Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Goodbye Tuna

Its been 7 years since this sweet orange cat walked into our lives. Today, we said goodbye and I am heartbroken. He was the one of the longest residents, 2nd only to our cat Baby (she and Tuna hated each other) and was most likely the oldest of the bunch. We had a suspicion that he was getting older and slowing down, but the end always feels unexpected. The finality of it is always crushing.

Over the last couple years, Tuna has been getting a little thinner and has started looking old. He still jumps up on the counter every day to drink water from the sink, he jumps the baby gates we have all over the house with the grace of a horse. He slept with us every night and he spent his days with me in my office. He was a good friend and one of the easiest pets who have ever been a part of our life.

We met Tuna in 2009. I wrote about it HERE. One night he walked into our yard as if he belonged with us and he never left. He was always a gentleman, the first real cat we ever had. The others were kept upstairs away from the dogs with a baby gate - for some reason they would not jump it. Tuna took one look at  it and jumped right over - just like a real cat (Baby still won't jump).

Tuna spent only three visits to the vet before the last week of his life. The first, when we got him. The second and third were on the same day before we moved to Ohio. He got a rabies shot at our regular vet and then later than night had a reaction, so I took him to the ER.

Last Saturday we woke up and Tuna was vomiting, a lot. We took him to the vet and they felt like he probably was in some stage of kidney failure. They gave him fluids and a couple shots of medicine. He was better for a few days. Yesterday, he didn't eat. He wouldn't jump up on the counter for water, he just laid in bed all day. We went back to the vet last night. They did some bloodwork that showed he was down to about 25% of his kidney function, but he also had something else going on - some sort of infection. He had a fever.

They gave him more fluids, some more shots of medicine and pain killers. We came home and were hopeful he would eat this morning. He did not. We took him back to the vet and the plan was that he would stay there today. We were going to give him one last shot. 24 hours of fluids and antibiotics. That should take care of whatever the problem was and buy him a week, a month, a year, maybe more.

The vet called a few times with updates. Then he called to say that Tuna's fever had increased. He wanted to xray him to see what was going on his tummy. When the vet called back, I knew it was not good news. Tuna's insides were a blur. He couldn't make out any of his organs. So he was either filled with fluid or with tumors. Tuna most likely had lymphoma and there wasn't anything left to do. I hung up the phone and started to prepare for what was coming.

The last seven and a half years have gone by so fast. It seems like just this morning he was walking into our lives and now we would be saying goodbye. Forever.

Tuna started with the name Norwyn. It meant "Friend from the North". I have nicknames for all our pets, each has evolved through the years. I immediately started calling him Wynnie. Trevor commented that it wouldn't be long until I had some completely differently name for him. So right there he cut about 4 years of name changes into 5 minutes and spit out Tuna. That name stuck. His official name at the vet was Norwyn but we never called him that. He was always our Tuna.

Over the years, Tuna really had one wish - to be an only cat. He was a loner. He didn't lay with the others and generally just tolerated them. He had the most antagonistic relationships with one of our other cats, Baby. They were often heard hissing and growling at each other.

Tuna was a people cat. He wanted to be with us. He slept with us every night and liked to be on the side of the bed closest to the door. Several years ago when we were going through a difficult time (Asha was ruining our lives), I would lay in the spare room with him, in the sun and cry. He and I would talk about running away together, finding a studio apartment and living quietly alone forever. But I couldn't figure out how to do that and take all the rest, including Trevor, with us. So instead, we commiserated until things improved.

Tuna always loved the sink. He would impatiently jump up on the counter and wait for me to turn on the faucet so he could get a drink. He did that his entire life.

When we moved to Ohio, Tuna was the only one who cried in the car. He was the only one who didn't like the drive. He settled into the new house, just like the rest and felt especially at home in my office.

Every day, I would sit down at the my desk and Tuna would sit or lay on my calendar. He was the keeper of my schedule. All day long he would get on and off my lap. Usually he would lay down and after  a bit I would get up or make him move. One day last Summer I told him he could lay on my lap as long as he wanted and I wouldn't move. Three hours later, I had to break my promise because I really had to pee!

Tuna was the first one to greet me in the morning and would walk with me to the bathroom so he could get a drink. He would cry (along with Kato) while I got their food ready and he would be ready whenever I went into the office to work. He was my constant companion.

I thought of all these things and so much more as Trevor and I drove to the vet to say our goodbyes. This is the worst part of loving an animal. It doesn't seem fair that we would chose to love something so much knowing that we would eventually have to let them go. The gravity of the decision is something that never feels okay. Knowing that this is their last day, their last hour, last minute and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

We spent about 30 minutes with Tuna. He sat on our laps, we cried and told him how much we loved him. Trevor and I talked about our favorite memories of him and how we could not believe this was happening. Then it was time. We held him as he quietly slipped away and thanked him profusely for choosing us all those years ago.

In my mind I saw him walking through our back yard, jumping the fence and slipping away into the distance. As quickly as he had showed up in our lives, he left us. He was a sweet boy and we miss him terribly now and always.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

5 years with Asha

Its time for my traditional post marking another year with Asha.

It started back in year ONE as a celebration that we had survived. I also started to document our time together because I honestly wasn't sure how long we could last in this crazy life with this uniquely challenging creature. Over the years, it has given me the opportunity to see just how far we have progressed in a 12 month period. With every post, I become a little more honest and open about our experiences. I look back over those first yearly posts and while they sound so optimistic, for many of them, I was barely hanging on. As the years go by, the optimism is much more genuine, I don't have to will it into being so much these days. Here are those posts:

One Year With Asha
Two Years With Asha
Three Years With Asha
Four Years With Asha

And so here we go...year 5....

This year has felt like the first normal year of life we have had since we adopted Asha. She sleeps most of the night, sometimes all night. She doesn't run and bark nearly as much as in years past. She is able to settle herself and to lay calmly while we are not in the same room as her.

I just read through all of the previous yearly updates and remember how our home used to feel to me. For a long time, I didn't want to come home. I would pull into the garage and sit there, knowing that once I got into the house, it would be chaos. Asha was chaos. And while I loved her, the chaos was exhausting. The mania and the mayhem was exhausting.

The last two years, my perception of home has really changed. I find peace and comfort here. Honestly, I hate not being home. Right now, Asha is laying at my feet. Two years ago, she would have been jumping up, running and barking every 20 minutes. Now, she just lays there, like the rest. She has developed the ability to be calm.
This isn't to say that she doesn't still run and bark, that she doesn't walk in circles and get herself worked up. There are times when her anxiety takes over and she gets out of control and we are back in the days of old...wishing for some peace. But those days are few and far between.

We joke, but it is actually true, that I haven't had a good night's sleep in 5 years...since the night before we adopted Asha. She sleeps through most nights, with one exception. Every night, around 3am, I wake up and I hear her make a quite crying noise. I get out of bed and touch her. She comes back to bed, jumps up and lays against me with her head in my hand. Then we sleep until the alarm goes off.

Every couple months she goes through a phase where she can't sleep. We go maybe a week with her waking up every hour or two. It exhausts me and in my mind, I go back to the beginning days, the worst of the days. During those times, I wonder if she is going backwards...if it is possible that she could go backwards. Could this progress turn into regression and what would we do. Then, just as quickly as she stopped sleeping, she starts sleeping again. And life goes back to "normal"

There are so many 'before and afters' with Asha. Before and after the seizures started, before and after the anxiety medications started, before and after we met our Behavioral Vet Dr Pachel, before and after we started Chinese Medicine treatments, before and after my meltdown, before and after our move. The one that sticks with me and the one I think of every night when she lays her head in my hand is the before and after our 5 days in the ICU.

It has been just about two years since we spent 5 days in the ICU with a very sick Asha. I wrote about that HERE During that time, we didn't know if she would live or die. I had lots of time to think about what her life had meant to us and if it was enough. I had lots of time to think of the things we wanted to do with Asha, to think of what we wanted her to give to the world and get from it in return. Every night, as she sleeps against me, I remember those nights on the floor of the ICU, when she laid against me in the same way. And I feel lucky. I know that we are lucky to still have her and I don't want to waste it.

One of the things I promised myself during those nights was that Asha would become a Therapy Dog. I had considered it, but never taken the steps to do it. So this year, when Asha FINALLY took her last medication from that illness, I looked up certification classes for Pet Partners Therapy Dogs. I found a local hospital that has a program and I signed up. It took us two tries, but we passed the test and are now an active Certified Therapy Dog Team.

Twice a month, Asha and I visit a local hospital. We see patients, nurses, doctors, hospital staff and visitors. It is during these times that I know we aren't wasting our days. I get to see this amazing creature, who has made the difference in  my life, affect the lives of others. She connects with everyone in their own, individual way. She exudes love and hope. She gives so much of herself during those visits and soaks up the love she gets back. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever witnessed. I get to see these private interactions between two souls and it is really something.

So year 5 has been about moving forward and carving a new path. It has been about new experiences and making good on old promises. This year Asha met some new friends....

Felt the sand between her toe and breathed in the cool, Lake breeze....
And began her journey as a Therapy Dog...

Each year, Asha teaches me more about myself and about the world around us. Our Fifth year together is no exception. 5 is a scary number, after 5, she starts to head towards 10. I want her to live forever (I want all of them to live forever) and I know that isn't possible. I know that any day could be her last. And as much as that breaks my heart, I know that when her last day comes, there will be no doubt that she lived life. She LIVED it and she helped me live too. Here's to at least another five years with Asha. Thanks for sharing our journey.

Monday, February 15, 2016

2nd time is a charm...

This past weekend, Asha and I passed the Pet Partners test to become a Certified Therapy Dog Team. This has been several years in the making and we are so very proud. This is quite an accomplish for a "normal" dog, even more so for one that was born blind and deaf like Asha.

Asha has always loved people and her effect on them is undeniable. We live with her day to day and it easy to forget just how special she is. In the midst of the chaos that she often creates in our lives, she can seem just like any other dog. She has won a Hero Award, been voted Fan Favorite at a Top Dog Contest and now passed her Therapy Dog test but when she is pacing and barking while I am trying to work, none of that matters!

Asha's different ability doesn't seem so different to us most of time, we take it for granted because it is just how we live. My purpose with Asha has always been first and foremost to keep her safe. This means that I keep her close and use touch signals to reassure her. We have a bond like no other, built solely on trust. I don't always realize just how much she depends on us until someone else points it out.

At the beginning of Asha's life with us, all we wanted to do was survive. The idea of doing anything with her other than just keeping us all alive was unthinkable. It wasn't until we met a very special person that we started to think there could be more purpose to Asha's life.

We adopted Asha from the Oregon Humane Society in July of 2011. In February of 2013, Asha was awarded the Diamond Collar Hero Award by OHS and we attending a wonderful banquet at a downtown club. During this banquet, Asha met many people (there were about 500 attendees).

After the event was over, several people came over to meet us. Just about everyone talked with Trevor and I, then they reached down to pet Asha. One man, dressed in a business suit, walked over and squatted down on the floor in front of Asha, almost ignoring me and Trevor. During that time of her life, Asha did not like having anyone right in her face and she never licked anyone. She would usually turn her face away. This time was different.

Asha was standing next to me. When this man squatted down, Asha put her ears back and sat down. He spoke softly to her and Asha licked his face. Trevor and I looked at each other and then said "who are you and what you do you?" We knew there had to be something special about this man, because Asha was telling us.

He said "I'm a lawyer and on the Board of Trustees at OHS". Right...but there has to be more? "My dog Annie and I were a therapy dog team for years," he said. And there it was. This was a special person with a soul that could be seen and heard by a deaf and blind dog. His name was Akin Blitz and he talked with us for while. Akin was the one who first suggested that we look into becoming a Therapy Dog Team.

A Therapy Dog Team is a human and their pet who provide comfort during visits to patients in hospitals, nursing homes or to children in schools. Asha's story and demeanor, as well as her love for people and ability to navigate the world make her a wonderful candidate for this kind of work.

It took three years, but we finally did it. I looked at the classes and testing several times when we lived in Washington. The timing was never right and so we didn't do it. It has been in the back of my mind since that day with Akin. There were subtle signs that now was the time. When we met our behavioral vet here in Ohio, her trainer suggested we become a Therapy Dog Team. Then, I was at a benefit for our local shelter and there was a group from the local hospital there talking about their Therapy Dog Program. And so I found the next testing and signed up.

I went to the handlers class back in October and then Asha tested. The test is these 20 exercises:

-accepting greeting from a stranger
-accepting petting from a stranger
-loud noises
-leave it
-rough petting in a group of people
-loud equipment (wheelchairs, walker, people talking loudly)
-Sit on command
-Down on command
-Come on command
-Stay on command
-walking nicely on leash
-walking through a crowd
-restraining hug
-allowing an overall physical exam
-loud individual
-angry yelling
-being bumped from behind
-being offered a treat
-ignoring another dog

Asha knows sit and down with touch signals. Touch on the top of the head has signaled "sit" as long as I can remember - she learned that within a week of coming to live with us. She learned down years ago but really only does it now when presented with a treat. The sign for that is touch to the chin. Since she can't see or hear, she would be unable to "come when called", so we had to come up with another way to do that and get an exception to the test.

Working with the evaluators, we petitioned the program for an exception. Asha's vet, Dr Pachel had to write a letter about Asha's disability and agree that she would be a good candidate for a Therapy Dog. We were granted the exception and would be allowed ONE tug on the leash to get her to come.

The day of the test, I was SO nervous. I felt like this would be the way to validate Asha and her abilities. I knew that the evaluators (who hadn't met Asha) doubted that it would be possible for Asha to pass. That day, the room was full of volunteers and all the evaluators came in to watch. I felt quite a bit of pressure to show how special Asha is. I am very protective of her and only want her to impress.

We had been working on her skills. I was mostly worried that she wouldn't do the down without a treat and treats aren't allowed. We went through the test and Asha did her best - I could hear some "ooohhs" and "aahhs" as she impressed people with her abilities. Then came the time for down. I touched her chin and she considered laying down but changed her mind. I got anxious and worried that she wouldn't do it. I have no doubt she felt that and she got confused. Then she refused to lay down and I gave up on her instead of doing what I always do, which is let her know it is okay and helping her do what she needs to do.

At that point, I knew we didn't pass. They let us complete the test and Asha did everything else just fine. A perfect score is required to pass and so Asha and I were given a "not ready" score. We would need to take the test again.

I will admit, I was tremendously disappointed. Asha didn't know the difference, she had a wonderful time, met new people, visited a new place and got to spend time with me. But I was so sad about it and felt like I had failed her. I know this is silly, but that's how I felt.

The evaluators encouraged us to come back and test again. I promised I would and I promised that we would work on the down. Asha knew it, we just needed to be able to do it. That was October.

Last week I got an email that another evaluation had been scheduled and would Asha be able to come test. My answer was "yes, yes, yes!" And so on Saturday, we made the 45 drive to try again.

I had been working with Asha on "down". She doesn't always do it for me, but she knows it. The other day, Trevor used the signal on her for the first time and she laid down, so I knew that she really did know it!

I was nervous again this time, but decided to approach this test like we approach everything else that we do. I would be her advocate and help her understand what was being asked of her. I would support Asha and let her know it was all okay. I knew that if I did that, she would pass. Asha trusts me so much, I often take that for granted. I wouldn't take it for granted this day.

When we arrived I saw the evaluators who were all familiar and all happy to see us. Asha remembered them too - her little nubbin tail wagged furiously when she met them for this second time. We walked around the room to get familiar with it and then we were ready to test.

We went through all the exercises and when we got to the down command, I think the whole room held their breath. I knew she could do it and when I asked, Asha complied. She laid down like a boss. I hugged and kissed her and thanked her for doing this seemingly simple command.

Asha passed all the other exercises as well, including the "come when called" with ONE tug of the leash. They brought in a "neutral" dog to test Asha's reaction to another dog. When I saw the dog they were using I almost started to cry. This dog looked EXACTLY like my friend Ashleys' dog, Larry. I saw this doggie and I knew it all going to be okay. And it was. Asha passed. We jumped for joy and I showered her with kisses. I do that often, she just sits and let's me do it as if to say "Oh mom...."

And there you have it. I am so proud of Asha and so very excited to continue on with the process. I will now go through orientation and mentoring at the hospital. Then we will begin our visits. Asha is a special soul and I feel a responsibility to share that with the world. This is good start.