Category Archives: A dog’s life

My dog: I still feel his presence


I know people mourn the death of their dogs. I have felt sad for my friends when their dog died, and I have consoled them. But I never realized how much a dog becomes part of your subconscious, of your very being, until my dog King was gone.

 I never realized that when I thought of food, I thought of King at the same time. Slicing a carrot meant sharing a carrot. Slicing a peach meant sharing a peach. Any noise I made in the kitchen would bring him to my side. He may not come when called, but he was right there when the refrigerator door opened. I knew he would be there without even thinking about it. I am still expecting him.

I went to the supermarket last night and made choices based on King’s likes and dislikes, and on what is healthy for him. He loved apples but wasn’t as interested in bananas. So, I bought more apples. I bought meat for meatloaf. I imagined his doggy smile as I prepared to make it. I felt his presence on the floor next to me at the dinner table as we ate the meatloaf. In my head, he was still ready for anything that fell from the table. I felt him. Only, he wasn’t there. I found myself beginning to use my knife to create a small pile of left-overs for him.

In recent days, I began to order meals in restaurants according to what kind of left-overs I could bring King. I used to avoid fried foods or those with heavy sauces. Dried fruits are poisonous to dogs so I couldn’t order dishes with those.

I never realized how much I thought about him when I made plans for each day. I realized yesterday that I didn’t have to rush home from the airport. I didn’t have to get to the kennel before it closed.  He won’t be there. He won’t settle at the top of the stairs to keep an eye on the front door and on me, upstairs rushing around. Yet, as I climb my stairs inside my condo, I expect to see him sitting there. The landing is uncomfortably vacant and I see the strands of carpet he snagged. Today, sitting at my desk, I still expect his nose to nudge my elbow.

This morning I waited for him to wake me up so we could go on our morning walk. I had just awakened from a dream he was in. Then, I remembered he wasn’t there. I never realized how much I depended on his presence in my home, how I waited in bed at night for him to sneak into the bedroom and into his bed when he thought I was asleep. An odd noise never worried me because he would protect me. Now, I hear a noise and have to remind myself that he is not close by, that the noise isn’t him, that it might be something I have to think about, respond to.

I never realized how many of my daily routines were created around him, until he was gone. I had to walk no later than 7 in the morning. Dinner had to be somewhere around 5 p.m. If it wasn’t, I still had to schedule King’s dinner. If I had an event or meeting that kept me away from home, I had to put it in my calendar and arrange for a dog walker. My days have been broken up into five-hour increments. That’s how long I would allow him to go without a walk. Those thoughts are so part of my subconscious that it is as if I have lost the structure of my daily life. If he were here right now, he would not have let me write through lunchtime. He never forgot a meal.

I heard on the weather report this morning that there may be thunder tonight. The first thing I thought of was how frightened King will be. If there is lightning in the night, he always wakes me about 20 minutes ahead. How did he know? I had to remind myself this morning that I didn’t have to worry about him.

I never realized how much happiness it gave me when he was happy, how much I looked for that doggy smile on his face. I felt so happy when we walked on the beach and spotted a large dog ahead because I knew his favorite thing to do was to say hello to another big dog.




When your dog dies

King lives on the beach and rests in my heart

When your dog dies and you scream inside

 You may miss the signs that your dog is nearing the end of his life.

You take him to the vet for his annual visit and she comments that he is getting older and may need pain medicine one day. Big dogs have hip problems, she says. He is already 11.  She talks you into an x-ray. There are signs of serious arthritis in his back and both hips.

A trip back to the vet means that you buy a special HelpMeUp halter to help him when he negotiates the stairs. You also get a prescription for Rimadyl, an anti-inflammatory for dogs. He only needs to take it once a day, and he seems to have more energy.

He is getting older. He doesn’t pull as hard on the leash, and if you pull him, he loses his balance. It hurts you to see he is losing his strength. Still at 87 pounds, he is a big, proud, and regal dog.

He turns 12. You start to worry that you may lose him, but you know he looks as good as ever. The two of you still walk four miles a day, two in the morning and two in evening.

Then you break your ankle and the two of you stop doing your walks He won’t walk with anyone but you, and stubbornly stays by your side as you recuperate. He sleeps on the floor next to the bed. His hips are no longer strong enough for him to jump on the bed. When did that happen?

You get better and start walking him again, but notice that he no longer can walk several miles. He turns back earlier than he used to. He walks slowly. You are determined to build his strength back, and he is now 12 ½.  A friend notices that he seems to be limping. You hadn’t noticed. You called the vet and she said to give him two Rimadyl a day.

Then, he falls down the stairs. You saw him through the window when you were unlocking the front door. You stood helpless. What did you miss? His back legs are no longer dependable. You start using the HelpMeUp halter daily. He falls on the stairs again, trips himself on the leash.

The vet gives you another medication to go along with the Rimadyl. Gabapentin – now he is taking 6 pills as day.  You notice he seems spacy and confused, but the limp disappears. His legs seem stronger.  But he’s up in the night, panting, pacing. You know there is something else wrong.

The vet diagnoses a rare heart condition, and advises you to stop the Gabapentin, and instead to use Tramadol at night.  You research it to find out that it is a narcotic. You are afraid.  He wakes up panting, licking his lips.

You wait a few days and then decide you will give him the Tramadol. But he still wakes up, and one day he looks at you with a faraway gaze, and can barely get himself up when he is lying down. You take him to the pet store and he falls again. You help him up, put him in the car, and take him to the beach, his favorite place. But he won’t get out of the car. He looks out at the scrub where he knows rabbits live, but won’t get out of the car.

You know the end is near but you don’t want to believe it. He looks at you with such trust in his eyes. He still loves food. The next morning, he is livelier, and agrees to take a walk in the neighborhood.  But when he lies down in the house, he struggles to stand up.  His back legs buckle. You have to help him.

You take him to the vet to be euthanized. He collapses on the blanket provided. He doesn’t try to get out of the room, as if he knows.  You pet him and talk to him and the vet injects him with something that kills him. You watch him die and scream inside.

Later, you ask yourself, “What if I had tried something else? Another medication?”

You doubt your decision and glaze at his beautiful photographs.   You see him in every room. You cry uncontrollably, and wish he was still beside you, lying next to your desk or on the porch. Barking for a treat.


Dogs can suffer from heart disease

King loves the beach. On a recent beautiful day he waded and then rolled in the sand. Such a happy dog. He doesn’t know he has heart disease

My dog King is old now, heading toward 13. Over the past year he has been walking much slower, as I previously reported. An x-ray of his hips and back showed advanced arthritis. We put him on Rimadyl to help with pain.

His panting worsened, I noticed. Also, he seemed to become more tired, and then he fell down the last few steps in my stairway. So, back to the vet. Because I have written so much about heart disease, I suspected he was having some kind of Afib in the night. His symptoms reminded me of those described by patients  I had interviewed for consumer health articles.  I told the vet of my suspicion and concern that King had developed a heart problem, that is was more than painful hips.

The vet gave him several tests: a chest x-ray, which appeared normal, several blood tests, which also were normal for an old dog, and an EKG. The vet immediately warned me that King’s heart rate was concerning, so slow he almost could not hear it, and so very fast. The EKG was transmitted to an animal cardiologist in Annapolis who gave us the bad news the next day.

King has ‘Sick Sinus Syndrome,‘ a relatively rare electrical problem of the heart that human beings get too. The prognosis is not that great for dogs. The heart goes from beating way too fast to beating hardly at all.  He could go on for a while, who knows how long. Or, he could suddenly drop dead.

People visit a cardiologist and most likely would get a pacemaker and then try and figure out a drug to treat the racing heart. An electrophysiologist (specialized cardiologist) may do a  cardiac ablation to destroy problem tissues in the heart that are sending the errant electrical impulses.

It’s not that easy for King. Considering his advanced age and the serious arthritic damage in his back and both hips, trying to treat a damaged heart isn’t in the cards.  I can’t even imagine the cost. He isn’t covered by Medicare or Blue Cross.

This heart problem in dogs isn’t normally found as early as we found it. From what I understand, a dog with it often just  faints and collapses. The owner will do CPR and think it helped. It didn’t.  It is adrenaline that brings back the dog, not CPR. He either wakes up or dies, on his own. From what I understand, there is no way to prevent this disease. It’s not from eating too much or exercising too little. It’s probably genetic, and something that develops with age.

I thought I would share this story as it is so hard to know what is wrong with our dogs. They can’t tell us where it hurts, or how it feels.  They just depend upon us to make them feel better.


Symptoms of heart disease can be:

Panting for no obvious reason

Tiredness; weakness


Loss of appetite (King never loses interest in food!)


Dog and Cat Owners, Beware!

Counterfeit flea-and-tick  products are on the market.  At best, they don’t work as you expect. At worst, they can harm or poison your pet.

Please see the paper “Made in China” label stuck on the back of the can of Senesto. It’s not supposed to be there.

Since my dog King is nearly 13 years old and no longer plays with other dogs, I decided to try Bayer’s relatively new flea-and-tick collar Seresto. My vet recommended is as one of several options available to protect him from the many diseases (sometimes fatal) that insects spread.  For me, the collar means one less pill for King to absorb. He already takes six pills a day for his arthritis pain and loss of strength in  his back legs. Plus, it is easy to use.

The first Seresto collar I purchased from a local pet store cost around $84. That was last February. It is good for about eight months. Since I am an Amazon Prime member, I decided to see if I could get a discount on the second collar I purchased.

I could.

A seller called “RGALZLLC” was selling the collar, on, for $54.95.

When the canister arrived, I discovered that there was a white label pasted on the back of the canister stating “Made in China.” Otherwise, it looked like the normal Seresto canister.

Bayer is a German company and that a bonafide  Seresto collar is made in Germany, not China. I telephoned Bayer customer service regarding the Seresto product (800-255-6826) and learned that in fact that product is made in Germany and that there are counterfeit products out there and to beware. I have no proof that my product was counterfeit, other than the ‘Made in China’ sticker. I haven’t seen any investigation documents, and don’t know if there are any. I am simply a former daily newspaper reporter and editor, and a concerned, caring, and suspicious animal lover.

I also saw on an eBay chat site that a counterfeit Seresto is showing up there, too. I informed Amazon, but I haven’t heard anything back from them about my suspicion. They did give me a refund, however. And, I noticed today that “RGALZLLC” no longer seems to be a seller of the Seresto collar on Amazon.  Again, I am sharing with all pet owners what happened to me.  I have no proof that this seller was dealing in counterfeit material.

My advice here is to be careful about the products you buy, and that if a paper “Made in XXX” label is stuck on the back of any food or pesticide product, check it out with the manufacturer.  While I am not saying pesticide products are inherently safe, the ones I want to buy to protect my pet from the diseases carried by insects should have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before I purchase it.

Check out the EPA’s warning on counterfeit pesticide products. The site has lots of information and lists some things to look for when suspicious of a counterfeit product:

Check out Bayer’s own warnings on fraudulent brands:

Kings uses the Seresto flea-and-tick collar. We bought the real one at the local pet store.








Wilson, my previous dog, is pictured on Twitter. She was a ‘party’ Portuguese Water Dog.  I lost her in a divorce a few years ago.

My dog King is slowing down

On Monday morning, March 20, 2017, King, my 87-lb Akita mix, decided he no longer wanted to go down my stairs.  Now that is serious because all of my living space in my condo is on the second floor. The first floor is only a foyer.

I tried to coax him. I commanded him. He reluctantly walked down and stumbled on the last two stairs.  He was fine once he got outside and started his normal routine of looking for the squirrels. I usually let him run after them because he never catches them, and it gives him such joy.  But I knew that this sudden fear of the stairs signaled a new stage in his aging process. He is going to be 12 years old on May 1, and in people years that’s somewhere in the 80s.

I called the vet immediately and got an appointment for the afternoon.

From one day to the next, it seemed, he no longer galloped up the stairs to beat me to the top. That was one of his favorite things to do, too. I had a trainer in who said he shouldn’t do that, especially when guests arrive. He’d stand at the top of the stairs and look them in the eye. And since he looks something like a red wolf, friends started avoiding my place. So, I worked hard making him stay at the bottom while people climbed up and went into my living room.

Those images are memories. I hadn’t noticed the change as it occurred so subtly.  Now, he can’t run up the stairs anymore. It’s as if it happened over night. He used to drag me around the condo development. I had to use two hands on the leash to hold him back when he would see a squirrel or a rabbit.

Monday afternoon we got to the vet. The tech brought us in a room and interviewed me, just like in the doctor’s office. Then his vet, who he has known since I adopted him four years ago, came in. She has been expecting some aging issues and assumed he was suffering from arthritis pain. She had an x-ray taken and sure enough, he has arthritis in both hips and in his back. I guess it hit the tipping point and now the pain is too great for him to comfortably balance himself on the stairs.

So, I got Rimadyl, glucosamine tablets, and a $110, two-section halter called a ‘helpemup’ that has handles on the shoulders and hips, and lots of padding. It has been over a week now and the result is that he happily goes down the stairs when I am firmly holding the handle on this shoulders. He seems bouncier so I am hoping that the pain is less. Dogs, after all, rarely complain about pain.

He is on a diet as he still likes to eat but is not exercising like he used to. Our 4-mile daily walks have been cut to 2 miles as he just doesn’t want to walk as far as he used to. For the first time since I have owned him, he won’t be doing my synagogue’s annual 5k walk with me. I am sure it will be too much for him.

He still loves the beach, and we still walk there as often as our schedule and weather allows.


King is lounging now, but don’t let that fool you

King LoungingHe ran full speed at the park today after a squirrel. I knew he wouldn’t catch him – or I really hoped anyway – but figured he’d wear himself out in the chase. The squirrel must have seen him coming as he sprinted right up the side of the trunk of a really big tree. King tried to climb after him. However, at 85 pounds and nearly 10 years old, he didn’t have a chance.

He was really happy, though. Happy I unhooked the leash so he could run as fast as he could. Happy that he had a chance to catch a squirrel. Just plain old happy.

He trotted back to me with a smile on his face. “Yes,” I told him. “You are a good boy. We are going to the beach in the morning tomorrow. It’s Saturday and I don’t have to go to work.”

He gets it. He really does. He knows the word “work” and he surely knows the word “Beach.” I truly believe that now that we are back home and it is dark outside, he knows that we are going to the beach the first thing in the morning, which to him is 6 a.m., light or dark. Dark now.

So, right now, he is lounging in the second bedroom. He’s not even asking for a treat, though, I’m sure he would jump right up if I mentioned the word or went into the kitchen.

Could he be thinking about the squirrel today? Or the beach tomorrow? I’ll have to ask a dog behaviorist if dogs think about what is in the past or what they anticipate in the future. He really seems to know when it is the weekend and that we spend longer on our morning walks. He watches what I put on and sniffs my clothing. When I dress for work he seems resigned to be home alone. Honestly, what really  is on a dog’s mind?

King is preparing for surgery, only he doesn’t know it

King on the couchHow do you tell a dog that he is going to have surgery? King is going to be nine years old on May 1. You would never know it. The girls look at him when he walks by. People stop their cars in the middle of the street and ask what kind of dog he is.

The groomer found a lump on his chest and the vet confirmed it was going to have to be removed. Soon. It’s a lipoma. I have never heard of one of those. I quickly ‘Googled’ it.  It’s a fatty tumor and normally  not dangerous. Of course, his is dangerous. It’s large, somewhere between a good-sized orange and a small cantaloupe. It’s on his chest and near the pit of his leg. It could make it difficult for him to breathe.

He doesn’t notice it at all. I only adopted him last year and have never owned an 85-pound dog before so I missed it. Now I’m trying to prepare for the surgery.  It’s open, not laparoscopic.  He’s going to be out cold. The vet is going to cut him open. When he wakes up, he is going to have a drain.  I am figuring out now where he is going to sleep when I bring him home that afternoon. He won’t be able to get up my inside stairs the first or second day after surgery, I imagine. I definitely can’t carry him up a flight of stairs. I’m not even sure how I will get him out of my car the day of surgery if he is still groggy.

He looks at me with such trusting and innocent eyes. I wonder what his eyes will be like after the surgery, when he wakes up in pain.  I think I will run out and get some Campbell’s chicken soup. When my last dog had Rocky Mountain spotted fever, that was the only thing she would eat for a few days. Of course I added boiled chicken breasts and some white rice.

King is so sweet.  I’m still trying to prepare him for the surgery.