Fancy Vets’ Offerings Go Far Beyond Health Care

Golden retriever puppy Orly stares attentively at the TV.
Does Orly need her own TV?

For pet owners, the healthcare options seem to be feast or famine, determined by where you live.

Missoula offers a large choice of vet clinics, including two emergency vets, and I have been fortunate to have excellent vet care, especially as I hear tales of long waits for even emergency services in other cities. But our clinics are still pretty basic. Modern imaging and other technology is available, yes, as is specialty care. But what I’ve seen, heard about, and now read about in other cities looks like fancier clinic surroundings than even Missoula’s human hospitals.

The Washington Post article linked above describes what are essentially luxury spas and resorts for pets which also offer state-of-the-art medical care.

Some of the changes described, such as the movement toward Fear Free veterinary care, are wonderful news for pets. The Fear Free initiative is a pet- (mainly dog- and cat-) focused movement to raise awareness of the ways that going to the vet or to training centers can be frightening or anxiety-inducing — and offering strategies and training for vet-clinic and training-center workers in ways to eliminate or alleviate stressors.

Other expansion areas fill needed gaps: Underwater treadmills and other rehab equipment is a boon to anyone whose dog has had a sports injury or other condition requiring, essentially, physical and occupational therapy. Cali’s therapeutic swimming was enormously helpful with her mobility and balance, for example.

The addition of five-star pet boarding resorts to many vet hospitals may well be a way to keep the dollars flowing in, and some of the offerings definitely seem more geared toward enticing the humans than pleasing the guests —flat-screen TVs in the doggy ‘bedrooms, for example — and some are simply over the top. Though I doubt that Orly would turn down a peanut-butter sundae at bedtime, I don’t think she needs that from her dog sitters.

If or when private doggy bedrooms with TVs get to Missoula, though, I am likely to give them a pass. For me, the bottom line is my dog’s comfort, and I prefer to have her stay home with a trustworthy sitter or spend time with someone she knows and loves. Either of those familiar options will be less stressful than even the most luxurious pet spa and resort.

Very Different Energy

15-month-old golden puppy Orly curls up on a large bed, with her head on the pillow
Orly loves to curl up on my bed

Life with (only) Orly has settled into a new routine. Her energy is very different from Cali’s — or Cali-and-Orly’s together.

Cali was the world’s best alarm clock. She was extremely accurate, for one thing. And her way of greeting the morning was to grab a toy and do a happy morning dance.

Not Orly. Orly sleeps on my bed (whether I want her to or not … she’ll just wait until I am asleep and jump on up). When I decide it’s time to get up, I have to nudge her awake and encourage her to get off the bed to go outside. She then frequently greets the morning, and the neighbors, by barking. I promptly bring her back inside. Where she often goes back to bed.

The rest of our morning routine isn’t so different from life with Cali: Exercises, breakfast/coffee, walk.

The walks are different, though. Cali had several spots where we all stopped each day so she could sniff and catch up on the news. Orly is not a newshound, I guess. She hardly ever stops to sniff or even do her own business. And her pace is a lot faster than Cali’s. Like Cali though, Orly has definite opinions on where we should walk.

She’s less inclined to hang out in my office while I’m working, unless I am in a meeting. She seems to really like Zoom meetings, especially if she can find one of her two favorite toys (the ones with the loudest squeakers).

Some days, she heads out mid-morning for a hike with her dog friends; other days, we take a walk together at lunchtime. Most workdays are rounded out with treat toys, snuffle mat, chewing on an antler, or sighing noisily to indicate how boring she finds me. Or all of the above.

She often paces and nudges me to let her out, only to want to come back in a few minutes later. Or she’ll go out and start barking at any movement — a car in the alley, neighbors doing what neighbors do, a squirrel taunting her. The restlessness and pent-up energy are typical of any young golden retriever, but the barking is a relatively new, and very unwelcome, development.

Two golden retrievers rest, their heads nestled against one another.Weekends we try to get out for a longer walk, often picking up Spirit so the girls can play as they hike. The girls are always delighted to see one another.

Orly is definitely more social (with dogs) than Cali ever was. Cali had her few close friends, but as she aged, she pretty much would play actively only with Orly.

Orly wants, and seems to need, frequent high-energy play. With the dogs in her hiking group, with Spirit, with neighbors’ dogs. (Fortunately, we are surrounded by puppies and adolescent dogs of all sizes and types.) I’m trying to get her together with her buddies often, but she’s at that age where there are simply never enough playmates and activities to truly tire her out.

Like Cali, Orly loves human visitors, though she seems to have forgotten Cali’s trick of always greeting people with a toy in her mouth. Rather than the squeal and dance Cali greeted loved humans with, Orly is more likely to try to give visitors a little kiss on the cheek … which means she sometimes forgets to keep all four paws on the floor. She might instead gently take the visitor’s hand in her mouth.

Despite her boundless energy, she does have an ‘off’ switch, and she’s able to keep herself occupied in between adventures. She rarely indulges in destructive behavior, though she’s destroyed a few toys, and she is a menace to anything growing in the back yard — a trait she shares with her littermates. She seems (thankfully) to lack her siblings’ genetic tp addiction, though.

Having a young, energetic dog is getting me out for more frequent, longer, and faster-paced walks, all very beneficial. I’m thinking ahead to spring and summer, and wondering whether agility would appeal to Orly. I bet she’d excel at nosework, too. Obedience … not so much.

The Dogs on the Bus

Golden retriever Orly runs through a snowy meadow
Orly loves to run and play in the snow!

If you haven’t seen this story yet, you’re definitely missing out.

I thought Orly’s dog hiker was doing well to manage her minivan filled with dogs of all sizes and shapes (though some days a disproportionate number seem to be golden-retriever-sized and -shaped…). But this Alaska dog hiker is impressive. (Check out the TikTok video.)

The dogs have assigned seats! And wear seatbelts!!

I love the ones who are all dressed in their coats, waiting for the bus …

Dog hiking is a much bigger Thing than I ever guessed.

Orly goes two or three times a week, depending on everyone’s schedules. I stay home and work to pay for her expensive hobby.

She gets picked up, greets her friends, and settles into the van. After all the dogs are on board, the pack goes for a nice long hike out in the woods. In the spring and fall, there was often the opportunity for a mud bath (and Orly is not one to pass up such a stellar opportunity). Winter seems a little cleaner.

Many, many treats are involved.

Golden retriever Orly rests her head on a small pillow whose pillowcase has drawings of cartoon dogsThe dogs hike off leash, with frequent check-ins (snack breaks). They race around chasing each other through the woods. It’s a pretty good life for a dog.

She shows up back home a few hours later and often heads to the bedroom for a nap. (Her newest trick? She likes to nap on my pillow.)

Orly’s pack includes some of the other dogs of the neighborhood, so their hiking friendships extend to occasional play dates.

Very much unlike Jana or Cali, Orly is a dog who really loves and needs to play with other dogs. Often. And very much like both of them at the same age, she has boundless energy. I alone cannot offer her enough exercise and stimulation to tire her out. I am not sure that any human can do that for an adolescent golden retriever. Hiking gives her what she needs. Well, some of what she needs. Two hikes per day, seven days per week might come close to tiring her out … maybe.


The Sad Life of an Only Dog

Orly and Spirit, similar-looking golden retrievers, nap together
Who’s who?

Early January is always a little sad. Holidays, and time off from work, are over; Missoula is gray and cold.

This year, January is sadder than ever. After a wonderful visit, Deni and Koala returned to Florida on Jan. 3. Spirit went home a few days later. Orly does not know what to do with a silent, almost-empty house. We’ve finally had to face the enormous hole that losing Cali has left. And Orly has never been the only dog.

Golden retriever Orly grabs her cousin Spirit's neck in play.Orly loved having a live-in playmate, one with a similar(ly obnoxious and physical) play style, all paws and mouths and teeth and leaps and jumps. After an energetic bout of wrestling and racing each other around the yard, Orly and Spirit would collapse into a fuzzy golden pile.

Since discovering that they are cousins, I’ve taken to calling them “identical cousins.” It was often hard to tell where one ended and the other began or even who was who.

But now Orly is alone. And mopey and sad, except when she’s outside. Then she’s alert and barky.

She is snuggly and overly affectionate sometimes. I wonder whether she’s worried that I am going to make her disappear as I have caused Cali, Koala, and Spirit to vanish, and she’s trying to ensure that she doesn’t annoy me … The primary reason I do not believe that she’s exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome, though, is that the (brief) cooperative, attentive, sweet, or affectionate periods soon give way to her more common defiant, moody teenager behavior.

She’s mostly just bored. I am boring. Spirit was fun. Koala, too. And with Cali, at least Orly had someone to torment. Now? Boring old human staring at a boring old computer. Humph.

She is going hiking a couple of days a week with a group of her dog pals, and I need to get busy arranging play dates for her on other days. She’ll get me out on lots of walks, too. And of course we have a large selection of treat toys, interactive puzzles, and other things to play with.

Even so, Orly’s life has changed significantly. And she does not see the changes as an improvement.

Cali’s Final Gift

Cali sits on grass holding a green disc toyCali left us on Dec. 10. I still can’t say that (or type it apparently) without crying.

I certainly wasn’t ready to write about it for last week’s blog post, and the cheerful post I had written about life with three golden girls had to be shelved.

She held on through her 10th birthday week, which was filled with ice cream, dog treats, long walks, dinner with friends, and a day out with two of her beloved aunties.

And she gave a final gift to goldens of the future.

As part of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, the families of deceased heroes can make a final gift: A necropsy that allows the study’s researchers to add to their understanding of canine cancer.

Cali and her beloved brother Pirate died within a day of each other; another dear brother, Sailor — Orly’s dad — died in early summer. All three had internal bleeding, likely from hemangiosarcoma ruptures. I don’t have the lab report yet on Cali, but the wonderful emergency vet who took care of us was pretty sure that hers was from the liver. Both boys also had masses on their livers. Hemangiosarcoma is relentless and so, so common with golden retrievers.

The house feels empty without Cali, even though Spirit (our guest dog) and Orly are constantly tumbling around, wrestling, tugging on each other, chewing toys, and generally being the exuberant young dogs they are. (I especially miss having another adult in the  house!) Her optimism and joy were unique.

When I wake up, I look for Cali’s wagging tail and enthusiasm as she greets the morning with a happy dance holding a favorite toy. Then I remember. I wake Orly, shove her off the bed, hug Spirit, and start the day … without my beloved friend. I miss her company as I work in my upstairs office, and have avoided walking her favorite route.

I spent much of the week calling, emailing, and texting some of her many friends with the sad news. She wanted to meet — and befriend — every person on the planet. In her 10 short years, she made significant progress toward that goal, and I clearly couldn’t notify everyone she has touched. We’ll all miss that sweet Cali girl …

Happy holidays from the Thinking Dog Blog! We’ll be taking some time off, but we’ll see you again sometime in the new year.

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Morris Foundation Launches Hemangiosarcoma Initative

The Morris Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study started enrolling dogs more than 10 years ago, a few months before Cali was born.

The Foundation recently sent an update with the sad news that they’re nearing the original endpoint of the study: 500 cancer diagnoses in Study dogs. They’re extending the endpoint and continuing the study.

Additional news that was a shock to me, despite close experience with hemagiosarcoma — three-quarters of the study dogs who have died had cancer … and 70% of the cancers were hemagiosarcoma.

So the Foundation is launching a ” multi-year, multi-million-dollar endeavor to dramatically change the story of hemangiosarcoma from one with an ending of almost certain death to one with a new beginning.”

Researchers can submit grant applications beginning in January.

Though Study Exam Day has never been a favorite day for Cali (or most of the “Heroes,” as participants are called), the study has gathered a vast amount of data that will help dogs of all breeds in many ways.

I’m hopeful that this initiative will find new ways to extend the lives of dogs with hemagiosarcoma.

Is Koala ‘Quiet Quitting’?

Koala, a black Lab, studies her iPad
Sometimes, a girl just needs a day off

Koala is ready to retire. She’s not enthusiastic about going to work lately, especially when travel is involved. I definitely empathize.

She might be part of the “quiet quitting” phenomenon — what managers have dubbed the increasing number of people who are showing up and doing their jobs, but no longer taking on extra work, making themselves available 24×7, and consistently going over and above what they’re being paid to do. It’s an offensive term, especially since many organizations are short-staffed and/or haven’t given many raises or promotions in the  past couple of years. Irritating or not, it’s definitely a thing.

But I don’t think that’s what Koala is doing.

She is, to be fair, doing her job but not eagerly offering new services or thinking up shortcuts, as she used to. So it looks a little like a mini quiet quit.

But her job has gotten a lot more challenging and stressful. She’s spending far more hours at the office than ever before; working more late nights when she’d rather be at Rally class; and hanging out under far more of the nicest restaurant tables in St. Pete until past her bedtime.

I don’t think she’s quiet quitting so much as pushing for a better work-life balance. And she’s not worried only for herself; she knows that Deni is also stressed and exhausted from the frenetic pace of their work life.

Some might say that she’s “mirroring” Deni or taking on some of her stress. But I don’t think that’s it exactly, either.

I think that Koala, a sensible and extremely intelligent dog, is doing what dogs do, far better than most humans: She’s living in the moment. And when she doesn’t like what the moment holds, she pushes for changes the only way she can. If she needs to slow down, she slows down … and (she hopes) pulls Deni into the slow lane alongside her.


Orly Meets Her Match

Two similar-looking golden retrievers smile for the cameraEver since Orly hit early adolescence, I have been looking for a playmate for her who matches her play style. (Secretly hoping that if someone played with her as roughly as she goes after Cali, that might convince her to tone it down a bit …)

I have found her!

Spirit is our house guest while her dad deals with some health challenges. Spirit is four and a half years old, but otherwise could be Orly’s clone (Orly just turned one). They look astonishingly alike, down to the identical worry lines around their same-shaped eyes. Sprit’s coloring is a shade lighter than Orly’s, and she’s a little wider in the body, but that might just be because she lacks a built-in playmate and regular hiking group.

Orly grabs Spirit's neck in play.The similarity extends beyond their looks. Their play style is identically obnoxious — basically lots of jumping, crashing into one another, wrestling, tugging on ears and neck fur, and chasing one another around the yard. Spirit particularly likes to grab the fold of fur/skin at the back of Orly’s neck and spin her around … not so different from how Orly used to try to spin Cali around by her ear, tail, or anything else she could latch on to.

They can both get deep into chewing on a bone, though, and love to play ‘tug’ with soft toys (gently so far …) while ignoring the actual tug toys. They are both very oral, grabbing things, including human hands, as a primary way of communicating. And they both have to work really hard to remember not to jump on people.

Alas, my secret hopes have been dashed. Rather than realize how off-putting her play style is, having her moves returned with interest has apparently reinforced Orly’s approach. The two of them tumble out the door in the morning and start playing, often forgetting their key mission. After they come back inside, I have to let each of them out separately so they can pee… Then breakfast: a highlight in everyone’s morning.

More play follows, ceaselessly, until they collapse for power naps. That cycle repeats throughout the day.

Cali, who was not at all welcoming to Spirit, has come around, realizing that two nutty dogs who tire each other out translates to more peace and quiet for her. Though she sometimes tires of their antics and barks at them to calm down. Or maybe she’s worried that Spirit might actually pull Orly’s ears off?

Orly and Spirit, both golden retrievers, play

Energy Boost Ethics

Cali sits on grass holding a green disc toyAs I mentioned several weeks ago, Cali is taking magic mushrooms (not that kind!) to boost her immune system and slow tumor growth. Between the mushrooms and the chemo, Cali is still — as far as we know — free of large tumors.

She also has a lot of energy, which she wants to expend — incessantly — by playing with her flying disc. What she wants, specifically, is for me to toss it so that she can leap acrobatically — yes, stocky, elderly Cali — into the air and execute heroic catches. She’s quite good at this, and it is very entertaining to watch. You’ll have to take my word for this since I have no photos (because I am of course tossing the disc…).

So, the first, and more minor, ethical question is whether I should “allow” and enable Cali to do something where she might get hurt.

She plays the cancer card a lot, and uses her large, soft, brown eyes to convince me to let her do whatever she wants … and I think that’s mostly OK. She’s happy and playful, and I want her to stay that way for as long as possible. And if playing with her disc keeps her happy, well, I’m going to keep tossing it gently, not too high, and letting her leap to catch it.

Then there’s Orly. I am giving Orly a smaller dose of the mushroom blend. (I’m using it too…) I don’t know whether the immune boosting claims are real, but I do think that the blend boosts energy. Orly’s and mine, though there is nothing in the world that could enable me to match Orly’s energy level.

And that’s the issue.

Orly is a healthy adolescent golden retriever. The last thing she needs is more energy. I cannot keep up with her on a good day (no mushrooms, a long hike with her dog buddies), much less on a mushroom day when she does not go hiking.

Would it be ethical to deny her the potentially significant (but unmeasurable) health benefits of the mushrooms … so I could get some rest?

I’m pondering that, as I sit for a moment, catching my breath.

Meanwhile, I am recruiting all of the young dogs within shouting distance — there are several — as playmates for Orly. On hike days, on non-hike days, at the same time, one after another — it doesn’t matter. Anything that will tire her out. Wait; that’s impossible.

I’ll settle for anything that will burn off a tiny fraction of her boundless energy!

Better Than Therapy

Golden retriever puppy arcs her body to grab her tailYou’ve probably heard that dogs can smell fear — that is, they know if you are afraid of them by your scent. It’s increasingly accepted that dogs can sniff out all kinds of physiological changes, ranging from detecting tumors to identifying when a diabetic person’s blood sugar is dropping to cuing in on impending seizures.

So it’s not exactly surprising that your dog can tell if you are stressed — just from your scent. The Washington Post recently described a study that found that dogs are extremely accurate in detecting stress from the scent of a person’s sweat or breath.

Just knowing that their person isn’t enough for most dogs, though. The reason they’re better than therapy is that they nearly always want to do something about it: Offer comfort, make you laugh, do something naughty to distract you… (hi, Orly!).

Speaking of making people laugh, dogs do seem to recognize laughter as positive and try to get their humans to laugh. Orly likes to make me laugh by chasing her tail. She doesn’t just run in circles, though; she grabs her tail, tugs on it until she tips over, then does a little somersault, going ears over tail like a furry doughnut. It’s hard to capture this, first of all because I am laughing too hard, but also because when she sees me get out the phone/camera, she stops doing it. Here’s my best attempt so far: