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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring morning and dogs

I was up early, not moving fast, but out the door before the sun rose too high above the horizon. As I pedaled through a mixed aspen and pine grove, sun rays spotlighted only the tip tops of the trees.
The aspen canopy looked reddish in the early morning sun, and a close look at the catkins showed why. As they've been developing, red patches have emerged.
Although sunrise had passed, the snowy mountains still emanated a subtly unusual glow, almost golden-colored.Through the crystal clear sky, I spotted a faraway but towering mountain with snow blowing off its peaks. The rocky hills close to me emphasized its alpine nature.By later in my ride, several layers of clouds hung over the Divide, making a blue and white striped atmosphere above the mountains.The sun rapidly warmed the frosty air, and the changing colors of the small trees along a creek reminded me that spring might come sometime soon. The small tree greenish tree is starting to wake up, although the green comes from its branch bark changing color rather than from leaves. No trees at our elevation have dared to unfurl their leaves yet. They're smart because another big snowstorm is looming in our forecast.
When I returned home, I greeted the first of 'our' chipmunks, awake from a long winter's sleep and darting around the rocks and trees on our property. I watch hopefully for our chipmunks each spring because, a few years ago, none emerged from hibernation although they'd appeared to be thriving the previous fall.

Chipmunks bring out a nasty streak in red squirrels competing for the same resources. A couple of years ago, a red squirrel chased a chipmunk away from the area under our bird feeders - an everyday occurrence - but it went a step further. He caught the chipmunk by the scruff of the neck, shook him, and the chipmunk lay motionless. We went out to check on him, and he was dead. We'd never seen rodents be so violent before but red squirrels seem to be the most aggressive rodents in our ecosystem, even chasing away Abert's squirrels and Fox Squirrels who outweigh them by 2-3 times.

After riding today, I took my dog, K, to training class which is held in a different city location each week. Although she's more energetic and confident during our trail outings since we adjusted her thyroid medication, she's still emanating anxiety outside her normal territory. During class today, she vibrated with nervous energy. In the photo to the right, she's using an exaggerated 'look away' during a sit-stay because a German Shepherd is walking by. She's terrified of GSDs due to a few bullying incidents.

K is an atypical low thyroid dog because her body is not only losing the ability to make T4 but is also losing the ability to transform T4 into the other kinds of thyroid hormone (e.g., T3). Consequently, we have to give her 'natural thyroid hormone', which includes all forms of thyroid hormone rather than synthetic thyroid hormone which includes only T4. To make a long story short, we now need to tweak her dosage once more to get her T3 levels back to normal, and hopefully, this tweaking will help her to remain calm even outside her normal routine, in situations like dog training class.

The bottom line, that isn't widely known, is that thyroid hormone can have an astounding effect on a dog's behavior. In K's case, my vet first checked her thyroid levels due to fearful and anxious behavior combined with a skin infection. Her fearful behavior included a paralyzing obsession with the cracks between the boards in our deck. If I could convince her to try walking on it, she tiptoed as if the cracks might eat her alive. That nadir was last spring - and it took months to find the right thyroid supplement and dose to calm her fears. Now, when K's behavior issues flare up, I take her into the vet for a blood draw. And, checking both T4 (almost all vets do this) and T3 (much rarer) is crucial, especially if synthetic thyroid hormone doesn't seem to bring a dog back to normal.

Over our lives with our many dogs, we've gone through phases where our vet recognizes my voice on the phone - no identification necessary. We're in one of those phases now between S's cancer, K's hypothyroidism, and R's bladder crystals (I haven't blogged about those yet). But, at this instant, all three of our furry friends, including S, seem happy and enthusiastic about life. That's all that I can ask.


  1. Breath-taking photographs of the mountains. I've always wanted to see a stand of Aspen...they seem so beautiful. Of course I especially love the last picture. Great poses.

  2. R still looks like such a youngster, when you see him sitting next to S and R. Great photo.

    Thanks for the detailed thyroid info. I'll probably have Lilly's levels checked again this year, just in case. But no one seems to think that's the issue with her fears, and I've been asking and testing it for years now.

  3. Love the picture of your lab trio. I hope K continues to improve as her med adjustments kick in!

    We have mostly huge fox squirrels around here, and a few grey squirrels - no reds. And we have chipmunks galore - at our old house we used to watch the chipmunk wars taking place under our birdfeeders, but no fatalities, thanks goodness!


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