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Friday, November 30, 2012

Frustrated Puppy

As I keep mentioning, we've been "resting" Shyla due to a bone lesion for 4 weeks now. "Resting" means that she takes shortish walks on a leash. Consequently, she hasn't gone on any long hikes or done any running in a month. I had hoped that she'd be able to do some fun excursions in Utah. Alas, she couldn't.

While we were in Utah, I took one of my favorite rides up to a 2000' cliff by myself. K used to join me on this ride. Don't worry, she was always on leash close to the cliff.
This time, I arrived at the top to find no one else there. So, I did a belly crawl close to the edge to peek at the great beyond. That's the biggest cliff that I've ever peeked down from.
I am eagerly awaiting the day that Shyla can do these adventures with me. For the moment, we're both getting frustrated with the enforced rest. Yes, that was a remote control for a DVD player that's lying in pieces on the dog bed next to Shyla. Yup, a legal chew toy was right next to our girl while she destroyed the remote.
It is so very hard to believe that a girl with such sweet eyes could do such a thing!
Since her limp is gone (although the bone lesion is still there), the vet is letting us cautiously increase her exercise to release some of her pent-up energy. We're taking longer leash hikes, and Shyla is allowed to have 1 minute off-leash each day. Oh my, she scared the heck out of me today when I told her that she was free. She took off like a bat out of hell and sprinted in circles around me. She is so fast and so graceful that she blurred in my camera lens.
As soon as Shyla paused from her sprinting, I snapped that leash back on. It was too scary for me to watch her. However, the good news is that she's still not limping so the sprinting didn't hurt her!

We still don't know what the lesion is... because the experts haven't sent us a report yet. We're bugging them daily, asking for the report. I can only hope that their slowness means that they don't think that the lesion looks alarming (but it could mean that they haven't looked at the x-rays yet). Moreover, my family vet assured me that, even if the lesion is something evil, a little bit of running probably won't hurt Shyla in the long term now that the limp is gone.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dog Signs and Shyla's Progress

When we arrived home from our trip and coasted down our driveway, we were greeted by a sight that I think will always make us smile. Yup, Labradors own this house!
This is a new sign which we were given by We hope that it will remind visitors to drive slowly down our driveway because Labradors might be around. In particular, one delivery guy roars down our fairly long driveway, and we're hoping that this sign will remind him to slow down.

Then, when we headed out for a hike on the National Forest that surrounds our land, we ran across our other new sign that is designed to alert hikers and bikers that they are coming close to our house - and perhaps motivate them to turn around rather than amble into our clearing. We thought that the sign was amusing because Labradors are more likely to hurt you by greeting you too enthusiastically than by being real "guard dogs".
Ferocious R!
If you peruse the website where we got these signs, you'll see that they include a huge variety of breed-specific signs. There's even a "Dachshund Guard Dog" sign!

On a different front, when we headed into town after returning from our trip, Shyla regressed to a similar level of fearfulness as when she first joined us in late August. Her sudden terror totally surprised me because she'd handled every aspect of our camping trip so stunningly well.

On our trip, Shyla saw a huge variety of new things, all without a hint of fear. In one place we visited, she saw base jumpers plummet off a huge cliff and glide to the ground with parachutes. They jumped from the middle rock in this formation.
Those rocks are stupendously high so we were surprised when we spotted people on top of one.
We were even more surprised when a person launched himself off the top and then almost immediately opened a parachute. The roar of the chute in the wind was loud but, after a bark, Shyla was calm about it. I have to admit that, although I too was calm, the jumpers certainly shattered the peace of the desert.
In another site, we were all surprised by a hot air balloon floating past our campsite early in the morning. It was quite loud with the bursts of hot air, and it was close to our camp when we first saw it. Again, Shyla didn't seem afraid of such an odd thing.
The balloon floated all around us, down into the canyon and up onto the huge sheer rocks that make up the canyon walls. It was cool to see the balloon at first but then it started to feel like an invasion of a quiet and peaceful canyon from above. I hope that no balloons make this journey in the spring when falcons nest high on the walls of this canyon.
 The dogs watched the balloon along with us.

 Neither of them was upset about it. I was beginning to think that Shyla's fearfulness was behind her.
So, you can imagine my surprise when a visit to the vet (a place that Shyla likes) was terrifying to her on Tuesday and then a visit to another part of town that Shyla likes was scary today. Due to this sudden reappearance of fairly extreme fearfulness, my trainer and I are starting back at Square One with basic socialization but our hope is that she'll bounce back fast this time. Indeed, we started to see some signs of Shyla's incredible resilience today.

No news on her leg yet... we're hoping to hear the radiologists' conclusions soon. For the sake of my sanity, I'm just assuming that it's going to turn out to be okay, one way or another.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Happy Birthday

One year ago today, a little puppy was born who we had no idea would become a treasured part of our family. Her name is Shyla, and we adore her.

She's her own girl - a new soul with a fresh and naive spirit that she has infused into our family. I am so grateful that I know her.

Happy Birthday little girl. I love your eyes, your heart, your courage, your spirit, your happiness, and your snuggles.
Today, while sitting on K's boulder early in the morning, I asked Shyla if she knew what "forever" meant. Her soulful eyes told me the answer.

As we sat quietly, a Bald Eagle soared over us and circled once. He was so graceful and majestic. I wondered if he held a message for us on Shyla's first birthday.

Shyla had x-rays of her leg today. Our family vet was cautiously optimistic but she wanted a board-certified radiologist to check them out before we reach any conclusions. We should hear the expert opinion within a couple of days.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wilderness Treasures

Wilderness oases grow precious to me over the course of many visits. This is one such place, the last place that K camped in the desert. We've now dubbed it K's Rock.
As I walked around the site last week, I remembered all the little things, the spots where K and I liked to sit, the red ledge where we saw a lizard skitter away, the deep red blooms adorning the cacti last spring, and the boulder where K and I basked in the early morning sun. I treasured the memories but, at the same time, I relished sharing this precious place with our new family member, Shyla.
I cherish these places partly because generations of our dogs have visited them. I can visualize each of our dogs soaking up the sunshine in a favorite campsite. I can feel their spirits next to me as I stand in the spots where they stood. Shyla is now part of the legacy of our Labs that helps make these places so precious.
I adored seeing her explore the places that I hold so close to my heart.
When we arrived home after the trip, I realized that many people, perhaps even most people, probably don't understand how I come to deeply treasure seemingly unremarkable places in the wilderness. This thought hit me because there's been a tendency in our area for publicly-owned land to be shut down to all citizens.

Indeed, this summer, a trail that I'd traveled with each of my dogs for almost 15 years was suddenly closed. Up until that day, K and I had been hiking on the trail most days despite the steady progression of her cancer. During each hike, we'd stop to sit in a spot where I've sat with almost all of our Labs, most of them now gone. It's a spot where the sounds of the forest and the views of the mountains drown out all else. Civilization seems like it's millions of miles away.

Throughout the spring, I kept thinking that, as long as K could hike as far as that special spot, we were okay - the cancer wasn't winning. It was one of those crazy thoughts that a person has when they're faced with the unfathomable. To me, the trail wasn't just a path between two places but an enchanted part of the forest, a special magical place, where I'd lived important moments of my life, not just with K but with other canine pack members.

I know that the world never stops changing - but I truly hope that I, and others like me, don't lose the wondrous places in the wilderness that bring alive memories of people, animals, and moments that have shaped our lives. While someone else might think that these places can be replaced by "another trail" in a different part of the forest, it's simply not true. Certain special places have become part of the fabric of my life and my history. For that reason alone, I'll always be drawn to them.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving Thanks in the Desert

We spent the holiday of thanks and gratefulness out in the wondrous red rock desert of Utah. After we learned that Shyla could travel, albeit with no running or long hikes, we headed out on her first camping trip. I think that this girl was made for our style of vacation!
It was unseasonably warm - glorious, you might say - in the desert. I rode my bike each day in shorts, and we lounged in the sunshine during the daylight hours.
The one "downside" to winter camping, even in the desert, is that daylight is scarce. I had many hours to learn how to make photos in the dark, with long exposures making mystical looking pictures. Early one evening, clouds blew in front of the setting moon with the backdrop of the still-reddish western horizon.

When we camp, we have time to get to know each campsite in great detail. We learn where the North Star is, and exactly when the sun will rise and set on our temporary home in the desert.

I had fun capturing photos of the stars rotating around the North Star from our campsite near the "Top of the World". My first try was when the sky was still red from sunset. It was hard to see the stars with my naked eye but my camera saw them when its shutter was open for a long time.
Then, I took another one a little later when the sky had turned darker. Can you believe the beauty of our world?
Shyla's leg problems changed our normal camping routine. She was allowed only short leash walks - which we did close to camp. We did a variety of training games during our short walks like stand-stays even when I was tossing objects around her. It was a great opportunity for her to learn to generalize her training to all sorts of locations. With every dog who joins us, I am surprised to realize that they need to be taught that "stand" means "stand" regardless of whether it's in our kitchen, in the forest, or in the desert.
Shyla has vet appointment on Tuesday to x-ray her leg again. If the lesion on her ulna is getting smaller, then we'll assume that it was a mystery injury to her bone (we never saw any injury occur). Alternatively, if the lesion isn't shrinking, we'll be heading for the experts again, for a bone biopsy to look for an infection or cancer. My gut feeling is that it's an injury, perhaps an old hairline fracture that got banged on a rock or something (that scenario was proposed by the vets)... but only time will tell.

I'm trying to be more like a Dog, just like my precious K taught me - and we're making the best of things rather than worrying.

As you'll see as I show you photos from our trip in the coming days, I have many of Shyla and not so many of R. That was because of our odd schedule, where we did a "tag team" routine of puppy-sitting Shyla in camp, with each of us humans going out for adventures on our own. But, don't worry - I have a few good ones of our handsome black lab!

I am so happy that Shyla loves camping as much as the rest of us. I feel sure that we have many adventures in our future!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cats at home, Cats in the forest

It's amusing sometimes that I search every square inch of the land in our forest for the perfect places to put my trail cameras, and then I get really cool photos when I just slap a camera to a tree next to my house.

Do you remember the bobcat mother and kitten who we've been following? We first saw them deep in the forest, in a secluded area with almost no human presence.

Well, they've been visiting our house recently. Here's the kitten...
Here's mom. You can clearly see the big size difference between mom and her kitten when you compare the two photos.
Here's the rabbit who hangs out near this spot, getting his photo taken every night. I'm pretty sure that he's the reason for the bobcats prowling so close to our house and vehicles.

Of course, when I scour the corners of the earth for the best place for a trail camera, I get photos like these next three. I believe that this is our mother mountain lion who is staying close to her kittens. I suspect that her kittens are stashed somewhere nearby. I chose this spot for a camera because now I know what the ground looks like after a mountain lion has marked it by rolling and wriggling on it. I spotted a trampled area that shouted "mountain lion" to me, and I captured these photos the very next night!
I'm beginning to wonder if mother mountain lions are particularly prone to this kind of rolling and wriggling behavior. I've never seen it before, not even in trail camera photos taken by others.

We just learned that Shyla does not have a fungal infection so we'll get her x-rayed after Thanksgiving to see whether the bone lesion is changing. Based on the new x-ray, we'll assess whether she needs a bone biopsy. For now, I'm taking the good news and enjoying it, even though we still don't know why she has a lump on her bone.

In the meantime, we're going to be taking a blogging break for the next little while. Life has been too hectic and nerve-wracking lately so some quiet time is just what we need.

Just in case I don't post before then, Happy Thanksgiving. I am truly thankful for the wonderful world that we live in, the gorgeous wildlife all around us, the glorious mountains, and my pack, both human and canine. Last but not least, I am thankful for the support from all of you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Updates on mountain lions and Shyla

We've had quite a flurry of mountain lion activity near us recently. One lion, in particular, has been spending a lot of time in a small area. Here she was, one morning, ambling along.
She walked at least 6 miles in between the first photo and the next one. I know about her travels because I captured her image 3 miles away in the middle of the afternoon, before she returned to this same spot in the evening.
This spot has been extremely interesting to our mountain lions recently. They've been displaying behaviors that I've never seen before. I also have never seen them in anyone else's trail camera photos.
She rolled around, rubbed her face on a rock, and stayed at the base of this bear marking tree for quite a while. When I looked closely at the rock that she was rubbing in these photos, it's completely covered in mountain lion fur.
The next photo explains to me why I've seen this lion in one area so frequently. She has enlarged teats on her abdomen. A wildlife expert emailed to say that she saw enlarged teats on an earlier photo from a couple of weeks before this one. This photo confirms it for me.
So, I believe that this is a mother mountain lion who has kitten(s) stashed somewhere nearby. She's hunting in a small area because her kitten(s) are not ready to move long distances yet. I thought that we might get the chance to see her kitten(s) but I've just learned that I have to move this camera. I am incredibly disappointed, as I've never captured a trail camera photo of a young mountain lion kitten yet. That'll be a challenge for another season.

In other news, I still haven't heard the most important result from Shyla's appointment on Monday. I finally called today and left a message with the vet, asking if they knew the results. I haven't heard back yet. It's the test for fungal infections that attack bones... and, if it's positive, we won't need a bone biopsy. Rather, we'll just treat with anti-fungal medications.
Shyla just learned to "take a bow"!
Shyla's limp is barely perceptible but the lump on her bone has not shrunk even the slightest bit. I don't know what to think of the combination of an improving limp but a still large lump.
I do know that our girl is going crazy with excess energy. She arrived here near the end of August and did nothing destructive or even mischievous until the past week. We gave her lots of exercise until her limp started, and when the exercise decreased, the mischief increased. By chewing the zippers out of some of my favorite clothes within the past week, she taught me to put them all out of her reach.

However, while a surprise visitor was at the door today, Shyla discovered the wonders of unrolling toilet paper and spreading it in a long ribbon all over the house. I didn't think to take a photo before I cleaned it up. I was too shocked. My little angel has some serious mischief in her!

This morning, Shyla and I took our short leash walk to visit K's Boulder (the boulder where K is standing in the banner photo). Just below Shyla's snout in the photo, you can see two small white granite rocks that I placed there early last summer. I put them there to represent K and my friend's dog, who was also having a tough time. For some reason, I didn't let Shyla stand in this spot, one of K's favorite spots, until this morning. But now, I feel that Shyla has earned this place of honor.
The spokes change but wheel keeps turning, and I never stop loving life and my dogs despite the many bumps in the road.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thoughtful Photo Wednesday

Since I read about this kind of photo in a Galen Rowell book, I've tried it with all of my dogs. Shyla is the first to make her own rainbow, now two times in a row (this photo was taken this morning). I wonder what it means?

I do know how thankful I am that Shyla is in my life. She's helped me to look to the future with happy anticipation. I still feel the big hole in my life left by K's death but this little girl has helped me to live in the present and treasure each day again.

She and her brother have become close friends. They frequently lounge on the bed that you gave to K when she was sick - and I imagine K looking down on them with approval.

Shyla embraces all the time that we spend in the forest. She watches the sun set with us almost every day.

Do you see the bird flying through the orange clouds? Imagine his view of the sunset.

Almost dusk... time to walk home.
I learned yesterday that one of my mentors from when I was just starting out my adult life passed away. Now, almost all of my early mentors are gone from this Earth, making me feel sad. They helped me to become who I am today. But, the news was also another reminder to seize each day because our time here is finite.