Friday, 30 November 2012

All About Riley

I am writing this blog post from a hotel room in Pullman, Washington.  Today Riley had surgery to fix the compression on his spine at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Washington State University (WSU).  He is currently heavily sedated and resting in ICU at the hospital.  I will be able to see him tomorrow. 

I last blogged about Riley here just after we had an MRI done in Vancouver.  It took a little while to get answers but we finally met with the neurosurgeon and viewed the MRI.  His recommendation was to do surgery to remove the cyst and relieve the pressure on the spinal cord.  The quote for surgery was between $7,000 to $9,000 assuming there were no major complications or extensive rehab required.  I facebooked about this and lots of friends chimed in with recommendations for the wonderful facility here at WSU.  I contacted them and long story short here we are and the quote is less than half price.  The neurologist in Vancouver was very understanding and cooperative about providing records.

The decision to do the surgery has been very difficult.  Riley has been coping fairly well with the situation but he is a true labrador with high pain tolerance and likely has been living with this for quite a while before the symptoms became as noticeable.  There have been signs of significant discomfort present for him.  He is very restless and rarely sleeps for long periods without shifting positions.  The angle when he poops seems very uncomfortable for him.   He has recently begun a lot of licking of his legs which can indicate pins & needles sensations to those limbs.  He holds his head low quite a lot while we are walking and has a roached back position.  We could have opted to wait but the risk becomes that the compression worsens and causes disc damage and quite possibly paralysis.  It was also possible that he may have continued as he was for quite a long time.  I explored some natural alternatives such as acupuncture but the experts I asked figured that it was highly unlikely it would help the situation.  Natural is my treatment of choice for most things but treatments can also be quite expensive.  We are stretching to afford this surgery and honestly spending a bunch of money to see if those alternatives would work just makes the surgery less of a do-able financial decision. 

We arrived in Pullman on tuesday evening and met with the hospital for a consult on wednesday.  They wished to redo the MRI as the machine here is much stronger and they wanted to determine if the disc below the problem area was affected.  That would mean a difference in the surgery plan.   We also did a spinal tap to insure that the symptoms were not being caused by an infection in the brain or spine.The disc ended up being fine but then his blood work showed some red blood cell abnormalities which could indicate liver or spleen tumour.  The same abnormalities were present in his prior blood work a few months ago.  He had an ultrasound yesterday to review those areas and all was determined okay and that the abnormalities were probably normal for him. 

I dropped him off this morning for surgery.  The procedure is called a hemilaminectomy and involves going in from the top of his neck down to remove a section of bone over the spinal cord and then remove the material causing the pressure on the spinal cord.  The neuro surgeon here refers to Riley's condition as a form of wobblers which is basically the name for cervical vertebral instability.  The goal of surgery is to prevent further deterioration.  He likely will always have a bit of a wonky movement but that depends on the level of permanent damage.

The surgeon said that the procedure went as planned and that they removed a lot of the pressure on the spinal cord.  The rest is now up to Riley.  Hopefully this is where that crazy labrador thing kicks in and he will be up and moving around in the next few days.  We have a long few months ahead of us for recovery but for now I will happily take everyone's good wishes and happy thoughts for my boy.  I will blog more in the next few days to update and tell more about the procedure.

Update here on post surgery.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Walk and Chew Gum

We all know that old joke about not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  Well the dog sport version of that is can we walk and provide the proper body cues when needed?   In class this week my instructor had us working directional obedience moves such as left turn, right turn and about turn.  She also pulled out the dreaded metronome to experiment with pace and consistancy.  Stella works well with a nice brisk pace which doesn't come very naturally for me and is even harder when we incorporate direction changes.  I need to provide clear body signals for Stella about what is going to happen so that I don't leave her behind or disconnect with abrupt movements.  It makes me laugh at myself and perhaps gives me a bit of frustration to realize how darn hard that is.  I've been walking for a lot of years but it is gonna take practice to naturally do the nice smooth movements I want.  In this instance I'm gonna need to learn more than my dog I think! 

We have been working a little on our heel work and things feel like they are starting to come along nicely.  I've been trying to incorporate lots of fun and play to create good value for heeling.  I recently discovered that one of her favourite play moves is when I walk along with her and then pretend to stalk her.  She loves that game so I am experimenting with playing and then quick easy transitions from that position into short sessions of heeling.    I am also trying to use food less and be smarter with how I deliver it.   Spitting the food for her to catch is a fun game for her so gives us a double reward (food and chase).   It is helping to get the focus from what my hands might be doing and up to my face.  Riley didn't have good food catch coordination so that wasn't an effective tool for us but seems useful with Stella.  The downside is that I have a horrible gag reflex so I need to make sure it is stuff that I am comfortable having in my mouth.  That means expensive salami and cheese instead of cheap hot dogs or other training treats but at least I can snack if I get hungry :o).

Friday, 9 November 2012

Conformation picture

Here is the picture from our conformation show.  It would have been better if the collar was adjusted and her tail up more but I am still proud of my girl.   She looks so grown up (waaaaahhhh, where is my adorable puppy?).  No worries she is still a crazy puppy girl on the inside!

Monday, 5 November 2012


Stella and I attempted our second conformation trial recently and were rewarded for our efforts with her first points.  She took best of winners against three other dogs (two points) on saturday and then we came up empty on sunday.  We had a fun experience as all the other vizsla people were very friendly.  I am a total rookie in this sport but things went well and the ring steward was very nice and helpful to me.  Stella really liked the saturday judge and I think she might have actually been flirting with him :).  We were much better prepared for this show compared to our first last minute attempt.  We still have quite a bit of fine-tuning to do for the perfect stacking positions but thankfully she seems to have figured out the difference between stopping/sitting at heel position and the conformation stuff.  She also thinks that gaiting is kinda fun and roo-rooed at me part of the way to see if I was interested in playing with her.  I'm sure she is supposed to be more serious but honestly I would rather see that then one of the other dogs that was a bit fearful of the whole situation. 

I remain conflicted on conformation showing.  It seems very subjective to me.  A dog can go in the ring one day and be the winner and the next day against the same group of dogs under a different judge would get nothing.  When I go into the obedience or rally ring I know what needs to be done and if we do our job right then we pass.  That is clear and understandable to me.  Judges can vary on how hard they may mark but we all start with the same points and generally a judge is consistant with marking methods through all participants.   You also get feedback from the judges via your score sheets.  Conformation judging depends so much on individual tastes of a judge and perhaps the influences of where the judge is from.   Showing is expensive and time-consuming so I'm not sure how much further I will pursue this.  Part of me does like the idea of those CH letters in front of my dog's registered name but on the other hand I have no interest in breeding her.  I did have a picture taken to mark the occasion but it was a large show (800+ dogs) so I am still waiting for it to arrive.  

It was an interesting weekend even if it was waaaaayyyy to early in the morning (first in ring at 8 am) for them to expect me to be presentable in nice, clean clothes and makeup.  Thank dawg Stella didn't need any fancy grooming!  I had to laugh when I opened her crate door saturday morning and she just looked at me like I was nuts for being up at 6 am and jumped into bed with hubby to cuddle back to sleep.   Once she figured I was serious she was game and away we went.  We wandered a lot of the trade show booths over the weekend and Stella made lots of fans who wanted to meet her and ask about her breed.  I was proud to have such a friendly, easy-going dog that was comfortable in all the chaos.