try. But this stuff impacts me, too. Where do I go to process? Where do I get to crash? (Can you hear the pity-me violins whining in the background???).

Sometimes I just wear out. I want somebody to be my cheerleader (how selfish is that?!). I am only human, after all.

Enter Baxter, Elsie, Ridge, Kenya, and Pinot (Baxter, the couch-potato, is missing from the photo below).

How can I not smile at their goofy faces and silly antics? How can I not feel loved and valued and appreciated when they greet me with a bazillion kisses each day? How can my aching heart not be comforted when my feet hold Kenya's slumbering head and my lap holds various parts of canine anatomy belonging to any one of our crew (whoever happens to be in my lap at the time)?

Our Labs keep me healthy and alive:
  • They restore my sanity.
  • They put my heart at rest.
  • They lower my stress levels.
  • They make me smile.
  • They give of themselves when I have nothing to give.
  • They listen, without judgment, when no on else will.
  • They believe in me even when I'm scared, when I've screwed up, or when I don't believe in myself anymore.
  • They remind me there's a Creator who cares and loves, particularly when I wonder if that's still so.
  • They show me that faithfulness, optimism, and beauty still exist in this broken, fallen world and that good things still make up much of my life and existence.
  • They offer companionship when I feel isolated, company when I'm lonely, affection when I feel unloved, and concern when I feel forgotten.
  • The love me and encourage me.
  • They cheer me on.
  • And they deliver me from my morose, melancholy self. :o)

They do "save" me.

Could a Dog Save Your Life?

You bet. Five faithful canine friends already have mine -- in more ways than I can count or imagine.

And because they have, I can face each new day and can continue to support and encourage those around me with love and a grace-filled heart.

'Til next time,

P.S. (So sorry not to have posted the last ten days or so. I've just been in a crummy spot and didn't want to whine.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

We Can't Fence Time

When did they grow up? Just look...

This is Baxter in December 2003:

Here he is now at five years old:

Here's Pinot just five months ago:

And here she is now:

Where has the time gone?

Many of you know DD, Sarah, is marrying the love of her life (and a gem of a young man!) in June (January was neck deep with fun, make-you-smile-but-thoroughly-stressful wedding plans, most of which are behind us now). She'll be moving to Maine in July with her by-then husband where they'll carve a new life together.

My sweet baby girl isn't a baby any more.

Neither are my sons. And they all deal with real-life, grown-up issues:

  • an on-line friend of my youngest son committed suicide a few days ago
  • all three kids wrestle with how they'll find jobs/careers sufficient to pay even basic living expenses
  • all three feel pressure to know who and what they should be NOW (not from us, mind you, but from driven peers and a productivity-oriented culture)
  • all three have faced adult-sized loneliness, fear, confusion, and self-doubt -- this at a time when life should still be carefree

Somehow, my siblings grew up, too (when did that happen, since I'm really still a late-teen-or-early-twenty-something myself, eh?). Between the four of us (me, my twin sister, and my two older brothers), we've dealt with some pretty big, very grown-up, adult-sized issues:

  • diagnosed mental-health issues
  • other health issues
  • hospitalizations
  • marital separations/conflicts
  • joblessness
  • financial pressure
  • kids or spouses with serious medical issues or disabilities
  • childlessness
  • estrangements
  • legal issues
  • lost dreams
  • death, death, and death again
  • adult-sized loneliness, fear, confusion, and self-doubt -- this at a time when we're all supposed to have it figured out (didn't our parents by now???)

I don't want this stuff to be part of my life or my adulthood. I don't want it to be part of my kids' lives now or ever. I don't want to ache for loved ones or weep over the challenges my loved ones face.

Yet I can't fence time; I can't keep any of us from moving forward into our unfolding lives, whatever they hold, all of which come complete with tough stuff and less-than-ideal circumstances.

Oh how I wish I could capture childhood innocence, oblivion, resiliency, and freedom, and then live there forever.

But I can't. I never will.

Ah-ha...but Labs can. And do. :o)

They live in the perpetual, carefree moment, never regretting the past or fretting the future.

For them it's always an isn't-life-grand present.

And maybe that's why they make me smile so much. Maybe that's why they bring such joy to my heart and soul.

They remind that no matter how bad it gets, there's always something left worth living for, being thankful about, and over which I can still smile.

How can you look at a face like this and not smile right along?

What a goof!

Here's to remembering to smile, no matter what this day holds.

'Til next time,


Monday, February 11, 2008

Lab Endurance and Broken Wag (Limber Tail, Cold Water Tail)

I just read a wonderfully encouraging article over at Just Labradors, a free, on-line forum for Lab owners loosely connected with the print magazine Just Labs (to which we subscribe and read cover-to-cover!).

What was so heart-warming about the article was its account of a three-year-old Lab's survival through an avalanche and several subsequent days in the wild. Pretty amazing (click the link above to read the article).

It got me thinking again about just how marvelous the Labbie breed is (no comparison in my book). And just how strong, optimistic, and uncomplaining they are.

And that, of course, reminded me of my gang here, but in particular (today, anyway), our girl Kenya.

You read in yesterday's post about Kenya's and Elsie's romp in a cold, muddy run-off stream in our lower backyard.

What I didn't know then was that the sweet Kenya Bean would develop Limber Tail Syndrome just a few moments after they came in from their adventure and subsequent bath.

This is our Kenya, the waggle tail gal:
  • Our wiggle butt.
  • The one who wags so hard and fast you think her tail will fall off.
  • The one whose tail-wag I can never capture in a photo because it only comes out as a blur.
  • She's our exuberant-for-anything-in-life pup whose tail-wags start at her front shoulders and work their way back to the tip of her tail so her whole body wiggles and jiggles when she wags (unlike the rest of the gang who seem able to confine their wagging to their hindquarters and beyond).
And this happy-go-lucky Kenya, for a while there yesterday, couldn't wiggle at all. Her tail only drooped. Take a look at her limply hanging, immobile tail:

No doubt about it: she'd developed Limber Tail Syndrome, or Broken Wag, or Limp Tail, or Cold Water Tail or whatever of the other several names by which it's known you'd like to call it -- a little-known-by-vets-but-common-to-retrievers condition that often occurs after the dogs come in contact with cold water.

I posted about this injury three years ago when Ridge came back from a summer trip to the cottage where he'd spent lots of time swimming and retrieving in the spring-fed lake there.

And that post, the one about Limber Tail Syndrome, is, by far, the most commonly "hit" by people using search engines of the nearly 600 posts I've included in nearly four years of LabTails postings.

I've lost count of how many dog owners (of Labs and other breeds) have contacted me about their dogs' injured, non-wagging tails. I get dozens of hits on that page per day.

So why don't more veterinarians know about it? Do they think it's some myth or old wives' tale?

Believe me, the condition is real and very painful for the dog. Kenya, Elsie, and Ridge can attest to that. All three have experienced it, Ridge the most often and the most severe.

No, it's not a critical injury. And, from what I've read, most dogs with Limber Tail Syndrome regain their tail-wag within two weeks (the longest waglessness here lasted five days). Kenya's recent bout, in fact, lasted only about 10 hours.

And, of course, our Labs are strong, enduring, and uncomplaining.

Still, it's a very uncomfortable condition for the dogs, and one about which (IHMO) vets showed be informed.

And it's one that breaks our hearts to see. There's nothing so pathetic as a Lab with pain-filled eyes and a lifeless tail.

The least we can do (besides treat them) is advocate for them.

So talk to your vets, folks.
  • Copy this article about Limber Tail from the AKC's Labrador Retriever Club and take it to your veterinarian.
  • Read this update by Woodhaven Labs and discuss it.
  • Find out what you can -- even ESPN has coverage on this condition (click here to see ESPN's article).
  • Educate yourselves, then pass on what you've learned. It's the only way we'll educate others, including professionals, about this condition.
And in the meantime, we'll be helping our pleading-eyed Labs, even if they are the most understanding, uncomplaining breed in the world.

'Til next time,
Joan (who's happy to report that Kenya has her wag back today!)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Comment from Elsie

I may be a grown-up.

I may even be a mom.

But I sure still like romping in muddy run-off streams!
I figure you're never too old to play. :o)

I especially like it when Kenya romps with me (but you can't see the mud on her as well).

Aren't we pretty?

In this last picture (above), we're waiting for Dad to get our (yuk, ahem, cough-cough, blechy blechy) bath ready.

We like streams, but we don't like baths.

Go figure.

'Til next time,

Elsie (for Mama Joan, who also still like to play)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Girls

Girls and boys are different.


You'll never get me to think otherwise.

It doesn't matter whether human or canine, genders differ in remarkable ways from the get-go, and they develop differently over time, too.

Just look at the girls' focus above: Elsie, Pinot, and Kenya (back to front) have the ability to focus a long time without distraction; Ridge (our in-tact boy) gets antsy, and Baxter (our neutered boy), well, he could just give a rip.


My twin sister discovered this truth this week teaching her yougest -- a son -- to drive. He passed his permit test on Thursday, so DSS (Dear Sweet Sister) took her 16yo (of the male variety) out to practice driving afterward, and what a white-knuckle experience it turned out to be!

It's not that she isn't experienced teaching kids how to drive -- DSS taught her DD to drive a couple years ago. But her DD drove slowly, cautiously, and with great breaking anticipation when approaching stop signs or red traffic lights.

Not so with drivers of the male persuasion.

I noticed the same thing when teaching my youngest son to drive.

And when riding in the car with both my father (God rest his soul) and my father-in-law.

And when riding with DH.

And when accompanying friends when their hubbies are driving.

It's just a guy thing -- this need for speed and the propensity for quick acceleration and abrupt stops.

Male canines are the same: fast acceleration; quick stops; shorter long-term focus; less endurance.

The girls may start slow and stop slow, but, boy, do they have endurance and focus!

Maybe that's why we're the child-bearers and nurturers, while the guys are the thrill-seeking hunters.

We have the perseverence, stamina, and attention-span; they have the short-burst strength, intensity, and energy.

That's they way it's been; and I suspect (despite feminist rhetoric) that's the way it will be. And, if we're honest, we really need both in this world.

At least that's what my life experience (both human and canine) has taught me.

What about you?

'Til next time,

P.S. Little Pinot does occasionally break focus (see below); she is just a puppy after all (read the last post about rushing it!)

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rushing It

Dear Hubby, ever-faithful in his concern for our health and well-being, keeps us well-supplied with daily vitamins. Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that the pharmaceutical company for which he works makes our brand of vitamins or the fact that DH can purchase them any time deeply discounted at the company store.

In any case, we never run out of vitamins.

Something strange happened recently, however, in our vitamin cabinet. The label on the bottle changed. It's the same brand and still a daily vitamin, but a different product.

Now it says "Silver" or something to that effect. And if you read the fine print at the top of the the label it says (gasp!) the following:

"Specially formulated for adults 50+"

Fifty plus? That may be well and good for you old folks on the AARP roster (which includes DH, who is 51), but I'm only 47!

Unlike some people, I haven't hit the golden milestone yet.

So why is DH supplying me with old people pills?

Isn't that rushing it? I mean, come on, give me the 2.5 years I have left to razz you 50+-ers about being old (despite the fact that I'm more gray than many of you already).

vitamins? Geesh.

"And just what does this have to do with Labs?" you ask.

Our sweet Pinot girl is a whopping 5.5 months old now--still a pup by any stretch of the imagination. But she's so sweet and so low key and so gentle (with people at least), it's easy to forget she's barely out of toddler-hood.

And because she's so calm (and because she's so much older looking now), we sometimes expect more from her than is reasonable or than she's able to give. We sometimes treat her like a little (in stature) grown-up. We occasionally assume she'll focus and pay attention the way the bigger dogs do. Or that she won't break concentration like mature Labs three times her age.

But she's just a puppy.

The fact that she can only focus well for 15 minutes, if that, has nothing to do with poor development or willful disobedience; it has everything to do with the fact that she's a puppy.

She's a young pup at that, just five-and-a-half-months-old. It will be at least a year before she moves out of puppydom, maybe more (Labs can take a good two years to mature).

But because Pinot is so sweet and low-key, and because she's seemingly so mature and intelligent for her age, we find ourselves unfairly rushing her development.

Not on purpose, mind you. We just forget.

Just like DH forgets that I'm four years younger and that I can still take regular (not-for-SILVER-folks) vitamins. ;o)

But taking "silver" vitimins can't and won' t hurt me.

Demanding too much too soon from Pinot, though, could hurt her spirit in the long run, and it will only frustrate us.

That's the same thing that happened when we treated our kids like little adults instead of the children they were (forgive us, Kiddos, for all those times we did that to you; we were learning how to be parents every bit as much as you were learning to be children).

In the grand scheme of things, there has to be time and grace for childhood to be childhood and puppydom to be puppydom.

And there has to be time and grace for 40-somethings to stay 40-something, instead of jumping into that "silver" thing.

Let's not rush it; rather, let's enjoy each stage while it lasts.

Besides, God-willing, there'll be plenty of time for that other stuff later.


'Til next time,

Monday, February 04, 2008

One More Whine (addendum to last post)

Okay. It's certifiably ridiculous now.

My mother is out in AZ where it's supposed to be warm, and it's been a whopping 40s (F) there.

Meanwhile, today, in southeastern PA where it's supposed to be cold, forecasters say we may hit 70 degrees (F). We're told we'll break the existing record for warmth on this date (65 degrees), which is recorded from 1865 (yes, I typed that correctly -- eighteen sixty-five).

It hasn't been this warm here in February for 143 years!

Oh, and on Sunday (3 days from now), the highs are predicted to be in the 20s (F).

No wonder everyone here is sick.

You watch; we're going to get a huge winter blast in March or April, just when we're all ready for spring.

(Sorry... couldn't resist the whine.)

In the meantime, the canine kids are enjoying the mud!

'Til next time,

Friday, February 01, 2008

Our Yo-Yo Weather - and our Whines

Freezing rain and ice covered our roads this morning. Our schools had two-hour delays. (With bad weather expected to change, schools around here start two hours later than normal instead of canceling all together -- they do this in PA, NJ, and DE, but never did when we lived in Rochester, NY. I wonder if school delays are unique to mid-Atlantic states.)

And, don't you know, it's going to be 50 degrees (F) by this afternoon (after 20s overnight last night). And it's supposed to be 60 degrees on Sunday.

No wonder we battle colds all winter long (or so it seems). It doesn't deep-freeze long enough here to kill germs or let us acclimate.

Bother bother bother.

We humans. I tell ya. If we can't whine about anything else, we'll whine about the weather. Here's a sampling of weather comments I hear routinely in our southeastern-PA weather belt:

  • "Oh, I just can't stand this humidity. I get sooooooo sticky. Yuk."
  • "The only thing this weather is good for is napping in central air."

  • "When is it going to get cold already? These 80-degree days in October are just a bit much to take."
  • [sniff] "Fall allergies...[snuffle]...I'm miserable til the first frost."

  • "I can never seem to get warm; I alway feel chilled when it's this damp all the time."
  • An actually conversation with a cashier last week: Me: "That was some heavy rain we had last night, eh?" Cashier: "Shhhhhhhhhh! least it wasn't the "s" word; rain's a whole lot better than that other stuff." ("s-word" = snow).
  • "Hot this soon? What happened to moderate temperatures?"
  • [sniff] "Spring allergies...[snuffle]...I'm miserable til the hot, dry days of August."

Whine, whine, whine, whine, whine.

Now, contrast the human reaction with the typical reaction of the average Labrador retriever:

  • Summer: Ohboyohboyohboyohboy! We get to play ... in the water!!!! (Notice Ridge barking with enthusiasm below):

  • Fall: Ohboyohboyohboyohboy! We get to play ... in that brown squishy stuff that seeps between our toes and covers our noses (Kenya last March)!

  • Winter: Ohboyohboyohboyohboy! We get to play ... in the white fluffy stuff that's so much fun to pounce on and roll around in (Elsie and Baxter in 2006)!

  • Spring: Ohboyohboyohboyohboy! We get to play ... outside with Dad (notice the tongue action expressing their enthusiasm -- Yes, Elsie has always had the longest tongue-hang).

"Ohboyohboyohboyohboy! We get to play!" Life is one big opportunity as far as Labs are concerned:
  • There's no such thing as bad weather, only new experiences to enjoy.
  • There's no such thing as strangers, only new best friends to meet.
  • There's no such thing as work; only the chance to help, serve, or please someone.
  • There's no such thing as weariness, only an excuse to nap in a sunny spot on the rug.
  • There's no such thing as loneliness, only an opportunity to give affection.
  • There's no such thing as too small a couch, only a chance to snuggle more closely.
You'll never find a Lab complaining (well, unless dinner's late, and then it's not really a complaint as much as it's a plea!).

I think they're on to something.

Maybe it's time to follow their lead for a change.

'Til next time,