Monthly Archives: June 2014

It was one of THOSE days

Walk with me Grasshopper [Master Po]

Walk with me Grasshopper
[Master Po]

Ever have one of those days?  Sure, we all have them but how you perceive them makes all the difference in the world. It’s usually some stupid little thing that sends our minds into chaos.   Remember the 1970’s series Kung Fu where David Carradine was able to master his mind and calm everything down?  Well, I should have remembered some of those episodes, it might have helped us both out.

This past weekend was our regular rotation at hospital and hospice. Saturday we were scheduled for oncology. It’s always an intense session for both of us. Patients are so sick, their families are worried and a hardworking staff usually has their hands full. Everyone seems a little bit on edge. I get that and know that with Sam’s usual calming presence we usually manage the shift well.

It wasn’t that we were running behind, in fact, we were fairly early. The problem was my fault; I didn’t cope well and it may well have affected Sam.  Maybe it was barometric pressure.  It was one of those rain-threatening days with hail in the forecast. We’ve had some real doosies of hail storms recently so I thought; “heck we’re early, let’s park at the farthest point away in the parking lot under a very large cottonwood tree that would easily protect my little set of wheels.” My car isn’t super special, but it’s cute, dependable and in very good shape. It’s kind of important to me to want to keep it a nice, cute, dependable vehicle. So far so good, right?

That’s when everything went to crap. Unbeknownst to what was just ahead, we sauntered into the volunteer area to sign in. As soon as I got us all signed in, I realized Sam was missing his ID tag. Phooey. Having lost my own badge several weeks ago (still think it fell off somewhere in the parking lot but it was never turned in to Lost & Found), I wasn’t feeling like I wanted to go through the replacement process and expense again. Hey, no sweat, we’ve got plenty of time I thought, we’ll just go back out to the parking lot and see if it fell off in the lot since I had attached it to his collar when we got out of the car. About this same time, I also realized my car keys are missing. Ugh!

Part of my uniform consists of a handy apron with pockets across the front and a smock/lab coat also with pockets.  Since volunteers don’t have lockers, all these pockets are especially useful to stash the items we need during our visits—Sam’s business cards that are given to patients, a small hand sanitizer, small note pad with enough room for a few dog treats–just stuff like that. The coat has two decent sized pockets where I can stash my wallet and (on good days) my keys.  So I empty all the apron pockets and check my pant pockets as well. Dang it, no keys. Then I empty the pockets of the smock. Again, no keys. Rats! So I do the only thing I can think of, go trundling back out and check the car and guess what…it starts to rain (I am not making this up).

Sam really despises getting wet and I wasn’t all that keen on looking like Little Orphan Annie with curls up to here. We dash to that far end of the lot (remember that good idea I had earlier?) and I look in the passenger side to see if the keys are in the ignition. No dice. Ah, crap! The good news is I spot the missing ID tag and secure it on to Sam’s collar. We head back toward the sign-in area because I’m convinced that I probably just set the keys down next to the sign-in computer.  No biggie.  Ha!

Once back in, I fluff Sam and myself up a bit so we don’t look like drowned rats. So far, not so bad. But alas, no keys either. Oh man, really?!…I decide to go back out and see if maybe the keys fell next to the seat or maybe I set them down in the back seat when Sam got out and I hooked up his leash. Well, at least it’s not raining now but I’m starting to get stressed. Muttering and kvetching, I notice Sam is panting hard and not just from walking back and forth like crazy. He’s picking up on my energy.  Oh no!

So back out in the parking lot, I walk all around the car and what do I see? The blankety-blank keys sitting ‘purdy as a picture’…in the door lock! Argh, are you freaking kidding me??!! Now we are running behind and we rush back inside. Sam is definitely stressed. He freaks out in the elevator and seems completely at odds with his normal calm “I’m ready to go to work” persona. I’m upset and feel out of step myself. This is not good.

Before we begin a shift, we always swing by the gift shop and say hi to the volunteer high school students that generally man the shop on weekends. Sam loves these kids and they always enjoy a visit with him before we head up to our assigned floor. It’s a good way to begin a shift and it brightens their day.  He’s totally disinterested and out of balance so we leave and head on up hoping it’ll get better (sorry kids, we’ll be more friendly the next time…promise!). The oncology floor can be intense and kind of crazy. Saturday the stars were totally aligned but not in a good way.

The first room we stopped by was on full tilt alarm. The patient was stressed and tired and no doubt probably sick of that annoying beep, beep, beeping noise so we didn’t stay long. I offered to bring someone in to turn the alarm off. Sam was restless and disinterested in visiting, that confounded alarm wouldn’t shut up and it seemed like it took forever for the nurse to come silence it. Everything seemed frenzied (or at least in my mind it was–it’s all in perception, right Grasshopper?). We left and moved on to patient number two. Another squawking alarm (what are the odds?). Ugh. The patient’s visitor asked if I could get someone to turn it off, they said it had been trilling away for the past 10 minutes. Oh dear.  I’ve never seen or heard so many alarms going off on a floor.  Sam actually hesitated and then balked at going into the next room. And so it was the entire shift. In the rooms he would go in, he’d be restless, panting, not fully engaged. By then I was no longer stressing about my misplacing the stupid keys, but about him but I wasn’t in the best place to guide him back to balance (breathe, Grasshopper).

Recent research has shown examples of dogs and their amazing ability to ‘smell’ cancer. The results suggest they are quite good at it too. I couldn’t help wondering if some of those scents were part of Sam’s distress or was I totally to blame. Granted, I’m sure he picked up on my negative energy but I couldn’t help but wonder if his super sensitive nose was picking up on those patients’ condition, all the equipment alarms and the stressed out staff. It was a perfect storm of everything converging. Maybe it was just an off kilter alignment of the stars.  Whatever it was, it all started out with something stupid and minor and turned into ‘one of those days.”

Thankfully Sunday was better; we went to hospice and Sam was more balanced. We visited with some really nice people who told funny stories of their family’s experiences with dogs (I learned a lot about Dalmations–oh my!).  There was a greater level of calm though it was still a teeny smidge off from our usual shifts at hospice. I guess perception is everything, and when it’s bad as it had been the previous day, it surely impacted us and maybe even carried over to Sunday. Next time I’ll be better prepared so it’s a good visit for patients as well as a good experience for Sam. They all deserve that.  <3

Did you do anything fun on the first weekend of summer? Do dish on how you handle ‘one of those days.’

Fox tails

Foxes in the 'Hood

Foxes in the ‘Hood

No, not that kind–we like those fox tails. I’m talking about those treacherous weeds with barbed seed heads that can cause as sorts of havoc with dogs.   See those innocent looking long stalks ending in a cluster of spikes  resembling a fox’s tail? They can be trapped in a dog’s coat and burrow deep into the skin. This year they seem particularly bad after some recent rains and seem to have sprouted much sooner than past years.

Insideous and quite dangerous bastard!

Insideous and quite dangerous bastard!

Generally found west of the Mississippi (though increasingly moving eastward), these innocent enough looking weeds can be really risky for dogs. Mother Nature cleverly designed those barbed heads to attach to critters thus ensuring the spread of the seed.

The barbs are particularly menacing as they only move in one direction–always forward, never backward. They burrow deeper and deeper into the fur. Noses, ears, between the toes, under the collar or armpits are the most frequently found spots. Removal from fur as soon as possible is important since they can be quite difficult to remove once they penetrate the skin. Those barbs can burrow deep into the skin and if not treated, can journey throughout the body. A dog sniffing the ground can easily inhale them into their noses or get them caught in their ears and if not treated immediately, can result in serious problems resulting in an expensive visit to a vet.

Sam’s not much of a licker so when I noticed him licking a spot I knew right away something was irritating him. After a close examination, I discovered one of those nasty little buggers. There are a few spots of this devil weed in our neighborhood so we probably picked one up along our strolls. Because Sam loves to sniff along the sidewalk I have to keep a close eye on him since they can easily attach to his finely textured, curly coat. Now that the weather has warmed up, those seeds are starting to turn a lovely shade of wheat—pretty much the same color as Sam, which makes them very difficult to see. Whenever we come in from a walk, I run my hands over his coat for a couple reasons. One, he likes it, and two, to ferret out any grass, weeds or other evil hitchhikers on his coat. Obviously, I missed that one. Those nasty barbs stick like Velcro. Once located, I have to either break it apart piece by teeny little piece or try to remove it with tweezers. It can be a royal pain to get him to sit still long enough and try to remove it especially when his hair is longer but it’s so critical to persevere. He always seems relieved to be rid of the sinister little seed head and then in true Sam style, merrily moves on to the next moment. Joie de vivre is his life mantra. 🙂

Looks like Mom was right, never pick up hitchhikers. They can be especially dangerous to our fur babies. Obviously the best way to handle the bad kind of foxtails is to be ever vigilant and remove them quickly.

Do you have foxtails in your neck of the woods? What’s your strategy dealing with them?


Why do dogs eat grass?

Sorry I’ve been AWOL these past several days. Apart from coming down with the summer cold from hell, I’ve been pondering a lot lately. Often times I find myself asking questions and the one that seems to come up more and more lately is “why do dogs eat grass?” I know, you’re thinking, poor Sam…his dog mommy is totally whacked. But seriously, haven’t you ever wondered why dogs eat grass?

In Sam’s case, there could be a couple of possibilities: (1) it’s the time of year where tender young grass shoots are just too enticing; or (2) he was a goat in a former life (hey, it COULD be true).  Now that spring has sprung and the official start of summer is just days away, he goes on the hunt for the perfect blade upon which to snack.  It has to be the absolute perfect kind of blade of grass though, a rare vintage if you will, otherwise it’s only good for being pee’d on.

This grass eating seems especially bizarre and counter-intuitive since invariably, he will eat the grass and then throw it up a few minutes later. Seems like a pointless exercise to me.  I mean dogs can’t be bulimic, can they?

Some people think grass eating is to aid with a dog’s digestion, others say the dog is seeking out otherwise missing nutrients from his diet.  But like the questioning I used to do in catechism classes, some things just don’t make sense to me.  There would be some deep, hard-to-fathom concept that I just couldn’t wrap my head around (the Holy Ghost–WTH?!).  I’d press for an answer that would make sense and after usually going round and round, the nun would become so exasperated with all my questions, she’d say something like “You just have to accept it on faith!!”  That sounded a lot like code for “I have no freaking idea.” From what I’ve found looking up the topic, everyone else seems to have the same conclusion.

Can’t you just imagine my little brain humming along trying to make some sort of logical sense of this?  Sam is a bit of a grazer (which seems to kind of support the whole ‘goat in a previous life’ notion, but I digress).  He’ll casually pick at his kibble until it is finally gone.  Some dogs wolf down their food like it’s going to run away if they don’t.  Not Sam, oh no.  And when I say he’s a grazer, I mean he s-l-o-w-l-y eats his food, but he also slowly grazes on grass (given half a chance).  Like a lot…to the point of driving me crazy because no sooner has he eaten a mouthful of grass, he’ll get maybe 25 ft. or so away and…barf.  A nice, tiny little green-haystack usually in front of somebody’s sidewalk going up toward their porch.  Uh, ex-cuse me–that doesn’t seem like appropriate neighborhood etiquette, does it?  It’s all horrifyingly embarrassing.  Yikes, did he really eat that much grass?

I don’t know, maybe Sister Sullivan had it right and I just need to accept it on the basis of faith.  Accept that the dog knows what he’s doing.  Nothing more, no deeper meaning, just faith that everything is going to be ok.

Then again, as I recall she didn’t know what the hell was going on most of the time either.

Does your dog eat grass?  What do you think causes it?  Do you think Sam could be bulimic?


Medicine and Inspiration

Good boy!

Good boy!

Seems to me that medicine can be delivered in a couple a ways. Of course, there’s the traditional way through IV’s and meds administered by staff and then there’s the 4-legged love-meds that pet therapy animals deliver through a nudge on a patient’s hand or by a wagging tail. I’m kind of partial to the 4-legged version. I’ve seen it work wonders.   Like the patient we recently visited whose blood pressure was taken and it was sky high.  The patient smiled weakly and called Sam over to him.  Now Sam handles being around medical equipment with very little difficulty but I’m always kind of nervous that he might step on a tube or pull out a line and this guy was pretty wired up. Sam edged his way over to him and sat in front of the guy’s legs. After the first reading, the nurse said “hmm, let’s try it on the other arm and see what we get.” It took her a minute or so to maneuver around to his other side.  Meanwhile the patient is massaging Sam’s ears and Sam is of course soaking up the attention and he lays his head against the man’s thigh (this is the only “trick” this goofy dog will do).

By the time the nurse got around to the other side and took another reading, the pressure was nearly normal!  She was a little surprised at the big difference but the patient just smiled and said (as he pointed to Sam), this is the reason it’s better.  Dogs are miracle workers.  We talked about the incredible ability of dogs as they help patients keep their vitals more normal and the peace these amazing creatures give to patients. The couple recalled stories about their own dogs that had meant so much to them throughout their lives and how grateful they were to have had a dose of that magic 4-legged medicine that day.

I’ve seen that 4-legged love inspire people in other situations, too. Like my friend Sara (who maintains quite the work out regimen) recently told me, she finds Frances, the ‘gym mascot’ there to give her just enough inspiration to put in those last tough reps. She’s told me there are times she’d like to quit but a gentle flick of her tongue or those adoring sweet brown eyes and a wagging tail always gets her to dig down deep and finish her set.  It makes her feel accomplished and inspired.  How can you beat that?

Whenever we end a shift, I know we have made a difference in the health of patients and their families, just like with this guy and his wife.   Too often we take animals for granted, but the bond between patients and dogs is irrefutable and continues to amaze me especially when I see results like that.

So what if you’re a rotten hound some days (like when you snitch a piece of cheese off the table or roust through the garbage)…you made a patient and his wife manage to feel a little bit better and that’s what this is all about. ❤️

To all the Frances’ and Sam’s…way to go!


If the set up worked (fingers your crossed–I’m so techno-illiterate), you can follow us on Twitter  @pettherapypooch🐾



Bed hog in disguise

Bed hog in disguise

Why is it they curl up in a teeny tiny little ball on THEIR bed but spread out and take up all the room on yours??  Just thinking out loud on a Throwback Thursday.  Hope yours is grand.



Reflections on Hawaii – Part Deaux

A few of you mentioned there was a problem accessing last week’s “Reflections on Hawaii” post for which I apologize. For those of you who actually want to read it, here it is again (hopefully). May the Internet Gremlins be on vacation this week.

Reflections on Hawai’i

IMG_1116You may recall my post from last week sharing my joy at being able to witness my granddaughter graduate from high school. The celebration of the entire school was so joyful and remarkable. After the graduation, I was able to enjoy being with my family and to see the sights of the Big Island. Oh Hawai’i, you temptress! Such diversity, such beauty. From cactus to unusual trees along roadsides, to volcanoes and geological formations, the names of which were totally lost on me. I may not be able to pronounce all those Hawaiian names let alone remember them, but they burned their beautiful images in my brain so much so I shan’t forget them any time soon. The people, the culture, the amazing array of plants! Egad, all the things I’ve been seeing…those are freaking house plants in my reality, not garden hedges!

And the smells and sounds! The fresh sea air, I mean, truly fresh, not that salted, almost-bad fish smell that you are more likely to associate with beaches. The pounding of rain on avocado tree leaves in an early morning shower, the coqui frogs in the evening whistling their funny little sound. The smell of fresh Kona lattes every morning (ma-halo to Kim as well as Kevin for keeping me in a blissful state of caffeine-ation) and the cool crisp bubbly swallow of a Kona Brewing Longboard after a long day of sight-seeing. I guess the only two things I won’t be missing are sunburns and poi, but everything else, I’m already missing.

I’ll miss seeing my son first thing in the morning, his humor and amazing knowledge of what’s-what when we were on the road to unbelievable sights of the island, pride in my grandson and granddaughter and their giggle fits about silly things and genuine love and caring for one another, the kindness of my daughter-in-law after she had a particularly rough day at work. The laughter and bond shared by a family connected by something that 3312 miles cannot break (not even when we realized the Mai Tai mix already had rum in it–oops–so much for moderation). And those breath-taking sunsets every night from the lanai. Yes, I’ll miss all of that but have something to look forward to down the road–a return trip. Yeah Hawai’i, you can’t get rid of me that easily.


Live, love, bark! <3

National Cancer Survivors Day

National Cancer Survivors Day is an annual event celebrated world wide in hundreds of communities to celebrate cancer survivors, inspire those recently diagnosed, support families and reach out to communities affected by cancer.  With more than 14 million survivors in America, we all probably know someone who has beaten cancer. Today Sam and I celebrated their survival as the hospital held its 7th Annual “Leaves of Hope” event.  And although I’m still a bit jet-lagged from the long flight home, Sam and I crossed the finish line before all the other pet therapy dogs. Yay, Sam. 🐾

Whenever we represent the pet therapy program at the hospital, I’m very proud of my fur-kid.  He always does his best even if he tried like hell to snatch a bagel off the breakfast-for-survivors table.  Clearly there’s work to be done about his table manners.  I just can’t help wondering where in that stupid pea-brain did he think snitching a bagel would be acceptable??  Goofy dog.  But he was mellow and his usual friendly self around all the dogs, the runners, and the chaos associated with an event that had 750 runners (a new record this year-woot!), race personnel, cancer survivors and other supporters/volunteers at this event.  As we walked through the health and safety expo, we were greeted with smiles and appreciation for being part of the pet therapy team by countless survivors.  When I see these former patients, I can’t help but marvel at their courage, their resilience, their optimism.  They’re the ones that inspire Sam and I every single time we have the privilege to do a hospital shift.  I am profoundly in awe of their human spirit and ever so thankful for my own life blessings.   They give me so much to contemplate and I am driven to help them out any way possible.  What Sam and I do seems so minor and yet their faces told me otherwise.  For this, I am extremely humbled.

To those who have to deal with this terrible disease, know we are here for you.  At events like this, as well as walking through the oncology floor trying our damnedest to lighten your load just a bit with a smile, a kind word and a tail wag.  Through research and events like this one we will beat this rotten bastard of a disease and together we’ll continue to celebrate your life.