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Thursday, April 9, 2009

S at sunset and spring birds

Yesterday around sunset, we did an easy hike, just enjoying being together as a pack. Since S's diagnosis with metastasized cancer, we savor each day that all of us are together. In the above photo, S decided to take a rare foray ahead of the pack for a view to the east. He loves our hikes. He still spends an hour on the trails with my husband every morning and about 40 minutes with me every evening. Usually, he starts pacing and staring at me mid-afternoon to remind me that he has a hike coming up. He even tries to follow me into the bathroom and barges in if I don't latch the door - as if he thinks that I might escape out the bathroom window to go hiking without him!

He came down with another anal sac infection yesterday, caused by the tumor that inhabits that sac. The vet restarted his antibiotics to calm down the infection. We've decided to try steroids to shrink the tumor and lymph nodes and possibly buy some time. For the moment, he's off all anti-inflammatories to clear his system for the steroids.

S has had many close calls, the first being when he was a heart-breakingly cute little puppy. He became randomly lame in various joints over a period of months, and the vets diagnosed him with OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) in something like 8 different joints - too many joints to perform surgeries on all of them. S's first family was advised to euthanize him because the vets predicted that he'd live less than 3 years due to severe joint pain.

Fortunately for all of us, my dedicated brother and sister-in-law instead treated S with glucosamine and committed themselves to consistently taking him for long walks so that he'd have strong muscles to support his joints. Amazingly, he's flourished! He's taken many long hikes in the Colorado mountains, playing in wildflowers and wading in lakes. Sometimes, he'd need anti-inflammatories to make him comfortable after a big outing but, otherwise, his joint pain remained under control. Now, his arthritis is obvious and he needs his anti-inflammatories daily - but he's approaching 14 years old so it's not surprising.When I told a friend about S's cancer, she replied by telling me that he'd had an amazing life and that her dream was that she'd eventually be reincarnated as a dog in our pack. It's true - I have no regrets about the life we've given S.

Yesterday evening, we simply enjoyed watching a dramatic sunset as a family. The sunset seemed to warn of approaching stormy weather, with clouds darkening the sky over over the Divide but sunlight still filtering up from behind it. The weather forecast agreed with the sunset but no snow has fallen.
K and I headed out to ride the trails this morning. Due to an upper respiratory bug, I didn't get out early. I have a dilemma whenever I get sick because I need to stay active to avoid crushing back pain. If I lounge around the house like a normal sick person, my back pain rapidly escalates to cause more discomfort than the illness. My usual solution is easy spinning on my bike - trying not to stress my immune system or lungs but to give my spine the movement that it needs. A nice side effect is that being out in nature makes me happier.

The trails remained a nice firm frozen tundra for a while - and K romped and I rolled on my Fatback at a good clip. Below, K shows off that she could walk and run on the snow crust. When I checked, she was leaving no tracks whatsoever - so coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions likely have the same ghost-like super-powers to move through the forest without a trace on the crusty spring snow.After dropping off K, I tried to return to the trails but the solar factory had cooked up slush stew. As far as I can tell, no existing mountain bike tire can propel me through this slippery slurry. My tires fishtail from one side to the other, leaving a drunken cyclist track. Other trail users must shake their heads about the lengths that I'll go to in order to ride my bike. Today, I turned around and headed out to the little side roads to enjoy the sun and mountain views.The magpies swooped and called warnings as I passed a meadow full of bluebirds. The magpies breed early using huge stick-constructed nests in relatively small trees like willows. They're astonishingly maneuverable fliers for their large size, and many people say that the slightest movement of their exceptionally long tail causes a quick direction change. Although I normally enjoy watching magpies, I dislike them when smaller birds, like the mountain bluebirds, are fledging. The magpies watch the nestboxes and prey on fledglings just as they clumsily attempt their first flights. I've heard that, one year, a neighbor stood guard over bluebird nestboxes with a shotgun - and actually used it against the magpies. I don't know whether the story is true.Every year, a pair of Cordilleran Flycatchers nests under my deck, and I do become protective of them. The first few years, they tried to use a tiny ledge on top of a supporting pillar, and they lost their nests to predators every year.Then, I built them a nest tray one winter, and their fortunes reversed. But, I feel responsible for them. I'm like a mother hen, chasing away Stellar's Jays, Crows, Ravens, squirrels, and the occasional magpie. Below, the last two of a clutch of four chicks prepares for their first flight attempt last summer.They successfully made it to a small Douglas Fir near the deck, although they made several stopovers along the way, where they lined up on a branch for a rest. Then, they followed their parents deeper into the forest. I could hear the family 'talking' in chirps in the pine trees around our property for weeks thereafter. I'm eagerly awaiting the flycatcher arrival in May!


  1. I'm glad that S is still active and happy. It is so bittersweet when you know that you truly need to appreciate every moment you have with a dog.

  2. S is such a handsome devil...something about the look in his eyes and the set of his ears just melts my heart :) I'm so happy to hear he is so active still...and what a lucky boy to have spent the earlier years of his life with your brother and the latter part with you! He knows a great family when he sees one! I hope the steroids help...crossing my fingers that you get as much time as possible with your sweet boy!

    Those babie flycatchers are adorable!!!! Maybe you should set up a nestcam :)

    Woofs and whinnies from all of us!
    p.s. Hope you are feeling better!

  3. Great post, chock full of information and beautiful photographs. S's diagnosis has made me enjoy our dogs even more. Every day is indeed precious.

  4. Thanks to all three of you for your nice comments. I hope that S's good fortunes continue for a while, at least.


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